The Real Ale & Real Music Blog

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Gravity v. handpump

Last night, the Southport Swords, out local longsword dance side, were on a mini-tour of some Southport real ale pubs and I was tagging along for the crawl. The last port of call was the Guest House where one of my favourites was on the bar: Liverpool Organic 24 Carat Gold, a 4.2% beer described as a "floral, fruity beer with moderate malts and a hint of spices". Well, yes - perhaps.

While my second pint was being pulled, the handpump broke, and Jack the barman asked whether I minded it being served straight from the cask. Of course I didn't, but it occurred to me that I had a rare opportunity to try beer from the same cask served by both handpump and gravity dispense. I found that there were distinct differences, although not enough to make you think they were different brews. The gravity beer tasted less smooth, I sensed a slight prickling sensation on the tongue, and overall it tasted sharper. In contrast, the handpumped beer was slightly smoother.

Both pints were perfectly enjoyable, but I was surprised how noticeable the differences were. I marginally preferred the handpumped version.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The Cheshire Lines, Southport

The attractive frontage
Hidden just behind Lord Street in Southport is a fine traditional pub called the Cheshire Lines. It is a genuinely old pub which stands out prominently from the Victorian buildings that surround it. There is an outside drinking area to the front, and the pub sign still shows the old Walkers Ales trade mark from the days when that brewery was still brewing.

The pub has a lovely old frontage, and when you enter, there is a drinking area by the bar to the right and a small room to the left. To the rear there is a larger room where meals are served and where entertainment takes place. Food is available from midday to 6.00pm every day, except Saturday when it's 7.30pm. The pub is both child and dog friendly, and there's also free Wi-Fi for those who want it.

The rear room with fireplace
(when lit, a favourite with dogs)
The pub is named after the Cheshire Lines railway, which used to end at the Lord Street station (the front of which is now a hotel and the entrance to a supermarket). The railway connections are proudly displayed in the pub itself.

The beers: when I visited, the real ales available were Southport Sandgrounder, Robinson's Unicorn and Tetley's Mild. The mild is a permanent fixture, but the others beers do vary, usually between Martland Brewery and Southport. On a visit the previous week I had enjoyed the Martland Spinner's Gold. I have found all the beers were well-kept.

A feature in the front room
The pub is a friendly local, and on my visits I ended up chatting to several regulars. There is lot going on here: dominoes on Monday, darts night Tuesday, and Wednesday is a quiz night. There's a singer on the last Friday of every month, live entertainment on Saturdays, while Sunday is karaoke night. It is a very lively little pub. The Cheshire Lines is at 81 King Street, Southport, PR8 1LQ. Phone: 01704 546565. 

This is one of a series of pub reviews that I am writing for our local paper, the Southport Visiter. Previous reviews are here.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Lighten up! It's only a joke!

Jane Peyton has written an article in the Morning Advertiser with the title: 'Beer sexism: It's called ale not male'. I know this is old ground, but the fact that a woman still feels the need to write such an article indicates the problem hasn't gone away. No surprise there, really.

As a union rep, my duties used to include Equal Opportunities, later referred to as Equality and Diversity. I was also selected to be an Equal Opportunities trainer by my employer, and as such I ran one-day training courses that all staff had to attend. The question of jokes inevitably raised its head, mostly jokes about gender, race, and sexual orientation. I found the most difficult people to persuade were young males; women and older males tended to get the point.

Time and time again, I was told: "No one on our section minds". I'd reply by pointing out that if people didn't actively object, that didn't mean they weren't offended or upset, and in open plan offices, it's not just your immediate colleagues who will hear. And anyway, why would you want to behave in a way that upsets your colleagues? Even if you don't agree with why they're upset?

That last point is the key one. It's a matter of showing respect to others, accepting that they may have sensibilities you don't share and a different sense of humour from you. The Equal Opps training days I ran weren't necessarily intended to win hearts and  minds - you can't convert a sexist pig in a day - but to improve behaviour. In the training sessions, if no other argument worked, I would ask sceptical young lads: "Why would you want to upset someone who can put in a formal complaint about you - and win?"

There is, of course, no system of complaints against brewers' sexism, but the point about not upsetting people even if you don't accept their reasons for being upset should be very important to a businessman who wants to sell his products: why alienate 51% of the population? The final sanction for the brewer is not a formal complaint, but women not buying your products. Don't you want to sell more beer?

I've never seen beer names and pumpclips that make 'funny' degrading references to race, religion, disability or sexual orientation, so why do brewers pick on women? Mainly because they think they can get away with it. If certain brewers aren't persuaded by the principled objections to sexist 'jokes', then they should at least care about their sales. If you think your laddish jokes are more important than your profits, you're not much of a businessman. And don't forget: even 'lads' grow up in time, usually more quickly than sexist brewers, from what I can see.

As for any males who agree with what I've written, I'd ask you to do what I do: hit them in the pocket by not buying such beers.

In this article, I have deliberately referred to 'businessmen', mainly because I'm certain that all of those behind such juvenile humour are male.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Yet another Parliamentary cover-up!

Before                            After
It seems that cover-ups are an ingrained habit for our leaders. Dorset brewery Cerne Abbas were pleased when their Ale went on sale in the Strangers Bar in the Palace of Westminster, but it seems that it was too strong for our politicians: not the beer, but the pumpclip. The brewery's trade mark is the famous Cerne Abbas chalk giant, but someone has decided to preserve his modesty.

Cerne Abbas brewery, which has only been going for 15 months, has said that no one has taken offence before. Parliamentary beer group chairman Andrew Griffiths MP said: "The beer pump has the famous chalk man on the front of it and he is particularly well-endowed. That caused some consternation among the authorities here in Parliament and so a photocopy of a fig leaf was Blu-tacked in the strategic place. I think honourable members have got their knickers in a twist, but I hope as a result of it they drink a bit more beer."

Personally, I find such coyness rather surprising, coming as it does from a class of people who normally have no compunction in shafting the rest of us on a regular basis.

The brewery's slogan is, 'The modest brewery with giant integrity'.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

The Martin Inn, West Lancs

The Martin Inn
The Burscough area is well off for attractive country pubs, and the Martin Inn is one such. It is in a beautiful rural setting about 15 minutes' drive from Southport, but if you're feeling energetic, a 1.4 mile walk from New Lane station on the Southport to Wigan line.

Firstly, the real ales: on our visit, they were offering a popular range consisting of Sharp's Doom Bar, Thwaites Bomber and Thwaites Wainwright, and they usually have a changing guest ale. The pub prides itself on the reasonable prices of its beers, and we were happy with the quality of those we tried.

There is a large car park and an outside drinking area. The pub is family and dog friendly, and they are open to midnight.

The pub is also well-known for its food, which is available at lunchtimes and in the evenings until 8.30pm during the week, 9.00pm on Friday, and all day on Saturday and Sunday, and they like to offer different themed nights for meals. Parties can be catered for as well as individual diners.

Live music is is featured on the first Friday of each month, and Wednesdays are bikers' nights. They have a pool table and a darts board, and Sky Sports are sometimes shown. A good-sized function room with accompanying catering is available for special events. 

The Martin Inn is in Martin Lane, Burscough, L40 0RT. Telephone: 01704 892095.

This is one of a series of pub reviews that I am writing for our local paper, the Southport Visiter. Previous reviews are here.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

A coalition of boredom

I have no objection to cricket existing, as it clearly gives a lot of pleasure to a lot of people, but I find it intensely boring. I've been told this is because I don't understand the game, but this isn't true; after all, I was forced to play it for nine years at school.

It therefore seems somehow fitting that the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has announced that Greene King IPA has become the Official Beer of England cricket. GK IPA is one of those intensely boring, utterly characterless beers, and it sits well alongside similarly tedious beers such as Tetley Bitter and John Smith Cask. In welcoming the deal with the ECB, GK's managing director describes the beer as "our iconic IPA". Funny: I never realised that 'iconic' now means 'dull as ditchwater'.

I don't know how the England cricket team is doing at the moment, but if their playing is as inspired as this beer, then if I were a fan, I'd be very worried. As it's the official beer, do the players have to drink it, I wonder? That would certainly be an unreasonable condition of employment.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Not the best anything in the world

I don't like Carlsberg - deluded slogan "probably the best beer in the world" - but I like the way they treat their employees even less. Their treatment of their own staff has prompted the IUF (the International Union of Food workers) to issue this call:

Eleven members of the IUF-affiliated Cambodian Food and Service Workers' Federation (CFSWF) employed by transnational brewery giant Carlsberg's joint venture, local brewer Cambrew, have been dismissed in retaliation for taking strike action on 16 January. Workers are fighting the company's attempt to impose short-term employment contracts and late working hours.

The beer promotion women are employed by Cambrew to market and serve Angkor beer at restaurants, where they compete with promoters from other breweries working in the same restaurants.

Please click here to tell Carlsberg to reinstate the dismissed workers, enter into good faith negotiations with CFSWF and ensure that Carlsberg/Cambrew respects its workers’ rights.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Intellectual dishonesty

I came across this article on the Care2 website: If the Alcohol Industry Depends on ‘Risky’ Drinkers, Is it Time We Did More? So I decided to read it and found that there was absolutely no new information in this article that hasn't been published before many times over. The writer is Steve Williams, and when I clicked on his link, I found that he was described as a "citizen journalist", a blogger to you and me. As I wrote in a comment below the article, the writer is actually out of date in stating the weekly recommended units as 21 for men and 14 for woman, when, as we all know, they're now both 14 for both sexes.

The units were the basis of the writer's definition of risky drinking. As the units have no real science behind them, as I explain below, this means that his whole article is flawed. There are many risks in life, most of which don't get the same attention as drinking: crossing the road (again, see below), mountain climbing, sailing, pot holing, rugby, boxing, driving too fast or singing The Sash My Father Wore in a Sinn Fein pub.

I suppose I feel disappointed at the intellectual dishonesty of such articles. I have no doubt our "citizen journalist" felt he had written a balanced article, but he did not question the assumptions behind what he has quoted as facts, and he did not distinguish between coincidence and cause. The difference can be illustrated by the fact that if a drinker gets cancer, that does not automatically mean drink caused the cancer (my example, not his).

Four years ago, when the BBC quoted completely inaccurate figures in a programme about the effects of alcohol on older drinkers (the errors significantly overstated the risks and were the fault of the university researchers, not the BBC), I asked them to correct the information in a later broadcast of the programme concerned. They said they'd corrected it on the website, and my argument that most people who had seen the programme were unlikely to look at the website was dismissed. This is the TV equivalent of a newspaper publishing a story with massive headlines on the front page, only to print the subsequent retraction in small print at the bottom of column 8 on page 42. The logical conclusion is that it's okay to broadcast duff information in error and not correct it, as long as that misinformation supports the anti-alcohol campaigners' cause. I'm certain if the errors had gone the other way, the Beeb would caved in to pressure to broadcast a correction on air.

This ceased to be a mistake when they refused to correct it in the same format by which they had originally broadcast it, and thus became deliberately dishonest. For all I know, the inaccurate findings in that programme have subsequently been cited as evidence by the anti-alcohol crew.

Intellectual dishonesty: one side of this bogus debate is riddled with it.

If you're interested, this was the rest of my comment to the Care2 article, some of it derived from a post of mine from a couple of weeks ago:

Several years ago, one of the scientists on the team that dreamt up the 21 and 14 limits admitted that the figures were more or less plucked out of the air. He wasn't suggesting drinking was a risk-free activity (only a fool would do that); he was simply stating there wasn't any real science behind them.

When recently introducing the new limits, the Chief Medical Officer for England (CMO) stated that every year, over 20,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with cancer caused by drinking alcohol, adding that excessive drinking can cause other health problems too. 20,000 seems a very precise figure to me, and even if a cancer sufferer does drink, that does not mean that the cancer was caused by the drink. Proving the cause of a medical condition in this way isn't always as clear cut as the CMO was trying to suggest.

While a diagnosis of cancer is always a serious matter, it is worth pointing o
ut that statistically you are 25% more likely to be knocked down when crossing the road [than get cancer through drinking].

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Rolling up to the BBBB

I didn't get to the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival after all, so I'm definitely going to go to the Bent and Bongs Beer Bash, known as the BBBB. It will be taking place in Atherton from Thursday 4 to Saturday 6 February; I usually go on the Saturday.

It's a joint venture by CAMRA and a local charitable trust, and it has a new venue this year: the Atherton Roller Rink, Bolton Road, Atherton, M46 9JQ. This is about 10 minutes' walk from Atherton Station, even closer than the old venue. Unfortunately, the characterful, if slightly rundown, Formby Hall, where the BBBB had been held since 1990, has been sold for redevelopment.

Monday, 25 January 2016

The Slipway, Burscough

The Slipway
Close to Burscough on Crabtree Lane, you will find the Slipway, a fine West Lancashire canal-side pub. As you'd expect, the setting is wonderful with the front of the pub facing the Leeds-Liverpool canal. On the outside of this attractive pub, there is ample car parking, an enclosed beer garden and a children's play area; bouncy castle hire can be arranged if required. The pub also has a permanent marquee which is available for hire for parties and other celebrations and functions .

It is a single-roomed Daniel Thwaites house which has been recently refurbished to a good standard, and when we called in, the available real ales were two popular Thwaites beers, Wainwright and Bomber: our party found these beers to be in good form. The pub is also noted for its food: it has an extensive menu, and food is served all day from 11.00am to 8.00pm every day. They offer a special carvery menu on Sundays, and their Sunday roast dinners are a speciality. You can even phone your food orders in advance to avoid having to wait.

They hold a darts night every second Monday, and every Thursday is Bikers' Night. You can find them on Facebook, and they offer free Wi-Fi. The pub is open until 11.00pm during the week and midnight on Friday and Saturday. The Slipway even has its own private canal moorings.

The Slipway is at 48 Crabtree Lane, Burscough, Lancashire L40 0RN. Phone: 01704 897767. Website here.

This is one of a series of pub reviews that I am writing for our local paper, the Southport Visiter. Previous reviews are here.

Friday, 22 January 2016

The price ain't right!

There are some interesting statistics in this article in the Morning Advertiser on a variety of beer-related issues. One set of stats covers the fact that lager sales are declining in favour of ales and craft beers, about which they state:

While some Brits are losing their love of lager, there is a rise in styles such as IPAs (Indian pale ales) in particular.
  • One fifth of UK drinkers are not willing to pay more than £2.99 for a pint. 
  • Three in 10 (29%) beer drinkers are prepared to pay more than £4 per pint.
  • In London, 27% are willing to pay more than £4.50. 
  • More than one quarter (27%) of Brits drink ale or bitter.
  • One in five (20%) drink any type of craft beer.
I found the first point of particular interest. I have long felt that £3 is particularly difficult psychological barrier for many drinkers, and I have wondered whether that's the reason why my local has kept its cask ales below that figure for some time now, except for beers over 5%. I'll pay £2.95 without a thought, but if the cost is over £3, I'll always notice it. It won't stop me paying, of course, but if the price is more than £3 a pint for ordinary beers, I tend to feel it's dear.

One drinker in five is a sizeable proportion of beer drinkers, and this stat suggests to me that it may be a cut-off point for some who may feel driven to join the join the supermarket set. This point is reinforced by the fact that, although lager sales are suffering more than cask ale, the overall consumption of beer in pubs is in slow decline: the market is shrinking.

Pub owners, such as brewers and pub companies who tend to have little compunction about pushing up the prices they charge, should take this psychological price barrier into account, or risk biting the hand that feeds them.

On a related issue, I note that CAMRA is campaigning for another cut in beer duty; let's hope the government heeds the call.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

St George's Hall Beer Festival

A rear view of St George's Hall
Once again Liverpool Organic Brewery is holding a beer festival from 28 to 30 January in the spectacular surroundings of Liverpool's St George's Hall, a Grade 1 listed building and part of the city's World Heritage Site. The festival will offer more than 200 real ales and ciders in the Great Hall, food from local providers, continental beers and lagers and the Liverpool Gin Bar, so there should be something for all tastes.

It's just across the road from Lime Street Station, and from Southport a direct train to Central Station followed by a five to ten minute walk will get you there. It is a ticket event, so go to the festival website.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Musical junkies and card cheats

Fans of performers such as Madonna and Britney Spears, among many others, probably don't question the quality of the singing of their favourites. The singing sounds good on the recording and it sounds good when they see them live, but how far are you listening to the actual performer? Not much nowadays.

Since the 1990s, autotune has made massive inroads into the music business to the extent that many performers routinely expect their vocals to be put through 'the box' to iron out any imperfections: even a badly out-of-tune voice can be put perfectly in tune. In earlier times, artists would make multiple recordings of a song until they were satisfied with the result, but this is too much like hard work for some of today's stars, so when they're recording, their voices get far less use than their predecessors'.

When Louis Walsh of X-Factor was challenged that Cheryl Tweedy (as she was then) used autotune, his response was, in effect, so what? This is despite the fact that it is meant to be a programme to select the best new singers, but there was a strong public reaction against the news that its performances were routinely autotuned. We are told that X-Factor no longer uses autotune.

I have been going to folk clubs for more than 40 years and I am used to completely unplugged, unamplified performances where singers can sing in tune without technological help, sometimes well into their 60s and beyond. They can do this because they don't stop singing. Many big superstars record their albums, which are then put into tune mechanically, and then go on tour where they often lip sinc (or mime as we used to call it) to a prerecorded vocal. They don't record their songs over and over again to get them perfect, and they don't need to rehearse (except perhaps their dance moves) for 'live' performances. The result is they are not using their singing voice: a young voice is fine without much practice, but as you get older, you need to exercise your singing voice, the vocal chords being a muscle. It really is a case of use it or lose it.

Singers such Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin and Dusty Springfield all retained their singing voices until older years; using modern techniques of recording and 'live' performance, their voices would probably have been seriously diminished by the time they reached their fifties, but as we know that did not happen.

'Live' performances are often mimed, particularly when energetic dancing is involved: it is impossible to sing accurately while doing the moves that Beyoncé, Britney or Madonna do. Try singing an entire song faultlessly for 4 minutes while going for a jog and you'll see what I mean: it simply cannot be done. The perils of miming were highlighted in 1989 when Milli Vanilli's backing track stuck during a 'live' performance, but that was not the exception that everyone seemed to assume. I don't know how people can sleep when they charge fans a fortune for a mimed performance. It's worse than pub karaoke, where at least you know that the vocal, even if it's dodgy, is real.

To me, miming is like cheating at cards and autotune is the musical equivalent of performance-enhancing drugs in sport. Here is an item broadcast 2 years ago on RT on the issue; it told me that the fraud being foisted upon music lovers is even worse than I had previously supposed.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Canal-side pub, the Ship Inn, Haskayne

The Ship Inn's beer garden
Southport is fortunate in being close to a variety of country and canal-side pubs: the Ship Inn in Haskayne is one such. It's on Rosemary Lane, just off the A5147 (Scarisbrick to Maghull road), and the 300 bus stops near the junction. It is a popular canal-side pub with a good-sized car park.

The pub had a major refurbishment recently which, I'm glad to report, did not spoil its traditional atmosphere. It has several rooms of varying sizes and an extensive outside drinking area by the canal with covered tables, outdoor heating and lighting, particularly useful for smokers. There is also an outdoor children's play area.

The Ship is an historical pub and was built in 1750; the first cut of the canal was made just yards away. Canal traffic stills calls at there to this day, taking advantage of the available overnight moorings. Canoeists, walkers and horse riders are welcomed here, and pub is muddy boot and dog friendly.

It is now a JW Lees pub and when I called in it was serving MPA (Manchester Pale Ale), Drayman's Reward and Bitter from that brewery; the beers I tried were on good form. Lees Brewery is in Middleton, north Manchester, and its beers are not often seen around here. The pub's opening hours 11.00am to 11.00pm during the week, later at weekends.

The pub has long been known for its food, which is available to 9.00pm during the week, 9.30pm at weekends. It has been awarded the JW Lees Pub of the Year for its food. There is a darts night on Mondays, and an open mic night every second Friday. In keeping with the traditional atmosphere of the pub, there are no pool tables or games machines.

Telephone 01704 840077. Address: 6 Rosemary Lane, Haskayne, L39 7JP.

This is one of a series of pub reviews that I am writing for the CAMRA column in our local paper, the Southport Visiter.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Steve Knightley in Childwall

Steve Knightley
I've been asked to mention that Steve Knightley, known as half of the popular duo Show of Hands, is doing a solo gig in the Liverpool suburb of Childwall as part of his All At Sea Tour. Steve decided that in 2016 he'd turn his attention to maritime venues around the shoreline of England and Wales. The 'All At Sea' tour will find him playing in seaside halls, an Elizabethan Fort, on boats and in a rich variety of performing spaces all within sight of the waves and the tide.

Steve has said: "As a West country songwriter I have written so many songs of seafarers and wreckers, travellers and traders, pirates and smugglers. Now I'm going to be able to sing them with the sound of the sea in the distance - I can’t wait!"
  • Thursday 10 March.
  • 7.00pm (doors) - 7.30pm (start).
  • Christ the King Social Club, Score Lane, Childwall, Liverpool, L16 6AW.
Tickets are £16 and are available by advance purchase only (non-refundable) from Mrs Lesley Scholes:
  • Mobile: 07762 360591.
  • Phone: 0151 280 9394.
  • E-mail:

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Speaker conceals MPs' excessive drinking

Lunchtime in the Strangers Bar
I have written several times, most recently in 2013, about the subsidy that we provide on alcohol sold in the Palace of Westminster to MPs and Lords. Tandleman once suggested, perhaps with some reason, that I had a bee on my bonnet on this issue. Alcohol Concern has asked Parliament to scrap the subsidy, currently more than £4 million in the 12 bars in the building, thus for once saying something that I actually agree with.

The issue has surfaced again in a slightly different form: the Press Association requested information about MPs' drinking habits after incidents such as Eric Joyce's conviction for assault in 2012, or Mark Reckless admitting he missed a vote in 2010 because he was drunk. The speaker, John Bercow, has refused the request and under Freedom of Information legislation, he doesn't have to explain why.

I can't see any good reason why such information cannot be released, anonymised of course to protect individual privacy, so the conclusion I draw is it is too embarrassing, a view which I feel is supported by Tory MP Sarah Wollaston's statement in 2011 that some MPs were drinking "really quite heavily".

It's long overdue for Parliament to join the 21st century: few, if any, other employers would tolerate excessive drinking - or in many cases, any drinking - while on duty. A couple of decades ago, many workplaces had their own bars, including in my personal experience some larger civil service buildings and police stations. I remember drinking in a police station bar when our quiz team was playing away to a police team. Such staff bars are all gone now. Time for Parliament to catch up.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Two pieces of bad news

Fred's Special Award
In the last few days, I've heard two pieces of bad news.

Fred Hook, the business partner of Gail (the licensee of my local, the Guest House in Southport), and known as a bit of a character, died at the weekend; he was in his early 80s. While Gail nowadays is responsible for the day-to-day running of the pub, she and Fred have run pubs together for decades. In 2013, Fred was given a special award by the local CAMRA branch for 50 years in the licensing trade. I remember once during the weekly pub quiz, some lads were shouting out answers. I watched Fred walk over to them and simply say: "This is the easiest pub in Southport to get barred from." They duly shut up.

My sympathies to his family, friends and colleagues.

Mike in front of the now-closed
Tetley's brewery in Leeds
Mike Perkins, a stalwart of the local CAMRA branch and a genuinely nice bloke, was knocked down last week by a car near the Richmond pub in Scarisbrick New Road, Southport. He is seriously injured in hospital with several broken bones and I expect it will be months before we see him out and about again. The branch is having reallocate all the many tasks he does for CAMRA (even I have called in to take over our CAMRA column in the local paper).

My best wishes to Mike for a speedy and successful recovery.

Click on the pictures to enlarge them.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Worth going to Manchester for

One of the biggest beer festivals in the North West, the CAMRA Manchester Beer and Cider Festival, will be held from 20 to 23 January at Manchester Central (formerly the G-Mex, and originally Manchester Central railway station). The venue is impressive and I have seen bands there such as Simply Red, Deacon Blue and AC/DC in the past.

It is a new home for the festival and, unlike the previous one, the National Cycle Centre (aka the Velodrome), it's in the centre of Manchester. From Southport there's a direct train to Deansgate Station, and then a short 8 to 10 minute walk to the festival.

Organised by CAMRA's Greater Manchester Branches, it's a direct successor to the National Winter Ales Festival which was held in the city for many years until 2013, after which it was moved to Derby. They'll be offering more than 500 beers, ciders and perries. As well as a huge selection of cask-conditioned real ales and traditional ciders and perries, there will be bottled and draught beers from around the world, plus a 'real ale in a bottle' bar where you can buy beers either to drink at the festival or to take home. Tickets can be bought either in advance or on the door, and CAMRA members get in free on Wednesday and Thursday (see: membership has its privileges). For more details and advance tickets, go to the festival website.

I enjoyed last year's at the Velodrome, although the sight of cyclists hurtling around at high speed while you supped your pint seemed a bit incongruous. I'm not sure yet which day I'm going, but I'll add a note to this post so that fellow bloggers can either look out for me or avoid me as they see fit.

The full address of Manchester Central is Windmill Street, Manchester, M2 3GX.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Hero for more than one day

It's always a shock to switch on the radio and hear that someone who seems always to have been there has died. It's even more so when it's a pop star from our younger years, seeing how closely we relate to those performers whose music we identified with at the time. So it was this morning with David Bowie.

He was a massive star when I was a student, and there was always one song that would fill our disco floor: Jean Genie (a thinly disguised version of the name of the French writer Jean Genet). Here is a version of the song on TOTP from 1973, thought lost until a cameraman found it among his personal collection a few years ago. Predictably, the BBC had wiped the original. Here he is with the great guitarist, the late Mick Ronson. Unfortunately I never him saw live, but this live performance gives some idea of how dynamic his concerts must have been.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Putting it in perspective

As expected, the Chief Medical Officer for England has announced a reduction in the recommended
guideline for alcohol consumption for men from 21 units per week to 14, thus bringing it in line the figure for women. She stated that every year, over 20,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with cancer caused by drinking alcohol, adding that excessive drinking can cause other health problems too.

I am not in a position to dispute the science; after all, only a fool would argue that excessive drinking is a risk-free activity. However, while a diagnosis of cancer is always a serious matter, it is worth pointing out that statistically you are 25% more likely to be knocked down when crossing the road than get cancer through drinking. Why aren't there any public information broadcasts and media coverage of what is clearly a riskier activity?

On a related subject, this was part of an article I wrote for the local newspaper:

At this time of the year, many people feel the need to reduce their alcohol consumption, especially after the indulgences of the Christmas period, but unfortunately January is the leanest month of the year for pubs. Every week, around 30 pubs close down in the United Kingdom, and we have certainly lost quite a few in the Southport and West Lancs area in recent years. A large number of people abstaining in January may drive even more pubs to the wall. Alternatives to a dry January might include not drinking for one full week in every month, or if you want the full month off, choose a different one, perhaps getting sponsorship for your favourite good cause. Or you could simply cut down by taking just enough money out to the pub and no cash card, so you can't be tempted to exceed your preferred limit. But however you choose to cut down, please let's not all hit our pubs at the same time in their hardest month of business. They were there when you wanted them at Christmas last month; let's try to make sure they are still there next Christmas too.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

A Cumbrian beer - brewed in Stockport

The Mason's Arms in Anchor Street, Southport, was very busy last night. There was a large contingent of us singers and musicians gathered for the (unamplified) acoustic song night, but the rest of this small pub was busy too. The Mason's is a Robinson's pub which keeps its beer well, and while the usual real ale is Unicorn, last night it was Hartleys XB. Hartley's Brewery of Ulverston was taken over by Robinson's in 1982 and closed in 1991, when production was moved to Stockport.

I remember at the time asking Graham Donning, now one of the organisers of the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival but who in 1991 lived in Ulverston, what the takeover had done for the beer. He replied that overall it was an improvement: the beer had become much more consistent, whereas the Ulverston-brewed version had been extremely variable. Robinson's say the beer is brewed to the original recipe, formulated in 1949. I'm unable to judge because I never drank Hartley's beers when the brewery was independent.

The brewery's own description of the beer is here, and it includes the phrase, 'pale, tart beer, with its rich body and subtle tang of malt'. To me it tastes like just another product from the Robinson's stable, unremarkable but unobjectionable, which is slightly surprising if it complies with the original recipe.

Then there's the pump clip which gives the name as 'Hartleys Cumbrian XB', displaying a picture of the Lake District and the slogan 'Brewed to Eric Simpson's 1949 Recipe'. They are clearly pushing the beer's Cumbrian origins, even though it hasn't been brewed in the area for nearly a quarter of a century. There is no mention of Stockport or Robinson's.

Is this another example - attractive design notwithstanding - of deception, similar to that by Sharp's Brewery who got a lot of flak last year when it was discovered that the production of bottled Doom Bar had quietly been moved to Burton on Trent two years previously? I don't think so: the situation with XB isn't comparable because Robinson's has never made a secret of the fact that Hartley's isn't brewed in Ulverston any more, and this is quite clear from their website. In contrast, I could find no mention even now (post-scandal) on the Sharp's website that some Doom Bar is not brewed in Cornwall.

XB is one of those standard regional brews that is acceptable, but it isn't a beer you'd actively seek out, and it certainly wouldn't impress those who live a life full of hop. 

Monday, 4 January 2016

Join the January onslaught on pubs

The Daily Mash has published an item under the headline 'Non-alcoholics enjoying pretend battle with drink'.

I do love the spoof idea of the once-a-year drinkers struggling with their alcoholic demons, or rather imps, throughout January, but I did begin to wonder who actually follows these campaigns to give up booze for a month. A friend of mine has told me he won't be drinking in January, but he's scarcely a heavy drinker; in fact, he doesn't very often exceed the official weekly guidelines. I can't think of anyone else who is giving up for January.

January abstainers may decide not to visit the pub at all for the duration, not even for a soft drink or a coffee, in order to avoid temptation, but people who live alone may then feel isolated: a month is a long time not to see your friends. If they consequently lapse, they'll probably feel guilty for the failure of their will power, when in fact they were just lonely, and if you'd given up the demon drink for charity, the thought that you had let your chosen charity down just for the sake of a pint wouldn't improve your self esteem. Do the Dry January zealots ever think of such things? I doubt it.

As others have pointed out, including my local recently (see previous post), hitting pubs during their worst month of the year could drive some to the wall, but I believe the anti-alcohol campaigners would regard pub closures, not as an unfortunate side effect, but as a success. Let's not fall into the trap they set. Cut down throughout the year if you want to, rather than abstain for the month, but if you see no option but to stop completely, let's not all do it in the same month.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Local Government joins the killjoys

I'm pleased to see my local in Southport, the Guest House, clearly nail its colours to the mast about Dryanuary on its Facebook page:

"We believe that a responsible approach to drinking is the only way to go... so would like to state our position on ‪#‎Dryanuary‬.

"Dyranuary is an ill-conceived scheme whereby tens of thousands of people across Britain will be convinced that, by boycotting their local pubs, they'll actually be achieving something. What really happens, guys, is that these businesses lose money in their toughest period of the year and we lose more local pubs. Instead of giving up for a month, why not just have 11 pints when you go out instead of 12?

"‪#‎Tryanuary‬ is designed to protect our local pubs against the devastating effects of a scheme that seems intent on destroying our industry.

"If your considering Dryanuary please fully consider the ramifications."

Well said!

The latest addition to ranks of the the alcohol killjoys is the Local Government Association (LGA) which is calling for "clear and prominent labelling" of the calorie count in alcoholic drinks, echoing a previous call by the Royal Society for Public Health. They say it's to tackle the obesity crisis in the country, arguing that people aren't aware of the calorific content of drinks. I'm all in favour of educating the public, but it strikes me that we are forcibly inculcated with things they decide we need to know, but are kept in the dark about things they'd prefer we didn't know too much about such as - to give a completely random example - how the amount we lose to social security fraud is a tiny fraction of what we lose to corporate tax fiddles.

A BBC interviewer astutely pointed out a possible unintended consequence: that it might encourage people to go for spirits as being lower calorie but higher strength. That, the LGA spokesperson said, would lead to the other part of their campaign to highlight the fact that excessive alcohol can lead to serious health problems like liver and heart damage, and an increased risk of cancer. 

Anything wrong with this? Not in itself, but how many people are there in the country who think alcoholic drinks are calorie-free or risk-free? I'd have thought very few, but despite that they still think we constantly need telling. I'd point out to them:
  • Almost no one takes the weekly unit limits of 14 for women and 21 for men seriously. The figures lack credibility, especially as one of those who worked on deciding the limits admitted a few years ago that they more or less plucked them out of the air.
  • If you keep on ramming the message down people's throats, you will encounter the "boy crying wolf" syndrome. People do not like constantly being preached at.
  • Why not give it a rest and just #DryUpInJanuary?

Friday, 1 January 2016

New year rambling thoughts about this blog

I saw New Year in with my brother and sister in law: she was on the red wine while my brother and I drank a 5 litre mini-cask of Wychwood Hobgoblin. Not a fashionable beer, but we enjoyed it, and it was much preferable to beer out of bottles. We hit the sack at around 5.00 a.m.

Today I've been thinking back over my blogging year: I was off line for 6 months until late April 2015, and I did wonder whether I'd be able to revive this blog after such a long period of inactivity. However, looking at the stats, I see that I've had 1035 more unique hits over the year than in my previous peak year (2012), even though that year consisted of a full year of posting. The last two quarters of 2015 were each approximately 30% higher than any previous quarter since I began the blog in March 2009. It's pleasing to know that I'm getting more hits than ever before.

Of my pages (links to the right), the most popular by far is my beer festivals page, and second most popular with a fair number of hits is forthcoming music events. While posts about music are much less likely to attract comments than those relating to beer, I can see that quite a few people do read them.

I saw that Curmudgeon wrote in his review of the year: "Beer blogging itself seems to continue to wither on the vine. I’m likely to record my lowest tally of posts since 2007, which was only a half-year, and it looks as though Tandleman will do the same. I blame Twitter!" I seem to recall Tandleman rhetorically asking about 5 or 6 years ago whether the golden age of beer blogging was over.

I don't know whether there ever was a golden age, but I can't see Twitter taking over from blogs: they serve very different purposes. A detailed analysis, a carefully constructed argument or a comprehensive description cannot be condensed into 140 characters, which seems better suited to saying things like: "Great pint of Old Mudgie in the Sam Smiths Arms tonight, although the Tandleman's Craft Lager was disappointing." I still cannot see much point to Twitter, which is why I'm not on it. Besides I don't have a smart phone, so much of its purpose would be lost.

Dare I suggest that some beer bloggers simply aren't as enthusiastic as they once were? No, I'd better not.

When I began ReARM in 2009, I aimed to post an average of better than one post in every two days, and if you take out the two periods when I was off-line (which total nearly 10 months), I've just about managed that (for info, this is my 1184th post). As I'm sure most other bloggers would agree, while you always want your blog to be current, there are times when you struggle to come up with something to write about, but if you let it fall behind too far, people stop looking at it.

Anyway, enough of all this self-indulgence! It's 1st January and you have a choice: you can go for Dry JanuaryTryanuary or even Try January. Personally, I'll be going for Try2016.

P.S. A Trip To Planet Zog
I was just about to post this when the BBC radio news announced that they are thinking of bringing in new drink guidelines: a recommendation to have two days per week off the booze, and the suggestion that they may bring the limit for men down to match that of women. While I expect most drinkers usually do have a couple of days off, few people take the current limits seriously. As far as I'm concerned, they can announce what they like but I'm sure licensees would be delighted if drinkers limited their consumption to a pint a day. What planet are these people on?

At least they give us bloggers something to write about, so every cloud ...