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Saturday, 20 September 2014

Does truth matter?

This is something I've been thinking about for a while.

A few years ago, a blogger who then ran a pub wrote a post about a stroppy customer that I found frankly implausible. I wrote a comment explaining why I wasn't convinced and was surprised to be told that the story was about separate incidents that the writer had condensed into one, and that he'd done so in order to try to develop his writing skills. While there is nothing wrong with self-improvement, this deceit meant that the incident which he'd reported as fact never actually happened.

Another blogger wrote how in a pub in London, he'd observed a drinker order a pint and tell the barman that he should get free beer because CAMRA had saved real ale, and he was a member. I found this unconvincing because, despite having been a member myself for around 30 years, I've never seen a member behave in such a bad way. The writer then added that the drinker joined his mate at a table where they began to exchange train spotting videos. Not just a bad mannered CAMRA member demanding free drinks, but a train spotter to boot! I thought this pudding well well and truly over-egged with stereotypes.

I have a couple of other unconvincing stories I can cite, but the question is: does it really matter if people make up, or grossly exaggerate, stories? I believe it does because in all cases the writer wants you to accept that the incident actually happened as reported. I stopped buying daily newspapers a few years ago because, as I read them, I found myself wondering how much was true, how much exaggerated, and how much downright lies. I don't want to be doing that with blogs.

I'm certain that most bloggers are honest in their writing, if only because I can't see any point in doing this kind of thing otherwise. Unlike professional journalists, most of us don't make a living from writing blogs, so there can be no financial benefits from lying or exaggerating. If you have to be dishonest to make a point, why bother? There's is absolutely nothing wrong with making up a hypothetical example to illustrate a point, as long as you make it clear. Just don't tell lies: it really annoys me.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Craft keg fans - look away now!

An extract from a recent CAMRA press release:

New research released to mark the launch of CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide 2015 shows that over a third of young people aged 18-24 have tried real ale and of those 87% would drink it again. The book’s publisher CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, say that interest in real ale is increasing year on year and more young people are being attracted to the joys of Britain’s national drink.
...
 The research also shows that new real ale drinkers are far more likely to be in this 18-24 age bracket. 65% of 18-24s tried real ale for the first time within the last three years, compared to 11% across all ages. So it is clear that real ale is not only attracting new drinkers – as one in ten real ale drinkers tried it in the last three years – but these new recruits are far more likely to be young.

This is curious, because it means that certain beer bloggers who present their own opinions about beer as though they were incontrovertible facts seem to have got it completely wrong. So often I have read on various blogs that real ale is a drink with an ageing customer base, only served in grotty spit-and-sawdust pubs to men with Capstan Full Strength hacking coughs, cloth caps and whippets. Instead, the future of beer is grossly overpriced craft keg supped by the fashionistas of the alcohol world in bars designed to look as little like pubs as possible. Ignore the fact that such beer is still scarce and hard to find - unlike real ale which is now sold in more than 50% of pubs - this, we are told, will leave us boring old stick-in-the-muds behind until the Grim Reaper has disposed of the last of us.

Except for that embarrassing piece of research. Unusually, I agree with Roger Protz who said, "That old stereotype of real ale drinkers being in their dotage never was true, but now it’s dead and buried."

I have no doubt this research will be dismissed by CAMRA detractors for no better reason than it was commissioned by the Campaign. I look forward to reading any research they can produce to the contrary.

Having said all that, there is no room for complacency - I'm not like the CAMRA regional director from London who claimed we've won the war for real ale. The situation is never static, new drinkers reach 18 every day, tastes can change and - it is true - as drinkers get older, quite often they don't drink as much as they used to. Add to that the expensive marketing that tries to lure young drinkers in any direction except towards real ale, and it becomes clear that CAMRA's work is by no means complete. Nevertheless, that research is encouraging.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Tich Frier at the Bothy

The Bothy's guest this Sunday is Tich Frier. It might seem apposite to have a Scot as the guest at the Bothy in this particular week, especially as the Bothy itself is named after the tradition of singing Bothy ballads, which mostly come from the north east of Scotland. In fact it's just a coincidence and anyway folk music recognises no national boundaries.

It's more than forty years since Tich began singing folk songs in his home town of Edinburgh. In that time he has established an enviable reputation as a first class entertainer, and he is held in high regard for his powerful and passionate singing, skilled guitar work and inspired sense of fun.

His repertoire can best be described as eclectic. It ranges through traditional and modern Scottish songs, Burns, his own compositions, parodies, music hall songs and contemporary classics, all linked together with his inventive off the cuff stories.

What they've said about Tich:
  • "Inspired and energetic" (The Herald).
  • "Spiked with humour and full of heart" (The Scotsman).
  • "Uniformly positive to effusive reports from members". Acoustic Music Club, Kirkcaldy. Fife.
  • "Makes Burns come alive in verse, music and song." - Bill Nolan, Director, Eglinton Burns Club
  • "A great night, can we do it again next year?" Guisborough Folk Club.
That's this Sunday 21 September at 8pm in the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS, a real ale venue. Tickets on the door or on-line here.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Local Good Beer Guide pubs 2015

The CAMRA Good Beer Guide (GBG) is fully revised and updated every year and lists the pubs across the UK that serve the best real ale as determined by drinkers on the ground, the local CAMRA members. This means every pub has been recommended by people who know a thing or two about good beer. The 2015 GBG has been recently published and is now available in all good book shops, or if you prefer you can buy it on-line here

While you're waiting for your GBG to be delivered, here is a complete list of the pubs listed for the Southport, Formby and West Lancashire area.
Happy drinking!

Monday, 15 September 2014

St George’s Hall beer festival

The Concert Room
Liverpool Organic Brewery are holding their second beer festival in the magnificent surroundings of St George’s Hall in Liverpool from 25 to 28 September. St George’s Hall is considered to be the finest neo-classical building in the world making it an unusual but spectacular venue for a beer festival, and it's just 44 minutes by train from Southport.

The organisers promise that in the Great Hall you will find more than 300 real ales from 100+ UK breweries, ciders, continental beers and lagers and locally sourced food. There will be live music at all sessions in the Concert Room, so if you prefer not to have music with your beer, just stay in the Great Hall. More information and tickets here. You can see what beers will be on here.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The power of the press

I do love the local press!

The Southport Visiter kindly published a mention of my pub singaround in the Guest House as "the Bothy Folk Club moves to the Guest House". I pointed out that the Bothy had not moved and was still in the Park Golf Club, and that my singaround is not an official Bothy event.

To be fair, they subsequently published a correction about my singaround in the Guest House, but - believe it or not - wrote that it takes place in the Park Golf Club. No, my Guest House session is always in the Guest House.

In a separate development, they published an article about the Bothy's most recent guest artists as being on Tuesday 9th, when they were on Sunday 7th - the Bothy is always on Sunday. I hope no one turned up on the wrong day.

I don't think I'll ask for another correction, as heaven knows what they'd say next.

Deciding the best

The Grafton in Kentish Town, London has been declared the Sky Great British Pub of the Year 2014. These awards are organised by the Publican's Morning Advertiser, the weekly newspaper of the pub trade, and Sky is a significant sponsor. There are 17 awards; you can find the full list here.

For all I know the Grafton may well be a worthy winner, but what struck me was that of these 17 awards, 4 are in the north of England, while the remaining 13 are firmly in the south, as this interactive map makes clear. Three of the northern pubs are in Yorkshire and one in Lancashire, while the northernmost of the remainder is in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. Most of the winners are in the country or small towns: cities are seriously under-represented. The same bias applies to most of the regional winners.

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the awards reflect a certain perception that English country inns represent the best of British pubs, a view supported by the fact that no Scottish or Welsh pubs appear in what is supposed to be a list that covers all of Britain. In fact, Wales is bundled together for judging purposes with the West Midlands, and Scotland with Yorkshire and the North East: devolution seems to have gone right over the Morning Advertiser’s head.

I'm not an uncritical CAMRA member, but I do believe that CAMRA's network of local, regional and national pub awards - decided as they are by ordinary drinkers, not by a self-appointed panel, a newspaper or the industry - provides a fairer and more representative cross-section of our best pubs. It's not perfect, but in my opinion it's the best system currently available.

I'll be publishing a list of our local pubs in the 2015 Good Beer Guide in a future post soon.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Parker Centurion Citrale

I finally got round to trying a Parker Brewery beer recently. Parker is a new brewery in Formby which currently produces only bottled beers. There are three in the range, all bottled conditioned and all alliteratively named:
  • Barbarian Bitter (4.2%).
  • Dark Spartan Stout (5.0%).
  • Centurion Citrale (3.9%).
I was in the Tap and Bottles and decided to try out the Citrale. I don't drink much bottled beer as I generally prefer draught, but needs must. It was well-carbonated and retained its condition. The predominant taste for me was the citrus - just as well given the name - with something of a bitter aftertaste. All in all, a pleasant bottled beer which is quite superior to the "4 for a fiver" offerings in supermarkets. Ian Wareing, a former local CAMRA chair who knows his beers, described the stout as "bloody lovely".

I understand that, as they want to brew cask ales, they are looking for alternative premises (the beer is currently brewed at home); one site being considered was in Churchtown in north Southport. I look forward to seeing their draught beers on the bar.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Do you want the good news first?

According to the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), the number of breweries in the UK has risen 188% since 2000: there are now 1,442. Long gone are the days when a reasonably well-informed beer drinker was familiar with the names of most breweries; nowadays when I travel elsewhere in the UK, I almost always find local breweries I've never heard of. Increased choice is of course good news in general but, contrary to what non-real ale drinkers tend to assume, that doesn't mean that every beer is excellent or that every real ale drinker likes every beer. Despite that, I'd say that overall things are looking good for drinkers who enjoy variety.

However, in the spirit of the beer glass being half empty, there has to be a note of caution. BBPA figures, which are based on tax revenues, show that alcohol sales fell by 1.7% in the year ending in 2013, and by 18% since 2004. There must come a time when declining alcohol sales will curb the increase in the numbers of breweries, and probably lead to some closures; I made a similar point last Wednesday when discussing the related issue of pub closures.

Are the anti-alcohol zealots pleased? Fat chance! As I reported on 14 August, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Misuse (APPG) has come out with a document calling on all political parties to commit themselves to 10 measures to minimise alcohol-related harm in the UK. Despite the official sounding title, this is a group of "self-appointed busybodies with no official status" (to use Curmudgeon's words) who are attempting to influence the manifestos of all parties in the direction of more restrictions.

But it's even worse than that. As Xopher wrote in the comments to my post of 14 August:
  1. The secretariat for the APPG was provided by Alcohol Concern who researched the report.
  2. The APPG secretariat and the printing costs for this report were funded by Lundbeck Ltd.
  3. Lundbeck is a pharmaceutical company which paid for Alcohol Concern's alcohol harm map and report (The Case For Better Access To Treatment For Alcohol Dependence In England). 
  4. Lundbeck sells alcohol dependency drugs in the UK and across Europe.
The fact that Alcohol Concern is itself almost entirely financed from public funds completes the circle whereby the government squanders our money to pay a pressure group to lobby that selfsame government. Using the mechanism of the APPG looks suspiciously like a way of trying to obscure the audit trail. 

And is no one on the APPG bothered about the vested interest that Lundbeck has in helping to steer UK official policy in a way that would boost their own profits? Obviously not.

Enjoy the brewery boom while it lasts.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Quaffing All Over The World

I found an interactive map of alcohol consumption across the globe on the internet. It's interesting, but the UK result will shock you: while we rank among the more committed drinkers, we are by no means the worst on the planet. Surely our friends in Alcohol Concern* couldn't have got it so badly wrong?

Click here for the map.

* A government funded quango granted charity status to save on its tax bill.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Bothy autumn season begins

Mick Ryan and Paul Downes
Mick Ryan is well known on the folk scene as a fine singer of traditional and original songs He was described by "Folk Roots" as 'definitely the most underrated singer in the country.' His duo with Paul Downes has been well received: "Positively oozes skill and professionalism" (Folk North West); "The singing, as we have come to expect from Mick Ryan, utterly superb" (Shreds and Patches).

Paul Downes has a sensitive, yet fun approach to live performances which puts him among the most respected artists on the British acoustic music scene today. Paul has a rich musical background that has progressed through working with Phil Beer, The Arizona Smoke Revue, Pete Seeger and, currently, The Joyce Gang.

Together Mick and Paul provide singing, music and entertainment of the very highest quality.

They are the first guests of the autumn season at the Bothy Folk Club this Sunday 7 September at 8.00pm in the Park Gold Club, Park Rd West, Southport, PR9 0JS. Real ale either from Thwaites or Southport. Tickets on-line or on the door.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Have we won the real ale war?

"The battle for real ale has been won. We must now turn our attentions to saving our pubs!" says CAMRA's Greater London regional director, reported by Geraldine Rolfe in What's Brewing, the campaign's newspaper. It's an interesting thought, but is it true?

It is true that we have a highest percentage of pubs selling real ale in decades, and that the range of real ales available in most localities is greater than at any time since the rise of the big brewing companies. I know individual pubs that have a greater range of real ales than some towns did in the 1970s. Despite all that, I am not convinced by the Greater London regional director's assertion.

Firstly, real ale and pubs are inextricably entwined. You can't have the first without the second. I know there are bottled real ales, but they constitute a very small percentage of total real ale sales. It's obvious, therefore, that a threat to pubs is a threat to real ale.

Secondly, there are communities where the only significant real ale provision is in Wetherspoons. Such communities are not enjoying the benefits of winning the battle for real ale.

Thirdly, it is a naïve campaigner who assumes that a victory, once achieved, can be treated as being in the bag and therefore no longer in need of attention.

Pinning our hopes of saving pubs by getting planning regulations tightened up is to miss several points. While there are a few exceptions, most pubs that are converted to other uses were not previously thriving. Why not? I wrote three years ago:

In no particular order, the causes of problems for pubs include:
  • Beer taxes rising by more than the rate of inflation. 
  • Pub companies overcharging their tenants for rent and supplies (including drinks).
  • Falling beer sales overall (except for real ale ~ just).
  • Cut-price drink in supermarkets.
  • Sophisticated home entertainment systems.
  • Changes in drinking habits, with young people increasingly going to their preferred bars and clubs, and less to what they call “old men’s” pubs.
  • More choices of places to drink, such as bars, restaurants, hotels and clubs.
  • The recession, leaving people with less cash and either unemployed or worried they might be.
  • Rising costs for brewers (e.g. raw materials) and pubs (e.g. utility bills).
  • The smoking ban.
  • Tougher drink-drive enforcement.* 
* By this, I really meant the increasing pressure against driving within the legal limit.

To these I'd now add: 
  • Pub companies deliberately running pubs down to the point when they become unviable. Most people don't want to sit in a dingy pub that hasn't seen a lick of paint this millennium.
  • Draconian under-age drinking laws, resulting in the next generation of drinkers developing drinking habits unlinked to pubs.
Even if CAMRA achieved exactly what it wanted with planning regulations, none of these factors would be addressed. Changing the planning regulations is not the cure, in the same way that the 2p cut in beer duty has not, as far as I can see, saved a single pub. If pubs aren't safe, neither is real ale.

No gains can be taken for granted. Most people have a lot less disposable income than they did four years ago and alcohol consumption is in decline. If the government decided to introduce an adverse change to beer taxation, perhaps even a reduction or abolition of Progressive Beer Duty, many micro-brewers would close. It's not impossible that anti-alcohol campaigners could gain even more influence on government policy. The corrosive effects of all the factors I've listed above may become more pronounced. 

My aim with this post has been to explain why I believe real ale's apparently healthy situation is more precarious than it looks and that it wouldn't take much to send it into decline. It's certainly true that the current proliferation of micro-breweries cannot be maintained if the outlets for their products continue to close. At some point, the latter will impact upon the former. Overall, I do not share the complacency of CAMRA's Greater London regional director. CAMRA should stop finding a "Reason of the Month" for pub decline and take a more holistic view if it doesn't wish to look like it is clutching at straws when determining campaigning priorities.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Lethal weapons? Fine - but no beer!

I found the news that a 9-year old child had accidentally shot her gun instructor shocking in a couple of ways: the death itself obviously, but more the fact that it is perfectly legal for a child of that age to handle and fire a high-powered Uzi submachine gun, as long as a parent or legal guardian was present. That little girl will have to live with the memory of that terrible sight as well as her guilt for the rest of her life, all because her parents decided that their Second Amendment rights were more important than their child's safety and well-being.

This deeply disturbing, but also frankly bizarre, situation brought some other strange American age limits to mind:

In the USA, young people can get behind the wheel of a potentially lethal piece of equipment much younger than over here. A learner driver's licence can be obtained between the ages of 14 and 16, and a restricted full licence between 14.5 and 16.5, depending on which state you live in.

You can lose your life fighting in the USA's armed forces at the age of 18.

On the other hand, the age at which you can legally purchase and possess alcohol is 21. The system is skewed to maintain that age nationally, because any state that lowers its alcohol purchase or possession age would lose 10% of its federal highway funding, a significant reduction in its income. In some states you can drink alcohol below 21 with the agreement of your parents or spouse, as long he or she is over 21, but nowhere can you buy or own it.

I can't help feeling that our American cousins have some priorities badly wrong.

I also can't help wondering how many domestic rows result from people aged 21 or more telling their spouses they can't have a drink.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Was alcohol-free beer really a gaffe?

I've just read the results of a survey by ComRes (commissioned by AB InBev UK) stating that drinking alcohol-free beer is now seen as more socially acceptable than it was 5 years ago in the opinion of 49% of those surveyed, with 59% saying they'd now be comfortable ordering it in front of friends in public.

I find this all rather strange because I hadn't realised that ordering alcohol-free beer had ever been viewed as a social blunder. It never bothered me in the past when driving to far flung music events where a pint consisting of a half of bitter topped up with an alcohol-free beer would mean that I could have three weak pints quite safely over an evening.

The only explanation I can come up with is there must be a macho attitude that real men don't drink anything but the real thing. I had a J2O in a pub before a four-hour drive last Saturday, and didn't in any way regard it as embarrassing (I know that's not alcohol-free beer, but I think the principle is similar).

But thinking about it, perhaps it could just be a fake image problem created for marketing purposes so that brewers can now get the message across that "surveys show it's now okay to drink this pariah drink!"

My problem with non-alcohol beers and low alcohol beers (or NABLABs as we used to call them) was that I found they invariably tasted bland, tinny and not quite genuine. They're mostly lagers, although I remember a 1% bottled bitter from Whitbread called White Label. Nowadays, if I'm in a pub and driving, I'd prefer to drink real ale safely within the limit or have a soft drink or coffee.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Back home from Whitby

I got home from Whitby Folk Week yesterday afternoon. I've written about the pubs in Whitby several times before (particularly in 20092010 and 2013) and not a lot has changed since last year.

JDW's Angel Hotel (from JDW's website)
The Angel Hotel (not to be confused with the Little Angel on Flowergate) by the harbourside was taken over by Wetherspoons early last year, raising hopes that it would impact on the prices of beer locally which, apart from the reliably cheap Sam Smiths pub the Jolly Sailors, seem high to me with my North West perspective. In fact, we found that Wetherspoons' prices weren't much less than the average for the area, starting at £2.95 a pint. It has also been refurbished in a more modern style than the usual Spoons decor. In one way it is a typical JDW house: if you're stuck behind people ordering meals or various coffees, you can wait a while to be served, which is frustrating when all you want it a pint, although to be fair, this wasn't the fault of the staff who were working hard.

Whitby Abbey Blonde
(from the brewery's website)
It was good to see the products of the new Whitby Brewery, which was set up last year. I tried two of their beers, Abbey Blonde and Platform 3, which is specially brewed for the Station Inn. I found them a bit too malty for my taste - even the Blonde - but other people were clearly enjoying them.

As for the music, I stuck to the fringe this year and spent a lot of time time in informal pub music and song sessions, particularly in the Station, the Elsinore and the Golden Lion. Our Lunchtime Legends rock & roll gig had the Elsinore packed out again on Wednesday lunchtime; it was great to have several young children aged between 4 and 9 bopping along, waving their hands in the air to anthems like Daydream Believer, and generally taking the opportunity to be silly like all the adults around them. Young Jessica was given the mike to sing a word-perfect chorus of Poison Ivy.

My week ended in the Station at a lively song and music session, although the non-folkie elements present loudly demanded old pop and rock & roll songs from me: it sounded like the whole pub was singing along to Those Were The Days. So much for my intentions to be more 'folkie' in my material on the last night.

Some good beers along the way: Saltaire Blonde, Wold Top's Golden Summer and Headland Red, and Ossett Silver King were highlights for me during the week. An honourable mention goes to a golden beer called Carnival Ale from the Truefitt Brewery of Middlesbrough, which I had in the Golden Lion.

It always seem a bit flat the day after you get back from holiday, but I've already booked my accommodation for next year, which will be the 50th Folk Week.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Friday, 15 August 2014

New mini-pub - Tap and Bottles

I discovered Tap and Bottles while strolling through Cambridge Walks in Southport town centre last week; it had been opened the previous week in a former lingerie shop by Julian Burgess whose family has a long association with the licensed trade. It is a small bar, attractively furnished, with four handpumps selling Southport Golden Sands and Liverpool Craft American Red when I visited, with more on at weekends. Beer is available in thirds of a pint if that's what you want. The Liverpool Craft was on good form when I tried it.

The fonts on the wall sell beers from Dortmunder, Pilsner Urquell and Duvel, a craft beer White Fox from Liverpool Craft Brewery, and a raspberry cider from Orchard. There are also more than 100 different bottled beers on sale from Britain, America and Europe which you can drink in or take away. They also sell bottles from the new Parker Brewery in Formby.

Wines, spirits, and soft drinks complete the drinks on sale, and there are plans to sell coffee and light snacks soon. They hope to get permission for seating outside, which would be all-weather seeing that the bar is in a covered arcade; there is some additional seating upstairs. The bar is open to 11.00pm, later if the demand exists. Julian is considering the possibility of some unamplified music in the future.

Particularly handy for a drink after a strenuous shopping trip, if you like that sort of thing (shopping, I mean).

Thursday, 14 August 2014

MPs take the soft option

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Misuse has come out with a document calling on all political parties to commit themselves to 10 measures to minimise alcohol-related harm in the UK. Such documents have no formal standing and merely represent the views of the members of the group, which itself has no formal status, but is simply a collection of politicians who have an interest in the topic. Alcohol Concern, the fake, publicly-funded charity, also has its name prominently displayed on the cover. This publication is intended to influence the content of party manifestos for next year's general election.

I've reproduced the exact wording of the recommendations below but there is nothing new here, particularly the calls for minimum pricing, strengthening regulation of alcohol marketing, health warnings on labels, and lowering the drink-driving limit (the links are to older posts on the subject concerned).

As I've previously written on some of the individual recommendations, I won't cover old ground again, but it is worth noting that it has just been announced that drink-drive deaths are at their lowest since records began, under-age drinking is also at its lowest since records began and alcohol consumption in general is at its lowest level for decades. So how do those facts, based on government statements, sit with the report's assertion that "alcohol abuse has become a national pandemic and needs to be treated as such"? It's sounding more like a bunch of busybodies with an agenda rather than a sober assessment of the situation. Further evidence of this is in the introduction which cheerily says: "We want to be clear that this manifesto is not designed to end or curtail people’s enjoyment of alcohol". When they have to make that point clear, I tend to assume that that is precisely what they have in mind.

With MPs paid £66,000 per year, and ministers more than £100,000, I do wonder why our legislators are wasting time doing no more than rehashing familiar recommendations that have previously been published many times over the years. Although, to be fair, it often seems that repeating themselves is the stock-in-trade of our MPs.

In contrast, just 11 MPs (1.7% of the total) bothered to turn up on 17 July for a debate about the provision of education for children with autism. Such a debate would require concentration, knowledge and thought, whereas cobbling together a report consisting of ideas that have frequently been regurgitated in the past is probably a fairly effortless way of passing time while apparently doing something worthy. I wonder whether the legislative busybodies adjourned to one of the many subsidised Palace of Westminster bars when their onerous task was complete?

The recommendations are:
  1. Make reducing alcohol harms the responsibility of a single government minister with clear accountability. 
  2. Introduce a minimum unit price for alcoholic drinks. 
  3. Introduce public health as a fifth licensing objective, enabling local authorities to make licensing decisions based on local population health need and the density of existing outlets. 
  4. Strengthen regulation of alcohol marketing to protect children and young people. 
  5. Increase funding for treatment and raise access levels from 6% to 15% of problem drinkers. 
  6. Commissioners should prioritise the delivery of identification and brief advice identification and brief advice should be delivered in a wide range of different settings including health care, involving GPs routinely asking questions, and in-workplace programmes. 
  7. Include a health warning on all alcohol labels and deliver a government-funded national public awareness campaign on alcohol-related health issues. 
  8. For all social workers, midwives and healthcare professionals, introduce mandatory training on parental substance misuse, foetal alcohol syndrome disorder and alcohol-related domestic violence. 
  9. Reduce the blood alcohol limit for driving in England and Wales to 50mg/100ml, starting with drivers under the age of 21. 
  10. Introduce the widespread use of sobriety orders to break the cycle of alcohol and crime, antisocial behaviour and domestic violence.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Champion Beers of Britain 2014

These were announced yesterday at the Great British Beer Festival in London. How many have you had? I think my total is seven. Some people will probably whinge that a regional brewer such as Timothy Taylor won, but that is just prejudice. We shouldn't discriminate against a brewer just because the beers are brewed in a proper brewery rather than a shed in the garden. 

Supreme Champions
Gold - Timothy Taylor, Boltmaker
Silver - Oakham, Citra
Bronze - Salopian, Darwin's Origin

Champion Bottled Beer
Gold - Marble, Chocolate Marble
Silver - St Austell,Proper Job
Bronze - Spire, Prince Igor Imperial Russian Stout

Mild
Gold - Bank Top, Dark Mild
Silver - Branscombe Vale, Mild
Bronze - Castle Rock, Black Gold

Best Bitter
Gold - Salopian, Darwin’s Origin
Silver - Redwillow, Directionless
Joint Bronze - Langton, Inclined Plane Bitter, and Purity, Mad Goose

Speciality
Gold - Saltaire, Triple Chocoholic
Silver - Offbeat, Way Out Wheat
Bronze - Peak Ales, Chatsworth Gold

Bitter
Gold - Timothy Taylor, Boltmaker
Silver - Mighty Oak, Captain Bob
Joint Bronze - Flowerpots, Flowerpots Bitter, and Sambrooks, Wandle Ale

Golden
Gold - Oakham, Citra
Silver - Hawkshead, Cumbrian Five Hop
Bronze - Salopian, Hop Twister

Strong Bitter
Gold - Church End, Fallen Angel
Silver - Blue Monkey, Ape Ale
Bronze - Loch Ness, HoppyNESS

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Lazy thoughts

It's not the enemy; it's a very naughty lager.
"It is generally acknowledged that lager and keg beers are the enemies of “proper” beer aka ale" is the opening sentence of an article in the Morning Advertiser (the newspaper of the pub trade). It's a typical journalistic technique to create a false disagreement and present it as fact; in this case suggesting that there are ranks of ideologically opposed, implacably hostile drinkers. The writer, Robyn Black, was referring to the fact that two big regional brewers noted for their ale had launched keg lagers - Marston’s Revisionist and Fuller’s Frontier.

As a real ale drinker, am I shocked? Not particularly. My actual reaction was, "So what?" But that's not how Ms Black sees it. She wrote: "The beard and sandal brigade will no doubt be up in arms. CAMRA has fought a long, hard battle to rid the world of bland keg beers and to champion real ale." There's that false disagreement again: where are these people who will be up in arms? I don't view the pleasure of having a drink in such confrontational terms, and I do not choose my friends by their taste in drinks; while many do drink real ale, others prefer the likes of smoothflow, Guinness, lager, wine, or even diet Coke.

Ms Black does refer to the fact that real ale has in recent years had a modest growth while sales of all other types of beer have fallen, but nonetheless, the biggest selling style of beer remains lager. It might look as though real ale has "won" some kind of war as it is now available in more than 50% of pubs, but that doesn't mean it constitutes 50% of sales: in reality, sales of real ale are nowhere near such levels. With the resurgence in recent years of craft keg beers, it's hardly a surprise that brewers might turn their attention to producing a better quality lager than what's on offer in most pubs. I'm assuming that's what Fuller's and Marston's are trying to do - Fuller's describe Frontier as a "new wave craft lager" - because it isn't worth the time, trouble and money to produce yet another lager along the lines of Carling and Fosters: you might as well just buy in a well-known brand.

So why is Ms Black wrong? Because CAMRA, as I have written before, is about choice, and it always has been. In the early days, it was about campaigning for real ale drinkers to have the choice of drinking real ale, but the logical consequence of such a position is accepting that other drinkers have a choice too. Choice is something that Colin Valentine, the CAMRA national chair, strongly emphasised at the national AGM in Norwich last year.

Her reference to "the beard and sandal brigade" is simple stereotyping - neither I nor most CAMRA members I know wear beard and sandals - and is no more than another cheap trick from the Ladybird Book of Lazy Journalism.

P.S. I've just realised that Robyn Black's article was written a while ago, and therefore isn't latest news. However, I haven't seen either of these craft lagers anywhere, not even in Marston's houses (there are no Fuller's houses around here that I could comment on).

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Best laid plans ...

Probably in good nick, but never
got the chance to find out
... and all that.

I went to the Zetland Hotel on Friday night to see local band Fag Ash Lil. Walking down Zetland Street, we could hear the music more than 100 feet away. The car park was busy with boisterous drinkers, as was the pub. I was surprised because, while Fag Ash Lil are certainly popular, they're not this popular. I have never seen the Zetland so busy.

The reason for the packed ale house soon became clear by the "Happy 60th Birthday" streamers over the bar, but even so, whoever the birthday boy or girl was must have a lot of mates. I queued up, and was waiting for at least 15 minutes before I actually reached the bar: the bar staff were working hard, but were overwhelmed by the demand. The real ales on offer were Brakspear Oxford Gold, not a common beer around here, Wychwood Hobgoblin and Jennings Cumberland. Normally if I'm waiting for more than 5 or 6 minutes at a bar and I'm on my own, I'll go somewhere else, but on this occasion I wasn't alone and so waited.

In the middle of Fag Ash Lil playing Fleetwood Mac's The Chain (from the album Rumours, if you're interested), all the lights and the power to the band went out to raucous cheers, although the television in the bar and the electric beer fonts were still working. At this point, I'd had enough. We left and went for one in the Mount Pleasant just down the road and then onto the Guest House.

Informed drinkers will have worked out that the Zetland is a Marston's house.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Membership has its privileges

At last I've discovered a reason to live in Greater Manchester. Paul Heaton of the Housemartins and the Beautiful South is part owner of the Kings Arms in Salford, which has decided to designate Fridays as "Trade Union Friday", with discounted drinks on production of a union membership card.

Paul Heaton has had a close working relationship with the GMB union in recent years. His latest tour was sponsored by the GMB and he played on the main stage at this year’s Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival in Dorset. He originally offered discounts to strikers during the last industrial action, and then decided to make the discount permanent, saying: “I’ve done a bit of work with the GMB and liked them a lot. So I’ve bitten the bullet and said as long as they’re out fighting for change, I should show my appreciation to all of those men and women who are keeping the Tories on their toes.”

In 2011, the GMB pointed out the fact that the cost of beer has risen much faster than inflation, a point I have made several times myself, most recently in May this year.

The Kings Arms is at 11 Bloom Street, Salford, M3 6AN, close to Salford Central railway station.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Fag Ash Lil at the Zetland

Classic rock band Fag Ash Lil are playing a local gig in Southport this Friday.

Formed in 2001, Fag Ash Lil have produced two CDs, both recorded at Parr Street Studios, Liverpool, entitled "How It Really Is" and "Not Sorry". As well as performing original material, they also play songs by Free, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Jethro Tull, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Skunk Anansie, and even The Sensational Alex Harvey Band.

Great musicians and singers, the Lil have always got the place rocking on the many occasions I've seen them. They're on at the Zetland Hotel, 53 Zetland Street, Southport, PR9 0RH, at 9.30pm. The Zetland serves three changing real ales (Southport, Ringwood and Jennings last time I was in there).

Click here for the Zet's beer festival starting on the 23rd.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Priory a local priority

Picture from campaign website
The Priory Hotel in Litherland is a pub I occasionally went into when I had a temporary job in social services in Bootle a long time ago; I think it was a Tetley house in those days. I recall on one occasion a disgruntled social worker who had lost his brief case earlier in the day arriving in the pub with it in pieces. Someone had reported finding a suspicious object and it had been blown up. Apparently the Beatles drank in there on the 20+ occasions they played at Litherland Town Hall, just 150 yards away.

The pub closed last year and was bought by Adactus Housing, but the council refused planning permission for its conversion into flats after a successful campaign by a community action group which plans to make the Priory the first community-run pub in Merseyside. They need £400,000 to buy the pub, having raised £170,000 so far and applied for grants to help bridge the gap.

CAMRA keeps on encouraging local branches and members to oppose pub closures by having them declared as assets of community value under Part 5 Chapter 3 of the Localism Act 2011. That's all very well, but such applications cannot really succeed unless there is evidence that the community actually values its pub, as in Litherland. Here in Southport, Mike Perkins of local CAMRA has done sterling work in applying for ACVs but in each case the council has refused; this is the same council that has said yes in Litherland, so our failure is not a result of municipal stonewalling.

Opposing a pub closure is an uphill battle. The owner can easily produce accounts to demonstrate how the use, and therefore profitability, of a pub has been in decline, which tends to pull the rug from under any argument that the community values it. There are many reasons why pubs decline, and I don't intend to list them here, except for one: deliberate neglect of a pub by its owner to discourage custom and thus provide an excuse to close it - in other words, a process of managed decline. Some closed pubs around here certainly hadn't had a penny spent upon them for years, other than for essential maintenance. Pub owners know that, with the price of pub drinks nowadays, customers won't want to spend their hard-earned cash in a dingy room that hasn't seen a lick of paint this side of the millennium.

My view is that CAMRA centrally is being oversimplistic with its exhortation simply to get a threatened pub declared an ACV. There is the risk that, if local people keep on trying this and get knocked back too often, they will lose heart. With the best will in the world, CAMRA can't do this alone: genuine community support is needed, and that is the really hard bit. If you can't show you've got that, your chances of stopping a pub being redeveloped are slim.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Zetland Beer Festival - August

The Zetland Hotel, Zetland Street, Southport is holding another beer festival beginning on Saturday 23 August. It's on for a week from midday each day. Food is served Saturday & Sunday from 12.00 until 6.00pm. On Saturday night there will be a quiz beginning at 9.30pm and on Sunday night bingo at 9.30pm.

The Zetland has a well-kept bowling green; in fact, it's the last pub in Southport to have one. The pub as at 53 Zetland Street, Southport, PR9 0RH, about 0.6 mile from Southport station.

( 01704 808404 for enquiries, including bowling green availability.

This is the beer list; click on it to expand it.