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Thursday, 31 December 2009

Pubs on strike?

Our local paper, the Southport Visiter, has a front page headline:  "Pubs rebel on beer prices of breweries", reporting that licensees in tied pubs may be balloted on strike action by the GMB union in the new year. The GMB website reports on the issue here.  The main causes include high rents and overpricing of beer that licensees can buy only through the pub companies (pubcos), even though they could, if permitted, buy much cheaper elsewhere, but only at the risk of losing their pubs.  These excessive costs are in part passed on to us customers, but even so many pubs are struggling to stay afloat ~ the beer drinker's pocket is not bottomless.  Sadly, many pubs fail:  the rate of pub closures was estimated to be 52 per week in the first half of this year, and the Visiter article states that Southport has lost around 10% of its pubs in the last four years.  The problem is a real one:  in May this year the House of Commons Business and Enterprise Committee found that two thirds of tied tenants earn less than £15,000 per annum for up to 60 hours per week. 

Among observers of the pub trade, there is some disagreement as to whether the tie should be reformed or scrapped.  My own view, for what it's worth, is that to abolish the tie would create a vacuum with unpredictable consequences.  Those who envisage a new world of free houses and more beer choices are probably being wildly optimistic, and besides I don't know of any evidence that most tied tenants want this.  The last major change brought about by the Beer Orders of 20 years ago (when breweries were obliged to sell most of their pubs) was widely welcomed by many at the time including CAMRA, but it led directly to the current position.  No one can be certain where a further sweeping change might take us.

Whatever the outcome of a ballot, and I'm with the tied tenants on this one, I hope that the pubcos don't resort to bully boy tactics and lawyers, and instead recognise that there are real problems for many of their tenants and do something to address them.  But then, I've often been called an optimist...

The photograph shows the closed Becconsall pub in Hesketh Bank.  A local campaign to “Save the Bec for the Community” (click here and scroll down to 30 October 2009) is being supported by the local branch of CAMRA.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Wetherspoons January Sale

In a move that will doubtless infuriate alcohol puritans, Wetherspoons will be running a January sale for two weeks from the 4th to the 19th, reintroducing their 99p pint offer that annoyed the brewery Greene King whose IPA was the beer concerned.  GK said the price undervalued their quality product, although many drinkers felt GK should look up '"quality" in the dictionary.  This time the beer on offer will be GK's Ruddles Bitter, which is nothing to get excited about either.  The deal will also include glasses of wine, shots of gin and bottled lager, and some meals will be sold cheaply too. 

Some people get sniffy about Wetherspoons.  I'm not a regular Spoons-goer myself, but their pricing policies are a challenge to the other pub companies (PubCos) who screw their licensees into the ground.  The argument made by many (including a local licensee on this blog last month) is that Wetherspoons can sell cheaply as they have enormous buying power.  This ignores the fact that all the other PubCos (Punch, S&N, etc.) have enormous buying power too, but they don't pass on the savings to their licensees and customers.  Whether you like them or not, Wetherspoons shouldn't be criticised for running a much more efficient business than their fellow PubCos.

In the meantime, you can have a cheap night out, both food and drink, in January if you want.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Christmas present

My 15-year old niece, Charlotte, gave me this box set containing a bottle of Everards Sleigh Bell Ale and a christmas pudding.  The picture also shows a Christmas mug that was a present from her a few years ago (with, originally, a seasonal beer too) that I'll use to drink this beer.

I've no idea where she gets her ideas from.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Boxing Day revels

The Southport Swords have been dancing every Boxing Day since time immoral ~ or the late 60s anyway.  This Boxing Day they will be dancing outside the Hesketh Arms in Churchtown at lunchtime and later in the afternoon at the Guest House in Union Street.  Timings with the Swords are always imprecise, so I can't be more specific.  There is usually a music session in the Guest House as well.  If you're at a loose end, why not go and watch them?  Have a pint, watch the dancing and clear away the Christmas Day cobwebs, and replace them with Boxing Day ones.  Both pubs serve real ale, with the Guest House regularly serving up to 10 cask beers,

Here is a minute-long video of the Swords dancing at the Hesketh on Boxing Day 2008.  For some reason this video begins sideways, and this is not a sword dance ~ they're using hankies in what I think is a Cotswold Morris dance, not that I'm an expert.  You'll see that that Father Christmas, his contract with Toys Я Us completed for another year, has decided to let his hair down and join the merry dance.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Christmas Number 1

I remember how we used to hate it when Cliff dominated the "coveted" Christmas No. 1 spot ~ until we got Simon Cowell, that is. But I’m quite pleased that Cowell’s latest protégé, apparently called Joe something, has lost the race to the top to a group called Rage Against The Machine. I haven’t heard either performer’s effort, but I applaud the concerted consumer rebellion against Cowell’s repeated cynical hijacking of the Christmas pop charts. Okay, he’s still stinking rich, but he hasn’t got his own way this time. And as for convicted toilet attendant-bashing Cheryl Cole whingeing that it would be a shame for poor Joe not to fulfil his “dream” of getting a number one hit single ~ does she think this is a god-given right for an X-factor winner? But then, what does she know about anything except how to use her fists and how to turn the tears on at will?

Anyway, if I had a vote, this would be my nomination for the Christmas No. 1:

Friday, 18 December 2009

Recession? Not last night!

I went on the annual Christmas pub crawl in Liverpool last night, organised by my friend Jean.  We began at the Lion in Moorfields, going on to the Vernon, the Ship & Mitre and Rigby's, all in Dale Street.  Then into the Cavern Quarter, as it's now called, to the legendary White Star, where the Beatles sometimes used to drink ~ they also used to drink in the Grapes around the corner, but we didn't call in there.  The crawl also included the Globe and the Fly in the Loaf, so there was some walking to be done.  Lots of good beer, some merely okay, none bad.  The best beers came from local microbreweries, such as George Wright and Cambrinus, although Okell's from the Isle of Man (available both in Rigby's and in the Fly) is worth trying, although I didn't see their Mac Lir, a wheat beer which is my favourite in their range.  I did find a very nice Christmas beer I hadn't heard of before, but can't recall the name - sorry.

The pubs were absolutely heaving, so much so that in the White Star I was pressed against the door and people were struggling to get in or leave.  It was a fight to get to and from the bar in all pubs, and I saw loads of £20 notes heading towards the tills.  I know there is a recession, but it wasn't visible last night.  No doubt the £1 flat rate return fare on Merseyrail added to the crowds, but it was not exclusively responsible, as a lot of drinkers were clearly straight out of work from the office, judging by their dress.  Despite the crush, everyone was good-natured, except for one character in a business suit who elbowed me out of the way. It got him nowhere as his two female companions were stuck behind me, and I made a point of courteously letting everyone through going the other way, so that he had to fight his way back to collect them.  In the Globe, there was, as usual, community singing along to the rock & roll CDs, this time to the Beatles:  "Ooh I need your love, gerl".

I cracked my usual joke about amateur, once-a-year drinkers getting in the way of us professionals, but to be honest, it would be hard to be churlish when surrounded by so many people who were obviously out just to enjoy themselves and have fun.  It was noisy and crowded, and sometimes I had difficulty in hearing what people were saying, but at this time of year, what can you expect?

As we walked back to Central Station, there was a gang of young women (gerls?) walking down a very busy Bold Street all dressed as Christmas presents.  Only in Liverpool.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

George Strattan ~ peace campaigner, trade unionist and folk singer

I have to report the sad news that George Strattan died last Saturday after years of declining health. George was a regular singer at the Bothy Folk Club for many years, known for singing Scottish songs, peace songs and trade union songs such as Joe Hill, before health problems prevented his coming regularly.  Even so, he still struggled to come along and sing occasionally when he felt able to.  George was an active trade unionist until his retirement, and was well known as a lifelong peace campaigner alongside his late wife Viola ~ George held the position of life president of Merseyside CND.

The funeral is this Thursday 17th December at 9.00 a.m. at the Southport Crematorium, which is situated just outside Southport in Scarisbrick on the A570 Southport to Ormskirk Road. Map here.

Post script:  the Liverpool Daily Post carried this obituary on the 18th December.

Monday, 14 December 2009

SPAM

I'm mystified as to how some spammers find my little blog.  I don't have the huge readership that some beer bloggers such as Tandleman have.  Perhaps he gets a lot more spam than I do. Recently I have had postings about holidays in Jaipur, an advert for a music website (at least I can see a link there), and today a comment, "An interesting posting. I'd like to know more about this theme. Thanks for the info.  Sexy Lady, London."  While I'd like to think that sexy ladies in London are genuinely interested in the temperature of the real ale in a pub in Dale Street, Liverpool, I had my doubts.  Clicking on the link, I found myself on a website for call girls in London.  I'm not sure that CAMRA's efforts to make real ale popular with women have been that successful, but you never know:  perhaps London beer festivals have an exceptionally glamorous clientèle.

Out of curiosity, I checked the minimum price:  £150 for an hour, plus (I expect) drinks on top as well.  Somehow I doubt she'd be drinking London Pride.

I have of course deleted all spam.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Sarah McQuaid at the Bothy

The Bothy's final guest of the year is singer/guitarist and songwriter Sarah McQuaid, making her first visit to the Bothy and (I think) to Southport.  Born in Madrid, raised in Chicago and holding dual Irish and American citizenship, Sarah McQuaid lived in Ireland from 1994 to 2007. She has since moved to Cornwall and lives near Penzance.  She sings a mixture of her own songs, covers and some traditional material.  Here she is on YouTube singing the Bobbie Gentry classic, Ode To Billie Joe.

See her tomorrow night (13th December) in the comfortable surroundings of the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport.  The music begins at 8.00pm, and the real ale is Thwaites Bomber.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Bitter Suite Beer Festival

I’ve just learned that the Bitter Suite pub at 53 Fylde Road, Preston, PR1 2XQ, is holding a Beer Festival from Thursday 10th to Sunday 13th December this weekend. The pub usually has an excellent selection of microbrewery beers. It's easily accessible by using the X2 bus from Southport, which runs every 30 minutes Monday to Saturday and every hour on Sunday.

For more details, including opening hours and and a map, go to the pub’s website.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

A Year In The Pub

I’ve just found a survey that says the average Briton spends more than a year of his life in the pub. Specifically, a man will spend 10,585 hours, equivalent to 441 days, in the pub throughout his life. For women, the figures are 8,454 hours or 340 days. The lifetime cost is estimated to be £38,624, rather higher if food and snacks are added in. More details of the survey can be found here.

Before this is seized upon as a further example of our national alcoholic decline, it’s worth remembering that if you work an 8-hour day for forty years, you will spend 76,800 hours in work, equivalent to 8.75 years. When you consider the debilitating effects of work-related stress and depression, the job is much worse in causing health problems than the pub.  Perhaps health campaigners should target their efforts accordingly.

The survey was commissioned by the UKTV channel Blighty as part of a series about pubs. As it’s not on freeview, I’m not likely to see it, but some of you might. Let me know if it's any good.

The illustration shows a popular health food.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Guest House singaround

Just a quick reminder that tomorrow night (Monday 7th) sees the fourth of the monthly singarounds in the Guest House in Union Street:  wood panelled walls, upto 10 cask beers and live music make a great mixture.  It's not an open mike night - there's no PA - we just go around the room and keep it informal.  Come along if you want to sing or just listen and have a drink or two with friends.  It starts at around eight-ish.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Smoking ~ No. 10 Just Says No

I wasn’t going to write on this subject again, having written about it exactly a week ago, but as it happens Number 10 has just responded to the petition to relax the smoking ban. Unsurprisingly the answer is ‘no’, but some of the arguments deployed lack credibility. It states, “Survey data, anecdotal evidence and reports in the media seem to indicate that the impact on the hospitality trade as a whole has been at worst neutral and in many cases positive.” Well, my own anecdotal evidence garnered by speaking to licensees about the ban suggests that it has adversely affected trade in pubs, and as I’ve said previously the ban is one of many factors contributing to pub closures.

Unlike some people, I don’t want either the outside bans that some anti-smokers demand or a relaxation of the current laws that the petitioners requested. I’m a non-smoker, not anti-smoking - I just dislike being enveloped in smoke, which is a different thing altogether. Having said that, I don’t think the Government is doing their case any favours by citing dodgy arguments that look as though they’ve been cobbled together on the back of an envelope, but then, as they’ve already enacted the laws which have to be obeyed, I suppose they just can't be bothered to show the petitioners the courtesy of a proper response.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

The Fire and the Unicorn

I've just arrived home after the Mason's singaround session.  It was a bit thin on the ground, not just of singers but also of pub regulars, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.  It must be that everyone is saving their pennies for Christmas, plus the weather didn't help.  The pub's real fire was alight, giving a warm, comfortable glow, heating the place up much more effectively than any gas fire could, and the Robinson's Unicorn seemed to be especially on good form.  I noticed that Robinson's Dizzy Blonde was also on; I didn't try it on this occasion, but it's usually in good nick.  The Mason's is something of a back street gem in Southport, and there aren't many pubs left like it.

The next pub session is in the Guest House, Union Street, on Monday 7th December.  Bring your instruments, or just come and listen, and drink the 10 cask beers on offer.  Most importantly about these sessions, come and meet friends and enjoy yourself.  If we don't have fun, there's no point in doing it.  It's flattering sometimes when people ask if we get paid for singing in the pub, and they're usually surprised when we tell them we just do it for pleasure.  And, perhaps, free sandwiches...

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Curiosities

Yesterday I met some friends from the union for a few drinks in Dale Street, Liverpool. We drank in the Vernon and the Ship and Mitre, both of which I've written about before. The Vernon was rather cold, and some of our group kept their coats on. The beer was too cold as well, but that may have been just the weather as it was bitter out, although I do recall the beer being too cold in September. I had a Cambrinus beer from Knowsley (this pub sells local brews and has Locale accreditation) and a Brains Reverend James.  The food in the Vernon is quite cheap - my chicken tikka curry with rice and chips was fine for £4-50 - but one curiosity advertised on the menu was beef burger on a sesame seed bum.

As the pub was being closed for a private party of 120 surveyors who were having a buffet and quiz, we moved down the road to the Ship and Mitre, the pub with the greatest range of beers in Liverpool. This pub was warmer, and the beer was just the right temperature. I found Milestone Dark Galleon, 5.4%, and stuck with that for the evening. Milestone Brewery is in Nottinghamshire. I seem to be finding dark beers that I like nowadays ~ perhaps there is a greater range of recipes being used. On the wall, I noticed a sign advertising a free bowl of scouse when you bought two drinks at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays.

This pub was designed in the art deco style (see picture), but the inside was ripped out and modernised, probably (at a guess) in the 1960s or 1970s. A few interior art deco features survive, but mostly it's architecturally a bit of a mess, although the upstairs function room is a treat as it's not been altered much at all. Still, the pub’s worth visiting for the great range of beers; there's always something on I've never even heard of before.

The Ship and Mitre is about 5 minutes walk from Moorfields railway station, and the Vernon is half way.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Dean Johnson live in Liverpool

Dean Johnson has been described as "the best songwriter in Liverpool today" by no less a person than Radio Merseyside's Spencer Leigh, who certainly knows a thing or two.  Dean hit the news recently when he was asked to complete a fragment of a George Harrison song, "Silence Is Its Own Reply."  His completed version of the song has been generally well received. I think it's excellent and I can't see the join between the two songwriters' words.  You can hear it on YouTube, and also (even better) live in Liverpool next Friday.

Dean will be appearing at the Liverpool Acoustic Blues Lounge, which is hosted by local blues duo, Blue C.  The gig is this Friday, 4th December (doors 8pm ~ music 8.30pm prompt) in the View Two Gallery (top floor), Mathew Street, Liverpool.  This is likely to be a popular event.  Enquiries:  0151 709 5484 or e-mail Blue C.

If you're unsure where Mathew Street is, click on the map below to see a larger printable version.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Smoking in pubs

I’ve read many comments about the ban on smoking inside pubs and it’s clear to me that it’s widely blamed for the ills that currently beset the pub trade. Some people expect non-smoking drinkers to follow the line of opposing the ban because similar tactics are now being deployed against drinking; the thinking being along the lines of: “First they came for the smokers, but I did nothing as I was not a smoker.” The situation is not as simple as that.

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.
Yes, the smoking ban is definitely a factor, but only one of many.

I have been accused of being anti-smoking. I’m not, but I don’t like the effect a smoky environment has on my sinuses and contact lenses, and I don’t like smelling like an ashtray afterwards. With the ban, smokers are obliged to stroll a few feet out of the door where they can smoke to their heart’s content. I think it’s obvious which is the biggest imposition.

So, my attitude to smoking is simple: I don’t mind you smoking, but I don’t want to share your habit, thank you.

There are usually only two solutions offered: ventilation systems, or go somewhere else. I have yet to experience an effective pub ventilation system that can cope with the smoke on a busy night when the doors are shut and fresh air can’t blow in. Even with the doors open they’re often inadequate. At best they can only reduce the amount of smoke, and at worst do nothing except add to the noise levels ~ they never clear the air. As for saying go somewhere else, that’s just a dog in the manger attitude.

I used to favour the separate smoking room option, which was CAMRA’s policy too, but as one licensee pointed out to me, the primary purpose of the ban was the health and safety of staff, who would still have to enter the room to collect glasses, empty ash trays, clean the room and tidy up. As a former union health and safety rep, I realised that there wasn’t a compromise option that didn’t leave pub staff exposed to a health risk.

In the modern world of work, preventable risks have to be addressed or there may be consequences. If you’re not persuaded, then consider how many people have successfully sued for compensation for asbestos exposures that occurred decades ago. Continuing to allow employees to work with an identified, preventable health risk would be gambling that there won’t be mass litigation in the future. Far fetched? That’s probably what asbestos manufacturers would have said in the 1960s.

I believe there’s little chance of this ban being amended, so those of us who wish to go to the pub are stuck with it, whether we like it or not. Let’s just get on with it.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Rock at the George

Local rock guitarist Mick Cooper is running another of his music nights next week at the George (corner of Cemetery Road and Duke Street).  His band will be playing, although I'm not sure under which name, as Mick plays with more than one line up.  There will be some opportunities for other singers in an open mike format.

The George is a friendly local pub, recently refurbished, although it doesn't sell real ale.  Still, the Guinness is well-kept.  It's on Thursday 3rd December from around 8 PM.

Mick says, "Anyone who wants to do a couple can just drop by, or for a longer spot can email me in advance."  Click here for his e-mail address.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Martin Carthy Sings "Sovay"

Video of this Sunday's Bothy Guest
As reported here on the 9th November, the legendary Martin Carthy is the guest at the Bothy Folk Club this Sunday, 29th November.  Here is a video from 1989 of him performing the traditional English song "Sovay" on Yorkshire TV accompanied by Dave Swarbrick, former demon fiddler with Fairport Convention.  The song is about Sovay cross-dressing and deceiving her boyfriend to test his devotion in a rather drastic way ~ an 18th century 'bunny boiler'.   Dave Swarbrick himself appears at the club on 2nd May 2010. 

Tickets £5 members & £8 non-members.  Enquiries: 
phone 0151 924 5078 or e-mail club organiser Clive Pownceby.



The Bothy meets every Sunday at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport (Thwaites real ale on sale). 
Postcode:  PR9 0JS.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Lancashire Week ~ 24 to 27 November

As someone who was born in Liverpool, then in Lancashire, I regard the Lancashire Week celebrations as a bit of fun and nothing more: the boundaries were changed 35 years ago and they won't change back. That shouldn't stop anyone joining in, although dressing up is not my thing.  Besides, I'm doubtful of the stereotypes of Lancashire dress, but so what? It's not an historical reconstruction. Take your pick from the following Lancashire celebrations:
  • Tuesday, 24 November, Lancashire “Neet” with The Southport Swords at The Guest House, Southport.
  • Tuesday, 24 November, Lancashire Quiz Night at The Robin Hood, Mawdesley.
  • Thursday, 26 November, Lancashire Beers and Quiz at The Scarisbrick Hotel (Baron’s Bar), Southport.
  • Friday, 27 November, Lancashire “Neet” at The Volunteer Arms, Southport (Community Pub of The Year).
  • Friday, 27 November, Lancashire “Neet” at The Hop Vine, Burscough.
  • Friday, 27 November, Lancashire “Neet” at The Ship Inn, Lathom, Burscough.
  • Friday, 27 November, Lancashire “Neet” at The Stocks Tavern, Parbold.
  • Friday, 27 November, Lancashire “Neet” at The Robin Hood, Mawdesley. (All Lancashire Cask Ales at £2 per pint).
I'm told all pubs will be serving traditional Lancashire beer and Lancashire food, and there will be a prize for The Best Dressed Lancastrian:
  • Men: flat cap, belt, braces, waistcoat, clogs.
  • Women: mop hat, flat cap, clogs, shawl, pinny or pendle witch.
We'll then all look like extras from "Brass"!

Friday, 20 November 2009

The Richmond Pub

I met my friend Steve in Liverpool after we'd both attended the commemoration on 11th November in the Peace Garden in Liverpool. Naturally the word 'pint' sprang to mind. Chatting over a beer in the Ship and Mitre on Dale Street, we found that neither of us had ever been to the Richmond, a real ale pub in the heart of the city centre, so off we went.

The Richmond is on Williamson Street, which is close to Williamson Square. It is a small, narrow pub with an outside seating area where hardy smokers were ensconced. It was advertising beer at £2 a pint, with Everards beacon at £1.60, so definitely worth trying.

The beers on were: Moorhouses Pendlewitch, Draught Bass, Southport Golden Sands, George Wright Drunken Duck and Harviestoun Hoptober Festival. I was pleasantly surprised to see local brews there, including the award-winning Southport beer. Erdinger wheat beer was also on, and the pub boasted a wide choice of Scotch whisky. I thought all of this was quite impressive for such a small pub. As I walked in, I noticed and chatted to some fellow drinkers from Southport who were out on their weekly pub-crawl in Liverpool.

The beers we had were all perfectly fine, including the Everards, and its central location makes it very convenient to drown those city centre shopping blues. Its support of local breweries is a good reason to visit, and the pub advert makes it clear that this is policy, not just a happy chance when we visited.

Another to add to the long list of Liverpool pubs worth visiting.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Ship Ahoy!

The Ship Inn in Haskayne has been voted the Summer Pub for 2009 by the Southport and Districts Branch of CAMRA.  I wrote about this pub only last week after I'd played (and had a few beers) at the weekly Thursday singaround.  The Ship is noted, not just for good beer, but also for its music nights.  For more details, go to my recent posting on this great pub. 

The Ship was awarded the best country pub by the Southport and Districts Branch of CAMRA only two months ago at the Sandgrounder Beer Festival, so a different award so soon afterwards is a real accolade.

On another note:
I was at the Masons singaround last night when I heard a customer ask for a pint of Unicorn.  The landlady said, "It's real ale you know ~ would you like to try a taste first?"  He replied, "Yes ~ I'd like to try a pint."

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Live Music at the Zetland

The Zetland Hotel is the venue for a gig by local progressive band, the Frank Flight Band. Their sound has been described as "psychedelic, challenging, melodic music". This band isn't afraid to put a 16-minute song on their MySpace website, and are clearly prepared to take all the time the music may need.

Come along and hear for yourself at 9-00 PM this Friday 20th November at the Zetland Hotel in Zetland Street, Southport.
(Postcode PR9 0RH)

Monday, 16 November 2009

Southport Beer Festival Venue 2010

Southport's Sandgrounder Beer Festival has for the 10 years of its existence been held at the Southport Arts Centre. This will not be available for at least two years because of the lengthy closure and refurbishment of the arts centre, along with the adjacent library and art gallery. There was no question of the festival not being held, so a new venue had to be found.

The local CAMRA branch has agreed that the next festival will take place in the Barker Suite, an upstairs function room in the Scarisbrick Hotel on Lord Street, just across the road from the arts centre. This decision was made after a visit to see the room and discuss the festival's requirements with George Sourbutts from the hotel. The Scarisbrick is, of course, well known for its Barons Bar, which serves up to 10 real ales at competitive prices and has won CAMRA awards. This experience of real ale means they are well placed to host a beer festival.

So here's to another successful and enjoyable festival in September 2010!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Falstaff runs out of beer ~ again

The Falstaff won a CAMRA award at this year’s Southport Beer Festival for the most innovative licensee. In many respects this award is deserved, as licensee Adrian Davies has certainly been innovative in attracting customers to his pub by hosting drama, rock bands, and the heats for the Southport’s Got Talent competition. The problem is that, as the award is a CAMRA one, there has to be real ale involved.

At the Falstaff on Saturday night when local rock band Fag Ash Lil was performing, there was only Wells Bombardier on offer (normally the range includes beers like Theakston’s Bitter and Deuchars IPA), and this ran out during the course of the evening. To my certain knowledge, this is the third time that the Falstaff has run out of real ale in the last couple of months.

I regret having to write this, as Adrian is a likeable person, but real ale drinkers aren't inclined visit a pub that has a reputation for running out of real beer. This pub has to decide whether it wants to be a serious real ale contender in Southport or not. If it does, then the first step must be to ensure that real ale is available at all times. The next step may well be to consider more interesting beers:  a predictable PubCo range isn’t going to excite knowledgeable real ale drinkers, especially when a revitalised Wetherspoons just yards away is selling a bigger and more imaginative range at significantly lower prices. But the main thing is that a pub with a CAMRA award has to sell real ale, or otherwise give up any hopes of being taken seriously.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Beer and music at the Ship Inn

Last night I went to the Ship Inn, Rosemary Lane, Haskayne, for the folk night. The pub is on the Leeds-Liverpool canal and is reputed to be one of the oldest canal-side pubs in the country, dating back to 1787, although it has been extended a few times over the years. It has outside seating areas where you can have a drink and watch the barges go by in summer.

In the singaround, there was as usual a variety of songs and tunes, including songs by Mike Harding, Allan Taylor, Christy Moore, Paul Simon and the Beatles. A couple of hornpipes, one or two Lancashire songs and a gospel song all added to the variety. As it’s a friendly and welcoming singaround, it’s less intimidating for an inexperienced performer than, say, an open mike night. An enjoyable music evening.

There are two George Wright beers brewed specially for the pub: Ship Ahoy, a pleasant light beer, which they’ve had on for a while, and a new porter called Dark Side Of The Ship. Paul said it needs further tweaking, but I found it very drinkable for a dark beer and stuck with it most of the night. Both are 4.1%. The other beer was Southport Carousel (4.0%), completing a good selection. Paul told me the Ship Ahoy is very popular: he sells 5 or 6 nine-gallon casks per week. The pub has a fourth beer on in summer, a changing guest, and they hope to hold a beer festival next year.

As well as the folk night every Thursday, there is an open mike night every Friday, and on 11 November, the Britannia Bluegrass Band played the first of a weekly spot at the pub on Wednesdays.

So there is live music three times per week and at least three good real ales on, plus they also do food. If you like live music and/or real ale, this pub is well worth a visit.
(Postcode: L39 7JP)

I took the picture while on a barge near the Ship to show the surrounding countryside.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

MP's bill to protect pubs

Greg Mulholland, Lib Dem MP for Leeds North West, is proposing a bill to give local amenities such as pubs, banks, chemists, post offices, shops and restaurants extra protection. It would ensure that local authorities could insist on planning permission before the demolition or change-of-use of “all premises or land used or most recently used as a local service; and for connected purposes”. It’s nicely phrased to chime in with the government’s legislation on sustainable communities, although not with the anti-alcohol puritanism that is increasingly permeating government thinking.

The full article is in the Morning Advertiser, the pub trade's newspaper. On the surface it looks good, and it would make a pleasant change to see Parliament do something positive about community pubs, instead of wittering on about communities while asphyxiating the amenities that sustain them.

I do have some reservations, as Mr Mulholland is not an unalloyed hero. He is the MP who last year proposed limiting the size of wine glasses in pubs and restaurants to 125ml because he felt larger glasses leads to people losing track of how many units they had consumed, as if they’d be counting. Smaller glasses might simply encourage them to buy the whole bottle to avoid multiple trips to the bar and thereby cause them to drink even more, but MPs are good at causing unintended consequences.

Still, this bill looks interesting, although I’m not confident that it will get anywhere.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Fag Ash Lil at the Falstaff

Local rock band Fag Ash Lil are playing a gig at the Falstaff, King Street, Southport this weekend. If you fancy a bit of classic rock with a touch of blues and, as the mighty Lil tells us, "Too many influences to quote and we play a variety of styles all under the 'rock' umbrella", the Falstaff is the place to be on Saturday 14th November.  Fag Ash Lil never give anything less than a great show, which will begin at 9.00 PM.

The Falstaff sells real ales of the Theakstons and Bombadier variety.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Martin Carthy at Southport's Bothy

Folk legend Martin Carthy will be appearing in Southport at the Bothy Folk Club on Sunday 29th November. This man has been highly influential since the 1960s: Paul Simon “borrowed” (without crediting him) his arrangement of Scarborough Fair from Martin’s debut album in 1965 and Dylan used the tune and the narrative style of Martin's version of the song Lord Franklin for his own song Bob Dylan's Dream. Apart from superstar plagiarists, hosts of other artists have been more grateful in acknowledging their debt to this man.

Although he has been part of bands such as Waterson:Carthy, Blue Murder, The Watersons, Steeleye Span, Albion Country Band, and Brass Monkey, it is probably as a solo artist that he is best known. His friendly low-key stage persona belies the deep respect with which he is held among fellow musicians and audiences alike.

Click on Martin Carthy to see a picture of him with C.F. Martin IV of the legendary Martin guitar company at the launch of the Martin Carthy Signature Edition guitar, as well as his (frankly) incredible discography.  While there, you can also watch a wonderful You Tube video of The Imagined Village (a multi-cultural folk line-up) performing Cold Haily Rainy Night on Later with Jools.  Martin can be clearly seen playing along and thoroughly enjoying the craic.

Tickets cost £8 for non-members and £5 for members from the club on Sunday evenings. They are also obtainable by post from club organiser, Clive Pownceby. E-mail: jean@pownceby.fsnet.co.uk or phone: 0151 924 5078.

If you want to take a chance and just roll up on the night, I can only suggest you arrive early to see whether there are any tickets left. Even then, you may still be disappointed as we expect a full house. The music begins at 8-00 PM, and the real ale is Thwaites Bomber.

Friday, 6 November 2009

The Guest House & Good Beer Guide

I borrowed the pub copy of the new Good Beer Guide [GBG] in the Guest House recently and turned first to the entries for pubs where I live, like most people do. I wasn’t surprised to see the Guest House listed, but I was at the wording, which stated that the licensee was doing her best despite PubCo restrictions. As this sounded like damning with faint praise to me, I had a word with Gail the licensee and - as I expected - found that she was rather unhappy with the entry (that’s something of an understatement, by the way).

For those who don’t know Southport pubs, the Guest House has had the best range of beers ever since Gail took it over several years ago, routinely having up to 10 cask beers on at any time. Granted, the PubCo limits the range, but Gail stretches those limits as far as she can. She supports small local breweries whenever possible, and the beer is always well kept.

Other pubs, such as the Falstaff and the Windmill, don’t try to stretch PubCo restrictions and concentrate on limited ranges of beers, to which the GBG makes no adverse reference. No disrespect intended to those pubs as they provide what their own customers want; I was simply contrasting their treatment in the GBG with the Guest House’s. The choice of words in CAMRA’s flagship publication implying a very restricted range when the opposite is true could discourage visitors to Southport (a destination for holidays, day trips and conferences) from visiting the pub.

Following from the error that excluded the pub from the GBG a couple of years ago, even though it had been voted in, and the initial failure to nominate it for an award at this year’s Sandgrounder Beer Festival, this is yet another faux pas by the local CAMRA branch in relation to this pub. As a CAMRA member, I have even been asked by Guest House regulars to explain what they see as a campaign against their pub, and my assertion that there is no conspiracy is sounding increasingly hollow.

CAMRA branches consist of unpaid volunteers who generally do their best to decide GBG entries, make local awards, put on a beer festival and publish both a magazine (Ale & Hearty) and a website. With those activities goes a responsibility to bear in mind how the public will perceive our actions, especially in relation to local pubs. After all, what we say or do could have a real impact upon people’s livelihoods, especially at a time of recession and punitive tax on beer.

As a footnote, I know the popular Baron’s Bar also has a good range of beer, but as it's a hotel bar rather than a pub, it has no PubCo tie. Although I do like going to the Baron’s sometimes, it doesn’t feel like a pub.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Geordie

I don't really understand why the English love to mock their own traditions while showing reverence for those of other peoples. Morris dance is a case in point, even though when I see Morris sides out dancing, they usually attract quite a crowd. English folk song is often dismissed by the ignorant with jokes about "wack fol de rol" and other clichés, whereas Scottish and Irish music is usually treated with respect. There are actually quite a few people on the folk circuit who satirise the scene much more accurately and funnily than non-folkies: Sid Kipper and Les Barker are just two examples that prove folkies are not precious and have no problem in laughing at themselves. Not being a traditional performer myself by any stretch of the imagination means that I have no personal axe to grind, but I get just as bored as anyone with uninformed mickey taking.

As a contrast, I was surprised and pleased to find on You Tube a rendition of the beautiful English traditional folk song, Geordie, sung in English by a Chinese singer from Taiwan, Chyi Yu. Perhaps folk music, like the biblical prophet, hath no honour in its own country. I hope you enjoy this lovely song.


P.S. After the song ends, you'll be offered several other versions.  If you click on "Fabrizio De Andrè Geordie" or "Geordie - London Bridge", you will hear Fabrizio De Andrè sing the same song in Italian.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Maghull Folk Club ~ guest cancelled

I've been told that the guest at the Maghull Folk Club tomorrow (Tuesday) night has cancelled.  I assume it will therefore be a normal club night.  If you want to make certain, I suggest you contact the club organisers direct here. This event has been listed in my 'What's On' column for a couple of weeks, which is why I've mentioned the cancellation.

P.S. Clive Pownceby, who usually knows about these things, has told me, "I think they’ve got Cathryn Craig & Brian Willoughby to sub."

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Birthday pub crawl

On Friday, I was in Liverpool for my mate Steve’s annual birthday pub crawl, although a year or two ago we never got out of the first pub. This year we gathered at lunchtime in the spectacular Philharmonic pub (on the corner of Hope Street and Hardman Street) ~ there are some pictures here & here, including of the famous gents’ toilets. The fine workmanship in this pub was apparently done by craftsmen who normally worked on the luxury liners.

My first pint was Harviestoun Hoptober Fest, which was a dry, light 4.0% beer. I was enjoying this when it ran out. The Brains SA tasted a bit flat and tired, but the Hobgoblin was acceptable. There were about 4 or 5 beers on, and when we left, I noticed the Hoptober Fest was back on ~ I could have had more!

The Fly In The Loaf was next. This former bakery used to be a wine bar called Kirklands, until Okell’s Brewery of the Isle of Man took it over a few years ago. I had Fuller’s London Porter, which I don’t recall drinking before. I tend not to drink dark beers, but this tasted good without the overpowering heavy flavour that some dark beers have, and I happily stuck with it. The Fly, on Hardman Street, has several guest beers alongside the Okell’s offerings. I like this pub, except of course when big screen sports are on.

A stroll around the corner into Renshaw Street took us to the Dispensary, a Cain’s pub that always has several guests. Holden’s Golden Glow was my choice there, and a pleasant mellow beer it was too. As Steve pointed out, this pub does a better range than the better-known Dr Duncan’s, which tends only to stock Cain’s beers.

The last port of call was, as usual, the Globe opposite Central Station, Steve’s favourite pub in Liverpool, and it’s not hard to see why. I had Saltaire Stein Gold, a 4.3% golden beer. With the name Stein, I assumed it was a cask lager, but not so, although it does use continental hops. A good beer to finish on and rush for the final train. I noticed the Globe still has a cask cider as well as 4 cask beers, so I assume that it’s now a permanent fixture.

All in all, a nice mini-tour of some great Liverpool pubs. I think the Harviestoun was for me the beer of the day.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Southport's Always Had Talent

The Falstaff pub, a taxi firm and our local free sheet are running a "Southport's Got Talent" competition. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, except I do wonder why we have to mimic a TV show before people realise that there is plenty of home-grown talent all around us.
There are two chances for local acoustic singers and musicians to perform in the next few days. On Monday 2nd November, there is a singaround in the Guest House in Union Street from around 8.00 pm. The Guest House has the best range of real ale of any pub in Southport, with up to 10 beers on at any time. Gail sometimes provides snacks; chip butties last time.

On Wednesday 4th, the Mason's on Anchor Street (behind the main post office on Lord Street) is the venue for a singaround, which also begins around 8-ish.  The pub likes to provide supper for all present. The Mason's is the only pub in Southport that serves Robinson's beers.

These singarounds are free and open to all, and performing is not compulsory; just sit and listen if you like. However, if you do want to sing and it's your first time, don't be nervous as it's all very informal: we just go around the room, rather than have a stage area.  The music is completely unplugged ~ no amplification at all.  Free local talent (don't take that the wrong way!) and good beer in comfortable, friendly pubs.  What else do you want for nothing?

The picture is The Guitar Player by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1672.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Music at the George

Tomorrow night will see another music night at the George Hotel in Southport, led by local rock band Blanket Apology, with other guest performers. Come along and support good local live music in a friendly pub. Free, and begins at around 8.30 p.m.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Singin' The Blues

Two blues gigs taking place soon on Merseyside. You don’t have to be a blues hound to enjoy these blues ~ accessible for all music lovers.

Bill Hackney (pictured), blues singer-guitarist from Southport’s Bothy Folk Club has a gig in Liverpool on Friday 6th November at the Liverpool Acoustic Blues Lounge. As well as playing blues old and new, Bill also loves the music of Bob Marley and will no doubt include a song or two from the great man in his set. Doors open at 8pm, and the music begins 8.30pm. £5-00. The venue is the 4th floor of the View 2 Gallery in Mathew Street, Liverpool, across the road from the Cavern and a couple of doors along from the Grapes pub. Nearest station: Moorfields (5-10 minutes walk).

Blues On The Rock presents special guests guitar/harmonica blues duo Barramacca on Sunday 8th November (1pm to 4pm). The venue is Fort Perch Rock (actually in the fort, worth a visit in itself), off the Promenade in New Brighton; easy to drive to with ample parking and about 10-15 minutes walk from the station. £5-00.

Your hosts at both these events are Liverpool-based blues duo Blue C, noted themselves for interpretations of traditional and modern blues as well as accomplished original material.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Save Our Pubs!

I have recently learned about a residents action group who are fighting to preserve the Hesketh Arms at Standish from being demolished and turned into a Wainhomes housing estate. They have successfully delayed demolition for a few months whilst the English Heritage group investigates the history of the site. The residents have traced the property back to 1756 from a map, but they believe it is a lot older. Stories are that it is at least 400 years old, but it is hard to find evidence as the census only came in at the end of the 1700's. Part of their campaign is a petition, which you can sign if you agree with the sentiments.  Incredibly, Wainhomes' slogan is "Building Britain's Heritage."

Fighting for your local is becoming a trend. The Southport Drinker has told us about the campaign to save the Becconsall in Hesketh Bank, which was also reported in the Southport Visiter in August, with an update here in October. And Tyson's beer blog reported a successful purchase of a charming-looking local in Salford by a consortium of residents, showing that these campaigns can work.

Such campaigns prove that pubs are not seen by the public just as retail outlets, like your local Tesco or Asda, but more as focal points of the community. The pub owners are happy to rake in the money that a community local can make, but it just becomes a property asset when developers come knocking. Good luck to the campaigners in both Hesketh Bank and Standish, and well done those in Salford, who have proved that grass roots action can get results.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Jazz nights move to the Shrimper

I have learned that the jazz nights at the Richmond have moved to the Shrimper in Fylde Road (PR9 9XP).  You can find details of forthcoming bands here, and I'll go on putting them in the What's On column to the left.  I've no idea why they have moved, but this jazz club does seem to lead a peripatetic existence; I think it's been based in the Hesketh and the Albert prior to the Richmond.  The Shrimper serves a well-kept pint of Tetley cask bitter, and good value food too.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Liverpool Irish Festival

The 7th annual Liverpool Irish Festival is under way and runs to 1st November.  There is a large range of music and other cultural events, including music and song sessions in various Liverpool pubs, at least two of which, Peter Kavanagh's in Egerton Street and the Edinburgh in Sandown Lane, Wavertree, serve real ale.  You may have to settle for Guinness in other venues.  For the festival website, click on: Liverpool Irish Festival, and the programme can be downloaded here.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

We're on the move...

The announcement that Newcastle Brown Ale production is to be transferred to the John Smith's brewery in Tadcaster will no doubt cause a lot of dismay in the North East. It seems bizarre that a beer that is so closely associated with Geordie Land will now come from Yorkshire, but regrettably such moves are nothing new. Geordies will already have seen production move to Gateshead in 2005, but at least they could console themselves that it was in the same area, cross-Tyne rivalry notwithstanding. Newcastle Brown isn't a real ale, of course, and has been for me a beer to fall back upon - along with Guinness - if I found myself in a pub or bar with no real ale, but I suspect a lot of people will be upset on Tyneside.

At the CAMRA conference in Eastbourne this year, delegates from Leeds were genuinely mourning the announcement of the closure of the Tetley Brewery, with production due to be transferred to Northampton. Tetley used to be brewed in Warrington as well, and drinkers who regarded themselves as discerning always claimed that it wasn't as good as the Leeds Tetley. I have to admit that the two brews tasted very similar to me, with the Leeds version sometimes having a slight edge, perhaps, but I did feel that when the Warrington brewery was closed down and production moved to Leeds, the taste of Tetley Bitter declined so that - in my view - it was far worse than both previous versions. I will try the Northampton Tetley when it becomes available with interest, but I don't expect any improvement. At the Southport Beer Festival, you could actually get Tetley Bitter free using tokens printed in the local paper. Despite this, Tetley Bitter was the only cask with any substantial amount of beer left. It says it all, really ~ you can't even give it away.

The most notorious example locally of wandering beer was of course Higson's of Liverpool. The brewery was taken over by Boddington's of Manchester in 1985. They sold it to Whitbread in 1990, who closed it shortly afterwards. Production was moved the Hillsborough brewery in Sheffield and, when that closed, to Castle Eden in County Durham ~ a long way from its Merseyside origins. Production finally ceased in 1999, by which time the beer bore absolutely no resemblance to the original.

There are many more examples. Some drinkers, myself among them, believe that Young's beers have suffered from the move from the historic Ram brewery in Wandsworth after the merger with Wells. Other examples of peripatetic beers  include Ruddles, Old Speckled Hen, Ind Coope Burton, Bass, Courage Directors ~ the list goes on. While some of these are still drinkable, none is as good as (and often bears little resemblance to) its original form. In fact, I can't think of any beer from a big brewery that has been uprooted and moved elsewhere without a loss in quality. Geordies should enjoy their brew before its taste wanders into history.

As a footnote, after the failure of the recent relaunch of Higson’s, drinkers who remember the original with fondness may wish to know that the Liverpool Organic Brewery is working on a new Higson's brew.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Drinking in Scotland Road

Ales from the crypt Last night I went to St Anthony's Church in Scotland Road, Liverpool. No, I haven't seen the light ~ I was drinking in the crypt at their Oktoberfest. There were 29 beers and 4 ciders available in the crypt, which is a very atmospheric place for an evening out. 19th century plaques show where former parishioners lay interred and the ceiling is barrel-vaulted; I was told that scenes from a supernatural BBC drama starring Martin Shaw were shot here.

There were 2 bars, one for local beers and the other for the rest of the country. There were 8 beers from Liverpool Organic Brewery, and quite a varied bunch they were: 24 carat is a light dry beer, the best seller, apparently. Also there was Shipwreck, described as a true IPA, and deceptive in that it didn't taste like a 6.5% beer. Mordue All Hallows was a dark beer that had none of the excessive heaviness that some such do. I also enjoyed the Triple FFF Stairway To Heaven. Betwitxt Storr is called a lager, and was very drinkable, but I must admit to a general difficulty in distinguishing the cask lager style from the golden ale style.

This unique little festival runs until Saturday. Tickets £5 per session from Lion Tavern, the Belvedere or the Church Office 0151 207 0177.

From the Liverpool Mercury 4th October 1833:  The crypt beneath the chapel is deep and allotted for vaults, so constructed as to form a cemetery; each vault is calculated to receive a single coffin ; and they are built in rows and tiers, each tier containing five vaults; these rows are intersected with passages and each passage has a corresponding window. Over each of these vaults there is a separate arch of brick-work, so that the coffins placed in them do not rest upon another. The mouth of each vault, as soon as a coffin is received within it will be closed with brick-work , or with a slab of stone on which will be inscribed the epitaph of the person who lies there interred.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Beers in Liverpool & Churchtown

I was in Liverpool for a meeting yesterday and, having an hour to spare, decided to visit a couple of pubs, as you do. First was the Globe opposite Central Station. There was steady late afternoon custom with locals mostly, and a nice comfortable atmosphere ~ I have written about this great pub before. There were four beers on: Copper Dragon Challenger IPA, Sharps Cornish Coaster, bitters from Cain’s & Black Sheep and Weston's Scrumpy. I had the Sharps, as it's the only one I hadn't tried before. A pleasant 3.6% beer, light in colour and flavour. While I quite liked it, it's not one I would seek out. I do like Copper Dragon IPA, but had decided to move on.

I next went to the Swan in Wood Street, a rock pub since the 1970s. It's actually an unremarkable pub when not busy, as on this occasion, but has tremendous atmosphere later in the evening when it's busy and the juke box is blaring out. When I arrived Ozzy Osbourne was singing "So Tired" on the jukebox, which then fell silent. Seven of the nine hand pumps were on with 6 beers and Weston's Scrumpy; several of the beers were unfamiliar to me. I tried Cottage Fifteen Guinea Special, another light coloured beer, but at 4.7% with more body than the Sharps: I quite liked it but thought it needed to be cooler. However, I'd suggest visiting this pub when it's rocking, later in the evening.

After the meeting, I caught the train to Southport and then the bus to Churchtown, a picturesque urban village north of the town centre. I was going to a CAMRA meeting in the Bold Arms (pictured), which is an old pub going back around 400 years, if not more; it has 4 or 5 drinking areas, with various nooks and crannies. In addition to Tetley Bitter and Mild, there were two guests: Celt Native Storm 4.4% and Wooden Hand Brixham Buccaneer 4.3%. The Wooden Hand was not bad, but I much preferred the Celt, a nice light-coloured, full-flavoured beer, dry but not astringent.

I don't get to the Bold that often as it's out of my way, but the beers I tried were on good form. Although I didn't try it, Tetley Mild features here, a beer that is becoming harder to find and which is - in my opinion - much better than Tetley Bitter.

All in all, a pleasant little exploration of pubs and beers in two quite separate parts of Merseyside.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Cask beer sales up ~ especially to women

Sales of real ale, or cask beer if you prefer, have increased by 1% over the last year, according to the annual Cask Report. This is a modest rise but, as the preamble to the report says, "Over the last few years, cask beer has seen a remarkable turnaround. It's now outperforming every other beer style, benefiting from the increasing demand for products with local provenance, natural ingredients and interesting flavours."

The report states that the number of women who say they drink real ale has doubled, but many women commented that they have been put off trying real ale because of the negative, macho image it often has. Brewers who feel their pump clips should look like pictures from Loaded with silly sexist names to match should perhaps consider how they may be losing sales.

If you haven't time to read the whole document, BBC News summarises it here.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Baron's Bar Oktoberfest

The Baron's Bar in the Scarisbrick Hotel is currently holding a beer festival on the theme of English versus Scottish beers.  I was there last night for the opening night and listended to Patsy from the excellent Wigan micro-brewery Prospect talking about her brewery and how she went from being involved in nursery education to brewing.  The beers are not all on at once (not enough handpumps), but even so I was surprised that there wasn't even one Prospect beer on, in view of Patsy being there, and the fact that there are several Prospect beers lined up for later in the festival.

Among the beers that were on, I had Harviestoun Hoptoberfest, a light-coloured 4% beer that I found very pleasant. I also had a Brentwood Hope & Glory, a beer that was malty but not especially sweet that I couldn't take to.  The best beer I tried was undoubtedly Orkney Dark Island, a fine dark beer that I stuck with all night, to the surprise of my drinking companion who is used to see me drinking paler beers.  I noticed there were three real ciders on, although I didn't try any on this occasion, as I'm not keen on mixing cider with beer.

This festival runs until Monday 12 October. If you have any outdated illusions about Scottish beers being thin, sweet and malty, come along and be prepared for a pleasant surprise.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Meet the Brewer

Patsy from the excellent Prospect Brewery of Wigan will give a presentation at 7.00 pm in the Baron's Bar this evening.  The Baron's is in the Scarisbrick Hotel on Lord Street.

The Baron's beer festival begins on the same day.

Update: Prospect Silver Tally has come second in the Champion Beer of Greater Manchester awards.  I have written in praise of this beer before.  This micro-brewery just keeps winning awards.  Tandleman gives more more details here.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

Lindisfarne & Jack the Lad singer BILLY MITCHELL and BOB FOX, famous for his duos with Tom McConville and later with Stu Luckley, have teamed up. You can see this inspired partnership on Wednesday 7th October at the 3 Monkeys Folk Club, Mount Pleasant Pub, Manchester Road, Southport, PR9 9BD.

Doors: 7.30 pm. Tickets: £10 on the door.
Info: 07801 849635.

Probably your only chance to see these consummate artists together in Southport.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

First Monday singaround

A reminder that the free Guest House singaround on the 1st Monday of the month will take place tomorrow (Monday) evening, from around 8.30 pm.  The singaround is open to all, and performing is, of course, optional.  As regulars will know, this Good Beer Guide pub serves up to 10 real ales.  I hope to see you there.
The music session on the 3rd Monday in the Guest House will take place as usual.

Hopping for the best:
I usually switch off when Radio 4's Food Programme comes on but today it was about hops.  They spoke to people from Shepherd Neame and BrewDog, and had Roger Protz, Good Beer Guide editor, in the studio.  Towards the end there was a tasting of beers from BrewDog and Meantime brewery, with some of the pretentious descriptions that people like to invest the simple process of drinking beer with, but don't let that put you off.  It's repeated on Monday at 4.00 pm and then will be on BBC iPlayer.  Definitely worth listening to.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Liverpool Delta Blues

Tom Doughty is a superb lap slide guitar player; I have seen him at the Bothy Folk Club in Southport on several occasions (blues have always featured at the Bothy). He is on in Liverpool tonight in the new Liverpool Acoustic Blues Lounge, which is hosted by local blues duo, Blue C.  The venue, View Two Gallery, is in the legendary Mathew Street on the opposite side from the Cavern, and just two or three doors along from the Grapes pub where The Beatles used to drink.

It's only a few minutes walk from Moorfields Station.  Highly recommended.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Take It To The Top

I wrote a few days ago about the British Medical Association's recent calls for further increases in alcohol taxation and a reduction in pub opening hours.  I am certain that these proposals will do nothing to combat binge drinking and alcoholism, and will instead penalise social drinkers and force pubs out of business.  CAMRA has set up a petition to Number 10 calling on the Prime Minister to reject the British Medical Association's proposals.  If you agree, you can sign it here.

There's Hope For Cider Yet

Real cider and perry isn't seen often on Merseyside, so this is a rare opportunity for lovers of fermented pears and apples.  For more details, go to the cider festival webpage on the Liverpool CAMRA website.  And beer drinkers beware: it might seem inoffensive when you drink it, but this stuff can blow your brains out if you're not careful.  Take it easy and you'll enjoy it a lot more. I speak from experience.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Singaround in the Mason's

A singaround in the Mason's in Anchor Street tonight has been arranged at fairly short notice.  Come along to perform, or just listen if you prefer ~ no admission charge.  The pub usually provides complementary sandwiches or hot pot on these nights, and it is the only outlet in Southport for Robinson's beer. 

The Mason's is behind the main post office on Lord Street.

Nanny State Mocks Puritans

Humourless alcohol puritans, Alcohol Focus Scotland, have put a poll on their website inviting people to vote on minimum pricing (which I have previously written about here).  So far, 66% have voted against, which, I would imagine, is not the response they wanted. Let's try to make that figure higher before they remove the poll through embarrassment.  You can vote here

Why humourless?  Read their response to the name Scottish brewery BrewDog gave to their new 1.1% beer.  They've called it Nanny State. 

I found the last link on the Southport Drinker's blog ~ thanks.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Physician, heal thyself!

As most people will know, there are people in society who delight in telling others how to live their lives. Having achieved the smoking ban, which I broadly support, they have turned their attention to alcohol. The British Medical Association (BMA) proposes for alcohol: above inflation tax increases, minimum pricing, reduction in opening hours and a ban on advertising. The BMA's Dr Vivienne Nathanson stated: "As doctors our focus is to ensure individuals drink sensibly." Since when? I thought the focus of doctors is treat people's ill health and not to "ensure" we drink in a manner they approve of. Like most people, I certainly don't have a problem with campaigns to encourage healthy living, but healthy living cannot be imposed by punitive tax and social measures. I understand the principle that prevention is better than cure, but people have to be persuaded, not coerced, a point the BMA has failed to grasp.

In the 28 years I worked for the DSS, most of my jobs involved dealing with the public, which included quite a few alcoholics. In the worst cases, clothes would be in tatters, they ate the cheapest food available, when they ate at all, and their benefits went on extra strong lager or cider. I became used to interviewing people who were drunk and reeking of booze at 10 o' clock in the morning when they'd come in for crisis loans to replace their spent benefit. The point is that what they spent on booze was very high proportion of their benefits, money they should have used for necessities, but that didn't stop these problem drinkers from drinking. No, they simply stopped eating properly and failed to pay bills, all of which contributed to their downward spiral. One of the saddest cases I recall was an inoffensive boozer who was found dead one morning in the staff car park; we assumed he had been waiting for the office to open.

Increasing taxation will only penalise the majority of responsible drinkers and drive pubs out of business. It will not constrain problem drinkers, who in the worst cases have ceased to care about anything except where the next drink is coming from.

There's an old phrase, "Physician, heal thyself." We recently learned that on average, medical professionals drink above the recommended guidelines. If the BMA can't convince its own, they've little chance of convincing social drinkers. If you're following a failing strategy, you should rethink it. The problem is that the government may seize on these ideas to justify or even increase the existing beer tax escalator, irrespective of the deficiencies in the BMA's arguments.