I had a meeting on Tuesday in the Falstaff on King Street, Southport, with some CAMRA people to discuss the future of the local branch magazine, Ale & Hearty. I felt encouraged as there seemed to be a determination to get it published again. I'd hate to be the editor in charge if it finally collapsed. The Falstaff, which was at one time my local when it served up to 10 real ales, had just Theakston's Lightfoot on at £2.60 a pint. It's "a delicious and refreshing, golden ale" according to the brewery website, but to me it was merely inoffensive and unremarkable. There were four other handpumps which weren't in use. The place was empty when we arrived and still was when we left. I do hope this pub can revive, but it's not looking hopeful.
I then called into the Phoenix (owned by the Smith & Jones pub company) on Coronation Walk where there was a surprise for me: a pint of real ale for £1.29. It was Tolly English Ale, brewed under the Tolly Cobbold name, but actually Greene King, with a strength of 2.8%, designed to take advantage of the new lower duty for beers that are 2.8% or below. It had more flavour than you'd expect from such a weak beer, but still seemed thin to me. They were also serving Morland Original (4.1%), another Greene King beer which was more to my taste, at £1.49 and Bombardier at £1.79. For those who like sport, and I'm not one, the Phoenix has several large screen TVs. In fact, Liverpool were being thrashed 3-0 by Man City while I was there.
On to the Baron's Bar. This bar suffered badly after the formerly independent Scarisbrick Hotel, in which it is housed, was taken over by Britannia Hotels, who immediately put on predictable regional and national beers from a single supplier, and sales plummeted accordingly. I'm pleased to report that the company has responded to the market and it was serving Moles Brewery Tap, Tetley Bitter, George Wright Pipe Dream, Flag & Turret (the house beer), Vale Brewery Best Bitter, Pride of Pendle, Lancaster Blonde and Black Sheep. All were £1.90 a pint, except for the Tetley Bitter, which was £2.25. They also had Old Rosie real cider, and there was one more one handpump which was turned around.
These two pubs, along with the Sir Henry Segrave (Wetherspoons) and the Willow Grove (Lloyds No. 1), mean that there are now several local ale houses you can drink in if you are on a limited budget. As ever, the question arises: if they can do it, why can't other pub companies?
P.S. I should also have mentioned the London Hotel, a suburban pub a short walk from the town centre. It sells Oakwell beer: Barnsley Bitter at £1.80 a pint and Dark Mild at £1.70.
All these pubs are on the Southport real ale pubs map, which you can find here.