Monday, 30 September 2013

More breweries in a declining market

According to the annual cask ale report compiled by Pete Brown, cask ale outperformed the total beer market by 6.8%. So party time? Er, not quite. What actually happened is that the total beer market declined by 7.9% in 2012, but real ale declined by only 1.1%. While it's good that real ale is surviving the recession better than keg beers and lagers, it's still in decline. The market share of real ale is increasing merely as a percentage of the total, declining ale market: it is now 55% of the total - the remaining 45% being smooth and keg. I'm not sure how an overall decline can be seen as good news, even if it is a lesser decline than other beer types; the CAMRA newspaper, What's Brewing, is to my mind unjustifiably optimistic.

At the same time, the latest issue of the Good Beer Guide shows that the number of breweries has increased to more than 1,150, with almost 190 opening last year. The contradiction of ever more breweries chasing a declining market cannot continue indefinitely, and the first casualties are likely to be breweries. Real ale nibbling into keg and lager sales will only postpone this outcome, unless the decline in real ale sales rectifies itself. I can't see this happening until the economy improves, assuming it does, and people's job security and standards of living begin to recover, which is unlikely in the near future.

I doubt there would be a big bang of breweries going bust; more likely there would be a gradual loss of smaller, less profitable ones after a struggle to find outlets for their products. People don't tend to abandon their dreams lightly, so I'd expect it to be a slow process. I hope I'm wrong and we do get more of a recovery.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

End of the Lakeside Inn?

The Lakeside Inn on the Promenade
The Lakeside Inn on Southport's Promenade was once in the Guinness Book of Records for being the smallest pub in the country. It is in the 2014 edition of the Good Beer Guide and was the local CAMRA Pub of the Year a couple of years ago. It was listed among the top 100 famous pubs, compiled by Famous Grouse Whisky and the Sunday Telegraph three years ago. It even has a tribute pub in California. There is usually just one real ale on sale: Fullers London Pride, always well kept when I've had it.

I was therefore very surprised to read in our local paper, the Southport Visiter, that it is to close on Sunday 13 October. The article suggests that it to close for the winter, but there is no mention of a reopening date and the owner, who operates Southport Watersports next door to the Lakeside, "was unavailable for comment". The announcement came out the blue for manager and staff, and no explanation has been given to them or to the regulars. It is in such a vacuum of information that rumours and conspiracy theories thrive, so I hope we find out what's going on soon. It would be a real shame to lose one of our quirkiest locals.

P.S. 29 September: I was chatting to a local licensee about the Lakeside last night and she pointed out that a lot of the Lakeside's custom came from people attending shows in the Southport Theatre. She suggested that the new Hungry Horse outlet called the Waterfront on the other side of the theatre may have taken trade from the Lakeside, and that the new Marstons pub, the Guelder Rose which is due to open soon on the seafront, would probably do so as well. Unlike the Lakeside, both are or will be food outlets.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Southport Beer festival ~ beer list

I've been asked by the local branch of CAMRA to publish the provisional beer list for the Sandgrounder Beer Festival, which will run from 17 to 19 October. As usually happens with beer festivals, the final list will probably be slightly different owing to beer availability at the time. I notice there is a beer called Tandle Hill (3.9%) from a newish brewery (est. 2011), Wilson Potter of Middleton, Greater Manchester, the home of revered beer blogger, Tandleman. I'm just waiting for a brewery to name a beer after me: Nev's Ruby Red (5.5%) perhaps?

AllGates
All Black
AllGates
Winter Zing
Backyard
Bitter
Backyard
Blonde
Beer Geek (NEW)
Geek Unique
Beer Geek (NEW)
Great White Geek
Blackjack (NEW)
Shuffled Deck
Boggart
Rum Porter
Boggart Hole
Dark Mild
Brimstage
Trappers Hat
Brimstage
Rhode Island Red
Burscough
Old Habit
Burscough
Ringtail Bitter
Burscough
Mere Blonde
Bushys
Ruby Mild
Bushys
TBC
Dancing Duck
dcuk
Dancing Duck
Dark Drake
Dent
Porter
Flipside
Golden Sovereign
Flipside
Dusty Penny
George Wright
Mild
George Wright
Northern Lights
Goosnargh (NEW)
Bit O'Blonde
HBClark
Traditional
Little Valley
Hebden's Wheat
Little Valley
Python IPA
Liverpool Craft
TBC
Liverpool Craft
TBC
Liverpool Organic
Josephine Butler
Liverpool Organic
Empire Ale
Lymestone
Stone The Crows
Lymestone
Stone Dead
Mad Hatter
TBC
Melwood (NEW)
Love Light Ale
Melwood (NEW)
TBC
Navigation (NEW)
Perseus
Navigation (NEW)
Stout
North Star (NEW)
Molly's Pride
North Star (NEW)
Pathfinder
Peerless
Jinja Ninja
Peerless
Peninsula IPA
Problem Child (NEW)
Scallywag
Problem Child (NEW)
Scoundrel
Prospect
Whatever!
Prospect
Big John
Scottish Borders
Foxy Blonde
Scottish Borders
Dark Horse
Southport
Dark Night
Southport
Golden Sands
Southport
Sandgrounder (TBC)
Summerwine
Teleporter
Summerwine
Diablo
Welbeck Abbey
Portland Black
Welbeck Abbey
Cavendish
Wilson Potter (NEW)
Tandle Hill
Wilson Potter (NEW)
In The Black

Molson Coors forced to behave

I wrote in February that Alton Town FC, which plays in in the regional Wessex League, was told it was to be evicted at the end of the season from its sports ground so that the owner, Molson Coors, could build houses on the site. With nowhere to move to, the club faced closure. This is an update.

As a signatory to the petition, I received an e-mail recently from the chairman (sic) of Alton Town saying that more than 4000 people had signed, thus persuading Molson Coors to agree to upgrade the local council-owned football ground. He writes: "This would include up-to-date floodlights and the provision of a 3G artificial grass pitch (approved for match play by the FA). Such improvements would enable Alton United Youth (the current leaseholders) and Alton Town to come together as one larger club and thereby all benefit from these improved facilities." Instead of eviction at the end of last season, Molson Coors have agreed the team can stay where they are until the improvements are completed.

I'm glad Molson Coors eventually decided that being the bully boy wasn't good publicity but it's a shame that it had to go this far before they saw reason. It's the same attitude as the copyright lawyers bullying little brewers that I wrote about on 9 September. The good news is that it's another example of social media forcing big companies to improve their behaviour in response to unwelcome bad publicity. I think we'll probably see lots more of this in the future; I certainly hope so.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Ceilidh in Ainsdale

I've only just heard about this. For fans of ceilidhs, or barn dances, there is one this coming Saturday. It's a harvest ceilidh at:

St John's Parish Church, Liverpool Road, Ainsdale, Southport, PR8 3QE (map).

The ceilidh will be held in the school hall, not the church hall (the school and church are adjacent). Music by the Union Street Band, with Roger Downing calling. It will run from 7.00 to 10.30pm. Open to all.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Doing your duty

Seeing this breakdown of the cost of a £4.99 bottle of wine got me thinking about alcohol duty again. As you can see, it's not just us beer drinkers that are being ripped off by the government for tax and duty, and it's worth remembering that the notorious duty escalator still exists for all drinks other than beer.

When I've previously written about alcohol taxation, occasionally someone has commented that they'd prefer money to go to schools and hospitals (have you noticed it's always 'schools and hospitals'?) rather than towards cuts in alcohol duty. It seems a fair point, until you analyse it. Government expenditure is not a simple choice between alcohol duty and schools and hospitals: if the economy were as simple as that, we wouldn't be in our current mess. Despite the current high levels of alcohol duty, funding to schools and hospitals is declining anyway because of inflation, which calls into doubt any genuine link between the two. I'd also point out that there never seems any shortage of money to go to war, or to maintain and replace our weapons of mass destruction. I could go on, but I won't, as it's not really what ReARM is about.

Such simplistic arguments are the emotive stock in trade of any politicians who want to divert attention away from areas of government expenditure that they don't want us to scrutinise, so it's disappointing when ordinary voters show they've fallen for them by recycling the same nonsense. Despite the beer escalator victory, the UK still has one of highest levels of beer taxation in Europe. I get the impression the some people think we've achieved some kind of total victory, but we've merely won one battle. The chancellor giveth - the chancellor may take away again. I am certain that the issue can and will arise again.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Whatpub.com for 96% of all real ale pubs

UK's first website devoted to beer goggles
A new pub finder website, Whatpub.com has been launched today by CAMRA. This is a remarkable achievement by the tens of thousands of volunteers who have researched to provide the necessary information. I think it's an excellent idea. There are other pub websites, such as Beer In The Evening, but this is the most comprehensive national website to find where you can get real ale: it lists 47,000 pubs, 36,000 of which serve real ale - more than 96% of all real ale pubs in the country. I have heard the odd comment like "Not before time!", but that's a churlish attitude, seeing that all of the information has been provided by unpaid volunteers working in their own time and at their own expense. As is the case with the Good Beer Guide (GBG), in fact.

I have only one niggle. As reported in my post yesterday, and at greater length here in July, the CAMRA conference voted several years ago to ban Branches publishing complete lists of their local GBG pubs in case that damaged sales of the guide. I said in July that "The argument (propounded by Roger Protz, GBG editor) is stupid because people don't buy the guide just to find out the pubs in their local area, which they probably already know about - you buy it to see what pubs there are in other areas." This website doesn't just allow you to find the real ale pubs where you live, but tells you the real ale pubs across the whole country. Why would anyone now want to buy a GBG?

The reply would be that the GBG tells you the best pubs, whereas  Whatpub.com lists all real ale outlets, but I'm not convinced that would matter to a lot of drinkers. In fact, I'd prefer to be told a greater range of pubs than the GBG lists. I'm not criticising the website here at all; I'm pointing out that it's quite likely that this free website will affect GBG sales, whereas even now if our local CAMRA branch published the list that I posted on this blog yesterday, they would be breaking an official policy intended to protect GBG sales - although it really does nothing of the sort.

P.S. I've just noticed this is my 900th post.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Local Good Beer Guide pubs 2014

CAMRA launched its Good Beer Guide for 2014 earlier this month. I wrote in July: 'The CAMRA conference passed a motion a few years ago that branches could not list all of the pubs that they put forward for the GBG in any of their publications or websites. They do all the work but are not allowed to use that information locally in case (the ludicrous argument goes) it damages the sales of the GBG ... although the motion did kindly permit branches to publish incomplete lists as "tasters".'

Well, I wouldn't dream of breaking the rules but as I say on my welcome page, 'ReARM is an independent blog: it is completely unconnected to, and does not speak for, CAMRA'. So here is a complete list of pubs in the Southport and West Lancs area that are going into the 2014 Good Beer Guide. Happy drinking!

The 2014 Good Beer Guide was launched on 12 September, and is 
available from www.camra.org.uk/gbg and all good book shops.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Ale & Hearty reborn?

I wrote in June that Ale & Hearty, the local CAMRA magazine that I have edited for the last couple of years, had folded - please see previous post for the full story. Since then, Mike Perkins of our local CAMRA branch has been in touch with a couple of companies that undertake to collect the adverts and the payments, set the magazine and then return complete issues to us. All we have to do is provide the articles and pictures. After much thought, we have come to an arrangement with one company and I have spent quite a lot of time recently getting together enough items to fill a magazine, editing them (just for the basics such as spelling and punctuation to ensure clarity - I don't rewrite other people's work), suggesting a design for the cover and getting all these off to our new printer.

Although this has been a lengthy task, it's been quite a breeze compared to the last couple of issues I have managed to get published. I haven't had to spend afternoons going around dozens of potential advertisers, firstly to get them to agree to advertise and then a few weeks later to collect the payments, and then having to go back when they're not available, even when we'd arranged to meet them. On one occasion the licensee was upstairs and claimed she didn't have the time to come and see us; we were rather irritated by this as we only needed  five minutes, so we never went back. I haven't had to create adverts or spend hours laying out the whole magazine (including the adverts) in the form virtually ready for the printer, who - to be fair - always went through it and considerably improved my amateur efforts.

We're hoping to have the magazine out for our beer festival next month. For the first time in ages, I'm beginning to hope that we can get our magazine back on track, and published much more regularly than it has been in the last couple of years.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Beer festival in the Dispensary

I've just heard about this beer festival in the Dispensary, Renshaw Street, Liverpool. This pub has won Liverpool CAMRA's Pub of the Year award in the past, and I have spent happy afternoons and evenings there. The licensee once took the mickey out of me when he saw me at the bar writing down all the beers that were on. He obviously didn't believe me when I told him I was making notes for my beer blog and the CAMRA magazine I edit! Perhaps if he sees this he might believe me now.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Robin Laing at the Bothy

This Sunday 22 September, Robin Laing is the guest singer at the Bothy. Robin is a Scottish folk-singer and songwriter originally from Edinburgh. His affection for his home city, and indeed Scotland, shows in many of his songs. He now lives in rural Lanarkshire.

Since becoming full-time professional he has created a one-man show on the subject of Scotch whisky called The Angels' Share, has released an album based on the show and has toured extensively both in the UK and abroad. He has also been running traditional song classes in Lanarkshire and has become the Convener of a new organisation, The New Makars Trust, which aims to promote song writing in Scotland.

The Angels' Share combined two of his passions - folk song and whisky. When not exploring the purely cultural aspects of whisky, he is sometimes to be found on the Tasting Panel of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. In terms of folk music, his real interest is in folk song and especially the old Scots Ballads, or Muckle Sangs as they are sometimes known. However, he also has a tremendous respect for the songs of Robert Burns, (not just the rude ones), and the tradition of Scots fiddle music that has come from people like William Marshall, Scott Skinner and the Gow family. Robin's instrument is the classical guitar and some of these fiddle tunes transfer quite well.

The Bothy Folk Club meets at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. Thwaites real ale.  On-line tickets.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

From A Distance - the Americana festival

This weekend, the Atkinson arts centre in Southport presents its first Americana festival from 20 to 22 September. Guest artists artists include:

l Sarah McQuaid & The Carrivick Sisters
l Sarah Savoy & The Francadians
l Peggy Seeger & special guest Thea Hopkins
l Chastity Brown & Annie Keating
l Kelly Joe Phelps
l Liverpool Harmonic Gospel Choir with Chastity Brown
l Police Dog Hogan
l Trouble In The Fields – A Tribute to Nanci Griffith featuring The Kennedys

The following artists will play free in the foyer:

photo of Sarah McQuaid & The Carrivick Sisters
Sarah McQuaid
l The Grateful Fred Band (foyer session hosts)
l Steve Chapman-Smith
l Peter Aldridge
l The Southbound Attic Band
l The Big I Am
l The Susie Jones Band
l The Good Intentions

There will be several workshops during the weekend as well.
For more details of the artists, dates, times and tickets, click here.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Roosters Fort Smith

Our monthly acoustic song session in the Lion in Liverpool went very well last night, even though I nearly accidentally ate a fish sandwich (I hate fish). There seemed to be something of a political slant to some of the songs, mostly praising the glories of the Coalition government ... no sorry, that was the nightmare I had last night - probably too many cheese butties!

As usual there were eight real ales and ciders on, all with a 10p discount for CAMRA members - well, those 10 pences do add up. The beer I was on most of the evening was Roosters Fort Smith, a 5.0% IPA, although it's 5.5% according to the brewery's website. I hadn't seen this one before. The website describes it thus: "Named after the town in which Rooster Cogburn lived, Fort Smith is a big and bold India Pale Ale, brewed using Citra and Chinook hops from the USA to create tropical and passion fruit aromas and a lasting, bitter finish." Well, I didn't get the tropical and passion fruit aromas - I rarely detect them, but perhaps that's because my sense of smell is less than perfect - but apart from that, it's a fair description. The bitterness is definitely lasting, to the extent that a final drink of a beer I usually like - the house beer, George Wright's The Lion Returns 3.9% - tasted quite insipid by comparison. Some beers have such a powerful taste that they just cannot be followed, and Fort Smith certainly made a nice change from the insipid golden beers that some brewers produce nowadays.

It had been raining most of the evening, so after my pints of 5% beer, I decided that if it was still wet when the train reached Southport, I'd get a taxi. However, it had stopped when we arrived so, without a good excuse, I walked the mile home.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Zetland real ale festival and loyalty card

Please note: since posting this, I've learnt the dates have changed. I'll provide the correct dates when I'm told them myself.
The Zetland Hotel on Zetland Street is a large local in a residential area in Southport, well-known locally for its popular bowling green. It's also a real ale pub and will be holding a Guest Ale Festival between 27 September and 6 October. The beers available will include:
  • The Kite Brewery - Bluestone Bitter 4%
  • Upham Brewery - Punter 4%
  • Adnams - Topaz Gold 4%
  • Titanic Brewery - Iceberg 4.1%
  • Daniel Thwaites - Lancaster Bomber 4.4%
  • Wadworth & Co - Farmer's Glory 4.7%
  • Castle Rock - Elsie Mo 4.7%
  • Cotleigh Brewery - Osprey 5%
The Zetland Hotel
(picture pinched from Marstons website)
And here's a promotional idea I haven't come across before. From the 2 October, they are setting up a Cask Ale Collectors Club on Wednesdays from 8.30pm. Club members must collect 2 stamps (1 stamp per pint of cask ale) in person every Wednesday for a minimum of 46 weeks to qualify for a free trip to the Jennings brewery organised by the pub. In January, April & July, members will receive a free gift if they have accrued enough stamps during the previous 3 months. Members will also be able to vote for their preferred cask ales for the following month.

It's certainly a novel idea; I hope it works.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The forgotten 9/11

"I sing because my guitar has both feeling and reason ... My guitar is not for the rich" sang folk singer Victor Jara. He was arrested on 12 September 1973, tortured and finally murdered on 15 September by the Chilean junta, a fate shared by thousands of his fellow citizens.

Today is the 40th anniversary of the Western-backed military coup d'├ętat that overthrew Salvador Allende's democratically-elected government; the junta's leader, General Pinochet, was great friends with Margaret Thatcher, who had him around for tea on several occasions.

Jez Lowe's Friday Special

Jez Lowe's latest album
This Friday sees the return of Jez Lowe to the Bothy at a Friday Special. Jez is an Sony Academy Award Winning Songwriter from County Durham. Many of his songs deal with daily life in North East England, particularly in his home town of Easington Colliery. He is consequently seen as a something of a musical ambassador for the North East. In 2008, he was nominated as “Folksinger of the Year” in the BBC Folk awards, following the success of his album Jack Common's Anthem released the previous year. Jez is a highly regarded singer-songwriter and artists who have covered his songs include Fairport Convention, The Dubliners, The Tannahill Weavers, Cherish The Ladies, Gordon Bok, The McCalmans, The Black Brothers, Liam Clancy and Bob Fox.

Jez often performs with his band, the Bad Pennies, but for this gig he is performing solo. He will doubtlessly be performing material from his new CD, Heads Up, which is a retrospective featuring many of his most popular and most-requested songs. "Heads Up is a brilliant sampler" (Living Tradition review). Jez's special guests on the night are Peta Webb and Ken Hall, who have themselves headlined at the Bothy.

The gig is at 8.00pm this Friday 13 September at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. The venue sells real ale from Thwaites. On-line tickets.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The Lion Returns

As summer fades into the golden (or perhaps drizzly) days of autumn, my monthly* acoustic music session in the Lion Tavern begins its autumn season this Thursday the 12th. Usual business: all welcome, free, come along and play or just listen if you prefer. Eight real ales (including the house beer - pictured), although other drinks are available. The Lion is in Moorfields, Liverpool, just across the road from the railway station. From around 8.15 p.m.

Also on Thursday in Liverpool, there is the usual weekly singaround in the Belvedere, 8 Sugnall Street, Liverpool, L7 7EB, between 2.00 and 4.00 in the afternoon. It's a good real ale pub too.

* On the second Thursday of each month.

Monday, 9 September 2013

RedNev in court next?

Not an energy drink
I see in the latest issue of What's Brewing that two drinks companies have gone down the bullying path of threatening smaller companies that have similar names to their own. The Ticketybrew Brewery of Stalybridge was told by Halewood, who make Crabbies Ginger Beer, that their name was too similar to its registered trademark 'Tickety Boo'. Redwell Brewery in Norwich received several letters from Red Bull threatening court action alleging trademark infringement. Presumably they think they own the word 'red', which means I can expect to be in court shortly concerning the name of this blog. In both cases, they have backtracked, with Halewood pointing out that they never actually threatened Ticketybrew with court action. Red Bull have have decided that Redwell can continue to use its current name with the face-saving proviso that Redwell never enter the energy drinks market. They never intended to anyway.

Not tickety boo
These stories remind me of Samuel Smith's brewery taking Cropton, an independent Yorkshire brewery, to court over its use of the Yorkshire white rose on two of its beers. Samuel Smith claimed that Cropton's white rose was too similar to its own. The judge decided, in relation to the two Cropton's two beers concerned, that one infringed Samuel Smith's trademark but the other didn't.

When Liverpool Organic Brewery lost the rights to use the Higson's name, they continued brewing the beer, as they own the recipe, using a pump clip that is the same colour as the Higson's one (red). However, I noticed the Liver Bird on the clip had been redesigned, no doubt to avoid claims of copyright infringement.

How come Halewood and Red Bull backed off? In both cases, social media went mad with condemnation of the bullying tactics and the companies were worried about the adverse publicity they were getting. It is unfortunately too common, and not just in the drinks world, that big companies will threaten with court action smaller companies who have little chance of being able to afford the lawyers they'd need to fight the case. Even if they could afford the lawyers, they couldn't afford the risk of potentially massive damages should they lose. All too often, smaller companies can see no alternative but to change whatever it is the bully's copyright lawyers are nitpicking about, thus losing any reputation and good will they have already built up. It's nice the see the bullies having to back down for a change.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer gig in Southport

The Bothy’s new season kicks off with a return visit by Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer. Their consistently great performances have earned them a strong following. Once known mainly for their instrumental skills with Scottish smallpipes, accordion and Swedish nyckelharpa, they are now being accepted as impressive song arrangers and writers in their own right. Their traditional material is delivered with contemporary interpretations, while at the same time their original tunes and songs sit comfortably alongside. They have just released a new album, Red House, and they’ll doubtless be showcasing material from that on the night.

Extract from a review by Peter Cowley of their last visit to the Bothy: “Together, Swan-Dyer make a glorious sound, whether it is a combination of accordion and pipes or guitar and nyckelharpa. Their two sets comprised (mainly) songs and tunes from their excellent 2011 album Stones On The Ground. The songs range from English Traditional (Broken Token and Billy Boy) to murder ballads (Lord Randall) to Swedish songs. Of the latter, Vicki sang En Gang, a song about marriage, in Swedish, her mother's native tongue. They also sang Herr Hillebrand and Proud Lena, a chilling Swedish murder ballad which Vicki has translated into English. Epic stuff! Another of my favourites was the traditional English Train Song The Oxford and 'Ampton Railway about an ill-fated railway line which didn't even survive long enough to be closed by Dr. Beeching.”

They are appearing at the Bothy Folk Club in the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS, at 8.00pm this Sunday 8 September. Real ale from Thwaites. On-line tickets.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Back To School!

When I was a kid, it really used to annoy me seeing Back To School signs appearing in all the shops while I was still on holiday, but it's nice that nowadays they're catering for teachers too.

Bothy back in Birkdale - just for one day

For more than 35 years, the Bothy Folk Club met every week at the Blundell Arms in Birkdale, which is unfortunately no longer a real ale pub. For one day only, the club is returning to Birkdale, this time hosting a day of acoustic music in the Tea Rooms, 10 Liverpool Road, Birkdake, PR8 4AR, on Saturday 14 September between 3pm and 10pm. It's a free gig, with a collection for Queenscourt Hospice. The Tea Rooms sell beer from the excellent Liverpool Organic Brewery.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Pouring the slops back into the beer

An autovac beer pump, with the pipe
from the drip tray to the line clearly visible
For a long time, it was often claimed that the beer in pub drip trays was poured into the mild, as it was usually the darkest beer. Although this was dismissed at the time by some licensees and even some drinkers as a malicious rumour, it was often true, frequently done on the instructions of the brewers who used to own most of our pubs. (Other money-saving measures they might recommend included removing undamaged slices of lemon from used glasses for recycling in later drinks.) By the time the beer was poured into the mild, it could have been sitting in open steel buckets for quite a few hours, plenty of time to be contaminated and then infect the whole barrel. No wonder cask ale in general, and mild in particular, didn't have a particularly good reputation in the 1950s and 1960s: keg with its characteristic consistency must have been very welcome, despite never being better than mediocre. Mediocre is preferable to bad. If we could travel back to those times in the TARDIS, while I'm sure we'd find some good cask beers, I'm certain we'd be disappointed with much of what was on offer.

Another practice I have never been able to understand is when drinkers insist on keeping the same dirty glass, even though an identical clean glass is available. I can't see how traces of old beer and head in the glass will enhance your next pint, and the accumulation of fingerprints on the outside over an evening won't improve its appearance either, although I can see why pubs might have liked having fewer glasses to wash. It's an utterly pointless ritual that could pass on infections when the nozzle is inserted into the beer in a dirty glass and then into the next customer's beer. Unlikely, you might say, but what if the previous customer had a dripping cold or a cold sore? What if they had a more serious illness that can be transmitted by bodily fluids? "Unlikely" isn't good enough when the simple expedient of a fresh glass removes the risk altogether.

I also recall that pubs would pour beer from drip trays into pint glasses and keep them under the bar by the relevant handpump. If you'd ask for a pint, they'd lift out the partly filled glass, top it up and sell it to you as a fresh pint. They might say that they'd just poured this in error for another customer, and was that okay? Until I learnt better, I used to say yes. Once I realised the trick, having witnessed it a few times, I developed the habit of leaning right over the bar to be certain an clean, empty glass was being used.

With the modern emphasis on health and safety, you'd think such practices would have died out, and they mostly have. One exception still exists: the autovac. I was reminded of this device's existence by a recent post on Tandleman's beer blog. The autovac automatically drains the beer in the drip tray back to the lines for recycling into the next customer's pint. I regard this as a disgusting practice as the beer will have run over the pourer's hands and the outside of the glass before reaching the drip tray. If just one dirty glass is reused, the beer is contaminated. But it goes further than that: the beer will be contaminated anyway if the bar staff's hands aren't spotlessly clean, which is impossible unless they wash their hands every single time they use the till, handle money, wipe tables and collect dirty glasses. If a barman dipped his finger into your pint as he gave it to you, you'd probably refuse to accept it, but that is precisely what happens with the autovac.

I'm surprised the autovac isn't illegal. I understand that pubs where it is still used, which are mostly in Yorkshire, are obliged to use a clean glass every time, but that only addresses one of the problems, and not even that if busy bar staff succumb to a drinker's demand to reuse the same glass. I've been even more surprised when some Yorkshire real ale drinkers, even CAMRA members, have defended the autovac, seeing it as essential to the alleged unique qualities of the Yorkshire pint. This is nonsense: health objections aside, I am utterly unable to see how returning beer that has already been poured, and thus lost some of its condition, into fresh beer will improve the quality of the next pint, and I've never seen any explanation how it would. In fact, you'd get a pint that, despite a thick, foamy head, has less condition, i.e. it's more flat. But then, there's none so blind as those who will not see.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Cross Bay Sunset

I was at the Fylde Folk Festival in Fleetwood last weekend. I didn't have a ticket and so looked to the fringe, where there were quite a few free gigs, singarounds and tunes sessions going on. I gravitated to those in the Strawberry Gardens in Poulton Road. This pub boasts that it has up to 12 real ales and 6 real ciders, and it has won several CAMRA awards. They have also put in a planning application to build a brewery on the site so that Fleetwood Brewing Company can brew up its own beer, First Trawl, locally, rather than under license at Burnley as it is now. If you're ever in Fleetwood, I recommend a visit to this pub.

The pub hosted live gigs downstairs during the festival and upstairs there were informal singarounds that I joined in. The range of beers was excellent, and most were £2.30 a pint for CAMRA members. The two I had the most often were the Cumberland Brewery Corby Blonde, a 4.2% beer, well-balanced with a distinct hoppy flavour and Cross Bay Sunset, described as a Blonde ale, also 4.2% and with a citrus taste to it. I hadn't had the Cumberland before; it's not to be confused with Jennings Cumberland. Cumberland Brewery is in Carlisle and Cross Bay in Morecambe. If you're drinking all day, as you tend to do at a festival, then 4.2% is a good strength that doesn't put you flat on the floor in the evening.

When I arrived at the festival, I was asked by one of the organisers whether I'd like to do a spot on Saturday at the Late Night Cabaret, which began at 11.30pm, and I ended up going on after 1.00am. The venue, the New Boston Hotel, had only one real ale, Thwaites Little Bewdy, a 4.2 % (again) pale ale brewed with Australian hops. I thought that, being Thwaites, it would merely be okay, but it was surprisingly good, with something of a fruity flavour. The pump clip carried on the Australian theme with a silhouette of a kangaroo and cricket stumps.

After I had returned to Southport, I went to my local and there I saw saw among the guest beers, Cross Bay Sunset. I can only conclude that Fate was driving us together.