Saturday, 31 December 2016

Happy 2017

I'd like to wish a very Happy New Year to all of you who are so kind as to come here and read my ramblings on various subjects about real ale and real music. I am really pleased that some people feel this blog is worth looking at.  Thanks to you all!

I can proudly say that - unlike another beer blog that I have recently tried to comment on - I only delete comments that are abusive. I do not block comments that I disagree with. I therefore query the credibility of a self-styled right-wing libertarian who censors opinions he doesn't like. But that's up to him to explain, and should he choose to do so here, I won't delete his comment - unless it's abusive!

Anyway, enough of the killjoys:
I wish everyone a truly Happy New Year.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Women drinkers: tut tutting and titillation

Civilised young drinkers:
clearly not newsworthy.
There's been quite a bit of coverage about the recent report from two Glasgow universities that drinking by women is depicted more negatively than that by men, despite the fact that, overall, men still drink more alcohol. The BBC's report is here; I don't intend to rehash it.

I tend to feel the depiction of women's drinking in our male-dominated media is determined by prescriptive attitudes to how women should behave, wrapped up as concern for their vulnerability. It's often implied that female drunkenness can lead to sexual promiscuity and, even worse, bolster the offensive old insinuation that a drunken woman, especially if revealingly dressed, is "asking for" sexual assault. Interestingly, I can't recall seeing much concern about young males becoming sexually promiscuous after a skinful, or too much concern about their being attacked, even though statistically they belong to the group in society most likely to be assaulted on the streets.

I looked at Google images for 'drunken women' and 'drunken men', and found many pictures for both genders of drinkers in similar poses - huge grins, raising glasses in the air, swigging from bottles, and so on - as well as some showing people throwing up or lying unconscious in the street. The one big difference was that those depicting unconscious young women often showed them with their clothes in disarray revealing their underwear and bodies; one or two were nearly naked. I found no comparable pictures for men.

I have no doubt that many pictures in the media of young people out binge drinking are posed, but that doesn't explain why drunken women are photographed differently to men. One reason must be that most editors and journalists are male, but another is an outdated morality about the behaviour of young women in society, combined with a gloomy sentiment that society is going to pot.

The latter view is usually expressed by those middle aged or older people who hold that things were better in the old days. Curiously, some young people of the 1950s and 1960s who had been described in 'shock horror' terms at the time are now saying similar things about today's younger generations. Nothing new there: in the 1920s, young women who flouted conventional manners and expectations were often disapprovingly referred to as 'flappers'; 40 years later, some of them probably took a dim view of the 'flower power' generation.

A combination of disapproving morality and barely-disguised titillation drives the media's reporting of female drinking, which makes its contribution to informing us about this subject largely worthless. Perhaps our 'free' press needs to grow up.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Local pub and brewery review

There has mixed news in recent years for local pubgoers. The financial crash of 2008 had a major detrimental effect on the pub trade, as on many other businesses. Since then we have lost a lot of local pubs. In Southport, the Portland is now offices, the Shakespeare closed in 2013 and is for sale, the Blundell Arms has been closed for redevelopment, while the Herald, the London and the Plough have all disappeared. In Ormskirk, the historic Buck I' Th' Vine, an old coaching house, has been closed for a long time, as have the Ropers on Wigan Road and the Red Lion in Burscough. Unfortunately this list is not exhaustive.

Earlier this month, the historic Scotch Piper in Lydiate caught fire, although there are hopes it can be repaired and reopened; it really would be a sad loss otherwise, seeing that the date on the sign is AD 1320.

On the plus side, we have seen a few pubs reopen after lengthy periods of closure, such as the Up Steps in Birkdale, the Cock and Rabbit (formerly the Rabbit) in Southport and the Old Packet House in Burscough.

The Tap & Bottles in Cambridge Walks
At the same time we have seen the rise of micropubs, which usually open in former shops or similar small premises. The grandfather of them all locally is the Inn Beer Shop on Lord Street, Southport, with a huge range of bottled beers from all over the world as well as real ale from Southport Brewery.

More recent micropub openings include: the popular Tap and Bottles in Cambridge Walks, Southport; Birkdale's Barrel House in a former newsagent's shop, and further down the road opposite the Crown pub is Taylor's Bar in a former butcher's shop run by one-time 50s and 60s rock & roller Kingsize Taylor. Hillside was a beer desert until the Grasshopper on Sandon Road and the Pines on Hillside Road opened this year; both serve real ale. Further afield, we now have the Beer Station by Freshfield Station and the Hop Inn Bier Shoppe in Ormskirk. This trend for new, different drinking places is continuing.

The Southport and West Lancs area had no breweries until 2004 when Southport Brewery opened. This was followed in 2010 by Burscough Brewery, and in the last couple of years we have gained 3 Potts and Craft breweries in Southport, Parker Brewery in Banks, Red Star in Formby, Neptune in Maghull and Rock The Boat in Little Crosby.

The world of brewing and pubgoing is certainly changing, but this has always been true. When I began drinking in the 1970s, the pub scene was quite different from now, but it also differed from that of the 1950s, and so on further back. There's nothing wrong with nostalgia, unless it inhibits your ability to cope with the present and future: until the TARDIS turns up, time runs in only one direction. With micropubs opening all over the place and a record number of breweries, it well may be that we are in something of a golden age, as I wrote six months ago. Enjoy it while it lasts: in the future, there will probably be people who will wistfully look back to now. 

This has been adapted from an article I wrote for the CAMRA column in our local paper, the Southport Visiter. Some previous articles are here.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

2016 - a year of loss

After the most recent celebrity deaths, I've been reading quite a few comments on Facebook and elsewhere to the effect of: "Let's get this awful year out of the way - roll on 2017." Don't hold your breath, because the Grim Reaper doesn't operate by the calendar. Having said that, it does seem to have been a particularly bad year. Some deaths are sad but not astonishing: for example, the actress Liz Smith who was 95 after all, but George Michael's death at 53 was completely unexpected. I was never a fan, although I've always acknowledged his talent, but as Billy Bragg has said, "His support for the LGBTQ community, the NHS and the miners marked George Michael out as an activist as well as a great artist."

Here is my own, highly subjective list of musical losses that were particularly significant to me. Not mentioning an artist here should not be taken as a posthumous snub.

January
  • David Bowie was at his hit-making peak when I was a student, The Jean Genie coming out in my first year. At college discos, friends would sometimes chant "Neville Neville" to another of his hits; it's amazing what can seem funny after a night on the ale. His constantly changing pop persona kept him in the spotlight for decades: Ziggy Stardust, Thin White Duke, the heavy metal of Tin Machine and the white soul of Let's Dance, to mention just a few. His recent songs are certainly no disgrace to his memory.
  • Glen Frey. I always liked the Eagles, particularly Desperado, both the album and title track, which Frey co-wrote. Hotel California, which he also co-wrote, always seemed an especially eerie song, which I occasionally like to bash out on my 12-string guitar. I saw Glen Frey live with the Eagles on the Hell Freezes Over Tour in the McAlpine Stadium in Huddersfield in July 1996; it was a memorable performance.
March
  • George Martin. I wrote about his death at the time. I was 15 when the Sixties ended, so the Beatles provided the soundtrack of my childhood. Paul McCartney said of him: "If anyone earned the title of the fifth Beatle it was George." Says it all really.
  • Keith Emerson. As students, we'd often sit late into the night in each other's rooms listening to prog rock, which was massive at the time. Along with Genesis and Yes, we often listened to The Nice and Emerson Lake and Palmer, which both featured Emerson. As I recall, rock musos tended to view the latter two with more respect than most of their contemporaries. It is a cliché to describe prog rock as overblown and pretentious; while some undoubtedly was - even Rick Wakeman has said he doesn't know what Tales of Topographic Oceans was about - much was groundbreaking, innovative and pushed the boundaries. Emerson's bands tended to be viewed in the latter category.
June
  • Dave Swarbrick. Virtuoso fiddle player with Fairport Convention, in a duo with Martin Carthy, and in the line-ups of various other band over the years, including the band he founded, Whippersnapper. The electric folk that Fairport pioneered owed a lot to Swarbrick's vast folk repertoire and trad credibility. Ashley Hutchings described him as "the most influential [British] fiddle player bar none". He was an enthusiastic performer, although the energy had to be conserved in latter years owing to his long-term health problems. I wrote about him in June, where I included a Youtube video of him accompanying Richard Thompson.
  • Scotty Moore. Elvis was really before my time; I'd just been born when he first went into a recording studio. However, we were all aware of Elvis in the 60s and 70s, even when we could name only a handful of his 50s contemporaries. Scotty Moore was essential to the early Elvis sound and was credited with the invention of the power chord on the song Jailhouse Rock. Keith Richards once said: "When I heard Heartbreak Hotel, I knew what I wanted to do in life... Everyone else wanted to be Elvis, I wanted to be Scotty."
November 
  • Leonard Cohen. His name has almost become shorthand for miserable dirges - I've made jokes along those lines myself - but this is only part of the story. His lyrics were often poetic, and in fact he began as a poet; the songwriting came later. His songs undoubtedly did reach a lot of people: I'd guess that Bird On The Wire and Hallelujah are probably the ones most people relate to. Actually, I'm not keen on the latter, but there are three of his that I do perform occasionally: my favourite to sing is Winter Lady from his first album.
December
  • Greg Lake. Much of what I've written for Keith Emerson applies here too. Lake's pre-ELP band was King Crimson, and the album In the Court of the Crimson King was a favourite, especially its searing track 21st Century Schizoid Man with its apocalyptic tone and Vietnam war references. I'm sure I'm not the only rock fan to have mused that Carl Palmer remains the only member of ELP still with us.
  • Rick Parfitt. Status Quo have at times seemed almost eternal, so it was a shock when Parfitt died, coincidentally on the day after Quo had played a gig in Liverpool (without him, as he'd given up touring for medical reasons). I have sometimes joined in the "three chord wonders" jokes about Quo that used to do the rounds, although in reality I liked them. I saw them live two or three times, and they were an excellent act. No one can take away from them the fact that they opened Live Aid with Rocking All Over The World, a song written by John Fogerty, but which Quo made very much their own.
There have been many other great acts we have lost this year, such as Merle Haggard, Prince, Maurice White (of Earth Wind and Fire) and, as previously mentioned, George Michael, but this list is specifically of music I have chosen to listen to over the years, whether recorded or live. I'm just hoping I don't have to update it between now and 2017.

Here are some high energy jigs and reels by Dave Swarbrick with Fairport Convention at Glastonbury in 1971. Plus ça change ...

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Taylor's Continental Beer and Wine Bar

A bar named after a legendary
Merseybeat rock & roller
I'd been intending to visit Taylor's Continental Beer and Wine Bar in Birkdale for some time, and finally got round to it earlier this month. It opened in 2015 in a former butcher's shop on the corner of Liverpool Road and Halsall Road, but that isn't the whole story: the butcher was Ted Taylor, better known as 1950s and 60s rock & roller, Kingsize Taylor, as in Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes who in the early 1960s sometimes had a certain Cilla White (later Black) singing with them. He visited the bar in April this year.

The bar named after him is in a modern style with embedded ceiling lights, tall chairs and tables, and easy chairs in the window; I liked seeing the old butcher's rail still in place over the bar. There is an outside drinking area for when the weather permits. Sky Sports is available for fans to watch the big games. They have occasionally put on live music, and may make this more regular in the New Year.

There are two handpumps serving changing real ales, often from local breweries; when I visited, the choice was Wily Fox Crafty Fox from Wigan and Reedley Hallows New Laund Dark from Burnley. I noticed they were happy to let you try before you buy; I found both beers were in good condition. There is a good general choice of drinks, including on tap a couple of German beers and a sparkling Italian wine.

It was a busy Friday night when I called in, and I found both the bar staff and the customers friendly and helpful to the extent that I stayed for an hour longer than I had planned. One customer pointed out the photographs of Kingsize Taylor on the walls, along with a poster showing him on the same bill as the Beatles.

Children are allowed until 7.00pm, dogs are permitted too, and there is free WiFi for customers. They are on Facebook and their phone number is 01704 569912. Getting there is easy on the 49 and X2 buses that stop a minute's walk away, and street parking is available nearby.

This is part of a series of articles that I am writing for the CAMRA column in our local paper, the Southport Visiter. Previous reviews are here.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Looks like he'll have to blow his own Trump

In 2009, Beyoncé and Aretha Franklin sang at the inauguration of President Barack Obama. During his term of office in the White House, singers of the stature of Paul McCartney, James Taylor, Rihanna, and Kelly Clarkson have performed for him. The Donald isn't so lucky: his inaugural committee is struggling to find top stars who are willing to play at his swearing-in ceremony on 20 January 2017 to the extent that some agents claim to have been offered cash, posts in the administration or even the diplomatic service. "They are willing to pay anything," said one, pointing out that the fees of most of these artists are in six or seven figures, and adding that he was invited to name his own price for getting them to perform. To play at the inauguration is usually unpaid, being seen as a high-profile, high-prestige patriotic gig.

The Trump party has predictably denied all of this. "Elton John is going to be doing our concert on the mall," said Anthony Scaramucci, a member of the inaugural team, claiming that Trump would be the first president to enter the White House with a pro-gay stance. But Elton John's spokesperson immediately denied this: "Incorrect. He will NOT be performing. There is no truth in this at all." The BBC reported that Elton John’s hits were frequently played at Trump rallies, although it has become very clear that permission was never given to use them. It looks as though Trump may have to make do with the likes of far right-wing hunting and shooting rocker Ted Nugent and some of the products of America's Got Talent

Here is Paul McCartney performing Hey Jude at the White House six years ago. Politicians often try to look cool when faced with pop music; Obama is the only one I can think of who doesn't look embarrassing in the process. Look for the enthusiastic audience participation by the Obamas and White House staff at the end.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The Old Packet House, Burscough

The reopened Old Packet House
Six months ago, the Old Packet House in Burscough was reopened after a major refurbishment by new owners. Previously known as the Waterfront, the pub is conspicuously situated next to the canal bridge in the centre of the village. It was built in 1775, around the same time that the Liverpool Line of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal was completed. Inside a single bar serves several separate drinking areas pleasingly decorated and furnished in a traditional manner.

There are four real ales on: a regular beer from Sharps, either Doom Bar or Atlantic, and three changing guests which this time were: Wells Bombardier, Southport High Tide and 3B's Bees Knees. Beers from Moorhouses, Prospect and Southport often feature, and our group enjoyed the real ales we tried. There is also a selection of thirty gins.

Food is served daily from noon to 2pm and 5.30 to 8.30pm (9.00pm weekends), with a specials menu. Tuesday or Wednesday are specials nights for food, and Friday is fish night. They have other special nights: Mondays are quiz night; on Thursdays they host open mike nights; and on Fridays and Saturdays there is live music. Also on Fridays, there are drinks offers: reductions on a bottle of Prosecco, and one cask beer and one lager sold at £2.50 a pint.

The beer garden to the rear overlooks the canal, and a large function room upstairs is being prepared and should be available early in 2017. The pub offers free WiFi. Children are welcome, and dogs allowed in the snug.

The pub is at 29 Liverpool Road North (A59), Burscough, L40 5TN, close to both Burscough stations and on major bus routes; there is a car park nearby. The pub opens daily 12.00 to 12.00. Website: www.oldpackethouse.co.uk. Tel: 01704 807330. They are also on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

The owners already run the Allotment bar in Manchester, and they tell me they have been granted planning permission to open another Allotment bar in Birkdale in the former HSBC building; the beers will include real ale, and it will be a welcome addition to Birkdale's lively nightlife.

This is part of a series of articles that I am writing for the CAMRA column in our local paper, the Southport Visiter. Previous reviews are here.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Christmas present idea

I've come across this advert; what a great idea to help children prepare for their drinking careers, especially as our stringent under-age drinking laws mean that young people cannot begin to acclimatise themselves to the world of alcohol in actual pubs and bars until they're 18, unlike many of us older hands.

I do hope the suitably scowling barman takes the keys to the pedal cars off any of his customers who imbibe too much.

Predictably, there has been an indignant and, at times, highly abusive moral panic in the USA where this advert originated. It seems that it's okay to drink, but not let your children play at it. It's not as though they're all going to turn into alcoholics; I used to buy sweet cigarettes as a kid, but I've never smoked a real one in my life.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Minister rejects demands to cut drink-drive limit

A sort of follow-up to my previous post:

I've always said 'give credit where it's due', which explains why I am reporting the surprising news that a Tory minister has actually been heard to talk sense.

Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport, has ruled out lowering the drink-driving limit because government policy is not about "people who had a glass of wine at the pub", but is about "people who systematically flout the law". I've made the point here several times before that, while I don't approve of driving while over the limit, merely reducing the limit is a cheap and easy way of appearing to be strict while doing nothing whatsoever: the idiots who have a skinful before driving will take no more notice of a lower limit than they do of the present one.

With the reductions in police numbers and traffic patrols increasingly being replaced by speeding cameras and CCTV, there is a real possibility that we are making it easier for drunks behind the wheel to get away with flouting the law, and putting the rest of us at risk in the process. Grayling makes a similar point: "We have a fairly thinly stretched police force and we should concentrate on catching the serious offenders."

The Institute of Alcohol Studies, which is lobbying for a cut in the limit, says that the minister is "out of touch", but I have yet to read proposals by any alcohol campaigners that make positive and realistic suggestions as to how we tackle those who blatantly ignore the drink-drive limit. So who's out of touch?

Passing a law relating to drink-driving is easy, whereas implementing it is not. Lowering the limit will do nothing to stop persistent drunk drivers, who'd just as happily ignore a limit of zero. It would simply penalise drivers who carefully stay within the current limit, i.e. the very people who are not the problem.

Friday, 9 December 2016

"None for the road" - the annual campaign

A subtly nuanced Australian sign
"None for the road" is the slogan Merseyside Police are using this year in the annual drink-driving campaign. My initial thought was that they seem to be ignoring that fact that drink-driving within the limit is still legal. I rarely drink while using the car, preferring to walk or use public transport. Virtually the only occasions are when I'm delivering Ale & Hearty, the local CAMRA magazine, when I might have a couple of ordinary strength halves while going around half a dozen pubs. But the campaign isn't really aimed at the likes of me.

There are drivers who have become so wedded to their cars that going anywhere without them is inconceivable. In the same paper that the drink-drive campaign was announced, a woman seen driving erratically was found to be nearly three times over the limit. Her excuse was she had fallen out with her friend after drinking and drove home because she felt that both she and her car were vulnerable. The question is: why did she drive to meet her friend for a drink in the first place?

Some simply don't care less about the law, and others actually believe they drive as well, if not better, when they've had a few drinks. In a way, I can see why they think that, insofar as I have sometimes walked out of a pub and thought to myself that I feel okay to drive. The difference is that I never do because - even after a few drinks - I know for a fact that such a feeling is deceptive. Another reason is that my car is at home anyway, where it should be when you go drinking.

In some ways you could look at this issue as a part of your lifestyle choices. Many years ago, I visited my friend Jim who had moved to Solihull. He enjoyed a drink as much as me, and suggested we go for a pint. After a quarter of an hour walk, we reached a pub, but we didn't go in because he said it was rubbish. It was half an hour's walk before we reached a reasonable boozer. I asked why he had chosen to live so far from a pub. He replied that you don't take such considerations into account when looking for somewhere to live, but I disagreed.

If you like golf, you'd probably choose to live near a golf course, and the same obviously applies to any kind of interest or social activity you may enjoy. If you like going to the pub, it makes perfect sense to live within reasonable distance of one, but suggest that and people treat it as a joke. I doubt most pubgoers seriously consider where the pubs are when choosing a new home, but they ought to. If I needed to move, there are whole swathes of Southport I wouldn't consider looking at for this very reason. It seems to me that if you don't 'need' the car to go to the pub, you probably won't be tempted to use it.

These thoughts were prompted by an article in the Morning Advertiser, which is mainly about how drink-driving deaths, injuries and convictions are in decline, and how pubs can help. 

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Scotch Piper on fire

The Scotch Piper 8 months ago
I've just seen on the news that the Scotch Piper in Lydiate is on fire. I visited this pub in April to write a review for the CAMRA page of the local paper; I also posted the article on this blog, where I recounted the local legend that explains how the pub got its name. The Scotch Piper is the oldest pub in the Merseyside and Lancs area - the pub sign on the front wall says AD 1320 - and it is a Grade II* listed building.

There are apparently no injuries. The fire brigade have stated that the blaze is purely external, and started when the thatched roof caught fire just after 3.00 pm today.

I seem to remember that this pub had a serious fire 20 or 30 years ago, but then I suppose that thatch is easily inflammable.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Falstaff's second refurbishment in 18 months

The Sir John Falstaff - to reopen soon
This is a strange bit of local pub news. The Falstaff on King Street, Southport, has been closed for refurbishment and will soon reopen as the Sir John Falstaff. The odd thing is that it reopened 16 or 17 months ago after a major refurbishment that cost £325,000. What went wrong?

Before I answer that: this pub was once my local, and at that time was very busy, but in recent years it has not done well. I went in a couple of times after last year's refurbishment, but wasn't impressed, as I wrote here. When it reopened, it had advertised itself as a sports bar. I think this is a mistake: there is no shortage of pubs showing sports in the area, but I'm fairly certain that there are not enough pub-going sports fans to fill them all. Besides, the Sandgrounder sports bar on Lord Street is five minutes' walk away, with much cheaper beer to boot. In addition, the Sir Henry Segrave, a JDW pub, is a similar distance, with a much better range of beers. With those two pubs nearby, real ale drinkers are unlikely to go out of their way for a very ordinary beer such as Brains Reverend James, which was the only real ale on offer when I called in. Having said that, there obviously wasn't enough to draw in other drinkers either, because the place never seemed busy when I passed by.

The new management have stated that they are going to serve both craft beers and cask ales, mentioning local breweries such as Southport and Burscough, and 'a great selection of gins'. They are also advertising 'artisan pizza' and to that end have installed a new pizza oven. Sports will now be shown in just one half of the pub, with the remaining space available for those of us who aren't sports fans; the pub is certainly big enough to cope with such a division.

It reopens on 16 December. I'll certainly give it another chance, and I hope it does well, but it is not easy for a pub to claw back lost custom.

Here is the report in the Southport Visiter.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Ring o' Bells, Lathom

The Ring O' Bells, Lathom
Just off the A5209 in Lathom you will find another of our many local canalside pubs, the Ring O' Bells. Externally it is an impressive, solid brick building, but going inside, it is much larger than the outside would suggest. It had four distinct drinking and dining areas, one with a new pool table, all served by a central bar and attractively decorated after a recent refurbishment. Particularly welcoming in the cold weather are the real fires. Upstairs there is a middle-sized function room suitable for private dining or meetings with a table and chairs and a lounge area.

The real ales when we called in were Thwaites Nutty Black, Wainwright, Lancaster Bomber, Hawkshead Bitter, Hardy Tup, Hobgoblin Gold, and a Dry Strong Stout. I particularly enjoyed my Hawkshead Bitter (a half only as I was driving). They also have a good selection of gins. Food is available between midday and 9.00pm from Wednesday to Sunday now, and seven days a week from next spring. Featured food nights are curry on Wednesdays and steak on Thursdays. A speciality on the menu is barbecued smoked foods on a hickory smoker.

Friday is darts night and they occasionally put on live music. Children and dogs are welcome, and there is a well-equipped outdoor children's play area, a beer garden and a large car park. Free WiFi is available. The pub has its own canal moorings and canal tours can be arranged all year round run by Lancashire Canal Cruises, which is based at the pub.

They are holding a New Year's Eve party with live music from three piece-band, the Late Poets; tickets on sale now.

The Ring O' Bells is on Ring O'Bells Lane, Lathom, Lancashire, L40 5TE, just over a mile from Burscough village. It is open from 11.00am to 11.00pm every day, except Friday and Saturday when it closes at midnight. They have a Facebook page (@theringofbellslathom) and their phone number is 01704 893157.

This is part of a series of articles that I am writing for the CAMRA column in our local paper, the Southport Visiter. Previous reviews are here.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Raw Deal at the Mount

No, the pub isn't ripping us off. Local rock band Raw Deal are playing the Mount Pleasant tomorrow (Saturday) evening. The Mount usually serves three real ales and tends to be buzzing on rock nights.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Compromised pub code adjudicator to keep job

They say justice is blind.
Deaf too, in this case.
wrote in June about the genuine questions over the suitability of Paul Newby for the post of pubs code adjudicator (PCA): "It is not hard to see why Newby lacks credibility among the people who would have to rely on him to adjudicate on disputes with their landlords, given that the latter are major customers of the company in which he has a big shareholding and which owes him a lot of money."

Iain Wright MP, chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) committee, has just sharply criticised the government for its refusal to reopen the appointment of the post, having expressed the committee's concerns about Newby's suitability to the Secretary of State for BEIS Greg Clark in July.

Clark belatedly replied to the BEIS committee this month, four months later: "The appointment process was run in accordance with the code of practice for ministerial appointments to public bodies. As part of the appointment process, the panel considered whether Paul Newby has conflicts of interest that might call into question his ability to do the job and concluded he did not." So that's all right then. Such a bland and uninformative reply could have been cobbled together in five minutes, so why did it take four months? My guest it's because Clark hoped the issue would have faded away by now.

If you want to judge this dispute for yourself, the facts of Newby's past active involvement and current financial stake in pubcos are in my previous post. Iain Wright emphasised that they are not doubting Paul Newby's personal integrity or suitable experience; rather they are saying that it's not enough to be be squeaky clean - it's essential to be perceived as such. Licensees approaching Newby for an impartial adjudication will not be reassured by Clark's curt dismissal of any valid concerns.

In my previous post, I asked whether this all might be a gigantic cock-up. I now think the answer is 'no' and am inclined to believe that pubcos were persuaded to go along with the creation of this post on the basis that the PCA would be a sympathetic appointee.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Did the Lords call for pub closures?

"Shut down pubs that don't cater for disabled people, says House of Lords", according to a headline in the Morning Advertiser (MA) about a House of Lords Select Committee report. In response, a spokesman for the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) said: “Shutting pubs isn’t the answer, but we should all be encouraging pubs to be accessible as possible." So there we have it: two diametrically opposed viewpoints on how to address the problem.

However, according to the Parliament website, the Select Committee actually said: "Many restaurants, pubs and clubs are difficult to access, with many not providing basic facilities such as a disabled toilet. Local authorities should be allowed to refuse to grant or renew these premises' licences until they make the necessary changes." The italics are mine, but the MA completely fails to mention that proviso, which I regard as quite significant.

Disability access has been a problem with many organisations ever since the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was passed in 1995. The Act allows establishments not to make alterations where the nature of the structure makes them impracticable or excessively expensive, or where they may cause major damage to an historical building. However, there's no doubt that many places have ignored the Act, or paid lip service; for example, in one pub I used to frequent, the disabled toilet could only be reached by climbing two steps.

Other bodies have used the Act as a pretext for cutting costs. For example, Birkdale railway station in Southport used to have public toilets until the day when they were locked permanently with a sign stating that closure was necessary because they didn't comply with the DDA. The obvious answer of Network Rail coughing up for suitable alterations was clearly not considered; closure was cheaper, and eliminated ongoing costs such as cleaning and maintenance. It was made clear when the DDA was passed that it was not the intention to close anywhere down: if there were genuine reasons why DDA compliance was not possible, that would be acceptable.

In relation to pubs, the incompleteness of the MA's article is unhelpful. Firstly, non-compliant licensees may be concerned that they might be shut down, and thus lose their livelihood, even though in very many cases the maintenance of and adaptations to the structure of the pub are not their responsibility. Secondly, I can see cashed-strapped pubcos using the cost of making premises and toilets accessible as an excuse to close the pub altogether, claiming that the cost of adaptations have rendered the pub unviable. Where pubs are situated in areas where the land can profitably be sold off for redevelopment, the temptation may become almost irresistible.

As Baroness Deech, who chaired the Select Committee, said: "We found that there are problems in almost every part of society, from disabled toilets in restaurants being used for storage, to schools refusing interpreters for deaf parents, to reasonable adjustments simply not being made."

Clearly much more needs to be done. However, many pubs are in a unique position in the hospitality industry in that they are owned by pubcos which have accumulated whole mountain ranges of debt (entirely their own fault); I fear unintended consequences may ensue.

Friday, 25 November 2016

No wonder we're confused!

"A pint of beer keeps the doctor away: a pint of beer drastically cuts your risk of having a stroke in later life, a new study claims." MailOnLine, 14 November.

"Drinking just one pint of beer a day raises the risk of contracting prostate cancer by more than a fifth, a study has found." MailOnLine, 15 November.

Pinched from Private Eye, 25 November 2016.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Lancashire Day at the Grasshopper

I have been sent details of this local event. The Grasshopper micropub in Hillside will be holding a special event on Lancashire Day on Sunday 27 November. The date commemorates the first time that Lancashire sent representatives to Parliament, to attend the Model Parliament of Edward I in 1295.

The celebration will include:
  • Traditional Lancashire hotpot.
  • A fun Lancashire quiz.
  • The Lancashire day proclamation.
  • A Lancashire-themed raffle.
The raffle prizes will be:
  • A large luxury hamper of Lancashire goodies, including a selection of Lancashire ales. 
  • A hamper of Lancashire ales. 
  • 2 tickets for a Southport football club match. 
  • 2 tickets for a cricket fixture at Trafalgar Road.
Tickets are £1.00 and will be available on the night, or in advance; just ask behind the bar. It will be drawn on Sunday 27 November at 9.30. All proceeds from the raffle, quiz and food will be donated to the Hillside Christmas decorations fund.

The Grasshopper will be dedicating this Lancashire Day event to two great Lancastrian lasses: Jean Alexander and Victoria Wood.

Opening hours extended: the Grasshopper has just been given permission to open longer by Sefton Council. It now opens at 5.00 pm Monday to Friday and 2.00 pm at weekends, and closes at 10.30 pm on Friday and Saturday and 10.0 pm other nights.

The Grasshopper is at 70 Sandon Road, just off Waterloo Road, in Hillside, Southport. There is plenty of free street parking, the 47 bus passes just yards away, and it's a five minute walk to Hillside Station.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

The Snowball keeps rolling

Wrong kind of Snowball
wrote in May this year about the CAMRA Liverpool Branch's Snowball initiative to bring new people to real ale by organising events where female CAMRA members would bring a woman friend to try out real ale. Snowball received the first national CAMRA Membership Initiative Award in 2012. I also wrote that the current branch committee had decided to discontinue Snowball, regarding it as no more than a women's drinking club.

Undaunted, the team behind Snowball has decided to carry on regardless. On Monday 14 November, an event took place at the Pen Factory on Hope Street, Liverpool. Paddy Byrne and his staff opened the pub specially for the occasion: they don't usually open on Monday. As well as encouraging people to sample the good range of real ales on offer, the evening also featured a talk by Geraldine Roberts-Stone. Her talk, titled 'No Woman’s Land', covered the role of World War II and pubs in relation to the advancement of women’s rights in that era, partly through the story of a woman poet; this was followed by a lively discussion on women's experiences of pubs in Liverpool. More than forty women attended, including 12 who were new to Snowball and some of them new to beer.

Drinkers club or campaigning tool? There are more than 125 women on the Snowball mailing list, with attendances of more than forty for events. More pertinently, close to 30 women have chosen to join CAMRA as a result of involvement with Snowball, while others have taken to real ale without joining.

I'm pleased that the Snowball women have decided to carry on with something that they consider to be much more than merely a female drinking club. I know them all and can vouch for their genuine commitment to this project. May the Snowball continue to roll and gather more momentum.

My only regret is that I wasn't able to attend this particular event (not being of the qualifying gender) as it sounded rather interesting.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

The Crows Nest, Crosby

The Crows Nest
The Crow's Nest is a traditional pub a short walk from Crosby village. The exterior is clad in attractive green tiles with contrasting maroon livery, and the slogan “Higson's Genuine Ales” can still be seen in the windows, from the former Liverpool brewery that once owned the place. The interior consists of two rooms to the front, a snug (with the word “Snug” still etched into the glass in the door), a bar, and behind a large lounge which is divided into two drinking areas.

A single central bar serves all three rooms. Original wood panelling, old coloured glass, pictures of local views and bench seating around the wall all emphasise the unspoilt traditional nature of this pub. My companion suggested that you might expect to find such an unspoilt traditional pub more in a city or town centre, rather than in a residential area.

They were serving five real ales: two regulars, Deuchars IPA and Theakson's Bitter, and three guests, which when we visited were Timothy Taylor's Landlord, Holts Two Hoots and Fuller's London Pride.

This is a pub suitable for conversation, and although it was fairly quiet when we called mid-afternoon, I have been there in the evenings when it can be very lively. If not too busy, the bar staff will sometimes offer to bring your drinks to the table in the lounge, an uncommon but welcome practice nowadays. Children are allowed until early evening and dogs in the snug only. Free sandwiches are available at around teatime on Fridays.

The lounge in the Crows Nest
They have free WiFi and a retractable screen to show BT Sports. There is outside seating for when the weather permits, and a car park. Buses are 7 or 8 minutes' walk away on Moor Lane/Liverpool Road, and it is about 0.6 mile to the railway station.

The address is 63 Victoria Road, Crosby, L23 7XY; tel: 0151 924 6953. It opens midday every day; closes 11.00 Monday to Thursday, midnight Friday and Saturday, and 10.30 Sunday.

This is part of a series of articles that I am writing for the CAMRA column in our local paper, the Southport Visiter. Previous reviews are here.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

The Lion serves tonight

The Lion
I've received a message on Facebook last week from Colin Batho that the Lion in Moorfields, Liverpool is due to reopen. Looking at the Liverpool Echo on-line, I've just noticed that the grand reopening is today. It closed down in June following a dispute over the rent between the licencees, Sean Porter and Michael Black, and Punch Taverns. They accused Punch of reneging on a promised rent reduction; the pubco denied that such a promise had ever been made.

The Lion is an extremely attractive traditional old pub with etched glass, woodwork, tiles and a glass dome in one the rear rooms. I'm not the only one who has worried that the closure might have been permanent.

The dome
Dave Hardman, who has worked in the pub for ten years as a barman, will be taking it over. I'll pop down soon to Liverpool to see whether there is any chance of resurrecting the monthly song sessions that I've run there for six years. Apparently the nearby Cross Keys, which was also run by Sean and Michael, will be reopening soon, but I know no details of that; I'll try to find out more.

Sean and Michael have recently opened a free house, which they've renamed the Lion, on Market Street in Birkenhead; it had previously been known as Stracey’s Sports Bar and the Caledonia. I'll try to visit there soon as well.

Report in the Liverpool Echo here.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Beer 'to rise 30p a pint'

According to The Sunday Times, the price of a pint could rise by as much as 30p next year. The reasons given include:
  • The EU vote, which has driven inflation and increased supply costs.
  • Massive increases in business rates.
  • The national living wage.
  • Auto-enrolment pensions.
  • The apprentice levy.
One estimate is that overheads may rise by 4%. Youngs, for example, have said that its costs are likely to rise by £1.8 million. Both the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers and the British Beer and Pub Association have told the government that transitional relief for business rates is needed.

I'm doubtful that such help will be forthcoming. A price rise of 30p would constitute an 8.67% increase on the average price of a pint in the UK, currently £3.46. Given that since 2010, austerity has meant that millions of British workers have had pay rises of 1%, none at all, or even pay cuts, such an increase will inevitably have an adverse effect on pubs, probably accelerating pub closures. Let's hope the government listens to the industry's submissions, but best not hold your breath.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Southport Beer Street

Great news for Southport beer lovers: a beer festival in the heart of town. The Tap and Bottles micropub in Cambridge Walks is running its first ever beer festival. They are calling it Southport Beer Street because they will be extending the festival out of the pub and down along Cambridge Arcade. The Tap and Bottles has become a popular destination for beer drinkers in the couple of years that it has been been open to the extent that it is expanding into the premises next door. It was awarded the CAMRA Branch Pub of the Year (Merseyside) 2016 by the Southport and West Lancs Branch.

They are aiming to offer more than 75 different beers, including some from local breweries. There will be around 30 cask (or 'real') ales on, one each from some of their favourite breweries in the UK; the rest will be made up by the taps (or 'craft beers') pouring inside the pub and outside on the street.

There will be live acoustic music throughout the weekend and they are working on providing a couple of tasting events for “the real beer geeks out there”, to quote the organisers. Asked if it would be cold, they reply: “We're going to heat the arcade for the weekend. So after a couple of beers, it'll feel like the middle of summer.”

Admission to the festival is free. There is a £3 charge on your glass, which will be refunded if you decide you not to keep it. Beer Street runs from 25 to 27 November. Opening hours will be: 4.00 to 10.30 on Friday; midday to 10.30 on Saturday; midday to 7.00 on Sunday.

The Cambridge Arcade runs between Lord Street and Chapel Street in Southport town centre; the Lord Street entrance is next to the Atkinson arts venue. The buses on Lord Street and Southport railway station on Chapel Street are all just a few minutes' walk away. To find out more about Southport Beer Street, go to their website, where a beer list should be available soon.

This is part of a series of articles that I am writing for the CAMRA column in our local paper, the Southport Visiter. Previous reviews are here.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Lower age limit to reduce binge drinking?

Having criticised Tim Martin a few days ago when he said that the EU is bullying British business, I now find that I agree with his latest pronouncement that we should consider permitting 16 and 17 year olds to buy drinks in pubs. It's not the first time he has made this suggestion; he said much the same in 2007 here.

I've written about this before, most recently on 12 July 2014 when I argued that unsupervised teenage drinking is more likely to lead to binge drinking because under-age drinkers can "get cheap supermarket booze and drink at each other’s homes or in the park, and it’s not ordinary beer: it’s strong cider, lager or cheap vodka. And in an unsupervised environment, they don’t learn how to behave when drinking."

Pointing out that "Pubs have more or less become ghettos now for adults", Tim makes a similar point about unsupervised binge drinking while recognising that lowering the legal age would not on its own be a panacea to the problem; he simply suggests that it may help.

Our age rules in the UK are a bit of a mess. In this country, you can:
  • At 16 get married, have children or join the armed forces.
  • At 17, drive a potentially dangerous vehicle on the roads.
  • At 18, vote in elections and referenda, fight and die for your country.
But you can't buy a drink until you're 18, often subject to age checks until you are 25. Is buying a drink really as dangerous as risking your life in combat that both activities require the same age threshold?

In Scotland, the situation is even more extreme: in the independence referendum, Scottish residents were mature enough to vote for the future of their country at 16, but face compulsory age checks when buying drinks until they're 25. That's what you get when you put nanny state nationalists in charge.

I've little doubt that Tim's call will not be heeded, and will look out for the predictable tut tutting, as in this article by Katy Rice in the Brighton Argus: she refers to drunken staggering in the second sentence and later chucks in the emotive buzzword 'vulnerable'. Interestingly, Ms Rice tweeted this on 6 September: "Girls, what's the worst thing you've done when you were drunk? Tell me your story..."

I've already read suggestions that Tim has said all this with an eye on his sales figures. 

Monday, 7 November 2016

Traditional Song Forum Meeting in Liverpool

  • Saturday 19 November 2016
  • 9.30am to 5.00pm
  • Liverpool Central Library, William Brown Street, Liverpool L3 8EW (less than 5 minutes’ walk from Lime Street Station). 
The Traditional Song Forum (TSF) is a national organisation that brings together those interested in the research, collecting and performance of traditional song. The meetings are open to any who wish to attend. Donations from non-members are welcome, with a suggested amount of £5.

Starting at 9.30am with tea and coffee, the morning includes a round-the-room sharing of traditional song research and interest, which will include an opportunity to look at Liverpool Library’s collection of broadsides, and Mike Brocken will describe the newly-established folk music resource centre at Liverpool Hope University.

After a lunch break, the afternoon will feature the following talks and presentations on aspects of traditional song in the Merseyside region.

Frank Kidson in Liverpool – Alice Jones
Alice Jones is from Ripponden, West Yorkshire, where she has been involved with folk music, dance and song since childhood. She was greatly influenced by the Ryburn 3 Step team, and collaborated with Pete Coe in researching songs collected by Leeds-based Frank Kidson. This research led to concert and club performances and a CD, under the title The Search for Five Finger Frank. Earlier this year, Alice released her first, critically-acclaimed solo album, Poor Strange Girl. Alice will examine Kidson’s friendship with Liverpool resident and song source, Alfred Mooney.

The Miraculous Arm: William Armstrong and the Ballad Trade in Liverpool in the Early 19th Century – Matthew Edwards
Matthew Edwards is a retired social care worker living in Wirral who sings mainly traditional songs at song sessions locally and at festivals across these islands. A fellow singer, the late Fred McCormick, was a great inspiration for exploring song traditions, especially the connections between Britain and Ireland. Matthew will be talking about a Liverpool broadside printer, William Armstrong, who published a significant body of songs with Irish themes in the years after the Napoleonic Wars.

Southport - from Anne Gilchrist and Sea Songs to the Bothy Folk Club and Cork Jackets – Clive Pownceby and Derek Schofield
Derek Schofield is the former editor of English Dance & Song magazine, published by the English Folk Dance & Song Society. He has written two books on aspects of the folk revival. He has also contributed to fRoots magazine, as well as to the Folk Music Journal. He grew up in Crosby, Merseyside, and now lives in Cheshire. Clive Pownceby has been the organiser and a resident singer at the 51-year-old Bothy Folk Club in Southport for several decades. He has contributed to English Dance & Song and The Living Tradition magazines. He lives in Crosby. This joint paper will look at Anne Gilchrist’s time living in Southport when she collected songs from William Bolton, and the Bothy Club’s more recent promotion of traditional song in the town.

Stan Hugill and the Liverpool Shanty Tradition – Gerry Smyth
Gerry Smyth is Professor of Irish Cultural History at Liverpool John Moores University. One of his principal research interests is in Irish musical cultures worldwide; his latest book, entitled Celtic Tiger Blues: Music and Irish Identity, will be published by Routledge in January 2017. In this paper he will be talking about the Irish influence on the nineteenth-century Atlantic shanty tradition, especially as mediated by the great singer / collector Stan Hugill.

The Early Years of the Folk Song Revival on Merseyside – Mick Groves and Hughie Jones in conversation with Derek Schofield
As members of The Spinners folk group, Mick and Hughie were founders and resident singers at the city’s first folk club in 1958. Hughie sings and runs the Everyman Folk Club in Liverpool, while Mick is now resident in Exeter, where he also continues to sing.

Saturday evening: there will be a singaround from about 7.00pm at the Cornmarket pub in Liverpool. The Cornmarket pub is in the Old Ropery opposite the Slaughterhouse in Lower Castle Street close to James Street Station. 

Friday night 18 November: there will also be a mainly tunes session at the Pen Factory in Hope Street from 8.00pm. 

Sunday morning: there will be a guided tour featuring some of the sites which are famous, or notorious, in song, finishing with a trip on the famous Mersey Ferry. The tour will start at 10.00am from the plaza in front of the Adelphi Hotel in Lime Street, opposite "the statue exceedingly bare"!

The meeting has been arranged by Matthew Edwards, Colin Batho and Derek Schofield.

The meeting is dedicated to the memories of Stan Ambrose and Fred McCormick.

For further information, contact: matthew.rwedwards@btopenworld.com

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Blues Bar, Crosby

Blues Bar in Crosby village
I happened to be in Crosby recently and decided to have a look in the Blues Bar. It has been going for twenty one years and is situated in Crosby village on a pedestrianised part of Moor Lane. You could describe it as café-bar pub; it is decorated in a bright modern style and has piped music playing. When I called in, there was a lively Sunday afternoon crowd around the bar. It can get very busy at weekends, and when there is live football on the television or a live band performing. The live music is usually on Thursday evenings.

There are three handpumps serving two real ales and a real cider, Thatcher Heritage. The beer choice varies, but on this occasion there were Cross Bay Halo and Ossett Yorkshire Blonde, both of which were in good condition. There is an outdoor drinking area to the front which, surprisingly, had several customers apparently enjoying the very cool, fresh weather.

Blues Bar is popular for its food which is available between 10.00 am and 9.00 pm Tuesday to Saturday, and 10.00 am to 2.00 pm on Sunday (the kitchen is closed on Monday). The menu is quite extensive and includes fish, vegetarian dishes and a good choice of pizzas, with a special offer of two pizzas and a bottle of win for £23.

Their opening hours are between 10.00 am and 11.00 pm every day, except on Friday and Saturday when the closing time is 1.00 am. The address is 21 Moor Lane, Crosby, L23 2SE; tel: 0151 924 3334. Website here, and they have a Facebook page.

It is about nine tenths of a mile from Blundellsands and Crosby Station, but many buses run on the nearby A565 (Moor Lane and Liverpool Road), including the X2 and 47 on the Liverpool-Southport run. Worth a visit if you're in the area.

This is part of a series of articles that I am writing for the CAMRA column in our local paper, the Southport Visiter. Previous reviews are here.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

BBC caves in to Tory pressure again

Tory MP Andrew Rosindell demanded that BBC1 should play 'God Save the Queen' at the end of the day's programming to mark our departure from the EU. Newsnight decided to oblige him.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Spoons squares up to EU

One of Tim's contributions to what
we laughingly called 'the EU debate'.
I see Tim Martin of Wetherspoons is getting certain garments in a twist over the fallout of the EU vote. He has accused Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European commission, of putting unfair pressure on European firms to be hostile to UK trading partners, asserting that Britain was in a stronger position than people think: after all, he says, we can switch from Swedish cider to British cider. Call me naïve but I can't help thinking that there is probably more to the process of leaving the EU than what cider we buy in Tim's pubs.

He suggests that the British drinkers, offended by what he describes as "the hectoring and bullying approach of Juncker and co", may decide to boycott French wine, champagne and spirits, German beer and Swedish cider. While JDW customers may stop buying certain drinks if the prices go up too much, I seriously doubt that most of them would do so because of any frustrations they may feel over exit negotiations. I know I wouldn't, but as I drink only British beers anyway, it's not a decision I'll have to make.

Tim Martin has been active throughout the whole exit saga, giving £200,000 to the Leave campaign and issuing 700,000 beer mats urging his customers to vote 'Leave' in the ballot. It's a pity that Spoons doesn't routinely put beer mats on tables, but it seems that protecting your clothes from glasses dripping on you because the tables haven't been wiped matters only when Tim has a political bee in his bonnet.

I'm not hostile either to Tim Martin or to JDW pubs in general, but on this issue I think he is being a bit of a prat.

Monday, 31 October 2016

The Hop Vine, Burscough

The Hop Vine in Burscough
It's been a while since I visited the Hop Vine, so I hopped on the train try it out. It is unique locally in that it has its own brewery behind the pub, Burscough Brewing Company, which brewed its millionth pint last June. When I visited, the pub was very busy with both drinkers and diners: this is a pub that successfully caters for both. The pub is very attractively decorated and in the drinking area there are barrels as tables and a fireplace with a wooden surround. I found the busy bar staff to be friendly and helpful.

First the real ales: Hope Vine Bitter at an extremely reasonable £2.60 a pint; Burscough Mere Blonde; Timothy Taylor's Landlord; Epic IPA; Camel Town IPA; and Oasis Stout. The Camel Town IPA is brewed on site and the name is derived from the old CB radio name for Burscough, Camel Town, a reference to the two hump bridges in the town over the railway and the canal. At 5.5%, it is deceptively drinkable. Two craft beers were on offer: Tiny Rebel Cwtch, which in its cask form was crowned CAMRA's Champion Beer of Britain, and Lucky Jack. All the beers I tried were in good form.

This pub is well-known for its food, and it has a very extensive menu as well as an extensive list of specials. I asked a woman who was confirming a group booking for a Christmas meal (she had made the provisional booking last January) what she thought of the food, and she had nothing but praise. Food is available daily between midday and 2pm and 6pm and 8.30pm, except Sunday when it's midday to 8.30pm.

Quiz night is Tuesday and there's live music on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A gents club-style new function suite upstairs is available for bookings. The pub has disabled access, beer garden, car park, free WiFi and welcomes children. It is on Liverpool Road North, Burscough, L40 4BY, three minutes' walk from Burscough Bridge Station. Phone: 01704 893799. Their website is here, and they're on Facebook.

This is part of a series of articles that I am writing for the CAMRA column in our local paper, the Southport Visiter. Previous reviews are here.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

The Smiths to re-form?

Johnny Marr has suggested that Morrissey is talking about possibly re-forming the Smiths.

If so, heaven knows I'm miserable now.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Ruddles County

An old County pumpclip from its glory days
Last night, my local had the current incarnation of Ruddles County on. I used to love this beer when Ruddles was an independent brewery, but it was taken over 30 years ago and has since been owned by Watney's, Grolsch and Morland, until the latter was taken over by Greene King.

I haven't had this beer for 20 to 30 years, so I was interested to see how it might compare. I found quite acceptable, but it has no resemblance whatsoever the original County that I remember. For a start, the strength is now 4.3%, whereas 30 years ago it was advertised, as you can see, as O.G. 1048° - 1052°, which would roughly translate as 5% nowadays.

I don't think it's just the strength that has changed, although a change in strength usually does alter a beer's flavour. It has a touch of the Greene King flavour, sitting somewhere between their utterly bland IPA and the over-flavoured Abbott. I'd be amazed if they claimed their current brew is in any way derived from the original recipe, but even if it were, it's no longer brewed in Langham where the well water was famously reputed to give beer a unique character.

It's not a bad beer, but if there's anything on the bar that looks more interesting, I'd suggest you have that instead.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Sidestepping the Code

In July, the Pub Code finally came into force allowing pub tenants to ask their pubco for a market rent only (MRO) deal, which would allow them to buy beer on the open market in exchange for paying a commercial rent on the premises. All well and good, except that pubcos, most of which have accrued a mountain of debt (basically because they're rubbish capitalists), are not playing ball.

One tenant reported that when he requested a change to an MRO tenancy, as is his legal right, the rent offered was double, which would have left him much worse off as the rent would have been nearly double the national average for free-of-tie rents. Punch have consistently refused to explain the figure.

Another tactic is the insist on a new contract, although it is much simpler and cheaper to vary the existing one. Thousands of pounds are then demanded in stamp duty, legal fees, and a premises licence fee, whatever that is. Other charges added to the switch to MRO mean some licensees have been expected to find nearly £200,000 up front.

It's a good job we've got the Pubs Code Adjudicator then, except that there are serious doubts about Paul Newby's impartiality (see my earlier post about him). The first referrals have arrived on his desk, but as such referrals costs £200 each plus legal costs, which can add up to thousands, licensees are not going to go down this path lightly.

Punch say they are "open to negotiation at any rent event". If they were prepared to enter negotiations in good faith, then licensees wouldn't be turning to the adjudicator. The fact that some of them are shows that being open to negotiation is by no means the same as being prepared to negotiate.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Hunter Muskett this Sunday

Guest post by Clive Pownceby, Bothy Organiser:

A word or two about the guests at the Bothy Folk Club this Sunday 30 October - Hunter Muskett. Way back in the early 70s I had two favourite folk-rock bands which never really hit big. The JSD Band who supported David Bowie in the Ziggy era was one, and Hunter Muskett was the other. I guess that Steeleye and Fairport had the scene sown up but these lesser-known bands were certainly not musical inferiors.

Hunters made two LPs, both of which are now expensive collectors’ items and we’ll be hearing classic songs such as 'Silver Coin' and 'Magician' on Sunday. The band broke up in 1974 but still with the original line-up, got back to the road in 2010.

This is a rare chance to catch a slice of legendary and innovative UK music which not only stands the test of time but retains an on-going force to reckon with.

Do come along: we’ve had a season of ups and downs this far, and I’d love this gig to be a turning point. Band website here. Doors open at 8.00 pm at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS.

Sex equality just a swift half away

A worldwide study of drinking habits has shown that women have almost caught up with men in terms of drinking. A team at the University of New South Wales in Australia analysed data from people all over the world and they discovered that:
  • In the early 1900s, men were 2.2 times as likely as women to drink alcohol at all.
  • For those born towards the end of the century, men were only 1.1 times as likely as women to drink at all.
  • The closing male-female gap is most evident among young adults.
As this is a global study, the answers as to why this is happening don't lie in the British context alone, but it isn't unreasonable to suggest that factors may include the increasing availability of alcohol, and the fact that alcohol advertising is often targeted specifically at women, especially young women.

Predictably, Alcohol Concern states that this trend shows the need for mandatory health warnings on alcohol products and a mass media campaign to raise awareness, while the Portman Group points out that "Official data shows significant declines in women's alcohol consumption, frequency of drinking and binge-drinking rates over the last decade."

The latter point is supported by the fact that overall alcohol consumption has been in decline in the UK for a number of years now. The only conclusion I can be certain about is that if this trend continues, women will probably overtake men in the not too distant future.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Scottish minimum pricing ruled lawful

In 2012, the Scottish Parliament voted for minimum pricing of alcohol, but implementation was delayed when the Scotch whisky industry launched a legal challenge, claiming the plans breached European Law. The Court of Session in Edinburgh has dismissed the challenge which means that, unless the drinks industry appeals to the Supreme Court in London, 50p per unit can be implemented north of the border. The price of a bottle of spirits is likely to exceed £14.

The Scotch Whisky Association's argument was that the policy is a restriction on trade and thus contrary to EU law. The opposing argument is all about alcohol misuse, asserting that minimum pricing would help address Scotland's "unhealthy relationship with drink".

My reasons for opposing minimum pricing are not personal; as I'm a beer drinker in pubs, it wouldn't make much difference to me. I previously explained my reasons here just before the 2013 CAMRA national AGM in Norwich, where a motion had been tabled to end the campaign's support of the policy. Pleasingly, the motion was passed, much to the chagrin of the top table.

Not everyone who buys cheap alcohol is a binge drinker - many simply don’t have much money, so minimum pricing will mainly affect the poorest in society. It is in effect a poll tax levied equally on every drinker, without reference to their ability to pay. The better-off and rich will still be able to buy as much drink as they like, unhampered by nanny state interference. I have never heard anyone assert that alcohol misuse is confined to the poorest in society; this law affects certain strands in society disproportionately and is therefore inherently unjust. Is this an unintended consequence? I don't think so.

I'm hoping the Scottish drinks industry does appeal further, even though I don't particularly share its motives.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Local breweries winning awards

I always like seeing our local breweries win awards, so I'm particularly pleased that three local breweries have won awards at SIBA’s North West Independent Beer Awards 2016 held in Bolton this month.

Southport Brewery won:
  • Gold for bottled Dark Night, a mild.
  • Silver for bottled Golden Sands, a golden ale.
  • Bronze for cask Golden Sands.
Liverpool Organic Brewery won:
  • Silver in the bottled premium strong beers category for Imperial Russian Stout.
  • Bronze in the pale ale category for Cascade.
Formby's Red Star Brewery won: 
  • Gold in the bottled porter category for Partisan.
The full results are here. Well done to all concerned. The only one I haven't had here is the Imperial Russian Stout: I must keep an eye out for it.

Historical fact: Southport Brewery's Dark Night was named after the tragic Mexico lifeboat disaster of 1886 which happened locally.

SIBA is the Society of Independent Brewers.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

The Lifeboat, Formby

In Formby again this week to visit the Lifeboat, a JD Wetherspoon house. It was opened in July this year in the ground floor of a private members club, which still operates in the upstairs rooms. It was named after the former Formby Lifeboat Station, said the be the first in the country. It is an attractive brick-built building and the interior decor is light and airy with timber that blends nicely into the overall décor. Behind the pub is a pleasant beer garden and covered shelters for smokers.

Wetherspoons pubs currently have a beer festival running until 23 October, and the real ales on sale when we called in were: Sharp's Doom Bar; Greene King Abbott; Everards Pitch Black; Moorhouse's Blond Witch; Hot Night in the Village; Recreation Ale IPA; Ruddles Best; Phoenix Pale Moonlight; Liberation Pilsner Cask Lager; and Morland Old Crafty Hen. They have Cask Marque accreditation for the quality of their beers. Real cider is also available.

On 29 October the pub is holding a Hallowe'en night, with Moorhouse's - whose beers include Pendle Witches Brew, Blond Witch and White Witch - coming along between 6pm and 8pm. They will be bringing down samples and some of the ingredients they use in the brew, such as hops, and will provide an explanation of the brewing process. The pub also has a brewery tour of the Parker Brewery in Banks coming up, but the details of that are still to be confirmed – please contact the pub if you're interested.

The Lifeboat offers: disabled access; baby changing facilities; free WiFi; and children are welcome. They serve food all day until late and have an open kitchen where you can see your food being prepared. There is also a window through which you can see the beer barrels in the cellar.

Opening hours: Mon-Wed 8 to 11.30; Thu-Sat 8 to Midnight; Sun 8 to11.30. Address: 41 Three Tuns Lane, Formby L37 4AQ. Tel: 01704 830839.

The pub is just over half a mile from Formby station, and Formby circular buses run past the pub. More buses stop just around the corner in Cross Green, including the X2 and 47 on the Liverpool-Southport route. No car park.

This is part of a series of articles that I am writing for the CAMRA column in our local paper, the Southport Visiter. Previous reviews are here.