Monday, 26 November 2018

Mad Hatter calls time

I was sorry to hear that Liverpool's Mad Hatter Brewery has ceased trading. Launched in 2013, it was situated in the Vauxhall area of Liverpool and was one of the few breweries to be run by a woman, Sue Starling. It produced a number of interesting and sometimes quirky beers, a few of which were named after local places such as Penny Lane Pale and Toxteth IPA.

Some commentators have been suggesting that there are now too many breweries in a slowly declining market. There's probably some truth in that, but I don't get the impression that was the case here. Sue has said the pleasure of brewing has gone after the departure of her co-founder, Gareth Matthews, whose creativity she has sorely missed. That loss, coupled with a change of premises, means that she no longer wants to run the business herself, but she is open to offers to buy it "so it could live on".

It's certainly a pity to lose a distinctive presence on the local beer scene, so you've always fancied running your own brewery, this may be your big chance.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Launch of new brewery in Southport

The Grasshopper, venue of the launch of Tyton Brewery
Exciting news for local beer drinkers: a new brewery in Southport will be launched at a popular local pub next month. Tom Anderson from Tyton Brewery in Ainsdale will present his first beer at the Grasshopper, Sandon Road, Hillside, on Monday 3 December at the start of a meeting of CoLAPS (the Coast of Lancashire Ale Preservation Society). The meeting opens at 7:30pm.

This group is a branch of the Society for Preservation of Beers from the Wood (SPBW), CAMRA's older sibling. The SPBW has similar aims to CAMRA but tends to have a more social focus; quite a few people belong to both, and if you wish to join CoLAPS, why not apply on the night?

As well as presenting Tyton's first beer, this meeting will double up as a Christmas Social, and attendees are encouraged to bring partners, friends and family (over 18s). There will be a buffet with a £2 per head contribution towards costs, and for planning purposes the Grasshopper requests that you give them an indication of how many will be coming along (tel: 01704 569794).

Extract from an article I wrote for the CAMRA column in the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Losing your bottle

In a couple of TV dramas recently, I've noticed that when the characters drink beer at home, they drink out of bottles. While I know some people do this in real life, I don't see it that frequently. This may be partly attributable to the kind of pubs I tend to drink in, but I do also go into local micropubs that offer a good choice of bottles in addition to draught beer and I've noticed that most bottled beer drinkers will opt for a glass. This may be because they are drinking a premium product and want to enjoy it at its best, while the direct-from-bottle drinkers are more likely to be swigging bog standard foreign beers such as San Miguel.

Drinking out the bottle is a much less satisfying experience than drinking the same bottled beer out of a glass. The beer fizzes up in your mouth and in your stomach, with a consequence that you cannot fully taste the flavour and you become bloated more quickly. It can also develop a huge head in the bottle. I expect that dramas like to depict people drinking out of bottles because it looks more rugged or some such nonsense, but bottles were not designed to be drunk out of. On the few occasions when I drink bottled beer at home, I use a glass and find that guests always do as well.

There is also the question of hygiene. Bottled beers can be stored in insecure premises in breweries, warehouses, pub cellars or supermarket storerooms. These types of areas are not kept clean to a food safety standard and there is the real chance of rats, mice, cockroaches or other vermin crawling over crates, urinating and defecating as they go. Some drinkers then put these bottles straight into their mouths. Unless there is some visible dirt on bottles, they are not normally cleaned, and even when they are, it would be quickly for appearance rather than thoroughly for hygiene.

Still, we mustn't be too harsh on the bottle drinkers: if they poured their beer out and supped it from a glass, they might find they're not actually that keen on the flavour.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Bass and the Mad Hatter

In my early days of beer appreciation, Draught Bass was regarded as the Rolls Royce of beers which we would go out of our way to find. The bottled version, Bass Pale, was similarly well regarded; it was slightly stronger than the draught and was known all over the world, being shipped to many countries, especially India, and was the first foreign beer to be sold in Japan. Edouard Manet depicted bottles of Bass in his painting ‘Le Bar Aux Folies Bergere’ in 1882, and thirty years later 12,000 bottles went down with the Titanic. Bass Pale was a world-wide phenomenon whose history, it has been claimed, goes back to 1777.

The brand is now owned by global brewer AB InBev who will relaunch it next month. In 2013, they decided to rename this iconic beer as “Bass Trademark Number One” to acknowledge the fact that the famous Bass red triangle was the first registered trade mark in the UK. This move was described by beer blogger Zythophile as “a classic example of How To Royally Screw Up Your Brand” (see his full post here). AB InBev say they are bringing this beer back with its original name to “invigorate the premium ale category”.

The beer scene has changed a lot in recent decades, with a younger generation of beer drinkers who have a far wider choice of real ales, craft beers and bottled ales than ever before. Classic brand or not, it will be competing in a very crowded market place and the beer will have to be very good to make any serious inroads. Still, I look forward to giving it a try.

Closer to home, I was sorry to hear that Liverpool's Mad Hatter Brewery has ceased trading. Launched in 2013, it was one of the few breweries to be run by a woman, Sue Starling, and produced a number of interesting and sometimes quirky beers, some of them named after local places such as Penny Lane Pale and Toxteth IPA. Sue has said the pleasure of brewing has gone after the departure of her co-founder, Gareth Matthews, whose creativity she has sorely missed. That loss, coupled with a change of premises, means that she no longer wants to run the business herself, but she is open to offers to buy it “so it could live on”.

This is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser.

Monday, 12 November 2018

The Baron's Bar, Southport

The Scarisbrick Hotel, home of the Baron's Bar
The Scarisbrick Hotel is a landmark building on Southport's Lord Street, and is home to the famous Baron's Bar. In the 1980s, this bar was particularly popular as it offered 4 or 5 beers from different breweries. Such a choice is unexceptional today, but back then it made the Baron's unique in the town.

I decided to see what's on offer nowadays and when I called in there were 8 real ales and one real cider, Old Rosie. There are three beers on all the time: Baron's Bitter, the house beer brewed specially by Moorhouses, Moorhouses Pride of Pendle and Tetley Original Cask. The changing guests were: Scaredy Cat and Pendlewitch, both from Moorhouses, Doghouse Citra, Brewhouse Mosaic, and Lancaster Red.

The 'coming soon' board looked interesting with Salopian Pipe Dream, a personal favourite of mine, and George Wright Cheeky Pheasant among those lined up. The three beers I tried were in good form; the real cider I'd sampled on a previous visit and had found it satisfactory. Among the usual range of other drinks, there is a good choice of Scotch whiskies.

The baronial interior
The Baron's Bar is usually described as being in a mock-baronial style, and there is a preponderance of dark wood. Around the bar are displayed dozens of pumpclips from previous guest beers. A beer festival was held in this room last September. The bar is in the heart of the building and has frosted glass on one side, which gives the effect of being cut off from the town centre. A complete contrast is the Scarisbrick Lounge: this is a bright, airy and more modern bar with large clear windows through which you can watch life go by on Lord Street while drinking the real ales from the Baron's. You pays your money and takes your choice. 

Children are admitted until early evening, and dog are allowed too. Happy Hour is from midday to 1.00 pm with a reduction on the Tetley's, the keg cider and a lager. There is free WiFi for customers. The opening hours are 11.00 am to 11.00 pm during the week; on Friday and Saturday the bar closes at midnight.

The Baron's could be called a 'no frills' bar: no food, live music, quizes or TV sport. It just concentrates on serving good, reasonably-priced real ales, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

This is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser. Previous reviews are here.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

The Beer Den, Southport

The Beer Den
The Beer Den, Southport's newest real ale micropub, opened for business a fortnight ago. It is operated by the Parker Brewery of Banks, north of Southport. My friend Mick and I went along as it opened: in fact, we were the first customers through the door. We were made welcome by Kie who was just about to unlock the door as we rolled up.

There are four handpumps offering two beers from Parker Brewery and two guest ales. On my first visit the Parker beers were Golden Samurai Ale and Dark Spartan Stout, while the guest beers were Melwood Paleface from Knowsley and Red Star Hunky Dory from Formby. On my second visit last weekend the guest ales were Melwood Knowsley Blonde and Bowness Bay Tern IPA from Kendal. I managed to try most of them, finding that all were well-kept and the prices very reasonable.

Kie (left) and Sarah
The bar is in a former computer shop which has been pleasantly refurbished in a light and airy manner. As well as real ale, there is a craft beer and a lager on fonts and the usual range of spirits, including speciality gins, a good wine list, Prosecco and coffee. In one corner there is a large cabinet with a wide range of bottled beers from various breweries, including some in gift packs and, for Parker beer fans, T-shirts in various colours displaying the brewery's name.

On the opening day, the Beer Den became quite busy and Kie was soon joined by Sarah behind the bar. On my second visit, it was even busier. Clearly this bar meets a need in the local area as there are no pubs or bars in this part of Southport. Although the bar is new, I found people were willing to have a friendly chat.

The Beer Den is at 65/67 Duke Street near the corner with Shakespeare Street; the 46 and 46A buses pass nearby. If you get peckish after a few drinks, there is a takeaway just next door.

Please note: restricted hours and closed Mondays.

This is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser. Previous reviews are here.