Thursday, 17 January 2019

Peaky Blinders, Southport town centre

Peaky Blinders, decorated for Xmas 2018
Peaky Blinders, named after the popular TV series, is a bar and hotel situated in what we now call Northern Quarter. The main bar is prominent on the corner of Lord Street and Seabank Road; next door is their own cocktail lounge, and they provide accommodation above. The bar has been extended to create a lounge area, the décor hints at a 1920s style in keeping with the theme, the seating is comfortable and the large windows allow you to watch the world go by on Lord Street as you sip your drink.

I went on a Tuesday night with my friend Alan, expecting it to be quiet on a weekday. It was in fact fairly busy with quite a varied range of customers. I found the two staff friendly and helpful in answering my enquiries. We didn't go into the cocktail lounge (no real ale!), but I've seen from the outside that it can be busy at weekends.

Between us, Alan and I tried all five real ales on offer and found no problems with any of them. Cumbria Way from Robinson's is usually a regular beer, but it wasn't on when we visited. The real ales were: Cross Bay Blonde Sunset; Appleby Hawes Water; and three from Bowness: Gold, Swan Verdi and Amazon Amber. Peaky Blinders has been listed in the 2019 edition of CAMRA's Good Beer Guide.

Twelve fonts sell a variety of keg beers from Guinness to Hop House Lager and there's a choice of bottled beers, wines and a wide choice of spirits, especially gin, vodka, whisky and rum. There can't be many drinkers who wouldn't find something to suit their taste. 

There is an outdoor seating area to the front on Lord Street for when the weather improves. Children are allowed in until early evening and dogs are permitted. They have a website, and also a Facebook page; I noticed that you can hire the cocktail lounge for your private function. The bar is open until 11.30 pm every day except Friday and Saturday when it closes at 12.30 am.

There is another branch of Peaky Blinders in Churchtown which I wrote about last July.

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 write-ups are here.

Monday, 14 January 2019

A short Ormskirk pub crawl

My friend Ann and I decided to pay a visit to the historic market town Ormskirk to stroll around the centre and have a look inside some of the pubs. The market was in full swing when we arrived by train; both the railway and bus stations are just a few minutes' walk from the town centre and all three pubs that we visited.

Our first port of call was the Cricketers on Chapel Street. It is pleasantly decorated and consists of the main pub room and an extension called the Pavilion, which is more set up for dining. There is also an upstairs room and a beer garden. Five real ales were on offer: Gold and Hen Harrier both from Bowland, OSB (Old School Brewery) Headmaster and Detention, and Salopian Shropshire Gold. The Cricketers has won local CAMRA awards for West Lancs Pub of the Year in 2015, 2017 and 2018. The pub is popular with diners and has an interesting menu; children are welcome. Monday evening is quiz night.

A short walk brought us to Tap Room No. 12 on Burscough Street. Formerly a shop, it was converted into a single-roomed bar, and the wooden panels and genuine pub furniture successfully recreate the atmosphere of a traditional pub room. They had the following real ales when we called in: Salopian Oracle, OSB School's Out, Problem Child Rapscallion and Wainwright. They can also sell you 20+ gins as well as craft and continental beers. Although it is a small bar, there are several regular events each week: quiz night on Wednesday, open mike on Thursday and live music between 4.00 and 10.00 pm on Saturday.

Our final stop was the Court Leet in Wheatsheaf Walk, just off Burscough Street. The most interesting feature of this pub is its open air balcony on the first floor. The real ales available were: Sharp's Doom Bar, Greene King Abbott, Clipaty Hop and Cheshire Gold, both from Coachhouse, Ruddles Best, Saxon Red Ale and Barbarian both from Parker, and Big Bog Quagmire. Ann was drinking wine and particularly enjoyed the Shiraz. For food, there is the usual Wetherspoon's range, and children are admitted.

The beer was in good order in all three pubs, and I hope to write about other pubs in this characterful town soon.

The name Court Leet was taken from the original Court Leet which used to run Ormskirk's municipal affairs from a building on this site until its abolition in 1876. Sometimes the town officials would adjourn after their business was concluded to a long-gone pub called the Old Wheatsheaf, after which Wheatsheaf Walk is named.

Monday, 31 December 2018

Corn flakes, treason and dogs

Three unexpected stories from the world of beer that I've come across recently.
Seven Bro7hers Brewery in Salford has teamed up with cereal giant Kelloggs to produce a beer out of unused corn flakes. The flakes will be completely safe for human consumption, being those that are too big, too small, broken or overcooked. The first beer to use the flakes will be called Throw Away IPA with a strength of 5%. The limited edition beer will use the flakes to replace some of the wheat grain in the mix. Alison Watson from the brewery said: "Kellogg's recognises that it has an important role to play in reducing food waste, and that includes finding uses for edible food that doesn't make it into the cereal box. We plan to create three beers, including a hoppy IPA which will be launched this month."

I had to check the date wasn't 1st April for the next one. Scottish brewery BrewDog is introducing Subwoofer IPA, which they say is the first beer produced just for dogs. The idea was developed by the Brewdog team in Liverpool, who reported that the prototype was popular with local dog lovers. Subwoofer is made with wort from the brewery, the same malted barley and hot water that are used in their human IPAs. There were three rounds of tasting trials with 25 dogs before the team was satisfied with the product. The beer is hop-free and not carbonated; it is also alcohol-free, which is just as well, seeing that most dogs are under 18.

Newby Wyke of Grantham is brewing a beer in response the government's draft Brexit declaration: cheekily called 'Treason', it is a 4.2% ale. They've produced this beer before in relation to government ministers from all three major parties; they must like taking pot shots at any senior politicians who poke their heads above the parapet.

Brewer Robert March said: "One landlady said to me politicians and beer do not mix, but I replied they raise the beer taxes, so we can take the mickey. With what is going on with Brexit, I thought we should bring it back."

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Southport Traditional Pub Promenade

Sometimes our traditional pubs in Southport's residential areas are unfairly overlooked, and yet they can offer you a great night out. I recommend this tour of three such pubs, close to each other and not far from bus routes. I found the real ales in all three pubs were well-kept.

The Zetland in Zetland Street is well-known for having one of the finest bowling greens in the North West (booking advised). It is a multi-roomed pub which offers three real ales: Jennings Cumberland is on permanently, and the two guest ales on my visit were Banks's Sunbeam and the popular Wainwright. Although it had been a while since I had called in, I'm glad to report that it's still a friendly local. The Zetland has several regular events: there is a quiz with cash prizes on Saturdays and bingo on Sundays. They have live music about once a month.

The Mount Pleasant on Manchester Road is also a multi-roomed pub with a glass conservatory; it has an extensive food menu with various offers and choices for kids. There are usually three real ales: Sharp's Doom Bar is always available, and when I was there the guests were Timothy Taylor's Landlord and Robinson's Trooper. Films are shown on Thursday afternoons, a quiz is held on Fridays and there are live bands on Saturdays. Darts teams play there and big live sports events are shown.

The Imperial on Albert Road is also well-regarded for its food, which include special offers, but it also serves four real ales. When I called in, there were three regular beers, all from Holt's brewery: Two Hoots, IPA and Bitter, along with a seasonal guest, Mistletoe from the Bootleg Brewing Co, a beer I hadn't come across before, but found to be a full-flavoured, strong (5%) pale ale. Other features of this pub are TV sport, a quiz on Sunday nights, and sometimes live music. I noticed a sign advertising poker night on Wednesdays.

If after all this you still fancy another pint, it's a quick walk, or even quicker bus ride, into the town centre.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Edda gig for Folk in the Park

Should be an interesting night. Edda has become a good venue 
for local small scale concerts - four bands for a fiver!

Monday, 10 December 2018

Is there life after Christmas?

After months of the seasonal hype that begins just after you have returned from your summer holidays, it's about now that people start wondering: is there life after Christmas? Well, here in the North West, these might provide something of an answer.

First is the CAMRA Manchester Beer & Cider Festival (MBCF) which runs from Thursday 24 to Saturday 26 January 2019 in Manchester Central, Windmill Street, Manchester, the fourth year at this venue. MBCF is the North’s biggest pub crawl but safely protected from the weather. With
around 750 different drinks, there’s bound to be something to suit everyone. MBCF aims to encourage people to try new beers, and this year it will feature some specially commissioned beers, collaborations and ales that are rarely, if ever, seen in this region. 15,558 eager beer lovers attended in 2018. The nearest railway station is Deansgate. Buy tickets here.

Next is the St George's Hall Winter Ales Festival from Thursday 31 to Saturday 2 February 2019 in one of Liverpool's most iconic buildings. Expect up to 200 different real ales and ciders alongside an indoor gin garden with a selection of boutique gins, spirits, wine and prosecco. There will also be entertainment for all sessions except Friday daytime, and hot and cold food to soak up the alcohol, provided by local food providers. Though it's not a CAMRA festival, they offer discount for CAMRA members with valid membership cards on the Thursday evening and Friday daytime sessions. St George's Hall is on Liverpool's famous Lime Street. Tickets available here

CAMRA Liverpool & Districts Branch are once again holding their annual beer festival from Thursday 21 to Saturday 23 February 2019 in the impressive surroundings of the crypt of the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral on Brownlow Hill. More than 200 ales and ciders will be on offer. The Brasswürst Bavarian Band will provide entertainment on Friday and Saturday evening, and food stalls are there should you get peckish. The CAMRA Liverpool Beer Festival is the longest-running festival in Merseyside. Get your tickets here.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Public Meeting To Save The Blundell Arms

The Blundell Arms on its final day of opening
The campaign to save the Blundell Arms in Birkdale, Southport, held a successful public meeting at Birkdale Conservative Club on Friday 30 November. An attentive audience listened to speakers discussing various aspects of the campaign, including the possibilities of success and the obstacles that still remain to be overcome. There were speeches from two of Southport's parliamentary candidates: Labour's Liz Savage and the LibDems' John Wright, both pledging support for the campaign. Three of us from CAMRA attended, and Mike Perkins addressed the meeting on behalf of the local branch. After the speeches, the meeting was opened to questions from the floor, some of which were quite searching.

While there is no doubt that in its final years the Blundell fell on bad times, the campaign is clear that they don't intend to return to that sorry period of the pub's existence. Instead they wish to recreate it as a community centre as well as a pub with plans that include a dementia café, a children's play area, food and a venue for functions.

My own memories of this pub come from attending the Bothy Folk Club there on most Sundays for 25 years until 2003 when the club moved. Until the final years, it had been a perfectly decent street corner local, sadly the kind of pub that is disappearing from our communities. I attended quite a few functions there myself, such as weddings, wakes and birthdays, including one of my own.

At the meeting, Jason McCormack stated that a video of the meeting is to be posted on the group's Facebook page: "The Blundell Arms Community Pub" - have a look for it. He also mentioned an on-line petition; I'll give details here when I get them.

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”.

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.

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.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Southport Beer & Cider Festival 2018

It's back after a two-year absence caused by some local whingers who moaned that they didn't like this venue and wanted another in the town centre - not that they had any suggestions themselves, of course. As this is the only suitable central venue, the festival has returned there. Tickets here - free admission for CAMRA members.

Friday, 17 August 2018

3rd Hillside Cider Festival

I've received this message from Andrew of Grasshopper fame about this forthcoming local festival in Southport:

"The 3rd Hillside Cider Festival is at The Grasshopper on Sandon Road, Hillside, Southport from 24th to 26th August and will feature 30 of the best Real Ciders and Perries from around the UK.

"We are pleased to have the CAMRA Champion Cider of Britain 2018 - Harry's Scrummage and also the CAMRA Champion Perry of Britain - Nempnett's Piglet Perry. We also have a range of fruit ciders including Rhubarb, Strawberry, Lemon, Ginger and Pineapple and many more. There will be a barbecue with a range of specialist sausages and entertainment in the evenings.

"The festival starts at 7pm on Friday 24th and runs until 10:30pm on Sunday 26th or until the cider runs out. The Grasshopper is a short walk from Hillside train station and is on the 47 bus route."

Sunday, 22 July 2018

A true story

Not the dream woman!
I had a strange dream last night. A woman was holding up a Higsons "Famous Old Higsonians" beer mat with a sign that said: "Will exchange for sex."

This puzzled me for a while.

Then the truth dawned on me: until I'd had that dream, I had no idea that I had such an unrequited, deep-seated and subliminal desire to own Old Higsonian beer mats.