Thursday 30 April 2009

Southport Jazz Festival

Advance notice of the Southport International Jazz Festival, which will take place from 28 to 31 May in various venues in the town centre. Many of the events are free. For more details and a programme you can download, go to: Southport Jazz Festival, where you can also buy tickets for those events that need them.

If previous years are anything to go by, there will an eclectic mix of music.

Tuesday 28 April 2009

Beer sales fall by 8%

Beer sales fell more than 8% in the first three months of the year compared with 2008. The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) said 1.7 million fewer pints were drunk every day from January to March than in the same period last year. Find more details and an on-line poll at: Are You Drinking Less In The Recession?

Monday 27 April 2009

Chancellor attacks pubs ~ again

The Chancellor has refused to listen to public opinion and in the recent budget raised beer tax yet again, despite the loss of 2000 pubs and 20,000 jobs in the past year alone. “New” Labour claims to be pro-business, and yet it insists on attacking the tens of thousands of small businesses that we call pubs, which are closing down in record numbers. On the other hand, profligate banks have received a fortune in taxpayers' money, and pubs are seen as a cash cow to help pay for the deficit so caused. But pub income is not a bottomless pit, and pubs are increasingly becoming unaffordable for ordinary people, thereby putting livelihoods and communities under threat. If you think this an exaggeration, go and ask a few licensees.

As I have pointed out previously, you can buy a bottle of 37.5% vodka in supermarkets for under £7. In alcohol terms this is equal to 12 or 13 pints of standard beer, and when you work out the pub price of that, it’s obvious where those who simply want to get completely legless are likely to go.

For many people, their local is like a club where they know the staff and other customers, where they are greeted by name, and can meet their friends. In contrast, drinking cheap supermarket booze at home on your own is a much less attractive activity and for vulnerable people likely to lead to worse binge drinking through isolation and depression.

Is this what “New” Labour really wants? Secret, unregulated binge drinking at home? Or sociable controlled drinking in company in pubs? The tax regime favoured by “New” Labour actively encourages the former.

Saturday 25 April 2009

Visit to E. Sussex and W. Hants

A few words about my trip to Eastbourne, a small town on the East Sussex coast which hosted this year's CAMRA AGM. Loads of Harvey's beers, which aren't bad, but other choices were limited. We caught a taxi to the Old Town, and our driver was proudly telling us where to find all the good pubs there. First call was the Lamb, which dates from the 12th or 13th century. I enjoyed a pint of Harvey's Olympia here, a golden seasonal beer. We went on to the Star and found a cask of Old Hooky on the bar, which was very drinkable. Someone politely asked us if we'd mind if he played the piano and when we said no, played boogie-woogie style. Spontaneous live music - great. We finished at the Crown, which boasts the biggest beer garden in Eastbourne with fine views, and as the weather was wonderful we sat outside there. All these pubs were picturesque and if you're in Eastbourne, you must visit the old town.

I then went to stay with my sister in western Hampshire. Near where she lives, the best I can say is: nice-looking pubs with unremarkable beer. I did go for a wander around Winchester, and avoided the many Greene King pubs, as you can get their IPA and Abbot ales anywhere. I began at the Eclipse, which at about 500 years old is one of the oldest buildings in the town centre; it served a good pint of Ringwood Best Bitter, quite a common beer in the town. In the Old Vine, more a wine bar and restaurant, I had a Stonehenge golden ale, which I hadn't had before. After a couple of unexceptional pubs and pints, I found the beer festival in Wetherspoons had the most variety; I had two excellent draught continental beers, but can't recall what they were called. Well, it was later in the evening. I thought Winchester was worth exploring, and I know I've only scratched the surface.

Friday 24 April 2009

Mason's extra singaround

Richard who runs the informal Masons Arms singarounds has decided to hold an extra one on Wednesday 29 April, the fifth Wednesday of the month. Singers (with or without instruments) and musicians all welcome; as usual, you can come along to join in or just listen, and of course drink the well-kept Robinson's beers. It begins at around 8.30 p.m.

Friday 17 April 2009


I won't be posting anything for a few days as I'm off to Eastbourne today for the CAMRA AGM, fighting for the rights of real ale drinkers everywhere and supporting local breweries.

Don't drink all the beer while I'm away.

Thursday 16 April 2009

Vernon reopens

My roving reporter Steve has sent me a text to say that the famous Vernon pub in Dale Street, Liverpool, has reopened with 6 handpumps after a long closure. There were five beers on offer when he visited: Adnams, Brains Rev. James, Skinners Cornish Knocker, Baltic Fleet Wapping and Baltic Fleet stout. His verdict: well worth a visit. It's about 5 minutes walk from Moorfields Station.

"Do as I say, not as I do."

The Chancellor takes 33% of a pint of Beer, yet on Wednesday 22 April, he plans to put the tax up even further. A recent posting on REARM explained how we taxpayers paid £5.5 million to pay for MP's subsidised booze in 2008-2009. What utter hypocrisy!

Please take a few seconds to lobby the Chancellor by clicking here: Axe The Beer Tax NOW. Lobby your MP too if you wish. Act now, before even more pubs close down.

Tuesday 14 April 2009

Mason's pub & singaround ~ a review

I have referred to the Masons Arms singarounds before. As another is due tomorrow, Wednesday, here is a more detailed description of the Mason's and the singarounds:

The Pub: the Mason’s is a small and quite charming pub on Anchor Street just behind the main post office on Lord Street. It is a friendly place consisting of a long main room where the bar is and a tiny side room on the left as you go in where a real fire is lit on cold days. It has a good jukebox with loads of golden oldies, but the volume doesn’t interfere with conversation. The pub is a Robinson’s house, and Unicorn bitter (4.2%) is the standard real ale, with occasional appearances by Dizzy Blonde (3.8%) or Cumbria Way (4.1%). I’ve always found the beer to be well kept. The Mason’s is three minutes walk from the station, very handy if you’ve missed your train – just don’t miss the next one as well!

The Music: since 2006, on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday evening of the month, an informal singaround and music session has been organised by Richard Simcock. On these occasions, the jukebox is switched off. The format is simple: going around the room, anyone is welcome to give a song or a tune in turn, should they wish to; there is no PA. This begins at around 8.30 p.m. and carries on until quite late and everyone starts going home. The range of music can be extensive: traditional songs (accompanied and unaccompanied), contemporary singer-songwriter material, tunes, some home-made songs, and pop and rock songs can all be given an acoustic outing. During the singaround, the atmosphere in the pub is very sociable, and the pub regulars tend to keep the noise down when the music is playing, sometimes joining in the applause, so there is clearly no feeling that the musicians have hijacked their pub. In fact, Brenda and her team always make everyone feel welcome, to the extent that during the evening, they put on free food, which can be sandwiches, hot pot or soup. The black pudding hot pot is especially popular.

Performing is of course not compulsory, so if you just fancy listening to some live but not loud music while drinking a decent pint, go to the Mason’s on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month. Good music, good beer and your tea thrown in as well. What more could you ask for?

Monday 13 April 2009

Baltic Fleet Beer Festival

On Easter Saturday, I went with my friend Steve to the Baltic Fleet beer festival in Wapping, Liverpool. On the way, we stopped at the Dispensary and had the Cains India Export Pale Ale (4.3%), a seasonal beer we hadn't come across before. It was quite hoppy for a pale ale, which suits me, and worth looking out for. The Liverpool v. Blackburn Rovers match was on, and as I have no interest in football and Steve is an Evertonian, we moved on. At the Baltic Fleet itself, there was massive range of beers which, as far as I could see, were all brewed by the in-house brewery, Wapping Beers.

We began with a Blonde, which had a haze but was a pleasant opener. We then went on to the strangely-named Sinaasappel (apparently Dutch for orange, literally Chinese apple), which though pleasant, didn't to either of us taste much of orange. The next beer, Orange and Black Pepper, definitely did have a hint of orange, and you could taste the black pepper at the back of your throat. Thereafter, we tried various beers, such as Mango and Peach, but to be honest were finding little to distinguish some of these from each other. Having said that, they were all good, and at £2.20 per pint, also excellent value for money. In my experience, a trip to the Baltic Fleet is worthwhile at any time.

We ended up in the Globe for a final pint before catching our trains and buses home. It was a good day, but as Steve said perhaps we should have had something to eat at some point.

Post script: Steve has just texted me to say he's been helping the Baltic Fleet get rid of the last of the festival beers at a £1 per pint. What dedication!

Friday 10 April 2009

Lunchtime Legends - advance notice

The Lunchtime Legends will be playing a rare gig locally on Saturday 16 May at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport. Admission £3, with all proceeds going to Claire House Children's Hospice. Children under 12 free, if accompanied by an adult. Tickets available from the Bothy Folk Club and the Park Golf Club, and on the door. 8.00pm start.

The Legends, with 5 albums under their belt, play their own versions of 50s and 60s rock & roll and pop, with the emphasis of fun and having a good time ~ audience participation welcomed. Come along and support an excellent cause and have a good time in the process. The cask beer is Thwaites Bomber.

Also, tickets are now available for the Boo Hewerdine gig 2 days earlier. Click on archive Boo Hewerdine and scroll down for more information.

Thursday 9 April 2009

The Globe, Liverpool

I was in Liverpool yesterday, having been called out of retirement to apply my experience to a union personal case, and afterwards my companion and I decided to go for a drink in the Globe in Cases Street, which is right opposite Central Station in Liverpool. This small pub with its famous sloping floor is a genuine local in the heart of the city centre, and always has between 3 and 5 real ales on. The bar staff is excellent, keeping an eye on who's been waiting, so even if it's busy, you are unlikely to be kept long. The tiny back room has a plaque commemorating the founding of the Liverpool Branch of CAMRA there in the 1970s. The pub tends to have music playing, usually from the 50s and 60s, and on busy nights you can sometimes end up with a community singalong. As I say, it's a real local, the people are always friendly, and a good place to go when waiting for a train, although I've occasionally missed the following two or three as well.

The beer I tried was Lancaster Amber Ale, which I hadn't had before. I enjoyed it so much that I had a couple more, which is unusual for me with a 3.7% ale. The brewery website says: "Punching above its weight in flavour, Amber, at 3.7% abv, is a low strength bitter that is dark gold in colour and complements its flavour profile with an abundantly hoppy bouquet allowing the drinker to relish subtle floral and citrus aromas." Allowing for brewery hyperbole, this isn't too far from the mark. And I managed to miss the next train.

Tuesday 7 April 2009

Guest House sessions

I went to the music session in the Guest House last night, the first night of Cask Ale Week, and decided to try the Allgates Jabba The Hop (4.3%) and then Allgates Planet of the Hops (4.4%). Apart from the wonderful Brightblade, I haven't been wild on some of the Allgates beers I've tried, but I enjoyed these two, which I gather are seasonal ales. Others were liking them as well, and the Jabba soon ran out. Allgates have won an award for their original pump clips, so here is one.

It was a good lively music session, and Gail came around with plates of chips, sausages and pies, always welcome after a couple of pints. There's usually a good atmosphere in the Guest House when the music session is going well. After all the folk music, I ended up singing "Won't Get Fooled Again" and "Teenager In Love", after which I definitely heard someone muttering the phrase "Trades Descriptions Act".

Tonight, the Southport Swords are dancing at the Guest House. Come along and support both your local pub and your local longsword and morris side.

Monday 6 April 2009

Bothy comes up trumps!

At the Bothy Folk Club last night, the audience were told that the guest singer, Pete Wood, had had to cancel because of a family bereavement. Cancellations are rare at the Bothy, but the club swung into action to fill the void. Bothy webmaster (or should that be web squire?), Les Brown, was sent home to get his instruments, residents who hadn't been on the rota to sing were pressed into service, floor singers in the audience stepped forward, guitars were passed around, and an unplanned evening of spontaneous entertainment took place. Visitors from Whitby, Ken and Marianne Hall, ended up with longer spots than they had expected, and went down well. Keith Giddens, Les Brown, Carole Ellis, Ian & Sue Wells, and Geoff Parry, up from London for a brief visit, all made welcome contributions to the night that they hadn't expected to be doing. Clive, who ran the night, was suffering from a cold, but still put in a couple of his individual songs. Some Bothy regulars say they prefer the singers nights to the guests nights, and with such a range of talent in the audience, it's not hard to see why. To cap the evening, the Thwaites Bomber was on particularly good form as well. Clive undertook to send the club's condolences to Pete, and assured us that he will be booked again in the future.

Sunday 5 April 2009

Wetherspoons a disappointment

As a company, J. D. Wetherspoon has its fans and its detractors, so a couple of nights ago, I decided to try Southport's two Wetherspoon's pubs, the Willow Grove and the Sir Henry Segrave. The Willow Grove had only Greene King Abbot Ale and Ruddles Best Bitter on. Unusually, the Abbot lacked any strong flavour, and I wondered whether it had been put on too soon. The Ruddles is typical of many beers of around 3.7% strength: nothing to dislike, but not very interesting either.

On to the Sir Henry Segrave. I first tried Davenports Irish Whiskey ale. The staff member warned me it was cloudy and offered a taste. I bought it, knowing that a haze need not spoil a beer, but I found it utterly lacking in any distinctive flavour at all, which was especially surprising given its name. The woman who served me said it may have been put on too soon; I'm sure she was right. The Ruddles Best was positively murky and I didn't have it, but I noticed that the pump clip wasn't turned around to show that it was unready. At this time, I also overheard another staff member tell a customer that the Whiskey Ale was meant to be cloudy. The Marston's Pedigree was no more than adequate and the best beer in either of these two pubs was Robinson's Trouble and Strife, which had a light copper colour but with quite a pleasant, distinctive flavour. I don't think that one good beer out of the five I tried constitutes a good hit rate. If Wetherspoon's wants to be taken seriously by the discerning drinker in Southport, it will have to do rather better than this, especially with its beer festival coming up soon (15 April to 4 May). It was certainly a cheap night out - £1.89 for a 5% beer, Abbot Ale, is good value for money - but enjoying a drink is not only about price.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Mason's tonight & events for National Cask Ale Week.

Just a reminder that it's the Masons Arms singaround tonight ~ free music, free supper and real ale (sadly, not free) ~ Dizzy Blonde and Unicorn were on when I called in last night. Also, I've just learned that there are two music & dance events at the Guest House next Monday and Tuesday ~ see "What's On" to the left, plus a quiz night on Thursday. These are to celebrate National Cask Ale Week, which runs from 6th to 13th April: