Sunday 31 January 2010

Marble Arch, Manchester

Last Friday saw me meeting some friends for a meal and a few pints at the Marble Arch Inn in Manchester. This pub is in Rochdale Road, about 10 minutes walk from Victoria Station, about 20 from Piccadilly. It has an attractive granite exterior and inside tiled walls and ceiling, with the words of various drinks in the tiles that make up the coving of the room. I recall being told by the owner in the 1980s that when he had taken over the pub, there had been a false ceiling covering the beautiful tile work. Typical 1960s vandalism aesthetics.  The pub is also home to the Marble Brewery.

The Marble Arch is justly well known for its food. No pre-cooked microwaved meals here: a good range of home-cooked choices, including vegetarian options, was available at reasonable prices, and I think we all enjoyed our respective meals.

The main business of a pub is of course beer (gastropubs notwithstanding). 11 hand pumps in operation served a range of beers, mostly from the Marble Brewery range, but with a couple of guests too. There is a full range of strengths, from Pint at 3.8% to Dobble at 5.9%, a beer that was deceptively drinkable, not tasting thick and cloying like some strong beers do. The Manchester Bitter is an excellent 4.2% light beer, which I believe is their best seller. Their Brew 14 (4.3%) tasted rather similar to me, and therefore rather good as well. Others I tried included a guest Ossett Warhorse, a tasty 5.% dark bitter and, out of curiosity, a half of the Choc Marble beer (5.5%) - definitely chocolaty, but not overwhelmingly so. All the Marble beers are organic and vegan, and despite the lack of finings to clear the beer (finings usually come from the sturgeon), the beer was not at all cloudy.

We were there for several hours and saw the changing clientele. There was a pleasant buzz of happy customers in groups enjoying the relaxed atmosphere and good drinks, with quite a wide age range. I made friends with one young girl who smiled and waved at me across the room ~ as she sat on her mum's knee.

I'm no expert on Manchester pubs, but this is the best in my experience, and is quite what a pub should be nowadays. If you're in the area, it's well worth a visit.

The slightly fuzzy photo was taken on my mobile.

Thursday 28 January 2010

Wetherspoons Music Sessions?

Yesterday evening I was in the Sir Henry Segrave (Wetherspoons) at the Meet The Brewer session; it was Moorhouses - very interesting.  I ended up chatting to one of the pub managers there.  He expressed an interest in having a music night in the pub on a Wednesday evening.  It turned out he wasn't thinking of amplified music, which is good as I'm not prepared to lug my PA around for nothing, just some kind of singalong or singaround session.  I said that, in view of other regular singarounds in the town centre (the Mason's and the Guest House), the best would probably be on the last Wednesday of the month.  That way it would always be in a separate week from the others.

It's an interesting idea, as I haven't heard of a Wetherspoons doing such a thing before, but with this pub being so much better nowadays in terms of beer range and quality than previously, there might be some interest in doing it.  I think they need to check the terms of their licence first, but if that's okay, we might as well give it a go.  We'll see ~ I'll post any developments here.

Wednesday 27 January 2010

Ale & Hearty

It looks as though I may become the next editor of Ale & Hearty, the magazine of the Southport & District Branch of CAMRA.  This is of course subject to the democratic process at the Branch AGM, but there have been no other eager volunteers so far.  As the outgoing editor Michael Hoey reports, he has had health problems and at the same time his job has become more demanding.  He modestly plays down his contribution, but I think his approach has been spot on.

I agree with his expressed intention to focus more on campaigning and local pubs and issues, the campaign to reopen the Becconsall in Hesketh Bank being a good example. I have been told the campaigners there are looking at examples of pubs being taken over by the community, such as the Star in Salford that I reported on a week or so ago. This is definitely something for Ale & Hearty, especially as the Branch has just taken over that area.

I hope I don't let down all the previous editors or the readers of this well-established magazine (56 issues so far). For me, it's "put your money where your mouth is" time! If there's a contested election at the AGM and I lose, my report on that here will be much briefer!

The cover of the Ale & Hearty above shows the display in the Inn Beer Shop on Lord Street, a place I have yet to visit. Click on the picture to enlarge it.

Tuesday 26 January 2010

Winter Ale Festival on TV!

This 3 minute 50 second news item is from Channel M, a local TV station in the Manchester area, which sent reporter Rachel Eggleston to the National Winter Ale Festival in Manchester. I was there last Thursday and had a great time. I think it gives a good idea of what it was like. You can see how well attended it was and how plush the venue is. Unfortunately it can't show how good the beer was ~ you had to be there.

P.S. I was going to do a posting on the festival, but why reinvent the wheel?  If you're interested, this one by Tandleman, one of the organisers, chimes in with my experience and says it all really.

Saturday 23 January 2010

Bent 'n' Bongs Beer Bash

If you weren’t at the National Winter Ales Festival, which is on its final day today, you missed a treat: great beer, great venue and great food. But don’t despair: next weekend you can instead make your way to Atherton for the annual Bent ‘n’ Bongs Beer Bash, which runs from 28th to 30th January. This year is the festival's 21st anniversary. Full details and a map are on the festival website.

Bent ‘n’ Bongs is an easy-going festival with a friendly atmosphere. As well as a good range of real ales, ciders and perries, live music is thrown in too. You often get chatting to complete strangers at festivals. Last year I was chatting to a female Doctor Who fan, but she stopped talking to me when she found I liked Torchwood, which she hated. Oh well …

Alcohol campaigners would be flummoxed by the lack of disorder and mayhem at beer festivals, despite the amount of beer being consumed: no fights, no collapsed drunks, and no throwing up in the street. But then, they don’t realise that the cause of problem drinking is the drinker, not the drink; for me, beer festivals prove this. If you’ve never been to one, this would be a good one to try.

It’s easy to get to by direct train from Southport on the Manchester line. The festival website says it’s a five minute walk from the station. Well, they must have got Linford Christie to measure it, as I reckon it’s about two thirds of a mile. Not a bad stroll to build up a thirst ~ or to walk off some of the beer afterwards!

This festival is a joint venture by Round Table and Wigan CAMRA and is a charity fundraiser. This year the two main causes are the Meningitis Trust, and CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young). Other beneficiaries are: Bent ‘n’ Bongs Explorer Scout Unit, Girl Guides, North West Air Ambulance and Guide Dogs. So you can drink happy in the knowledge that the profits will go to good causes, as opposed to some greedy pub company.

Why Bent ‘n’ Bongs? Apparently Bent is the local name for Atherton and Bongs for Tyldesley.

Friday 22 January 2010

Meet The Brewer ~ Moorhouses

On Wednesday 27th January at 8-00 pm in the Sir Henry Segrave (Wetherspoons), Lord Street, there will be another Meet The Brewers evening. This time, Moorhouses Brewery will be explaining their brewing processes and recent developments:  work is currently underway on a £3.5 million new brewing complex to triple brewing capacity.  This evening is free and open to all.  If, like me, you've enjoyed their wonderful Pendle Witches Brew or Blond Witch, you won't want to miss this.

Be there, or be turned into a frog.

Tuesday 19 January 2010

Pub saved! See it on TV.

After Robinson's brewery closed the Star Inn in Salford, a consortium of regulars bought the pub and opened it as a free house.  You can see a report about this on the BBC1 programme Inside Out North West.  It's available on iPlayer until 25 January: click here to watch it.  It's worth a look; the report takes up the first 10 minutes of the programme.  The beer blogger, Tyson, reported on this encouraging news last October.

There is a similar campaign to reopen the Becconsall Hotel in Hesketh Bank (north of Southport) led by 92 year old Mrs Úna McBride who has called with some success for the community to get behind a campaign to save the pub from neglect and vandalism and become again the focal point of the community as it used to be.  She and her husband Frank owned the pub for 25 years and raised their children there.  This campaign has the support of the local branch of CAMRA.  Let's hope that they're as successful as the stalwart Salford regulars who rescued their own local.

The picture shows an old photo of the Becconsall Hotel, before extensive rebuilding.

Monday 18 January 2010

One small step or one giant leap?

Many pub goers will know something about the tie by which pub companies (pubcos) sell beer to pubs at inflated prices far higher than those on the open market.  Pubco ties are protected by something called the Land Agreements Exclusion Order 2004, which exempts them from competition laws.  I've no idea how this nonsense came about, but it's there nonetheless.  The government has just announced the revocation of this Order from April 2011, which means that large pubcos will have to prove that their beer tie agreements fully comply with competition law.

Now I'm by no means an expert on the subject and would be wary of trying to predict the consequences of this action, but it has been warmly welcomed as "very positive news for pub-goers, small brewers and struggling lessees" by CAMRA - full press release here.  On the other hand, the British Beer and Pub Association, which represents the industry, says scrapping land agreement legislation won't change how pubcos act, because their leases already comply with competition law - full Morning Advertiser article here - although I suspect they may be putting a brave face on something they don't like.

On balance I think this is probably not a great leap forward, but more likely just a step in the right direction, which is better than nothing.  "Time will tell ~ it always does."

The picture shows a Brewery Tie.

Sunday 17 January 2010

Local singer's CD launch

Local singer-songwriter Ray Rooney is launching his latest CD, Lost At Sea, next Saturday evening, 23rd January. Ray is well known for his prolific song writing, which reflects local life and his own experiences; his songs record tangible topics, sometimes humorously, sometimes with pathos. Ray will be performing many of the songs on his new CD, but there will be contributions by many other local artistes, performing both with Ray and in their own right.

The event is free, and everyone is welcome.  The music begins at 8-20pm at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. This venue has a fully stocked bar, including real ale from Thwaites.

Saturday 16 January 2010

London Calling

I was in the London Hotel in Southport a couple of days ago for a CAMRA meeting.  I don't get there very often as it's a bit out of my way; I generally head towards the town centre and brave the drunken anarchy that I read about so much in the local papers, but rarely see in reality. 

The London is a large pub in a residential area, the only outlet in Southport for Barnsley Bitter (3.8%) and Old Tom mild (3.4%).  At £1.57 and £1.47 a pint respectively, these are the cheapest pints in town, Wetherspoons sometimes excepted.  The bitter is a standard Yorkshire-style bitter, not remarkable, but certainly quite good enough to sup all evening, and I found the Old Tom to be a pleasant mild.  The bitter is certainly far superior to that most famous of Yorkshire bitters, Tetley's.  So you can have a cheap night out there.

The London is a real community pub:  it is the home venue for two quiz teams, three darts teams and a pool team, and for all of these activities an ordinary strength beer must be ideal if you don't want to begin staggering half way through a match.  I like my beers a bit stronger, but I appreciate that a lot of people don't.  It is a multi-roomed pub, the rooms being quite large and comfortable, and I get the impression that it is very much a locals pub, by which I don't mean it's cliquey.

It was quiet on the mid-week night we were there, but there was still a lot of treacherous snow on the ground at the time, which probably didn't help.  This is a good straightforward local in Southport:  what you see is what you get, and you don't have to pay through the nose for it.

Friday 15 January 2010

National Winter Ales Festival ~ Manchester

The CAMRA National Winter Ales Festival takes place next week from Wednesday 20th to Saturday 23rd January.  It will be at "The Venue", Sheridan Suite, Oldham Road, Manchester, M40 8EA.  Full details and a map are on the festival website.  You do not need advance tickets to get in, although I suggest arriving early to avoid the worst of the queue. 

The Champion Winter Beer of Britain will be announced on Wednesday 20th in the morning.  The festival opens to the trade at 2.30pm, then to the general public at 5pm when all beers will be available. CAMRA members get in free on the Thursday afternoon session (with a valid membership card) up to 4pm, with £1 off entry for every other session.

My friends Graham and Peter are Festival Organiser and Deputy respectively.  Highlights of the festival, listing of some of the great beers they'll be selling, can be found on Peter's blog, Tandleman's Beer Blog ~ do have a look at it.  If, like me, you don't fancy travelling down to London for the national Great British Beer Festival, here is an alternative within easy travelling distance.  Happy drinking!

Thursday 14 January 2010

SIBA AGM and beer festival

The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) Northern region wll be holding its AGM in the Scarisbrick Hotel in Lord Street, Southport, this weekend.  The Scarisbrick's connection with SIBA goes back to 2002.

SIBA will also be holding its regional beer competition, won by Southport Brewery last year, and putting on a beer festival with the beer sold at reasonable prices (£2 a pint last year).  It will be a good chance to sample beers not often available in Southport; they should be on sale from around lunchtime on Saturday.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

Elvis lives ~ in song

In case you missed it, it was Elvis Presley's 75th birthday last Friday the 8th.  A report issued exactly 5 years ago today showed that more songs had been written about Elvis Presley than any other artist, over 220 at the time, but no doubt the figure would be much higher today.  A Wikipedia list is here.

The list included: ‘Graceland’ by Paul Simon, ‘A Room At The Heartbreakhotel’ by U2, ‘Calling Elvis’, Dire Straits, ‘Happy Birthday Elvis’, Loudon Wainwright III, ‘There's A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis’, Kirsty MacColl, ‘I Saw Elvis in a UFO’, Ray Stevens. ‘Elvis Has Left the Building’ by Frank Zappa and 'My Dog Thinks I'm Elvis' by Ray Herndon.

I doubt this list includes the song "You're Dreaming of Elvis" (words by Geoff Parry ~ tune by me, and recorded by the Lunchtime Legends).  To quote a line from that song, "I remember in '77 when Elvis the King passed away" that I was in the London pub in Warrington chatting to a barmaid called Maggie, a friend from college, who told me he had died.  It was quite a shock, as Elvis had always been there, whether you followed his music or not.  His age of 42 seems quite young to me now, but what he achieved in his lifetime will probably never be repeated.

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Launch of Woody Guthrie Folk Club

Meeting at the Ship and Mitre ~ Liverpool's finest real ale pub.  Liverpool radical folk singer Alun Parry is launching the Woody Guthrie Folk Club on Thursday 25th February at one of Liverpool's best real ale pubs, the Ship and Mitre on Dale Street.  This club will meet on the last Thursday of each month and will charge £3 admission, with free entry for performers. 
Doors: 7-30pm.  Music:  8-00pm.

The Ship and Mitre is a short walk from Moorfields and Lime Street stations, and is noted for its large, ever-changing range of good beers and regular beer festivals.  For more details of the new club, click here.  I think you'd be hard pressed to find a better combination of live music and good beer anywhere else in Liverpool.

Monday 11 January 2010

And here's to you...

I heard yesterday on Radio 4 someone say that the most requested song on local radio stations in Northern Ireland at the moment is "Mrs Robinson" by Simon and Garfunkel.  I don't suppose anyone ever expected an MP from the Democratic Unionist Party with its stern Calvinist traditions to re-enact a plotline from The Graduate.

Ackroyds ~ change of date

I've been advertising the Mrs Ackroyd gig at Maghull Folk Club since before Christmas in my "What's On" column.  I've just learned this has been put back from tomorrow night to Tuesday 13th April.  The cancellation is due to the adverse weather conditions, and I do know it's pretty bad in their neck of the woods, much worse than around here.

Friday 8 January 2010

Rock & roll panto

Yesterday I went on the skating rinks that used to be pavements to Liverpool for the annual rock & roll panto in the Everyman Theatre.  I first met several friends in the Everyman Bistro for drinks and something to eat.  The Bistro is well known for its food and my veg curry was very tasty, although mild in curry terms.  The Thornbridge Jaipur IPA (5.9%) was a bit of a disappointment:  my pint wasn't actually off but was certainly too bitter for an IPA.  It went off shortly afterwards, which may explain it.  The beer is usually good in the Everyman.

The panto was wonderful, specially written for the Everyman, with dozens of pop and rock & roll songs from the 50s to the present day, audience participation, cheers, boos and hisses, and water sprayed around the auditorium.  There was even an appearance by Geoff Tracey out of Thunderbirds.  It seems strange nowadays that Dick Whittington's reward is to be Mayor of London, although he does get the girl as well.  I can't imagine Boris saving the world in such style.  The music is performed and sung by the cast who displayed an impressive range of musicianship ~ some good voices too.  The encore was the four women in the cast singing a great version of Lady Marmalade, but it was all good.  The reactions of the children to what was going on were fun; one little voice called out 'Hello' to Dick Whittington as he entered stage right.  The whole thing was highly energetic and full of music, jokes and laughter.

After the panto, we slithered down the hill towards the Globe by Central Station, only to find it closed, so we went into the Richard John Blackler (Wetherspoons) around the corner, where I had a Cotleigh Buzzard but everyone else opted for the Abbot Ale.  The pub was a bit cold and almost empty, so we drank up to get the train home.  But all in all, a great evening.

Tuesday 5 January 2010

Meet The Brewers

I've had an e-mail from Mike Perkins of the local CAMRA Branch stating that Southport's Wetherspoons pub, the Sir Henry Segrave on Lord Street, is organising a series of Meet the Brewer Evenings on Wednesdays in January 2010.  They will begin at 7.00 pm, and the first two of these will coincide with the Wetherspoons January Sale that I wrote about a few days ago. Here is the programme:

6th  - All Gates, Wigan. CANCELLED due to the snow!!
13th - George Wright, Rainford.
20th - Prospect, Wigan.
27th - Moorhouses, Burnley.

P.S. I've heard these dates are now all subject to change. I'll give you the correct ones when I get them.

Monday 4 January 2010

Good Elf to the Bothy

The first guests of 2010 at the Bothy Folk Club were Peter and Barbara Snape, who specialise in British traditional song and Lancashire music hall-style songs.  Always popular with the club, they deservedly went down well with the audience who had made it through the frosty conditions.

Over the last few weeks the real ale at the Park Golf Club (where the Bothy meets) has been Thwaites Good Elf, a 4.9% winter ale.  This is a pleasant, slightly sweet ruby beer, which I think has been my favourite of all the seasonal ales I have drunk this Christmas.  I don't suppose it will be available for much longer and we will soon be back on the Bomber.

Saturday 2 January 2010

Getting back to normal

Happy New Year everyone. I know Twelfth Night isn't until 6th January, but already the world is getting back to normal:  there are holiday ads on the TV, the turkey's finished, the decorations are beginning to look tawdry rather than seasonal and people are returning to work ~ although of course some people, such as pub workers, never stopped working.

Musically, our local clubs and sessions are beginning again.  First is the Bothy tomorrow night (Thwaites' beer) with guests the Snapes, followed on Monday by the free singaround in the Guest House on Union Street (up to 10 real beers).  On Wednesday the Mason's in Anchor Street (behind the Lord Street post office) is also having a singaround (Robinson's beer).  Do support these sessions:  performing is optional.

Full details of these and other music events are in the What's On column to the left.  See you there.