Friday 30 April 2010

May Day

At dawn tomorrow, the Southport Swords will dance in the Town Gardens in front of the Southport Arts Centre to welcome the 1st of May.  This will be at 5.00 a.m. They will adjourn to the Baron's Bar in the Scarisbrick Hotel across the road for bacon butties and the annual May beer festival, which officially opens at 6.oo a.m. It's a strange experience drinking at that hour, and then after a few pints walking in the streets among the early morning shoppers and people going to work.

The bar is surprisingly busy at that time in the morning with early drinkers (I do wonder whether some have simply been there all night), and the Swords usually dance again indoors. The picture shows the Swords raising the maypole at dawn last year. I've no idea who the fellow with the rucksack is.

The beer festival continues with more conventional timings until 16th May. I was going to put in a link to the Baron's Bar, but the festival page on their website is 12 months out of date; I must mention that to them. But the festival is always worth a visit or two.

Wednesday 28 April 2010

Rocking All Over The World

From the award-winning documentary, "Playing For Change: Peace Through Music", comes this song, which was written by Pierre Minetti and performed by musicians around the world, who all added their parts to it as it travelled the globe (website).

Thanks to Louise Wood for pointing this out. As she says, "Something uplifting for a change!"

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Higsons survival

I took this picture today in the Guest House; it shows one of the pub's three hand pumps that still display the Higsons liver bird.  When Higsons was an independent company, the Guest House was its only pub in Southport, and it had no hand or electric pumps on the bar; all the electric pumps were ranged across the back of the bar, and the cask beers were in the cellar behind the bar with their taps poking through holes in the wall. The cask range was Higsons Bitter and Mild, and Draught Bass.

When Boddingtons of Manchester took over Higsons in 1985, they installed hand pumps on the bar and moved the electric pumps there too. They also put real ale in all Higsons houses ~ only about half had sold real ale previously because, Higsons claimed, the pubs were unsuitable for cask beer. I always found that unbelievable, seeing that nearly all of the Higsons estate consisted of Victorian and Edwardian pubs, built when real ale was the only beer available. Whitbread took over Boddingtons in 1990 and, as was its wont, closed the Higsons brewery down. Higsons beers were brewed in Sheffield, then County Durham, but with no resemblance to the original beer, and production was ended a few years later.

The hand pumps installed by Boddingtons in the Guest House in 1985 are the only visible memento of the pub's Higsons past.

Incidentally, the beer on that hand pump was Phoenix Hopsack ~ rather nice.

Monday 26 April 2010

Derby Arms folk singarounds (and good beer!)

Visiting the Derby Arms on Prescot Road in Aughton today, I learned that, in addition to the 1st and 3rd Monday music nights (the first is folk/country and the third is gypsy jazz), the pub now has a weekly folk club night every Wednesday which is open to all to play at or just listen. The Derby Arms is a free house which stocks a changing range of cask beers, with a beer called Arran on permanently at £1-50 a pint, plus well-regarded food too.

As I was driving, I had to limit myself to a rather nice half of the Arran. One peculiarity of this pub is that they sell keg Walkers Bitter, which I've never seen anywhere else before. That's £1-50 too, although I didn't try it.

Postcode: L39 6TA

Sunday 25 April 2010

Meet The Brewer

Next Friday the 30th April, the Sir Henry Segrave will be hosting another Meet The Brewer session. This time the featured brewery is Beartown from Congleton in Cheshire. It's free and begins at 8pm. The Sir Henry Segrave is a Wetherspoons pub and generally serves a good range of cask ales.

Saturday 24 April 2010

Reflecting on the past

Leaving the Ship and Mitre on Dale Street in Liverpool on a bright, sunny day recently, I noticed, not for the first time, the old Higsons sign engraved on the neighbouring building, which used to be offices of the long-gone Higsons brewery, disgracefully closed in 1990 by Whitbread. Higsons Bitter is fondly remembered by many of us Merseyside beer drinkers. I rather liked the reflection of the Ship and Mitre's art deco exterior in the marble wall.

Friday 23 April 2010

Liver bird poaches an egg

I don't know what it is about Liverpool CAMRA Branch. All the individual members I've met are fine, but collectively it sometimes seems to go wrong, as when they obeyed orders from Deuchars to ban all brewers from the Liverpool beer festival trade session.

Recently, on one of my regular trips to Liverpool, I picked up a copy of Mersey Ale, the local CAMRA magazine, which is normally very good. I read an article about St Helens CAMRA becoming a fully separate branch, having been a sub-branch of Liverpool. As I read it, I was expecting congratulations and best wishes to the new branch. Instead, the article said members would no longer get information and communications from Liverpool Branch, but the new St Helens one instead, and that members were entitled to belong to any branch they wanted. If St Helens members wanted to change their branch (with the implied phrase "and stay with Liverpool"), they should contact the national Membership Secretary; the writer even gave the relevant address, phone number and e-mail.

It's quite graceless to announce the new branch by trying to poach its members, especially as this rather clumsy attempt to keep people in the Liverpool fold took at least 40% of the article. I doubt many will take up the offer ~ why get information about an area you don't live in instead of about where you do? Have I got the wrong end of the stick here?  Click here and go to page 6 of the on-line copy of the magazine to judge for yourself.

If I were a CAMRA member in St Helens, I'd be thinking, "With friends like these..."

Tuesday 20 April 2010

Busy week

For local music lovers who like real ale, this week is busy with music events in a variety of real ale venues:
  • Wednesday 21st: singaround in the Mason's, Anchor Street. Robinson's Unicorn Bitter.
  • Thursday 22nd: Bridget St John and Michael Chapman at the Bothy (in the Park Golf Club, Park Road West.). Thwaites Bomber.
  • Friday 23rd: Southport Swords dancing for St George's Day in the Baron's Bar (8.30pm) and the Guest House (9.30pm). Both venues have a great range of real ales.
  • Sunday 25th:  Bothy 45th birthday special singers night from 7pm (note early start). Beer from Thwaites or (possibly) Southport.
"What use is sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play!"
The picture shows the Southport Swords.

Monday 19 April 2010

Lobbying MPs on behalf of pub goers

CAMRA has been asking MPs and Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) to support its 'Beer Drinkers and Pub Goers Charter'.  So far, more than 500 MPs and PPCs have signed, many as a result of lobbying by ordinary constituents, which is encouraging. If you want to lobby your candidates, a simple way is to click here (you don't have to be a CAMRA member). This is a summary of the Charter:  
  • Promote the interests of Britain's pub goers.
  • Champion well-run community pubs.
  • Rebalance alcohol taxation to support beer and pubs.
  • Reform the beer tie to deliver a fair deal for consumers, including allowing local brewers to sell their beers to local pubs.
  • Support the role of well-run pubs as solutions to alcohol misuse.
On the same webpage there is a poll asking "What do you think is the most significant reason that over 39 pubs are closing every week in the UK?" You can vote on that too if you wish. The results so far are:
  • The Low Price of Alcohol in Supermarkets 38.56%
  • Beer Tax 26.69%
  • The Beer Tie 17.37%
  • The Recession 9.32%
  • The Smoking Ban 5.93% 
  • Increased public focus on the health issues surrounding excessive alcohol consumption 2.12%
It's interesting that fewer than 6% blame the smoking ban. Although I don't agree with those who think it's the main cause of pub closures, I would have expected a higher figure.

Sunday 18 April 2010

Pub news around the town

I went for a stroll the other night along Eastbank Street, Southport, where I used to drink regularly, firstly in the Old Ship in the 80s, then in the Wellington in the 90s. Bernie Blaney and I used to run a folk club in the Old Ship in a good little function room upstairs. Unfortunately attendances were never very good, so we pulled the plug on it in 1985, but I continued to go to the pub as it had become my local and I'd made quite a few friends there. It was a Walkers pub in those days and was noted for its good beer, especially the Ind Coope Burton Ale, or in winter the Walkers Warrington Ale, which was wonderful.  It hasn't sold real ale for a while and was closed down in February. It has reopened, but when I looked in there was no real ale, and the handpumps have been removed. I think that constitutes a statement of intent, but it's better open without real ale than closed altogether.

The Volunteer just a few yards away is a Thwaites pub. It was the last pub that I knew of to serve real ale through electric pumps, but now there is a handpump serving Thwaites Bomber, perfectly acceptable on my visit. This is a popular local and has regular music of the old-fashioned pub singer style, plus karaoke, which really isn't my cup of tea. However, they were queuing to go on, so it's popular with its own locals. There are murals of 50s rock & rollers and 60s pop stars on the walls.

The Wellington on the other side of the street used to be a Tetley Festival Ale House, which meant they filled it with old tat which inevitably gathered loads of dust, stripped out the carpets, wallpaper and comfortable seats and painted all the usual quotations on the walls. They also marked up the price of the beers. I fell out with it when they installed TVs in every part of the pub, often on different channels, and had the jukebox on at the same time. However, despite that, the beer was always well kept. Nowadays, another refurbishment down the line, the tat has been removed, but so has the cask beer.

So, out of the three pubs in Eastbank Street that all used to serve real ale, only the Volunteer continues to do so.

Elsewhere, the Rabbit on Manchester Road remains closed after two months, and I can see no sign of activity there. I remember when this was a Bass house, serving the famous draught Bass and Bass mild. I often used to pop in for a pint or two on my way into town.

The Albert on London Street has reopened and I learned at the CAMRA meeting the other night that it is serving Black Sheep Bitter and Timothy Taylor's Landlord. I also learned that the Baron's Bar has settled down to 5 regulars beers: Moorhouses Pride of Pendle, Tetley, Black Sheep, a Southport beer, Flag and Turret (the house beer) and a changing range of 5 guests. They usually have a real cider on too.

Saturday 17 April 2010

Friday 16 April 2010

Test posting

After the last couple of days' problems with the blog, it seems to have sorted itself out!

I could have saved myself hours by just leaving it alone. Typical!

Tuesday 13 April 2010

MrsAckroyd band in Maghull

I meant to put this on a few days ago, but I forgot as I've had a house guest from London since last Thursday who's been dragging me screaming and kicking to the pub, both in Southport and Liverpool. The things you've got to put with. So, if you're reading this in London, Geoff, it's your fault it's late!

MrsAckroyd is a trio who sing and perform the comic/satirical poems of Les Barker, who no longer tours with them for health reasons, although he still does solo gigs. Chris Harvey is a first-rate musician, specialising in keyboards and accordion, while Hilary Spencer and Alison Younger both have excellent, but very different, singing voices.  All are prepared to be very silly to give full rein to Les's comic genius.  This gig was rearranged after being cancelled in January because the adverse weather conditions at the time. Mrs Ackroyd herself was a small, hairy mongrel that used to accompany Les on all his gigs, and who died quite a few years ago; you can find a picture of her here.

They're on at the Maghull Folk Club tonight.  The club meets at the Maghull Community Association, 604 Green Lane, Maghull, L31 2JH.  They don't do gigs around here very often, so you're unlikely to experience their musical mayhem locally for some time.

Saturday 10 April 2010

Pub Crawl - Liverpool Dale Street

Two days ago, I went to survey a pub crawl in Liverpool in the Dale Street area, easily reached by train from Southport. The furthest pub on this crawl is about 6-7 minutes’ walk from Moorfields Station. Pubs surveyed on 8 April (except the Hole, visited on 3 April). The numbers below refer to the map, which was designed by Dennis Jones of Liverpool CAMRA, used with permission.

1.  Ye Hole In Ye Wall
This interesting pub in Hackins Hey, round the corner from the Saddle pub, claims to be the oldest in Liverpool, dating back to 1726. The cellar of this pub is above the bar, as the pub was apparently built on an old Quaker burial site, and no one wanted to disturb the bones; this has led to stories of ghosts. The pub is extensively wood-panelled and has two separate seated drinking areas, separated by wooden partitions embedded with stained glass, as well as standing room around the bar. There are pictures of old Liverpool scenes on the walls.

The pub had two George Wright beers on: Saaz (4.5%) and Drunken Duck (3.9%). The other beers were Tetley Bitter, Landlord, Adnams Bitter, London Pride and Spitfire. Owing to the location of the cellar, this is probably the only pub in town where the beer is served by gravity dispense through hand pumps. (The previous posting gives more details of this pub)

2.  Thomas Rigby's
Another old, wood-panelled pub with three separate rooms and a courtyard at the rear, wonderful to sit in with a pint of good beer when the weather is fine. One of two pubs in Liverpool owned by Manx brewery, Okell’s, this pub featured in the film “Letter to Brezhnev”. The Nelson room to the rear is in honour of Admiral Lord Nelson who, it is said, was a regular in the 1790s. Hmmm …

There is usually a choice of beers from the Okell’s range, plus 3 or 4 guests. I had Newcastle Pioneer from Hadrian and Border, a light 4.2% beer named after the pioneer hops used. The pub serves good quality meals.

3.  The Vernon
This pub was closed for a couple of years, reopening last year. It's a long, two-roomed pub with a distinct slope as you walk towards the rear, slightly confusing after a few pints! The room at the rear was used as a meeting place for Militant during the Hatton era. There are good value meals: we had steak pie, chips and peas at £7 for two. One curiosity advertised on the menu was “beef burger on a sesame seed bum”.

There are six cask beers on: Brains Rev James seems to be on each time I go, and beer from Liverpool Organic Brewery was on this time. I have seen Cambrinus and Baltic Fleet beers on previous visits. The Vernon is a keen supporter of local breweries which is why it has LocAle accreditation from CAMRA.

4.  The Excelsior
This pub was closed on the day of my visit. It has served real ale on previous visits and still advertises cask ales in the windows.  Additional comment 26 Feb 2011: this pub was open when I passed today - I could see Deuchars IPA and Landlord clips on the handpumps.

5.  The Ship and Mitre
This pub has a 1930s art deco exterior, although the inside has been changed to suggest an old sailing ship. The upstairs room, however, is largely unaltered and is an art deco dream, wonderful for special functions, such as the recently revived folk nights - the new Woody Guthrie folk club is held on the last Thursday of each month.

Proudly boasting the best range of real ales in Liverpool (something like ten when we visited), there are always beers on here that I have never heard of before. We had Summer Wine Invictus and Gold Cup Ramsbury, both 4.5% and excellent. The pub holds regular beer festivals for real ale, and various continental beers through out the year. The next real ale one is 21 – 25 April. There is also good food available.

6.  The Lion, Moorfields
The Lion is a small gin palace just across the road from Moorfields station - ideal to finish the crawl, being so close to the train. It has three separate drinking areas and up to eight changing guest real ales. I can’t see any significant alterations to this lovely little pub, which has a stained glass domed ceiling in the rear room (pictured), panelled wooden pilasters and etched glass panels; much of the original glazing survives.

We had Hawkshead Bitter, and Lees Bitter from Middleton is often on, not a common sight in Liverpool. Food is available, including the popular cheese board.

The last train back to Southport is 23-40. Return ticket: £4.40. An all-areas Saveaway is £4.50.

Click on the map to open it in a new window, which you can print if you want to.

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Ye Hole In Ye Wall

Last weekend found me in Liverpool for a conference, after which I thought I'd check one or two pubs I haven't been in for a while.  I decided on Ye Hole In Ye Wall in Hackins Hey, off Dale Street, close to Moorfields station. Dating back to 1726, the Hole claims to be the oldest pub in Liverpool. It's not a very large pub, and looks as though it has been substantially unaltered for many years.

It's unusual in several respects. Before the Sex Discrimination Act, it had no ladies' toilets; women were allowed in, but would have to pop next door to the Saddle Inn, should they need to. As you'd expect, very few bothered. I do remember one CAMRA publication commenting wryly that the pub was coping 'manfully' with the Act. The cellar of this pub is above the bar, as the pub was apparently built on an old Quaker burial site, and no one wanted to disturb the bones. This has led to stories of ghosts, including one about an 18th century Spanish sailor knifed for refusing the King's shilling, but I've never seen any spirits - not the paranormal sort anyway.

The pub is extensively wood-panelled and has two discrete seated drinking areas, separated by wooden partitions embedded with stained glass, as well as standing room around the bar. There are pictures of old Liverpool scenes on the walls. It's definitely a locals bar in the commercial area of the city centre, but I didn't see any suits, a marked contrast to Rigby's just around the corner in Dale Street.

The pub is Locale accredited, and had two George Wright beers on: Saaz (4.5%) and Drunken Duck (3.9%). The other beers were Tetley Bitter, Landlord, Adnams Bitter, London Pride and Spitfire. Owing to the location of the cellar, this is probably the only pub in town where the beer is served by gravity dispense through handpumps. All in all, an interesting little pub.

Monday 5 April 2010

Ashley Hutchings and Ken Nicol giggin' in Wigan

This performance on Wednesday 14 April features Ashley Hutchings and Ken Nicol, as well as Judy Dunlop and the excellent Becky Mills. It's part of Wigan Literary festival, and will be a mixture of poetry, prose and song.  Ashley says it is a one-off, never-to-be-repeated evening, ranging from 'Shakespeare to Springsteen'. Tickets are £10 in advance, £12 on the night. Contact for further details and tickets:  01942 824291.  Wigan Parish Church is in Crawford Street, less than 5 minutes walk from Wallgate station.

I doubt the church will sell beer, but there some good real ale pubs nearby:  the Berkeley and the Boulevard are both just across the road from the station, and the award-winning Anvil is just around the corner. Wigan is only half an hour by train from Southport.

Sunday 4 April 2010

Guest posting: All hail the ale!

Marco Pierre White made me.

I had no need; no volition whatsoever, to scribe words of devotion towards the frothing firkin.

But somehow, an article in CAMRA's Beer organ about his Yew Tree Inn - a Home Counties favourite - made me see the solution for pubs around the country that mither they have scant call for real ale, and therefore forfeit mind, body and soul to the tasteless machinations of the Keg.

Everyone wants real ale. It's a fact of life. They either don't know it, or don't have the choice (see above).

It's a basic human right to bear taste buds. That's why lager wasn't invented, but sent down by the Devil to pollute minds and numb tongues.

Tasteless as the piss of a virgin, it has no place in modern society, where we have the luxury of choice.

Back to the argument of the slow-fermenting landlord:

"We don't get the custom round here for that brown stuff. No, we'd much rather serve lager with its infinite shelf life and appeal to the yob culture, denizens of which think nothing of splashing a significant proportion of their child benefit allowance on a pint of the pisswater."

Paraphrasing, see. But the sentiment is just.

Solution: Get beer - that of the real ale variety - and dispense via both pump and pie.

Get it? Beer is infinitely flexible in cooking. Many a recipe is enhanced by it, many more make it a mandatory ingredient. All those dark, rich, meaty pies; the Bologneses and the chillies; the pheasant, the partridge, steak and whimsiest of sausage dancing happily amid a tasty tonic of beery gravy.

So next time your bar steward refutes the allegation he may have a sniff of a chance of inn keeping redemption through the restoration of real ale to his lines - your basic human right, remember - tell him he looks so much sweeter in a pinny soaked in pink boobs and laced with loving care, dispensing food with the elegant, effortless ease of a flick of the lager tap.

Lager, indeed...

Dave Thackeray.

Thursday 1 April 2010

Fosters Real Ale?

Aussie yeast water manufacturer Fosters has apparently decided to brew a real ale for the British market, which they intend to call Golden Cask.  It will be a 4.1% brew and they hope it will prove popular because, a spokesman said, of the "esteem that the Fosters brand is held in the UK ... and we recognise that the cask ale market is now expanding year on year in Britain, and it's one we feel the time is right for us to invest in".

I think the message to Fosters is simply that their brand is not held in high esteem in this country, not even among some lager drinkers. Still, all credit for trying, I suppose. When I see it, I'll give it a go, if only out of curiosity, but I won't be holding my breath.  More details when I get them.