Tuesday 31 August 2010

Whitby pub crawl ~ 24th August

On the Tuesday of Folk Week, Jean organises her annual Whitby pub crawl and invites us along ~ she's good that way. There are many fine pubs in Whitby, considering the size of the town, and we can't visit all of them. The pub crawl covers most of the best real ale pubs.

Beginning on the West Side:

The Elsinore, Flowergate
A very friendly local, which a couple of hundred years ago was the first building you came to when entering Whitby. It is a popular Folk Week fringe venue for various folk musicians, was the first pub to welcome Goths during their weekends in the town and also lets the Lunchtime Legends play during Folk Week (see previous posting). It's slightly cheaper than most pubs, and serves Cameron Strongarm, Tetley Bitter and John Smiths Cask.

The Little Angel, Flowergate
The Little Angel
Just across the road is this cosy-looking local, which is however rather bigger than the outside suggests and has three drinking areas. Just outside is a worn old mounting block for people to get on their horses. When we visited it was serving Adnams Bitter and Tetley Bitter.

The Station Inn, New Quay Road
Situated near the railway station and opposite the harbour, this pub has had several names previously: the Tap & Spile, the Cutty Sark, but originally the Green Man. It has three separate rooms, sometimes each with a different music session during folk week. It serves eight real ales and a real cider (Weston's Old Rosie). The beers included Ringwood Boondoggle, Whitby Old Dog, Timothy Taylor's Golden Best and Old Hooky.

Across the swing bridge to the East Side:

Black Horse, Church Street
The Black Horse
This is an extremely small, traditional, two-roomed pub. A pub since the 16th century, it has also been used as a funeral directors, spirit warehouse, and brothel. It is frequently packed during folk week; the musicians and singers tend to meet in the rear room. Both rooms have a real ale bar, with 3 beers on.  The beer I had on the crawl was Whitby Rhatas.

The Duke of York, Church Street
The Duke of York (centre front)
with the 199 steps and
Whitby Abbey behind
This pub is full of character and has wonderful views over the harbour. It is at the foot of the 199 steps that lead to Whitby Abbey and St Mary's Church (both worth a visit).  The pub does good food, especially the steak and ale pie, so if you're lucky enough to get a window seat while eating your dinner, then it's very enjoyable.  Tables can be scarce at peak meal times.  The beers on offer included Copper Dragon, and Courage Directors.

The Shambles, Market Place
This large open plan pub with a central bar was once a Burberry factory until it was closed and production moved elsewhere. It has wonderful views over the harbour, serves food which I've been told is good, has a family room and a games room with a snooker table. The beers are mainly from Theakstons and the Copper Dragon range, including the IPA.

Endeavour, Church Street
A single-roomed pub with, during folk week, a constantly changing range of real ales (4 handpumps). It has singers and musicians all day and evening during folk week and I understand it also has music quite regularly at other times. The various beers I had there included Adnams Broadside, Ringwood Boondoggle. Close to a chip shop if you need it.

Middle Earth Tavern, Church Street
The furthest pub on the crawl, the Middle Earth has outside seating with good views over the harbour.  Popular for music sessions during folk week, when it can get packed, it nowadays serves only one real ale, which was from the Copper Dragon range when I was there.

I had to take back two pints during the entire week, none on the pub crawl, but as they were satisfactorily replaced, I see no reason to name the pubs concerned. I found beer in Whitby was well-kept for the most part. This crawl was undertaken in August at the height of the holiday season. Beer ranges will probably be more limited off season, but I've been to Whitby at quieter times and the pubs are generally still good.

Saturday 28 August 2010

Whitby music

Double rainbow over Whitby
I've just returned from Whitby where I've been for the Folk Week. I didn't get to many formal concerts, although I did see the great John Kirkpatrick, a great singer of mostly traditional material and expert squeeze box player, and a joint concert of Keith Donnelly and Les Barker, two of the funniest acts on the folk scene. I spent more time in the fringe sessions and saw some spectacular singing and playing, particularly in the Station Inn. The Elsinore also has some busy music sessions in the evenings, and a couple of afternoons I played in a couple of impromptu singarounds there.

Legends looking, er, legendary.
Our own Lunchtime Legends rock & roll session ("the premier fringe event of Folk Week") in the Elsinore on Flowergate at Wednesday lunch time had a set of 32 songs, probably the longest set during the whole of Folk Week, and we're not even booked to play! It was packed out as ever and seemed to go down a storm. A charming young girl was giving me nice smiles while I played and bought one of our CDs, so I asked her her name. She told me, and mentioned her age was: "Five and three quarters." Our opening act was the excellent Jim Causley, who got into the spirit of things with songs he associated with his mother (he is a lot younger than us!). For a change we were joined by a bass player, Joe Gannet, who joined us to good effect, giving the sound a bass presence it sometimes lacks. John Kirkpatrick (mentioned above) has opened for us twice: 1998 and 2008.

Going to Whitby is like going on holiday with friends, as there are so many people I know there, some I see only once or twice a year, but quite a few from the Southport and Merseyside area.  All in all a great week, with the weather mostly good, but as usual it was all over far too quickly. I hardly took any pictures, but the one included here was of a double rainbow I could see from the small yard of our holiday cottage.

We went on a pub crawl in Whitby; I'll write about that in a day or two, in case anyone chooses to visit this lovely fishing port (although the amount of fishing gets less every year).

I also saw some traditional dances from most parts of Britain, and they are rather more varied than the "bells ands hankies" image, although there were plenty of those around. Here is a YouTube video of the parade of dance through the town, taken across the road from the Elsinore, which you can see clearly.

Saturday 21 August 2010

Until next week ...

Cheers, everyone. Back soon.
I have a very busy week ahead of me and I don't think I'll be able to post anything until next weekend, but then I'll be back! My events page runs until the 19th September, so there are plenty of live music events, mostly involving real ale, for your pleasure.  Also, a reminder that the Southport beer festival is not far off ~ 9th to 11th September. Put it in your diary.
It's just one non-stop party, isn't it? Have fun!

Friday 20 August 2010

Grateful Fred's

It never rains but it pours (literally so, as I type). Hot on the heels of the George Hotel acoustic nights comes news of the wonderfully named Grateful Fred's.  Described as "roots and acoustic nights", it will meet monthly with guest performers; their first three are international, two from America and the third from Australia. With an admission of £5 and meeting at the Freshfield Hotel, which has a great range of real ales, this venture looks very promising - check the website for more details. 

The Freshfield is already known for the open mike nights, at which I've played a couple of times, and a monthly jazz night. It's in Massam's Lane, Formby, L37 7BD.

Thursday 19 August 2010

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Holy Ale?

I bought this pint a couple of days ago in the Guest House in Southport and was surprised to see an ethereal figure forming in the head.  You often hear of people seeing the face of Jesus in a currant bun or in the damp on a church wall, or statues of Ganesh drinking milk, but I never thought something similar would happen to me. While I wondered how I could profit from this experience, I absent mindedly sipped the pint - and it was all gone, leaving only this photo to prove that my drinking had been divinely blessed.
I can't recall which beer it was.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Pub news in West Lancs

Here are some items of news about pubs in the West Lancs area I picked up on my recent trips to collect adverts for the local CAMRA magazine, Ale & Hearty.

The Hopvine
The Lord Nelson, Croston. On a recent visit, this charming village local was serving Copper Dragon Golden Pippin, Young’s Waggle Dance, Stonehenge Danish Dynamite and Adnam’s Explorer. They plan to have a beer festival from 24th to 26th September with 25 beers and 6 ciders in a marquee in front of the pub, with live music each day.

The Hesketh Arms, Rufford had a good selesction when we visited recently: Moorhouses Pride of pendle, Phoenix Double Gold, George Wright and two Brysons beers – Bring Me Sunshine and Thirst Class.

The Crown, Croston is a Thwaites house and was serving from the Thwaites range: Bomber, Wainwright and Original.

The Blue Anchor, Bretherton was serving Old Speckled Hen on a midweek visit, but has two handpumps that serve changing guest beers.

The Scarisbrick
The Cock & Bottle, Tarleton has been tastefully refurbished inside and out. It has a good function room and a pleasant beer garden. It was serving from the Thwaites range Liberation, Original and Nutty Black. A bitter drinker in our group found the Nutty Black (a mild) very tasty.

The Blue Bell, Barton has recently been redecorated and was selling George Wright Nectar and Black Sheep Bitter when we visited. They generally like to have a George Wright beer on sale.

The Ship Inn, Haskayne, a canalside pub noted for food as well as beer, was selling Prospect Blinding Light, Southport Golden Sands and their house beer, Ship Ahoy brewed by George Wright.

The Scarisbrick Arms, a canalside pub in Downholland, was selling Southport Golden Sands and George Wright Drunken Duck recently.

The Ropers Arms in Ormskirk has two regularly changing guest beers, including Paulainey’s brewed by Moorhouses. They are planning to open a bed and breakfast in the pub with 12 bedrooms.

The Wheatsheaf
The Royal Oak, Aughton. When we visited recently, it was selling Wells Bombadier, Wychwood Hobgoblin and Tetley Bitter.

The Derby Arms in Aughton was offering Timothy Taylor Golden Best, Tetley Bitter and Mild, Arran Ale (at £1.50 a pint) and cask Hawkshead Lakeland Lager.

The Dog & Gun in Aughton was recently serving Banks Mild and Bitter, Jennings Lakeland Stunner, Jennings Bitter and Marstons Pedigree.

Saturday 14 August 2010

Treat real cider with respect ~ or else ...

CAMRA obviously campaigns for real ale, but did you know that it also campaigns for real cider and perry? Most people have an idea what cider is, but mention perry and they’ll either think you’re referring to Babycham or they’ll just look at you blankly.

Real cider is an old traditional drink produced naturally from apples and is neither carbonated or pasteurised. Unfortunately, real cider is in a similar situation to that which faced real ale some 30 years ago with the number of outlets for real cider is diminishing, even in the West Country. The situation with perry (which is made by a similar process, but from pears) is more worrying, as it is rarely available away from the farm where it’s made. As a result of the difficulties facing these drinks, CAMRA set up a cider and perry committee within CAMRA to let drinkers know about the choice of real ciders and perries available and to encourage the producers to continue making them.

Many of the most well-known ciders in Britain are cold, fizzy keg products which have been produced artificially rather than naturally. Perry is in a worse position as it is even losing its name: a lot of pear-based drinks are being sold in bottled form under the name of ‘pear cider’. The explanation is two-fold: firstly, they don’t want their product to be associated with drinks like Babycham or Lambrini; and secondly, a lot of people don’t know what perry is anyway. And yet perry has been common for centuries in Britain, particularly in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, and in parts of south Wales, and France – it is not a new drink.

So what’s in a name? If people are now drinking more of it, does it matter whether it’s called pear cider or perry. Well, if it were just a question of the name, then I don’t suppose it would matter much, but that isn’t the case. Most of the pear cider produced is actually not the same as perry, but a cider-style drink flavoured with pear concentrate, whereas perry should be made by traditional methods from pears only. So pear cider is actually a seriously bastardised form of perry.

Why have they done this? The big cider manufacturers have seen the craze for keg cider collapse and were desperately scrabbling around to replace lost sales. The result was pear cider, which has proved to be very popular, but like most fad drinks, the bubble will burst sooner or later. In the meantime, while pear cider sales have gone through the roof, real perry is still a niche product, rarely available outside the areas where it’s made, except when it’s on sale at CAMRA beer festivals.

Most people aren’t accustomed to real cider and perry and make the big mistake of drinking it like beer because it’s usually served like beer. Real perry and cider have more in common with wine than beer, both in the way they’re produced and in their strength. They can be up to 8 or 9%, almost the same strength as some German wines. You wouldn’t down a pint of Liebfraumilch like a pint of ale, would you? Well, perhaps you would, but only if you weren’t planning to make a whole evening of enjoying drinking.

It is well worth tracking down some real ciders and perries, and more people are discovering for themselves how deliciously mellow, aromatic and varied the flavours of naturally produced real cider can be. The problem is that there are very few outlets for real ciders in this part of the country, and no more than a handful in the Southport and West Lancashire area.

CAMRA has introduced a new window sticker for pubs (pictured); it’s intended to help pubs by telling their customers that they sell real cider. This in turn will raise the profile and increase sales of real cider, and support pubs so that they stand out from other drinking establishments – important in these difficult times.

CAMRA beer festivals always have a range of ciders and perries that you can try. Your next chance is at the Sandgrounder Beer Festival, which runs from Thursday 9th to Saturday 11th September in the Scarisbrick Hotel, Lord Street, Southport, PR8 1NZ. For more details of the festival, click here.

As for local outlets, I'll produce a list soon in a future posting.

Thursday 12 August 2010

Minimum pricing a step closer?

Minimum pricing is a slightly tricky issue for politicians: on the one hand, they want to be seen to be doing something about Britain's binge drinking problem, but on the other they don't want to alienate the many voters who benefit from cheap alcohol.  With unemployment likely to go up to (if not beyond) 1980s levels, the only way many people will be able to have a drink is by buying cheap booze. David Cameron's announcement that his government may look sympathetically (whatever that means) at local minimum pricing schemes is, frankly, wrong for a number of reasons:

Tories are supposed to believe in the market. Prescribing a minimum price is a severe interference in the whole principle of free market economics.  But then, I struggle to find any principle behind David Cameron's utterances; he is driven by a desperate, second-rate populism tempered by a nanny state desire to control the unruly drinking classes.

I don't know how minimum pricing can be squared with competition legislation, both from the UK and from the EU.

Not everyone who buys cheap alcohol is a binge drinker - many simply don’t have much money.

Minimum pricing will simply increase the profits of retailers such as Tesco's. No wonder Sir Terry Leahy (Tesco's boss) has supported a minimum price, as opposed to a tax increase when the money would go to the Exchequer.

It will lead to a postcode lottery for alcohol prices, with people driving further to buy drink from shops in areas that don't have a minimum pricing scheme.

I have written previously about minimum pricing.

Tuesday 10 August 2010

Ten beasts?

Looking at the visitor counter on ReARM just now, I noticed that it's just reached 6,666 ~ the number of ten beasts?

This blog was originally set up in March 2009 to replace the flyers about local music events in real ale pubs which I used to print and pass around the places I went to. I'm sure most of them ended up as waste paper unread, as is the nature of such things. I felt it wasn't a very effective way of disseminating information, until I got the idea of a blog from chatting to my old friend Tandleman at the National Winter Ale Festival.

I didn't install the counter until September. You can choose any starting figure, so I could have started it at - say - ten thousand, but chose 0. The stats counter tells me that the most popular page is the events page, which is good, seeing it's the reason why I set up the blog in the first place. The Southport Beer Festival is currently the second most popular page, and various of my postings have followed close behind. I'll never attain the readership that some other bloggers do because of the very local nature of much of what I write, although I was interested to see I've had one reader from Korea in the last few days. There always seems to be a few Americans and a selection from other countries, but 94.8% are unsurprisingly from Britain.

There are peaks and troughs - the highest figure for visitors in one day is 76 and the lowest is 4 - but overall the number of readers is slowly rising, so I think it's worth continuing.

Now that I've finished typing this, it's up to 6,669.

Monday 9 August 2010

Second Lion singaround

The Lion steam engine, after
which the pub is named.
Last night was a great night at the Bothy summer singaround. A good turnout with some performers we'd never seen before. Everyone went home with a buzz.

The 2nd Lion Tavern singaround will take place on this Thursday the 12th August.  The first one in July successfully launched what I hope will be a successful regular folk and acoustic music in Liverpool city centre, so let's do it all again! You're very welcome to come along and perform, but if you just want to listen, that's fine too.

This friendly pub has a changing range of real ales, and is about 50 yards from Moorfields railway station. It would be nice to see you there.

Saturday 7 August 2010

Strongest beer sold in real animals!

The End of History?
Master self-publicists Brewdog, a small Scottish brewery which specialises in shocks and creating moral panic, have brewed a new strongest beer in the world: it's called The End Of History, is 55% and costs £500 a bottle - only 12 bottles have been produced.  I have written before about their previous strongest beers, but this time the shock tactic is not just the strength, but the fact that the bottles are encased in stuffed animal coatings: seven dead stoats, four squirrels and one hare. You can read Brewdog's reasoning behind this beer on their website.

The beer itself has been described as a blond Belgian ale with touches of nettles and juniper berries (one of the key ingredients of gin) and in order to achieve the strength, it was created using extreme freezing techniques. 

Predictably, there have been reactions on two fronts. Firstly, the standard knee jerk reaction from the anti-alcohol campaigners, who completely miss the point that your average alcoholic isn't going to spend £500 on a bottle of beer, even if he had that kind of money to spare.

But also from an animal welfare point of view: on a good causes website I sometimes look at, someone wrote an item about this beer which has elicited 482 comments so far (far more than for more serious topics, so clearly little furry animals can cause you to lose your perspective). Many of the comments condemned the animal cruelty they assumed was involved, even though it was made clear that the animals were already dead, so no cruelty could have occurred. I commented twice that it's a publicity stunt, which has worked as they’ve all now heard of Brewdog, when they hadn’t before – but my words were swept away by a flood of horrified overreaction.

Funnily enough, the more pertinent question of bad taste never arose.

Friday 6 August 2010

Drink driving at record low

I see in today's paper that deaths and injuries in road accidents involving drink driving are at a record low:
  • deaths are down 5% from 400 in 2008 to 380 in 2009;
  • serious injuries are also down by 9% to 1,480; and
  • slight injuries down by 8% to 10,130.
I wrote about this issue at length in March, so I won't cover all the same ground. It seems clear to me that the drink-drive messages are slowly getting through, but that won't stop further calls to reduce the current drink drive limit, as recommended recently in the report by Sir Peter North. The cry that "one death is one too many" is a hard one to argue against, especially when it comes from a bereaved relative, but before a further reduction is contemplated, we need evidence that lowering the limit will make any difference. As I said in my previous posting, I don't believe it will, since the really dangerous drivers are those who couldn't care less about the limit and drive when they're several times over it, and who would carry on drinking and driving even if the limit was zero. I'd want evidence that someone making 3 or 4 halves of beer or a glass of wine last all evening is a real danger on the road; I have never seen any such evidence.

Like everyone else, I want to see that figure of 380 reduced further, and - unusually for me - I agree with a Tory. Just before the general election, Tory transport spokesperson Theresa Villiers said her party wouldn't cut the limit: “We do not believe the case has been made to justify such a change. We would focus on enforcement of the current rules.” I hope there's no U-turn now that her party is in government.

Cutting the limit would be the easy, virtually cost-free and largely ineffective option. Catching the genuinely drunk drivers would cost rather more. So, do we want an easy quick fix or an approach that will make a difference?

Wednesday 4 August 2010

Champion Beers of Britain

Castle Rock head brewer Adrian
Redgrove (left) receiving the
Champion Beer of Britain trophy
from Good Beer Guide editor
Roger Protz.
CAMRA has just announced the best beers in Britain at the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF), Earls Court, London. Harvest Pale, brewed by Nottingham brewery Castle Rock, was crowned the Champion Beer of Britain during the festival's trade session; it also won Gold in the Golden Ale category. I don't think I've had it, so I'll keep an eye out for it. It has a strength of 3.8% and is described in the Good Beer Guide as 'blonde and refreshing with distinctive citrus hop.'

I've certainly had the runner up, Timothy Taylor's Landlord many times. Although some CAMRA types like to say that it's not the beer it once was, I don't agree: when it's well kept, it's a wonderful pint, and this award suggests that I'm right. It also won Gold in the Best Bitter category, and since the early 1980s has won over 20 awards at the GBBF.

Our local Southport brewery won Gold in the Best Bitter category last year, but sadly has not repeated its success this time, but that's often the way. Here are the full results - see how many you've had, or even heard of:

Champion Beer of Britain 
1st - Castle Rock, Harvest Pale (3.8% ABV, Nottingham, Notts)
2nd - Timothy Taylor, Landlord (4.3% ABV, Keighley, West Yorkshire)
3rd - Surrey Hills, Hammer Mild (3.8% ABV, Guildford, Surrey)

Mild category
Gold- Surrey Hills, Hammer Mild (3.8% ABV, Guildford, Surrey)
Silver- Greene King, XX Mild (3% ABV, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk)
Joint Bronze- Golcar, Dark Mild (3.4% ABV, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire)
Joint Bronze- Nottingham, Rock Ale Mild (3.8% ABV, Nottingham, Notts)

Bitter category
Gold- RCH, PG Steam (3.9% ABV, Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset)
Silver- Moor, Revival (3.8% ABV, Pitney, Somerset)
Joint Bronze- Orkney, Raven (3.8% ABV, Stromness, Orkney)
Joint Bronze- Purple Moose, Snowdonia Ale (3.6% ABV, Portmadog, Gwynedd)

Best Bitter category
Gold- Timothy Taylor, Landlord (4.3% ABV, Keighley, West Yorkshire)
Silver- St Austell, Tribute (4.2% ABV, St Austell, Cornwall)
Joint Bronze- Evan Evans, Cwrw (4.2% ABV, Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire)
Joint Bronze- Great Oakley, Gobble (4.5% ABV, Great Oakley, Northamptonshire)

Golden Ale category
Gold- Castle Rock, Harvest Pale (3.8% ABV, Nottingham, Notts)
Silver- Marble, Manchester Bitter (4.2%, Manchester, Gtr Manchester)
Bronze- St Austell, Proper Job (4.5% ABV, St Austell, Cornwall)

Strong Bitter category
Gold- Thornbridge, Jaipur IPA (5.9% ABV, Bakewell, Derbyshire)
Silver- Fuller's, Gales HSB (4.8% ABV, Chiswick, Gtr London)
Bronze- Beckstones, Rev Rob (4.6% ABV, Millom, Cumbria)

Speciality Beer category
Gold- Amber, Chocolate Orange Stout (4% ABV, Ripley, Derbyshire)
Silver- O'Hanlon's, Port Stout (4.8% ABV, Whimple, Devon)
Bronze- Breconshire, Ysbrid y Ddraig (6.5% ABV, Brecon, Powys)

Winter Beer of Britain (announced in January 2010)
Elland, 1872 Porter (6.5% ABV, Elland, West Yorkshire)

Bottled Beer of Britain (sponsored by Travelodge)
Gold- St Austell, Admiral's Ale (5% ABV, St Austell, Cornwall)
Silver- Pitfield, 1850 London Porter (5% ABV, Epping, Essex)
Bronze- Great Oakley, Delapre Dark (4.6% ABV, Great Oakley, Northamptonshire)

Sunday 1 August 2010

Oast House back

I've received an e-mail from Ben Henderson who is supervising the day-to-day running of the Oast House, Stanley Street, Southport, saying he wants to get the pub back up to standard. The Oast House was closed down for a while last year after tenants left stating they were being charged excessively by the pub company and couldn't make a living out of it. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that particular dispute, it's a complaint I've heard from a number of licensees.

The pub is currently serving a range of real ales all the time, including in recent weeks:
  • Moorhouses Premier Bitter
  • Moorhouses "Oast House Ale" (Pendle Witch)
  • Timothy Taylor Landlord
  • Brysons "Nice Jugs"
He hopes to provide more real ales in the future as business is picking up from day to day, and he comments that "at £1.80 a pint who can complain!!" Who indeed?

I remember playing a spontaneous gig there one evening, resulting in free beer all night and the hat being passed around too. A rare instance of going out for a drink and having more money at the end of the night than at the beginning. It's been years since I was in there; I think it's time I visited the Oast House again.