Friday 31 December 2010

Grousing About Famous Pubs

Famous Grouse Whisky and the Sunday Telegraph have run a poll to find the top 100 famous pubs in Britain, whether they be famous for historic or just quirky reasons. Two Southport pubs feature:

The Fishermen's Rest, Weld Road. The pleasant name, which suggests fishermen having a relaxing pint after a hard day's work, has a much more tragic origin. It commemorates the Eliza Fernley lifeboat disaster of 1886 when the boat foundered while trying to rescue people from the stricken Mexico of Hamburg and 14 crewmen perished. Their bodies were laid out in here, then part of the Palace Hotel (demolished in 1969, except for this building). The lost men are recalled by the 14 small brass mermaids which hold the bar handrail in place. I attended a centenary commemoration of this tragedy in 1986 held in the pub itself.

It's a while since I've been in here, but I recall it as a pleasant and comfortable smallish pub; I've been told that its real ale range has recently been much improved, although I have yet to check for myself.

The Lakeside Inn, The Promenade. This pub is described as the smallest pub in Britain and has a Guinness Book of Records certificate on the wall. It usually sells London Pride and Tetley Bitter. It has fine views over the Marine Lake and outside drinking areas, including a balcony that overlooks the lake. It was, I believe, formerly the club house for a sailing club before getting a pub licence. I recall going in there with my friend Sam a few years ago during the Waterloo Cup, hare coursing's big annual event. It was full of Irishmen and women all drinking either lager or Guinness; Sam and I were the only ones drinking ale. What sounded like illegal betting was taking place by mobile phones, and one Irish gent asked whether we were down for the coursing. "No," I replied, "we just live here." The room went quiet for a couple of seconds, after which we were viewed with suspicion and no one spoke to us again, probably seeing us as potential saboteurs or interfering journalists.

I was in there with my guitar on Christmas Eve, when we had a singalong session, but the pub is most popular in summer, as you'd expect.

Other pubs listed in the poll include Ye Cracke, Rice Street, Liverpool 1, formerly frequented by John Lennon. Always a good range of ales in here, and the walls have pictures by local artists. One room has been called the War Office for over 100 years ~ it was where people who bored everyone by talking about the Boer War were banished. This was the first pub in the centre of Liverpool that I drank in (December 1972, as I recall). In the 1990s, my union branch committee used to drink in here after our meetings.

The Philharmonic, Hope Street, Liverpool is justly famous with its ornate architecture, carved wooden panelling, art deco gates and famous marble gents toilets. It also has several real ales on. It was built by the original Robert Cain brewery in the 19th century, but has no link to the modern Cain's brewery; you can still see RC engraved in the stone work outside. John Lennon once said that the price of fame was "not being able to go to the Phil for a drink". It's simply the most spectacular pub I have ever been in.

The Lower Angel, Buttermarket Street, Warrington, was where I sometimes used to drink when a student in the 1970s; it is a virtually unaltered pub. In the 90s it was run by Charlie Oliver, who used to to run the Old Ship on Eastbank Street, Southport. Charlie always kept a good pint, and although he no longer has the place, the beer was good last time I was in there.

The survey is a just a bit of fun, not to be taken too seriously, although I am surprised the excellent Marble Arch in Manchester isn't listed. You can find the whole thing here ~ why not look up where you live?

Tuesday 28 December 2010

Ale & Hearty - my 3rd issue

The Winter issue of our local CAMRA magazine Ale & Hearty, the third that I have edited, has recently been published. I am now learning the problems of taking on such a venture. People promise articles that don't turn up, so you have to write things at short notice to plug the gap. What I sometimes do is raid this blog to see if there is anything that I can adapt (there usually is); on the other hand, I have used in this blog one or two articles I wrote for A&H, but only after the mag is published. I don't think there is much overlap of readers, but if it was written for the mag, that's where it should appear first.

When taking over, I was warned against using pictures of local pubs on the cover, otherwise other licensees begin asking why it wasn't their pub. This at first seemed a strange constraint on a CAMRA publication, but I soon twigged that pictures of pubs aren't excluded: licensees that advertise with us put pictures of their pubs in their own adverts, so you can still see the range of good looking pubs in this area in every edition, and all of them pubs whose support helps keep the mag going. This can however make the question of what to put on the cover difficult. I had an idea last night in the Guest House while supping Everards Sleighbell: have pictures of views from pubs. With the range of pubs in our area - town centre, suburban, country, canalside, even seaside - that should keep me in cover pictures for a while.

So what have I changed since taking over? It's now officially a magazine, not a newsletter, and the title is in a much simpler and bolder font. I have ditched the Southport coat of arms, as we now cover most of West Lancashire and Formby as well as Southport. The political content (in relation to pub and beer related matters) is more overt ~ as a former union rep, I'm used to giving it straight. I've begun a couple of new series, such as pub crawls easily accessible by public transport, and relics of old breweries in pubs, and my friends Carole and Ian (aka Ale Ian), have written cheerful items about their beery adventures elsewhere in England. My articles on Real Ale & Real Music in pubs began under the previous editor Mike Hoey's stewardship. Old regular features still appear, such as Dave Williams' Classic Pubs of the UK and A. L. Guzzler's humorous view of the world. So it's not all change.

I was quite pleased with my article on a trip to Tetley's brewery in Leeds that we went on in November; as you'll know, the brewery will close next year. I went on the trip, despite not liking Tetley's much (although you wouldn't know that from the article) because it is a shame such an historical brewery, founded in 1822, is closing. I decided a photo of the brewery featuring CAMRA Branch stalwart, Mike Perkins who himself hails from Leeds, was a perfect cover picture. It was a very interesting day, with some nice pints in Keighley on the way back.

Now I'd better begin thinking about the Spring edition. It seems like back to square one each time!

Monday 27 December 2010

Putting Roosters To The Sword

I took my 12-string guitar along to the Guest House on Boxing Day where the Southport Swords were concluding their customary day of dance. The pub was heaving with folkies, some of whom have left the area and aren't seen very often around here nowadays, so there's an element of reunion in this gathering. The Swords entertained the pub as usual, dominating proceedings while they danced, which they did in the pub because of the slippery conditions outside. After the folk musicians had disappeared, I played quite a few 50s and 60s pop and rock & roll numbers. It was all very jolly, made more so by the fine beer I was drinking: Roosters Oakey Cream 4.7%. It's a seasonal beer from the brewers of the popular Yankee, which tends to disappear quickly whenever it's on.

The website describes the beer thus: "Golden Promise malt. Hops are Liberty and Mount hood from USA. Nice, smooth, easy drinking beer with spicy aroma. Some vanilla oak flavour." In so far as I can relate to tasting notes, that seems not far from the mark. I'm hoping there'll be some left when I go along to the Guest House tonight.

Thursday 23 December 2010

Baron's Bar Beer Competition

The Scarisbrick Hotel,
home of the Baron's Bar.
I've received an e-mail from George Sourbutts, the manager of the Barons Bar, one of our leading local real ale venues, giving me details of the 1st Baron's Bar Beer Competition, which will take place on Friday 14th January. This is to replace the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) competition and beer festival that took place in the Scarisbrick Hotel on Lord Street in Southport for many years from 2002, and which has apparently outgrown the hotel, resulting in a move to Manchester.

If I've read the e-mail correctly, I've been invited to be a judge. I must check that it's not been sent to me in error; if not, it sounds interesting. The New Year Beer Festival begins immediately after the judging ~ I'll give more details when I have them.

P.S. Yes, I've checked and I am to be a judge. I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Matthew Brown remembered

Matthew Brown was a brewery established in 1875; it moved to the Lion Brewery in Blackburn in 1927. Matthew Brown produced a standard bitter and mild, which they sold under the name “Lion Ales”, advertising them as “the Pride of the North”.

In 1984 it was taken over by Theakstons of Masham, Yorkshire [see comment below], which was itself taken over by Scottish and Newcastle (S&N) in 1987. Despite repeated assurances from S&N about the future of the brewery, they closed it down early in 1991, thus confirming suspicions that they had only wanted Matthew Brown’s pubs, not the brewery. After the closure, former Matthew Brown pubs tended to stock Theakstons beers.

Southport had several Matthew Brown pubs: the Mount Pleasant, the Windmill, the Upsteps, the Railway in Ainsdale and the Park Hotel in Birkdale spring to mind, and the first three still have Lion Ales windows. The picture shows a Mount Pleasant window with attractive art deco lettering.

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Number 60 in the top 100!

I've received an e-mail from Wikio News saying that this blog has entered the Wikio UK Rankings. I've jumped straight in at 60 in the top 100 of wine and beer blogs. I'm quite surprised because I didn't think my little local blog about beer and music, mostly around the area where I live, would ever be on their radar. It's you who read ReARM who have done this ~ thanks very much.

The rankings are updated every month, so now I'm going to be on tenterhooks: will I go up or down? Or will I even drop out altogether and just be a one hit wonder?

If you want to look at the competition, just click on the Wikio badge on the right.

I'm ridiculously pleased with this, I suppose, seeing that my friend Tandleman is at number 7. Perhaps I need a "Kind Hearts And Coronets" approach to climbing this greasy pole!

Monday 20 December 2010

Winter ales

It’s the time of year when pubs begin stocking winter warmers and Christmas ales, many with witty seasonal names and novelty pump clips. I don’t mind that as it all adds to the seasonal atmosphere. The idea of brewing beers specifically for Christmas is a relatively recent one, and it’s mostly microbrewers or regional brewers who produce them. It’s harder for the large brewers to produce beers in small batches, as they’re not really set up for it.

It seems to me that some brewers simply tweak one of their normal brews and give them a seasonal name to sell as Christmas ales. These can be pleasant enough, but don’t taste particularly seasonal. Others do make special beers, either in terms of the strength and full-bodied character needed for a true winter ale, or in the flavour: at the extreme, they can taste like liquidised Christmas pudding, fine for a pint or two, but not beers you can drink all night. Spices are sometimes added to Christmas beers to give them that seasonal flavour, with cinnamon and ginger being particularly popular. Others go down the winter warmer path, producing stronger, dark beers, sweet and with a bit of body. A winter ale shouldn’t really be thin.

Winter warmers go back a long while. Beers were brewed to celebrate the winter solstice in pagan times and monasteries used to brew special beers to honour the birth of Christ, but that tends not to be the motive nowadays. The idea is that a strong dark beer warms you in winter, whereas in summer, you want to slake your thirst in the warm weather with lots of less strong, light summer ales. The first winter warmer I ever had was in the Old Ship in Eastbank Street, Southport; it was brewed in the 1980s by Walkers of Warrington, was dark, quite sweet, and around 6%. The brewery recommended serving it in halves (at 60p a half, as I recall), but we in the Old Ship were made of sterner stuff and insisted on pints. Some beers in the winter warmer style are sold all year round, such as Theakstons Old Peculier (5.6%) and Robinson’s Old Tom, which is a toe-curling 8.5%, which I once drank all afternoon and then completely lost the evening. My favourite winter ale last year came from regional brewer, Thwaites, called Good Elf and was a fairly sweet 4.9% mild with a touch of spice, very easy to drink.

It’s difficult to list these beers, because some are brewed for just one season, then the following year the brewer tries something different, but you’ll have no trouble spotting them, as there seem to be more every year. This year, our own Southport Brewery is producing Old Shrimper, which is 5.5%, rich, dark and fruity - a real winter warmer - and Santa’s Brew, 4.2%; worth keeping an eye out for them again this winter. Come on pub companies and pubs: order local beers, and reduce your carbon dray print!

It’s fun trying the various Christmas and winter ales that come out. Enjoy your Christmas and stave off the winter cold with these special beers. A pint of good winter warmer with friends in a cosy pub when it’s cold outside is a fine way to spend an evening, and the way the weather's been recently, we need them more than ever.

For a great range of winter ales, go to CAMRA's National Winter Ales Festival in Manchester from 19 to 22 January.

Saturday 18 December 2010

Days by Kirsty MacColl

Kirsty MacColl was a great singer, songwriter and interpreter of other people's songs and doubtless everyone has already overdosed on Fairytale of New York ~ a great song she recorded with the Pogues, but grossly overplayed at this time of the year, along Slade, Wizzard, Wham!, Paul McCartney et al.

I personally love her cover of the Ray Davies song, Days, so simply for that reason, here it is.

Kirsty MacColl died 10 years ago today.

Friday 17 December 2010

Voices at the Door: Midwinter Songs and Carols

The excellent Coope, Boyes & Simpson are joined by Fi Fraser, Jo Freya and Georgina Boyes for this concert of winter songs and carols at Wigan Parish Church tonight 17th December at 8.00 p.m. The church is in the centre of Wigan, just a few minutes' walk from the train stations and the bus station. Tickets are £12-50 in advance, £15 on the door.  Contact: or phone 01942 824 291.
Some good pubs in the area ~ see my Wigan pub crawl for details.

Thursday 16 December 2010

Microbrewery Planning Permission Sought in Parbold

Ken Worthington of Wigan CAMRA has sent me the following interesting piece of information:

The owners of the Wayfarer Pub and Restaurant in Alder Lane, Parbold, have applied for planning permission to convert a nearby cottage in Alder Lane into a microbrewery. They hope to produce 20 barrels a week, five for the pub and the other fifteen for sale locally. As things stand, no final decision has been made on the application yet.

Pleasing news if it comes off, especially after the launch of the new brewery in Burscough.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Burscough Brewery Launch

A view of one of the rooms
in the Hop Vine
I've had an e-mail from Kirk Harrison who tells me that the brand new Burscough Brewing Company is launching its first beers on Saturday the 18th December at 1.00 p.m. They are:
  • Priory Gold 3.8% (a pale session beer with a distinct bitterness and hoppy citrus notes).
  • Ringtail Bitter 4.2% (a triple hopped ruby ale with well balanced bitterness and fruity notes).
The new brewery is located in a cobbled courtyard to the rear of the Hop Vine pub and is housed in old stables. This is the second brewery in our area and is a welcome addition to the local real ale scene.

Finding it: the Hop Vine is on the main road through Burscough, the A59, and is a couple of hundred yards from Burscough Bridge station and about half a mile from Burscough Junction. The train journey from Southport is about 13 minutes. Postcode: L40 4BY.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Pub Crawl In Preston

This time, the pub-crawl is by bus, as the Southport to Preston train line was one of Dr Beeching’s casualties. The quickest way to get there is by the Stagecoach X2 express bus, which takes 47 minutes from Southport monument to Preston bus station. Note that the last bus back is 18-20 (18-15 Saturday and 18-05 Sunday) so this is a daytime crawl. Dave Thackeray accompanied me on this trip in early November 2010.

Dave and I were both impressed by the friendliness of the staff and other customers we chatted to in all the pubs we went into. It was a miserable day with heavy rain, but we had a good time. Too good a time, as it turned out: we had to run to catch the last bus to Southport.

The numbers refer to those on the map.

1.  The bus station, where a sign encouraged us to use the subway (see picture).

2.  The Grey Friar, 144 Friargate.
A typical open plan Wetherspoons. The Wetherspoons beer festival was in full swing, and there were 12 varied cask ales on, not local. The one we tried were in on good condition. I had the Titanic Wheat Porter, while Dave had 3 different beers in thirds.

3.  The Old Black Bull, 35 Friargate
A mock Tudor pub with a small front vault and several other drinking areas, one with a pool table. This pub is completely free of tie for cask beers. When we visited, there were 8 real ales on, not local, including Downtown German Pale Ale, Hop Star Pretty Witch, Hawkshead Windermere Pale, Phoenix, Northern and Coastal Kernow Maid.

4. Dog and Partridge, 41 Friargate
A one-room pub with a rock jukebox, popular with local rock fans. The landlord has apparently been here for 30 years. The beers were in good form, and included Holts Bitter, Adnams Bok Bier (which was very nice), Bowland Sawley Tempted, Tetley Dark Mild and Old Rosie cider. They get the beers from the SIBA list.

5.  The New Britannia, 6 Heatley Street
Just round the corner from the Dog and Partridge. This is a one-room bar with 7 ales and a cider: two beers each from Prospect, Hop Star and Fuzzy Duck (one of which was a stout), and Old Rosie.

6.  The Black Horse, 166 Friargate
A Grade II listed building, this pub has an impressive interior with tiled walls, beautiful woodwork, a mosaic floor and a very tall bar. There were seven beers from the Robinson’s range on sale. Although tied to one brewery, the beers we tried were well kept, and the pub is worth visiting for the architecture alone.

7.  The Market Tavern, 33-35 Market Street
This is a small local in a pedestrianised area by the Victorian outdoor market. They have three hand pumps, a German weisse on draught and a good range of Continental bottled beers – a good destination for those who like try something different. There are two intimate seating booths, although we stood at the bar. The beers on sale were: Green Room IPA, Tring Side Pocket and Brains Dark.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Jean's Christmas Pub Crawl

Every year, Jean Pownceby, CAMRA Liverpool Branch socialite, organises a pub crawl in Liverpool shortly before Christmas.  These are not generally for the faint-hearted, but they are for those who like to have a bit of fun ~ and sample good beers along the way, as all the pubs serve real ale. Apart from anything else, Liverpool has a great buzz in the run-up the Christmas, the streets and pubs being full of people out to have a good time as only Liverpool people can. My write-up of last year's bash is here. This year's is on the 23rd December.  Here is the route:
The Globe is a wonderful little local in the heart of the city,
just across the road from Central Station.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

It was 30 years ago today

As I'm sure everyone will know, today is the 30th anniversary of the shooting of John Lennon. It wasn't the first time our generation had lost one of its heroes; we'd also lost Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Mick Taylor, Sandy Denny, Keith Moon and Gram Parsons, just to name a few, but none had been murdered - that's why Lennon's death was such a shock. When we learned the reason, it was even worse: the killer simply wanted to be famous, to be someone. This is surely the nasty side of the coin of craving fame for its own sake, devoid of any real achievements. Compared to now, celebrity culture was in its infancy in 1980, but even then a nonentity was so desperate for fame that he decided to kill one of the most famous musicians on the planet.

I heard the news on Radio 1 just as I was about to get up to go to work. I couldn't take it in and didn't get up for another hour; I only just got to work on time. Our office at the time had a lot of staff in their teens and twenties, and Sue, who worked on the section nearest the door, said sadly as I walked in, "They'll never get back together now, will they?" Another friend - not particularly a Beatles fan - told me that when his wife said that Lennon was dead, he wasn't surprised, assuming a drug overdose, but was stunned to hear it was murder. One very young woman, a massive Beatles fan, was in uncontrollable tears and had to be sent home. And so it went on throughout the day.

It seems strange to reflect now on the impact that piece of news had, completely disproportionate when you think of the innumerable tragedies caused by wars, massacres and natural disasters since then. It must be that for many of us it was an awful end to an important and formative part of our childhood, combined with complete incomprehension as to why anyone would want to murder a Beatle.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

House arrest ends with Lion singaround

A window in the Lion Tavern
I'm not used to flu - I don't normally get such things - but a friend of mine who's a nurse says that's what my symptoms probably amount to.  In the last few days I've missed seeing UFO live in Liverpool, my folk club, a live band in a local pub, my monthly singaround in the Guest House, and I'm missing a real ale pub crawl in Liverpool today, which is taking place as I type this. I'll also miss a CAMRA meeting in the Guest House tonight.

I do feel slightly better today, and if that continues I should be able to run my singaround in the Lion in Liverpool this Thursday, my first outing - apart from a hurried trip to the supermarket - for nearly a week.

So, if you fancy performing or just listening, and drinking good beer too, meet me in the Lion, which is just by Moorfields station, on Thursday from 8.00 p.m. There are usually about eight varied cask beers on.

Monday 6 December 2010

Saving the Arts

I am deeply concerned by the consequences of the recently announced Comprehensive Spending Review for many reasons but, in terms of the remit of ReARM, by their certain assault upon the arts. Whether you're a regular arts fan of any description, an occasional gig goer, or working in the arts in the UK, the outlook is not good. For example, your council might run an arts centre and other activities under the general heading of 'arts', despite having no legal obligation to do so, because it improves the quality of life of the people living in the area, as well as helping artistes make a living. But the spending cuts are going to change this.

Arts practitioners and educators from primary schools to universities will be affected, as will galleries, studios, libraries, museums and so on:  all will be affected wherever public money (i.e. our money) is involved.

Cutting the arts is seen as a quick fix to saving money, and people often go along with the notion that they are a superfluous luxury, forgetting the consequences in terms of loss of employment in the sector and the impoverishment of our cultural life. But unless we are content to bring up a Philistine next generation for whom artistic attainments are to be passive - such as watching X Factor, or some big name band on an over hyped national tour with high prices to match - then we shouldn't accept these cuts unchallenged.

For more details, and to show your support, go the the I Value The Arts website.