Tuesday 28 February 2012

CAMRA magazine and new branch name

It was the CAMRA AGM last Wednesday, held in the Southport and Birkdale Cricket Club.  Regrettably, the Thwaites real ale was distinctly under par, so I was glad I'd decided to drive:  it wouldn't have been worth making the awkward bus journey from where I live.

It was agreed that I should continue editing our local CAMRA magazine, Ale & Hearty, and everyone seemed encouraged that the Spring issue is now at the printers, seeing that the last two had fallen through, which I've written about previously.  To complete this issue, I had worked on it from Tuesday afternoon through the night until Wednesday evening with a couple of breaks.  I was knackered, but at least I got it finished.

The piece of news at the AGM that I welcomed concerned the Branch's name.  The old West Lancs Branch has renamed itself Central Lancs, and because we have taken on much of West Lancs over the years, we are now Southport & West Lancs Branch instead of Southport and District.  I'm also hoping it means that our existing West Lancs members and pubs feel better represented, especially as the new name will appear on Ale & Hearty from now on.  What's in a name?  They can be quite important, in my view.

Now all I need to think about is the summer edition.

Fraser Nimmo at the Bothy

Fraser Nimmo is a Scottish singer, songwriter and actor who combines traditional songs with his own material.  His songs cover a wide range of human experience and are delivered with commitment on guitar and banjo. Although a serious songwriter, he treats his own material with the same conviction that he brings to music from the Scottish tradition, believing both music forms to be interrelated and complementary.

"The best in serious songwriting treated in the Scottish way - a touch of humour, a touch of class." - Folk On Tap.

He's on at the Bothy Folk Club at 8.00 p.m.this Sunday 4 March.  The venue is the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS, which sells Thwaites Wainwright real ale.  You can buy tickets on-line here.

Saturday 25 February 2012

Wigan Beer Festival, 1 - 3 March ~ beer list

Robin Park Indoor Sports Centre, 
Loire Drive, Wigan, WN5 0UH.
For details of opening hours, prices*, and the CAMRA bus service between the town centre and the festival, see the website.
* CAMRA members get in free at all times; bring your membership card.
I enjoy this festival so much that I'll be working there throughout. Here's a link to the final beer list, which should help you build up that necessary thirst ...

St David's Day

Each year, the Baron's Bar celebrates St David's Day.  St David (Dewi Sant in Welsh) is of course the patron saint of Wales.  The celebrations will include:  the Southport Swords, our local Longsword and Morris side; the Argarmeles Clog, our local clog dancing team; a quiz; Welsh cake; and eight real ales, which usually includes some Welsh beers for this occasion.

This will all take place in the evening of Tuesday 28 February in the Baron's Bar (in the Scarisbrick Hotel), Lord Street, Southport.  It's free admission and open to all, even if you're not Welsh.

St David's Day is actually on 1 March; this date was chosen to fit in with the availability of the dance teams.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Poll taxing the beer drinker

At the CAMRA national AGM in Cardiff in 2008, I went to a discussion group about the neo-prohibitionists.  Who?  The people who, flushed by their success in getting the smoking ban through, then decided to turn their attention to alcohol.  They wish to contain and restrict the sale of alcohol so that consumption is brought down to a level they approve of, which in some cases is nil.  Why do they wish to do this?  They give several reasons:
  • Our health.
  • Cost to the NHS of treating alcohol-related disorders.
  • Public disorder.
  • Cost of policing.
  • Effect on the economy of sick days lost to drinking.
  • Cost of benefits paid to alcoholics not well enough to work.
These are considerations that cannot be ignored, so what imaginative approaches are being brought to bear on the problem?  Er, none at all.  The only tools the government is prepared to use are tax, pricing and fines.

Tax:  British beer tax accounts for 40% of the entire European beer tax bill, even though the UK accounts for only 13% of EU beer consumption (EU figures).  Our beer is taxed on an escalator whereby the tax increases at more than inflation, which is a particular burden when most people are getting below inflation pay rises, pay freezes or even cuts.  Plus all those who are losing their jobs.

Minimum pricing:  Scotland is trying to bring in a minimum price per unit, and the Coalition is looking at something similar.  There may be problems with EU law, but they are looking for ways around that.

The trouble with both tax and minimum pricing as methods of control is that they are in effect a poll tax, whereby everyone pays the same no matter what income you have.  On other words, the poorer you are, the harder these measures will hit.  Conversely, they will make little difference to the pleasures of the rich.  There seems no logic to me in bringing measures that have less effect on you the more money you have.  Our Cabinet consists mostly of millionaires whose pleasures - and whose children’s pleasures - will not be restricted by the price rationing that they are imposing upon everyone else.  But the double standards don’t end there.  Several prominent politicians, including the Prime Minister and the Mayor of London, belonged to the Bullingdon Club at Oxford University.  This is a dining club in which members not only go out for meals, but they also get very drunk and smash up the restaurant.  The damage is always covered by daddy’s cheque book, but even so, they often have to make their bookings under an assumed name, as many restaurants don’t welcome the ensuing mayhem.  The message that sends to me is that rich hooliganism is fine, but if your parents don't have a big cheque book, we'll come down on you like a ton of bricks.  The Bullingdon Club is merely the best known - not the only - example of such wealthy misbehaviour, but in my book, no hooliganism is acceptable.

Fines:  mostly imposed on licensees for breaches of law relating under-age drinking.  Under age drinkers used to go into a pub and behave themselves because they knew that if they didn’t, they’d draw attention to themselves and get thrown out.  So now they get cheap supermarket booze and drink at each other’s homes or in the park, and it’s not ordinary beer:  it’s strong cider, lager or cheap vodka.  And in an unsupervised environment, they don’t learn how to behave when drinking.  The consequence is that binge drinking develops at an early age without social controls, resulting in bad behaviour.  So the rigid enforcement of a law to prevent under age drinking has probably had quite the opposite effect.

Contrary to the propaganda, alcohol consumption in the UK has been in slow decline for a long time.  By concentrating on price, tax and fines to deal with the problems that undoubtedly do exist, the government has gone for the cheap, easy option.  Education about alcohol would be more effective, but would cost a lot more money.

As for disorder, we all know that there are problems with people falling out of pubs, throwing up in the streets, creating noise and getting into fights.  Or do we?  I’m a regular pub goer, but it’s so long since I’ve seen bad behaviour that I can’t remember when the last time was.  In Southport at weekends, the number of people drinking in pubs, social clubs, night clubs, bars, restaurants and hotels will be in the thousands at least, if not more.  Nearly all of these people behave themselves, and the troublemakers are a tiny percentage.  I don’t dismiss the impact they have, but the measures the government favours punishes the many for the bad behaviour of the few, while at the same time leaving wealthier people largely untouched.  This is inherently unfair, and it is having a bad impact upon pubs now:  pubs are closing down every week as more and more people find they cannot afford the prices and as a result either cut back or stop going altogether.

What about the real alcoholics?  Will price rationing deter them?  I’ve known a few over the years and, in the worse stages, they ignore everything in their lives except drink.  They don’t eat properly, don’t pay their bills, and don’t replace their clothes, which can end up in tatters:  most of their money goes on drink.  If the price goes up, they will simply cut back even further on everything else.  Price rationing will not do anything except make their situation even worse.

You may have noticed the recent heightening of the government's rhetoric and the intense media attention on Britain's "problem drinking culture".  This is simply to smooth the way for their only solution:  further rises in the next budget in March.  MPs love to say they support the pub, but most of them won't challenge the government's tax policies that are closing pubs week after week.  They won't risk the accusation of being soft on crime and disorder, so despite the damage that they know tax rises are doing to the pub industry, they'll still nod them through and perpetuate a failing policy.  Government policy on alcohol misuse is a mess that will resolve nothing.  Stern ministerial words may win rounds of applause at conferences and on BBC Question Time, but won’t amount to much, except to deprive the majority of ordinary, well-behaved drinkers of a simple, sociable pleasure.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Music at the Mount Pleasant

I have been reminded by Jo, who runs the Mount Pleasant in Southport, that they have live bands every Saturday.  I have reported on these before, but inconsistently; I'll try to do better.  The Mount is a large suburban pub with a nice little conservatory to the side, a separate bar, and a function rooms upstairs where I have been to a few music nights, performing myself occasionally.

The pub used to be run by Matthew Brown, a Backburn brewery that was taken over by Scottish and Newcastle in 1987.  I remember walking into the Mount one evening when the conservatory was being officially opened to be presented with a glass of wine by the brewery beauty queen, Miss Matthew Brown, who was well deserving of her title.  A bit later I wandered on to the Guest House where I was given a free pint to celebrate the pub's redecoration, although after that my run of free booze ran out.  Matthew Brown beers were called Lion Ales, named after the brewery, and the old Lion Ales windows are still there.

Tonight the band is the Re-sessions, who will be playing downstairs from 9.00 p.m.  The Mount serves real Tetley Bitter. Join 'em.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Tour of West Lancs Pubs ~ Part 2

As I wrote last month, CAMRA Southport & District Branch covers most of West Lancs, much of which isn't easy to get to by public transport.  To ensure the pubs aren't neglected for the Good Beer Guide, we visit them by coach.  This is the second such trip this year (you can read about the first here).

1. The Martin Inn, Burscough:  our first port of call was almost empty when we arrived.  After a year's closure, this pub was reopened in 2010, having been refurbished in a rustic theme with a real fire that was already lit when we arrived.  It is a food pub, and I noticed there were reasonably priced Sunday meals available.  The beers were:
  • Dent Aviator.
  • Martin Inn - Barney's Brew.
The Aviator was lacklustre - unusual, compared to my previous visits to this pub - but the Barney's Brew was in good condition.  I don't know who brews it for them, although the young barman tried to blag us that it was brewed on the premises.

2. Farmers Arms, Burscough: a pleasant canalside pub with two fires, and a couple of enormous swans just outside.  Food is important here too. The beers were:
  • Moorhouses Pride of Pendle.
  • Black Sheep Bitter.
  • Tetley Bitter.
  • Tetley Mild.
3. The Hop Vine, Burscough: a pub in the heart of Burscough with a brewery attached:  Burscough Brewery is in outhouses at the back.  Nicely refurbished from the dump that used to be the Royal Coaching Houses, this pub is noted for its food.  The beers being served were:
  • Burscough Mere Blonde.
  • Burscough Hop Vine.
  • Burscough Ringtail.
  • Phoenix Pale Moonlight.
  • Titanic Anchor.
  • George Wright Cheeky Pheasant.
  • Thwaites Wainwright.
4. The Ship (Blood Tub), Lathom:  this is another canalside pub with food and a real fire, and it has a lot of character.  A few years ago, I arranged a social afternoon here with union friends from Manchester and Merseyside.  Having extolled the delights of this canalside pub, I found on the day that the banks had burst, so my visitors could only gaze on a deep muddy ditch.
  • Thwaites Original.
  • Cross Bay Dusk Ruby Bitter.
  • Cross Bay Winter Moon. Prospect Venus Gold.
  • Moorhouses Pendlewitches Brew.
  • Moorhouses Ship Special.
5. The Blue Mallard, Burscough:  a restaurant located at Burscough Wharf, a canalside development in the town centre. I didn't get there on this trip, but I was told it was selling:
  • Lancaster Blonde.
This was on when I called in there a few months ago. Price: £2.80 a pint, and £1.65 a half.

6.  The Bridge, Burscough:  another one I didn't visit.  It was selling:
  • Moorhouses Pride of Pendle.
  • Black Sheep Bitter.
7. Ring O' Bells, Lathom:  this canalside pub has been nicely refurbished after a period of closure. It is also a food pub. An interesting range of beers was available:
  • Thwaites Nutty Black.
  • Thwaites Original.
  • Prospect Panned Out.
  • Liverpool Organic 24 Carat Gold.
  • George Wright Blonde Moment.
8. Hesketh Arms, Rufford:  a large food-oriented pub on the main road from Ormskirk to Preston (the A59).
  • Moorhouses Pride of Pendle.
  • Tetley Bitter.
  • Jennings Cumberland.
  • Lancaster Straw.
  • Phoenix Pale Moonlight.
9. Cock & Bottle, Tarleton:  a large ex-GBG pub in the centre of the village, again food-oriented.  Real fire.  The range was from Thwaites, and it was the dearest beer on the trip, with Wainwright at £3.15 a pint.
  • Thwaites Original.
  • Thwaites Wainwright.
  • Thwaites Nutty Black.
10. The Village Inn, Tarleton:  a few minutes' walk from the Cock & Bottle, this pub was serving food and had a real fire.  A pleasant final destination for our tour.
  • Wells Bombardier.
  • Holts Bitter.
  • Marston's Pedigree.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Frustrated smoker exacts chainsaw revenge

"A 24-year-old man has been jailed for three years after pleading guilty to attacking customers in a Hull pub with a chainsaw.  Dean Dinnen launched the assault at the Endyke public house, north Hull in August 2011, after being thrown out for smoking on the premises.  He was overpowered by customers, one of whom received injuries to his arm during the incident.  Dinnen was later arrested by armed police officers."  From BBC News.  You can see the full story and CCTV pictures here that clearly show terrified pub-goers fleeing for their lives.  The injured man had to undergo surgery for repairs to muscles and tendons and had 21 stitches.  In view of the seriousness of the attack, a three-year sentence seems rather lenient to me.

This extreme overreaction to being told not to smoke smacks to me of the selfish attitude of entitlement that I occasionally used to come across in my former day job - "I have a right to this" (regardless of whatever anyone else thinks, and irrespective of the law) - and refusing the supposed entitlement sometimes led to violent threats, although they were rarely carried out.  It is disturbing that there are those among us who will try to exact such serious and potentially lethal revenge for nothing more than being told to leave a pub after refusing to put out a cigarette.  The only encouraging aspect of this story is the number of ordinary people who, as you can see in the video, tackled this maniac to stop him causing further injuries or damage.

Friday 10 February 2012

Kevin pipped at the post!

Kevin (far right) and partner Caroline with Clive Pownceby
(Bothy organiser) and partner Jean (far left) all looking well
refreshed at the awards ceremony. (Picture: Derek Schofield)
On 18 November I told you that a song written by Kevin Littlewood, local singer-songwriter and resident at the Bothy Folk Club, had reached the finals of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.  His song, On Morecambe Bay about the 23 Chinese cockle pickers who drowned in 2004, had been picked up by Irish singer Christie Moore, a founder member of Planxty and Moving Hearts, and it was his version that brought the song to prominence.  Click here to read my previous post which says more about the song and to watch both versions of it.

On Wednesday 8 February at an event that will probably be described as "glittering", the awards were announced at the Lowry in Salford, and unfortunately Kevin's song lost out to The Herring Girl by Bella Hardy and The Reckoning by Steve Tilston as joint winners.  I have seen both of these singers, Steve many times, and both are excellent performers, although I'm not certain whether I've heard these particular songs.  However, commiserations to Kevin, but in my view, getting to the finals is a remarkable achievement in itself.  We in the local folk scene are very proud that one of ours did so well.  If you want to know all the award winners, click here.

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Whingeing in the House

In view of the recent kerfuffle about Slater's Top Totty in the Houses of Parliament, if I were an MP, I'd be inclined to propose this beer for a laugh:  George Wright's Whingers Bitter.  It was on in the Guest House the other night when we had our singaround there, and when I ordered it by name, the barman said "No surprises there!"  I found it pleasant enough, a little pale for a bitter, but not as distinctive as other beers from George Wright, and on the night I ended up with Three B's Doff Cocker, perhaps another name that may raise a few of our legislators' eyebrows (although Doffcocker is actually a place name).

So if any MPs read this blog, here's your next nomination for the Strangers Bar.

Tuesday 7 February 2012

ReARM Readers Offer ~ Wigan Beer Festival

The Wigan Beer Festival is becoming one of the main festivals in the North West.  It takes place this year from Thursday 1st to Saturday 3rd March in the Robin Park Indoor Sports Centre, Loire Drive, Wigan, WN5 0UH.  Full details on the Branch website here.  CAMRA members get in free throughout the festival, but once again, readers of this blog who aren't members can also get on free on Thursday evening with the leaflet below - just click on it, print it off and present it to the door staff at the festival to get free entry.  I'll be working at most of the festival, so I might see you there.

Right click on leaflet.
Select "open link in new window".

Monday 6 February 2012

New folk club in Liverpool

I learnt at the Bothy last night about a new folk club in Liverpool.  It's at the Cornmarket in Old Ropery, which is off Fenwick Street and Brunswick Street.  It will meet on the first Tuesday evening of the month, so it will be on tomorrow evening.  The Cornmarket is a real ale pub, although it's a while since I've been in there so I don't know what beers are on.

Map adapted from one by Dennis Jones, Merseyside CAMRA.  Used with permission.

Saturday 4 February 2012

A bitter row in Parliament

I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later that someone in Parliament would object to a beer with a jokey name.  Labour MP Kate Green took exception to Slaters Top Totty and it was taken off within an hour and a half.  As I'm sure most people reading this know, the pump clip shows a drawing of a young woman in a bikini and bunny ears holding a tray of beers.

The issue has fallen into entirely predictable lines with accusations of sexism and demeaning women on one hand and humourlessness on the other, and I've no intention of rehashing it here.  Personally, I'm not too concerned about this name, although there have been one or two names over the years that I disliked.  Not all women find such names offensive - one of my female friends delights in ordering Top Totty when it's on at our local, and Tory MP Tracey Crouch twittered "Why is a beer called Top Totty offensive & now banned from Commons? Not as if it is called Middle-Ranking Totty" - but I think we have to accept that some women do.  It's no good throwing around accusations of humourlessness, which isn't actually true anyway as we all have different ideas of what's funny.

I don't think it's sensible to call beers by names that reinforce a laddish stereotype in the manner of a 1970s Tetley Bitter advert.  Women are 50% of the population, and choosing names that might be seen as sexist will deter some potential female customers, not just for those particular beers, but perhaps for beer in general; this can't be good business sense, irrespective of whether you think they have had a humour bypass. In this case, though, I'm sure Slaters are loving all the publicity of being banned by Parliament.

The only thing about this whole business I don't understand is why, instead of taking the beer off, they didn't simply remove the pump clip and replace it with a post-it note saying "Slaters 4%".

Thursday 2 February 2012

Ship In A Bottle

I'd heard some murmurings for a while about "the shop" in relation to the excellent Ship and Mitre in Dale Street, Liverpool - now I know what they were all about:  Ben Garner, the licensee of the pub, has opened a bottled beer shop in Liverpool called - rather neatly, I think - Ship In A Bottle.  Describing itself modestly as a "bespoke off-licence unlike any other you will find in the City", it is currently selling 250 different beers from around the world (including some from Britain) and 28 bottled ciders.  The website is still being developed, but you can see loads of pictures of what they're selling here.  Southport has had the similar Inn Beer Shop for a couple of years now, and its success in a much smaller town suggests that there should be a market in Liverpool for this venture to succeed.

You'll find it at 45A Whitechapel, L1 6DT, close to the junction with Sir Thomas Street, and it's open seven days a week.

Map adapted from one by Dennis Jones, Merseyside CAMRA.  Used with permission.