Tuesday 31 July 2012

An Olympian Festival

The Great British Beer Festival, CAMRA's main festival of the year, is taking place from 7th to the 11th August. I've no idea whether being held at the same time as the Olympics will be good for business or not - I suspect the latter, but I'd like to be wrong. I've worked at the GBBF twice in Leeds in 1988 and 1989, and although it seemed massive, it was much smaller than it is now. It was held in huge former tram sheds, which were subsequently demolished and redeveloped long ago.

I went with my friends Graham Donning, now organiser of the National Winter Ales Festival, and Peter, AKA the beer blogger Tandleman. We stayed in student accommodation and spent most of the time working on pub games, which was fun, until I slipped on some spilt beer and went flying. Fortunately, nothing broken - just bruises to my thigh and ego. Pub games were very popular and we raised a lot of money. A beer festival organiser asked us whether we'd do the same at his festival. Graham and I agreed and found ourselves a few weeks later at Alfreton beer festival stuck in a dingy corner where hardly anyone noticed us, and we were bored silly; a complete waste of time.

I've never been tempted to attend the GBBF after it moved down south, and from what I can see, it looks a much slicker operation now. However, friends who do go all seem to enjoy it; I just feel it's an awfully long way to go for a pint. This year, travel to and from the festival is likely to be difficult with the Olympics hogging the transport system, but if anyone feels tempted to try to get around "over 800 different British real ales, ciders, perries, and foreign beers", here's the GBBF website - and if you go, good luck. If you don't fancy the journey, click here for details of more local beer festivals.

It will be held, appropriately enough, at Olympia, Hammersmith Road, London, W14 8UX.

Drink lands Scotland in court

In a move that will surprise few people who have followed the SNP's minimum price plans, three separate organisations are challenging the proposals in court, and at the same time one of them has lodged a complaint in Europe. According to an article in the Publican's Morning Advertiser, "Three trade bodies - the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), the European Spirits Organisation and wine association Comite Vins - have made the petition to the Scottish Court of Session, arguing that minimum pricing could break EU regulations on competition. They said that the Scottish Government has exceeded its powers by pursuing the measure.

"The SWA said it feared ‘copycat’ action by other European countries if Scotland succeeds in introducing minimum pricing, costing the Scotch whisky industry £500m in exports. Separately, the SWA has made a formal complaint about the Scottish proposals to the European Commission (EC).

"The trade group argued that minimum pricing restricts trade between member states. It also said that because wine is defined as an agricultural product, setting a minimum price is contrary to EC regulations."

The SNP is, predictably, thoroughly unrepentant and intends to squander taxpayers' money defending a completely misguided plan that will not achieve its stated aims and instead will only penalise the ordinary drinker. I've said before that politicians like simple proposals like this because they give the impression of action without doing much at all about the problems they are meant to address. The cheap option is now going to become a lot more costly as the legal profession prepares to clean up, which it will whichever way the judgment goes; but, as we know, politicians always prefer spending other people's money to losing face. I hope it's only Scottish taxpayers and not the rest of us who get stung for the bill: after all, they voted this shower in.

Saturday 28 July 2012

Summer singarounds every Sunday

The Bothy's summer season finished last Sunday with an excellent evening by Robb Johnson. He was staying at ours for the night and we went through a couple of bottles of red wine and talked until very late. The next morning, I discovered the only thing I could offer him for breakfast was black coffee and a banana, as he's a vegan. 

The Bothy doesn't stop, though. Every Sunday night we'll be running a free singaround in the same venue from tomorrow until 2 September. Why not come along and wash away the humiliation of the British team's lack of gold medals with songs and beer? That's every Sunday for the next 6 weeks, after which normal service will be resumed with the great John Kirkpatrick on the 9 September. Singers and musicians welcome, but you can also just listen if you want to.

The Bothy meets at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. Real ale from Thwaites.

Sunday 22 July 2012

Pregnancy tests before a pint?

I never thought I'd be writing a post that mentioned pregnancy testing, but I've read this story from the land where even the most lunatic of ideas have their staunch advocates - the USA. In Minnesota, an unnamed non-profit making group is stocking bars and restaurants with pregnancy kits to enable women to make sure they're not pregnant before they have a drink - the newspaper report is here and an American writer's view of the initiative here.

It's a voluntary scheme, and at the moment is just in Minnesota, but the group involved has great ideas about expansion. If it becomes more widespread in the USA, you can be sure that our anti-alcohol campaigners will begin to lobby for it in the UK. With our government's increasingly nanny-statist approach to alcohol, how certain can we be that, if it takes off voluntarily, that there isn't then pressure for it to become compulsory? This suggestion treats women like children and seems to me rather intrusive into their privacy. I wouldn't be surprised if the people behind it were mostly male, but that's just me surmising.

If it all sounds like Cloud Cuckoo Land, I never thought that legal drinkers under 21 would be required to produce ID in Britain, but in many places they are. I would have been quite annoyed when I was that age. Yes, this pregnancy test idea is unlikely to become general over here, but 'unlikely' does not mean 'impossible'.

Thursday 19 July 2012

Freshfield Hotel to reopen next Monday

The closure of the Freshfield caused local real ale drinkers some concern, especially when we heard it was to be converted to a Hungry Horse, which is primarily a food-orientated chain; I expressed the worries in a post last August here. The good news is that, whatever the status of the food, the beer range will actually be increased with 14 handpumps being installed. The pub reopens on Monday 23 July.

Steve and Simon, the new licensees, have made an offer to local CAMRA members: from 5.00 p.m. tomorrow night (Friday) the pub will be open for drinks and canapĂ©s selected from the new menu, and between 3.00 p.m. and 5.00 p.m. on Saturday 21 July, any card-carrying CAMRA member will be given a free pint courtesy of Steve and Simon. Unfortunately, I'm already booked up on both days, but they asked us to pass on the word. It's all looking quite promising.

The Freshfield Hotel is at 1 Massams Lane, Formby, L37 7BD, and is about 10 minutes' walk from Freshfield Station.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Peace & Ecology Festival, Liverpool

This free festival organised by Merseyside CND takes place this Saturday 21 July in St Brides Church, between Catharine Street and Percy Street, Liverpool 8, near the Anglican Cathedral. I've got a 30-minute spot from around 4.50 p.m. No real ale, I'm afraid, although there was wine last year. There are some good pubs not too far away in the Georgian Quarter pub crawl here, one or two of which I'll doubtless be visiting. You can click on the poster to enlarge it.

Monday 16 July 2012

Robb Johnson gig at the Bothy

Robb Johnson is a political singer-songwriter, but that description doesn't give the full flavour of the man. He is capable of invective, certainly, but he also often used humour and satire to make his points. It's not all grim-faced preaching - in fact very little of it is. A finely-tuned political awareness is the background against which he writes his well-regarded songs about a variety of issues. For instance, in 1997 he composed the song cycle Gentle Men, based on the experiences of his grandfathers in the First World War; he recorded it in collaboration with Roy Bailey, also a regular performer at the Bothy, and performed it at the commemorative Passchendaele Peace Concert.

His songs cover the whole of life, not just social and political issues. He has played at venues as diverse as picket lines and the Royal Albert Hall, and he has translated some of the songs of Jacques Brel and performed concerts celebrating his life and work. The old clichĂ© "protest singer" is too feeble and inadequate to describe Robb and his work. What others have said:

"Love songs as touching as the political material is sharp." - Red Pepper.
"One of Britain's most challenging songwriters." - The Daily Telegraph.
"His songs are incisive and clever and witty and you can sing them on your way to work work." - Boff, Chumbawamba.

Robb is playing this Sunday 22 July at the Bothy Folk Club, which meets at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. You get buy tickets on-line here. The venue sells real Thwaites Wainwright.

Thursday 12 July 2012

The Hop Vine, Burscough

One of the dining areas
(barmaid not included)
Last night we had a CAMRA meeting in the Hop Vine in Burscough. I haven't been here for a few months and it was not disappointing.  The pub is about 200 yards from Burscough Bridge station, which is on the Southport-Wigan-Manchester line, on which you can get return tickets half price in the early evening: my return ticket from Southport cost only £2.10p.

They'd kindly reserved a table of ten for us, but as around 16 turned up, several were standing. The pub is popular with diners, with waitresses dashing in and out of the kitchen at high speed. You can't help noticing that nearly all of the staff are very good looking young women - coincidence? Regardless, all the staff were helpful and friendly.

Despite the food, this is still a pub, not a restaurant with a real ale sideline, demonstrated by the fact that there were seven real ales on, of which I had four. There were three from the on-site brewery (Burscough Brewery Company), which is behind the pub: Hop Vine, Ringtail, and Mere Blonde. I know blond beers are two a penny nowadays (figuratively speaking, unfortunately), but I did like this well-balanced pint. There were two from Northumberland Brewery, Strawberry Blonde and Summer Gold, and one from Prospect, Gold Rush, which I have to say was my favourite, although all the beers I drank were fine.

Just before I left, I was chatting to one of the barmaids who said she enjoyed working there; she had begun as a waitress and after a while transferred to bar work, which she much preferred, as it can be more sociable. I don't suppose there's much chance to chat to customers when you're waiting on tables.

At the meeting, someone said that Mike, who owns the Hop Vine, is planning to open a beer shop in Ormskirk, along the lines of Southport's Inn Beer Shop, mostly with bottled beers and some cask. Lucky Ormskirk!

Monday 9 July 2012

Singing in the Lion

A quick reminder that it's my monthly acoustic night at the Lion Tavern in Moorfields this Thursday 12 July.  Free admission and you're welcome, but not obliged, to have a go yourself.  The pub always serves eight real ales and it's just across the road from Moorfields Station, Liverpool.

It begins at around 8.30p.m. and goes on until closing time.

Friday 6 July 2012

Mere Brow Mini Beer Festival

Mere Brow’s regular monthly farmers market will be hosting a mini Beer & Wine Festival on Saturday 14th July from 10am - 3pm. If the weather is good the Beer Festival will be held outdoors, otherwise inside. 

These producers will be in attendance: 
  • Burscough Brewery 
  • Harts Brewery (Preston)
  • George Wright Brewery 
  • Liverpool Organic Brewery 
  • Southport Brewery 
  • Orchard Fruit Wines (Yorkshire,) - Yorkshire wines, ciders, sloe gin and vodka. 
  • The Punch Brew Co - non-alcoholic herbal fruit punches.
  • A Home Brew stand, demonstrations making home brew and giving tastings of brewed ale.
All the producers will be giving tasters/samples to drink and will be selling their beverages in bottles and containers for take away only.

The Village Hall Runners Plat bar will be open to give tasters of Wainwrights and 13 Guns American IPA, but if you’ve got a real thirst, they’ll also be selling the beers in normal measures.

P.S. (12 July) - I'll be staffing the CAMRA stall there - come and say hello if you're around.

Thursday 5 July 2012

Scottish bans will apply on English roads

I wrote on 21 June about my enquiry to the Department for Transport (you'll find it here) asking whether a driving ban in Scotland because of (say) 65mg (illegal in Scotland, but not in the rest of the UK) would apply in England, even though you had not broken any drink-drive laws that apply in England.  I've just been sent this reply:

"Thank you for your email dated 02 June enquiring about Scottish drink driving ban. You are correct in your assumption. If a driver gets banned in Scotland owing to lower drink drive limit than [sic] that ban will also be applicable in rest of the UK.

"This is because the drink drive limit have been devolved to Scotland but power to change penalties cannot be devolved. It is not unusual or unconstitutional, for example it will be the same if Northern Ireland lowers its drink drive limit."

I don't regard that as satisfactory but at least we know the definitive answer, so best take extra care if you're driving in Scotland once this new limit comes into force.

Tuesday 3 July 2012

Formby Live

I've only just heard about Formby Live, a music festival in various venues in Formby this week. Their website says: "Formby's very own music festival, is now in it's 4th year and will be bigger and better than ever before!  With the main events taking place over the weekend of 6th to 8th July, there will be performances from national, and local artists in venues throughout the Village culminating in a full day of music. On Sunday, 8th of July, there will be a full programme of great entertainment at Formby Pool where The Merseycats will again be putting on a Rock 'n' Roll extravaganza throughout the day".

Funny how something can be planned so close to home, and yet not hear about it.

The Sandgrounder Bar, Lord Street

Stocking Sandgrounder handily
gives the bar an instant house beer
I recently went into the new Sandgrounder Bar on Lord Street. It's in what used to be Yates's Wine Lodge, which later became the Slug and Lettuce (which I trust wasn't a menu item).

It's a sports bar with big screen televisions all over the place, but when I called, no major matches were on, so the sound was muted and there was background music instead. The place has been decorated in a pleasant, unfussy style that I'd be happy to sit in if it weren't for the TVs. I tend to find sport in pubs really irritating, not just because the TVs are usually turned up too loud, but because of the ridiculous behaviour of those watching who haven't grasped the one-way nature of TV sound. Shouting at a referee on TV is about as pointless as shouting at a traffic light.

Two real ales were on from Southport Brewery: Sandgrounder and Golden Sands, both on sale at £2.20 a pint. I had Golden Sands and as it was a lovely day I took it outside to drink under the canopy on Lord Street where there is outdoor seating. The beer was nicely cool and was well-kept, and soon began to exude that hoppy fragrance that the sun seems to bring out of real ale.

When I got my second pint, I had a chat and learnt that they hope to expand their range of real ales to four soon, but at present they are testing the water, as it were, with two, which seems sensible. I can see that this will be a popular bar - not everyone shares my views about sports on pubs - and choosing Southport beers to start with is a good move, as local beers always attract attention.

I hope this bar succeeds, and will call in again if I'm in the area when there isn't a big match on.