Tuesday 30 April 2013

Ship Beer Festival to carry over to next weekend

The Ship, seen from a canal boat
The Ship Inn in Haskayne is planning to carry over its beer festival to the coming weekend, 3 to 5 May. The Ship is one of our local canalside pubs; we are fortunate in having several good ones in the area. This festival scores over others in that the beers are all stored in the cellar, which is closer to the area used for the festival than pub's own bar. This means that, whatever the weather, the beers should be nicely cellar cool.

I shall be catching the bus out there at some point. The Ship Inn is at 6, Rosemary Lane, Haskayne, Ormskirk, Lancashire, L39 7JP.

Monday 29 April 2013

Nels Andrews with Good Intentions

This Wednesday 1 May, Grateful Fred's in Formby is presenting Nels Andrews who's from Santa Cruz, California. This is what they're saying:

l "Strikingly intimate album that combines deft storytelling with a warmth of tone and gentleness of pace ... awash with layers, metaphors and echoes woven into subtle, contemplative contemporary song. Like finding a seashell at the back of a dusty cupboard, putting it to your ear and hearing the ocean." - Folk Radio UK.
l "A true wellspring of 21st century music." - Album of the week, Iain Anderson, BBC Scotland.
l (4/5 stars) - The London Telegraph, UK.
The Good Intentions' new album

In support are South Liverpool Americana group, The Good Intentions, who play mostly original compositions and whose albums are receiving good reviews. They were awarded the Best Americana Act of the Year at the British Country Music Awards in 2011. I have seen them several times and have thoroughly enjoyed what they do.

You can see both acts at the British Legion, Whitehouse Lane, Formby, L37 3LT, which has a bar but no real ale. Tickets are £7.50 and you can buy them here.

The London to be demolished

The London Hotel, Southport
Closer to home than my previous post, Sefton Council, which covers Southport, has agreed that the London Hotel in Windsor Road can be demolished to make way for a housing development. I wrote about the rumours concerning the pub's future in December last year, and followed that by contacting the owners, Barnsley Brewery. They were reluctant to reply and I had to send reminders before I received any kind of admission that the pub's future was in doubt. They admitted planning permission had been applied for but still claimed they wanted it to continue as a pub, but I'm not convinced. The local branch of CAMRA has opposed the closure by attending the planning meeting to see objections lodged and by press releases that have prompted one or two letters from the public, but it's now a foregone conclusion.

In January last year I explained how the term "community pub" applied to the London, with various teams using it as a base, and it also providing entertainment for its customers. It wasn't helped by a lack of investment - it badly needed redecoration - and weird opening hours such as, for example, closing at 10 pm on Wednesdays. With the town centre pubs only 10 or 15 minutes' walk away, you can't do silly things like that, but the tenant told me that it was a brewery decision, not his own.

I'm not convinced this pub had to close; there are pubs elsewhere in Southport a similar distance from the town centre that are doing well, and the London has the advantage of no competition in the immediate vicinity. It is the only local outlet for Oakwell Brewery, and its beers have always been extremely reasonably priced. I consider that it has been in a state of managed decline until it became uneconomical, thus justifying closure and clearing the way for a windfall from the sale of the site.

The pub, which was opened in 1866, will close on 1 May.

Picture 'borrowed' from CAMRA Southport & West Lancs Facebook page.

Sunday 28 April 2013

The true face of pubco greed

The Caledonia, Liverpool
The Caledonia on Catharine Street, Liverpool, has been sold by its owners, the pub company Admiral Taverns, to a property developer who has given the licensee, Laura King, 28 days' notice to quit. Neither she nor her staff had any idea that the pub was up for sale; it was surreptitiously done behind their backs. She will be jobless and homeless and seven staff will also be out of work. The Caledonia is a successful real ale pub that has also a place in the local live music scene; it was "short listed for Live Music venue of the year at the 2012 Liverpool Music Awards and has become the home of Liverpool's vibrant Americana and bluegrass scene." (Liverpool Confidential) In fact Laura has turned the pub around in three years from a failing pub full of "drug takers and scallies" (in her words) to the successful and popular local it is today. It's a pub I like to visit when I'm in that part of the city.

So why it it being sold? Simply because its owners were made "an offer that couldn't be refused". It is not entirely clear who the buyers are, but it seems certain that they don't intend to keep it open as a pub. The pubco's website states: "Admiral Taverns understands that developing great business partnerships with our licensees is the only way to build success. We recognise that our pubs will only thrive and prosper in their communities if we attract passionate people to run them, and then give them all the support they need to maximise their success." And then, once they have maximised their success, chuck them out with 28 days' notice as long as the price is right: 30 pieces of silver, I expect. Laura, who is 28, said, "It's such a shame as a young person who's built up a business which is now in profit for the first time in a long time, to have all that taken away.” 

There can be no mistake here: this pub is not closing because it's failing, or because of supermarket prices, the smoking ban, or any other of the usual reasons given. It is closing because of pubco greed, pure and simple. The sick joke here is that on its website, Admiral Taverns boasted in March that it had been awarded Pub Company of the Year at the Publican Awards, which are hosted by the main pub trade magazine, the Morning Advertiser. While they were raising glasses to celebrate their award, they were cheerfully negotiating the destruction of one their own pubs.

More details in Liverpool Confidential here.

P.S. (30 April): further news on this story in the Liverpool Echo.

P.P.S. (4 May): save the pub website and petition here.

Saturday 27 April 2013

Norwich AGM ~ the pubs

The Fat Cat
I knew very little about Norwich before the CAMRA AGM: the insurance company formerly known as Norwich Union, Colman's Mustard and that's it. It is a very picturesque city with a mediaeval castle and cathedral, winding streets, and lots of excellent pubs, causing it to be described as (if you're from CAMRA Liverpool Branch, look away now) the City of Ale. I visited 14 pubs during my stay, along with the temporary members bar for the AGM, which is less than 10% of the total of real ale pubs in the city. I'll describe just a few.

The Fat Cat, 49 West End Street, was by far my favourite, and I went there twice: once with Ken and Carol and once with Graham and Peter. It is compact and cosy pub with many interesting pieces of brewery memorabilia on the walls, and a choice of up to 30 real ales, many on handpump and many others on gravity. I tried beers from the Fat Cat Brewery: the bitter (3.8%) was a very pleasant golden beer, and at £2.40 a pint, very reasonable for Norwich. Fat Cat Honey (4.3%) and IPA (6.4%) were also very good. The pub also has plenty of guest beers, and I discovered I'm no longer particularly keen on Kelham Island beer (I had Pale Rider, 5.2%), which was clearly outshone by the house beers. Crouch Vale Yakima Gold (4.2%) won praise from all of us (Graham, Peter and me). We drew attention to ourselves by a hearty rendition of Bandiera Rossa; I noticed the line "every propeller is turning in defence of the USSR" turned a few heads, but we decided to call it a day before we got thrown out.

The Ribs of Beef
The Ribs of Beef, 24 Wensum Street, is a pleasant, comfortable old riverside pub. We sat for a while on its small terrace which overlooks the River Wensum. I particularly enjoyed the Woodforde's Bure (sic) Gold (4.3%) and the Oakham Ales Scarlet Macaw (4.4%).

The Murderers, 2-8 Timber Hill, is properly known as the Gardeners Arms, but got its nickname after a landlord was convicted of murdering his wife in the 19th century. A genuine old world pub with nooks and crannies and several real ales; I had something that the pumpclip described as Heritage Imperial Ale (5.2%). I was only after closing time that I noticed they had a small beer festival on the go. The friendly bar staff agreed it wasn't well signposted.

Ketts Tavern, 29 Ketts Hill, has a large beamed pub, a garden and a combined pool room and conservatory. It was the first pub I went into after parking my car for the weekend, and is one of two outlets for the Norwich Bear Brewery; I had their NPA (Norwich Pale Ale) 4.1%, which I found to be pleasant.

The Kings Head
The Kings Head, 42 Magdalen Street, proudly boasts outside that it "a keg free house", so I asked whether that meant it was a house free of keg, or a free house with keg; they hadn't realised the ambiguity. I suggested a hyphen in "keg free", but they probably won't bother. There's no ambiguity when you get in as the pub has no keg beers at all, not even Guinness. It has 14 handpumps; I enjoyed a couple of pints of Woodforde's Nelson's Revenge (4.5%). The rear room has a bar billiards table, which is rare enough nowadays, but it had four pins instead of the three I've seen previously; it must be a local variant of the game.

The Reindeer, 10 Dereham Road, is a large one-roomed, food-based pub serving a selection of real ales. We had the Oakham Citra (4.2%), and all agreed it was a fine beer on excellent form.

The Earlham Arms, 41 Earlham Road, a large pub-restaurant, obviously recently refurbished, with several real ales on. The first pint we had was flat as a pancake, so Peter took them back and obtained replacements. The young woman in charge invited him to see the cellars, and she won Peters' approval by her standards cellarmanship and of cleanliness, although her looks probably helped too. She was very keen to show us (apparently) knowledgeable drinkers that she did keep the beer well, and different pints began to appear for our approval. All were fine, so the first one must have been flat from the brewery, as can happen. Kiwi Norfolk 3.8% was the beer initially flat, but was fine from a different cask; she was anxious to show us it can be all right, especially as it's brewed by the boss's wife. I also had a Humpty Dumpty Reedham Gold (3.6%), and tasters of several others.

Coach and Horses
The Coach and Horses, 82 Thorpe Road, is home to the Chalk Hill Brewery. I went there with Ken and Carol for a meal and a couple of beers. The food was fine, although Ken's was late as they'd missed it off the order. Ken and I had pints of Chalk Hill Brewery Tap (3.6%) which neither of us liked particularly; it seemed to have an unpleasant burnt flavour. The beers have won awards, so perhaps it's only a matter of personal preference.

The Fat Cat and Canary, 101 Thorpe Road, is another outlet for Fat Cat ales. A nice pub, it has a similar decor to the Fat Cat, with five handpumps and up to a dozen beers and real ciders on gravity in the tap room. I enjoyed my pints of Fat Cat Wild Cat (5%) and Dark Star APA (4.7%). This pub was very welcome after the disappointment of the previous pub, and was our last pub before we departed from Norwich the next morning.

There were several other pubs I went to, but these are the ones that have stuck in my mind. It's not a "best of" list, as there was a random element to our choice of pubs, but I hope it gives some idea of the range of great pubs in Norwich. Definitely worth a visit.

Thursday 25 April 2013

CAMRA AGM ~ not just 'the beards club' after all

St Andrews Hall ~ AGM venue
I was at the CAMRA AGM in Norwich last weekend, which took place in the wonderful, if slightly overcrowded, old St Andrews Hall near the city centre. Most of the motions were routine and not especially controversial, but there were two issues that did get debate going: minimum pricing of alcohol and the craft keg issue.

Minimum pricing: the motion that CAMRA was on the wrong side in the minimum pricing debate was proposed by Peter Alexander and seconded by Graham Donning. Peter's main argument was that minimum pricing will not put a single extra bum on a pub seat, and thus was not relevant to CAMRA. He also pointed out that supporting minimum pricing made us unwilling allies of the anti-alcohol campaigners who are certainly no friends to beer drinkers. In his right of reply, Peter quoted a man who knows how to get people into pubs, Tim Martin, who has described minimum pricing as 'bollocks'. There was fierce opposition, both from the floor and from the leadership, but in the end the AGM voted to withdraw CAMRA's support for minimum pricing, a victory for common sense.

There were two motions on craft keg. The first stated that terms such as craft keg, craft beer, craft ale, etc, were meaningless and should not be used in CAMRA publications, local and national. If anyone felt they needed to use such terms, they had to put them in inverted commas and put the word sic after the term. My view of this is quite simple: dictating what words we can and cannot use is control freakery. I'm glad to say this motion was clearly rejected, as was a motion calling for CAMRA to run a campaign to educate CAMRA members and the public about the difference between real ale and what it termed "so-called craft", a dismissive description in three words. As part of the debate, Colin Valentine said several times that CAMRA is the Campaign FOR Real Ale, not the campaign against anything - including craft keg. This theme was taken up by other speakers in several debates.

I am very pleased that the Campaign has taken sensible decisions on two themes that I covered on this blog many times: not supporting minimum pricing and not taking a position of opposition to craft keg. This proves what I've always asserted: CAMRA is about choice, which means we have to accept it when people choose drinks that aren't real ale. My view is that our stance should be: "This real ale is good - why don't you try it?" and not: "Why are you drinking that rubbish?" People who write about 'zombeers' and 'chemical fizz', please note.

There are some great pubs in Norwich - I think I'll write about some of them them in a separate post.

Thursday 18 April 2013

Red v. Blue

As regular readers will know, my political opinions are a matter between me and the ballot box. To prove this, I am presenting two ideologically opposed events for your delectation.

In the red corner:

Radical folk club, the Woody Guthrie Folk Club, is holding a "Margaret Hilda Thatcher Commemorative Special" evening on Thursday 25 April. As the website states: "This month's Woody Guthrie Folk Club will be dedicated to a commemoration of the life and times of Margaret Hilda Thatcher. Please bring songs from her era. It will of course be suitably solemn and respectful. YEAH RIGHT! Bring songs of celebration and a variety of instruments. Sing song and knees up!!"

It takes place upstairs in the Ship & Mitre, Dale Street, Liverpool from 8.00pm. The pub usually has 10 real ales on. You can buy tickets for the evening here.

In the blue corner:

The Rotary Club is holding its now annual Royal Beer Festival, first held two years ago to mark the wedding of a member of the Windsor family. It is being held at the Mere Brow Village Hall, 65 The Gravel, Mere Brow, near Southport, PR4 6JX. It opens at 4.00pm on Friday 3 May and is open all day on Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th. Admission is £5, which includes a souvenir glass and a programme. Tickets from the festival website, where you'll also find full details of the event, or on the door. 

Last year the festival raised nearly £4000 which helped to buy advanced heart treatment equipment for Southport Infirmary through the Heart of Southport Appeal; an excellent achievement.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Osborne's U-turn on pub companies?

The Business Secretary, Vince Cable, raised the hopes of pub tenants earlier this year when he expressed a determination to reform the pub industry. No less than four select committees had found that pub tenants were badly treated as a matter of routine by pubcos who were - I won't mince words - ripping them off good style, as I have reported several times previously. As self regulation was deemed to have failed tenants, Cable told the Commons that a statutory code was required, and this announcement was welcomed on all sides of the House.

The Chancellor, George Osborne, has decided to intervene in the issue: as he is wary of introducing what he sees as unnecessary burdens on business, he has delayed the introduction of the statutory code and independent adjudicator because he doesn't want to impose more red tape on the industry.

The big pubcos such as Enterprise and Punch Taverns have organised an expensive and, it seems, effective lobby of the chancellor and it looks as though it may have paid off. The code was intended to cover rents and the prices publicans pay for beer, and the adjudicator's job would be to investigate disputes between pub companies and tenants with the power to impose fines if necessary.

To refuse to impose "red tape" in a situation where exploitation is acknowledged and, indeed, obvious to observers is putting dogma before livelihoods and communities. So who said ideological intransigence in the face of reality was a preserve of the Left?

Sara Grey and Kieron Means return to Southport

"Sara Grey and her son, Kieron Means play American music, as distinct from Americana - theirs is the real deal. Old-time, ballads, cowboy songs and Primitive Methodist hymns are all grist to their individual mill. Sara’s unique frailing banjo style and Kieron’s blues-inflected guitar are in perfect harmony and this instinctive, family symbiosis is what sets them apart. Passionate and heartfelt vocals are the icing on the cake and it’s hardly surprising that they are no strangers to Bothy World HQ!" Clive Pownceby, reviewer and Bothy Folk Club organiser.

They're back at the  Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS this Sunday 21 April at 8.00pm. Thwaites real ale. On-line tickets here.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Castle Eden's back

I went into the Guest House in Southport last night and saw on the bar the familiar pump clip for Castle Eden Ale. I haven't seen this around for years, and it got me thinking about the beer and the brewery.

The Castle Eden brewery in County Durham was unusual in that it survived decades of ownership by Whitbread without being closed. As well as producing its own beers, it was the final home of Higsons of Liverpool. Whitbread had closed the Higsons Brewery, moved production to the Hillsborough brewery in Sheffield, and then again to Castle Eden, by which time the beer bore no resemblance to the original. The Higsons closure was just one example of Whitbread's notorious predilection to close breweries; T-shirts were made showing the Whitbread Tour of Destruction, listing all the breweries they had closed over the years. Castle Eden regained its independence in the late 1990s, took over Camerons of Hartlepool in 2002 and closed down their own brewery, thus speedily achieving on their own what Whitbread had failed to do in decades. The new company, operating under the name Camerons, continued to brew the beer under licence from the brand owners AB Inbev, who decided to pull the plug on it in 2009.

A company called Limelight Brands Ltd has acquired the Castle Eden brand, and Camerons are brewing it again as a guest ale available from March to May this year. The Camerons website describes it as "a light, creamy golden ale with a late addition of Styrian Goldings hops giving it an interesting contrast between an initial sweet surge of flavour followed by a slightly bitter aftertaste." Perhaps, but to me it just tasted okay. Nothing exciting, but that's how I always remembered it anyway; in fact, that's how I remember all the beers from the Whitbread stable, including Flowers and Trophy. Fellow drinkers used to praise Flowers and Castle Eden, but I never thought they were more than adequate. I was used to drinking Higsons, Bass and Walkers on Merseyside.

It's worth a try, if only for old times' sake, but like a lot of revived beers, I think it will struggle against many of the excellent beers produced by microbreweries nowadays.

Sunday 14 April 2013

Cains plans for a brewery village

The brewery in its Higsons heyday
Liverpool's Cains Brewery has announced plans to restore its original Grade II listed building to house a craft brewery, a hotel, digital studios, a delicatessen-type food hall,  independent shops and a sky bar on the roof. The Brewery Tap will be extended and some sheds on Parliament Street will be demolished to make room for a supermarket with flats above; other developments are envisaged as part of the scheme. Apparently the company is struggling to maintain the huge brewery site, much of which is currently under-used, and have said that if planning permission is refused, the long-term future of the brewery would be at risk. 

As part of this proposal, they will stop brewing supermarket own brand beers, as such business now makes a loss. This isn't a surprise when you consider the price of supermarket own brands, although I do remember on a brewery trip a number of years ago being told that the brewing of real ale was supported by supermarket production; things must have changed since then. They're hoping to increase production of their real ales by as much as 300%. 

You can read the whole story in the Liverpool Echo.

It's difficult to know what to think of this. Cains Brewery is an attractive nineteenth century red brick building, formerly home of the long gone but fondly remembered Higsons brewery, and if the options are this plan or closure, then obviously redevelopment is better. Liverpool's elected mayor, Joe Anderson, has given the plan his blessing, but I take no comfort from that, considering his unimpressive record of protecting Liverpool's architectural heritage.

The plans would involve 15 job losses out of the 56-strong workforce, but the company, perhaps ambitiously, anticipates creating up to 800 new jobs overall. But we've heard that kind of claim before, only to find the reality is considerably less than the spin.

While it sounds good that they envisage expanding real ale production, they must massively improve the quality. Their beers have been mediocre ever since the firm went bankrupt a few years ago, whereas their rivals in the Merseyside area are producing far superior beers. I write that as someone who used to enjoy Cains beers. With real ale, "never mind the quality, feel the width" is not a good strategy. Just ask Tetleys.

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Free Concert In The Park - 28 April

David Hirst. Singer songwriter from Southport. David is the singer in Liverpool based folk band Misery Guts as well as a solo performer. He sings a mix of his own compositions and traditional English songs. David is also a founder member of the Corduroy Folk Club; hosts and organisers of the Folk in the Park. (www.davidhirstmusic.com)

Alastair Vannan. Folk singer from Ormskirk. As well as being a first class singer and musician, Alastair is a professional archaeologist. He sings traditional songs from England, Scotland and Ireland while sharing some of their historical context. Alastair is also a member of the folk duo Vannan-James (www.vannanjames.com)

Ken Beamer. Piper from Maghull. Ken is a former military piper and will be accompanied for this performance by another piper, military drums and guitars. This promises to provide a fabulous finale to Folk in the Park.

Keith Price. Folk singer from Liverpool. Keith plays guitar, violin and melodeon and is a powerful folk singer with a legendary wit.

Tony Gibbons and Kate Bradbury. Folk duo from Liverpool. Tony and Kate are a very well respected duo playing traditional songs and their own compositions too. Their two part harmonies are accompanied by Tony's Guitar-bouzouki and Kate's fiddle.

The Bothy Folk Club Residents. The Bothy Folk Club has been meeting weekly in Southport for nearly 50yrs and is one of the most respected, well established clubs in the country. Some of the very best stars of the folk music world can be seen there on their guest nights. The numerous residents will be joining together in a number of different ensembles to show off the diverse range of British folk music.

Family Ceilidh. Called by Richard Simcock with residents of the Bothy Folk Club. Richard will be encouraging the audience and particularly children to get on their feet and have a dance. Richard is also a founder member of the Corduroy Folk Club.

This takes place on Sunday 28 April in Hesketh Park, Southport between 1pm and 5pm ~ all welcome. There is a real ale pub that also serves meals less than 5 minutes' walk from the park gates: the Imperial Hotel on Albert Road, a Holts pub.

Monday 8 April 2013

Ship (Haskayne) beer festival - revised dates

A photo taken on the canal
near the Ship Inn, Haskayne
I have received a text from Chris of one of our local canalside pubs, the Ship in Haskayne, that the beer festival due this weekend (from 10 to 14 April) has been postponed. It will now will be held from Thursday 25 to Sunday 28 April. He's planning to have 20 beers on, some live music outdoors, weather permitting, and with food available.

The Ship Inn is at 6, Rosemary Lane, Haskayne, Ormskirk, Lancashire, L39 7JP.

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Lucy Ward sings

Lucy Ward
hair colour not guaranteed
Lucy Ward is a 21-year old acoustic artist from Derby. She plays guitar and concertina, but says that her voice is her first instrument. Her sets are an eclectic mix of traditional and modern folk interpretations, interspersed with her own songs. She won the Horizon Award (Best Newcomer) in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2012. Despite my customary scepticism of awards, I have to acknowledge that this is quite an achievement. As a quick glance at the picture gallery on her website would show, her hair colour is subject to change at short notice.

Lucy is appearing at the Bothy Folk Club this Sunday, 7 April. It's at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. You can if you wish get tickets on-line here, the music begins at 8.00pm and the venue sells real ale from Thwaites (Wainwright).

What they are saying about Lucy:
  • "Brit folk's most vibrant and forthright new young talent" - Mojo.
  • Four stars " Bricks and Love ... the poignant new song I've heard this year." - Robin Denselow, the Guardian.

Monday 1 April 2013

Robinsons Do It Again

It looks like Robinsons Brewery is cutting a swathe through the music world. After the success of Build A Rocket Boys involving the group Elbow, and the launch of Iron Maiden’s Trooper, Robinsons have teamed up with Welsh guitarist Andy Fairweather Low. While Andy’s pop credentials are impressive - he was a founding member of 60s band Amen Corner and in recent years has toured with Roger Waters, Eric Clapton and Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings – it is to his solo career that Robinson’s have looked to for inspiration: specifically, his 1975 hit single, “Wide Eyed and Legless”.

The new beer, predictably called Wide Eyed and Legless, is described by Robinsons as a "golden ale with a rich rounded body, smooth bitterness and a subtle tang of malt and fruity aroma. It's a premium session bitter at 4.0% ABV, available in cask and bottle." 

Andy said: “When you've been touring as long as I have, you grow out of the wild rock and roll partying. After a while I just wanted to go to a nice pub for a quiet pint and unwind with friends. Being on tour gives you the ideal opportunity to find pubs and enjoy beers you’d never come across otherwise.

“When Robinsons first approached me, I assumed it was a practical joke, especially when they suggested that particular name, and I'm embarrassed to say I put the phone down on them! I'm very proud of this beer, made exactly to my personal taste. I'm just hoping now that others like it too.”

I've had Build A Rocket Boys several times in the Mason's in Southport, and I'm looking forward to trying Trooper; this is yet another one to look out for.