Thursday 31 October 2013

Keeping your spirits up

Be careful ordering spirits at the bar
I'm one of those who regrets the importing of American trick or treating for Hallowe'en, but the fact is that to young kids nowadays, that's the norm. So I gave up moaning about it a few years ago after telling three charming tiny witches on the doorstep (with a beaming mum a few steps away on the pavement) that I had nothing for them: I felt quite mean seeing their disappointed faces. What's a bag of sweets once a year? At least they still call them sweets, rather than candy.

Afterwards, I'll stray to a couple of local hostelries to seek out some Hallowe'en beer; there's usually two or three on in the Guest House. It's a market Wychwood and Moorhouses have tried to corner, just like Guinness has bought all the rights to St Patrick, but you can't keep good microbrewers with highly developed punning abilities down. At least it will be more fun than watching Halloween Part 23 The Revenge or whatever.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Blonde Ambition

A nice surprise when I went into the Guest House in Southport last night was the sight of Samuel Adams Blonde Ambition on the bar. This is a real ale, 4.5% strength, produced by Shepherd Neame in collaboration with the American craft brewer, the Boston Beer Company. The website states that beer uses equal measures of American and British Cascade hops, with Yakima Valley Cascade, also from America. As you'd expect, it was fairly dry, golden-coloured ale which I found slipped down very easily, some might say too easily considering its strength. Judging by the way the hand pump was being hammered, quite a few other drinkers felt the same way. It has more character than some golden beers produced by regionals, such as the popular Thwaites Wainwright, a beer I like well enough but don't find exceptional; or Robinson's Dizzy Blonde, which borders on the bland.

I found it interesting that the term "craft beer" was unequivocally featured on a real ale pump clip: two fingers to those who wish to differentiate between real ale and craft beer. This beer also demonstrates that the stuffy old regionals can match the micros when they choose to. In July I briefly alluded to a similar co-operative venture between Adnams and the Firestone Walker Brewing Company of California. While the regionals' main money is still in producing the standard beers we associate with them - and it's easy to forget in our real ale bubble how popular those beers are - it's good that they're willing to give something different a try, and doing it so well too.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Stepping up to the mike

They move the pool table for the open mike
I was in the Upsteps in Birkdale on Tuesday for the open mike night run by Sue Raymond. There were some good acts on. One singer-guitarist was excellent, playing old-style rock & roll and blues. I was very impressed, and I overheard him being asked at the bar later, "My friend says you used to in the Real Thing. Is it true?" His reply was "Yes, but it was a long time ago." I can believe it, and I was glad I wasn't going on immediately after him. When I did go on, I gave in to requests to do some Buddy Holly, even though I'd intended to do something more modern (i.e. from the 1970s).

The pub usually has one real ale on from Caledonian. Recently it's been XPA; I'm not a great lover of Caledonian beers, but this wasn't too bad at all.

The open mike night is every Tuesday evening in the back room. I'll continue going, even if that guitar whizz keeps on turning up! I'm not jealous, not at all.

Saturday 26 October 2013

The mag that never was

On 6 October, I published the cover of the latest issue of our local beer magazine, Ale & Hearty, which we had hoped to have printed in time for the Sandgrounder Beer Festival last weekend. Unfortunately, we couldn't get it printed in time for the festival, which has necessitated changing the front cover and a couple of articles. Here is the new front cover showing how it will appear within the next few days in a pub near you, providing you live in the in the Southport and West Lancs area, of course.

The picture is of the now-closed London Hotel, estd. 1866

Friday 25 October 2013

Wrong messages

There has been no spam posted in this blog for ages - until this week when I've had two items. One that I've just deleted was from a Liverpool business woman. Does she really think it's a good idea to advertise her driving school on a beer and music blog? 

Sending all the wrong messages ... (et cetera ad nauseam)

P.S. 28 October: I've just deleted more spam from a different driving school. Do they actually look where they're posting their spam?

Roy Bailey - still dissenting

Roy's Below The Radar album (2009)
For more than 50 years, Roy Bailey has been one of the British folk and acoustic scene’s most admired performers. He began, as so many veteran folkies did, performing skiffle in student union bars, later developing a love of traditional songs and the stories they tell, finally developing a unique repertoire of songs of dissent and hope. In 2000 he was awarded an MBE for services to folk music, an award he later returned in protest at the government’s foreign policy. In 1990, Roy and Tony Benn first presented their show, The Writing on the Wall, for which the duo won Best Live Act at BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2003. The show has been performed to enthusiastic audiences the length and breadth of the UK, from 300 people in working men's clubs, to an estimated 9000 people at Cambridge Folk Festival in 2000. Roy's association with Tony began in 1976 and they have worked together on various programmes ever since.

Approaching 78 years of age, Roy remains committed to his lifelong principles of equality, liberty, justice and internationalism. He is a member of the current Anti-Capitalist Roadshow along with many of this country's finest socialist folk singers and songwriters.

I recall Roy once stating that he didn't accept the term 'protest singer', as the term was inadequate. He said, "We are dissenters" - suggesting that dissenting from a system that throws up injustice is more powerful than merely protesting against its worst excesses. 

You can see Roy in Southport this Sunday 27 October at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS, starting at 8.00pm. On-line tickets. Thwaites real ale. Loads of free parking.

Local pub awards, October 2013

These are the local CAMRA awards that were presented last Thursday at the Sandgrounder Beer Festival. I'm pleased to say that three of the winners are less than a mile from where I live, although that's definitely not why they won.

Licensees Of Excellence
  • Eddie Loftus - Fishermans Rest, Birkdale
  • Steve Gregory & Simon Cox - Freshfield, Formby
  • Gail Heyes - Guest House, Southport
  • Mike McCombe - Hop Vine, Burscough
  • Peter Bardsley - Inn Beer Shop, Southport
Best Country Pub
  • Ship, Lathom - Ray McKintey & Dave Coyle
Best Community Pub
  • Zetland, Southport - Dennis Rowley & Karen Arrowsmith
Best Newcomer
  • Will McCombe - Hop Inne Bier Shop, Ormskirk
Best Bar Persons
  • James Cox - Disraeli’s, Ormskirk
  • Adam Clark - Freshfield, Formby
  • Kerris Halsall - Hopvine, Burscough
Special Award To Celebrate Fifty Years In The Licensed Trade
  • Fred Hook - Guest House, Southport
Special Award For Outstanding Service To Promoting Real Ale
  • Joe & Janette Anderson - formerly of Lakeside Inn, Southport.
One of the awards made last week 

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Manchester Beer & Cider Festival 2014

Advance notice of the replacement for the National Winter Ales Festival in Manchester next January.

When CAMRA decided that it was time that the National Winter Ales Festival's nine-year tenure in Manchester came to an end, there was some degree of outcry both from those volunteers who had pulled the festival together for many years and from the drinkers who had enjoyed the annual January festival.

Nine months on from the final event in Manchester, that decision by CAMRA may well have been the best thing that every happened for festival goers in the region - without it, the Manchester Beer & Cider Festival would never have been conceived. The new festival takes the same slot in the January calendar (22 to 25 January) and is shaping up to be Manchester's biggest and best ever beer festival. The biggest coup for the organisers was securing the amazing setting of Manchester Velodrome for the event - not the adjacent café used for the small warm up event in August - the actual Velodrome itself. As a building, it's simply stunning to stand inside that track and marvel at the scale of the place - and that's without any beer in it.

Set on the floor inside that steeply banked track will be the largest range of beers and ciders ever offered in Manchester. There will be well over 300 cask conditioned craft beers alongside a bar full of real ale in a bottle (drink in or take away) - every beer that is ready for sale will be available from the first session until it is sold. The cider and perry bar is expected to offer at least 75 different ciders and perries - all made from fresh apple or pear juice.

If the best of British beers isn't enough, then the 'Bière sans Frontières' bar will be importing the very best beers brewed for Germany's Oktoberfest alongside Belgian, Dutch, Czech and American beers - far too many to mention. Some of the most cutting edge breweries in the country including Marble Beers, Hawkshead, Liverpool Organic and Ilkley Brewery will be hosting their own bars offering a larger range of their beers than the three main cask bars can accommodate plus offering the chance to meet their brewers.

In total there will be no fewer than 16 bars to visit. Surrounding these are some 1700 seats from where visitors will be able to look over the festival floor and watch cyclists riding the track. The Great Britain Cycling Team have training sessions on the track twice a day which will continue throughout the festival alongside other clubs and taster sessions.

The festival kicks off at 4.30pm on Wednesday 22 January and runs through until Saturday evening. The Velodrome is easily accessible via Manchester's Metrolink tram network - its own Velopark station is served by trams every 12 minutes - with the 216 and other bus routes from Manchester even more frequent. CAMRA Members will be entitled to free entry all day Wednesday and Thursday with discounts on entry at all other times.

To find out more, visit the festival website, and for all the latest news follow the festival on Facebook or (if you must) on twitter on @mancbeerfest .

Thursday 17 October 2013

New Southport pub - the Guelder Rose

The Guelder Rose, Marine Drive
Southport's newest pub, the Guelder Rose, was opened on Monday by the Mayor of Sefton. Built by Marstons, it's on the Marine Drive next to Southport Pier and close to Ocean Plaza with its shops, restaurants, cinema, 10-pin bowling alley and Premier Inn. As it looks out over the Irish Sea, you can sit and gaze at the pier as it stretches across the sands and perhaps even catch a glimpse of the tide on one of its flying visits; on a clear day, you'll be able to see Blackpool Tower. No doubt the outside drinking areas will be very popular in the summer.

It's a food-based pub with play areas for children, but also sells real ale. On opening day, it was selling Hobgoblin, Pedigree, Jennings Cocker Hoop and Brakspear Bitter, a predictable choice from the Marstons stable. They have suggested they might try to put on a beer from the local Southport Brewery; in view of where it is, I'd suggest Golden Sands.

The building is reasonably attractive in a corporate new-build sort of way, certainly better than the huge sheds that make up Ocean Plaza. No one lives in the area and it's too far from the centre of town, or indeed any other pub (except the newish Waterfront on the Promenade, also a food-orientated place) to become a local, but I expect it will be popular with visitors in the summer and anyone who uses the various Ocean Plaza attractions throughout the year.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Slops revisited

I wrote a post 6 weeks ago, called Pouring the slops back into the beer, which was a general account of how hygiene in pubs has considerably improved in recent years. I cited one exception, the autovac, a device used in some Yorkshire pubs for recycling beer from drip trays back into the lines. I was slightly surprised to receive a comment 6 weeks later from a Yorkshireman who bravely wrote anonymously what he clearly thought was a defence of the autovac. Except, strangely enough, it wasn't.

He didn't respond to any of my observations about or objections to the autovac, including my point that the pint would actually be more flat with the recycled stale beer, despite the thick, foamy head. His argument was solely along the lines of: you outsiders keep your noses out of our business.

I did ponder for all of a millisecond whether I was interfering in other people's business, but decided I was not. Yorkshire is part of the UK and I am a British citizen: Yorkshire is a part of my country, a part of the UK I happen to like very much and where I've gone on holiday at least once a year since the 1980s. I have no problem with good natured regional rivalries, such as Lancashire and Yorkshire, but the attitude shown by Mr Anon bordered on the xenophobic.

I came across a similar attitude recently with someone I know over the question of Scottish independence when it became clear we had very different attitudes. I was asked how I had the nerve to comment on issues concerning his country. My response was that Scotland is still part of the UK, and that as I'm a British citizen, it is part of my country too. Actually, even if that weren't the case, I'd still have a right to an opinion.

What I find slightly disturbing is the attitude that, "This is ours, not yours - how dare you have a view about it?" It is one way of avoiding arguing the substantive issue concerned and an attempt to close down discussion; in fact, it could be interpreted as a form of on-line bullying. As I pointed out to Mr Anon, I’ve often noticed the most aggressive comments on blogs, like the most aggressive letters to the newspapers, tend to be anonymous. In this case, as the post concerned is 6 weeks old, I'm wondering whether he was trawling the internet looking for things to be offended about.

Intelligent debate and disagreement are fine. The "How dare you say that!" attitude* assumes a right to censor others' views because the issue concerned is "theirs". Sorry, Mr Anon, you don't have that right: no one does. And the autovac is still disgusting.

* Reminds me of a prime minister; can't think which.

Friday 11 October 2013

Steve Ashley gig in Southport

Steve Ashley has long been regarded as one of British folk's finest singer-songwriters. His reputation for writing contemporary songs inspired by the English tradition was established in 1974 with his innovative debut album, Stroll On. Since then his songs have been recorded by many leading folk artists including Fairport Convention, Anne Briggs, Dave Pegg and PJ Wright, The Arizona Smoke Review, Martin and Jessica Simpson, Grace Notes, Phil Beer, Maggie Boyle and The Bushwackers.

He has also played a significant role in the development of British folk-rock, performing as a lead singer with the first Albion Country Band, then with his own Ragged Robin and various line-ups of The Steve Ashley Band. He has also performed occasionally with members of Fairport Convention.

Steve is the next guest at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. That's on Sunday 13th October at 8.00pm. On-line tickets. Thwaites real ale.

His best known song may well be Fire and Wine. Here it is in its original LP version:

Thursday 10 October 2013

Merseyside's first micro-pub

A Liverpool Pigeon
Merseyside's first micro-pub is due to open tomorrow, 11 October, in Crosby. The Liverpool Pigeon has taken over a former children's clothes shop and will be featuring local brews such as George Wright and Liverpool Organic, up to 9 Belgian beers, 2 or 3 bottled German beers and two real ciders. Wine and soft drinks will also be available but strictly no lager, spirits, alcopops, TV, juke box or gaming machines.

It is being opened by Patrick Moore, a former primary school teacher, who got the idea after reading an interview with Martin Hillier who opened the UK's first micro-pub in Kent: I saw Martin speak about micro-pubs to the CAMRA conference a few years ago.

Opening hours are:
Tues to Thurs
12-2 and 5-9
12-2 and 4-9

The Liverpool Pigeon pub is at 14 Endbutt Lane, Crosby, L23 0TR, about 6 shops along from Liverpool Road (A565), and about a mile's walk from Blundellsands railway station, although the A565 is a major bus route. The name, Liverpool Pigeon, is of an extinct bird which probably came from Tahiti; only one specimen remains, and that's in the Liverpool World Museum. 

P.S. 16 May 2014.
Amended opening hours:
Tues-Fri 4-9
Sat 12-9
Sun 12-5
Closed Monday

Wednesday 9 October 2013

"Tax fags, not booze" ~ survey

Disappointing news for that dwindling band who want to see the smoking ban relaxed. Market research company mruk polled a representative sample of 1,058 adults from across the UK asking them to imagine they were the Chancellor of the Exchequer and needed to help the NHS save money. The results were:
  • 37% wanted increased cigarette tax.
  • 14% wanted unhealthy, high fat food to be taxed.
  • 6% prioritised alcohol pricing.
Rachel Cope, head of mruk research, commented “Whilst almost everyone recognises the impact of smoking on health, that’s not the case with moderate alcohol consumption. If there’s no perceived impact on health then people see minimum pricing as just another tax.” Personally, I consider £7.98* for a packet of 20 to be excessive, especially as £6.17 of that is tax. With cigarette smuggling on the increase, it's stupid to keep on putting up the tax if by doing so you get ordinary people accustomed to breaking the law.

While this survey was not specifically about the smoking ban, it suggests to me that liberalisation of the ban would not be popular, a view supported by a recent survey by YouGov of more than 1,000 Scottish adults which found that 78% would be in favour of extending the smoking ban to include play areas, such as parks and sports facilities, with only 11% against it. My own view, as I've stated before, is that I don't want changes to the ban either way; I find I'm not much affected by cigarette smoke in the open air. However, the precedent has been set in Wales with many areas banning smoking in play parks.

Perhaps the fact that 94% didn't support minimum pricing for alcohol, despite the relentless propaganda of the anti-alcohol brigade, is evidence that the common sense of the British people is greater than we might assume from media reporting. That alone must be a good thing.

* Figures from the Tobacco Manufacturers Association.

Sunday 6 October 2013

Ale & Hearty ~ preview

I have been sent a proof copy of the issue 63 of Ale & Hearty, our local CAMRA magazine and the first printed by our new printers (more details about that here). The cover photo shows festival goers watching the Argarmeles Clog team dancing at last year's festival. We hope to have it out very soon; here is a preview of the cover:

Friday 4 October 2013

Pubs for sale

I noticed on the Southport CAMRA Facebook page that the Portland pub in Birkdale is up for sale. It is a huge pub that usually looks almost empty when I've gone past it. It doesn't serve real ale, there's no one in there that I know and it's on the wrong side of town for me, so it's a long time since I've gone in. It's difficult to know what the 'for sale' signs mean nowadays: do they just want a new tenant or are they winding down for closure? The Rabbit on Manchester Road is not only up for sale, but also doesn't open every night of the week: I've noticed that it's never open on Mondays and was actually closed last Friday evening when I'd have expected it to be busy. It's another non-real ale pub which I used to frequent in the days when it sold a fine pint of Draught Bass.

Another pub with a 'for sale' sign is the Upsteps on Upper Aughton Road, also in Birkdale. The people running it seem quite keen, so I'm not sure why it's up for sale. The sign says £135,000, in case anyone wants to check what they've got down the back of the sofa.

What all of these pubs have in common is that they are in residential areas. They have also in the past all had reputations for being rough, a name that's very easy to acquire, but very difficult to shed. In the case of the Upsteps, that isn't really fair any more. There's a sign in the pub stating that a pubs darts team would be very welcome, and they have got my friends, Mick Cooper and Sue Raymond, to play there on Tuesdays with their band, but offering their PA for an open mike night. I played there three days ago and there were quite a few performers. It sometimes has real ale on, but it apparently hadn't settled last Tuesday; in its absence, I was reduced to Newcastle Brown.

I don't like seeing 'for sale' signs on pubs, especially so soon after the Plough and the London spent months up for sale; in both cases, planning permission has been granted for redevelopment. Pub closures in this area were a trickle until the last 2 or 3 years; unfortunately it now looks like becoming rather more of a torrent.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Not as easy as π

The Pi Bar, Mossley Hill, Liverpool
A pregnant woman goes into a pub and asks for a glass of wine. "I'm not having that on my conscience," says the barman who refuses to serve her. Not a joke, as you probably gathered from the unfunny punchline. This actually happened to Jane Hampson after she and her partner went into the Pi Bar, a real ale bar in Rose Lane, Liverpool, for a drink after a walk around Sefton Park. As Liverpool is my birth place, although not that posh part, I'm rather disappointed, as I like to think my fellow Liverpudlians are endowed with down-to-earth common sense. It turns out that Ms Hampson didn't drink at all during her first twelve weeks and since then has had one small glass of wine per week as a treat. The full story is here.

The area manager has apologised and stated that it was not company policy to refuse to serve pregnant women; he states the young barman got his wires crossed and thought it was illegal. In that case, why did he mention his conscience when a more compelling argument would be, "Sorry that's illegal" - assuming he genuinely believed that?

Predictably, internet trolls have come out in force, excoriating this woman for getting drunk and landing us all with the benefit bill for bringing up her brats. "She'll be on Jeremy Kyle next!" sneered one. In fact, she is a business manager for Deutsche Bank - her partner is employed too - and I challenge any healthy person to get drunk on one small glass of wine per week. NHS advice is that "at this low level there is no evidence of any harm to their unborn baby." So, trolls, read the article and check your facts before putting what passes for your brain in gear.

This is not just an example of an individual barman being silly; it demonstrates the corrosive effect of the anti-alcohol campaigners in that a young barman feels empowered to impose his ill-founded conscience upon another adult. It's the same effect that discourages many drivers from having a drink well within the legal drink-drive limit. If I were female, I can well imagine that I might look forward to a single drink a week as a treat over the long nine month period. My mother used to say, "What's seldom is wonderful", and - if so restricted - one drink a week would seem wonderful indeed. In the event, Ms Hampson and her partner took their custom to another bar where she had her weekly glass of wine; I hope she enjoyed it.

By the way, does anyone get the Doctor Who reference in the title of this post?

P.S. 10.10.13: I've just remembered I wrote this post last year on a related subject.