Sunday 29 June 2014

Dave & Boo - "wholly in tune musicians"

Dave and Boo performing at Hitchin
Dave Ellis & Boo Howard are making the third visit to the Bothy Folk Club on Sunday 6 July at 8.00pm.

"Their songs are intelligently constructed, elegantly articulated and never less than entertaining. The mix is eclectic (from folk to jazz to blues to bluegrass) but the songs are at the heart of it all, served by imaginative and stylish arrangements and by the singing and playing of two seasoned, wholly in tune musicians." Anonymous reviewer.

"You like your jazzy blues n' folk smooth and urbane? Come on in for these laconic vignettes of love, life and laundry with a modern sheen." Clive Pownceby.

Tickets on the door, or on-lineThe Bothy meets every Sunday at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS; it serves real Thwaites Wainwright.

Friday 27 June 2014

Thwaites brewery on the move

A pint of Thwaites, in
case you'd forgotten
what it looks like.
Ain't no stopping Thwaites now - they're on the move. Or they will be as soon as they have finalised the purchase of the site they've chosen and built a new brewery, so it will be a while yet. Thwaites has been saying for some time that it is outgrowing its current site in Blackburn. Thwaites has four permanent beers - Original, Nutty Black, Lancaster Bomber and Wainwright - plus a range of seasonals, but it is Wainwright that has proved to be a runaway success and therefore may well have hastened the necessity to move.

The new site is in Mellor Brook on the A59, less than 5 miles north west of its present site, and will house the brewery, visitor centre and head office, while the distribution team will remain at the depot in Blackburn for the foreseeable future. Brewery management are hoping to drill a borehole at the new site so that they can tap into the same aquifer, which would help ensure that their beers would remain unchanged. I wish them good luck with that: I recall the old Higsons brewery moving production a matter of yards and inadvertently changing the taste of the beer. It was a while before they were able to sort it out.

In the past, a brewery moving would usually be regarded as bad news because it would often signal the end of the beers as you'd known them; the name would continue as a brand but there'd be no real effort made to match the original taste. Nowadays we have become used to microbreweries moving because of the need to expand, and I've little doubt that regionals such as Thwaites are acutely aware that the old high-handed approach to beer brands would not work today - at least, not if they wish to retain any real ale credibility. I'm certain they will do their best to match the beers as we now know them.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Statutory code - a massive diversion?

I made clear on 5 June my reservations about Government plans for a Pubs Adjudicator and Statutory Code. I wasn't coming over all Private Frazer - "We're all doomed!" - but was expressing caution in contrast to CAMRA's unalloyed, and in my view uncritical, joy concerning the proposals. As I said previously, I hope CAMRA's optimism is right, but I remain doubtful.

"He would, wouldn't he?"
Peter Furness-Smith, the managing director of McMullens brewery, has also expressed serious doubts about the proposals, which he suggests would make the pub owners responsible for business risks that are normally the responsibility of the tenant. If the government decides to increase, for example, business rates, VAT, duty, employment or regulatory costs, they would become the responsibility of the pub owner as they are "outside the tenants' control" . He further states that this could apply even to an increase in, say, fuel costs; the tenant could negotiate his rent downwards, thus passing the cost the owner. I'm fully aware that what he says could be interpreted as a predictable Mandy Rice-Davies response, but that doesn't mean we can glibly dismiss his opinions.

His further points include:
  • Government costs for pubs, including tax, amount to more than 40% of sales.
  • Even after recent duty reductions, a small community pub contributes to government coffers five times its profits.
  • For pubs to thrive, the high levels of taxation and bureaucracy need to be reduced.
The more I think aboutthe more I'm concluding that the adjudicator and statutory code represent the government putting the blame for all the woes of the pub industry onto the pub owners. McMullens is a brewery with a tied estate and so doesn't really come into the same rapacious category as pub companies (pubcos) such as Punch and Enterprise. As I've written before, the government and the big pubcos share the bulk of the responsibility for the problems pubs are facing.

So, some final questions:
  • Why a statutory code when in all other areas of industry, business and finance the government prefers voluntary codes to statutory "burdens on business"? In other words, why is this particular sector singled out for special treatment?
  • By getting CAMRA all delirious about an attack on the pubcos, have the government created a massive diversion away from their own responsibility for pub decline? 
  • And is CAMRA therefore inadvertently letting the government off the hook?

Monday 23 June 2014

Are you a Two-Pot Screamer?

I've just read an article about Australian slang, which unfortunately is in decline, so I decided to see what drink-related phrases from Down Under I could find. Quite a few were similar to British phrases, such as 'shout' for 'round', but here is a selection of the most colourful:
  • Neck oil: beer.
  • Amber fluid: beer.
  • Skull: down your drink in one.
  • Counter lunch, or Countery: pub lunch.
  • Bottle-o: liquor shop.
  • Buck's night: stag party.
  • Tinny: can of beer.
  • Roadie: a beer bought to take away.
  • Two-pot screamer - someone who can't hold their drink. A pot is a half-pint glass.
  • Booze bus: police van used for random breath testing for alcohol.
  • Spiffed: drunk.
  • Chockers: drunk.
  • Gutful of piss: drunk, as in "he's got a gutful of piss".
  • Butcher: small glass of beer in South Australia (because a butcher can sneak off for a swift half while in work).
  • Schooie, or Schooey: a schooner of beer.
  • Longneck, or Tallie: a very large (750ml) bottle of beer.
  • Middy: 285 ml beer glass in New South Wales.
  • Turps: alcoholic drink (also turpentine).
  • Mouth like the bottom of a cocky's cage: a dry mouth, especially after drinking or smoking (a cocky is a cockatoo).
And finally:
  • Durry: tobacco, cigarette.
  • Chunder: vomit.
  • Liquid laugh: vomit.
It all tends to make "Fancy a pint?" seem quite bland, doesn't it?

Saturday 21 June 2014

The Freshfield - twice as POTY

The Freshfield in Formby recently managed the remarkable achievement of being presented with two CAMRA Pub of the Year (POTY) awards in one evening: for Southport and West Lancs and for Merseyside.

The Freshfield, Massams Lane
The first thing you see when you go in is a row of 14 hand pumps serving a wide range of beer from all over the country, including local beers, so we found Burscough and Liverpool Organic beers sharing bar space with St Austell from Cornwall and Hawkshead from Cumbria. The several beers I had were all well kept. The pub also stocks a craft keg beer: Brewdog Punk IPA.

The pub was extensively refurbished two years ago: the front area is undeniably a pub, but you can walk through to the large, attractive restaurant to the rear where good, reasonably-priced meals are served until 10pm. They’ve tried quiz nights and live music, but found them unnecessary. In general, I've usually found there a comfortable and relaxed buzz of conversation here. A darts team plays on Mondays.

The Freshfield has two beer festivals each year in January and July: the next one is 21 to 27 July and will feature more than 100 real ales (including two from the new Parker Brewery in Formby), craft beers and ciders, plus live music and food. It's in Massams Lane, less than 10 minutes walk from Freshfield station.

This is part of a series of articles that I am writing for the CAMRA column in our local paper, the Southport Visiter. Previous reviews are here.

Thursday 19 June 2014

Blues at the Bothy

Tom Doughty and Graham Bellinger are the guests at the Bothy Folk Club at 8.00pm this Sunday 22 June. Tom Doughty is a superb lap slide guitar player whom I have seen playing at the Bothy on several occasions as well as in Liverpool, but Graham is new to me. I'm told that the two mesh well together. If Tom's previous gigs are anything to go by, the term 'blues' will used on a broader sense - blues have often been featured at the Bothy.

The Bothy meets at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. On-line tickets. Thwaites real ale.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Pigeon goes POTY

The eponymous, but
extinct, Liverpool Pigeon
The Liverpool Pigeon is Merseyside’sfirst micro-pub, and is CAMRA Liverpool and Districts Pub of the Year (POTY) for 2014. It opened last October in a former children’s clothes shop. The Liverpool Pigeon is an extinct bird (pictured), probably from Tahiti; the only remaining specimen is in the Liverpool World Museum. The pub isn't quite a small as you might expect; it is simply but pleasantly decorated with the bar at the far end of the room, which on my visit boasted beers from Liverpool Organic, Saltaire, Big Hand and two from Hawkshead. The beer range changes, although Liverpool Organic often features. I hadn’t heard of Big Hand, a Wrexham brewery, whose beer, Zeta Two, is an American style IPA. I had four of the beers and the quality was good. There were also four real ciders.

The bottled beer range included 9 Belgian beers, 4 German beers and 4 British beers. Wine (2 red, 2 white) and soft drinks are available but strictly no lager, spirits, alcopops, TV, juke box or gaming machines. It was quiet when I called in at around 4.30pm, but as people arrived, a relaxed atmosphere conducive to pleasant chat developed.

It is at 14 Endbutt Lane, just yards from Liverpool Road (the A565), a major bus route where Southport buses such as the 47 and the X2 stop.

Opening hours: Mon closed; Tue-Fri 4-9; Sat 12-9; Sun 12-5.

This is part of a series of articles that I am writing for the CAMRA column in our local paper, the Southport Visiter. Previous reviews are here.

Monday 16 June 2014

Swords and Spoons

The Swords outside the
Arts Centre on Lord Street
I heard only last night that our local Longsword and Morris side, the Southport Swords, are out tomorrow evening (Tuesday). At 9.00pm they are appearing at the Willow Grove on Lord Street, Southport - that's our local Lloyds No 1 Bar. They are then moving on to the Sir Henry Segrave, our Wetherspooons pub, also on Lord Street. Good range of real ales in both, especially the latter.

Perhaps not the most extensive tour, but certainly economical. If you're around, why not come and watch? After all, there's only some football on the TV.

Sunday 15 June 2014

New Café Bar: the Barrel House

A few days ago, I went into Southport's newest bar: the Barrel House, which opened on 24 May at 42 Liverpool Road in Birkdale village. It has been converted from an old newsagent's because of the new Sainsbury's that has opened across the road; the owners felt that if they couldn't compete, they'd change their business. And what a change!

Although it is very small, you don't feel hemmed in: it has stripped wooden floors, wooden topped tables, a light, fern-patterned wallpaper, and a couple of tables in the windows that look out onto the street. At the far end is a bar with two handpumps and three beer fonts. When I went in, the real ales were Robinson's Trooper and Southport Sandgrounder; these change but always include one from Southport Brewery. I had both and they were nicely kept. The fonts sold Krusovice lager, Symonds cider and Theakstons smooth bitter. They also had a range of 10 red, white and rosé wines, some spirits, plus a choice of various teas and coffees. I believe food is planned too.

To one side there were shelves and beer fridges containing more than 140 bottled beers from the UK and the continent, and I was told by Martin, the owner, that the range is increasing all the time. One interesting bottle was Barbarian Bitter (4.2%) from the new Parker Brewery in Formby - I'll do a separate post about Parker.

As it happened there were several people I knew when I wandered in, and so had a very convivial evening; it wasn't busy, but that's not so surprising on a Monday. I’m not sure what you’d call the Barrel House - mini café bar would seem to be most appropriate - but it's certainly a welcome addition to the limited real ale scene in Birkdale. Opening hours are 10am to 10pm.

Oh, and they still sell newspapers!

This is part of a series of articles that I am writing for the CAMRA column in our local paper, the Southport Visiter. Previous reviews are here.

Friday 13 June 2014

In two minds about pubs

Beer - not just for
boosting sales of Sky Sports
I think I'm becoming fed up with the authorities' schizophrenic attitude to pubs. This thought was prompted by reading Boris Johnson's pronouncement that "one of London's many fantastic pubs" is the best place to watch the World Cup. He was announcing that there would be more late buses and taxi ranks to enable football fans to get home safely because the time difference will mean some matches will end after the last Underground trains have gone.

It reminds of me of other national occasions, such as the Olympics or royal weddings, when inanely smiling politicians dole out licence extensions "so that we can all celebrate as one nation", or some such prattle. At times like this, pubs are great British institutions, unique in the world, part of what made Britain great.

At all other times, pubs are a problem, responsible for binge drinking, disorder on the streets, violence and injuries. Duty has to be raised, minimum prices considered, and a flood of intensive propaganda published to tackle an undesirable social scourge. In my last job, some of my colleagues were amazed if I happened to mention about going into town centre pubs at weekends. They looked unbelieving when I told them I saw very little trouble; clearly the propaganda that town centres are like the Wild West at weekends has done its job.

But when politicians want to benefit from the feel-good factor that a national occasion might foster, it's all: "go down the pub, enjoy the party, let your hair down".

But then, should I be surprised that politicians can be two-faced?

I won't be watching any matches, but I don't need such excuses to go to the pub.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Upsteps next for the chop?

The Upsteps in Birkdale
Slightly saddened to hear that the Upsteps in Birkdale, Southport, is likely to close in about a month's time if no buyer can be found. The pub has been on the market for quite a while now. It has been allowed to run down so that it doesn't particularly look inviting, but with four cosy separate drinking areas, it is potentially attractive inside. It's in the middle of an established residential area with only one other pub, the Blundell Arms, nearby, so there should be no problem with potential customers. It tried real ale a few months ago, but it wasn't selling so they stopped, as they understandably couldn't afford to keep pouring unsold casks down the drain.

Unfortunately it hasn't got the best reputation, a problem that is difficult to shake off. With the smarter pubs in the town centre only 15 to 20 minutes walk or a short taxi ride away, its owners have made no effort to compete in recent years. I can't help feeling that this is another example of managed decline: let a pub become run down and then redevelop it because it has become unviable. I'm not certain what will happen: demolition or conversion into accommodation.

The open mike nights are likely to move to the Falstaff in King Street, where by coincidence my monthly singaround session in the Guest House originally began many years ago.

Saturday 7 June 2014

The British Guild of Beer Writers

The first example of beer
and pub writing that I read
Sometimes when I've read an article on a beer-related issue on-line or in a magazine, I see the phrase, "X is a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers". This reminded me of how sometimes during the credits of television dramas in the 60s and 70s, a voice would reverently say of a member of the cast, "X is a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company".

I'd never really given the guild much thought until recently when I decided to find out something about it. The website states: "The British Guild of Beer Writers was formed in 1988 to help spread the word about beers, brewing and pubs, and our website is dedicated to exactly that pursuit." That's all well and good.

I then had a look at how you qualify for membership, and it's quite simple: pay them £40 per year. Presumably it's better if you have done more than just drink beer, otherwise your CV on the website would look rather silly, but I was slightly disappointed that I could join with no need to prove my credentials. In fact, I'm probably quite well qualified: as well as writing this blog, I was until recently the editor of our local CAMRA magazine, which I still contribute to, and have written a few beer and pub-related articles in the local press. But, basically, it's just a club. I have no problem with that at all; it's just that in future when I read the someone is a member of the guild, I'll know that all it means is the writer has put a cheque in the post.

This is the logo, added after
info given below by Adrian
Tierney-Jones, BGBW secretary.
One minor criticism I do have is that the application form looks as though it's been thrown together by someone who can barely use a computer. Considering that the guild is all about communication, I'd expect it to look professional. For a similar reason, I'm also surprised that they don't seem to have a logo.

Will I be joining? No, not interested; belonging to CAMRA at £23 per year is much better value. And it's got a logo.

RedNev is not a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers.

Thursday 5 June 2014

"Great News!" it says here . . .

A pub tie, yesterday
I've received two ecstatic e-mails today from CAMRA declaring: "Great News! Thousands of licensees will be protected from unfair business practices in the pub industry and our nation's pubs protected following today’s [3 June] Government announcement which unveils plans for a Pubs Adjudicator and Statutory Code."

These are steps in the right direction, certainly, but I seem to be having a feeling of déjà vu. I recall CAMRA being equally rapturous when the Beer Orders were announced. At the time I simply couldn't help wondering who was going to buy all these pubs that the big breweries were going to dispose of. Both CAMRA and the government expressed the expectation that many licensees would take the chance to invest in their pub and convert them into free houses. With thousands more free houses, the range of beers would improve and everyone's a winner. But it didn't happen: we got pub companies instead.

CAMRA states: "Publicans could see the price they pay for beer fall by up to 60p a pint if the new Adjudicator forces the big Pub Cos to match open market prices. As a result we could see cheaper pub prices for customers, more investment in pubs and ultimately fewer pub closures."

Well, I hope that's true, but I have some reservations. Pub Cos are ripping off tenants because they are horrendously debt-ridden, with massive loans taken out when finance was good, but leaving them in a bad situation to cope with the current recession. If the Adjudicator does crack down on sky-high rents and beer prices charged by the big pub companies, the question is: what impact will that have on the Pub Co business? Will they be able to survive? If not, what will happen to pubs suddenly cast adrift? Few licensees would wish to buy their businesses, assuming they could afford to, so would the newly freed pub estate get hoovered up by supermarket - or indeed other retail - chains? I can't see any saviours waiting in the wings.

I've little sympathy for Pub Cos, as they brought their current precarious financial state upon themselves, but I do hope we are not sleepwalking into another disaster of Beer Orders proportions.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Derby Arms - pub of the year

The Derby Arms, Aughton
The Derby Arms in Prescot Road, Aughton, is this year’s CAMRA Pub of the Year (West Lancs area). The award was made to licensee Janice Brogden at the pub’s beer festival held in the poshest beer tent I’ve ever seen. The festival offered an interesting range of good real ales, ciders and perries and was well-attended over the weekend.

The Derby Arms is a highly visible, white building on the B5197 Ormskirk to Kirkby road. It is an attractive, traditional pub with four separate, cosy drinking areas, and is justly popular with a range of customers. There are also two outdoor drinking areas.

They serve a range of five real ales, two of which are permanent and three ever-changing, and always well-kept: not for nothing have they won the Pub of the Year award before. On the bar there is also a curiosity - to my eyes at any rate - which is keg Walkers Bitter at £1.50 a pint. I asked who brews it, but Jan's partner Mike wasn't sure: he suggested Adnams, but he did feel it was based on the old Walkers recipe. I may try a half next time I go.

They have a very popular, busy acoustic folk night every Wednesday evening (either join in or just listen), gypsy jazz on third Monday of the month and quiz nights on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They are also well-known for their good value meals, which are served all day until 8.00pm Monday to Friday and until 5.00pm Saturday and Sunday. The pub is not close to any built-up areas, and the nearest station is nearly one and a half miles way, but despite its isolated location, the Derby Arms is a successful and popular pub.

This is part of a series of articles that I am writing for the CAMRA column in our local paper, the Southport Visiter. Previous reviews are here.

Monday 2 June 2014

Southport Beer Festival - advance notice

A date for your diary. This is the poster for the 2014 Sandgrounder Beer Festival, a brilliant piece of design in my opinion.
Short URL for the festival's webpage: ~ this will updated with more details as I get them myself.

Lytham IPA at the Sir Henry Segrave

I went to the Sir Henry Segrave last Saturday to meet my friend, Ann. It is a Wetherspoon house on Lord Street, Southport. I got us both pints of Lytham IPA. The strength is scarcely visible on the pump clip, as you can see, so I failed to notice it is 5.6%. That wouldn't have bothered me, but I'm fairly certain Ann would have gone for something lighter had we realised; however she liked the flavour, even if it did have more kick than anticipated. Very nice and well kept: the brewer describes it as "a pale bitter with good, fresh sweet & hoppy flavour leading to a long, dry finish".

We managed to get a window seat, as we usually do, and watched the world go by, at least that bit of the world that was walking down Lord Street at the time. After an hour or two, we decided to have something to eat. The burgers and chips come with a beer for £5.39, so I had a pint of the Lytham IPA with mine, while Ann had a Lytham British Pride (4.2%). I'm not sure there's anywhere else where you could get a decent pint of real ale and a reasonable meal for £5.39. The place was busy but it wasn't full of kids running wild or drooling pensioners, as disagreeably depicted by some Wetherspoons haters on beer blogs. The children who were there were well-behaved.

I like the Segrave. It's not my favourite pub, but it has its place and is worth a visit. All in all, we spent a very agreeable Saturday afternoon there.

Sunday 1 June 2014

Music at beer festivals

This is a thorny question within CAMRA, and seeing how beer and music are the twin themes of this blog, I surprise myself by taking more than five years to broach it. Why now? A letter in the latest edition of What's Brewing, the CAMRA newspaper, in which a writer says he likes music of most popular genres, but finds it an affront to "endure the musical choices of others", comparing it to an "assault on the person". Affront? Assault? Strong talk, or perhaps too easily affronted.

The thought occurs to me that I don't know how you develop a liking for music of most popular genres if you don't listen to the musical choices of others at some point, whether they are the choices of friends or radio DJs. But more seriously, people who prefer beer festivals without music seem to feel they are being imposed upon. Is this true?

I'd say not. Live music can be very popular at festivals, and a well-known local band can draw in people who might otherwise not come, and in the process introduce them to real ale, which is what we all want, isn't it? It's a form of campaigning in action. I've been to festivals where the band is going down a storm with a small minority muttering about the noise. The answer's simple: go when there's no music on. I don't like football and avoid pubs that have a match showing, but I don't demand the end of football in pubs. But that's not good enough for some: I've known people complain when an advertised band has performed at a festival. That's as stupid as me moaning about a football match being on in a pub, especially when the pub has said it's going to be shown.

Opinion within CAMRA is split on this issue, but I don't understand why. It seems to me that the quiet brigade want to be able to turn up whenever they like and not have to listen to music, but festivals can't keep sessions clear just in case they decide to attend; that would amount to a total ban. Just accept that not everyone agrees with you and choose which sessions you go to: that is not unreasonable, but an attitude of "he shall have no music wherever he goes" definitely is. After all, those who are happy with the music don't demand it for every session.

I'd agree that not all music is wonderful, and in a real ale environment I don't like being unable to hear someone who is shouting in my ear, but while I've known that happen, in my experience it's not the norm at beer festivals. A bit more give and take and this storm in a pint pot would disappear.

Beer writer Pete Brown has written on the subject of beer and music here.