Monday 30 November 2015

No Rhyming With Orange

I'm sorry to report that the gig by local band, Rhyming With Orange, which was to take place at The George in Duke Street, Southport, this Friday 4 December has been cancelled. This is because the pub has closed down again and is all locked up and in darkness. It is sad news for the pub that it seems to be on the brink of permanent closure yet again, but pubs in suburban areas do seem to be at particular risk, a subject I wrote a post about last month.

A certain support act, Nev Grundy, is reported to be devastated. Perhaps there'll be another time.

The Farmers Arms, Burscough

The Farmers Arms
The Farmers Arms is a canal-side pub on New Lane in Burscough, Lancashire. It was taken over fairly recently and the new owners are keen to improve what's on offer at the pub. It is an attractive brick building with moorings on the canal, a patio area for outside drinking, weather permitting, and some fine views. The pub is a popular stopping point for both walkers and cyclists with cycle racks and track pump available. The pub even played a part in the local defence of the area during the Second World War. The two storey tower next to the car park entrance was actually built as a gun tower and was manned to defend against invasion via air or the canal system.

Like many country pubs, food is important here as well as beer. It is served every day at lunchtime and in the evening during the week and all day on Saturday and Sunday; last food orders are at 8.30 pm. Children eat free with a paying adult. On Sunday they offer a roast dinner, Monday is burger night and Thursday is steak night. They can cater for functions such as weddings and funerals, and they are also accepting bookings for Christmas parties. 

Serving our beer 
The real ales that were on when we visited were Moorhouses Black Cat, Wells Bombardier, Tetley Bitter, Moorhouses Pride of Pendle, Sharps Doom Bar, and they usually offer a changing guest beer. Everyone in our party was happy with the quality of the beers they were drinking. There is a happy hour Monday to Thursday 4.00 pm till 6.00 pm, and 4.00 pm till 8.00 pm on Fridays, and the pub is open until midnight every day. They may decide to hold a beer festival in future. There is a quiz night on Thursdays and an open mic night on Saturdays. The pub is family friendly and dogs are permitted in the bar. Car park available. 

Contacts: phone 01704 896021; pub website.

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.

Sunday 29 November 2015

Mixing your drinks

Black and tan
A casual comment about snakebite last night got me thinking about how people used to mix two different beers, or beer with cider, a lot more than they do now. Having decided to write something about it, I noticed that Boak and Bailey had recently written about mixing beers in the present day, but I had in mind the old mixes that used to be quite popular.

The most common one was probably bitter with brown ale. We called this 'brown and bitter' when I was student in Warrington, but later when I worked in Liverpool a colleague firmly told me that it was called 'brown bitter'. When I asked why he chose it, he pointed out that you got well over a half of bitter along with your brown ale: this is the same mentality as people who get pint glasses in beer festivals but order halves, thus getting overgenerous measures from lazy bar volunteers.

Another mixture I came across was light and bitter - a bottle of light or pale ale with the bitter. This was sometimes misheard by bar staff in noisy pubs as mild and bitter. I have wondered whether these mixtures arose as an attempt to disguise poorly kept draught beer in the 50s and 60s by diluting it with bottled beer, which would at least have the virtue of consistency. Other combinations I came across included (using the Liverpool terms) 'mixed' (bitter and mild) and 'brown mix' (brown and mild).

'Black and tan' was bitter and Guinness, although I've seen suggestions it should be a pale or light ale rather than bitter. This was often poured to create two layers, as in the picture. I've heard the term used to describe dark mild and Guinness, although using the word 'tan' as part of the description of a mixture of two dark drinks seems odd to me. Light mild would make sense, but that wasn't readily available where I used to drink. The term 'black and tan' was never used in Ireland for obvious reasons; they prefer to call it 'half and half'.

'Snakebite' was bitter and cider in the 70s, but more recently I've heard the term applied to lager and cider. This was quite a lethal mixture, or at least it seemed so at the time. Guinness and cider was called 'poor man's black velevet', the original of course being Guinness and champagne. Once for my birthday party I made a black velvet punch which was very popular, although I replaced the champagne with Pomagne. If I were to try it again today, I'd probably use cava.

There were other mixtures, such as lager and lime, lager and blackcurrant, Guinness and blackcurrant and cider and blackcurrant, but these were just ways of sweetening beer for people who basically didn't really like the taste of it. Also, obviously, they are not mixtures of two alcoholic drinks.

Nowadays I very rarely hear people ordering such mixtures. Perhaps draught beers are more consistent and interesting nowadays. Price too may be a factor, bottled beers being significantly dearer than draught. Or it could just be that the times they are a-changing.

Saturday 28 November 2015

7 out of 10 pubs serve real ale

Great news: research* has shown that 70% of pubs now serve real ale'. However, I note that CAMRA says that "micropubs [are] leading the way". I tend to find hyperbole irritating, and this statement is a good example. There are in the UK:
  • 53,444 pubs.
  • 37,356 pubs serving real ale.
  • 150 micropubs.
This means that micropubs represent 0.4% of real ale pubs. The oldest, the Butcher's Arms in Herne, Kent, is now 10 years old, and yet the turnaround in real ale's fortunes goes back a lot longer than that, as we all know. While I fully agree micropubs are a very welcome addition to the real ale scene, I am struggling to see precisely how they are leading the way. As this hype was contained in a CAMRA press release about the next Good Beer Guide, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised: commerce often supplants reality when you've a product to sell.

Still, the good news is that nowadays we generally don't have to hunt very hard to find a reasonable pint as we had to in the past. I say 'generally' because there are certain types of areas in the UK that remain real ale deserts, such as some economically depressed areas, many council estates and anywhere else devoid of a middle class voices and, more importantly, comfortable disposable incomes. The attitude is clearly any old smooth rubbish for the masses. 

* Research conducted using CAMRA's WhatPub database and CGA-CAMRA Pub Tracker.

Thursday 26 November 2015

Whatever happened to 24 hour opening?

I found this interesting article by Camila Ruz on the BBC news magazine website about the impact of 24 hour opening hours. It was published on 24 November, 10 years to the day since the Licensing Act came fully into force. As the article states:

It was reported that the act would lead to round-the-clock drinking and there were warnings that extended hours would cause chaos. The Royal College of Physicians said it would increase alcohol consumption. Police chiefs complained that their forces would be stretched. One judge said that easy access to alcohol was breeding "urban savages".

The article goes on to show how the anticipated chaos never materialised. As most of us know, alcohol consumption is in decline, as is violent crime, including that attributed to drinking. Teetotalism is on the increase, including among young people.

So how did so many authoritative people get it so badly wrong? Because those people were not speaking objectively, but were applying their own preconceptions, prejudices, preferences and motives. Or, more concisely, they had their own agendas. The consequence of getting things so badly wrong is that future predictions of doom are more likely to face a sceptical eye, which is what happens when you keep on crying 'wolf'.

This scepticism already greets the official guidelines of 14 or 21 units per week. Among my friends and acquaintances, there are people who drink regularly, and others who don't drink much at all, but I don't recall anyone ever suggesting to me that they take the guidelines seriously. If they are mentioned at all, they are usually treated as a joke. Now we find that the prophets of doom have been decisively proved wrong about 24 hour opening which means, as pundits, they are less likely to be taken seriously in future. The irritating thing is that I doubt they realise this.

I don't know anywhere that opens for 24 hours. There was one bar that did so in Southport, but it doesn't any more.

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Lancashire Day 2015

This Friday 27 November sees the annual celebration of Lancashire Day, and many pubs in our local area will be taking part. Lancashire Day commemorates the day in 1295 when the county sent its first representatives to attend what later became known as the Model Parliament during the reign of Edward I.

In Southport the following pubs will be involved as far as I know (there may be others):
  • The Tap & Bottles, in Cambridge Walks, from 1.00pm will be providing traditional Lancashire beers and entertainment.
  • The Inn Beer Shop, in Lord Street have announced that Pete & Pam Bardsley invite you to join them to celebrate Lancashire Day, with Proclamation at 6.00pm, traditional Lancashire beers, music, hot pot, cheese board, cheese & onion pie, Chorley & Eccles cakes, prize for the best dressed Lancastrian. Tel: 01704 533054.
And in West Lancashire similar events as below:
  • The Cricketers, at 24,Chapel St, Ormskirk, traditional Lancashire beers, hot pot and tapas. Tel: 01695 571123.
  • The Ship Inn, Wheat Lane, Lathom, traditional Lancashire beers and menu. Tel: 01704 893117.
  • Ring O' Bells Lane, Lathom, Near Burscough L40 5TE, Join the Lancashire Society at the Ring 0' Bells for a "Lancashire Night" with entertainment by "Tackers Tales" (Sid Calderbank & Mark Dowding) as well as clog dancers, musicians, Lancashire dialect, poems and traditional Lancashire beers, All welcome free entry 7.30pm till Tel: 01704 893157.
  • The Farmers Club will be providing free Lancashire hotpot from about 4.00 pm until stocks run out.
  • The Hop Vine, Liverpool Road North, Burscough, Lancashire Day beer offer, Burscough Brewery, Duke of Lancaster at £1.50 per pint! Tel: 01704 893799.
  • Infusions Bistro, 2-4, Orrell Lane, Burscough, Seven Course Lancashire Feast, Lancashire bottled beers. Tel: 01704 893356.
Info from Jeff Carter, via Mike Perkins, with additional info from Brian Brighouse. Thanks to all.

Other Lancashire Day events, not necessarily involving pubs, can be found here on the tourist board website.

Tuesday 24 November 2015

ACV - safeguard or fig leaf?

Sorry for the lapse in postings; I don't like to leave things so long but, as I said on 31 October, I've had recurring minor ailments that have made me feel generally under the weather since September. On the mend now, though.

I've just noticed an item in the Morning Advertiser that may well be a significant setback to CAMRA's strategy of campaigning for pubs to be granted Asset of Community Value (ACV) status. Woking Council has revoked the ACV status of the Star Inn in Wych Hill, Surrey, and has granted permission for it to be turned into a Co-op supermarket. They said that a local community group had failed to show that it had community value as a pub, citing an e-mail from one councillor that stated that the pub had deteriorated with licensees who "tended to cater to younger, rowdy, non-residents of the local area."

The residents said that they'd like the Star to become a gastropub as it was the only place that could provide food, drink and accommodation in the area, which - they added - was already well served by supermarkets. The council replied that another supermarket could also become a valued local asset.

So there you have it. While I know that no one has claimed that obtaining ACV status conclusively and permanently saves a pub, I do feel it may have been relied upon rather more than it merited; it is merely a tool in the process of saving a pub, not the final result. As with so many campaigning issues, it is a mistake to assume a success is permanently in the bag: you often have to fight for things over and over again.

The only other thought that occurs to me is that if the good people of Wych Hill had made greater use of the pub before it became at risk, perhaps it would not have come to this. Use them or lose them.

Sunday 8 November 2015

A dissatisfied customer

I expect CAMRA Southport and West Lancs Branch is rather upset by the letter in our local paper, The Southport Visiter, stating that, far from being the success that a branch spokesperson had asserted, the Southport Beer Festival was in fact a disappointment: there weren't enough tables, the beer choice didn't impress him, and people had to dodge discarded food and plates. He said he spoke to 20 or 30 people who felt as he did. The gentleman concerned is entitled to his opinion, of course, but in my view, he has been rather harsh. I attended the festival twice: I was a floor walker for the Friday evening session, and was a punter on Saturday afternoon.
  • Not enough tables. The hall is small and space is limited; when the festival is busy, there simply isn't the space to provide as much seating as they'd ideally like to. There isn't another venue in or near the town centre that is suitable, available and affordable.
  • The beer choice didn't impress him. The festival had beers from many local microbreweries that you may not readily come across in Southport pubs, such as: 3 Potts (Southport); Big Clock (Accrington); Burscough (Burscough); Connoiseur (St Helens); Problem Child (Parbold); Red Star (Formby); Parker (Banks); Third Eye (Eccleston); Melwood (Knowsley); Rock The Boat (Crosby).There were also beers from more established small breweries, such as Bank Top, Southport, Prospect, Liverpool Organic and Liverpool Craft. The original point of beer festivals was to introduce people to beers they don't usually come across, and in this respect I regard the festival as a success. I also approve of supporting local microbreweries. But, whatever beers you put on, you won't please everyone.
  • Loads of dissatisfied customers. Did he really spend all the time it would have taken to conduct market research on 30 people at the beer festival? Or has he exaggerated ever so slightly? As a floor walker on the Friday evening, I spoke to a lot of people, rather more - I suspect - than the letter writer. I didn't hear a bad word about the festival; nor did I on the Saturday as a customer. 
  • On neither day did I see discarded food lying around in any great quantities.
To be fair to the writer, he did give his name and address. I am unimpressed when people write scathing letters to the papers (or, for that matter, put highly critical comments on blogs) and then hide behind anonymity. I am not, however, convinced that his views are as representative as he would like to claim.

In general, I appreciate the efforts of the volunteers on the festival committee who put in a lot of work in their own time for no reward to provide a significant local event which this year supported our local breweries, quite a few of which are very new. That work deserves a better acknowledgement than the letter in the Visiter would suggest.

Thursday 5 November 2015

No robo-licensees

I've just read in What's Brewing that pub licensees are highly unlikely to be replaced by robots in the foreseeable future. Researchers at Oxford University found that there was a 0.4% chance of automated licensees, largely because of the social interaction and cultural knowledge required.

I also expect the robots were unable to inject sufficient sarcasm into phrases such as:
  • No one else has complained.
  • Haven't you got homes to go to?
  • It's meant to be like that.
  • This is a pub, not a nightclub.
  • No, we don't have WiFi - we talk to each other.
  • We opened by that clock and we're closing by it.

Sunday 1 November 2015

Courage Directors

The Guest House in Southport quite often has Courage Directors on, and in recent years I've tended to ignore it as a debased relic of a beer I used to seek out. In the past, it wasn't a common sight in Merseyside, or Warrington where I was a student, but we knew the story of how it was brewed for the directors of the Courage company, and was put on general sale owing to public demand. If we came across it on trips down south, we'd leap upon it with enthusiasm.

The beer is now brewed by Charles Wells of Bedford, brewers of Bombardier and all the Youngs beers. In the last month or so, I've been giving it a try and I have to say that, far from being a brewing relic like, say, Tetleys or Boddingtons, it remains a perfectly acceptable pint in its own right, that stands up well among the newer beers that often surround it on the Guest House bar.

As usual, I looked at the brewer's own tasting notes: "Full bodied with a clean, bitter taste, balanced with a sweet burnt, malty and fruity notes with a distinctive dry-hop aroma and flavour." Actually, that's not too far from the mark at all. It's difficult to remember tastes accurately over a long period of time, and I cannot be certain how the original Directors used to taste, but from what I do recall, it is still recognisably the same beer. I'm wondering whether the Wells version has improved, as I remember not being so impressed in their early days of brewing it.

I'd now describe it as a good example of a classic British beer style; it's not innovative (how long can any beer remain innovative?) and probably not to the taste of those who dismiss 'brown beers' out of hand, but I find it an enjoyable pint nonetheless.