Monday 29 February 2016

The Heatons Bridge, Scarisbrick

The Heatons Bridge, Scarisbrick
Many years ago, I used to come out to this canalside pub to admire the view and enjoy the Walkers Bitter. That particular beer is long gone, but fortunately the Heatons Bridge is still there. It has a car park, an outside drinking area and an outdoor play area for young children. Inside, the pub hasn't changed a great deal. It has several separate drinking areas, and the front rooms retain some lovely old coloured glass windows with the names 'Tetley' and 'Heatons Bridge'.

The real ales: Tetley Bitter and Moorhouse's Black Cat Mild are always on, and when we called George Wright Valentine Kiss and Moorhouse's Clown Juice were available. The latter is brewed specially for the pub. Other changing beers include Moorhouse's Pill Box (also brewed for the pub) and beers from Crosby's Rock The Boat Brewery. We all enjoyed the beers we tried. The pub is deservedly in the Good Beer Guide, and is currently local CAMRA's Country Pub of the Year.

The cosy front room
Food is served from Wednesday to Saturday between midday and 2.00pm, and 5.30pm to 7.30pm, and midday to 4.00pm on Sunday. Children and dogs are welcome, and there's free Wi-Fi. Tuesday is quiz night, and the first Wednesday of the month is motor bike night. The railway travellers group OPSTA meets there every few weeks.

Outside the pub is a Second World War pillbox, placed there in case Hitler invaded the west coast and used the canal system for transport. This has prompted a military club to meet every second Thursday of the month, and twice a year military themed weekends, with enthusiasts in uniform and dozens of military vehicles from various periods. The next weekend is on 23/24 April and the following one in October. These rallies are open to the public.

The Heatons Bridge is on the B5242, and the 375 bus stops right outside. The address is 2 Heatons Bridge Road, Scarisbrick, L40 8JG. 
Phone: 01704 840549.

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 25 February 2016

Beerex at Cains Brewery

You can't fault Liverpool Organic Brewery for originality when choosing venues for its beer festivals: Old Christ Church in Waterloo, St Luke's bombed-out church and St George's Hall. both in Liverpool. The venue for the next one is the former Cains Brewery in Liverpool. This was previously the Higsons Brewery until Whitbread closed it down. Cains, which later operated on the site, closed down in June 2013 with debts of more than £8 million, but fortunately the impressive building is still there. I went on several brewery trips there.

The festival will be held in the old Cains canning hall with more than 200 real ales, continental bottled beers and ciders. They tell us there will also be wines, live music, locally sourced food , and the famous Liverpool Gin, which at £48 a bottle is for wealthy alkies only.

More info here.

Wednesday 24 February 2016

The Windmill, Southport

The Windmill
More than 30 years ago, I was a musician for a local, now long-gone, Morris dance side who used the Windmill as its local. In those days, the pub was run by the Matthew Brown brewery of Blackburn, also long-gone, but its memory, 'Lion Ales' (as Matthew Brown beers were called), is still etched in the old glass windows.

The Windmill is set back from the street and has a large outside drinking area to the front, including a large covered section. Signs at the front of the pub announce that food is available Monday to Friday (except Wednesday) from midday to 3pm and 5pm to 7.45, and from midday to 7.45pm on Saturday and Sunday. All the meat used in their menu is locally sourced. The prices struck me as very reasonable; I didn't have anything to eat, but I noticed there are many favourable reviews on TripAdvisor.

The pub has four distinct drinking areas around a three-sided bar; the one to the right of the door is virtually a separate room. There are televisions in two of the areas, but they are not intrusive and you can move to the other side of the pub if you don't want to watch.

There are two real ales that are always on offer: Theakston's Bitter and Caledonian Golden XPA, and I found both on good form. There is live Irish music features every Thursday and Friday is also a music night. Other facilities for customers include darts, pool, chess and giant jenga. There is street parking only, which is pay and display until 6.00pm. I noticed that dogs and children were welcome.

The landlord, Steve Leonard, is one of the longest-serving licensees in the area, and with that experience successfully runs this friendly, old-fashioned local which is just a couple of minutes' walk from Lord Street. You'll find it at 12-14 Seabank Road, Southport, PR9 0EL; tel: 01704 547319.

Correction 29.2.16: the Windmill tells me that Thursday's Irish night has been replaced by live music from the 60s to the present, and Friday night is an open mic night for local performers.

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 21 February 2016

Kicking off good style

According to Carlsberg UK, pubs can expect to gain at least £60 million of extra business this summer because of Euro 2016. As Carlsberg UK is sponsor of the England team and of the competition itself, you might argue that they would say that, wouldn't they? They will make 10,000 kits available to licensees across Great Britain consisting of fixture posters, planners, flags and wigs to help add to the atmosphere surrounding games. Flags and wigs? Isn't that football as playschool? When, for instance, Star Trek fans dress as their favourite characters, they are generally mocked, but when sports fans dress stupidly and paint their faces, it is somehow depicted as endearingly loyal and, when national teams are involved, patriotic.

David Scott, director of brands and insight (yes, really) at Carlsberg UK, said: “We know that 75% of pub goers watch football, presenting publicans with the perfect opportunity to engage existing customers and draw new ones in." Before accepting that unexpectedly high statistic, I'd want to see the supporting evidence. Or, to put it another, way, I frankly don't believe it.

In recent years, I have known several licensees who have taken out Sky Sports because they do not pay their way, and came across yet another last week. I'm certain that some of those who have kept it will be making a loss, but continue to provide it as a service for their regular customers. Licensees with Sky Sports have told me that many of the crowds that come in for football may have one or two pints during the entire match, with many vanishing as soon as the final whistle is blown. There are, of course, customers like myself who, faced with a noisy crowd of cheering, shouting and swearing men (they are mostly men) will turn around and go elsewhere.

Sport is not as popular as devotees (and Sky Sports) like to claim. Apart from big name events such as Wimbledon, the Cup Final and the Grand National, the ratings on terrestrial TV for sports events isn't spectacular, and they are often beaten by dramas and soaps. Despite this, we are fed the myth that we all love sports. I'm from Liverpool, home of Liverpool and Everton FCs and the Grand National, but I know many people whose interest in sport, although perhaps not quite as non-existent as mine, is certainly only passing rather than devoted.

At least those Sky Sports banners act as a warning to those who don't get excited by what is, essentially, the simplest sport on the planet. I find cricket boring, but it does have something more to it than simply: "Kick that ball into that net."

I shan't be watching Euro 2016, but then - like a lot of people - the only enticements I need to go to the pub are good company and good beer.

Thursday 18 February 2016

Comedy at the Windmill

If you fancy a comedy night this weekend, make your way to 
the Windmill, a long-established real ale pub in Southport

Wednesday 17 February 2016

Gastropubs save the Universe

Geoff, my correspondent in Hounlsow, has e-mailed to me an article in The Guardian written by Zoe Williams: "Twenty-five years of the gastropub - a revolution that saved British boozers". I'm always wary of such sweeping statements that are no more than hype about the topic in question rather than any general reality. Similarly irritating are articles and books with silly titles like "X number of things to do/eat/drink before you die".

Ms Williams writes: "Before the Eagle opened on a corner in Farringdon, London, a quarter of a century ago this month, eating was different and drinking was different. The gastropub revolution has been chiefly held to have improved pubs, rescued us from a life of pork scratchings and wet sandwiches toasted in their bags, but it was of immeasurable benefit, too, to gastronomy." The question arises: "chiefly held" by whom, precisely?

So food in pubs other than crisps and butties began in 1991, did it? Ms Williams wouldn't know as she would have been 17 at the time and if she were going to pubs then, I seriously doubt it would be to sample the food. I can assure her that pub food beyond pork scratchings existed a long time before 1991. Her article includes other sweeping generalisations that I don't intend to refute point by point, but suffice to say it does not present the knowledgeable broad overview of pub life that she attempts to affect. Her hypothesis is undermined by the survival of many pubs that either don't serve food at all, or offer no more than traditional snacks. While the numbers of wet-led outlets has declined, were she right, these would have mostly vanished after 25 years of the gastropub 'revolution'.

I am currently writing pub reviews for the local paper (you may also have noticed them on this blog), and food is an important part of the business of many of these pubs, but I would describe none of those I've visited as gastropubs. All have been anxious to emphasise their pub credentials, with customers welcome to sit and drink without being hovered over, or even displaced, by diners. Some may have parts of the pub that are reserved for diners when meals are being served, but always retain areas for drinkers.

Ms Williams goes on to give a list of the "The top 10 UK gastropubs", derived from a survey across the country sponsored by the Morning Advertiser. It is clear from the methodology that it is "The Industry's Choice" (their phrase), so a place on the list is not unlike an industry award. While it may be of interest to gastropub enthusiasts, it should be taken no more seriously than any other gongs that insiders award to their own.

Some local papers around here have published lists of "the best local pubs" based on Trip Advisor reports. While Trip Advisor has a broader base, most of its reports are written by visitors, not locals. Ordinary drinkers wandering around their local pubs won't usually go tapping on-line when they get home after a night on the ale. Like it or not, the only selective guide to pubs of any kind that is based the views of thousands of ordinary customers across the whole country remains the CAMRA Good Beer Guide. 

So does Ms Williams have a point about boozers being saved by the gastropub? In my opinion, no. I assume she was given X number of words to write on the topic and doubtless she did her best, but I don't get the impression she really knew what she was writing about.

Tuesday 16 February 2016

Protecting non-existent children from alcohol

The American Centers (sic) for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued advice to sexually-active American women that they should either stop drinking just in case they accidentally become pregnant, or use contraception every time. Understandably this has created something of a backlash, with some women objecting to being told to change their behaviour for a baby that doesn't exist.

Said one: "Women you are merely baby-bearin' vessels. Treat your body as if you may become pregnant at any minute", while another wrote, "Nope. We aren't incubators". 

The question of whether extremely moderate drinking affects a foetus is by no means clear cut, with some authorities insisting on total abstinence by women trying to become pregnant, while others suggesting otherwise. Australian health authorities advise women who want to conceive against getting drunk, but say: "If you drank small amounts of alcohol before you knew you were pregnant, be reassured that the risk of harm to your baby is low."

The CDC states that, "About half of all US pregnancies are unplanned and, even if planned, most women do not know they are pregnant until they are 4-6 weeks into the pregnancy. This means a woman might be drinking and exposing her developing baby to alcohol without knowing it."

Interestingly, they don't suggest the level of health problems in the unplanned half are higher than the planned half, and if there were reliable data to make such a suggestion, I'm certain they would have made sure we knew about it. Yes, there can be risks caused by drinking during pregnancy, including miscarriage, stillbirth and foetal alcohol syndrome, but the level of risk depends on the amount drunk, how often and at what point during pregnancy the alcohol is consumed. It is not as clear cut as they like to suggest: one slurp from a wine glass and your hypothetical baby is in danger.

It is a pity that bodies like the CDC and our own beloved Alcohol Concern go to the absolute extremes to make their points, implying that the worst-case scenario is the norm. All it does is discredit any real health message that might be worth getting across, but busy-bodies cannot, it seems, help themselves.

Or is there, as some American women think, a hidden agenda of controlling women's behaviour? I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised.

Monday 15 February 2016

The Imperial, Southport

The Imperial
Just beyond the northern end of Southport's famous Lord Street, the road's name changes to Albert Road. A few minutes' walk will bring you to The Imperial. It is one of two Southport pubs run by the Manchester brewery, Joseph Holt, the other being the Richmond on Scarisbrick New Road.

The Imperial is an attractive, large, white-painted pub that stands out prominently on the corner of Leyland Road. It has a large car park and an outside drinking area which is where dogs are welcome. They hold quiz nights on Sunday and Tuesday evenings. They offer free Wi-Fi, and their opening hours are 11.00am to 11.00pm,

Inside there are four distinct, nicely decorated areas, one of which is for meals only during the times when food is served. Although food is an important part of this pub's business, it is not at the expense of customers who simply wish to call in for a drink. They serve meals every day from 11.30am to 9.00pm. There are themed days: Tuesday pies; Wednesdays curry; Thursday steaks; Friday fish; and they also have a specials board and various special offers. Children are welcome, and they can also cater for functions.

The real ales that were on offer when I visited were: Holt's Bitter; Holt's Two Hoots; Holt's IPA, plus two guest beers: Everard's Tiger and Speckled Hen. The guest beers do change,and the week before my visit they were serving Reverend James from the Welsh brewery Brains. I tried all three Holt's beers and all were in good condition; my favourite was the traditional bitter. The beer is very reasonably priced: I paid between £2.34 and £2.54 for the three Holt's beers I had.

Definitely worth a visit. I'm told Sunday nights are especially popular, and a two-for-one offer on meals each Monday also gets the customers in. The Imperial is at 38 Albert Road, Southport, PR9 0LN. Tel: 01704 510986. 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.

Friday 12 February 2016

Folk festival in Southport

The Bothy Folk Club, including your truly, will be playing free sessions in the bar on both days at the following times: today - 6.45pm – 7.45pm; tomorrow - 1.35pm to 2.20pm and 5.30pm to 6.30pm.
Click here for more details of the festival acts; it's called Love Folk because this is the Valentine's Day weekend.

Wednesday 10 February 2016

Gravity v. handpump

Last night, the Southport Swords, our local longsword dance side, were on a mini-tour of some Southport real ale pubs and I was tagging along for the crawl. The last port of call was the Guest House where one of my favourites was on the bar: Liverpool Organic 24 Carat Gold, a 4.2% beer described as a "floral, fruity beer with moderate malts and a hint of spices". Well, yes - perhaps.

While my second pint was being pulled, the handpump broke, and Jack the barman asked whether I minded it being served straight from the cask. Of course I didn't, but it occurred to me that I had a rare opportunity to try beer from the same cask served by both handpump and gravity dispense. I found that there were distinct differences, although not enough to make you think they were different brews. The gravity beer tasted less smooth, I sensed a slight prickling sensation on the tongue, and overall it tasted sharper. In contrast, the handpumped beer was slightly smoother.

Both pints were perfectly enjoyable, but I was surprised how noticeable the differences were. I marginally preferred the handpumped version.

Tuesday 9 February 2016

The Cheshire Lines, Southport

The attractive frontage
Hidden just behind Lord Street in Southport is a fine traditional pub called the Cheshire Lines. It is a genuinely old pub which stands out prominently from the Victorian buildings that surround it. There is an outside drinking area to the front, and the pub sign still shows the old Walkers Ales trade mark from the days when that brewery was still brewing.

The pub has a lovely old frontage, and when you enter, there is a drinking area by the bar to the right and a small room to the left. To the rear there is a larger room where meals are served and where entertainment takes place. Food is available from midday to 6.00pm every day, except Saturday when it's 7.30pm. The pub is both child and dog friendly, and there's also free Wi-Fi for those who want it.

The rear room with fireplace
(when lit, a favourite with dogs)
The pub is named after the Cheshire Lines railway, which used to end at the Lord Street station (the front of which is now a hotel and the entrance to a supermarket). The railway connections are proudly displayed in the pub itself.

The beers: when I visited, the real ales available were Southport Sandgrounder, Robinson's Unicorn and Tetley's Mild. The mild is a permanent fixture, but the others beers do vary, usually between Martland Brewery and Southport. On a visit the previous week I had enjoyed the Martland Spinner's Gold. I have found all the beers were well-kept.

A feature in the front room
The pub is a friendly local, and on my visits I ended up chatting to several regulars. There is lot going on here: dominoes on Monday, darts night Tuesday, and Wednesday is a quiz night. There's a singer on the last Friday of every month, live entertainment on Saturdays, while Sunday is karaoke night. It is a very lively little pub. The Cheshire Lines is at 81 King Street, Southport, PR8 1LQ. Phone: 01704 546565. 

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 7 February 2016

Lighten up! It's only a joke!

Jane Peyton has written an article in the Morning Advertiser with the title: 'Beer sexism: It's spelled ale not male'. I know this is old ground, but the fact that a woman still feels the need to write such an article indicates the problem hasn't gone away. No surprise there, really.

As a union rep, my duties used to include Equal Opportunities, later referred to as Equality and Diversity. I was also selected to be an Equal Opportunities trainer by my employer, and as such I ran one-day training courses that all staff had to attend. The question of jokes inevitably raised its head, mostly jokes about gender, race, and sexual orientation. I found the most difficult people to persuade were young males; women and older males tended to get the point.

Time and time again, I was told: "No one on our section minds". I'd reply by pointing out that if people didn't actively object, that didn't mean they weren't offended or upset, and in open plan offices, it's not just your immediate colleagues who will hear. And anyway, why would you want to behave in a way that upsets your colleagues? Even if you don't agree with why they're upset?

That last point is the key one. It's a matter of showing respect to others, accepting that they may have sensibilities you don't share and a different sense of humour from you. The Equal Opps training days I ran weren't necessarily intended to win hearts and  minds - you can't convert a sexist pig in a day - but to improve behaviour. In the training sessions, if no other argument worked, I would ask sceptical young lads: "Why would you want to upset someone who can put in a formal complaint about you - and win?"

There is, of course, no system of complaints against brewers' sexism, but the point about not upsetting people even if you don't accept their reasons for being upset should be very important to a businessman who wants to sell his products: why alienate 51% of the population? The final sanction for the brewer is not a formal complaint, but women not buying your products. Don't you want to sell more beer?

I've never seen beer names and pumpclips that make 'funny' degrading references to race, religion, disability or sexual orientation, so why do brewers pick on women? Mainly because they think they can get away with it. If certain brewers aren't persuaded by the principled objections to sexist 'jokes', then they should at least care about their sales. If you think your laddish jokes are more important than your profits, you're not much of a businessman. And don't forget: even 'lads' grow up in time, usually more quickly than sexist brewers, from what I can see.

As for any males who agree with what I've written, I'd ask you to do what I do: hit them in the pocket by not buying such beers.

In this article, I have deliberately referred to 'businessmen', mainly because I'm certain that all of those behind such juvenile humour are male.

Friday 5 February 2016

Yet another Parliamentary cover-up!

Before                            After
It seems that cover-ups are an ingrained habit for our leaders. Dorset brewery Cerne Abbas were pleased when their Ale went on sale in the Strangers Bar in the Palace of Westminster, but it seems that it was too strong for our politicians: not the beer, but the pumpclip. The brewery's trade mark is the famous Cerne Abbas chalk giant, but someone has decided to preserve his modesty.

Cerne Abbas brewery, which has only been going for 15 months, has said that no one has taken offence before. Parliamentary beer group chairman Andrew Griffiths MP said: "The beer pump has the famous chalk man on the front of it and he is particularly well-endowed. That caused some consternation among the authorities here in Parliament and so a photocopy of a fig leaf was Blu-tacked in the strategic place. I think honourable members have got their knickers in a twist, but I hope as a result of it they drink a bit more beer."

Personally, I find such coyness rather surprising, coming as it does from a class of people who normally have no compunction in shafting the rest of us on a regular basis.

The brewery's slogan is, 'The modest brewery with giant integrity'.

Thursday 4 February 2016

The Martin Inn, West Lancs

The Martin Inn
The Burscough area is well off for attractive country pubs, and the Martin Inn is one such. It is in a beautiful rural setting about 15 minutes' drive from Southport, but if you're feeling energetic, a 1.4 mile walk from New Lane station on the Southport to Wigan line.

Firstly, the real ales: on our visit, they were offering a popular range consisting of Sharp's Doom Bar, Thwaites Bomber and Thwaites Wainwright, and they usually have a changing guest ale. The pub prides itself on the reasonable prices of its beers, and we were happy with the quality of those we tried.

There is a large car park and an outside drinking area. The pub is family and dog friendly, and they are open to midnight.

The pub is also well-known for its food, which is available at lunchtimes and in the evenings until 8.30pm during the week, 9.00pm on Friday, and all day on Saturday and Sunday, and they like to offer different themed nights for meals. Parties can be catered for as well as individual diners.

Live music is is featured on the first Friday of each month, and Wednesdays are bikers' nights. They have a pool table and a darts board, and Sky Sports are sometimes shown. A good-sized function room with accompanying catering is available for special events.

The Martin Inn is in Martin Lane, Burscough, L40 0RT. Telephone: 01704 892095.

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.

Tuesday 2 February 2016

A coalition of boredom

I have no objection to cricket existing, as it clearly gives a lot of pleasure to a lot of people, but I find it intensely boring. I've been told this is because I don't understand the game, but this isn't true; after all, I was forced to play it for nine years at school.

It therefore seems somehow fitting that the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has announced that Greene King IPA has become the Official Beer of England cricket. GK IPA is one of those intensely boring, utterly characterless beers, and it sits well alongside similarly tedious beers such as Tetley Bitter and John Smith Cask. In welcoming the deal with the ECB, GK's managing director describes the beer as "our iconic IPA". Funny: I never realised that 'iconic' now means 'dull as ditchwater'.

I don't know how the England cricket team is doing at the moment, but if their playing is as inspired as this beer, then if I were a fan, I'd be very worried. As it's the official beer, do the players have to drink it, I wonder? That would certainly be an unreasonable condition of employment.

Monday 1 February 2016

Not the best anything in the world

I don't like Carlsberg - deluded slogan "probably the best beer in the world" - but I like the way they treat their employees even less. Their treatment of their own staff has prompted the IUF (the International Union of Food workers) to issue this call:

Eleven members of the IUF-affiliated Cambodian Food and Service Workers' Federation (CFSWF) employed by transnational brewery giant Carlsberg's joint venture, local brewer Cambrew, have been dismissed in retaliation for taking strike action on 16 January. Workers are fighting the company's attempt to impose short-term employment contracts and late working hours.

The beer promotion women are employed by Cambrew to market and serve Angkor beer at restaurants, where they compete with promoters from other breweries working in the same restaurants.

Please click here to tell Carlsberg to reinstate the dismissed workers, enter into good faith negotiations with CFSWF and ensure that Carlsberg/Cambrew respects its workers’ rights.