Thursday 31 March 2016

Cask - award-winning Liverpool micropub

Cask in Stoneycroft
To Liverpool this week to visit Liverpool CAMRA's Pub of the Year for 2016: Cask, a micropub in Stoneycroft, was opened in July 2015 in a former corner shop. It is a single-roomed bar, lightly decorated with interesting items on the walls; large windows make it light and airy. Proprietors Ian and Michelle welcome customers, many by name, and they estimate that about 80% live locally: Cask is clearly becoming part of the community.

The beers are constantly changing and when my friend and I arrived, they were: Tiny Rebel One Inch Punch, Offbeat Hinkey Herkulean Hopper, Blackjack Pokies and Skinners Penny Come Quick Stout. I thought I knew my beer, but some were new to me. Two ran out while we were there and were replaced by Shiny Mandaria Pale and Offbeat Kooky Gold, with Salopian Far Side and Liverpool Organic Bier Head lined up next. At weekends, the number of beers on offer goes up to five. Between the two of us, we tried most of these, and all were very drinkable. They prefer to buy beers from smaller breweries, both local and from across the country.

They stock two changing ciders - on the day they were Rosie's Triple D Cider and Orchard Pig Explorer - plus a range of continental beers and a selection of wines. While we were there, a group of young women came in to share a bottle of Prosecco, so it's not just real ale types who like the place.

Cask offers the following: oversized glasses to guarantee a full measure; third of a pint glasses; try before you buy; and two pint carry-outs. Children are allowed with well-behaved parents, but no dogs. No food, other than snacks such as crisps.

There was a friendly and relaxed atmosphere with people coming and going during the afternoon: we certainly enjoyed the couple of hours we spent there.

Cask is at: 438 Queens Drive West Derby, Liverpool, L13 0AR. Tel: 07747 034499. No car park, but buses (60, 81 and 81A) pass frequently; coming from the Bootle direction, get off just after the Jolly Miller pub on your left. Opening hours: Monday closed; Tuesday to Friday 4.00pm to 9.30pm; Satruday and Sunday 2.00pm to 9.30pm.

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 29 March 2016

Not a conspiracy after all ... probably

Yesterday I logged onto the Morning Advertiser website where I saw a link to an article by Pete Brown, the beer writer, on the subject of the deceptive figures that are frequently quoted by anti-alcohol campaigners. It is a subject he has written about a number of times before. However, when I clicked on the link, I was faced by a blank page. I logged out several times and logged back in with the same result. I wondered whether the Morning Advertiser had censored the article, or - worse - removed it under pressure.

When I decided to check the website today, I found that the link now worked, although I think it was less prominent than yesterday. Nonetheless it is there after all, previously hidden by a glitch (I presume), therefore a cock-up rather than a conspiracy. I do find it a bit of a coincidence that it happened to that particular article, one that the anti-alcohol brigade would utterly loathe because it blows their fallacious arguments out of the water. It's definitely worth a look, Pete's main point being that the £21 billion figure for the cost of alcohol to society keeps on being quoted across all our news media without ever being examined. Click here to see the article - while you still can!

Monday 28 March 2016

The Fishermen's Rest, Birkdale

The historic Fishermen's Rest
Over the Easter weekend, I called into the Fishermen's Rest, which is close to the sea front in Birkdale. This single-storey building was once the coach house to the supposedly haunted Palace Hotel, but it was a real life tragedy that gave the pub its name: after the Mexico lifeboat disaster, the worst in British history, occurred in the seas just off Southport, the lifeboatmen who had perished were laid out in the building. This is commemorated by fourteen mermaids on the brass rail on the bar.

Nowadays, the pub is pleasantly decorated, there are two separate areas with split levels and, although it was busy, I found there to be a comfortable, relaxed feel to the place. There were a lot of diners when I called in: the menu looks interesting and reasonably priced, there is a changing specials board, and food is served until 9.30pm every day. Children are welcome while food is being served. Ed Loftus, the licensee, told me with some pride that the Fish (as it's known locally) is number one on TripAdvisor among pubs in the area.

There are four real ales on sale: two regulars, Theakstons Bitter and Deuchars IPA, and two guests, which on my visit were Brains Reverend James and Marstons Pedigree, with Hogboblin Gold and St Austell Tribute lined up next. The two beers I tried were very well-kept, and the pub has deservedly received two CAMRA awards in recent years: Licensee of Excellence 2013 and Best Community pub in 2014. Ed told me that, while the food is popular, drinks make up most of their sales, so anyone who just wants to call in for a pint is welcome.

They have a quiz night on Thursdays, and once a year just before Christmas, the local Bothy Folk Club present a concert of carols. There is a car park, outside seating and a smoking shelter. For more information, go to their website, and they're also on Facebook. The address is 2 Weld Road, Southport, PR8 2AZ; phone 01704 569986. The 47, 49 and X2 buses stop nearby on Lulworth Road.

To summarise, this is an historic pub and well worth your attention today.

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 24 March 2016

CAMRA AGM - a RedNev pub tour? [cancelled]

Are any readers of ReARM coming to Liverpool for the CAMRA AGM? If so, would you care to join me for an informal tour of some of my favourite Liverpool pubs?

I was thinking of holding it on Saturday night, meeting in the members' bar and taking it from there. I haven't thought it all through yet, but I was thinking of 5 or 6 pubs, including:
  • The Philharmonic - the most ornate pub I know anywhere. John Lennon said one of the downsides of fame was not being able to go into the Phil for a pint.
  • Ye Cracke - also John Lennon connections, plus it's the first pub I drank in in the city centre area.
  • Roscoe Head - a multi-roomed pub that's been in every Good Beer Guide.
If anyone's interested, let me know in the comments below. If there are any takers, I'll publish a post next week with more details.

P.S. 27 March: No takers, so obviously not a good idea.
As the song says, let's call the whole thing off! See some of you perhaps over the weekend.

Wednesday 23 March 2016

Smoking and the myth of the deluded drinker

I like reading The Pub Curmudgeon's blog and, given our widely different political perspectives, quite often agree with what he says. However, one issue that divides us is smoking in pubs. He recently wrote an item on state interference in individual choices, beginning with the sugar tax and moving onto smoking with the comment: All you silly people who pooh-poohed “first they came for the smokers”, where do you stand now?

Is he right? Have we non-smoking drinkers been led by the nose into a trap set by people using the template of the process that led to the smoking ban in pubs? Curmudgeon is a libertarian on the right, and though not a smoker himself, objected to the ban as an infringement of personal liberty. I'd rather hoped that, nearly nine years after the ban was introduced, that this was yesterday's issue; Curmudgeon has made it clear that he feels vindicated by the way things have turned out, more or less saying I told you so.

Contrary to what a few people have suggested in comments on this blog in the past, I don't subscribe totalitarian left wing politics such as we saw in the USSR. I don't advocate state regulation of every area of life, and I have stated a number of times on this blog that taxation should be used to raise funds to run the country and not as a method of social control (partly because it hits the poorest and weakest in society hardest, while leaving the better-off largely unaffected - in effect, a poll tax). In short, I'm closer to the libertarian rather than the totalitarian wing of the left, and my view of smoking is: smoke all you like, but I simply do not want to share your habit. Your right to smoke should not diminish my right to breathe smoke-free air.

In the build-up to the smoking ban, there was a lot of debate on the possible options: total ban, separate, self-contained smoking rooms, or the status quo. The fact that the status quo was never going to be a realistic option didn't stop some people arguing for it, including Curmudgeon who told us: "Let the market decide".

Could smoking in pubs ever have been an issue for the market? Can smoking in pubs be determined by the notion of personal choice?

When smoking was left to the market, as it was pre-July 2007, the market failed miserably. Despite the fact that a sizeable minority of pub-goers were non-smokers, the level of provision was minimal. By the time of the ban, the only non-smoking areas in our pubs in Southport that I knew about were in Wetherspoons. A separate area in an open plan pub doesn't really work as smoke can't read. My local experimented with a non-smoking room for a while, but abandoned it because the space was being underused in a very busy pub.

Market forces at work? We could realistically talk about market forces if smokers and non-smokers all drank separately in two separate clans, but they never did, and still don't. My own experience, which consists of 45 years of pub-going, is that, even when there was a non-smoking room, non-smokers would gravitate to the smoking areas to accommodate their smoking friends. This is not a situation the market dealt with; we know this because it didn't, and couldn't.

If rolled out to every pub that could accommodate a smoking room, the separate smoking room option would not work for very similar reasons: mixed groups of smokers and non-smokers would still not want to be split up, so we'd likely end up with a crammed smoking room with mixed groups of smokers and non-smokers, with other smokers in the smoke-free areas against their preferences. The fact that some could smoke in the pub, but others couldn't because the smoking room was full, would probably have been a source of discontent, with some smokers perhaps openly ignoring the ban: before 2007, I saw smokers deliberately light up in non-smoking areas of pubs, as I still do sometimes on buses, trains and other public areas where smoking is not allowed.

So how far does Curmudgeon's repeated claim that non-smoking drinkers ignored the precedent of the smoking ban actually stand up?

Firstly, a serious point: I'm heartily sick of Pastor Martin Niemöller's poem about the Holocaust being misappropriated for any reason; to do so is disrespectful in the extreme and trivialises one of the worst mass atrocities in human history.

Secondly, it simply isn't true. At the CAMRA national AGM in Cardiff in 2008, I went to a discussion group about what they called the neo-prohibitionists. The anti-alcohol campaigners had at that point been in business for quite a while; it wasn't a new phenomenon that arose after July 2007, and anyone who wasn't aware of what they were up to wasn't paying attention.

Despite all of this, should all drinkers have united behind the opposition to the smoking ban? I don't see how they could. If you prefer your air without smoke, how can you campaign for something that would retain it? Such a suggestion makes no sense at all. People were not being short-sighted; the employment of similar tactics against both smoking and drinking does not mean that the two different issues can automatically make common cause.

For 36 years I went to smoky pubs. I have had sinus problems all my life, and I suspect they have been exacerbated by second hand smoke. I also wear contact lenses. Pre-ban, campaigners for smoking in pubs didn't gave a toss about the effects that smoke can have on others. While it was all going their way, they could see no reason to make any accommodation with non-smokers. For them to have expected the people whose rights they regarded as unimportant to support them against the ban once it was likely to become reality really does take the biscuit. I have to emphasise here that I am not generalising about all smokers, most of whom I have not found to be selfish: only most of those who were vociferously opposed to any sort of ban.

It is all yesterday's issue anyway: six years ago, a survey of students showed that 90% were opposed to lifting the smoking ban; I doubt that percentage has gone down. If it pleases some people to see themselves as voices in the wilderness, modern day Cassandras condemned to tell the truth but never be believed, then fine, but it's best to see such delusions for what they are.

Monday 21 March 2016

New micropub updates

The Stocks: the micropub that never was
(picture from Google street view)
In August last year, I wrote "Subject to planning permission, Molloys furniture shop at 589 Lord Street, Southport, will be converted into a real ale bar with outdoor seating to the front." This has now opened as Peaky Blinders, apparently the name of a Brummie criminal gang more than a century ago.

It's not a real ale bar. There was one real ale when I visited: an indifferent pint of Timothy Taylor's Landlord at a steep £3.75 a pint. The bar seems popular, but not with any real ale drinkers I know, especially as there is a choice of real ales from 75p to £1.05 cheaper about a minute's walk away in the Guest House. It serves a purpose, but cannot be seen as a serious contender on the micropub scene.

In September I reported that planning permission to open a micropub/beer shop in Churchtown had been sought by a Mr Lee Coates. The pub was to be called the Stocks, after an old set of stocks on the village green nearby. Although planning permission had been granted, Mr Coates has decided to pull the plug on the project, according to the Southport Visiter. The only explanation given is that Mr Coates and the landlord failed to reach an agreement.  

This is a shame, as it would have provided some welcome diversity to the pub scene in Churchtown, which has two traditional old pubs, each fine in its own way (see my post from 2014), but not much else.

At least the Grasshopper in Hillside, which I described yesterday, seems to have made a good start.

Sunday 20 March 2016

Hop in to the Grasshopper

The Grasshopper on its first day
Last week on St Patrick's Day, I decided to go to Southport's newest micropub on its opening day: the Grasshopper at 70 Sandon Road, just off Waterloo Road, in Hillside. The premises were once a branch of Martins Bank, which had a grasshopper trademark. When I arrived, there was already a comfortable hum of conversation as hosts Angie and Andrew made customers welcome. The décor is minimalist: one wall is stripped to the bricks, the rest are painted white, the floor is bare wood, and it is furnished with tall tables and chairs.

The bar has four handpumps and two fonts. On my visit, the real ales were: Parker Centurion Pale Ale, Burscough Priory Gold, Rock The Boat Bootle Bull, and George Wright St Patrick's Black Gold; these are all local beers, and the ones I tried were in good form. The choice will change, and the 'Coming Soon' notice board looked promising. The prices are reasonable, and they sell you third of a pint measures if you want. The fonts dispense two beers from the Outstanding Brewery of Bury: White, a wheat beer, and Pilsner. They also offer a choice of wines.

There is no food, but they have made an arrangement with the chip shop across the road that they will deliver to the pub, so you can have a swift drink while you wait. Children are admitted until around 6.00pm, and dogs are welcome too. Andrew told me they have the premises next door and they may in time expand into there, but not just yet. There is plenty of free street parking, the 47 bus passes just yards away, and it's a five minute walk to Hillside Station.

By the time I left, it was pretty busy with around thirty people, most from the immediate area. It is open 4.00 to 9.30pm Monday to Friday, and noon to 9.30pm on Saturday and Sunday. This micropub meets a long-standing need in Hillside: hop in if you get the chance.

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 17 March 2016

A song for St Patrick's Day

Many years ago, I was playing at a folk club down South and the person on immediately before me had everyone singing along with this song. When I was introduced, I said, "It's funny hearing that song because my father was from the Orange and my mother was from the Green", which is true.

The roomful of blank faces told me they hadn't a clue what the song they'd just been heartily singing was all about.

Wednesday 16 March 2016

Sylvia Anderson and Lady Penelope

Lady Penelope and cigarette
(probably not a Woodbine)
Sad to hear that Sylvia Anderson has died at the age of 88. Like many people my age, I loved the various TV series in Supermarionation (i.e. posh puppetry) that she and her husband Gerry produced for us in the 60s. My favourite was, perhaps predictably, Thunderbirds.

Thunderbirds included the posh, elegant and beautiful London agent of International Rescue, Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, whose appearance was based on Sylvia herself (although that wasn't her idea); she also devised the character's personality and provided the voice.

When not defeating the baddies helped by her loyal chauffeur Parker, Lady Penelope could sometimes be seen smoking a cigarette in a long holder, which would have been viewed as a sign of sophistication at the time. Imagine if one of the heroes of a modern children's TV show was shown smoking: the knee-jerk, shocked reactions about the irresponsibility of sending all the wrong messages to impressionable young people, along with demands that the producer be sacked.

Sylvia was justifiably proud of the Lady Penelope character because, unusually for the time, she wasn't a wife or girlfriend tagging along behind the square-jawed hero; she was a leading character herself, a valued part of the IR team, and a good example for the girls who were watching. Although Sylvia has gone, we'll still have Lady Penelope for a long time to come, partly because her date of birth is 24 December 2039, and partly because Sylvia's creation was so memorable.

Here is the Thunderbirds theme tune, which for my money is among the best of TV themes, played extremely well by the Band of the Royal Marines. I do like hearing it; perhaps it takes me back to more innocent (and pre-beer) times.

Monday 14 March 2016

Clock watching

After spending the day at Wigan beer festival recently, I had about half an hour to kill before the last train home, so I decided to cross the road and go to the Berkeley on Wallgate. I strolled to the bar and waited while the barman wandered around collecting glasses. After a minute or two, he approached me.

"We've stopped serving," he said. It was about 10.40pm.
"You close before 11 o' clock?" I asked surprised, as the pub advertises that it's open until 11.00pm during the week.
"I went round and asked everyone and no one wanted any more, so I closed the bar."
I think I just said, "I see", and left. There's little point in doing anything else.

I wrote about early closing last August after a visit at 9.45pm to the Falstaff in Southport where I was told by the barman that the licensee wanted to close at 10.00pm, a full hour early. I walked out and haven't been back there since. Apart from the prospect of a slightly early finish and perhaps a small monetary saving, I don't see what is gained by closing early: if a shop or a café has only a few customers, they don't close early. Annoy customers who roll up later in the evening and the chances are they won't come back, and you'll then lose rather more than small amount of staff wages and electricity costs saved. I'm certain that the Falstaff has in relation to my custom alone.

Not impressed.

Sunday 13 March 2016

Stamps Bar, Crosby

Stamps Bar in Crosby
I had agreed to meet an old school friend in Stamps Bar, Crosby, as neither of us had been there for some time. Situated on a prominent corner of the Liverpool-Southport road, it used to be a post office, hence the name, and is on two levels, the upper floor being reached by a wrought iron staircase.

The bar has six handpumps and the real ales available when we called were: Revolutions Pretender, BG Sips Pale Ale, Woodland Brewery Midnight Stout, Copper Dragon Golden Pippin, Bradford Odsal Top, and Stamps Bondi Blond. Yes, the pub has its own micro-brewery in nearby Kirkdale (capacity 36 gallons). The beer range is constantly changing, although it always includes one of Stamps own brews and a stout or porter. All the beers we tried were in good order, and the Bondi Blond was a pleasant, well-balanced, very drinkable pale beer that didn't rip your taste-buds off with excessive hops or citrus. Bottled beers include Stamps own range, plus a good selection of beers from around the world. Other drinks available are BrewDog Punk IPA, Blue Moon Belgian White Wheat Beer and a wide range of gins.

Stamps has several regular events during the week, much of it musical: Tuesday is ukulele night, Wednesday quiz night, Friday a disco and there is live music on Saturday and Sunday. Thursday 17th March is St Patrick's Day and they have special night planned. Food should be available very soon once a new chef is in post. The pub has free Wi-Fi and computer terminals for customers' use. Children are admitted, but no dogs. They have a pleasant outside drinking area to the rear, nicknamed by customers the Yard of Ale.

We had a very pleasant afternoon; there was a steady flow of customers and a happy buzz of conversation around the place. The busy barmaid was very helpful in telling me about the pub and the beers, and was so keen that we try the Stamps Bondi Blond that she gave us free samples - so how could we refuse?

Stamps is at 4 Crown Buildings, Crosby, L23 5SR. Phone: 0151 286 2662, and website. It is about 8/10 mile from Bundellsands station, but many buses, including the X2 and the 47, stop two minutes' walk away.

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 10 March 2016

Drinkers ignore recommended limits (yawn!)

More tut-tutting from the anti-alcohol campaigners: apparently around 2.5 million people drink more than the new weekly recommend units of alcohol in a single day, according to the Office of National Statistics. I'm really quite surprised, astonished even, that this is news to anyone.

I can only conclude that the anti-alcoholics really do lead sheltered lives, because they don't realise why people consistently ignore their advice and drink over the recommended limits. Well, I'll tell them: hardly anyone believes in the units - I've certainly never met anyone who has told me that they take them seriously.

Although statistically you are 25% more likely to be knocked down when crossing the road than get cancer through drinking, these campaigners don't push for greater road safety for pedestrians, despite the greater risks and the fact that losing a loved one to a road accident would surely be as devastating as to illness.

They keep on using the term 'hard science', but as I explained here in January, there is little real science to justify the recommended units. The fact that the government pays Alcohol Concern, a supposedly independent charity, to lobby the - er - government is somewhat a dishonest and scandalous misuse of taxpayers' money.

What a tedious bunch they are!

Wednesday 9 March 2016

George Martin

Some air guitar by George Martin
Sad news that George Martin has just died. It's hardly surprising - he was ninety, after all - but it is something of the end of an era for those of us who regard the songs of the Beatles as the soundtrack of our youth. Beatles detractors have sometimes claimed that the real talent on the albums was his, that he moulded the raw energy of a rough-and-ready Merseybeat group into something more commercially appealing, and that without him they would have languished in provincial obscurity, but he always denied such mean-spirited accusations.

A more realistic assessment is that he provided the opportunity for their talent to shine through, helping, advising and sometimes steering them, but the suggestion that he was some kind of Svengali figure is wide of the mark. One simple example was their reaction to his proposal to record How Do You Do It? as their first single. While they did record a competent version, you can tell there's no enthusiasm in their performance, and it really is no more than the Beatles sound by numbers. Gerry and the Pacemakers subsequently had a well-deserved number one hit with their rather more exuberant rendition. The Beatles held out for their own song Love Me Do to be their first single, an act of determined self-assurance virtually unheard of in a newly-signed band back in 1962. Martin's relationship with the Beatles was collaborative, not controlling, and the respect was mutual.

His reach was far wider than the Beatles, from Kenneth McKellar and Jimmy Shand to Ultavox and Celine Dion. Soundtracks included Live And Let Die, Roger Moore's first Bond film, of which Moore has said: "He made my first Bond film sound brilliant!" He also produced the theme song, for my money one of McCartney's best post-Beatles singles, and arranged its orchestral section: the end result was nominated for an Oscar.

Some idea of the sheer breadth and quantity of his work can be seen here, but he will always be known as the 'fifth Beatle'; while such an accolade has been given to a number of people, it is undeniably justified in his case. He was proud of his work with the group, but was always keen to emphasise it was their talent that he helped bring out: "I've been cast in the role of schoolmaster, the toff, the better-educated, and they've been the urchins that I've shaped. It's a load of poppycock, really, because our backgrounds were very similar. Paul and John went to quite good schools. We didn't pay to go to school, my parents were very poor. Again, I wasn't taught music and they weren't, we taught ourselves. As for the posh bit, you can't really go through the Royal Navy without getting a little bit posh. You can't be like a rock 'n' roll idiot throwing soup around in the wardroom."

I'd argue that by enabling the Beatles to transcend their Merseybeat roots, encouraging them to take chances and become more innovative, he contributed to the general reshaping of pop and rock music in the 1960s and beyond, with singer-songwriters, whether in bands or solo, becoming the norm. Previously most pop performers had bought their songs from Tin Pan Alley.

Here is one of my favourite Lennon-McCartney songs, produced, of course, by George Martin who contributed the instrumental break:

Sunday 6 March 2016

Another piece of Southport's pub heritage lost

The Blundell Arms photographed
on its last day of opening
Sad news that Southport is losing another of its old pubs: the Blundell Arms on Upper Aughton Road, which finally closes today. It was in its time a focal point for the community, and its function rooms hosted many local celebrations, such as weddings, birthdays, christenings and wakes. It was also the home for 38 years of Southport's Bothy Folk Club, nationally known on the folk scene. Sadly, some foolish decisions were made, such as knocking separate rooms into one, and in the early 2000s renaming it Mr Q's and converting it into a pool hall pub. At the same time the real ale was removed - even though it was selling well according to the licensee at the time - because it didn't fit the new image, and the shelves filled with bottles of lager and alcopops.

They forgot that the youth market understandably grows older and moves on, while the former regulars found other watering holes. After a while, the proper name was restored, and there were some attempts to convert it back in part to how it had been, but the damage was done. I'm not suggesting that pubs should never be altered; rather that such radical changes do need to considered carefully, including whether they will continue to work in the long term. That's my view anyway, but whatever the reasons, another local pub has been permanently lost.

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.

Wednesday 2 March 2016

Doing us by halves

Some pubs add a surcharge to the price of half a pint of beer. CAMRA has shown that one in ten of pubs surveyed by them were charging an additional 50p, and the worst example they came across was 82.5p. The licensees concerned explain that wages, serving costs, clearing up and washing glasses are all the same for a half as for a pint. One licensee argued that, "Cigarettes are more expensive per unit when purchased in smaller quantities. Why should beer be any different?” Cigarettes are pre-packaged; draught and keg beer isn't, so the comparison should be with other commodities that aren't pre-packed.

Meat, fruit, cheese, vegetables and sweets are among many foodstuffs that can be bought loose, by which I mean not pre-packaged. When a small quantity of such goods is requested, we are not charged more pro rata, even though it takes the same time to serve it compared to a larger amount, the wrapping won't be much different, and both staff wages and the cost of cleaning the shop will be the same.

My local rounds up to the nearest penny, and I'd say that rounding up to the nearest 5p is reasonable. The industry is anxious to be seen to be promoting 'responsible drinking', but surcharging for halves contradicts that aim as it discourages people from choosing the smaller measure. In addition, where there is a choice of different real ales, some drinkers like to try several, and may do so by buying halves. If they have eight halves in a pub with a 50p surcharge per half, they will pay an extra £4 compared to their mates who drank four pints.

I don't hold out much hope for the success of CAMRA's campaign on this issue, but they are right to highlight it. Pub prices are a sensitive issue anyway, and if people start to baulk at paying them, the winners will be Wetherspoons and the supermarkets. Customers have many more options nowadays than they used to, and will exercise them if they feel they are being ripped off. Any pub that insists on adding a surcharge to the price of a half should - at the very least - make it clear on price lists that are both accessible and easily visible. Many do not.

Tuesday 1 March 2016

A demonstration of price differences

Last Saturday I went on the anti-Trident demo in London. Amazing turn out: Trafalgar Square was packed with people of all ages, various ethnicities and a variety of political and religious persuasions. Despite the numbers, I managed to meet my friend Geoff, who lives in Hounslow.

After the demo, we had an hour before I had to catch my bus back to Merseyside, so we decided to go for a drink in the Clarence on Whitehall. As well as a few predictable beers such as Sharps Doom Bar and Atlantic, and Adnams Bitter and Ghost Ship, they had a beer from Twickenham Brewery. I decided to have that, as I hadn't had it before, while Geoff had Doom Bar. It was a pleasant pint, though to my taste nothing special, and I was quite happy to have a second one when it was my round.

Until it came to paying, of course: £8.80 for two pints. I know London prices are steep, but that surprised me. In my local in Southport, I can buy three pints for that amount with 70p to spare.

I don't understand why Southern, particularly London, prices are quite so steep. My friend Alan was on holiday in the West Country several years ago, and he arrived home in time for a quick pint in our local. I happened to be there, and when he returned from the bar with a pint of Wadworths 6X, he told me he had had the same beer a couple of days earlier in sight of Wadworths brewery in Devizes, Wiltshire. Despite a difference in delivery distance of 200 miles, 6X was actually cheaper in Southport.

Me in the Clarence after the demo
(expensive pint not shown)
Make of that when you will, but I find it difficult to accept that all the price differences across the country can be attributed solely to higher costs. A significant factor must be the capitalist tendency to put prices up as high as the market will stand. That might be an acceptable business practice, but it tends not to go hand in hand with value for money.