Thursday 23 November 2017

Roscoe Head, Liverpool

The Roscoe Head in Liverpool is one of only five pubs to appear in all 45 editions of CAMRA's Good Beer Guide, and is the only one in the north of England. It is situated in a small side street on the edge of Liverpool's Georgian Quarter and is less than 10 minutes' walk from Central Station. There are four rooms: the main bar as you enter, two cosy lounges and a tiny snug. It is largely unaltered, and has been run by the same family for more than 35 years.

There are six handpumps serving two regular real ales, Timothy Taylor's Landlord and Tetley Bitter, and 3 or 4 guests which on my visit were Empire White Lion, Big Bog Blonde Bach and George Wright Citra, available in third of a pint measures if you prefer. The four beers I tried were in good form. Available on fonts were craft Shipyard American Pale Ale and Old Rosie Cider.

They offer traditional lunch time snacks, a quiz night on Tuesdays, and a cribbage night on those Wednesdays when the pub team is playing at home. There is no jukebox or fruit machine – this is a friendly pub suited to conversation, and I found myself chatting to several strangers at the bar. Children are welcome in one room during the day, but dogs are not allowed.

A couple of years ago, the pub was taken over by New River, a property company known for redeveloping pubs, and the landlady Carol Ross led a spirited “Save The Roscoe” campaign that resulted in a well-attended demo in the street outside and a petition that gained 2273 signatures. Happily it remains open and thriving.

Facilities include a few seats outside to the front, free Wi-Fi, a Facebook page and a website. Address: 24 Roscoe Street, Liverpool, L1 2SX. Tel: 0151 709 4365. This pub is a fine example of a well-run local near the city centre, and well worth a visit when you're next in town.

This is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and the Ormskirk Advertiser. Previous reviews are here.

Saturday 18 November 2017

Minimum pricing raises its ugly head - again

I wrote this for the CAMRA column of our local paper, the Southport Visiter. It will appear next week:

The question of a minimum price per unit of alcohol is in the news again after the Supreme Court rejected the Scottish Whisky Association's challenge to the Scottish government's decision to impose the policy. Locally, Sefton Central MP Bill Esterson has expressed his support for a 50p per unit minimum price (Visiter 9.11.17). While CAMRA encourages responsible drinking - it is better to remember what you have been drinking and why you enjoyed it - it opposes such a policy.

Minimum pricing is a form of rationing based on ability to pay and, viewed that way, the inequity of such a measure immediately becomes apparent. Very few prices in pubs, clubs and other licensed premises would be affected, so it would mostly hit drinkers who, unable to afford pub prices, instead pay less in supermarkets. Whether they intend to or not, the advocates of minimum pricing are implying that alcohol misuse is largely the province of people on low incomes.

I wrote in September [in the Southport Visiter] that studies across Europe have shown that, as the price of legitimate alcohol goes up, the demand for smuggled and counterfeit alcohol also increases. One unplanned result is an expanding black market that deprives the Treasury of income. Booze cruises, anyone?

Mr Esterson says that “minimum pricing for alcohol works”. I don't understand this assertion, seeing that no country has actually tried it - Scotland has yet to implement the measure. The claim that a £3bn boost to the economy would result from declining consumption must be treated with caution: does it, for example, include the costs of job losses caused by the projected fall in sales? It certainly takes no account of the effects of making unaffordable a small pleasure for people on very restricted incomes.

Minimum pricing is a quick way of ticking the box 'dealing with alcohol misuse'; it does little to address the problem and merely penalises those among us with least money. However, it satisfies the political desire to be seen to 'do something'. Education about the dangers of alcohol misuse would be more effective, but as the cost would be far higher, the cheap and cheerless option, ineffectual and riddled with unintended consequences, is chosen instead.

Thursday 2 November 2017

Craft beer & real ale

This is an article I wrote for the CAMRA column in our local papers. It probably simplifies the issue, but it is written with the general reader in mind, not beer enthusiasts who read beer blogs - such as me!

I know that some of the terms used by beer lovers can be confusing, particularly 'real ales', 'keg beers' and 'craft beers'. To begin with real ales: these are brewed in such a way that they finish their fermentation in the barrel, are not filtered or pasteurised, and are served without gas pressure.

Old-fashioned keg beers were brewed to a certain point, pasteurised to stop the fermentation process, filtered, and served using carbon dioxide (CO2) pressure from a gas cylinder. Modern smoothflow beers are similar, except that the gas is a mixture of CO2 and nitrogen.

Why did brewers go for keg beers? They could be produced in huge quantities, were never cloudy, and there was little waste. They were easy to serve and their taste was consistent: at best bland, or at worst downright unpleasant, depending who'd brewed it. At one time it looked as though keg might take over the whole beer market, which led to the founding of CAMRA in the 1970s.

So far so good: real ales are naturally-produced products, while keg beers and smoothflow are not, which was quite straightforward to understand until the arrival of craft beers in recent years. These beers are skilfully brewed using good ingredients without filtering or pasteurisation, and most would qualify as real ales until the point when they are served, which is done using gas pressure. Because of this, they do not fit the description of 'real ale' as defined, not only by CAMRA but also by most modern dictionaries. This means that the main difference between real ales and craft beers is not the production process, but simply the method of serving.

Does this make a difference? This is a controversial question even within CAMRA, and the answer is that it's a matter of opinion. In the spirit of experimentation, I have tried some craft beers: I've quite enjoyed them, and found they were far superior to old-style keg beers. However, to me they were very like bottled beers, which can be very enjoyable but do not match my personal first choice: draught real ale. Why not go out and have fun deciding what you prefer?