Monday 31 December 2018

Corn flakes, treason and dogs

Three unexpected stories from the world of beer that I've come across recently.
Seven Bro7hers Brewery in Salford has teamed up with cereal giant Kelloggs to produce a beer out of unused corn flakes. The flakes will be completely safe for human consumption, being those that are too big, too small, broken or overcooked. The first beer to use the flakes will be called Throw Away IPA with a strength of 5%. The limited edition beer will use the flakes to replace some of the wheat grain in the mix. Alison Watson from the brewery said: "Kellogg's recognises that it has an important role to play in reducing food waste, and that includes finding uses for edible food that doesn't make it into the cereal box. We plan to create three beers, including a hoppy IPA which will be launched this month."

I had to check the date wasn't 1st April for the next one. Scottish brewery BrewDog is introducing Subwoofer IPA, which they say is the first beer produced just for dogs. The idea was developed by the Brewdog team in Liverpool, who reported that the prototype was popular with local dog lovers. Subwoofer is made with wort from the brewery, the same malted barley and hot water that are used in their human IPAs. There were three rounds of tasting trials with 25 dogs before the team was satisfied with the product. The beer is hop-free and not carbonated; it is also alcohol-free, which is just as well, seeing that most dogs are under 18.

Newby Wyke of Grantham is brewing a beer in response the government's draft Brexit declaration: cheekily called 'Treason', it is a 4.2% ale. They've produced this beer before in relation to government ministers from all three major parties; they must like taking pot shots at any senior politicians who poke their heads above the parapet.

Brewer Robert March said: "One landlady said to me politicians and beer do not mix, but I replied they raise the beer taxes, so we can take the mickey. With what is going on with Brexit, I thought we should bring it back."

Thursday 27 December 2018

Southport Traditional Pub Promenade

Sometimes our traditional pubs in Southport's residential areas are unfairly overlooked, and yet they can offer you a great night out. I recommend this tour of three such pubs, close to each other and not far from bus routes. I found the real ales in all three pubs were well-kept.

The Zetland in Zetland Street is well-known for having one of the finest bowling greens in the North West (booking advised). It is a multi-roomed pub which offers three real ales: Jennings Cumberland is on permanently, and the two guest ales on my visit were Banks's Sunbeam and the popular Wainwright. Although it had been a while since I had called in, I'm glad to report that it's still a friendly local. The Zetland has several regular events: there is a quiz with cash prizes on Saturdays and bingo on Sundays. They have live music about once a month.

The Mount Pleasant on Manchester Road is also a multi-roomed pub with a glass conservatory; it has an extensive food menu with various offers and choices for kids. There are usually three real ales: Sharp's Doom Bar is always available, and when I was there the guests were Timothy Taylor's Landlord and Robinson's Trooper. Films are shown on Thursday afternoons, a quiz is held on Fridays and there are live bands on Saturdays. Darts teams play there and big live sports events are shown.

The Imperial on Albert Road is also well-regarded for its food, which include special offers, but it also serves four real ales. When I called in, there were three regular beers, all from Holt's brewery: Two Hoots, IPA and Bitter, along with a seasonal guest, Mistletoe from the Bootleg Brewing Co, a beer I hadn't come across before, but found to be a full-flavoured, strong (5%) pale ale. Other features of this pub are TV sport, a quiz on Sunday nights, and sometimes live music. I noticed a sign advertising poker night on Wednesdays.

If after all this you still fancy another pint, it's a quick walk, or even quicker bus ride, into the town centre.

Tuesday 18 December 2018

Edda gig for Folk in the Park

Should be an interesting night. Edda has become a good venue 
for local small scale concerts - four bands for a fiver!

Monday 10 December 2018

Is there life after Christmas?

After months of the seasonal hype that begins just after you have returned from your summer holidays, it's about now that people start wondering: is there life after Christmas? Well, here in the North West, these might provide something of an answer.

First is the CAMRA Manchester Beer & Cider Festival (MBCF) which runs from Thursday 24 to Saturday 26 January 2019 in Manchester Central, Windmill Street, Manchester, the fourth year at this venue. MBCF is the North’s biggest pub crawl but safely protected from the weather. With
around 750 different drinks, there’s bound to be something to suit everyone. MBCF aims to encourage people to try new beers, and this year it will feature some specially commissioned beers, collaborations and ales that are rarely, if ever, seen in this region. 15,558 eager beer lovers attended in 2018. The nearest railway station is Deansgate. Buy tickets here.

Next is the St George's Hall Winter Ales Festival from Thursday 31 to Saturday 2 February 2019 in one of Liverpool's most iconic buildings. Expect up to 200 different real ales and ciders alongside an indoor gin garden with a selection of boutique gins, spirits, wine and prosecco. There will also be entertainment for all sessions except Friday daytime, and hot and cold food to soak up the alcohol, provided by local food providers. Though it's not a CAMRA festival, they offer discount for CAMRA members with valid membership cards on the Thursday evening and Friday daytime sessions. St George's Hall is on Liverpool's famous Lime Street. Tickets available here

CAMRA Liverpool & Districts Branch are once again holding their annual beer festival from Thursday 21 to Saturday 23 February 2019 in the impressive surroundings of the crypt of the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral on Brownlow Hill. More than 200 ales and ciders will be on offer. The Brasswürst Bavarian Band will provide entertainment on Friday and Saturday evening, and food stalls are there should you get peckish. The CAMRA Liverpool Beer Festival is the longest-running festival in Merseyside. Get your tickets here.

Sunday 2 December 2018

Public Meeting To Save The Blundell Arms

The Blundell Arms on its final day of opening
The campaign to save the Blundell Arms in Birkdale, Southport, held a successful public meeting at Birkdale Conservative Club on Friday 30 November. An attentive audience listened to speakers discussing various aspects of the campaign, including the possibilities of success and the obstacles that still remain to be overcome. There were speeches from two of Southport's parliamentary candidates: Labour's Liz Savage and the LibDems' John Wright, both pledging support for the campaign. Three of us from CAMRA attended, and Mike Perkins addressed the meeting on behalf of the local branch. After the speeches, the meeting was opened to questions from the floor, some of which were quite searching.

While there is no doubt that in its final years the Blundell fell on bad times, the campaign is clear that they don't intend to return to that sorry period of the pub's existence. Instead they wish to recreate it as a community centre as well as a pub with plans that include a dementia café, a children's play area, food and a venue for functions.

My own memories of this pub come from attending the Bothy Folk Club there on most Sundays for 25 years until 2003 when the club moved. Until the final years, it had been a perfectly decent street corner local, sadly the kind of pub that is disappearing from our communities. I attended quite a few functions there myself, such as weddings, wakes and birthdays, including one of my own.

At the meeting, Jason McCormack stated that a video of the meeting is to be posted on the group's Facebook page: "The Blundell Arms Community Pub" - have a look for it. He also mentioned an on-line petition; I'll give details here when I get them.

Monday 26 November 2018

Mad Hatter calls time

I was sorry to hear that Liverpool's Mad Hatter Brewery has ceased trading. Launched in 2013, it was situated in the Vauxhall area of Liverpool and was one of the few breweries to be run by a woman, Sue Starling. It produced a number of interesting and sometimes quirky beers, a few of which were named after local places such as Penny Lane Pale and Toxteth IPA.

Some commentators have been suggesting that there are now too many breweries in a slowly declining market. There's probably some truth in that, but I don't get the impression that was the case here. Sue has said the pleasure of brewing has gone after the departure of her co-founder, Gareth Matthews, whose creativity she has sorely missed. That loss, coupled with a change of premises, means that she no longer wants to run the business herself, but she is open to offers to buy it "so it could live on".

It's certainly a pity to lose a distinctive presence on the local beer scene, so you've always fancied running your own brewery, this may be your big chance.

Friday 23 November 2018

Launch of new brewery in Southport

The Grasshopper, venue of the launch of Tyton Brewery
Exciting news for local beer drinkers: a new brewery in Southport will be launched at a popular local pub next month. Tom Anderson from Tyton Brewery in Ainsdale will present his first beer at the Grasshopper, Sandon Road, Hillside, on Monday 3 December at the start of a meeting of CoLAPS (the Coast of Lancashire Ale Preservation Society). The meeting opens at 7:30pm.

This group is a branch of the Society for Preservation of Beers from the Wood (SPBW), CAMRA's older sibling. The SPBW has similar aims to CAMRA but tends to have a more social focus; quite a few people belong to both, and if you wish to join CoLAPS, why not apply on the night?

As well as presenting Tyton's first beer, this meeting will double up as a Christmas Social, and attendees are encouraged to bring partners, friends and family (over 18s). There will be a buffet with a £2 per head contribution towards costs, and for planning purposes the Grasshopper requests that you give them an indication of how many will be coming along (tel: 01704 569794).

Extract from an article I wrote for the CAMRA column in the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser.

Wednesday 21 November 2018

Losing your bottle

In a couple of TV dramas recently, I've noticed that when the characters drink beer at home, they drink out of bottles. While I know some people do this in real life, I don't see it that frequently. This may be partly attributable to the kind of pubs I tend to drink in, but I do also go into local micropubs that offer a good choice of bottles in addition to draught beer and I've noticed that most bottled beer drinkers will opt for a glass. This may be because they are drinking a premium product and want to enjoy it at its best, while the direct-from-bottle drinkers are more likely to be swigging bog standard foreign beers such as San Miguel.

Drinking out the bottle is a much less satisfying experience than drinking the same bottled beer out of a glass. The beer fizzes up in your mouth and in your stomach, with a consequence that you cannot fully taste the flavour and you become bloated more quickly. It can also develop a huge head in the bottle. I expect that dramas like to depict people drinking out of bottles because it looks more rugged or some such nonsense, but bottles were not designed to be drunk out of. On the few occasions when I drink bottled beer at home, I use a glass and find that guests always do as well.

There is also the question of hygiene. Bottled beers can be stored in insecure premises in breweries, warehouses, pub cellars or supermarket storerooms. These types of areas are not kept clean to a food safety standard and there is the real chance of rats, mice, cockroaches or other vermin crawling over crates, urinating and defecating as they go. Some drinkers then put these bottles straight into their mouths. Unless there is some visible dirt on bottles, they are not normally cleaned, and even when they are, it would be quickly for appearance rather than thoroughly for hygiene.

Still, we mustn't be too harsh on the bottle drinkers: if they poured their beer out and supped it from a glass, they might find they're not actually that keen on the flavour.

Monday 19 November 2018

Bass and the Mad Hatter

In my early days of beer appreciation, Draught Bass was regarded as the Rolls Royce of beers which we would go out of our way to find. The bottled version, Bass Pale, was similarly well regarded; it was slightly stronger than the draught and was known all over the world, being shipped to many countries, especially India, and was the first foreign beer to be sold in Japan. Edouard Manet depicted bottles of Bass in his painting ‘Le Bar Aux Folies Bergere’ in 1882, and thirty years later 12,000 bottles went down with the Titanic. Bass Pale was a world-wide phenomenon whose history, it has been claimed, goes back to 1777.

The brand is now owned by global brewer AB InBev who will relaunch it next month. In 2013, they decided to rename this iconic beer as “Bass Trademark Number One” to acknowledge the fact that the famous Bass red triangle was the first registered trade mark in the UK. This move was described by beer blogger Zythophile as “a classic example of How To Royally Screw Up Your Brand” (see his full post here). AB InBev say they are bringing this beer back with its original name to “invigorate the premium ale category”.

The beer scene has changed a lot in recent decades, with a younger generation of beer drinkers who have a far wider choice of real ales, craft beers and bottled ales than ever before. Classic brand or not, it will be competing in a very crowded market place and the beer will have to be very good to make any serious inroads. Still, I look forward to giving it a try.

Closer to home, I was sorry to hear that Liverpool's Mad Hatter Brewery has ceased trading. Launched in 2013, it was one of the few breweries to be run by a woman, Sue Starling, and produced a number of interesting and sometimes quirky beers, some of them named after local places such as Penny Lane Pale and Toxteth IPA. Sue has said the pleasure of brewing has gone after the departure of her co-founder, Gareth Matthews, whose creativity she has sorely missed. That loss, coupled with a change of premises, means that she no longer wants to run the business herself, but she is open to offers to buy it “so it could live on”.

It's certainly a pity to lose a distinctive presence on the local beer scene, so you've always fancied running your own brewery, this may be your big chance.

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

Monday 12 November 2018

The Baron's Bar, Southport

The Scarisbrick Hotel, home of the Baron's Bar
The Scarisbrick Hotel is a landmark building on Southport's Lord Street, and is home to the famous Baron's Bar. In the 1980s, this bar was particularly popular as it offered 4 or 5 beers from different breweries. Such a choice is unexceptional today, but back then it made the Baron's unique in the town.

I decided to see what's on offer nowadays and when I called in there were 8 real ales and one real cider, Old Rosie. There are three beers on all the time: Baron's Bitter, the house beer brewed specially by Moorhouses, Moorhouses Pride of Pendle and Tetley Original Cask. The changing guests were: Scaredy Cat and Pendlewitch, both from Moorhouses, Doghouse Citra, Brewhouse Mosaic, and Lancaster Red.

The 'coming soon' board looked interesting with Salopian Pipe Dream, a personal favourite of mine, and George Wright Cheeky Pheasant among those lined up. The three beers I tried were in good form; the real cider I'd sampled on a previous visit and had found it satisfactory. Among the usual range of other drinks, there is a good choice of Scotch whiskies.

The baronial interior
The Baron's Bar is usually described as being in a mock-baronial style, and there is a preponderance of dark wood. Around the bar are displayed dozens of pumpclips from previous guest beers. A beer festival was held in this room last September. The bar is in the heart of the building and has frosted glass on one side, which gives the effect of being cut off from the town centre. A complete contrast is the Scarisbrick Lounge: this is a bright, airy and more modern bar with large clear windows through which you can watch life go by on Lord Street while drinking the real ales from the Baron's. You pays your money and takes your choice. 

Children are admitted until early evening, and dog are allowed too. Happy Hour is from midday to 1.00 pm with a reduction on the Tetley's, the keg cider and a lager. There is free WiFi for customers. The opening hours are 11.00 am to 11.00 pm during the week; on Friday and Saturday the bar closes at midnight.

The Baron's could be called a 'no frills' bar: no food, live music, quizes or TV sport. It just concentrates on serving good, reasonably-priced real ales, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

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

Thursday 1 November 2018

The Beer Den, Southport

The Beer Den
The Beer Den, Southport's newest real ale micropub, opened for business a fortnight ago. It is operated by the Parker Brewery of Banks, north of Southport. My friend Mick and I went along as it opened: in fact, we were the first customers through the door. We were made welcome by Kie who was just about to unlock the door as we rolled up.

There are four handpumps offering two beers from Parker Brewery and two guest ales. On my first visit the Parker beers were Golden Samurai Ale and Dark Spartan Stout, while the guest beers were Melwood Paleface from Knowsley and Red Star Hunky Dory from Formby. On my second visit last weekend the guest ales were Melwood Knowsley Blonde and Bowness Bay Tern IPA from Kendal. I managed to try most of them, finding that all were well-kept and the prices very reasonable.

Kie (left) and Sarah
The bar is in a former computer shop which has been pleasantly refurbished in a light and airy manner. As well as real ale, there is a craft beer and a lager on fonts and the usual range of spirits, including speciality gins, a good wine list, Prosecco and coffee. In one corner there is a large cabinet with a wide range of bottled beers from various breweries, including some in gift packs and, for Parker beer fans, T-shirts in various colours displaying the brewery's name.

On the opening day, the Beer Den became quite busy and Kie was soon joined by Sarah behind the bar. On my second visit, it was even busier. Clearly this bar meets a need in the local area as there are no pubs or bars in this part of Southport. Although the bar is new, I found people were willing to have a friendly chat.

The Beer Den is at 65/67 Duke Street near the corner with Shakespeare Street; the 46 and 46A buses pass nearby. If you get peckish after a few drinks, there is a takeaway just next door.

Please note: restricted hours and closed Mondays.

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

Tuesday 9 October 2018

Southport Beer & Cider Festival 2018

It's back after a two-year absence caused by some local whingers who moaned that they didn't like this venue and wanted another in the town centre - not that they had any suggestions themselves, of course. As this is the only suitable central venue, the festival has returned there. Tickets here - free admission for CAMRA members.

Friday 17 August 2018

3rd Hillside Cider Festival

I've received this message from Andrew of Grasshopper fame about this forthcoming local festival in Southport:

"The 3rd Hillside Cider Festival is at The Grasshopper on Sandon Road, Hillside, Southport from 24th to 26th August and will feature 30 of the best Real Ciders and Perries from around the UK.

"We are pleased to have the CAMRA Champion Cider of Britain 2018 - Harry's Scrummage and also the CAMRA Champion Perry of Britain - Nempnett's Piglet Perry. We also have a range of fruit ciders including Rhubarb, Strawberry, Lemon, Ginger and Pineapple and many more. There will be a barbecue with a range of specialist sausages and entertainment in the evenings.

"The festival starts at 7pm on Friday 24th and runs until 10:30pm on Sunday 26th or until the cider runs out. The Grasshopper is a short walk from Hillside train station and is on the 47 bus route."

Sunday 22 July 2018

A true story

Not the dream woman!
I had a strange dream last night. A woman was holding up a Higsons "Famous Old Higsonians" beer mat with a sign that said: "Will exchange for sex."

This puzzled me for a while.

Then the truth dawned on me: until I'd had that dream, I had no idea that I had such an unrequited, deep-seated and subliminal desire to own Old Higsonian beer mats.

Monday 16 July 2018

Peaky Blinders, Churchtown

Peaky Blinders, Churchtown
I decided to hop on the 49 bus to Churchtown to have a look at - and a drink in – the new branch of Peaky Blinders which opened in March 2018 in an old bank. It has an L-shaped bar with modern furnishings, including some tall tables and stools, and large windows overlooking the road. It is light and airy, with walls decorated with a reproduction of old newspaper adverts and cuttings.

There is a outdoor drinking terrace on two levels to the front where smoking is permitted. A disability ramp can be reached on the right hand side of the building as you face it, where there is also a cash machine, a relic from its days as a bank. One thing I didn't realise until my visit is that they offer accommodation.

It has four handpumps which, when I called in, were serving Timothy Taylor's Landlord, Black Sheep Bitter, Cross Bay Blonde and Bowness Bay Amazon Amber. I found all to be in good condition. This range does change, although I was told the Taylor's is often on.

Non-real beers included Löwenbräu and Weihenstephaner Bavarian-style Weissbier. They have a choice of wines and their own range of spiced gin, rum and whisky; I noticed on the hot day I was there that various gin drinks piled up with ice were flying over the bar. They serve food until at least 7.00 pm: reasonably-priced light bites, paninis, and cheese or meat platters.

When I rolled up, the friendly bar staff were cheerfully singing along to Beatles songs on the bar's sound system, although other musical eras are available. There is a television and free WiFi for customers; families, including your canine pal, are welcome.

Peaky Blinders is at 145 Cambridge Road, PR9 7LR, close to the 49 bus route and the buses on Cambridge Road. Its opening hours are 10am to 11.30pm every day. Website.

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

Saturday 14 July 2018

Supping nostalgia

An original R Cains poster
I see that the Cains name is to be revived with a new brewery set up within the old Higsons Brewery building where the most recent incarnation of Cains was brewed until 2013. Its disappearance wasn't much mourned, following as it did a drastic and sudden drop in quality; I wrote about it at the time here.

An entrepreneur called Andrew Mikhail, owner of bars and hotels in Merseyside including Punch Tarmey's, has acquired the name and states that the brewery will create 200 jobs and "partly model itself" on the Guinness Brewery visitor attraction in Dublin. If the 200 jobs do materialise, it would be a fairly sizeable operation.

The big old Higsons brewery building, Grade II listed, is being developed into a brewery village, which I wrote about in 2013 here. Mr Mikhail has given no indication yet whether he will revive the previous Cains beers or start from scratch with new recipes, as the latest manifestation of Higsons has done. I tried one of the new Higsons beers recently and didn't think it was anything special.

I'd be very surprised if this announcement will engender much excitement locally, but I'll save my judgement until I've tasted the product. This will be the second revival of the Cains name. The original Cains ceased to be brewed in Liverpool in the 1920s, but the name was called out of retirement in 1991. As for Higsons, we are now on the fourth version, if you include the original that was destroyed by Whitbread. I wonder how many times you can resuscitate a brand before its credibility evaporates completely?

Generally I don't see much point in using an old name and producing beers that have no resemblance to the originals; it's simply cashing in on brand nostalgia, but I suppose there's no harm in it because your beers will have to stand or fall on their quality: people won't sup solely for nostalgic reasons indefinitely.

Sunday 1 July 2018

Real ale in Southport - 1985 and now

While sorting out some books in preparation for a house move, I came across a 'Merseyside Guide To Real Ale', published in 1985, a booklet I'd completely forgotten about. It cost 50p (£1.53 now, so it was quite a bargain) and is a fairly slim volume which could easily slip into a coat pocket. As was usual in those days, the pub descriptions were rather sketchy, but I think it's safe to assume, in an age when beer choices rarely changed in pubs, that the beer situation was accurately described. This was published four years before the Beer Orders which turned the pub world in its head.

Looking at Southport, where I lived then as now, there were 25 pubs, bars, clubs and hotels listed as serving real ale. There were quite a few more non-real ale pubs, of course. In contrast, off the top of my head I have counted 41 outlets that currently serve real ale in the same area, and there may be one or two others that have slipped my mind.

Most of the beers sold in pubs were from the brewery that owned them and, as the chart shows, most pubs had only one or two real ales on. Nowhere had more than four real ales, and only one real cider was listed (Bulmers Traditional). In contrast, serving four or more real ales is quite commonplace in the town nowadays, with a few venues hitting the eight to eleven range. Real cider is still fairly uncommon in Southport, but at least we can do better than just one.

Unusual beers for the time in this area included:
  • McEwans 70/-
  • McEwans 80/-
  • Youngers No. 3
  • Boddingtons Bitter
  • Marstons Pedigree
  • Ruddles County
  • Wilsons Original Bitter
All the rest were standard house beers from Allied Breweries, Bass, Burtonwood, Whitbread, and Matthew Brown/Theakstons. I know there was a couple of Greenall Whitley houses but I presume none sold real ale. As variety goes, this all looks fairly tame today, even the comparatively 'unusual' choices, although it's worth noting that in 1985, Pedigree, County and Boddingtons were much more highly rated than they are now.

It strikes me that, in all the doom and gloom over pub closures - and some venues listed in this guide have since been lost - we may forget that overall the situation is a lot healthier in terms of choices of beers and places to drink them than ever before, largely due to the numbers of micro-breweries and the rise of micropubs and other bars serving real ale.

I am not blasé about losing traditional pubs, and I know that some people consider the market is over-saturated with breweries and micropubs that may not survive in the long term, but despite all that, I can simply say that I much prefer to drink in today's Southport than that of 1985.

Friday 22 June 2018

It's a gas!

Disappointed gas cylinders await the call
In case you haven't noticed, there is Europe-wide carbon dioxide shortage. I've been reading that brewers are running low or have run out of products because of the shortage; some have temporarily had to stop brewing and packaging altogether.

Some pubs and bars have been complaining that they cannot receive deliveries of popular beers such as John Smiths Extra Smooth, Amstel Lager and Fosters. It's not just the big boys who are affected: one craft brewery was uncertain they could get through the following week, while another has stopped packaging some of its beers to allow the brewery to continue working.

Any pubs and bars affected must be spitting feathers: it's been sunny and the World Cup is on - perfect conditions for beer sales. It's not just keg bitters, stouts, lagers, ciders and craft beers that are affected; the same problem applies to soft drinks as they too are served using CO2.

As a real ale drinker, I'm not too bothered in the short term for obvious reasons, but if this goes on, drinkers like me will be affected. As the Good Book* says: "Pubs shall not live on real ale sales alone". As we all know, keg products usually constitute a large percentage of a pub's turnover.

I'm reminded of the power cuts in the 1970s when pubs were lit by candles and none of the electric beer dispensers worked. Only in the very small number of pubs that had retained their handpumps could you still get a pint of draught beer when the power went off; the same applied to the only two pubs that I knew were still serving beer by gravity dispense at the time.

* GBG.

Tuesday 19 June 2018

Gig in the Guest House

Pleased to say that I've been booked - 
at fairly short notice, but better than never!

Sunday 17 June 2018

Three Lions in the pub

I have just written an article for the local papers about watching the World Cup in pubs; it was largely derived from this article on the British Beer & Pub Association website. My article, like the original upon which it was based, was quite upbeat, but in reality I'll be avoiding any pub where football is being shown. I'm simply not a fan.

Someone suggested to me that I was being slightly two-faced in writing positively about something I didn't really care for, but I don't agree. The articles in the paper are not about me or my preferences, but are intended to push real ale and pub-going to the general reader. My sole criterion when writing about a pub or bar is whether the real ale is in good nick, or at least reasonably so. Thus far I have changed my mind and decided not to write about four pubs after I had tried their beer. If the pint I am served is acceptable, I will write about it, even if the pub or the beer is not to my personal taste - again, it's not about me. 

As for sport in pubs, if fans can be encouraged to go to the pub and share something of a collective experience instead of sitting at home going through a slab of lager alone, it might conceivably encourage them to go at other times, although I understand there is little evidence that such a cross-over actually happens. While football fans watching in a pub can be very noisy and take up a lot of space, some don't drink very much while the game is on; one licensee told me that a few can make a single pint last the whole match, and vanish as soon as it's over. That to me does not look like getting into the spirit of things.

However, if my little article encourages just a few more people to watch football and drink beer in the pub rather than at home, it will will have done its job.

Tuesday 12 June 2018

An alcohol-free GBBF?

I've received this in an e-mail from CAMRA about the GBBF:
Thanks to Dutch-based Braxzz Brewery we're offering an alcohol-free beer range for the very first time at the festival. A recent newcomer into the alcohol-free & low-alcohol category, they'll be bringing their alcohol-free IPA, Amber Ale and the world’s very first alcohol-free porter at 0.0% ABV. You will have a chance to sample this and the rest of their core range throughout the festival week, so don’t miss out.
I have nothing in principle against the idea of alcohol-free beer being available, but the cost of a day ticket to the GBBF is £11 (plus booking fee) or £14 on the door; I really do wonder how many people are going to pay that much to enter a festival just to drink alcohol-free beer?

Monday 11 June 2018

What's a reasonable price for a pint?

This is from an article I wrote for the CAMRA column of the local papers. Text in italics was left out of the article as printed for space reasons.

The internet market research company YouGov asked more than 40,000 people what they thought would be a reasonable price for a pint in the pub and compared the responses to the actual prices. Unsurprisingly, the responses across the country vary as much as pub prices do. Nationally, the average price that we think is reasonable is £3.00, 60p less than the actual average price.

The biggest gap between actual price and what people thought reasonable was in Surrey, home of the dearest beer in Britain at £4.40: they thought £3.36 would be reasonable. At the other extreme, Herefordshire, where the actual average price is £3.31, people thought a reasonable price would be only 30p less. Here in Lancashire and Merseyside, the gap between actual price and what drinkers considered reasonable is 70p. 

The price of bitter in 1972 was around 13p to 14p, at least in this part of the country. This is equivalent to £1.75 to £1.88 today, using an inflation calculator. Obviously, beer costs considerably more than that today, even in places like Wetherspoons, so the price we pay now for a pint cannot be attributed to inflation alone. A major additional factor was the massive sell-off of pub tied estates after the Beer Orders of 1989.

When the big breweries sold off most of their huge pub estates, pub companies (pubcos) moved in to hoover them up. They paid for the pubs by mortgaging them to the hilt. The immense debts they acquired in this way were made much worse by the financial crash of 2008. The pubcos survived, being too big to fail – if they went under, so would the mortgage providers. 

To service their debts, pubcos told their pubs that they had to get most, if not all, their supplies through them, imposing huge mark-ups along the way. Several local licensees have told me in confidence that the mark-up on a cask of beer can be between 33% to 50% above the price on the open market. Licensees who look elsewhere for supplies risk losing their livelihood, so the cost has to be passed on to the customer.

A few pubcos such as Wetherspoons have a much more sensible business model, not saddled with gigantic debts, which is why their prices can be lower. Also, independent pubs and bars can also charge less for similar reasons, but regrettably most of our traditional pubs are now owned by pubcos.

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

Saturday 9 June 2018

Beer Street 2018

The Beer Street festival returns to Southport town centre from Friday 15 to Sunday 17 June. Described as a "Cask Ale & Craft Beer Street Party", it will be once again hosted by the Tap & Bottles, Cambridge Arcade, Southport, close to Lord Street and the railway station.

They're hoping to build on last year's success by providing a huge selection of more than 80 cask ales, keg beers and ciders, including special collaborations and one-off brews. The festival will extend into the Arcade, which is covered so you won't need your brolly. More information here.

Wednesday 6 June 2018

AB InBev's anti-union aggression in India

HBLM members demanding union rights in Sonepat, India
AB InBev is known for many international brands, including Beck's, Budweiser, Castle Lager, Cerveza Corona, Hoegaarden, Leffe and Stella Artois.

Although for some time now the company has been attacking trade union rights at the brewery in Sonepat, about 27 miles north of Delhi in India, it has recently been escalating its anti-union pressure. In response, the union has since February been defending its members with a permanent protest at the factory gate.

For the past two years, local managers have refused to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with the Haryana Breweries Limited Mazdoor Union (HBLM) and opted for repression, suspending active union members and dismissing four elected union leaders, including the president and the general secretary.

When selective victimisation failed to break the union's struggle for rights and recognition, management orchestrated a physical attack on a peaceful union protest on 28 April outside a Sonepat government office in which a union committee member was seriously injured. They then made a false complaint to the police against union members alleging assault; this resulted in the arrest of the union leaders who have since been released on bail.

AB InBev Sonepat workers and their families are continuing their 24-hour protest at the factory gate in support of their right to union recognition and collective bargaining free from harassment and victimisation. Send a message to AB InBev, insisting they reinstate all HBLM union leaders and members, withdraw the false assault allegations, recognise the union and negotiate in good faith.

And once you've signed, why not boycott AB InBev products?

Tuesday 5 June 2018

The fest that never was

This beer glass is one of the more interesting ones in what I laughingly call my collection. I picked it up a long time ago at another festival, possibly Bury. There's nothing special about the glass itself: it's just a standard nonic with an attractive logo for the Stockport Beer Festival of 1988, exactly thirty years ago.

Except it's not: this festival never took place. Among the organisers, there was apparently a conversation along the lines of:
"Did you apply for the licence?"
"No, I thought you were doing that."
Oh dear!

By the time they realised they had no licence for the event, it was too late. Unfortunately it was also too late to cancel the order for the glasses, and I picked up one for the novelty of having a glass for the beer festival that never was.

I went to the Stockport beer festival a couple of times a good few years ago; it was held in Stockport Town Hall in those days. On the last occasion, we caught the train from Southport and rolled up for the Saturday afternoon session. Unfortunately, they had almost run out of beer so we strolled along to a pub underneath the viaduct which you can see in stylised form on the glass. The pub was the Crown where, as I recall, we had a really good afternoon before going home happy. Checking on What Pub, the Crown still looks like a great pub.

In case you're wondering, although you probably weren't, it's not made of white glass; 
I put paper inside to show the design more clearly.

Monday 4 June 2018

The Arion, Ainsdale, Southport

I wrote this for the local papers about one of our suburban pubs in Southport.
It's one of those pubs that serves the residential community that surrounds
it, but perhaps tends to be overlooked by many of us 'beer stalkers'!
The Arion is a modern, airy pub on Kenilworth Road, Ainsdale, Southport. It has one large room sub-divided into several separate areas and a long conservatory on the front. At the entrance, there is etched in the glass an image of Arion, a legendary ancient Greek musician holding a lyre being rescued by a dolphin. It is furnished with standard pub chairs and tables, plus a few settees for those who prefer a 'Friends' vibe.

The pub serves two to three real ales, with Marston's Pedigree usually on, although it had run out when I visited; there were two guest ales, Marston's Fever Pitch and Adnam's Lighthouse, which were both in good condition. As you'd expect, the bar stocks the usual range of other drinks.

Food is served every day at lunchtime and in the evening with Sunday lunch offers; families are welcome and there is a children's menu. Also for the children, there is an outside play area, and for everyone else, beer gardens to both the front and rear. Inside, areas can be reserved for your private function.

There was muted piped music when I was there; Tuesday is quiz night, and Sky Sports are sometimes shown. They like to hold fundraising events, and the notice board displayed several letters of thanks for the sums raised. There is a pool table in one corner.

On-line: they offer free WiFi, are on Facebook and Twitter, and their website is here. Sorry: no dogs. There is a car park and the 49 bus stops right outside.

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

Monday 28 May 2018

Thwaites Brewery evicted by travellers

Illegally excluded from their own premises
I find this quite extraordinary. According to the Lancashire Telegraph, staff at Thwaites had been due to turn up for work in Blackburn on Monday for a normal working day but a group of around 100 travellers in 30 vehicles were occupying the site, having arrived at around 8.00 pm on Saturday. A spokesperson for Thwaites said:
We have effectively been evicted from our head office and brewery site by a group of up to 100 travellers who are now denying us access in an aggressive stand-off. They are putting our family business in real and present danger.
We have been in Blackburn for over 200 years and have never experienced anything like this. They have no business on our site and are carrying out criminal damage as we speak. We are in discussions with police who have supported us during the course of the day and have the powers to evict this group immediately under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which they have not yet exercised. We desperately need their help to remove these people as soon as possible.
Hourly the site is being degraded and in the space of a day has become a disgusting mess. We call on the police to act now to address this situation. We have established a crisis centre to ensure our customers can continue to do business with us, but every hour's delay, or awaiting the courts opening on Tuesday after the bank holiday to get an eviction notice will mean further criminal damage to our site and our business.
We find ourselves powerless victims in this situation and I find it incredible that these travellers are allowed to get away with this sort of behaviour.
Many years ago at the Cambridge Folk Festival, a plain-clothes police officer didn't want me standing where I happened to be loitering: he assaulted me, dragged me backwards by the neck and threatened me with arrest. I was in a public place which happened to be near the police drug squad tent, although I wasn't aware of that fact until the next day when I had a chat with the people on the 'Legalise Cannabis Campaign' stall.

They could act aggressively against a lone, peaceable, and rather drunk music lover when it suited them, but faced with determined opposition, it seems they become powerless. Strange: they weren't so bashful at Orgreave.
  • For the record, I don't take illegal drugs: you don't have to be a cannabis user to support the principle of legalisation. 
  • I'm not anti-traveller, but actions like this reinforce the hostile attitudes that many people do have.
Postscript: the police have at last persuaded the trespassers to move. My friend Sam who works for Thwaites reported her impressions on Facebook as she returned to her desk:
Today I had to walk a gauntlet of broken glass, dirty nappies, burnt out pallets, and trash just to reach my office. Couldn't see my desk, because the contents of my drawers had been rifled through and thrown around, along with my colleagues' possessions, photos and work. Our proud brewers watched as their last week of hard work brewing was destroyed and poured away ... everyone has rolled up their sleeves and cleared up the damage left behind by travellers, filling 3 skips in the process. I seriously can't believe how much damage can be caused in 24 hours.

Saturday 26 May 2018

Britain's most popular beers by region

I found the beer map below on the Morning Advertiser website showing the beer most likely to be ordered in different regions of Britain. As someone from the north west of England, I'm disappointed to see the most popular drink in my area is Fosters lager. The Scots also have lager, but at least it's a local one.

This puts all the beer geekery, including the pointless and ludicrously hyped-up cask v. craft debate, into perspective: most pubgoers aren't affected by it and, if they thought of it at all, would probably regard is as a fuss about nothing. For most beer drinkers, including many of us who would consider ourselves to be to any degree knowledgeable on the subject, beer is usually an adjunct to other social activities, such as meeting friends, a pub quiz, watching a football match or a live band in a pub, or special occasions like weddings. Most people don't want to experiment: they prefer to find a drink that's acceptable to them and stick to it.

I occasionally used to hear from old CAMRA types the sentiment that if only people could be persuaded to try real ale, they'd be converted. They might, or they might not: we all taste things differently. Some time ago in the Old Ship in Southport, I heard a customer order a pint of Tetley's Smooth and the barman say that they only had the cask version. "That will have to do then," was the reply, accompanied by a sigh. As he supped it, he didn't appear to have a Road to Damascus moment.

Friday 25 May 2018

Everyone's A Critic

The critics (Bella, left, and Lucy)
I was dog-minding last weekend with my brother's two young Beagles, Bella and Lucy. Before leaving the house to play at the Bothy Folk Club, I decided to run through the songs I planned to sing, at which point the pair of them ran into the kitchen, complaining loudly. One came back and pawed my leg with a pleading look on her face, before dashing back to the kitchen where they both stayed until I had put the guitar down.

Perhaps they were offended because one of the songs was by Cat Stevens. Or as a friend suggested, I sang the wrong Cat Stevens song: they'd have preferred "I Love My Dog".

Monday 21 May 2018

Tetley's Returns to Leeds

Mike Perkins in front of Tetley's Brewery
before closure (photo: Ms Sam Thomas)
In June 2011, the iconic Tetley's Brewery in Leeds was closed by its owner, Carlsberg, thus bringing 189 years of brewing history to an end. The production of Tetley's Bitter, once the best-selling real ale in the UK, was moved to Banks's Brewery in Wolverhampton. A few months earlier, CAMRA's Southport and District Branch had visited the brewery while they still could - a trip suggested by Mike Perkins, a proud Yorkshireman and my predecessor in writing this column (in the local papers). I wrote about the CAMRA trip and the brewery closure here.

Surprisingly, Tetley's beers are to be brewed again in Leeds. No 3 Pale Ale will be based on a recipe from the Tetley’s beer 200-year old archive. The beer will be brewed by Leeds Brewery in partnership with Tetley's. At first it will be available in the Leeds area, but they intend to distribute it nationwide in the future.

The new beer is based on a recipe that was originally brewed between 1848 and 1868. Sam Moss, who founded the Leeds Brewery in 2007, said: “Joshua Tetley himself died in 1859, so there is every chance he would have drunk the very beer this recipe is based upon.”

While the original Tetley's Bitter will still be brewed in Wolverhampton, there are plans for other beers derived from recipes from the archive to be brewed by Leeds Brewery.

Emily Hudson from Tetley's said: “We felt it was a fantastic opportunity to team up with Leeds Brewery – one of the region’s leading brewers – to recreate the recipe within a mile of where it would have originally been brewed 150 years ago.”

It is unusual for a large company like Carlsberg to recreate beers from its archives and, recognising the increasing importance of provenance in the beer world, brewing them in the city where the brand originated. It makes a change after decades of beer production being centralised, often far from where the brands originated. Big breweries trying to garner some real ale credibility have in recent years preferred to take over an existing small brewery, such as SABMiller buying Meantime and Molson Coors acquiring Sharp's.

Locally Tetley's was once very popular: the only real ales the Cheshire Lines used to sell were Tetley's Bitter and Mild, kept to a standard that ensured the pub a place in CAMRA's Good Beer Guide. 

I'll give these beers a try if they appear locally.

Apart from the text in italics which I added later, this is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser. Some previous reviews are here.

Thursday 17 May 2018

Two Nation Stories

Me - before the beer.
After the big march in London last Saturday 12 May, my friend Geoff, with whom I have collaborated on some songs, and I went to the Moon Under Water in Leicester Square. The beers were all right, and I had a couple brewed in the East End that I doubt I'll see in Merseyside. The prices, around £3.55 a pint, although cheap in London, were dear by Southport standards - and I don't mean Southport Wetherspoons where the normal price is £2.15 a pint.

I later met my niece in the Rocket in Euston where I was paying £4.40 a pint. Again, the beers were unfamiliar and were okay, if slightly lacking in life.

Breaking my journey home at Wigan, I went into Wigan Central, a bar under the railway arches, and was charged £2.95 for a much better-kept pint of real ale served by a much friendlier barmaid. I was recognised by Zoe who knew me from the Wigan beer festival, and I saw several other familiar female faces: it was the hen night of the Central's bar manager, Jo Whalley, whom I also know from the beerfest. All were dressed to the nines with hats and fascinators (see - I know sartorial terminology). Unfortunately, I had to dash for my train and so couldn't stay to chat.

Reaching Southport, I called in for the second half of the Bothy Folk Club cèilidh, where two good Southport beers (Golden Sands and Monument) were on sale at £2.50 a pint. After the event had officially finished, I asked for a half, thinking I didn't want to detain them. "You, a half?" he said chuckling incredulously, and proceeded to pour me a pint. This happened twice: it's good to be known.

Thank goodness I don't live in London.

That T-shirt looks pink in the photo. It was bright red when I bought it.

Wednesday 9 May 2018

No politics, no religion! Part 2.

Following my post yesterday about forbidden topics of conversation in pubs, it occurred to me that there probably are some topics best avoided in certain circumstances.

In Merseyside, the Orange Lodge marches every year in Liverpool and Southport on 12 July, the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne when the forces of William of Orange defeated those of James II. In Liverpool, this used to be a much bigger matter than it is today.

My mother told me that as a little girl she'd been enjoying watching a parade marching down the end of her street in Kirkdale, Liverpool, a mainly Catholic area at the time, until her anxious mother dragged her indoors as it was an Orange Lodge march. Catholic and Protestant divisions in the city were much more pronounced and sometimes resulted in violence, no place for a little child. There was even a Liverpool Protestant Party until the early 1970s who usually sided with the Conservatives on the Council.

In such an environment, which I expect still prevails in parts of Northern Ireland, it may have been wise to remain quiet about religion and politics in any pubs where you couldn't be sure who was listening. On 12 July 1986, I think it was, I went to my then local in Southport for a pint, but when I entered, a row of people wearing lots of orange stared at me in a not especially friendly manner: I had picked up the top T-shirt from the pile that morning, hardly noticing the colour. I looked down, saw it was green and decided I wasn't thirsty after all.

In January 2016, I wrote about risky activities that anti-alcohol campaigners don't go on about:
There are many risks in life, most of which don't get the same attention as drinking: crossing the road, mountain climbing, sailing, pot holing, rugby, boxing, driving too fast or singing The Sash My Father Wore in a Sinn Fein pub.
Not that I know of anyone who's actually tried that.

I've no interest in sport, but I expect a similar attitude prevails in circumstances where football rivalries have a tendency to spill over into violence: in some parts of the country it would be foolish for a football fan to go into a pub favoured by the rival team's supporters. Yet, funnily enough, I've never heard anyone say you mustn't talk about sport in a pub. Mind you, if they did, some pubs would fall silent. My point is that it's just religion and politics, not sport, that are picked out for disapproval, which is inconsistent, to say the least. However, as Tandleman has informed me, consistency is overrated.

Except perhaps where tribalism - whether religious, political or sporting - prevails, I'd still maintain that generally there shouldn't be taboo topics in pubs.

A few asides:
  • The video shows the Irish Rovers playing a humorous folk song written by Tony Murphy of Liverpool. It has the line: "My father he was orange and my mother she was green." This describes my background although, unlike the families in the song, neither of my parents were fanatical. 
  • I was once playing in a folk club in Hampshire and the person immediately before me had sung this song, with everyone joining in enthusiastically. I got up and commented that, as it happened, my father was from the Orange and my mother from the Green. The sea of uncomprehending faces told me that they hadn't a clue what I - or the song - was on about; I didn't explain.
  • In Northern Ireland during the late 70s, a young punk was cornered by a gang who demanded to know whether he was a Protestant or a Catholic (my mother told me this had sometimes happened to her as a girl - she'd try and guess what they were before answering). He said, "Atheist", to which they replied: "Protestant atheist or Catholic atheist?"

Tuesday 8 May 2018

No politics, no religion!

The Fishermen's Rest in Birkdale, Southport
I posted this on Facebook this morning:

Our song session in the Guest House was invaded by a Jesus fanatic last night. He'd interrupt songs to say in a loud voice with an ecstatic look on his face,"Jesus!" repeatedly. I don't care what religion people follow, but I doubt that I would be welcome if I went to his place of worship to interrupt the proceedings with, say, trade union chants.
I ended up telling him he wasn't welcome to come back. In nearly 20 years of running such sessions, I've never had to speak that way to anyone before.

Then I got to thinking about the rules that some people think apply to pubs, such as don't discuss religion and politics. Last year, again in the Guest House, I was talking about two Jehovah's Witnesses who had come to my door. I wasn't talking about religion, just about how I had dealt with them, but someone whom I didn't know sitting on the next table said to me that you weren't supposed to discuss religion in pubs. As I think that's nonsense, plus I wasn't taking about religion per se anyway, I ignored him and a few minutes later he and his friend moved to another table. Personally, I think they were guilty of the greater faux pas of listening in to other people's conversations.

As for politics, as someone who's been actively involved in trade unions and political parties, I've often discussed political issues in the pub. I've known occasions when seemingly intractable disagreements at meetings have been resolved informally after a couple of beers down the pub. It is inevitable that groups of people who have come together for a specific purpose such as politics, campaigns or trade unions will, if they go for a drink together, talk about what they have in common. The back room of the Vernon in Dale Street, Liverpool, was well-known as the meeting place for Militant Tendency in the 1980s. Pub function rooms have often been used by political parties and other campaigning groups for meetings, and it is regrettable that we've lost so many of them, especially as they were also useful for non-political gatherings such as parties, family occasions, fundraisers, and so on.

I don't know where these so-called rules come from. It would, in my view, be wrong to stand up in a pub and start political campaigning, but I can't see how it's wrong to have a chat about politics in your own group. 

I'd take the same approach to preaching in a pub. In 1986 I went to a commemoration of the centenary of the Southport and St Anne's lifeboats disaster in the Fishermens Rest pub in Southport. In 1886, this building was the coach house of a nearby hotel and was where the bodies of the lifeboatmen had been laid out after they had been rescued from the sea, hence the name it was given when later it was converted into a pub. I wasn't very happy when a local clergyman called for silence to say prayers, getting the whole pub to stand. I expect quite a few of the customers felt as awkward as I did at that point.

I suppose a summary of my view is that religion and politics cannot be forbidden subjects - like it or not, both are a part of life - but if you start pushing either down the throats of other customers not in your group, then you're going too far. On that basis, the pious visitor to our song session was way out of line.

An aside: I once heard someone at a local CAMRA meeting refer to a controversy about the name of the pub: Fishermans Rest or Fishermens Rest? There is no controversy: the latter is correct, being what it says on the outside the pub, and in view of the origin of the name, the former makes no sense. The local CAMRA pub guide published twelve or more years ago got the name wrong.

Saturday 5 May 2018

Speckled Hen night

The Black Horse  - pinched from Google street view.
I went for a drink with some friends, Alex, Bob and Bill in the Black Horse in the Old Swan area of Liverpool on Thursday. Alex had nobly offered to drive us there - good man!

The Black Horse is a large suburban pub from, I'd guess, between the wars. I don't know which brewery used to own it - Whitbread perhaps? - but it's now a Greene King house with food, TV sports, live music and three real ales: Speckled Hen, Ruddles Bitter and Greene King IPA.

I chose the Speckled Hen, a beer that once upon a time I'd go some distance for, but now, while it's still acceptable, it's nothing special; certainly the best of those on offer, and there was nothing wrong with the way it was kept. But we mustn't complain: I expect in the 70s and 80s this pub had no real ale at all. It's certainly not listed in my Merseyside pub guide from 1990.

I hadn't seen Bill since the 90s when I worked in Norris Green in Liverpool, so this was something of a reunion. We had a good afternoon which understandably included a lot of reminiscences, including the time when I emptied a glass of water out of an office window thinking there was a flower bed below. Wrong window: this one was over the entrance door where Bill's wife was standing - oh dear! I asked Bill to tell his wife I've now given up the hairdressing career.

Also in the pub a large number of young women were gathering wearing T-shirts proclaiming 'Nell's Hen Do' and towing overnight cases on wheels. One young woman wearing a fake crown was at the bar, so I asked her whether she was the bride - she answered yes, so I said I hoped she had a great time on her hen night. Her mate cut in: "No, she's not getting married - she always goes out dressed like this!"

Just another day in a Liverpool pub.