Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Passionate about pouring cold liquid into a glass

I was reading an article in which beer journalist Sophie Atherton was advocating training for bar staff about cask ale. Apparently they should be able to speak 'passionately' about it to customers to help boost sales. She was interviewed at the launch of the Cask Report 2017 which has stats that seem to suggest that staff who initiated conversations about real ale with customers were more likely to steer them towards buying it.

I sometimes get fed up with the overblown speech that we are so often subjected to nowadays, and I find 'passionate' particularly irritating. I hear it in so many varying contexts that I suspect people who use it have forgotten what the word 'passion' actually means. What it definitely doesn't mean is knowledgeable sales talk about beer in a pub, and I really do feel sorry for Sophie if that's the only passion she's ever experienced.

But how could her suggestion work? How do you train someone to be passionate? I'm especially uncertain how you induce passion for cask beer in staff who may have absolutely no interest in the product. It's not as though wage levels in the industry are enough to engender an enthusiasm for it.

I can't help thinking that bar staff already have quite a range of duties to perform in a pub: serving all kinds of drinks, including spirits with or without mixers, wines, real ales, keg beers, tea, coffee and soft drinks, while perhaps taking orders for food, delivering meals and clearing tables. There is quite a lot to be aware of there.

I'd agree that some awareness of the product would be helpful, but that falls far short of the definition of 'passionate'. If staff are interested in real ale, that's great, but ultimately they are paid to sell what the customer asks for; it wouldn't surprise me if most do not see it as their job to try to steer drinkers towards real ale. When the pub is busy, there isn't much opportunity for interaction with customers anyway.

What about drinkers who choose wine or malt whiskies? Should bar staff be passionate about those too? After all, quality wines and malt whiskies are also crafted products. We even have craft gins nowadays. Training staff on all of these would be a rather extensive - and expensive - commitment for licensees.

Unless Ms Atherton believes 'passionate' means nothing more than 'knows a bit about', I think her suggestion is unrealistic.

Monday, 26 September 2016

My criteria for writing about pubs

The Globe in Liverpool, a
pub I have yet to write about
In a comment under my post about the Richmond, Cooking Lager has asked why I am writing advertorial. It is a serious question that he has asked twice now, so I have decided to give it a separate post to clarify my approach. These blog posts about pubs are from the CAMRA Southport & District Branch columns in our local paper, the Southport Visiter, as I make clear at the end of each. When I agreed to write them, both local CAMRA and the paper accepted that I'd also use them on this blog.

The newspaper columns I write are not advertorial: I am not paid by anyone to do this, and in fact the Richmond is at present unaware of my visit as the staff were so busy that I couldn't collar one for a short chat as I usually do. I consequently just gathered what info I could by myself. 

To be honest, the Richmond is not a pub I'd go to for a few pints as it is so heavily food-oriented, but it was very busy and clearly meets a certain demand. However, I am not writing a personal column, so it's not about my tastes. If a pub serves real ale in reasonably good nick, regardless of whether the beers are those I'd choose, or even whether it is my type of pub, I'll consider it for the column. I always list the beers and describe the pub as well as I can in the limited space available, so I hope readers get a reasonable idea of what's it's like.

The column appears in the "What's On" section of the local paper, so I tend to assume that they want articles about nice real ale pubs in the locality that readers might like to try, although that doesn't stop me from writing columns on other CAMRA matters - campaign issues, local branch business, beer festivals, etc, which I don't necessarily post here. I assume the paper doesn't want me to tear local businesses to shreds in its pages, so if the beer quality is poor, I simply won't write about the pub concerned, which has happened four times so far. I have also tried to cover pubs from suburban and rural areas, not just town centres - pubs that might tend to be overlooked otherwise.

The details such as phone numbers, addresses, Facebook pages and websites may look it look like advertorial, but such details would be helpful should anyone decide to try a pub based on what I've written in the paper. As I post the articles here for similar reasons, it makes sense to leave them in.

I hope that's clearer.

The Richmond, Southport

The Richmond
The Richmond is owned by the Joseph Holt Brewery of Manchester; it is the first pub you encounter after entering Southport from the Ormskirk direction. It is a fairly modern building, having replaced a much older pub of the same name in the 1990s. It has two rooms: the larger front room which is subdivided into several separate areas, and a smaller room at the rear. While it is very much a food-oriented pub, you can go in if you just want a drink.

When I called in, the five handpumps on the bar were serving three Holt's beers – Bitter, Two Hoots and IPA – and Urban Fox from Bootleg Brewery; I particularly enjoyed this last one. They have a comprehensive range of Holt's bottled beers, and I also noticed a good wine selection. The pub has gained Cask Marque accreditation for its beer quality.

Next to the bar is a carvery, beyond that a chiller cabinet serving a large range of ice creams, and there is also a well-stocked sweet trolley. They offer various meal deals, including two-for-one on Mondays, curry night on Wednesdays, two steaks and a bottle of wine on Thursdays, and a special offer on children's meals on weekday afternoons, so children are clearly welcome. It is some time since I have eaten in the Richmond, but I did enjoy my meal the last time I had one there.

The pub is accessible and offers a number of facilities: a large car park, a beer garden, a function room, free WiFi and a quiz night on Thursdays. They play piped music.

The Richmond is at 234 Scarisbrick New Road, Southport, PR8 5HL. Tel: 01704 545782. It's opening hours are noon to 11.00, except Friday and Saturday when it closes at midnight. Food is served all day until 9.00pm. It has a Facebook page and its website is here

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, 21 September 2016

The Cock & Rabbit, Southport

The Cock & Rabbit. Picture courtesy
of the Southport Visiter.
Longer ago than I care to remember, the Rabbit on Manchester Road was a Bass house, known for serving the best Bass, then a legendary pint, in town. Unfortunately in more recent years it has known varied fortunes with long periods of being closed. When the pub company decided to sell it, it was bought by a small Merseyside pub group, AtWill Pubs who renamed it the Cock and Rabbit, refurbished it to a good standard and restored the real ale.

I've always thought the outside of this pub very attractive, if neglected in recent years. Traditional-style etched glass proclaiming the new name has been installed in the windows. Inside there are wall bench seats, wooden tables and chairs, and both the front of the bar and the shelving behind consist of warm wood. The overall effect is of an established, traditional pub, and the outside drinking area to the front has been popular in the recent sunshine.

On my recent visits, they were serving two beers from Southport's Craft Brewery, Gold Crafty and Ale Crafty; these particular beers have a natural haze and I found both very drinkable. They were also serving Thatchers Cheddar Valley Cider. The real ale range changes and previous offerings have included beers from Liverpool Organic Brewery, Deliverance and Thwaites Wainwright.

Regular events during the week include dominoes night on Mondays, a cheese and cracker night on Wednesdays, a pub quiz on Thursdays and live singers on Fridays. They have Sky and BT Sports and provide free WiFi for customers. Dogs and children are welcome, provided both are well-behaved. There is also a retro-style jukebox.

The Cock and Rabbit is at 69 Manchester Road, Southport, PR9 9BN. Tel: 01704 500270. They are also on Facebook. It is a short walk from Lord Street and is on the 49 bus route. There is street parking nearby. Opening hours: Monday to Thursday 11.30-11.00; Friday and Saturday 11.30 to midnight; Sunday 12.00 to 10.30.

It is good to see another local pub saved from possible redevelopment. I was impressed with the enthusiasm of the team there to make it work as a valued local in the community.

This is part of a series of articles that I am writing for the CAMRA column in our local paper, the Southport Visiter. Previous reviews are here.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Cask Ale Week 2016

I've just discovered that it will soon be National Cask Ale Week 2016, described breathlessly as a "a nationwide celebration of cask ale!" Oh yeah? Looking at the website, I clicked on the 'What's On' link to find out what was happening where I live. Nearly all of the events listed in north Merseyside and West Lancs, and all of those in the Southport area, had these dates: 1/1/70 - 1/1/70. This is obviously the website's default date, but the failure to insert the correct dates makes the listings useless.

Cask Ale Week, backed by Cask Marque, has been running for a few years now, so they don't have much excuse for such oversights. It's a complete waste of time if they can't get the basics right - such as telling us when the events will occur.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Fined for hazy beer

I went into the Cock and Rabbit in Southport last weekend where there were two beers by Southport Craft Brewery; both pumpclips stated that the beer was meant to be hazy. They tasted fine, but that message got me wondering whether we place too much importance upon clarity in our beers. Even so, I hadn't thought to write about the subject until I came across this article posted today on the BBC website.

As is well-known among informed drinkers, beers are often cleared using isinglass derived from the swim bladder of fish, usually sturgeon, although not the Scottish variety. Cask ale cleared this way is not suitable for vegetarians, who can't easily work out what beers are suitable for them due to the exemption alcoholic drinks have from nutritional labelling rules.

According to the 2017 CAMRA Good Beer Guide, increasing numbers of brewers are looking at vegetarian-friendly alternatives to isinglass to clear their beers, such as products derived from seaweed, Irish moss (a small sea algae), or silica gel. The Centre for Bio-energy and Brewing Science at the University of Nottingham is investigating using the hop plant as a clearing agent. Guinness announced last year that it would be phasing out the use of isinglass, and quite a few smaller breweries already advertise their vegetarian status. It seems to me that a momentum is building up that will in time render the use of isinglass obsolete, and perhaps even unacceptable, but we're not there yet.

The question remains: should non-vegetarians be bothered about isinglass? I utterly loathe any form of fish or seafood and consequently notice fishy smells even when others can't, but despite that strong aversion, I cannot detect any such flavours in beers where isinglass is used. I've always assumed that it doesn't affect the taste of beer, but GBG editor Roger Protz quotes the opinion of Justin Hawke of Bristol's Moor Beer Brewery who doesn’t use finings at all because he thinks they remove some of the flavour from beer. As a former fairly large-scale home brewer who has made beer both with and without isinglass, I'm not convinced that's true. However, as there are now alternatives to isinglass, I think I'd prefer it if fish didn't have to be killed simply to help clear my pint.

Some people argue further: that we should abandon our expectation that beer should be clear, but I'm not convinced by that either. I'm prepared to accept that certain types of beer are likely to have a haze, but I don't agree that we should expect beer to have a haze as a matter of course. My own brewing experience was that beers will clear without finings, although they might take slightly longer.

Aesthetically, I like the appearance of a clear pint. I understand what some drinkers mean when they say they drink with their mouth, not their eyes, and while I'll go along with this to a point, it is not a general truth. If we don't like the look of what is put before us to eat or drink, we usually don't touch it, which is why presentation is so important in restaurants: a lot of people expect beer always to be clear, which is not unreasonable with most beers anyway, and if that's their preference, they won't find a 'cloudy' pint appealing.

My main concern about the hazy pint is that it can be used as an excuse for badly-kept beer, or beer that is being served too soon. A while ago, I was told that a beer I was familiar with was meant to be hazy when I knew very well that it wasn't. A drinker who is given a poor quality, hazy pint with the excuse that it's meant to be like that might well decide that real ale is not for them and switch to another drink, or perhaps take their custom elsewhere. We all know it happens.

If a beer is meant to be clear, I prefer it to be clear. I'll accept a haze as long as the flavour isn't impaired, especially if it's a style where lack of clarity is not seen as a fault. I am, however, concerned that haziness can be used as an excuse for serving beer prematurely, not looking after it properly, or even foisting beer that's past its best on customers. In such cases, drinking with your eyes is eminently sensible.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

These people own Meantime Brewery

One of the ongoing protests
I wrote in July about SABMiller's vicious union-busting in Australia. Regrettably the situation has not been resolved, and on 8 September, thousands of union members and supporters marched through the centre of Melbourne to support workers at Carlton United Breweries whose employment conditions came under brutal attack when they were told their pay would be cut by 65% due to a new sub-contracting arrangement. The unions rejected the company's diktat and have maintained round-the-clock protests at the plant.  

Such behaviour is normal practice for SABMiller. I wrote in July last year about similar union-busting tactics applied by them in Panama. Should the mooted takeover of SABMiller by InBev go ahead, the dominance of the combined group over the world beer market will be something to be very worried about. If anyone feels secure because we have a record number of micro-breweries in the UK nowadays, don't be: they'd happily cherry-pick the commercially most successful brands and use their increased market domination to squeeze out others; it's already been announced that up to 576 UK jobs would go should the takeover go ahead.

The IUF* Executive Committee, which met in Geneva on 7 and 8 September, sent a message of solidarity and support to the Australian marchers and their unions. If you'd like to send a message to the company too, please click here.

SABMiller operates in 80 countries on every continent, and its many brands include Meantime Brewery, Fosters, Grolsch, Miller, Peroni and Pilsner Urquell.

* The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Turn the Blundell into a community pub

The Blundell Arms on its last day of opening
I know it's a bit of a long shot, but a Jason MacCormack has set up a 38° petition to turn the Blundell Arms in Upper Aughton Road, Birkdale, Southport, into a community pub. It was the home of the Bothy Folk Club for 38 years, and I've been to many private celebrations of friends there, such as birthdays, weddings and wakes. As Jason points out, it is a very large building which could successfully be used for a number of community activities beyond just being a local pub. The petition is here.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Time to face the muzak

'Tranquillity lubricates the soul, piped music destroys it.' - Spike Milligan.

According to the Good Pub Guide, music is the top complaint by pub goers. The guide's editor stated: "Piped music, canned music, muzak, lift music, airport music, call it what you will, it’s there and our readers loathe it in any shape or form. It enlists bitter complaints from our readers and has done so ever since we started the guide 35 years ago." Various surveys have confirmed this point, and Curmudgeon has agreed in his post, Pipe Down.

Reading the original article and Curmudgeon's post, there are three main reasons for disliking piped music:
  • It distracts from conversations and actually disrupts them if too loud.
  • It is someone else's choice of music, which is especially irritating if you don't like it.
  • It can cause particular difficulties for people with hearing problems.
To these I would add:
  • As piped music is usually on all the time, you can't escape it, except by not using the pub at all.
  • Treating music as aural wallpaper devalues it.
It would seem that some licensees believe that music creates 'atmosphere'. While this is probably true, I'm certain that irritation is not the kind of atmosphere they have in mind. I have yet to hear anyone say: "Let's go to the Pipe and Drum; they've got excellent muzak there."

Shops can be as bad. I wrote this on Curmudgeon's blog: "What I do find more irritating is music in supermarkets in the run-up to Xmas: from next month, we can expect Roy Wood, Slade, Paul McCartney, Wham!, and all the others from late October to Xmas Eve. I now dislike all those Xmas singles, including any I used to like." I always feel particularly sorry for the shop assistants who have to suffer it throughout every working day for a couple of months.

It's not just pubs and shops: there can also be too much music on television and radio. A programme about, say, the early 1940s will almost always be accompanied by Glenn Miller. I like Glenn Miller in small doses, but at that time people did not live their lives surrounded by music, Glenn Miller or otherwise, so it is not authentic. All-pervasive background music really began in the 1960s with the advent of cheap, portable transistor radios and hi fi systems that replaced radiograms. TV dramas sometimes include pop or sad singer-songwriter songs to create atmosphere, but I often find them a distraction from the plot. The same with the excessive use of classical music in 'Morse': as it is not incidental music, it demands too much of your attention and gormlessly over-eggs the point that Morse likes classical music. Even radio documentaries sometimes insert music when the only connection is that the song has a phrase that happens to coincide with the topic under discussion, but is otherwise utterly irrelevant. It's as though they think we cannot understand something unless it's hammered home in the most obvious and clumsy way possible.

Getting back to pubs, it's a bean counter's view of music as a feature to be added, in the same way as the decor, furnishings, paintwork, carpets and so on. It is not intended to be enjoyed in its own right: it's part of a package but, as there is no music that appeals to everyone, if it's not what you would choose, it's an intrusion, whereas you can usually ignore a carpet you don't like.

One strange thing happened to me with piped music. A pub I used to go to regularly did play background music. I having a pint with my friend Geoff when a familiar song came on: it was my own recording of a song that he and I had co-written. I'd previously sold the CD to the landlady, and it seems that she'd put it in the piped music selection. Sadly, there was no rush to the bar by eager customers demanding to know more about the song.

The Good Pub Guide is not to be confused with CAMRA's Good Beer Guide.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Unviable - who says?

The Plough in Crossens in the process
of demolition. It's now houses.
post by Paul Bailey concerning how a pub near where he lives had been saved got me thinking about how pubs are declared unviable - usually by a pub company that wants to cash in on the value of the land. Some people believe that unfettered capitalism is the way forward and that the market should determine the price of everything: they'd therefore see nothing wrong with this. If you agree with this, fine - that's your opinion - but it's not a point of view I share. Imagine that your home could be sold for much more than its current market value if it were developed as a block of flats or a convenience store; would it be right to do so? Where do we draw the line, assuming we do at all, with squeezing every last pound from property regardless of any other, non-monetary, value it may have?

In this area, we have had a number of pub closures after the pubco concerned had declared that the business was no longer viable. They are probably right when the finances are viewed through skewed prism of their highly flawed, debt-ridden business model with high rents, massive mark-ups on drinks, etc. It is not their greed or, perhaps more accurately, not just their greed: they have massive debts to service. They will never be declared bankrupt, although by any sensible measure they are in real terms; as J. Paul Getty said: "If you owe the bank $100 that's your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that's the bank's problem."

Two pubs in this area have suffered declines with lengthy closures punctuated with short periods of being open while some temporary manager takes over, or some unfortunate mug is robbed of their life savings by unrealistic business projections - something I have heard from a number of licensees with whom I've chatted over the years. Both have been sold on by their pubco, in one case to a family, and another to small chain of pubs in the Merseyside area. Free of the tie, they seem to be doing all right. In one, I was told that the pub could not survive as part of the big pubco that had previously owned it, but it was doing quite well as a true free house. The prices were lower too.

I am fully aware that there are many factors, of which pubco mismanagement is merely one, behind the decline in pub use, but if the viability of a pub is assessed by the people who want to sell the site for redevelopment and thus chip a tiny amount off their mountain of debt, I think it's reasonable to view their calculations with some scepticism.

It must not be forgotten that the pubco business model is one that does best by failure: they hit the jackpot when a former pub is redeveloped, whereas it may a long slow process to gain a small amount of profit from a pub which, by their lights, is on the cusp on unviability. The big pubcos, Wetherspoons excepted, are property companies, not beer businesses. Their priorities are determined accordingly. 

The new Pubs Code has come into force, giving tenants more rights and greater protection when dealing with large pub companies that own tied pubs. I doubt that it's a silver bullet, but I hope it provides some help.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Local beer festivals in September

The Lakeside Inn, Southport
There are five local beer festivals all within fairly easy travelling distance of Southport coming up this month. Admission is free for three of them, although you still have to pay for your beer!

First off the blocks is the the Ship, Wheat Lane, Lathom, L40 4BX, which will be holding its 6th Annual Beer, Pie & Sausage Festival from 8th to 11th. There will be a large marquee housing 40 hand pulled real ales, 12 real ciders, live music, speciality pies and sausages, and a barbecue. As usual, there is a CAMRA preview night on 8 September from 6pm onwards. Festival webpage.

The Lakeside Inn, Britain's smallest pub, is having a beer festival over the weekend of 16th to 18th. The Lakeside is on the Promenade in Southport, PR9 0EA. I tried to get more information about this festival by calling into the pub, but even though it was only a fortnight away, the barmaid didn't know any details and there were no posters. She suggested I ask at the Victoria, owned by the same people, but the barman there didn't know either. I left my contact details but have heard nothing more. Pub Facebook page.

Ormskirk Beer, Food and Wine Festival runs from 23rd to 25th. Organised jointly by the Cricketers pub and Ormskirk Cricket Club, it will offer 60+ real ales, wines from around the world and a craft gin bar. There will also be a food market, live music and a family day on Sunday. It will take place at the cricket club, Altys Lane, Ormskirk. L39 4RG. Tickets available on-line, in the Cricketers or the Ship in Lathom. Festival webpage.

The 6th Longton Beer Festival takes place on 23rd and 24th at Longton VM Sports & Social Club, School Lane, Longton, Lancashire, PR4 5YA. They will be offering a varied selection of around 25 cask ales from Lancashire, Yorkshire and beyond, plus ciders and bottled beers. This year they are hoping to raise enough money to buy a defibrillator for the club. Festival webpage.

St George's Hall beer festival runs from 29th to 1st October in the magnificent St George's Hall, Lime Street, L1 1JJ. It offers 200+ real ales, ciders, bottled beers, local food and entertainment. Tickets available on-line. Festival webpage.

A slightly shorter version of this will appear in the Southport Visiter this week.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Self-promotion

I'm playing the Tap & Bottles micropub tomorrow afternoon (Sunday 3.00 to 5.00pm), if you're at a loose end. It's my third gig at this great little venue which has several real ales and loads of bottled beers. 
On this occasion I'll be accompanied by drummer Clive Pownceby, who is a fellow member of the Lunchtime Legends rock & roll band. 
The Tap & Bottles is in Cambridge Walks in Southport town centre.
Naked self-promotion, I know - although I will actually be clothed.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Raw Deal at the Mount

Local rock band, Raw Deal, are playing at the Mount Pleasant in Manchester Road, Southport, this Saturday 3 September at 9.00pm.

They are a three-piece classic rock hits band playing songs by the Rolling Stones, the Doors, the Beatles, the Kinks, Queen, Free, Thin Lizzy, ZZ Top, David Bowie, Billy Idol, the Stereophonics and others.

Admission is free and the pub serves two or three real ales.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Ormskirk Beer, Food & Wine Festival

A joint venture by the Cricketers pub and Ormskirk Cricket Club. 
Click to enlarge the flyer. More info on website

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Knowing your Borders

A Border Morris side
Border is a type of Morris dancing in which most sides (teams) usually black up their faces. It is an old tradition which owes nothing to acts like the black and white minstrels which it predates by centuries. It was a traditional method of disguise at a time when dancing for money could be construed as begging, and was thus illegal.

The Shrewsbury Folk Festival has decided to ban any Morris side that continues to black up. This very much reminds me of an incident that I wrote about in June 2009 - see the original post in which I also explain the origins of the custom in more detail.

The festival director said: "We have been approached by one group that has requested we no longer book sides that use full face black make up and another that has asked us not to change our policy and to continue to book these sides. The festival finds itself caught between two sides of this opposing argument. The festival has never wished to cause offence to any person and as such, from 2017, we will no longer book sides that use full face black make up."

The complaint came from an equality group called FRESh (Fairness, Respect, Equality Shropshire).

I accept the fact that the festival was caught between two sides of an argument, but it seems perverse to side with the one that got its facts wrong by perceiving racist undertones that aren't there. In Otley, I have seen a Border side who painted their faces blue, which I always assumed was to avoid precisely this kind of misunderstanding, although it does leave them open to jokes about Smurfs.

Some Border sides may compromise; others definitely won't. The one good thing is that this ban has been covered by both local and national press who have explained the origins of the practice, which should mean that more people now know its origin is not racist. I can't help feeling that information is a better way forward than a ban.

'Equality and Diversity' is the current term for what we used to call 'Equal Opportunities'. Aren't we in danger of forgetting the Diversity bit?

Monday, 29 August 2016

The Up Steps in Birkdale

Sunny day at the Up Steps
Birkdale's Up Steps reopened just over a year ago after a lengthy closure; it is now a family-run free house and seems all the better for it. It has been attractively refurbished, although I liked seeing the old Lion Ales etched glass windows from its days as a Matthew Brown pub. There is a single bar serving three separate drinking areas and a snug; fortunately the pub managed to survive the 1970s tendency to knock pub rooms through into one.

They have two regular real ales, Thwaites Wainwright and Up Steps Ale, plus one changing guest which when I visited was Waterloo Sunset from the Rock The Boat Brewery of Little Crosby. Other guest ales are usually from other local breweries such as Lytham, Parker, Red Star and Southport. I enjoyed my Waterloo Sunset, especially at £2.50 a pint.

My visit was on Sunday afternoon during the bank holiday weekend when they were busy with a charity fundraiser for the Southport Stroke Club with a hog roast, barbecue, raffle, and live music the night before. Children are allowed on such special occasions, but are not normally admitted. They do not do food, other than occasional free bar snacks in the evenings: this pub is intended for people who simply wish to go out for a drink and a chat in a sociable atmosphere, and in this aim it succeeds. Dogs are welcome.

There is an outdoor drinking area to the front of the building and a pleasant enclosed beer garden to the rear which was full of customers enjoying the sunshine when I had a look.

They have been putting on live music recently and expect that it might settle into a pattern of alternate Saturdays; music events are publicised on their Facebook page. There are Sky Sports for the big matches and they show horse racing every day: you can find a handy bookies across the road if you enjoy a flutter.

There is a very small car park, but no shortage of free street parking; buses and trains stop in Birkdale village less than 10 minutes' walk away.

The Up Steps is open from midday to midnight every day. It is at 20 Upper Aughton Road, Southport, PR8 5ND. Tel: 01704 562943.

This is part of a series of articles that I am writing for the CAMRA column in our local paper, the Southport Visiter. Previous reviews are here.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

September Guest House singaround cancelled

The room in the Guest House
where the sessions are held
I've just come home from Whitby Folk Week to learn that my local, the Guest House, Union Street, Southport will be closed from 3 to 8 September. Not sure why yet, but it does mean that my song session which takes place on the first Monday of each month will not take place on Monday 5 September. There shouldn't be a problem with October.

Sorry about that; please mention this to anyone else who might otherwise turn up. 

Friday, 19 August 2016

CAMRA mission statement 1972

"Feeling bitter about your pint?" was the headline over this extract from the very first Good Beer Guide produced by the Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale in November 1972. It wasn't a professionally published volume, just eighteen sheets of paper stapled together and posted out to members. It states that the Campaign supports "a really good pint" (the term "real ale" hadn't yet been coined) and the premises where it's served, and pledges to "fight against the spread of all pressurised and keg-type beers and harmful takeovers". The first properly printed GBG was published in 1974. 

The address of CAMRA's first HQ in Salford was in fact the home of founder Graham Lees's mother. Annual subs were 50p (about £6 now).