Friday, 1 September 2017

Reopen the Blundell Fun Day

As part of the campaign to reopen the closed Blundell Arms as a pub for all the community, there will be a street party-style Fun Day in the pub's grounds on Saturday 2 September. From midday, there will be food, stalls, games and attractions for kids of all ages. In the evening between 18:00 and 21:00, there will be live acoustic music from singers from the Bothy Folk Club, which met in the pub for 38 years, Babs from Fag Ash Lil, and rock band Restless Angels, with possibly others. The event is to show support for the project to reopen the pub and to have an enjoyable and memorable day towards the end of the school summer holidays. It's free and open to everyone. The Blundell Arms is in Upper Aughton Road, Birkdale, Southport.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

CAMRA - losing its Marbles?

It's been interesting to see the spat between Manchester's Marble Brewery and CAMRA, with Marble claiming that they were blacklisted from the Great British Beer Festival. According to the brewery, a Marble staff member was victim of a sexist remark by a CAMRA volunteer at Manchester Beer and Cider Festival (MBCF), in January 2016. The brewery e-mailed the festival organisers to resolve the matter and have subsequently said that they felt great headway had been made with this. They are now asserting that their complaint led to their being blacklisted at the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF). CAMRA has investigated and states there is no evidence to support such an allegation.

Ultimately, I've no idea who's right here, but I have not read of any demonstrable evidence of a link between these two incidents. Marble seems to saying: "We had this problem at the MBCF, and then we weren't selected for the GBBF - there must be a connection." Well, not necessarily.

I know there are people in CAMRA with sexist attitudes, just as there are in most walks of life; for example, a long time ago I used to know a union rep who thought it was okay for him to crack sexist and racist jokes, not a view most of us shared. Nowadays most people who do hold such crass attitudes usually know when to keep them to themselves, but occasionally some idiots don't, as seems to have happened at the MBCF. From the very few incidents in a CAMRA setting that I've been aware of, I know that the campaign generally takes them seriously.

As I see it, there are three possible scenarios here:
  1. The brewery is mistaken: there is no link.
  2. They are correct: they were blacklisted.
  3. Publicly slagging off CAMRA is good publicity.
I don't know which is correct, although I tend to think point 3 is the least likely because such publicity is short term - next week's chip paper, in fact. In addition, to use an allegation of sexism for publicity purposes would downplay the seriousness of the complaint.

Bearing in mind that no brewery has an automatic right to be at the GBBF, and if one puts the suggestion of blacklisting aside for a moment, there are two possible explanations:
  • There are lots of good beers that have to be left out simply because the GBBF cannot accommodate them all; Marble was just unlucky.
  • Marble's beers simply weren't as good as the competition on this occasion.
Again, I don't know which applies. Any satisfactory resolution to this dispute seems unlikely in the near future, but I doubt anyone will gain by continuing it in public. There will have to be either an agreement to disagree or a permanent falling out, because this public war of words is going nowhere and benefits no one.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Open mic at the Cock & Rabbit

Joanne Louise - banished to the wilderness
after Bar Eighty Eight pulled the plug
Local singer-songwriter Joanne Louise is running an open mic night tomorrow at the Cock & Rabbit, (formerly just the Rabbit) on Manchester Road, Southport. This is a fairly new venture, and it will be taking place once a fortnight on Thursdays; after tomorrow, the next one will be on the 31 August.

She was running them in Bar Eighty Eight on Lord Street in Southport, but the management decided to call it a day for some reason. It can't have been the quality of the performers, which were generally of a high standard. I won't miss Bar Eighty Eight much because its beer wasn't very good, and there have been two violent incidents there in the last month or so, as sometimes happens in places which unsuccessfully try to be classy.

The open mic begins at around 8.30 pm tomorrow evening, 17 August. Performers welcome. The Rabbit usually serves real ale, last time a rather nice pint from Wigan's Wily Fox Brewery.

Monday, 14 August 2017

High as a kite

The BBC reports that arrests of passengers suspected of being drunk at UK airports and on flights has gone up 50%: 387 people were arrested between February 2016 and February 2017; the figure for the previous year was 255. Seeing that there are around 236,000,000 air passenger journeys in the UK annually, that represents roughly one incident every 600,000 passengers, which doesn't sound much at all, but it's not as simple as that.

19,000 cabin crew members of Unite the Union were surveyed; 4,000 responded, with one in five saying they had suffered physical abuse. Ally Murphy, a former cabin crew manager with Virgin, said: "People just see us as barmaids in the sky. They would touch your breasts, or they'd touch your bum or your legs. I've had hands going up my skirt before." I get her point, badly expressed though it is: barmaids in pubs are entitled not to be groped as well.

How come 387 incidents constitute such a big problem? The answer is that the real figure is not 387: for every incident that results in an arrest, there will be loads that don't get that far. Calling in the police will seriously delay flights, with a knock-on effect for connections, so I expect that they are called out only in the worst cases. 

It's not only the cabin crew that are affected: other passengers can find raucous, perhaps aggressive, passengers unpleasant and sometimes intimidating: a couple of badly-behaved drunks can ruin a flight for hundreds of people, as well as directing sexual and violent assaults at the crew, who are just trying to do a job which nowadays is not as well-paid as it used to be. I'm not suggesting good wages justify assaults: just that assaults, aggression, noise and arguments from drunks are more likely to make the employees conclude: "I'm not paid enough to put up with all this!"

Why do these idiots get this way, when drinking in the UK in pubs and bars is for the most part a peaceful matter? These is my speculations:
  • Some drink too much because they're nervous of flying. Others have taken sedatives to relax themselves, then add alcohol. Neither is a good way to deal with the situation.
  • As people are going on holiday, inhibitions are down and the holiday begins in the airport bar.
  • Drinkers don't take account of the effect of alcohol on the system at unusual times of the day. For example, drinks taken in the morning can have a stronger effect.
  • Similarly, drinkers don't take account of the effects of altitude which can also increase the effect of alcohol.
  • Being on holiday, some are consuming more alcohol than they are used to and go beyond their personal tolerance level.
  • Again, being on holiday - as opposed to being in the real world of getting up for work, etc - does in some people engender a feeling that the normal rules of behaviour don't apply.
  • Similarly, but even worse, some people are just bad-mannered, abusive slobs anyway - they don't need much excuse to show their true colours.
It seems clear to me that air crews need more support; no matter what training they have, dealing with irrational drunks is not an easy task, especially when, unlike in pubs, throwing them out of the door is not an option. 

Some suggestions include making the consumption of your own alcohol on the plane a criminal offence and limiting the amount supplied to individuals on planes. There are voluntary codes but they're clearly not working. This is one area where serious restrictions on alcohol wouldn't bother me in the slightest: no one wants drunks disrupting flights thousands of feet in the air.

Although I've not flown for some time now, I did quite often many years ago. I never once had a drink on a flight, and if I were on a plane now, I wouldn't particularly want one. It hardly seems an ordeal to wait until you've arrived before getting stuck in.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Goat's Milk is Champion

I see that CAMRA's Champion Beer of Britain for 2017 is Churchend Goat's Milk, a 3.8% beer described on the brewery's website as 'Golden yellow nectar. Pale barley, crystal malt and oats, blend to fill the palate with flavour. Aromatic hops dance over the tongue for a gentle hop finish.' That sounds like the kind of beer that is very popular at the moment, although that's not a criticism. A brewery spokesperson explained the name: "We originally brewed and named it for a festival taking place in the Goat pub, and the beer just caught on."

Silver in the Overall Winner category was won by Bishop Nick Brewery's Ridley’s Rite, with Tiny Rebel Cwtch taking the bronze. Two years ago, Cwtch won the Champion Beer award. When I tried Cwtch after it first won, I was distinctly unimpressed and didn't see it as anything special at all, which just goes to show how subjective judgements on flavour can be.

Only two beers from around this area (Merseyside and Lancashire) feature, both from Blackedge Brewery in Horwich, which is about 25 miles from Southport: Pike won Silver in the Best Bitters category, and Black Port Porter won Joint Silver in the Speciality category. The only other beer from the North West was Red Bull Terrier from Barngates in Cumbria which won Silver in the Strong Bitter category.

For the full list, click here and scroll down. It is difficult to comment on the beers that have won awards, seeing that, as far as I can recall, I've had only three of them: Cwtch Tiny Rebel, Oakham Citra and Saltaire Triple Chocoholic. 

I tend to take these awards with a pinch of salt because the final choice is made by a comparatively small number of people on a panel chosen by CAMRA. I'm not sure how it could be done otherwise because, as my own experience of knowing only three beers among the 2017 award winners shows, ordinary drinkers don't have access to the full range of beers available nationally - not unless they spend every waking hour touring pubs and beer festivals all over the country, in which case they'd also have to be quite rich. A simple ballot of all members would just throw up a bewildering range of local choices without any clear winner. While consultation among members does take place via local tasting panels and regional heats, in the end final decisions have to be made, so I accept this system, though imperfect, as probably about as good as we can get.

Most industry awards are simply marketing devices. For example, the Oscars, which get a ridiculously disproportionate amount of attention, are no more than industry gongs awarded by insiders to each other. Impartial assessments of quality they are not. In fact, they are of less value to us consumers that, say, the UK Plumber of the Year award - much more use if your boiler packs in.

The CAMRA awards are genuinely different in that they are not industry gongs, but awarded by outsiders from an independent campaign, which is why winning them is valued more highly than other awards determined by insiders: this award, brewers can justifiably claim, was decided by informed customers.

Ultimately, while they're not perfect, they're not worthless either. If I were a brewer, I'd be very pleased to receive one.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Women and Beer

Ninkasi, Sumerian Goddess of Beer
According to legend, beer was a gift from a goddess to womankind. Beer has been brewed for at least 10,000 years, and for most of that time women were the brewers. In the early 18th century, three quarters of brewers in this country were female. So why is only 13% of beer in this country drunk by women, a far lower figure than in the USA or most of Europe? Dea Latis, an organisation committed to bringing beer to women, suggests it’s because of misconceptions that beer is ‘fattening’ (it’s not, in moderation), ‘all tastes the same’ (it doesn’t) or is ‘a man’s drink’ (it doesn’t have to be).

Over recent decades, beer marketing has mostly been aimed at men. In TV adverts, hunky Tetley Bittermen turned away from beautiful women to pick up their pints – the message being: 'don't let women get in the way of your beer'. More recently with the real ale revival, some brewers have deliberately chosen sexist names with suggestive illustrations on their handpumps. To give a few: Slater's Top Totty; Slack Alice Cider; Teignworthy Bristol's Ale with a crude visual pun on 'Bristol'; and York's Naughty Noelle – all with demeaning pictures to match. A few names are so crude that I would not mention them here.

Faced with all this, it is hardly surprising when women don't relate to beer, so those brewers who deliberately alienate 51% of their potential market are scoring an own goal. Fortunately most aren't so juvenile, and the situation can only improve further with the increasing number of women brewers.

In recent years, Jean Pownceby of Liverpool CAMRA tried to redress the imbalance by arranging social evenings where knowledgeable female drinkers would bring along woman friends unfamiliar with beer to try out various brews, and have a good night out in the process. 'Snowball', as it was called, was a very successful local initiative.

Nationally, a quarter of CAMRA members are female - that's around 47,500 women signed up to support real ale. With the increasing choice of real ales in pubs and bars, along with the bottled beer shops that are springing up, the chances of men and women finding a beer they like have never been better than now.
________________________

The post above was another article I wrote for the CAMRA column in the local press. I wanted to refer to the brewery set up a few years ago by a young woman to brew beers deliberately aimed at women. This brewery seems to have vanished, I can't recall the name of either her or her brewery, and I've been unable to find anything through a search engine. 

My opinion at the time was that the assumption that there was a beer just for women was misguided, and had it come from a male would deservedly risk being described as patronising or sexist. Having worked at many beer festivals over the years, I know that women drinkers will choose a wide range of beers, including dark milds and stouts. A pale lightly-flavoured beer with citrus flavours might be a suitable introduction to real ale for lager drinkers, but that applies to men as well as women.

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

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Fined at the Grasshopper

A 'Meet The Brewer' night with a difference: the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of COLAPS (Coast Of Lancashire Ale Preservation Society, a branch of SPBW) at the Grasshopper on Sandon Road, Southport, will be John Marsden from Melwood Brewery giving a talk to on 'Fishy Business - what brewers add to beer!' Apparently he has offered to bring samples.

I presume the reference is to isinglass, a substance derived from the swim bladders of fish and used as finings to clear beer by dragging all the yeast and any other particles to the bottom. As I cannot stand the smell, let alone the taste, of any form of fish or seafood, it's just as well finings cannot be detected in the beer by our senses, remaining as they do at the bottom of the cask with the yeast.

Melwood Brewery is based in Knowsley Park in the old Kennels that once housed Lord Derby’s gundogs. The meeting is on Monday 7 August at 7.30 pm.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Pubs – watch out for con merchants

Pubs are basically small businesses, and there are always people happy to relieve them of their hard-earned cash. One con trick is to approach a pub and invite them to be in a good beer or pub guide, perhaps showing some examples of artwork, and asking for a sum on advance, usually in the region of £30 to £50, although I have heard £250 mentioned. Once they have the money, they disappear. One conman even used the name of a legitimate pub guide publisher, Bernie Carroll.

This kind of con has happened recently in Liverpool, and I have been told it occurred in the Southport and West Lancs area a few years ago. Earlier this year, I read that a conman was going round Manchester pubs asking for money to go in CAMRA's Good Beer Guide (GBG). Anyone doing this is definitely a liar because CAMRA never charges pubs to go in the GBG, or in any of its local guides.

Pub guides published by other organisations may charge for entries, and with these it is important to see credible ID. In addition, I'd suggest not letting anyone hustle you into a deal, ask the person to come back another day and take the time to check their credentials thoroughly. No legitimate publisher would have a problem with this. Some licensees don't report such cons because they are embarrassed, but that leaves the thief to prey on other pubs.

This is not a small problem - Bernie Carroll said the list of victims "would fill a small volume" - so it's best to report all such cons, whether successful or not, to the police.

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

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Restless Angels at the Mount

The band at a previous gig in The Mount
Rock band Restless Angels are playing the Mount pub this Saturday 5 August. They perform tracks by artists such as Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, Julie Driscoll and The Small Faces along with other 60s classics; Blondie, Tina Turner, Ace and more from the 70s; and a sprinkling of later tunes from the likes of Texas, Duffy and many more to provide a wide range of music that doesn't necessarily go for the obvious 'rock classics'.

Yours truly played one gig with the band at New Year as a temporary replacement for a guitarist who was unavailable at short notice. I enjoyed it, although it was a bit nerve-racking for being far out of my usual style!

This Saturday evening in the Mount Pleasant, Manchester Road, Southport, PR9 9BD ; it is a real ale pub. Free admission - all welcome.

Monday, 31 July 2017

The hidden agenda of the drinking guidelines

An increasing sight in town centres
The back page of August's What's Brewing, the CAMRA newspaper, features an article written by Christopher Snowdon on how alcohol units are unscientific nonsense. This is a theme I have covered here before several times, such as here in January last year.

What motivates people to tell untruths about alcohol? I partly addressed this point in March 2013. I get the impression they don't actually consider themselves to be liars, because alcohol is surrounded by loads of fallacious preconceptions and myths that have widely been accepted as true. I have noticed that the suggestion of having a drink sometimes provokes a roguish reaction from some adults, particularly among those who don't drink very often, as though they are doing something slightly naughty. Given that mindset, along with the dual myths of a drink crisis in the UK and a genuine, but mostly baseless, fear about going into town and city centres at weekends, some people are persuaded that it's not just naughty, but genuinely dangerous.

In the real world, alcohol consumption is in slow decline in the UK, and my own experience of various town and city centres is that you are in no more danger than when you go out shopping in the same areas in the daytime. The various anti-alcohol killjoys usually insert a sentence into their propaganda to the effect that they don't want to stop people enjoying alcohol (although some of them really do, but they can't afford to be that frank) or destroy the great British pub, but then propose various measures that will do precisely both of those things. 

They seem incapable of distinguishing between drinking and getting drunk. If the anti-alcohol brigade took the trouble to wander around a few pubs at weekends, they might be surprised to see how few drinkers are falling over, getting into fights or otherwise behaving badly. Nearly all enjoy their drinks, chat to their friends and go home peaceably when time is rung.

As I wrote in 2013:
I have sympathy for anyone who has suffered from drunken aggression, but the fact is that violent drunks are not transformed by alcohol: they are simply violent people who have learnt to associate aggression and violence with drink - a learnt behaviour, not caused by drink. Blaming alcohol for bad behaviour is also a convenient excuse if trying to appear apologetic after sobering up, or when in court.
A year or two ago, a local lout who had launched unprovoked attacks on several people one evening blamed his disgraceful behaviour on alcohol in an attempt to distance himself from his actions. I wrote a letter to the local paper making clear my view as an experienced drinker that such a defence did not stand up - that the violence is in the person and not created by alcohol - but it wasn't printed, probably because it was too obvious which court case I was referring to and could have risked a libel case.

As I've said many times before, only a fool would claim alcohol is a risk-free activity whatever the circumstances, but that is true of many other activities. As far as I know, no one campaigns against all driving because some idiots drive far too fast, or after too many drinks: we try to deal with the bad behaviour and let everyone carry on in the controlled environment of the road. The anti-alcohol campaigners would probably argue that's all they're trying to do with alcohol, but they are not: the main weapons they propose are rationing by minimum price and taxation, abolishing advertising and restricting licensing hours. Nothing even vaguely comparable is proposed for drivers and the car industry.

Among legal activities, only gun ownership and tobacco are more controlled. At the CAMRA AGM in 2008, I attended a discussion group about the neo-prohibitionists. It was explained to us that they weren't a new phenomenon, but they had been emboldened by the success of the smoking ban nine months earlier. With that ban, alongside "New" Labour's alcohol duty escalator which was still in place, they must have thought their time had come. It hadn't: the escalator was scrapped and duty was even cut for a couple of years; the extension of the smoking ban that some have campaigned for and fully expected hasn't materialised; and it seems the appetite among politicians to micro-manage people's social activities has diminished. Or, more likely perhaps, they simply feel there are no votes in it. No one likes preachy killjoys.

The Chief Medical Officer of England can use her public position to burble nonsense on Radio 4 about when she's at a dinner party, she calculates whether it would be sensible to have a second glass of wine. Naturally I didn't believe her for a moment because it's such a silly thing to say, and regrettably the interviewer didn't challenge it. However, despite such nonsense, because she and her neo-prohibitionist allies have clout and the ear of government, there are no grounds for complacency.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

A new Head of Steam for Liverpool

I was interested to read in the Liverpool Echo that the Head of Steam pub chain is taking over the Abbey on Hanover Street in Liverpool. There was a Head of Steam previously in Liverpool on Lime Street in what is now the North Western, a Wetherspoons pub that I wrote about here. That Head of Steam began well, but ended being a dingy, unwelcoming, under-used dump, which was vastly improved when Spoons took it over and expanded it.

The Head of Steam chain was taken over by Cameron's in 2013 and seems to have been given a new lease of life. The Abbey is in Hanover House, underneath the Epstein Theatre; it is large, modern-styled bar with bare floors, big screen sports and a couple of real ales. Cameron's say it will have 34 keg and 10 cask lines, and will be "a very different proposition to the previous the Head of Steam pub that had previously traded in Liverpool" - just as well, considering how that ended up. Apart from the name, I don't see much of a connection between this pub chain and the old Head of Steam group.

It's due to open in September, and it should be an interesting addition to the fine array of pubs that Liverpool already boasts.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

The Blue Anchor, Southport

The Blue Anchor complete with a - ahem - gold anchor
I was recently told that the Blue Anchor on Tithebarn Road, Southport, had begun to serve real ale, so I went along with a couple of friends to investigate, writes Neville Grundy. The pub is a conspicuous landmark in the area with an attractive frontage; it has two rooms, a comfortable lounge and a bar, and was pleasantly refurbished earlier this year. I particularly liked the old stained glass windows with sailing scenes and blue anchors in the lounge. Outside is a beer garden with wooden furniture.

There are two handpumps serving Deuchars and Caledonian XPA, although the range of real ales will change; the real ales are on offer at £2 a pint until the end of July. They are considering getting a range of the artisan gins that are increasingly very popular.

The bar area houses the pool table and darts board, and there are three pool teams and two darts teams based at the pub; pool is free on Sundays and Tuesdays. Three big screens sometimes show important sporting events.

Children are welcome until early evening and there is a free bouncy castle during the summer. The pub is dog friendly. The pub also offers karaoke and DJ on Fridays, live music on some Saturdays, free WiFi, and food served all day to 7.00pm from Thursday to Sunday.

Opening hours are: Mon-Wed 3-11; Thu 12-11; Fri 12-1am; Sat 12-12; Sun 12-11. The pub is on Facebook and the phone number is 07487 246785.

With the loss of the nearby London Hotel to housing, the Blue Anchor is the last pub in this part of Southport, and it looks well set up to fill the role of local community pub.

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

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Sam Smiths - the dotty auntie of brewing

The increasingly eccentric Sam Smiths brewery has been accused of banning bikers. One biker recently rolled up at The Royal Oak at Ulley, near Rotherham, and was told he could no longer be served because of an instruction from the brewery. The owner of the brewery, Humphrey Smith, told a woman biker who had been using the pub for many years that "local people have no wish to have them in this establishment" and he did not want "undesirables" in the pub. This particular diktat follows the brewery's announcement in April that swearing is banned in all its pubs.

Unlike the swearing ban or the ban on music that arose from a fit of pique about 'New' Labour's absurd pub music licences (mentioned in a post here in 2009), this particular ban seems confined to one pub. The bikers' magazine, MCN, is distinctly unimpressed, stating that Sam Smiths' pubs "all feature a Victorian theme and don’t have televisions or play music ... It would seem that Mr Smith’s attitude towards bikers is as Victorian as the theme that runs throughout his pubs."

Having drunk in pubs favoured by bikers, I have found that there is no more trouble than in any other pubs, and in fact rather less than some. Is this discrimination? Certainly, because a whole group of people has been banned, regardless of how the individuals in that group have behaved - imagine the reaction if the members of any ethnic or religious group had been described as "undesirables". However, as bikers are not a "protected group" under the Equality Act, there is no recourse in law.

The brewery has ignored requests for comments from several journals and newspapers. I wonder what Humphrey will find to ban next?

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Open house at the Grasshopper

With the Open Golf coming to Southport, Birkdale to be precise, the Grasshopper in nearby Hillside tells me that they are putting on 'The Open mic night' which will very loosely have a golf theme. It will an acoustic-only evening (so not deafening!) to celebrate the Open without the 'mic', and anyone who is so inclined is welcome to join in.

Pete Rimmer of the Bothy Folk Club will be running proceedings, and I've been asked to go along and contribute a few songs. 

The Grasshopper always has a good range of real ales on offer, and is at 70 Sandon Road, Southport, PR8 4QD, handy for bus and train.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Elvis 1 - Brewdog 0

The King of Rock & Roll
I see that the increasingly risible owners of Brewdog have come unstuck with the name of one of their beers, Elvis Juice. The estate of Elvis Presley had objected as they did not want anyone to assume that the beer had been endorsed by them.

In relation to a copyright case involving one of their own brands, Brewdog had previously declared on their website:
"By protecting our trademarks, when we have to, we are just looking after our business and our team. We own trademarks just like we own our buildings, our brewing equipment, and our dogs. If someone stole our dog or our bottling machine we would not be happy, intellectual property is no different."
However, when it came the Presley estate's intellectual rights they tried to brazen it out, declaring that the move was "baseless litigation" and that they had not chosen the beer's name to massage the egos of late celebrities. To support their case, the two owners both changed their names by deed poll to Elvis to 'prove' that the name was not exclusive. I'd have thought the word 'punk' was not exclusive, but that hasn't stop the duo from copyrighting the word. 

Will Brewdog ever appear on a stamp?
Furthermore, their scorn for "baseless litigation" didn't stop them from setting their lawyers earlier this year onto a Birmingham pub which had the cheek to call itself the Lone Wolf, not knowing this was the name Brewdog use for their spirits. With Brewdog, when anyone else does it, it's theft, but when they do it, they try to trample any objections under foot by a combination of gimmicky publicity and rapacious lawyers - more bully than punk, surely?

The UK's Intellectual Property Office has decided that they cannot use the name Elvis on the grounds that it is so closely associated with the King of Rock & Roll that people could wrongly conclude that it was an officially licensed product. Oliver Morris, the Trademark hearing officer, ruled: "I consider most average consumers, on seeing the name Elvis alone, are likely to conceptualise that on the basis of Elvis Presley." Brewdog have been told to pay £1500 costs.

I have no particular objection to a business protecting its copyrights, but I find it distasteful when a company demonstrates such hypocritical double standards as Brewdog have. They have the right to appeal; on previous form, I think it unlikely that they will give in gracefully.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Hearing the flavour

Karaoke - my own bête noire
I read in the Morning Advertiser that a neuroscientist has demonstrated that music can alter the way we taste. Experimenting with food, he discovered that a change in music, such as pitch, tempo, volume or instrumental, alters diners' wider perceptions. For example, people tended to eat more quickly when the music had faster beats and consequently did not taste the fuller range of flavours in the food. The opposite effect occurred when the music was slower. The Advertiser suggested that food pubs may wish to take advantage of this finding.

We tend to think of our senses as separate, but they are all inter-connected. For example, when the appearance of food is changed using food dye, people often claim the taste has been affected, even though food dye is odourless and tasteless. Our eyes tell us that, say, a blue tomato isn't right, so the taste buds concur. Green beer for St Patrick's Day had one friend unimpressed, even though without the dye it was the kind of beer he favoured.

Another experiment was with Pringles. Test subjects were told to taste them in a sound booth with headphones, through which the sound of the crunching was modified by boosting or muffling particular frequencies, or the overall volume. Test subjects then described some Pringles as fresh and others as stale. In fact all were the same.

What applies to food should logically also apply to drink. It is certainly true we all have places where we prefer to have a drink and some we tend to avoid. While other factors come into play, such as comfort, the presence of people we know and the ability to have a chat without shouting, I wonder whether a prominent musical background can affect the way we actually taste our beer.

I have no scientific way of determining this, but seeing that there does seem to be a link between hearing and taste, perhaps drinking in, say, a rave with fast beats and rapidly flashing lights might make our pint actually taste different than if you drank it in a heavy metal concert with slow ponderous chords. Does the absence of all music alter the taste again?

Some pub regulars aren't especially fond of music in pubs, and there are certain beer festival goers who like quiet sessions so that they can appreciate their pint properly. While 'properly' is a matter of opinion, I wonder whether from this research we could conclude that perhaps the simple presence of music of any type might affect how we actually taste our beer.

I don't know the answer to that, and in some cases a preference against music might merely reflect a dislike of the particular music being played, or even of music in general. However, the research does throw up one possible scientific reason, perhaps among other non-scientific ones, for the varying attitudes to music in pubs and beer festivals.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Lion song session

A detail in one of the Lion's windows 
Just a reminder that the Lion singarounds - acoustic song sessions with no PA - have begun again and are now on the second Tuesday of each month and not the Thursday as before, beginning at around 8.30 pm.

The Lion survived more than 6 months' closure last year and a refurbishment early this year, and has come through largely unscathed. The licensee, Dave, was hoping to have a beer festival this summer but it looks as though the location of the pub on a very busy corner in the city centre close to a major railway station may make the logistics of all the deliveries a festival demands unfeasible. Blocking a busy junction while unloading dozens of casks may not go down too well with our constabulary friends.

A good choice of eight real ales and a real cider is always available.

The Lion is on Moorfields in Liverpool, diagonally across the road from the railway station.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Lager than life

A recent survey by the There’s A Beer For That campaign has shown that 45% of consumers prefer to drink lager than any other drink, and that 60% had only ever tried up to five different styles of beer, despite the massive range that is currently available.

Some frustration was expressed at the reluctance of so many British drinkers to experiment, but this merely demonstrates a failure to recognise why many people drink as they do. For a lot of drinkers, the beer is merely an adjunct to a social event; it is not the purpose of it. If they've found a beer that suits them - whether it be a particular brand of lager, a national real ale brand such as Doom Bar, or a national smoothflow bitter - they feel no need to look any further. Furthermore, there are still people, a diminishing number admittedly, who feel brand loyalty: I've known people who have declared that Tetley Bitter was the finest pint on the planet. I've even known certain CAMRA members assert this, despite the beer's plummeting quality during the final years of the Leeds brewery.

I think it's unlikely that most drinkers of real ale, or of craft beer for that matter, want to spend every moment of their time in constant experimentation. If you're out for a night with friends and find a reasonable pint, you might decide to stick with that while you enjoy your evening, rather than experiencing a constant itch for something different.

There's no real need for impatience, considering that until the early 1990s, the choice of beer in most towns was severely limited to the products of the breweries who owned nearly all the pubs. We've come a long way since then, but there will always be drinkers who will stick to their favourite brand, or small range of brands. Changing people's drinking habits is a slow process, not unlike trying to do a U-turn in a cruise liner. The best approach is vive la différence - assuming we're still allowed to say that after the Leave vote.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Keeping mum costs money

It might be simpler just to do this
In February I wrote a piece called Tell people what you're up to, in which I explained how some pubs don't see the need for accurate and timely publicity, even when they've gone to the expense and effort of putting on a beer festival. A month earlier I had written about the lack of notice the Freshfield Hotel gave for its Winter Ales Expo, something the new licensee there has recently done (see previous post) by giving less than a fortnight's notice for a festival that begins tomorrow.

This weekend has seen the Funky Beer Festival at Southport's Pleasureland which began on 30 June and ends today. It was, I believe, run in conjunction with Cross Bay Brewery, but the problem is that the first publicity as far as I could see was on Thursday in the local paper, the Southport Visiter. I think it had been on Facebook a bit longer, but unless you're already linked to the relevant page or someone points it out to you, you're unlikely to see it - not forgetting that quite a few people aren't on Facebook at all.

The local CAMRA branch, to which I belong, wasn't given any more notice. As I wrote in January:
Oddly enough, most drinkers, including CAMRA members, have lives outside of pubs, such as families, jobs, other commitments, social activities and hobbies, and can't always drop everything at short notice.
It's no good just giving a festival a snappy title and 'cool' video and then expecting drinkers to turn out in droves. It also doesn't make sense to be imprecise about what you're offering. The Funky Beer Festival advertised it would be selling 'craft beers', along with gins and Prosecco, but with no mention of real ales. I'm told that in fact it had around 30 cask beers, but this wasn't clear from the publicity. I'm not the only one who would have little interest in going to a craft-only festival, especially when I can get a good range of real ales in the town centre with no admission charges and real glasses.

The organisers seem likely to lose money, which may cause them to conclude that there's no market for beer festivals in Southport. This simply isn't true, as the recent Beer Street festival organised by the Tap & Bottles showed. Even the last CAMRA festival in the town, despite being dubbed a failure by some (maliciously in my view), managed to make a small profit.

I've tried to think of any other types of events, such as sport, concerts, drama and so on, that expect people to turn out with little or no notice, but most aren't so complacent that they take their customers for granted. On the contrary, they are usually publicised well in advance so that people can make their plans around them. Beer festivals take months to organise, so no one can say there isn't enough time.

It's a cliché that there's no such thing as bad publicity (try telling that to our hapless prime minister), but it's obvious that little or no publicity multiplies the chance of failure. With beer festivals, financial losses can be large: unopened barrels can be sold on, assuming you can find a buyer, but once they have been opened, they can't be moved and have to be used or poured down the drain. Twenty half-full barrels at the end of a festival can lose an organiser close to a thousand pounds.

There's another cliché that can be applied here: spoiling the ship for a ha'porth of tar.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Freshfield Beer Festival

The Freshfield
I've had a message from Jo Gillespie, the new manager of the Freshfield Hotel.

She tells me that they are holding a Beer Festival from Monday 3 July to Sunday 9 July. This pub has earned several local CAMRA awards in the past. It's on Massam's Lane, Formby, L37 7BD, a short walk from Freshfield Station.

The pub is worth visiting anyway as it usually has a good range of real ales on. 

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

The Sir Henry Segrave, Southport

The attractive frontage to
The Henry Segrave
The Sir Henry Segrave is situated at the south end of Lord Street, Southport. It is a JD Wetherspoon's house converted from the old House of Holland shop. The pub is designed with several separate drinking areas on two levels, thus breaking up what could have been a large barn-like interior. The walls are wood-panelled to waist height with photographs of old Southport above, and you can watch the world go by through the large windows on two sides. Outdoor seats allow you to enjoy the good weather, when we get it. Disability access is by the side entrance on Coronation Walk.

The pub is named after Sir Henry Segrave who in 1926 raised the land-speed record to 152mph in his Sunbeam Ladybird on Birkdale Sands. During his life, Henry Segrave set 3 land speed records and one water record. He died in June 1930, just a few months after he was awarded a knighthood, having just set a new world record on Lake Windermere.

Back to the present. The real ales on offer when I visited were: Moorhouse's Pendle Witch, Phoenix Wobbly Bob, Sharp's Doom Bar, Derwent Brewery Cote Light, Wainwright, Naylor's Aire Valley Bitter, Red Star Weissbier, Lytham Lancashire Life Anniversary Ale, Ruddles Best, Greene King Abbott Ale, and a Blonde Ale brewed by Maui Brewing Co only for Wetherspoon's. The company quite often sets up these exclusive brewing deals, resulting in quality beers available nowhere else. They also stock a good range of craft beers, world beers, wines, spirits, cocktails, tea and coffee.

Wetherspoon's is known for value food and the Segrave's specials nights are: steak night Tuesday, chicken on Wednesday, curry night on Thursday, Friday fish of course, and on Sunday you can have an all-day brunch.
............................

The above was the newspaper article I wrote (see note* below). I'd like to add that I have read some disgraceful comments about Wetherspoon's pubs, usually in the comments section below blog posts, not written by the bloggers themselves. Descriptions such as 'old people drooling over their meals' are disrespectful and inaccurate: I've never seen it. There are also comments about 'brats' running around: most children (as they are properly called) do not run around, certainly no more than in any other pub that admits children. I've also seen sneering comments about people on benefits frequenting Spoons houses, as though those without jobs are not permitted to have a pint. All rank snobbery, of course.

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

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Tap & Bottles acoustic song session

This monthly singaround in the Tap & Bottles, 19 Cambridge Walks, Southport, Merseyside, PR8 1EN. Next Monday 26 June will be the fourth at this venue.

As the poster suggests, it is open to all comers, although performing is not mandatory.

The Tap & Bottles is now well-established in Southport town centre as a venue offering a good choice of real ales, craft and bottled beer.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Brewdog climb down

From a post in September 2015 about a petition against an offensive Brewdog video:
I wrote on the 3 September how Brewdog's campaign to wrest money from their fans to fund their business had caused offence: they've been accused of mocking homeless people, trans women and sex workers in their video, with the message: don't force them [i.e. Brewdog] to do such humiliating things to raise money. Despite 20,508 signatures on the petition, Brewdog are unrepentant. Their response was: "If you believe we are ridiculing [trans people, homeless people, sex workers], you are either misguided, ill-informed or out of your tiny mind."
At the time, I thought I'd like to see how that kind of defence would stand up in court: "If you think I stole that car, you are either misguided, ill-informed or out of your tiny mind." Guaranteed to win over the hearts and minds of any jury.

Brewdog have now quietly removed the offensive video from their YouTube account. They have done this without fanfare or comment - which is in itself completely out of character - to avoid the press reporting that they had backed down in response to external pressure, in this case from a petition that eventually gained 36,961 signatures. These cartoon punks don't want to be seen admitting they did anything wrong, but it's clear to me that the campaign had the desired effect.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Getting back to normal

I've been out of the game for most of the last month with a rather nasty chest infection. It's difficult to keep a music and real ale blog going when you're more or less housebound. Writing my weekly CAMRA column for the local paper hasn't been easy either. The fact that my voice had degenerated into a croak meant that practising songs on my guitar wasn't an option to pass the time. Although the infection has been dealt with by antibiotics, my voice - my singing voice particularly - has yet to return fully. I have spent a lot of the time catching up on all the TV programmes I'd been recording, but this palls after a while. It's quite surprising how much Taggart is shown each week.

The thought has crossed my mind that I've had a mere three weeks of this, while for some people this is their life. I've visited housebound people in the past when I worked for the DSS, and I did what I could within the job's constraints, but the forbearance most of them showed puts my few weeks of confinement into perspective - and not in a way that flatters me!

I'm now pub-going again. Gail, the licensee of my local, the Guest House, has welcomed me back, as have the staff, and it's nice to have that feeling of belonging to a pub. She says that I can resume my monthly gigs there as soon as I can sing again. And there's a point: your voice is something you just take for granted. Most of us don't think about it: it's just there - until it isn't. Still, I'm on the mend, and I hope not to get another chest infection like this one for some time to come.

The good news is that the Phoenix Brewery May Fly was definitely in good nick last night.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Turning Back The Clock

'Chucking Out Time' by Edward Foster
The good old days UKIP wants back
Why does UKIP still exist? The UK has now voted to leave the EU, so you'd think they'd just have a victory party and disband. Not a bit of it.

Continuing as a party, even though it has lost its main raison d'être, requires it to produce policies on a variety of issues, even though everyone knows they will never be enacted. This is why they have produced a policy on pubs. Their manifesto includes plans to "reduce the density of alcohol outlets and restrict trading times" for pubs and bars, and to replace the Licensing Act 2003 with new, more restrictive legislation. This is a good few steps away from the frequent image of a smiling Farage standing outside a pub, pint and cigarette in hand. I have no time for Farage, but I have to concede that bit of PR was quite effective.

UKIP is at one with the anti-alcohol brigade in that they see pubs and bars as the root of all alcoholic evil. Control them and you control the problem. This point of view takes no account of the huge growth in recent decades of drinking at home, a trend that has been encouraged by the disproportionate mismatch between on- and off-sale prices. As long as the problem is out of sight off the streets, they don't care much. The fact that drinking on your own at home can lead to problems associated with isolation, such as depression, doesn't seem to cross their minds. Not all home drinking is solitary, of course, but even drinking in company at home eliminates interaction with people outside your immediate group.

I'm uncertain what restricted opening hours UKIP would favour. They would have to be standardised, otherwise when one pub closed, drinkers would simply be able to drift to another that was still serving, thus defeating the purpose of restricted opening. Standardised hours would bring back the old closing time rush that led to virtually all the drinkers in a town centre being discharged onto the streets at the same time. In the past, this was often blamed for public order problems, and is thus at odds with UKIP's professed aim to "protect emergency workers from abuse" from drunks. While I fully agree that people should not suffer abuse or assaults for simply doing their jobs, the party hasn't done any joined-up thinking here.

As for reducing the density of pubs: how would they achieve that? Will businesses be forcibly closed? Will they be taxed out of existence? Because if the latter, going out for a drink would become a pastime only the rich could afford in a small number of expensive outlets. Anyone else who wanted to drink would have to do so at home.

As Kate Nicholls of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers has said of UKIP's opening hours policy, "Any return to the old system would be a hugely retrograde action and unhelpful for pubs, restaurants and bars. Thankfully, there is little chance of UKIP sweeping to victory at the general election."

Quite.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Study shows 'hair of the dog' works

Not available on prescription
In the Woody Allen film Sleeper, a health food shop owner is cryogenically frozen. After he is revived 200 years later, his doctors have this conversation:
Dr. Melik: This morning for breakfast he requested something called "wheat germ, organic honey and tiger's milk."
Dr. Aragon: [chuckling] Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.
Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or ... hot fudge?
Dr. Aragon: Those were thought to be unhealthy ... precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.
Dr. Melik: Incredible!
In an example of life imitating art, researchers at the University of Greenwich have discovered that two pints of beer are better at relieving pain than painkillers such as paracetamol. If your blood alcohol content is raised to around 0.08%, your pain theshold is raised slightly, thus noticeably reducing the intensity of the pain.

According to the researchers, "Findings suggest that alcohol is an effective analgesic that delivers clinically-relevant reductions in ratings of pain intensity, which could explain alcohol misuse in those with persistent pain, despite its potential consequences for long-term health."

Predictably, the report on these findings in The Independent was obliged to conclude with a warning about the health risks of excessive consumption of alcohol, along with a reminder that the official recommended safe limit is 14 units. If it were discovered that, say, beefburgers had certain health benefits, would they end every item with a warning that excessive consumption of them could lead to obesity and other health problems? I seriously doubt it, but - tediously - they insist on doing it every time alcohol is mentioned.

Anyway, it's now official: hair of the dog works at a level of about two pints. Best not exceed the dose or, tragically, you might have to apply the cure again the following day.

A packet of paracetamols costs around a tenth of the price of two pints but won't work as well, and are undeniably less enjoyable to take. You pays your money ...

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

We've been here before - and will again

Although music is an important part of my life - it's one of the reasons for this blog - I'm not too surprised that, until last night, I'd never heard of Ariana Grande; after all, I am not what might be called her target demographic. I can of course relate to the enthusiasm of going to a concert by a favourite performer, and for those young girls, the evening should have left them feeling good and providing them with fond memories for the rest of their lives, even if in time they had grown out of the music. With 22 dead and 59 injured, last night will certainly stay forever with those young women and children for the worst of reasons.

Like the Bataclan massacre 18 months ago in Paris, the murderers deliberately targeted people who were out enjoying themselves. I have no doubt that this evil attack was in retaliation for our actions in the Middle East. Yesterday's victims cannot be held responsible for the deaths, injuries and major political and social disruption caused by Western governments and Russia through proxy wars, invasions, and policies of regime change, but on the other hand, the civilian victims of our interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, etc, aren't to blame either.

Defiant statements that terrorism will not change our way of life and our values cannot disguise the fact that we are particularly vulnerable to such terror attacks, as the IRA proved a generation ago. Nowadays it's even easier: if you have the stomach for it, just drive a car at high speed into a crowd.

The sad fact is that, unless we fundamentally alter our approach to international affairs and stop trying to be the world's police force, there will be more attacks like this, with more innocent deaths followed by more essentially similar defiant statements. We're in a vicious cycle and I see no signs that we are making any efforts to get out of it. British prime ministers love putting on their serious face and posing for the world's press next to the American president in front of the White House: Tony Blair loved it, and as we saw recently, so does Theresa May. While strutting on the world's stage and talking about taking 'difficult decisions', they can continue pretending that Britain is still a world power.

The major powers have been meddling in the Middle East for a hundred years now since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War, and the region is in about the worst mess it has ever been in as a result of all that interference. We need to recognise that we cannot do any good there, especially as nowadays you can have the most advanced, well-trained and well-equipped armed forces on the planet, only to find they are incapable of preventing a deranged individual from planting a home-made bomb or driving into a crowd. The fortune we spend on defence did nothing to protect those young concert-goers yesterday.

I can't imagine the grief that some families are suffering today, or the frantic worry of those who don't yet know what's happened to their loved ones. My thoughts are split between them and the sickening certainty that, in the predictable absence of any serious soul-searching about our role in the world, we will be going through all this again in the not too distant future.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Quaffing All Over The World

I'm posting this information as a service for beer drinkers planning to go abroad. Deutsche Bank has compiled a chart showing how much it costs in 2017 to buy either a pint or a half litre of beer in a local pub in an expat area of the city concerned.

The dearest is Oslo at $9.90 (£7.59), London is $6.40 (£4.90) and the cheapest listed is Prague at $1.30 (£1.00). I find it interesting that in Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta, both capital cities of countries with large Muslim populations (indeed, Indonesia has more Muslims than any other country), the prices in sterling work out at £3.15 and £3.22 respectively - considerably less than London.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Voting for a pint

Now here's a curious thing: pubs offering a free drink to people who have registered to vote since the announcement of the General Election on 18 April. The "Vote This Year Get A Free Beer" campaign was begun by Joby Andrews who owns three pubs in the Bristol area. Quite a few pubs have signed up, not just in Bristol.

People who register on-line will receive an e-mail confirming their registration. If they produce this in participating pubs, they'll get a free drink. The only two places offering this locally that I'm aware of are both in Liverpool: Ma Boyles in Water Street, and Constellations in Greenland Street.

As I understand it, this is not illegal as it is not rewarding for people for voting a particular way, but simply for being on the electoral roll. It's probably worth it for a free pint and not getting an £80 fine. The thing is: you've only got three days.

Monday, 15 May 2017

CAMRA's manifesto

The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has stated that, as a consequence of leaving the EU, it's probable that people's spending power will decline in real terms as inflation rises and real wages fall. Logically, people will have less spare cash to spend in the pub.

CAMRA is asking candidates to pledge that the pub and beer industry be protected and promoted throughout the Leave negotiations, and suggests extending duty cuts on lower strength beers, and reducing duty charged on beer sold in pubs and clubs. CAMRA is also urging our negotiators to ensure that any potential adverse effects on pubs and breweries are avoided during EU exit negotiations.

Personally I think they are whistling in the wind, and if Mark Carney is correct, you don't have to be Mystic Meg to predict that pubs are going to have a difficult time in the near future.

Colin Valentine, CAMRA's National Chair has suggested that the General Election and upcoming negotiations to leave the EU will give us a unique chance to change some of the tax rules that have significantly increased the price of a pint in the pub, but I see no political will to introduce the measures that would be required. Furthermore, the negotiations will cover a multitude of issues, and pubs and beer will be nowhere near the top of the list, assuming they feature on it at all.

Still you can't blame a campaign for trying, and CAMRA has prepared an on-line tool where any member of the public, not just members, can lobby their local candidates to pledge support for pubs, and also where all candidates can commit themselves to the pledge. The link for both voters and candidates is here. CAMRA's General Election manifesto can be seen and downloaded here.

P.S. 16.5.17: I've just heard on BBC Radio news that prices are now rising faster than wages. It looks as though Mr Carney got it right.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Labouring the pint

It's encouraging to see one political party taking pubs and communities seriously. Labour's leaked manifesto includes plans to:
  • Set up a national pub review to investigate why they're closing.
  • Set up a task force to consider the sustainability of pubs in the long term.
  • Give greater protection to pubs.
  • Give communities a greater say in the future shape of town centres, which would obviously affect town centre pubs.
  • Switch business rates from RPI to CPI and providing a better appeals system.
  • Review the entire business rates system in the long term.
A review of business rates is long overdue, seeing that pubs pay 2.8% of the business rates levied, even though they account for a mere 0.5% of turnover.

According to the Morning Advertiser, the pub trade newspaper, these proposals are broadly welcomed by the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, the British Institute of Innkeeping and the British Beer & Pub Association.

It seems to me that some thought has gone into these suggestions. Most politicians that I've seen asked about pubs just waffle on about "foaming pints" in the "great British pub", or in John Major's case, "warm pints": we must make sure he never serves at a CAMRA beer festival.

Well, they've got to get themselves elected first, but if they manage that, let's hope these considered proposals don't lose their momentum.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Craft breweries - take cover

I see in the Morning Advertiser that Carlsberg has announced that it intends to acquire a craft brewery in the UK. This is hardly surprising news, and quite a few beer writers and bloggers have suggested that craft breweries would become targets for takeover as the popularity of their beers grew. The fate of Meantime, taken over by SABMiller, and then sold on a short while later (as I wrote here), should make any small brewery think twice before agreeing to being bought out. They should also remember Sharp's, taken over by Molson Coors who subsequently moved all the production of bottled Doom Bar hundreds of miles north, while still putting 'Rock, Cornwall' on the labels. As I wrote in December 2015, "Selling out to a big beer corporation must be a temptation for the owners of a highly successful small brewery, but the problem is that you are instantly converted from a company to a brand, and brands are no more than commodities to bought and sold like any other."

I suppose if you've had enough and don't care what happens to your brewery after you've been paid the asking price, then fair enough, although your customers may not be so sanguine, otherwise you have to be very careful and yet could still come unstuck.

Those of us who remember the domination of the beer market in the UK by the Big Six (Whitbread, Scottish and Newcastle, Bass Charrington, Allied Breweries, Courage Imperial and Watneys) will be only too aware of the promises that followed brewery takeovers to keep the beer local, brewed to local tastes, etc, etc. In nearly all cases, these pledges were broken within a few years - months, sometimes - and a sizeable proportion of British beer ended being brewed in huge beer factories. Whitbread, who had the cheek to run an advertising campaign to try to persuade us that Trophy Bitter was brewed differently around the country to suit local tastes, were the worst culprits. The swathe they cut through the British brewing scene was mocked as the  'Whitbread Tour of Destruction', depicted on rock tour-style T-shirts and posters that listed all the breweries they'd taken over and closed.

The situation today isn't an exact parallel: in the Big Six days, takeovers were usually to acquire the target brewery's pub estate, which isn't a consideration now. I suspect that Carlsberg, despite their advertising campaigns, must know that their products lack any credibility: what better way to gain instant cred than buying an established, successful and well-regarded craft brewery?

It's becoming increasingly the case that well-regarded small breweries can provide an instant, off-the-peg solution for any mega-corporations who want to enter markets that their existing products could never reach. I don't see this just as a craft problem; the takeover of Sharp's shows that real ale breweries can go the same way. I'm not sure that ordinary drinkers can do much about it; let's just hope we don't sleepwalk into a repeat of the relentless cycle of takeovers that we saw in the 1960s and 1970s.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Beer Street, Southport

The Tap & Bottles in Cambridge Walks, Southport, are running their second Beer Street festival based around their pub and extending along the arcade. Described as Southport's only cask ale and craft beer festival, it will have more than 75 beers in one location. Opening times: Friday 19th May 1.00pm to 11.00pm; Saturday 20th midday to 11.00pm; Sunday 21st midday to 7.00pm.

The Cambridge Arcade runs between Lord Street and Chapel Street in Southport town centre; the Lord Street entrance is next to the Atkinson arts centre. The buses on Lord Street and Southport railway station on Chapel Street are all just a few minutes' walk away. To find out more about Southport Beer Street, go to the website here, where a beer list should be available soon.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Bar 45

Bar 45
Just around the corner at the north end of Lord Street, Southport, you will find Bar 45 on Leicester Street. I don't know any other drinking haunt remotely similar to this one: its Facebook page describes it as a "record shop with a bar and live music [with] a large selection of vinyl, all genres, available to purchase or just to listen to over a drink". 

As I walked in, 'Love Resurrection' by Alison Moyet was playing, which was a promising start. This was followed by the Stranglers, then Buddy Holly, so the music is certainly eclectic. There are boxes of records on the tables from which you can choose something you want to hear to be played on a proper turntable. The venue is simply decorated: a bare wooden floor, tables and chairs around the walls and painted walls that are adorned with a large variety of LP record sleeves. 

There are two real ales which, when I called in, were Fullers London Pride and Bowness Bay Swan Blonde, a dry, blonde beer from the Lake District that I hadn't come across before; I wasn't disappointed. There were several beers on tall fonts, including Shed Head American Pale Ale (brewed, to my surprise, in Sweden) and a couple of keg ciders along with the lagers. There is a good range of other drinks, coffee as well, and I saw they also sold sandwiches.

Live music is a feature of this bar and they have a range of artists who appear here. On Monday evenings there is a music quiz and cash music bingo night. Opening hours are from midday to midnight. Their website is here, and their phone is 07956 768771. 

I feel that music lovers in particular will find Bar 45 is well worth a visit.

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

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Getting into the spirit

Years ago, pubs would very often just sell one type of whisky, gin, brandy and vodka, along with a bottle of red wine and another of white. If you weren't a beer drinker, that was your choice. Of course, if you were a beer drinker, your choice was usually limited to a bitter, a mild a lager and Guinness.

In the last couple of decades, real ale choices have expanded massively, but other drinkers had been left behind in terms of options, until recently. Having visited more than 60 pubs over the last three years in order to write about them in the local papers, I've noticed how they are increasingly expanding their ranges of wines and spirits. Quite a few have wine lists with 20+ wines listed, but the biggest changes have been in the choices of spirits. There have always been a few pubs that had a range of malt whiskies, but the biggest recent expansion has been gin.

The first local gin I became aware of around here was Liverpool Gin, created by the owners of Liverpool Organic Brewery who sold the brand last year to the company in Halewood, south east of Liverpool, that makes Lambrini. The cheapest price I could see on-line was £43, so this drink is clearly not aimed at the Gordon's market (£15 a bottle in the supermarket). More recently we have had Formby Gin and Ormskirk Gin, both also costing more than £40 a bottle. Other gins I've been seeing more recently include brands such as Hendrick's and Bombay Sapphire.

The number of new distilleries rose by 17% in 2016, according to the Wine & Spirit Trade Association. At the same time, there is evidence that the coffee shop boom is slowing: the Costa chain will be cutting its number of outlets by up to 10%, and Starbucks has recorded a 60% drop in its profits in the UK.

I've often seen assertions that, for pubs to survive, they'll have to sell food and hot drinks, especially good quality coffee, in order not to lose custom to coffee chains and café bars. I'm sure there's some truth in that, and the slump in growth of coffee shops would suggest opportunities for pubs, which usually provide a more social environment than coffee shops: very few people would go into a Caffè Nero to drink coffee and, perhaps, chat to strangers all evening.

That all said, it seems to me that there is a lot to be gained by expanding the choice of alcoholic drinks beyond the traditional range. The trend of making original spirits is spreading to other types, such as whisky, rum and vodka - we even have English and Welsh whiskies now. A wider choice of wines and spirits will make pubs more attractive to more potential customers, particularly women, and that in turn will help keep the pubs going for real ale drinkers such as me. Trebles all round!

Monday, 24 April 2017

Lion song session moves

The Lion Tavern, Moorfields, Liverpool
From May, my acoustic song session, aka singaround, in the Lion Tavern will move from the second Thursday of the month to the second Tuesday. This is because something similar takes place every Thursday afternoon in the Belevedere in Liverpool, and one or two people have commented to me that they'd prefer the two sessions to be on different days.

No sooner said than done. Well, not quite, as people have been saying this for years, but Tuesdays weren't available until the new management took over the pub fairly recently.

The next session is therefore on Tuesday 9 May, beginning at around 8.30 pm. All welcome, including non-performers. The Lion has eight real ales and a real cider.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Button it!

Mind your Ps & Qs if you want to drink OBB
There might be a general election looming, but one pub chain has banned all blue talk. It is Sam Smith's, probably one of the most eccentric pub chains in the country. They have just issued this instruction to its 200 pubs: "We wish to inform all of our customers that we have introduced a zero tolerance policy against swearing in all of our pubs." I find that to be a curious development, although it won't affect me for two reasons: there are no Sam Smith's pubs in this area, and I don't swear much anyway.

Sam Smith's pubs are different from most others anyway in that they only stock their own branded products, they don't have TV or music, and they are generally very cheap. They haven't allowed live music for about 15 years because the company refused on principle to pay for the new music licences introduced by 'New' Labour in 2003. I wrote in 2009 about the Plough, a large, multi-roomed pub in Whitby where I go every year for the folk festival: I don't understand a principle that turned the Plough from a large pub that was heaving during the 7 days of folk week with music sessions in 3 separate rooms and another in the large back yard, weather permitting, to one that looked almost deserted most of the time. Doesn't Sam Smith's want to make money?

Although those stupid music licences were scrapped in 2012, Sam Smith's still won't let the Plough reintroduce live music, not even unamplified. I bet the licensee looks enviously at the heaving pubs that do allow song and music sessions while he serves his half dozen customers.

As for swearing, I don't take too much notice except when people are loud and repetitive, at which point I find it irritating. I've occasionally heard people in my local, the Guest House, being told to cut it out when they go too far, and I'm quite happy about that level of control. While I find a pub full of swearing drinkers - usually male - off-putting, an outright ban does seem to be going too far.

That's Sam Smith's for you: they'd cut off their own nose to spite their face to make a point.

The BBC report on the swearing ban is here.