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.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Un-Baezed

Before the 2016 presidential election, legendary political folk singer Joan Baez apparently hadn't written a song for 25 years, but she has been prompted by recent events to put musical pen to paper. She says of this composition that it's "not a good song, but it will make people laugh". Now I wonder who it could be about?

Monday, 17 April 2017

Local pubs: good and bad news

The Hop Inn Bier Shoppe, Ormskirk
I have recently learnt that the Hop Inn Bier Shoppe in Ormskirk, which I visited last July, has closed; I don't know why. I've been told that there has been a parting of the ways at the parent pub, the Hop Vine in Burscough, between the proprietor, Mike McCombe, and the brewer in the Burscough Brewery which operated in outhouses to the rear of the pub.

Brewing has ceased, apparently, and the Hop Vine's house beer is now brewed by Parker Brewery of Banks. This has all come to me by word of mouth, and I can't find any information on-line, except to note that the last entry on the brewery's Facebook page was in December 2016.

The Pageant in Kew,
The Pageant in Kew, which I visited last February, has also closed, apparently to deal with some essential repairs, but I've learnt to distrust handwritten signs put in pub windows to explain sudden closure; they are very often untrue. I hope my scepticism is proved wrong in this case, as the young licensee was enthusiastic about making the Pageant into a proper community pub, and I gained the impression that his efforts were beginning to pay off.

The Blundell Arms on its last day
A more positive piece of news is that the Blundell Arms in Birkdale has been declared an Asset of Community Value (ACV) by Sefton Council. I visited this pub on Sunday 6 March 2016, its final day of opening, and had assumed that was it. However, as I wrote in September, Jason MacCormack set up a campaign to convert the Dell, as it was often called locally, into a community pub, and his campaign has culminated in this granting of ACV status. There's still a long way to go, but this is a very significant result, for which Jason deserves the credit.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Health benefits of moderate drinking

I've just written this for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and the Ormskirk Advertiser. They've published a few 'campaigning' articles from me among the pub reviews (another one was about the lack of real science behind alcohol units), and I've been expecting a backlash from local anti-alcohol busybodies. I'm pleased to say there has been none, not so far anyway. They're local papers, not the national media, but as Tesco tells us, every Lidl helps!
The British Medical Journal (BMJ) has published a study that found moderate drinkers have a lower risk of heart attack, angina and heart failure when compared to teetotallers. They discovered that lifelong non-drinkers have a 24% higher mortality rate than moderate drinkers, and that the death rate among former drinkers is even higher. The study involved nearly two million people.

CAMRA national chairman Colin Valentine responded: "The study published in the BMJ, which shows that moderate alcohol consumption, such as a pint of real ale in the pub, is good for the heart is just the latest piece of research that demonstrates the benefits associated with moderate drinking.

"While no one would disagree that excessive consumption of alcohol causes harm, there is a long list of scientific evidence that shows moderate alcohol consumption can have a positive impact on people’s personal and physical well-being.

"It is heartening to see this story covered by the media among the current atmosphere of increasing alcohol ‘scare stories’ and misreporting of alcohol research. We hope this study will go some way towards helping people make informed choices about how they consume alcohol in the future."

These findings follow a report in January this year that moderate and low-alcohol consumption could improve people’s personal and mental well-being. Researchers at the University of Oxford combined data from three separate studies, including a national survey by CAMRA, and demonstrated that people who visit their pub frequently tended to be more "socially engaged and contented" with their local community than those who did not.

At a time when most studies on alcohol focus on the health and anti-social behavioural problems caused by over-consumption, this study explained that: "Alcohol is known to trigger the endorphin system, and the social consumption of alcohol may thus have the same effect as the many other social activities such as laughter, singing and dancing."

Monday, 10 April 2017

The Ship & Mitre, Liverpool

The Ship & Mitre, Dale Street
The first thing that strikes you about Liverpool's Ship & Mitre is its impressive Art Deco exterior. The inside is quite a contrast with wooden beams and benches, a central bar serving several drinking areas and the Galley which serves food. This pub is famous for its wide choice of drinks, including real ale.

When we visited, there were 11 real ales on handpump: Lee's MPA and Brewer's Dark, Jennings Golden Host, Milton Pegasus, Stonehouse Cambrian Gold, Heavy Industry Freak Chick, Milestone Imperial Pale Ale, Dowbridge Onslaught, Ship & Mitre Silhouette Stout and Wychwood Oatmeal Stout, with 8 further real ales on the 'coming soon' list, including beers from Stamps. Saltaire and Epicurus. There was also a choice of 6 draught ciders.

The draught beers included 6 from Germany, one from Belgium, 3 from the USA, 5 other world beers, 8 British craft beers, and more 100 bottled beers. Beer drinkers would be hard pressed not find something they like here. They will also be hosting their first vodka tasting night on 4th May.

The Galley serves traditional pub food, including Liverpool's trade mark dish, Scouse, using local ingredients and suppliers. I didn't have anything to eat this time, but I have enjoyed their food in the past. It's available all day until mid-evening, except Sunday (6pm).

The Ship & Mitre's beer list
They host several in-house beer festivals with varied themes during the year, and since 2014 have been running the biannual Wirral beer festival at Hulme Hall in Port Sunlight at Easter and in November. Regular events in the pub include: darts night on Monday, sci-fi night on the 1st Tuesday and creative writing on the 2nd to 4th Tuesdays, on Wednesday there is Scouse on the house and Thursday is quiz night. Upstairs they have a lovely Art Deco function room with its own bar and roof terrace.

The pub is open until 11pm Sunday to Wednesday, and midnight on Thursday to Sunday. It is at 133 Dale Street, Liverpool L2 2JH, a few minute's walk from Moorfields Station. Tel: 0151 236 0859. Website 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.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

A Peerless review

I wrote on 20 March about the Corridor, a real ale café bar on Lord Street, Southport. My article was also printed in the Southport Visiter's CAMRA column, which the editor decided to post on Facebook. Underneath were a few dismissive comments, such as it wasn't very informative and how could I write a review of the place without trying the food? I wondered whether to ignore it, but decided that as I'm not a journalist, I'd reply to the criticisms. I explained, among other things, that it was the Campaign for Real Ale column, not a restaurant review; my main priority was the drinks. The critics shut up, and the column achieved quite a pleasing number of Facebook 'likes'.

I popped in again last night and discovered a beer I hadn't had before: Peerless Knee Buckler IPA (5.2%). I usually find I like Peerless beers; this one was a very drinkable golden-coloured beer with a certain hop bitterness and citrus flavours. My friend Alan and I both decided to stick with it; it apparently won Gold in the SIBA North beer competition in October 2014 in the Strong Bitters category.

While I was talking to the licensee, he told me that several people had called into the Corridor as a result of my column in the Visiter, which I was particularly pleased about: stuff the on-line whingers - at least someone's taking notice of my scribblings.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Beer quality - 2 out of 3 ain't bad

Quality counts
The recently-published Beer Quality Report 2017 shows us where the dirtiest pints are pulled in the country: it's in the South West where 40.8% of pints were pulled through unclean lines. The best area was the North East with 29%, which represents 3 pints in every 10, which I'd say is still too high.

A North-South divide is apparent in England, with the North East, the North West and Yorkshire in the top three, and the results getting worse the further south you go. This would seem to reinforce the Northern stereotype about Southern beer.

Poor beer quality is a major issue, one that too many licensees don't take seriously enough; according to these figures, across the country, a lot of pints sold - more than 1 out of 3 - are substandard. Quality is something that beer blogger Tandleman, among others, often bangs on about, and he's completely right. Most people, faced with a substandard pint, will tend to leave it, walk out and not come back: one bad pint can result in the loss of dozens of future sales. I wrote last year in greater length about beer quality here.

It's not as though beer is cheap: at more than £3 a pint, it isn't. In 1972, bitter was 13p a pint where I lived. Adjusted for inflation using the Bank of England calculator, that's £1.57 today. There are various factors that have caused the price of beer to increase at double the rate of inflation in the intervening years, but wages certainly haven't risen at the same rate during that period. In terms of the spending power of ordinary people, beer in pubs is much dearer than it used to be. Drinkers deserve better for their hard-earned cash.

Unclean beer lines - breakdown by region 
  • 29% - North East 
  • 31.3%  - North West 
  • 31.6% - Yorkshire  
  • 31.8% - East Midlands 
  • 33% - West Midlands
  • 34.3% - Scotland 
  • 35.8% - London 
  • 37.3 % - East England 
  • 38.1% - Home Counties  
  • 38.8% - South East 
  • 39% - Wales  
  • 40.8% - South West 
These figures relate to cider, stout, premium lager, standard lager, keg beer and real ale.
The Beer Quality Report is compiled using information from Cask Marque and Vianet.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Licensing Act 2003: proposed overhaul

The House of Lords Select Committee on the Licensing Act 2003 has produced its report. As some of the proposed changes are administrative, I'm can't be sure how they may affect the ordinary drinker. Here are some of the main findings:
  1. The committee, dissatisfied with the operation of licensing committees, proposes abolishing them and passing their functions to planning committees. Licensing appeals should no longer go to magistrates' courts but should, like planning appeals, go to the planning inspectorate.
  2. They rejected the principle of Late Night Levies and concluded that in practice they aren't working as intended. Unless amendments that have already been made prove to work, they should be scrapped. They proposed business improvement districts as a more feasible option for tackling problems in the late-night economy. They also propose repealing Early Morning Restriction Orders, which no local authority has yet introduced.
  3. Fees for licensing should be set locally, not nationally, although councils should note that they can only charge for the actual cost of processing applications: demanding more could be illegal.
  4. The Licensing Act should apply to sales airside at airports.
  5. If Minimum Unit Pricing is (a) found lawful by the Supreme Court, (b) introduced in Scotland and (c) successful in reducing excessive drinking, it should also be introduced in England and Wales.
  6. Scotland's example should also be followed in helping disabled people to access licensed premises by requiring licence applications to include disabled access statements.
My assessment:
  1. I'm not sure whether, for routine applications, this would have much impact on ordinary drinkers. I suspect any difference would be small. However, it could well be another matter if applications go to appeal: the planning inspectorate is not a local body and has form in overturning local decisions. I can't assess how this would affect licensing appeals, but I have some reservations about local decisions being handed to an unaccountable national body.
  2. The abolition of late night levies may benefit some establishments that moved their closing times to midnight to avoid paying the levy, and will be a cost all premises open after midnight will no longer have to find. The use of business improvement districts is likely to bring pubs, bars and clubs closer to other businesses in the area, rather than being ostracised as potentially troublesome neighbours, a view I feel the levies can encourage. 
  3. As long as councils don't see this as a money-spinner in these times of cutbacks, I don't see too much of a problem with this.
  4. I agree; I'm surprised this is not the case already.
  5. This is how minimum pricing can be introduced all over Great Britain. I am opposed to minimum pricing because, as I wrote in 2013, "I consider that the phrase 'responsible drinking' means that the drinker is responsible both for the quantity that he or she consumes and his or her behaviour. As responsibility rests with the person, not the product, I oppose both excessive taxation and minimum prices on the product, especially as both measures disproportionately affect the people with least money, while having a diminishing impact the higher you go up the income scale. I don't believe that anti-social behaviour and binge drinking are the preserve of the poor alone." Concerning my last point, I'll just say 'Bullingdon Club'.
  6. I can't see any problem with this, although I'd hope there'd be exceptions for historical buildings that would be seriously damaged by having to be made accessible. Having said that, accessibility has to be the norm.
A bit of a mixed bag there, I'd say, with minimum pricing probably being the most contentious. One argument against the measure has been that it contravenes EU law. With the UK heading towards the exit, this obstacle will at some point cease to exist, meaning that, sooner or later, minimum pricing will be imposed across the whole country.

Monday, 3 April 2017

David becomes Goliath

Now just The Wolf
In one way, it's quite funny watching BrewDog setting their lawyers onto a Birmingham pub which had the temerity to call itself the Lone Wolf, which is the name BrewDog uses for its spirits. They claimed trade mark infringement, which is what the estate of Elvis Presley claimed when BrewDog called one of its products Elvis Juice: they put two fingers up to the Elvis estate by reportedly both changing their names to Elvis by deed poll. At the time they wrote: "Here at BrewDog, we don’t take too kindly to petty pen pushers attempting to make a fast buck by discrediting our good name under the guise of copyright infringement."

They clearly hadn't anticipated the bad publicity surrounding their hypocrisy, so they changed tack in a hurry, offering to send some Lone Wolf spirits when the pub, unable to afford a legal battle, altered its name to, simply, the Wolf. The reality of this pair of very rich chancers has become clear to see: while the Guardian reported that they had backed down, I don't see it that way. They may have called off the lawyers, but they still got their own way with the name in the end.

They are punk entrepreneurs in the same way that Richard Branson is a hippy entrepreneur. When you hijack youth culture - of past youth in both of these cases, hippy and punk - the businessman will in time take over. In this case, they have blamed trigger-happy lawyers; whether that's true or not I can't be certain, but the point is that they employed these lawyers and therefore are responsible for whatever actions they take. Blaming people you pay to do a job seems somewhat spineless: it would have been more honest if they'd simply admitted without qualification, "Yes, we got this one completely wrong." But admitting they've made a mistake is not what BrewDog ever do; for example, in 2015 they completely rejected what were, in my view, well-grounded accusations of mocking homeless people, trans women and sex workers in one of their videos - I wrote about it here.

No one thinks of Branson as a hippy nowadays; similarly, does anyone, other than their loyal fans, take BrewDog's self-proclaimed punk credentials seriously?

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Unjustified discrimination

Southport Golden Balls, brewed for the
2006 World Cup, proved popular and was
retained under the name Golden Sands
Not being a sports fan, I was quite surprised to learn that there are some special laws governing the consumption of alcohol at football matches - not sports events in general, just football. I learnt this from an article by Matthew Hall, associate lecturer in law, including sports law, at the University of the West of England.

He points out that, while alcohol can be consumed in 'direct view' of sporting events at rugby, cricket and horse racing, none of which have been immune from disorder recently, consuming alcohol in 'direct view' of football matches remains forbidden. This has led to the absurd situation in a Norwich hotel which is next to the football ground where guests in pitch-facing rooms have to agree and sign 'FA Match Day Rules' when a game is due to be played. One rule states that: 'No alcohol is to be consumed in hotel bedrooms during the match and for a period of one hour before kick-off and one hour after the final whistle has blown.'  The rules end with: 'These premises are controlled by Norfolk Constabulary.' If your room is not pitch-facing, or if you are watching the match in the hotel bar, there are no restrictions. I wonder whether anyone has actually been arrested for glancing out their hotel window at a match while sipping a tin of beer?

I'd guess that this law was motivated by a fear of drunken football hooliganism and, more generally, a simple fear of the ordinary people of this country gathered en masse. Our ruling classes have always been jittery about mass gatherings, which is why measures such as 'kettling' are employed against political demonstrators. Historically, such fear led to the Peterloo massacre by cavalry at a peaceful political rally in Manchester in 1819. Today, football causes frequent mass gatherings of people in far greater numbers than any other activities, sporting or otherwise; they know they can't ban football, but they'd really prefer it if all fans watched it at home on TV.

This is much the same mentality that demonises pub going, describes town and city centres at weekends in 'Wild West' terms, and sees alcohol and uncontrolled ordinary people as a real threat. As I said, I have no interest in sport but I don't see why football fans should be singled out for special treatment that is not applied to the followers of any other sport. It seems especially perverse, seeing how often beer companies have sponsored football events in the past. Football fans are being subjected to unjustifiable discrimination based on ignorant prejudice.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Scotch Piper to reopen

The Scotch Piper in April 2016
wrote last December about the fire that devastated the Grade II* listed Scotch Piper in Lydiate, the oldest pub in the Merseyside and Lancashire area - AD 1320 according to a sign on the wall. Many of us were worried that the damage might be too great for the pub to survive, but apparently most of the destruction was to the roof, or caused by water from the fire hoses.

I drove past the pub a couple of months ago and was able to see the extensive work being done to restore the thatched roof. To preserve its old character, they have even taken the trouble to find furniture that matches what was there before.

The good news is that the pub is set to reopen on Thursday 6 April, just in time for the first day of the Grand National, called Liverpool Day; the Aintree racecourse is less than five miles away. I have to say I'm surprised that they have managed to get it fixed up so quickly. I don't yet know whether the acoustic folk session that was on every Thursday evening before the fire will return or not, but I'll mention it here when I find out.

I can't be there when it reopens, but I'm looking forward to having a look, and a pint, in the near future.

In April last year, I described the pub and explained the origin of its name.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Restoring the balance

There was an eminently sensible article on the back page of the April edition of What's Brewing, the CAMRA newspaper, written by Dave Roberts of the Alcohol Information Partnership, an organisation I hadn't heard of before. The AIP aims to present a balanced view of the scientific data relating to alcohol, which immediately sets it apart from anti-alcohol organisations such as the fake charity Alcohol Concern.

He made similar points about the agenda of the anti-alcohol brigade to those that have been made by at various times by beer bloggers such as Curmudgeon, TandlemanPaul Bailey as well as me. He describes their approach as abolitionist and carefully distinguishes their activities from those of genuine medical professionals who deal with the real health problems that misuse of alcohol can undoubtedly cause.

He describes how the abolitionists' own proposed courses of actions and objectives relating to alcohol are not evidence-based. He explains why their preferred methods - restricted advertising, increased price and reduced availability - are flawed. Concerning price, he states what some of us regard as blindingly obvious: addicted problem drinkers won't spend less on alcohol if the price goes up - they will spend less on essentials, sometimes causing deprivation for their families.

In a time when alcohol consumption, including binge drinking, is on the decline anyway, why do we need draconian policies? The only answer I can think of is to satisfy the anti-alcohol urges of the abolitionists.  He states that the AIP opposes any restrictions that are intended to further their anti-alcohol agenda.

It is a refreshing change to read some common sense on this issue beyond the confines of concerned beer bloggers, and it's encouraging to see our opinions confirmed by a knowledgeable authority. Now all we have to do is stop our mass media fuelling fear and worry among many people that (to use his words) "we are a nation of heavy drinkers, our town centres are no-go areas, and young people are drinking themselves into an early grave". Well, no pressure there, then!