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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!

Monday, 20 March 2017

The Corridor, Southport

The Corridor, Lord St, Southport
Several friends have recently been telling me that I should have a look at the Corridor on Lord Street, Southport, so I recently decided to wander in. I thought I'd call in when it would be quiet on a Sunday afternoon, only to find it was heaving. It was opened in September last year and is a very narrow venue, hence the name, with a long bar at the far end, all done out in an attractive cafĂ© bar style. There were four real ales on handpump: the two regulars, Wainwright and Hobgoblin Gold, and two guests, Salopian Oracle and Rock The Boat Dragon's Teeth, a chocolate stout. I had both guest beers and found them on very good form.

Other drinks include five different lagers, two keg ciders and a craft pale ale from Shipyard. The wine list offers 21 choices, there is a wide selection of spirits and liqueurs, and they offer a range of cocktails too. If you want a hot drink, you can choose from breakfast tea in a proper teapot, fruit teas, hot chocolate and a choice of coffees.

The food is popular here and, although I didn't eat there myself, the meals I saw looked very appetising. The menu has a good choice and is reasonably priced, including a two course Sunday menu at £9.95. Food is served until 7pm in the week, and 8pm on Friday and Saturday. The brunch menu is available from 10am until 3pm.

There is outdoor seating to the front, free Wi-Fi, and they have recently introduced an acoustic and open stage night every Thursday evening. Children are welcome here. The opening hours are 11am to 11pm, except on Friday and Saturday when they close at 1am. They have a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a website will be on-line shortly.

The Corridor is at 573 Lord Street, Southport, PR9 0BB. It is on most major bus routes and the railway station is less than 10 minutes' walk away. Street parking only (pay and display until 6pm). Tel: 01704 533599.

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, 19 March 2017

Johnny B. Goode

I've just had a wonderful evening in the Guest House playing 50s and 60s rock & roll and pop music; quite a few of my friends turned out to watch, people ended up dancing, and the whole night left me with a buzz. Then I got home and learnt the great Chuck Berry had died. John Lennon once said that if you had to have another name for rock & roll, it would have to be 'Chuck Berry'. I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised, seeing that he was 90, but one of our few surviving links to the golden age of rock & roll has been broken.

If rock & roll had only ever produced one song, it would be this.

Friday, 17 March 2017

From vaping etiquette to the decline in smoking

In Whitby in 2012, I was at the bar in the Endeavour in Church Street when I thought I saw a plume of smoke from the woman next to me, so I glanced over and saw that she was vaping. She laughed and said, "You thought I was smoking a cigarette, didn't you?" I admitted I had; she showed me the e-cigarette which I looked at with interest because I hadn't then seen one close up before.

How things have changed in five years. I heard on Radio 4 today that there are now 2.2 million vapers, and it has become so common that Debrett's has issued an etiquette guide to vaping. Seeing that vaping is completely lawful, it is interesting that so many places have decided to ban it, including a lot of pubs, whereas prior to 2007, every pub I knew, other than food-driven ones, permitted smoking. I put the vaping bans down, partly to the difficulties in distinguishing smoking from vaping across a busy pub, but also to a change in attitudes since the smoking ban was introduced nearly 10 years ago.

Part of that change is due to the fact that no pub goer under the age of 27 years 8.5 months will have experienced smoking legally in pubs, restaurants or any other enclosed public spaces. It's not something they've been deprived of, because for them it was never there in the first place. Another factor is that smoking is generally in decline, with only 16.9% of adults in the UK now smoking, as compared to 21% at the time of the ban, and more than 50% of males and more than 40% of females in 1974.

The patchy tolerance of vaping suggests to me that if the smoking ban were to be relaxed, many public places, including pubs, would not now allow it to reappear on their premises. There would be a diminishing incentive to do so because, as the number of smokers dwindles, so does the the value of the smokers' pound. There is also the point, often made by opponents of the ban, that non-smokers put off by the presence of smoke didn't all flock to pubs in droves after 1 July 2007. I'd suggest that the same would now apply to smokers if the ban were eased; in both cases, the people concerned have simply shed the habit of pub going and developed alternative social lives.

However, I doubt smokers will be given the chance. The leader of the only political party committed to lifting the smoking ban has become a laughing stock after his antics during the recent Stoke by-election, and there is no will in any other party to change things back. I wrote in February 2010 about a survey of 1142 students by the National College of Legal Training which showed, among many other findings, that 90% of those surveyed would not repeal the smoking ban in pubs. Seven years later, I'd be very surprised if that figure wasn't the same or, as seems likely, even higher.

My position has always been consistent. I am not anti-smoking, but I dislike having to share the habit. I support the smoking ban as it stands and wish to see it neither eased - nor extended.

You've been warned!

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Tap & Bottles song sessions

The Tap & Bottles in Southport has asked me to run an acoustic song night once a month. This will take place on the final Monday of each month from about 8.30pm. Unlike an open mike night, there will be no amplification. It will be open to all types of music, rather than being confined to one specific genre.

The Tap & Bottles always has some interesting real ales on, as well a large selection of bottled beers - hence the name, of course. It was a micropub, but since it has expanded into the shop next door (which is where the song session will take place), I'm not sure how accurate that term is any more.

The first song session will be on Monday 27 March. The Tap & Bottles is at 19 Cambridge Walks, Southport, PR8 1EN. All welcome either to perform or just listen.

Monday, 13 March 2017

A birthday party and a festival

A couple of items of local news:

Andrew at the Grasshopper micropub at 70 Sandon Road, Hillside, Southport, tells me that they will be celebrating their first birthday this weekend from Friday 17 March. They will be getting some special beers and entertainment for the occasion. The 47 bus passes just yards away, and it's a five minute walk to Hillside Station.

Formby's Red Star Brewery, which was opened in 2015, and Formby Cricket Club (established 1865) are working together to present the 1st Formby Beer Festival from 31 March to 2 April, with more than 20 cask ales and a selection of ciders. It's at Formby Cricket & Hockey Club, Cricket Path, Formby, L37 7DP, a short walk from the main bus routes. More details and tickets here.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Support music venues against NIMBYs

Every so often, you hear about people moving into a neighbourhood, only to begin complaining about something already well established in the area, whether it be church bells, a factory, a music venue or, in the case of Southport, the planes from RAF Woodvale which has been there since the Second World War. I  wrote about this in July last year.

Music venues are particularly at risk from complaints by new neighbours. While I appreciate that music in pubs might not be everyone's cup of tea, to complain about something that has existed before you moved into an area is quite selfish, and has sometimes caused long-standing music venues to stop presenting music or to close down altogether. Surely it makes more sense to check out an area before committing yourself to moving there?

Here is a petition to Parliament on the subject.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

30th Wigan Beer Festival

The Wigan pieman celebrates his 30th
I returned to Southport yesterday after working for two days at the 30th Wigan Beer Festival. My first task was on the judging panel to help choose the beers of the festival, and then I was mainly on the doors. As always, I enjoyed my time volunteering there.

The funny thing about working at a beer festival is that you seem to end up drinking rather less than you might expect, considering the amount of time you're in there, mainly because the beer is an adjunct to the task you've been assigned.

How busy you are varies, sometimes with extreme peaks and troughs. On the admissions door at Wigan, we had periods of relative quiet punctuated by frantic activity each time the bus came in from Wigan town centre. As the festival venue, a sports hall, is more than a mile from Wigan town centre, the local bus preservation trust provides a free bus service to and from the festival (voluntary donations are encouraged towards their costs).

I think I've commented before that Wigan seems to attract a more diverse range of drinkers than most festivals I've been to, with groups of young women coming in without males in tow, which I've found to be less common elsewhere. Okay, the gender balance is still skewed towards men, but it's still noticeably different. Contrary to some people's expectations, they don't all gravitate towards the cider and perry bar. The DW Stadium is just across the road, so we had a large number of rugby fans, male and female, both before and after the match to add to the mix.

I didn't get to try very many beers, but of those I did try, I found that Waimea, a 5.2% single hop IPA from Manchester's Blackjack Brewery particularly suited me. I don't know how it's pronounced, but my guess is 'why me'.

I find the Wigan festival is a very friendly one, both the other volunteers and the public. Looking forward to next year already.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Lion singaround starts again

The Lion, near Moorfields railway station
I'm pleased to announce that my monthly singaround in the Lion Tavern, Moorfields, Liverpool can begin again next week on Thursday 9 March at around 8.30 pm. As I've written previously, the pub was closed for months after a disagreement between the licensee and Punch Taverns. It reopened in January but then closed again for redecoration.
Yesterday it reopened permanently, we hope, and a few of us were there to celebrate the good news. It is a very attractive pub with etched glass, old tiles, wood panels, and a good choice of eight real ales.

All welcome next week, not just singers.