Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Good Pubs or Good Beer


I recently did a little poll for a bit of fun, but of course it had, underneath it, a serious point. Here's the result:

Choose one:
Now of course if you really like pubs it's a no brainer. When you think of it logically, why if you really like beer above all, would you go to the expense of visiting a pub and endure the mark-up when you could merely find the required beer at the best price and sup it quietly in the comfort of your own home? 

Now of course this would be an unusual way to look at things - though not out of the question as a minority of beer drinkers for whatever reason don't frequent pubs -  and in any case many people pointed out, that it can't really be a great pub without great beer. That though isn't at all so certain.  Great beer is always in the eye of the beholder, as to a lesser extent are great pubs, though likely the latter is more easily identified than the former. (Mudgie uses the word "congenial" to describe his required atmosphere.)

On that slight tangent, there can also be the more neutral "unthreatening" and while old hands like me and Mudgie can (mostly) tell a pub where you might be in danger within a second, others might not be quite so keenly tuned in.  Of course a boisterous or indeed a clearly cliquey atmosphere rarely conveys a feeling of danger. Danger is probably best described as the" absence of normal" and your instincts tend to kick in in such situations. Mere boisterousness can usually be quickly rationalised too and most of us old soaks often understand the warning signs before even setting foot in a dodgy pub. These can clearly only ever be described as convivial by the sort of people you wouldn't ever want to drink with.

But I digress, so back to the main question.  Mudgie sums it up quite well, as he often does:

"Even if it's the best beer in the world, I won't stay for more than one if I don't find the pub congenial" — Pub Curmudgeon 🍻 (@oldmudgie) March 3, 2019"

To my mind, that's a very good rule of thumb.

Not to be outdone, Mudgie followed my poll up by:

Now in some ways this seems to contradict my poll, as here great beer wins out. I suppose the difference may be that I ask about "fantastic" and Mudgie asks about "dull". Think about it a bit more closely and it might well just be down to terminology. In Mudgie's case this is a less binary choice, as it means you are in the pub anyway.

So do good pubs and good beer go hand in hand? On the balance of probability - yes - but in beer and pubs, as in everything, the rule isn't hard and fast.

 Of course being a cask ale kind of guy, pubs are essential to my sort of drinking.  So I'm biased both by inclination and neccessity.

I don't know so much about bars though, but that's for another time.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Three Things - No - Four


I've been busy today editing our local CAMRA magazine, More Beer, but Twitter has caught my eye in between times.

Firstly a spat this morning about how CAMRA is supposedly supporting Brexit and a subsequent stream of CAMRA bashing and quite a number of age related hate posts.  Funny how we all know what sort of things are completely unacceptable to say openly and we are pounced on for the slightest transgression, but when it comes to CAMRA, it seems all rules are suspended and ageism is deemed by many to be unremarked and tolerable. On the substance of the matter, CAMRA centrally may have at best expressed something badly and at worst been incompetent, but surely a little show of moderation in responding to this would be better?  Yes us over sixties may well all be "c*nts", but I've news for the young - that's the direction you are headed in too and trust me, things will look a lot different when you get there - though getting some practice in for your future role might be beneficial I suppose.

This leads me on to my second thing. At the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival I had a long conversation with John Keeling (ex Fullers), not only about the sale to Asahi, but what might be done to protect cask beer in light of falling market share. I posted a small summary of it on Twitter:

 This makes a lot of sense as it isn't price per se that makes brewing cask beer unattractive -  it is brewer's margin. As John Keeling explained it to me, 100,000 barrels at (say) 20p a pint less duty is big bucks for a brewer. Brewing more of it in such a case would suddenly make commercial sense. I think he is on to something here and CAMRA should explore this further.

I liked too a tweet about a pub not a million miles form my London place. The East London Advertiser highlights the case of a pub which has live music and has successfully applied to have a deed of easement agreement to prevent future complaints about noise from live music when a new block of flats is built nearby.  This is a good thing. To my mind if you buy a flat next to a pub that has loud live music, then that's your lookout. Affecting the business of a venue by complaining about noise that was there before you showed up is pretty unfair in my view, so good for Tower Hamlets. Others will hopefully copy.

The last thing that caught my eye was the somewhat surprising news that after only a year in the job, CAMRA is losing its Chairman Jackie Parker.
Is there more to this than meets the eye? Dunno, but that may well come out, one way or another, in Dundee at the AGM and Conference.

Right. Having got that off my chest, back to More Beer editing.

Hopefully more posts next week when my magazine has gone to bed.

Meantime off to London tomorrow for a few days, with a visit to Canterbury on the side.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Good News - Cask Saved


Yesterday there was a Twitter post that caught my attention. It referred to an opinion piece in Imbibe Magazine by Jessica Mason in which she claims that "We’re on the precipice of a cask revival". The article goes on to explain her thinking which can be summed up - more or less - that cask can revived - wait for it - by modern brewers adopting Golden Ales.Well I exaggerate, but I hardly agree either with the way the article says "cask is becoming ever more exciting, flavoursome and stylistically broad" as if we've all been drinking flavourless crud for all these years and can only be saved by innovative craft brewers rescuing us from our own stupidity. Try telling that to Phoenix of Heywood for example who have been brewing a West Coast IPA before many of the innovators were out of nappies, or the nearly 40 beers beginning with word "Gold" or "Golden" in the 1998 Good Beer Guide - and that's not counting the dozens more that have "gold" somewhere in the name. In that same edition there are herbal beers, spiced beers, lemon beers, cherry beers, ginger beers. Beers made with liquorice and chillies. I could go on. It isn't new folks. It has all been done before.

So we need modern craft brewers to show us the way and revive cask? These are the same people that give you cask beer that looks like chicken soup and undermine the work done by brewers for many years to ensure clean, clear, bright beer with distinct flavours.We'd more or less lost the "Its meant to be like that" nonsense until craft got its hands on cask. Now it is back with a vengeance, as overturning the orthodoxy has given bar staff the right to say it once more, even if the beer looks like a mixture of lumpy fruit juices and smells like Henderson's Relish.

Another thing in the article disturbs me more than somewhat. This is written as if cask ale is in decline everywhere and needs bolstering by a few hip breweries making their version of it to show the rest of the plebs how it is done. Well not here in Greater Manchester it isn't. Ask Marble, Blackjack, Brewsmith or Brightside and many more?  Or Lees, Holts, Hydes and Robinsons who all sell tens of thousands of barrels of it a year. Or Marstons, the biggest brewer of cask beer in world. Or go to West Yorkshire, Lancashire and the Midlands and so many more areas of the country. Sales might well be declining, but in these places it is still drunk in volume.  And here's another thing. Most cask beer is designed to be drunk in volume. Do we really think the odd craft brewery producing the odd batch of "stylistically broad"cask is really going to save cask for the future? Of course it might help their demograhic to appreciate it more - and that's good - but save it? I think not.

Oddly enough our dear friends BrewDog revived cask by bringing out a trad version of  the cutting edge"Dead Pony Club". Not much by way of "cask is becoming ever more exciting, flavoursome and stylistically broad." there then, though Cloudwater hit the nail on the head with its (clear) non golden beers while its pale (cloudy) offerings didn't hit the mark at all. Pick the bones out of that if you can.

I do agree as always about poorly presented cask beer - who doesn't -and the need to attract younger drinkers - but this article postulates a world in which a small number of trendy breweries will be the saviour of cask.  This strikes me clearly as pie in the sky and undoubtedly somewhat London-centric despite references to non London brewers in the article.

No, this is all looking through the wrong end of the telescope. We already have the poncification of keg beer to the extent that all too often it is sillier and sillier. I don't like to cast my rose tinted spectacles too much on the North of England, but fortunately most of our breweries, even the trendier ones, produce decent cask beer, albeit too often pointlessly cloudy.  The point here is the picture around cask beer is endlessly varied.  As it always has been. Does it need the craft treatment? Really?

So is cask beer in danger? Yes and no.  As always with cask, you have to keep supporting it and drinking it. I'll be chairing a debate on the subject of "The Future of Cask" at Manchester Beer and Cider Festival.  We have a cracking panel. Come along and see what they have to say. 

Ironically the vast majority of small brewers produce cask beer. It isn't just the big boys and regional and family brewers. 

The Great Manchester Beer Debate will take place on Saturday 26th January at 15.00. We have Sophie Atherton, John Keeling, JulieO'Grady,  John Clarke and Ian Fozard. Fab or what?

Friday, 4 January 2019

Great Expectations


Picture the scene. You park your car up and set off up an unmade farm track which looks as though it has recently undergone an artillery bombardment. You have already noted the dodgy looking lane, but having done so, you are walking, which most do unless you are a farmer, or the milk waggon going to one of the farms; or have a complete disregard for the future of your car's suspension. You take in the air; your many welly clad children happily splash in the potholes. You may visit the monument set high on a hill with views over to Rochdale, Oldham and Bury and the Pendle Hills beyond. You say "Ooh look. I can see the  television transmitter at Winter Hill. My goodness is that Jodrell Bank over there in the Cheshire Plain? (it is)." You eyes drift downwards to the cluster of farms below. "I think there might be a pub down there" you chirrup. "Let's find out."

Then it all starts to unravel. For some. As you manoeuvre downwards, sinking up to welly top height in muddy fields, or plod through cow muck, you observe a little old pub with farms all around it, but with no made road on either side.  You enter and as your eyes become accustomed to the somewhat gloomy interior you realise that this isn't the shiny little gastropub you'd hoped for. Instead it is a fairly rough and ready local pub, with a single room - though you might be lucky and find the small snug open.  The bar is pretty well blocked by locals. A number of oldish men are sitting at a table by the door laughing loudly. They look up and say "Hello" as you enter. There are dogs everywhere. You realise that you have found: a) a hidden gem b) a nightmare pub with no redeeming features.

What happens next depends on you.  You can fight your way in and squeeze yourself and your offsprings into whatever space you can find. There isn't much for anyone. You ask about food but are told it is only toasties and then only if there is time to do them. (You observe that there is only one person behind the bar and you deduce that as the pub is rammed, making toasties might be a tad inconvenient and accept that fact gracefully). You order crisps and drinks for everyone and join in the merry throng noting that in fact there are several families there, the many dogs are friendly and that while the pub is fairly rough and ready, there is a splendid buzz of conversation. Nobody minds about your muddy boots, your children, or indeed you. You note that with the roaring fire, it is, though quite old fashioned, not at all unfriendly. There is a lot of laughter. And, when you settle down inside, it really is all rather cheery. You remember the benches out front and side and figure that should you visit in summer, you can sit outside with your pint and your other half and watch the world go by as your children caper about. You think "Actually this is not so bad really."

Or, you could write a horrible review of this dreadful dump on a well known rating site when you get home.

I suppose the general point is don't be too quick to judge pubs on a first visit or impression

Anyway. Sounds just like the sort of place I'd like to spend some time in. Wonder if the beer is any good?

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Reflecting on 2018


It has been a very quiet year for the blog for many reasons. I have had the passing of my mother to contend with, been very busy with beery things here in Rochdale, Oldham and Bury and latterly in Manchester for Manchester Beer and Cider Festival. But I don't think it the main reason. I just couldn't be bothered. Little inspired me frankly.  Some things interested me, but overall, just all a bit flat. Like a London pint.

I suppose as I get older I feel pretty detached from much of the new beery scene. I was reminded of this in no uncertain terms when I read my good friend Matt's run down of his favourite beery moments from 2018:

Maybe that's it. I am just past it for any meaningful interaction with a younger and trendier beer scene that frankly seems pretty alien to me. I don't seek out these oddball beers, I don't usually like modern bars with their chick chick bass 'music', crazy prices and fizzy beers that rarely live up to hopes - plus a feeling - usually because I raise the average age by 20 years - that I don't really belong there.

Where I do belong though is still very much beer related. I'll be in the pub with my pals soon, drinking excellent cask beer. I'll be continuing my commitment to CAMRA, to real ale and to socialising in pubs with a mixed clientele. That's what I enjoy.That's why I brought the New Year in with gin and tonic rather than some fancy pants special beer.  They are rarely for me.

I know what I am happiest with and don't grudge others their liking for something different. By and large though I'll be sticking to beer by the pint. Cask conditioned, sparkled and in a proper pub. That will be (mostly) what I write about this year. Oh and lager. Don't forget lager. That too. I like lager. And people. Don't forget them.

On that note and being glad I've got it off my chest, Happy New Year to all.

 I think it was Steve Bell of the Guardian, whose penguin strip cartoon character allegedly pished on fish oil was told "Fish oil is an accompaniment to fun -not fun itself."  I think with modification the same can be said about beer.

Wonder if there's any Plum Pudding left at the Tavern? If not straight onto the Bohemia Regent. Practice what you preach. 

Oh and best beer of 2018? Rat Brewery White Rat. By a mile.