Monday, 22 November 2021

Two Bad Ideas

 There's a lot of doom and gloom about cask around these days. "It's all being cut back as nobody is drinking it" type of thing and amid that a suspicion - told me by a very reliable source that "fings aint what they used to be" in a rather unexpected way. My source tells me that some cask beer from some larger independent brewers is actually brewery conditioned, such is the fizz and clarity of the beer, combined with the complete absence of sediment.  There is a suspicion that some who have switched to bottling and canning, now that the pubs have re-opened, and cask demand has returned, to meet this demand, beer held in tank and set aside for canning but no longer needed for such, is put into cask without that bothersome business of cask conditioning it. Now this is all too possible, but hopefully if so, was only to use up stocks. If you know any more about this, do let me know. This is not a clever thing to do at all, for many reasons.

In these all too troubling times, another thing you get from those who should know a lot better, is that cask beer should be saved by premiumising it.  Yes Folks, a perishable product, often kept badly and served in appalling condition, should cost more to save it. Such logic would make a cat laugh.  For the umpteenth time, what you need to do with cask beer is keep it well and turn lots of it over. This increases quality and confidence, which then means more sales. A virtuous circle. Maybe when everyone does that, then we can talk about price. Until this happens, then charging more to make it better, just isn't on. 

And while I'm about it, it isn't more difficult to keep cask beer than any other beer. You just need to know what you are doing, and that can be learned very quickly indeed. Time we stopped pretending on that one too.

I know big brewers have been sending out re-seeded more or less brewery conditioned beer for years, but at least they do ensure a live yeast count.

In my next post, I'll talk about a real ale nirvana.

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

Underneath the Arches

 When you repeat the same thing and hope for a different outcome, is one definition of madness. Thus it was on a recent visit to London, on a Sunday, as I often do, I persuaded a reluctant E to walk across Tower Bridge to visit one or two of the Brewery Taps in Druid St that open that day.  Now in my defence, I wanted to go to Ansbach and Hobday, whose beers, of those open,  are probably the most conducive to my taste and I do particularly like their nitro porter, which I've yet to find elsewhere.  So we went. Now in the summer, on a Sunday, the place is still as dead as a dodo, but at least it is warm and sunny by and large, and you can people watch a little, if only passers-by.  

After a couple, one outside until it felt too cold and the other inside, in as gloomy a boozer as you are likely to encounter, with zero atmosphere, we wandered round the corner to Enid St where another three lookylikeys are located. We thought we'd try Cloudwater, as I'd kind of slagged them off a bit unfairly before when we couldn't get in. Well frankly that was a much better experience.  The capacity seemed to be fourteen. Us two plus the existing twelve. After signing in and being given the low down on arrangements - by a very pleasant bartender to be fair - we were given two high stools against a wall while the beer was brought to us after downloading an app. It all took over fifteen minutes and the beer, frankly, was disappointing, but it knocked the atmosphere into a cocked hat. Maybe it was the obvious restrictions, maybe it was just the somewhat antiseptic arrangements, but I've rarely seen such a glum funereal group and, as we sipped our beer, we just felt deflated. 

Leaving after one we, nipped next door into Brew By Numbers, which was pretty empty too and after one beer,  similar to next door really, we left, and having not learned our lesson, tried Moor Beer one door down. Pretty empty too, but at least the inmates  - or rather outmates - as almost nobody was inside - seemed a trifle more cheery. Maybe it was the strong beer? Or the cigarettes? E though had had enough and with grim finality declared "There is just nothing here I want to drink". I don't think anything was under about 6% except another gassy Mosaic Pale Ale, so I couldn't blame her.

As we retreated, heading back towards Tower Bridge, E demanded to be taken to a "proper pub". I recorded her remarks in a tweet here:

Now before you say it, I have been to most of these places on a Saturday and the atmosphere is much better, but I think I have to face facts. E and I just aren't the target audience. We will never really feel at home in such places, as the beer and the demographics just don't suit us. I know they vary and some are, indeed, much better than others, but we generally feel out of place in them, which hardly makes for a good time. I must say in different ways, we didn't like any of the three Enid St taps and Ansbach and Hobday were better only because the beer was more to our liking.

As an aside,  I am often asked why I'm rarely seen in the taps of many of Manchester's microbreweries. The truth of it is provided by our London experience. They just do almost nothing for me and seem, even when busy, kind of impersonal and home to the samey kind of beer I just don't want to drink. In Manchester too, there is the added "bonus", often, of being served in plastic glasses.

So it is back to pubs for me and E of a London Sunday. There is life there. Ansbach and Hobday, if you are reading this, I'll likely call again for the porter, but I'll be across the road in the Marquis of Wellington to drink your lovely pale. 

And these godawful glasses they insist on. They hardly make the experience better. And don't think for a second they are cheap to drink in.

I have sat on this post for a while, but for better or worse, I'm posting it. For those that love brewery taps, especially those in railway arches, good luck. If you enjoy it - fine. You'll have the added bonus of being unlikely to see me there. I'll be with the codgers down the pub.

Addendum. I see a new list of Manchester Taps etc. has been published. Maybe I'll try them all  with an open mind? I doubt if E will come though.



Wednesday, 22 September 2021

A Tale of Two Holt's Pubs

 On Saturday just gone, E suggested we go to the Manchester Transport Museum. Actually almost entirely a bus museum, but hey ho. While it was by no means busy, I enjoyed the old buses and E liked seeing buses of her Manchester youth, dolled up as they were in their former council liveries. All, more or less, were from the local area and most, surprisingly, were in working order, with some of the latest looking like they could nip out and pick fares up there and then. Better than some of the old wrecks that First Bus continue to use, but I digress. Apart from a mock-up of the first Metrolink tram, the sole other non bus was a dray from Beverley's Brewery in Wakefield, so this being a beer blog, here's a photo of it.

 We left, seeking a pint on this hot day. E suggested the Holt's Brewery Tap, the Derby Brewery Arms, about half a mile away, and so there we went. Outside enjoying the traffic views on Cheetham Hill Road were a few lads drinking lager and inside a couple doing the same. I swerved the cask on the basis that nobody was drinking it, for a couple of pints of nitro stout, which was refreshing in the sunshine.  We reflected that the pub was absolutely deserted and while we enjoyed watching the astonishingly varied Cheetham Hillites, but seeking something a little more lively, we caught a bus back to Shudehill and, after a swift one in the newly refurbished Sadler's Cat - see below - we decided on a last one in the recently Holtised, Lower Turk's Head. Now this, at around five pm on a Saturday, was absolutely rammed. Both fairly large rooms were bulging at the seams and bar staff flew up and down serving as quick as they could. It was standing room at the bar only. What a contrast.

We stood at the corner of the bar, me feeling like I was back in the good old days, and E, probably a bit less keen, keeping her eye open for leavers, so she could nab a seat.  I had a pint of Holt's Mild, which was superb. Eventually we got a seat opposite the bar where we could easily watch the mayhem.  It took me a few minutes to adjust. This was like old days, with an astonishingly varied clientele. Older couples mixed easily with younger folks seeking a few cheaper drinks before venturing into town for the evening. Some though were clearly there for the long haul and were getting rather merry. This was a throwback to when pubs weren't quite so segmented and compartmentalised. Only the needless repetitive music, just loud enough to be annoying amid the revelry, struck, literally, a discordant note. I was, though, for a bit, slightly uncomfortable, thinking about Covid. E perhaps more so, but that passed, and we braved another pint before nipping over the road to get the bus home. 

Joseph Holt has spent money on both pubs recently, but I rather fancy that it is better spent on the Turk's Head.

Sadler's Cat was rather empty inside. Formerly the Pilcrow and now operated by Cloudwater, it has a new ventilation system, but you'd be wisely advised to put a coat on here. There can't be a colder pub around. No wonder most were outside in the windy square and hats off to the hardy bar staff. 

E resisted my bright idea of having one in the Hare and Hounds, another splendidly old-fashioned boozer selling Holts. 

What do you note about the pub from the photo (left)?

Monday, 6 September 2021

Book Review -Modern British Beer - By Matthew Curtis

Although this lavishly illustrated book by beer writer, Matt Curtis (who took most of the excellent photos himself) begins with an opening paragraph giving some background on why he wrote the book, it was the title of the second chapter which caught not only the eye of this reviewer, but my imagination. "Broad Spectrum of Joy" is as good a way of describing beer drinking as any and, it encapsulates in that one brief sentence, that sitting behind this joy there is much detail, many stories, imagination, passion and hard work.

Matt describes his own beer journey and the inspiration given to him by a story of his father to whom this book is dedicated.  Recounted to him by his Dad was the ordering of eight pints of Tetley in his then local pub. As the Tetley was ordered in Sheffield, then a bastion of Stones, this tale reminds us of how things used to be and brings out the often overlooked fact that many, even then, sought out the different as well as the familiar. 

How we moved on from local breweries, mainly selling their own wares in their own pubs, slowly but surely to the multi faceted beer scene we have today comes next.  Matt's American experiences are mentioned here and  also, in that context, a reference is made to the role of CAMRA. As the author points out, part of the success of CAMRA was its undoubted influence on the American beer scene of the eighties. This by degrees became the American craft beer movement, before it returned "home" in the shape of our thriving small brewery sector and the beer styles they produce. In this historical context, the influence of CAMRA  - it is a CAMRA Books publication after all - is again rightly mentioned but, as Matt points out, it is the expansion of the number of breweries from 170 in the seventies to over 2300 presently, that reminds us that change has been on an epic scale.

While the background to modern beer is laid down in the early couple of chapters, this is not a "history of beer" book, as Matt himself points out. Wisely though, his brief but necessary dip into the past provides the reader with both context and scene setting for the core of the book, which is the development of  the diversity of both styles of beer and where they are produced. This is emphasised by the layout of later chapters on a geographical basis. The return of "local" is also an important part of the rise of brewery numbers, as is the culture that lies behind them. 

At this point, it is worth noting that this is rather a personal book. Matt has opinions, and these come out strongly as a recurring theme throughout. Together with the outlining of his own journey through beer, they add to the worth of the book as the reader is encouraged to think of their own relationship to the beer scene, both then and now. 

The shift in British Brewing can be overestimated - it has always been dominated by the big players - and it still is now, but what has changed and become ubiquitous, is not only choice in what we drink, but the expectation of choice.  There is, too, a change of philosophy, with new small brewers embracing not only a dizzyingly diverse array of beer styles, but also a move from the paternalistic ways of old. This, in vision, if not always in practice, defines how modern brewers see the world. Matt takes this on in his chapter titled "Defining Modern British Beer" in which he lays down five principles, not all of which are uncontroversial. 

Perhaps, on close inspection, some ideals outlined are more aspirational than actual. While it is certainly true that ingredients and provenance are important to many breweries and customers, it is by no means certain that this applies to all. Similarly, the inclusivity and equitable mindedness have surely a long way to go but in fairness, in both these cases, Matt admits that progress is slow. Where Matt makes his point most persuasively is when taking his five principles as a whole. In that, the re-introduction of "local", the use of quality ingredients, together with inclusiveness and the intent to be better both as a business and employer are surely worthy objectives?

To bolster his points about modern beer generally, the author has chosen specific case studies of various beers and breweries, split up by area.  They are representative of the whole, but old favourites such as BrewDog, Black Sheep, Oakham, Marble and more are there. Your favourite brewery or beer may well be missing, but in any book drawing on such a vast industry, you cannot expect this not to be the case. Also, given that there is a fair chunk of opinion in it, it is not unreasonable that the author will have  chosen those he knows and understands as exemplars. Matt is unafraid to point out that too often what is produced by many modern brewers, is  a plethora "of near identical, hazy mid-strength pale ales".  He is right to mention this, and certainly this is a point brewers should take on rather than cavil against. It is interesting to this reviewer, to contrast this with the common allegation of craft beer drinkers that all cask beer is "boring brown bitter". Different presentation - same issue?

In the brewery and beer section of the book, what comes out clearly is that motivations vary vastly. Some brewers simply wish to find a niche. Some, like BrewDog want to be writ large on a worldwide stage, while many just want to do their thing in their way in their space, Torrside being a fine example. For some, this part will be the real strength of the book, where carefully picked examples of breweries brewing modern styles of beer are supported by a narrative that makes you want to give them a try. Nonetheless, to my mind, rather than a "try" list, these are better considered as supportive of Matt's "five principles" proposition.

The sheer breadth of beer produced today supports the argument that British beer has changed beyond recognition. This book and Matt's enticing narrative and easy going and personal style make understanding the changes in British brewing easy for the reader. It sets out to explain the current British beer scene, and in that it succeeds. Clearly not every point made will strike a chord with all readers, but, nonetheless, the book is an excellent and thought-provoking read, made all the better for the bits of opinion thrown in. It could be argued that there should be a clearer nod to the fact that however many breweries and beers there are, the craft movement - a word that Matt carefully avoids -  is still a niche, albeit a growing and important part of the British beer scene. It is also worth saying that CAMRA Books are to be congratulated for being open-minded enough to commission this important book, given that cask (or is it live?) beer isn't the main thrust of it.

I'll finish this review by referring to the book's last few paragraphs.  Firstly, a statement (by Five Points Brewing) that well-made and presented cask is the "epitome of modern British Beer." Amongst all the exotic beers described, that, for this reviewer, is enduringly true, as is Matt's statement that to be modern, beer must be "truly open and accessible to all." Like him, I'll drink to that, while recommending this book highly.

Modern British Beer is written by Matthew Curtis and published by The Campaign for Real Ale Ltd

ISBN 978-1-852-49-370-7   Pages - 286

Copies are available from CAMRA Books here

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

The Codger Dividend

 Now that I have a bus pass, I've resolved to get out a bit more. It is very handy and indeed very pleasant, to go to my locals - all four of them - where people know me, call me by my name and buy me lots of drinks - well not the last bit, sadly, but I'm sure you get my drift.

My old pal Graham suggested, to celebrate my bus pass, that we should hop on the luxurious X43 and meet another old pal in Rawtenstall, a neat little town along the M66, that I've by passed countless times, but never set foot in. Easy peasy. Go North West 18 to Chorlton Bus Station and then on the excellent X43 service to Burnley, via Rawtenstall, all satisfyingly gratis and picking up Graham, somewhat appropriately, at Strangeways.

We met at Casked, a Beer and Gin micro bar, where the only other customers at around 13.15, were other folks of a retired nature.  The beer was excellent and varied, and we all enjoyed Brewsmith Pale and Bowland Hen Harrier, before moving on to the Buffer Stops, a station buffet on the East Lancs Railway, which is, as you will gather, a preserved railway. Now this place was buzzing, so much so that we had our drinks at the bar, while chatting to the very knowledgable barman, about this and that. The doors were wide open, so we all felt safe enough. Looking round, we saw retired couples, older lads out for a convivial meeting, all laughing happily and with us adding a few years to the double vaccinated scene, it was all very jolly. As the saying goes, we left with considerable reluctance.

A slightly more JDW setup in terms of customers, if not atmosphere, met us at our next stop, the absolutely rammed, BoHo Ale House. Now this, though small,  had a wide open frontage and was to be honest, ventilated as much as the outside, Despite its name, it only offered us Old Speckled Hen on the sole handpump, but two of us chose beers for the now very common, but nonetheless excellent, ABK Brewery from Bavaria and enjoyed chatting to locals -  even the one who seemed to find it odd that we three consisted of a Scouser living in Salford, a Scot living in Rochdale and a Geordie living fairly locally in Edenfield. I guess they don't travel far here and to be honest, in this neat little town, why would you?  I jest, but the welcome was warm and genuine from the largely mature clientele and, it was standing room only.

It was the same in yet another micro, the excellent Hop. Again a warm welcome, lots of chat and a choice of cask beer in tip-top condition was enjoyed by the regulars and us, all in more advanced years. If you ever go there, a word of warning. The stairs down to the spotless toilets are vertiginous. Care is needed after a few. These stairs are the steepest I’ve encountered, since the ladder like ones in the much lamented Villiers in Central Liverpool. We did also visit Northern Whisper's almost empty Tap Room, which none of us cared for, either beer or atmosphere wise; and so back to the bus station, to be whisked home.

A grand day out, and one thing is for sure. These little boozers - with caveats that this was a one off visit -  is that there is little doubt that the grey pound was contributing hugely to keeping these businesses going. Good for us!

There is no sarcasm about the X43 being luxurious. It genuinely is. Wifi, all leather seats, some with facing tables, charging points for your phone and video route and stop maps make for a very pleasant experience.

 I think we missed some other pubs on this visit, but I'll be back. Maybe visit the Temperance Bar for a quick Dandelion
and Burdock?

Friday, 13 August 2021

Glasgow Belongs to Me. And E. And a Downpour.

On Monday, we had planned to visit Glasgow for a few beers, some footwear shopping (E of course) and a meal at a recommended restaurant. Fate, family and fecklessness moved it to our last full day of our break, which, as it turned out, was either just as well, or a bad thing. I can't make up my mind.

As these things do, it all started off rather well. A pleasant breakfast and a walk round Helensburgh in warm sunshine was rather nice. Once again, I scanned the Gare Loch unsuccessfully for naval activity from or to HMNB Clyde. Nothing. Our submarines were nowhere to be seen, though of course, they may have slipped in when I wasn't looking. Or out for that matter. In fact, the only clue that this is a Navy town (of sorts) was three rather noisy Navy lads, the previous night at chucking out time, waiting at the taxi rank and singing loudly, while awaiting their ride back to the base.  Under our rented flat window as it happens, but whatever, I digress.

We set off about noon. The train to Glasgow takes about 50 odd minutes, passing through both my home town of Dumbarton and the site of the house I lived in for the first 13 years of my life. The house, above Dalreoch Station, has long gone, being replaced by a utilitarian prefab kind of thing, for the sale of rail tickets. And so to Glasgow.

It was warm. Muggy warm, and we'd passed by some rather rainy bits on the way there. We kidded ourselves that the rain had likely been and gone in the centre of the city. It hadn't as we were to find out. Still, mission number one was easily completed. Eileen's sports shoes were purchased with the minimum of fuss, and we went for a wander, checking out the rather attractive centre. I wanted to look at phones in 3 as my contract was up. Very helpful staff showed me what was what, but I demurred, as my choice was only available in pink or purple, and they clash with my complexion. Or rather, matched it a bit too closely. Maybe Rochdale will have one more suited?

 It was looking gloomy when we left, looking for liquid sustenance.  A pint in Blane Valley - it was handy -  was our first under reduced Covid regs. It looked normal. An old guy sat at the bar with a large goldie and a half pint chaser; we bought at the bar - a pint and a half of Heverlee - is it brewed by Tennents or, as implied, in Belgium? Don't know. The staff were fab, and we eyed the outside through the open door. It looked brighter, so we decided to go to an old haunt of mine, the Rhoderick Dhu, by Central Station. Bearing in mind it was a Monday, the pub was reasonably busy. It is deceptively large, a Belhaven house, with a large selection of lagers and a Greene King keg beer.  And Guinness, which ran out, much to the consternation of locals. Delivery issues, apparently. Locals were at the bar and few were complying with mask wearing? Confusion or mutiny? I don't know.

Then it rained. I don't just mean a spit. It bounced back to knee height as we watched passers-by run for cover. A group of builders rapidly revised their plans, getting another round in. We did too, until it eased a bit. We were halfway through our drinks, but before we could leave, the monsoon retuned with a vengeance. The whole pub was kind of marooned in a stand-off with the weather. Now this is fine when you are swooping cask, but tedious when it is St Mungo and Tennents. And we had a dinner reservation in Partick, which required a Subway trip. Nothing for it. It had eased off to a solid downpour as we legged it to Buchanan Street and our underground train to Kelvinhall and round the corner, slightly damp, to a lovely meal, again with great service at nearby No16 Byres Road. Have a look at the reviews. I recommend it highly.

I'd like to say our journey back to Helensburgh was uneventful, but cancelled trains and a two and a quarter-hour journey back, due to flooded lines, was a pain. We arrived in time for a pint in the Royal Bar, just under our flat. Alas, that cunning plan was vetoed by one half of the party and the other half knew better than to argue.

The Manager in the Rhoderick Dhu was a star. He was obviously training a couple of new staff, but ran the place with consummate ease. A master class in fact. 

Oddly, and we've all been there I'm sure, I was glad the next morning that proposed nightcap didn't take place.

Thursday, 12 August 2021

Rating Beer In Helensburgh

Our beloved Good Beer Guide Guy in our CAMRA Branch is always urging us to rate our beers for the National Beer Scoring System. I suppose, though almost certainly, less assiduous than our Andy, other branches have the same need, so I always try and rate my beers wherever I am, even if it is later. Alas, I don't always succeed, but while in Helensburgh, I had a 100% record. Not bad eh?  Of course that is made a lot easier if you only have one real ale in several days, but look, a 100% record is a 100% record.  Thus, on Sunday, I rated two very excellent pints of Fyne Ales Jarl in the Ashton Arms. A very good 3.5, or maybe even a 4.  It even inspired the lovely E to assert that the cask version was much better than the keg version we'd enjoyed in La Juppe on our day of arrival. Naturally I didn't contradict her, excellent though this had been - and so welcome after a two hundred and whatever mile drive. It was the sheer drinkability of the cask version that really swung it, though the keg version was actually pretty good - and clear. That always helps. Do remember this!

My other beery delights in Helensburgh were, in no particular order, Tennents Lager - taste best described as absent - and St Mungo  and West 4 lagers, from German brewers in Glasgow, who had perhaps, taken too big a leaf out of the Tennents book, erring on the Scottish side, rather than the German, in the taste profile of the beers.

A word too about Scottish pubs in the dog days of Covid-19 restrictions. Enforcement of mask wearing was universal and seemingly accepted by all. Table service was almost always astonishingly quick and always very friendly and engaging - even in the Henry Bell - a Wetherspoons pub, where we sipped pre-prandial gins and tonic. To be honest, taking into account the number of coffee and breakfast places, it was notable that service was invariably chatty and cheerful, but I suppose that's a small town for you.

Being Scotland, they have their own NHS app there. It includes all in your party. It wasn't known to us, though, that you have to sign out too. That took a couple of days to discover, though it seems a subsequent sign in assumes the sign-out in the previous one, and it also supposes that you don't stay in the venue overnight. Wonder then why they bother? Or do they? Certainly, while the sign in QR Code was pointed out to us, nobody seemed to ensure you actually used it.

I'll mention our Glasgow experience in a later piece, but frankly, it was just as good. It really is pleasant where excellent service is the rule rather than the exception. It makes a difference.

I did lose most of a large Gin and Tonic in the Henry Bell, when I knocked mine over, leaping up to try and stop a frail looking elderly woman who had tripped, falling over. I didn't manage to, but it turned out she and her companions were completely pissed and were all then ejected by the manager. Failure in detecting drunks is maybe a downside of table service?


Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Another Thing About Pubs

Yesterday, E and I attended a small event at the Rose of Lancaster, one of our locals. We'd been invited, along with others, to witness the handing over of two cheques to a couple of local charities.

We've been going to the Rose long enough to know the boss is extremely keen in raising money for deserving causes.  He runs a "Predict the Score" coupon each week in which us regulars chip in two pounds each week and have to give their best shot at predicting the scores for a number of football matches, some of which are highly unusual. (Our landlord adds spice, by scouring foreign leagues' fixture lists, to provide a degree of difficulty over the considerable degree of difficulty that already exists.) There is a weekly  number of prizes, some in beer and some actual money, but the vast amount of the proceedings goes to charity. A league table of success and failure is published and sent to us each week, along with next week's coupon.

If you visit the Rose, you will see photos of previous charity successes on the corridor wall leading towards one of the exits.  It shows a remarkable story. I joined in last year and while I rose to a high of 15th in the league once, I usually hover around 50th. Predicting scores isn't at all easy. Trust me on that one. The scheme is well-supported, with around 150 participants; so do the arithmetic. It soon mounts up. 

There were two presentations yesterday. One was a belated - due mainly to Covid - presentation of a separate effort for the Royal British Legion and an old soldier with his flag and companions departed happily with a cheque for £2500. A great effort. I say departed, they in fact retired to the beer garden to swap tales and drink bitter. It was great to see.

Last year's main charity was Maggies, a cancer support charity with a number of centres throughout the country, including one in Manchester.  They provide professional support for anything from the treatment of side effects, to money worries. It is all free and supported by donations.  Yesterday, a fair number of locals had turned out to watch the event, which was held on the steps leading to the beer garden. Our landlord, Ant, cajoled a number of reluctant topers to join in for a group photo. I was in one, but took pictures of the main event for both this blog and for our local CAMRA magazine.

When it comes to charity giving, British pubs have a long and proud record. Those old enough will no doubt remember the pile of pennies (later two pences) that were often to be found adorning the bar. These were stuck together by the application of a little beer and when they reached a sufficient height - or were deemed sufficiently dangerous - a local personality was called in to knock them over, usually in the presence of the local rag, who duly photographed and publicised the event. I suppose the poor old landlord then had to count the pile and take it to the bank. Not so much fun. 

While piles of pennies may have departed the scene, the idea of pubs supporting charities certainly hasn't. The British Guild of Beer Writers - I'm a member - says that British pubs raise over £100 million a year from their efforts. I'll say that again. One hundred million of your British pounds. No mean feat and a large boost to much-needed good causes and likely, in many cases,yet another overlooked victim, of the recent regimen of pub closures and restrictions during Covid.

Fantastic then that Ant, our landlord kept it all going during the hard times. As a result, as you'll see from the photo, an amazing £16,044.88 was raised to help cancer sufferers. Well done to the Rose.

Unusually for  Monday, I had a couple of pints, but I plead "All in a good cause".

Next year we are raising much needed money to buy guide dogs for blind people. Wonder if one of ours will be named Rose?  Wonder too if I'll do better in my predictions this year? I doubt it.

Friday, 30 July 2021

Normality. Of a Sort

On our return, slightly knackered, from London, we nonetheless felt we had to take part in so-called "Freedom Day". A quick trip to the Rose of Lancaster was therefore decided upon. For the first time in what seemed forever, we walked into the pub and straight to the bar - well, I say straight - we had to pause for a brief hug from the landlord on the way. We ordered our drinks and then had the choice of where to sit. Yes. Our choice. Anywhere we liked in the pub or beer garden. As our preferred seats within were taken, we went outside in the sunshine and chose a suitable place. Lovely. And back to cask too with JW Lees latest seasonal, Sail Away which was pale, golden, hoppy and served correctly - I imagine - I didn't have either means or, importantly, the need to check it - at a cellar cool 12C. 

And that was it until Friday when I had a couple of pints of the same beer in another of my locals, the Ring O'Bells. No need to check in, regulars chatting at the bar and mingling, with an atmosphere which felt liberated. It was most enjoyable.

It was another instance of normality on Saturday when I had the pleasure of presenting our CAMRA Branch Pub of the Year Award to the Cob and Coal, a micropub within Oldham's Tommyfield Market. Doubly so, as it was to my pal Michelle (ex landlady of the THT) and another pal, her husband Chris.  This time, given the pub is tiny, around 30 CAMRA members assembled in the outside area of the pub (which is still inside the market) for drinks and the presentation.  Most of us hadn't seen each other for over a year, so the chance to see friends in the flesh and the joy was palpable.  Excellent cask beer again was consumed (of course) as befitted the occasion.

Not to labour the point - but I will - in Chris and Michelle's other pub, the Fox and Pine, the same scene was played out, with people nipping round tables to chat and seat hopping as often happens when everyone knows each other.

On Sunday, my return to the Tandle Hill Tavern. It wasn't at its busiest, but again we had normality.  Our table was full enough, and it was a pleasure just to be there with my friends. Going up to the bar for drinks and mixing with others seemed so natural again. It was so good to be back to normal and thankfully there, as in other places mentioned, it just felt "right" after that first visit to the bar.

Now what about that there Covid 19 and being sensible, I hear you ask? Well, the pubs I drink in tend to have an older clientele. I doubt if many weren't double vaccinated. Yes, we mixed briefly with other people and tables, but each pub was totally well ventilated, and we all felt secure enough. Anyway, as someone once said "If not now, when?" That double vaccine isn't for nothing.

Did I feel I was taking a big chance? No. Did I miss being masked up, signing in, being told where to sit? No. Did I miss table service? Not on your Nelly. As my good friend Retired Martin says here,  The Bar is the Heart of the Pub. You bet it is.

Now, I know not everyone will feel as at ease as I did above. I very much respect that.  I am reasonably healthy and willing to make my own judgements, which may differ from yours and may even change over time. This still needs care.

Another thing. Not once, in any of the pubs, did I think the cask might be a bit iffy. And none of it was.

Thursday, 29 July 2021

Clearly Better

Continuing my London adventures, which, although, I shouldn't, I tend to treat as a bit of a holiday.  Sunday was again beautiful, with scarcely a cloud in the sky. It was hot, but where to go?  We breakfasted at home with tea and bacon butties and by early afternoon were ready for a stroll.  When in doubt head over the river. So we headed over the river.

It wasn't busy. On such a day, Tower Bridge is usually rammed, but in the absence of foreign visitors, we strolled over in peace, stopping in the middle to admire the view and wave to the River Police. They even waved back. I fancied some stout, but our first intended stop, the Anchor Brewery Tap, was closed for renovations, so thwarted, we made our way down Druid Street, passing the closed arch of Southwark Brewing, to Ansbach and Hobday, who apparently had a nitro porter worth having. It wasn't exactly heaving, so we bagged a seat outside and perused the beer list. The porter was duly ordered, while E quizzed the server on which of the lagers on offer was the clearest. This seemed to puzzle the poor chap and after some discussion, E chose one which she didn't think much of.  My porter on the other hand, while slightly bland at first, morphed into a very good drink indeed.

Druid Street, while not exactly dead, was as near as made little difference. The odd couple strolling; the inevitable scooter riders; people trailing obviously reluctant dogs through the heat, and the odd car and cyclist. It was all very enervating, and we sat, watching it all, in a kind of torpor. Then it got exciting. E spotted a lass with what looked like a sparkling clear lager.  As a round was due, the server was summoned. "Aha" quoth he,"That's our Pale Ale." E's hopes were dashed and the proferred taste was given a reluctant "All right".  I happily got stuck into my second pint and finally got round to tasting the pale ale. I liked it.

Following the plan, we moved round the corner to Enid Street and Cloudwater. Sadly, there was no room at the inn, and we enjoyed a couple of halves next door in Brew By Numbers. The beers were good to very good, and we left quite pleased.

The tale doesn't end there. By then, the drink wanted a drink, and we sat outside the fabulous Marquis of Wellington, an interesting former estate pub, which is now a very decent beer destination.   This is just across from Ansbach and Hobday. The beers included the Pale Ale already mentioned. I ordered it and it was fabulous. Great sweet malt, a beautifully clean distinct and balanced middle and a rich satisfying clean hoppy, finish. My beer of the trip.

I have said it before and will say it again. Clean, clear beer with distinct identifiable flavours will always beat muddy messes. Two cracking beers from Ansbach and Hobday and a smashing pub. Not a bad way to end this London trip.


We did consider Druid Street on Saturday, but I reckon that would have been unwise. Way too busy and way too hot.

I did think of my last trip to both Cloudwater and the Marquis of Wellington with Matt Curtis. I think I've just about got over the hypothermia. The contrast could not have been more stark.

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

The Near East

 I mentioned the posh(ish) wedding in Richmond, didn't I? Well, it went very well, but I'll gloss over the horrendous beer experience and say I enjoyed it all the same. I will just have my little rant though. Why do otherwise nice hotels sell such dross? The only draught beer - and there was precious little in bottles or cans - Becks at £8 a short measure pint, served warm through a home dispense unit! Not even a Lindr, which at least would have done the trick properly. Answers not needed. It's because they can.

On Saturday after the do, it was a late start. I was convinced, since I felt so odd, that I'd contracted Covid, but a full English, followed by lots of coffee, followed by - a little later - some beer. I eventually rationalised that I was merely hungover from a mix of prosecco, Swiss bottled beer, white wine, red wine and Becks. It is at least to my credit, I think, that I don't usually drink enough to be hungover, so I'd kind of forgotten what it is like. Did I miss out the sense of doom? That too.

The day was however sunny and warm, so early afternoon we had a walk along a very busy Brick Lane to Bethnall Green Road and hence to the Well and Bucket. Largely because of Covid, we hadn't been there for ages, and we bagged a seat outside and people watched. Camden Hells for both of us. The amber nectar restored me to some kind of equilibrium as we watched Hell's Angels, who were gathering, warn each other by hand signals of a police trap ahead and gazed at the extraordinary mixture of people who passed by.

Thus refreshed we headed for Shoreditch Tube Station and, via a rather run down cut through, to the fabulous Commercial Tavern on Commercial Road. This Grade two listed building is very imposing and has obviously been rescued from an early death. Its bare interior shows that it was likely stripped out in the past, but its elegant build, wooden floors and large windows, make for a fantastic boozer.  No room outside on this hottest of days, but with wide open doors and a pleasing draught, inside was better anyway. Beers were mainly from Camden, so back to Hells for us both. We had a couple there, and I can see us using it regularly, especially in winter, when we might be able to trust the cask.

Next up was another old London pub, the Duke of Wellington on Toynbee St, this one rather modernised, but still cosy and attractive inside. There was a little beer garden too, from which much merriment from a bunch of geezers could be heard.  No cask beer, but a huge array of mainly undistinguished keg beer, leavened by that rarest of beasts these days, Hoegaarden on tap. Probably not at its freshest, but a nice change.

Heading homewards, one last call before food. The Pride of Spitalfields needs no introduction, and we sat inside, as there was standing room only outside in the street. It really is a smashing little boozer. We also learned that only the bit directly outside the pub is allowed for drinking. Don't cross the road. We sat inside anyway, so all was well.

Near home, we nipped into the Efes Restaurant for a fine Turkish meal, washed down with a bottle of Efes Draft. The  restaurant is well recommended. The beer? Not so much.

In case you are wondering why no cask? This answer yesterday to Ben Viveur explains my logic. "In fairness Ben, a heatwave in London isn't a great time to drink cask and at the prices charged you dont want expensive dumpers." I'll wait until colder weather Folks.

Next up. A few Bermondsey tap rooms and a pub. 

Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Richmond - A One Pub Visit

 I think I mentioned that my main reason for being in London was a family wedding.  Now the wedding itself was in Brixton where the happy couple live, but the reception was in leafy and ultra posh Richmond, in a rather swanky spot by the Thames, but that was yet to be discovered. What was known that other family members were holed up in Richmond for the festivities, so we popped on the tube at Tower Hill, Richmond bound, to meet them.

They had already arrived, and a  text advised they were eating at the Old Ship which was easily found, a seven or eight-minute walk from the tube station. Now, Richmond seemed prosperous to me as we made our way down what I'd describe as a High Street. No closed and boarded shops here, though the closing down sale of Gap would have soon altered that, but still, it looked busy and wealthy and there were pubs aplenty. What's not to like? Somewhat touchingly, too, for this exiled Scot, there was a completely functioning branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland - not RBS or NatWest - but the full Scottish monty. How my heart leaped. I could have been in Dumbarton if it wasn't for the complete lack of dereliction.

After a brief moment of hesitancy at the roundabout, we spotted the pub. A veritable feast of wood panelling and after the signing in rituals were observed, we noted that this was a Young's pub which hadn't been torn asunder, probably due to its long thin layout and somewhat venerable appearance; but unspoilt all the same. They had beer too. Young's Bitter and Special and even Proper Job. It was busy, and we joined our happily scoffing family to be warned -  and I paraphrase - that the Young's taste could best be described as absent and was a touch warm.

The pub, as mentioned, was busy. Adjacent was a large courtyard, also served by the same servers as the bar. That didn't help much, and table service was haphazard to say the least. Attracting a server is, I find one of the biggest downsides of the system.  But we persevered, with E, in an odd outbreak of role reversal, ordering Proper Job more than once and me, unwisely choosing Camden Pale which was astonishingly bitter and very gassy. I switched to something from Beavertown which was quite tasty once I'd knocked a couple of atmospheres of CO2 out of it.

Now here's the thing. E and I had spent a happy day in Richmond a few years ago.  Looking around, I couldn't remember or recognise a single thing about it. Not even the tube station, and we must have been there. It was so completely new to me that we vowed we'd come again. Some pubs looked rather good.

I'm not a fan of Young's or the Ram Pub Company as they now call themselves. So many of the pubs seem to have been very unsympathetically renovated to remove all character.

I didn't take any photos, except of the Royal Bank to send to friends of ours who once worked there. You'll have to make do with that. I must also point out that I am a customer of the Bank of Scotland, not this upstart.

Monday, 26 July 2021

London Again

We spent about a week in London following our trip to check out the flat in late May. This time we had a better reason, with two "dos" to attend. Firstly, Eileen's small company's delayed Christmas Lunch and, secondly, our nephew's wedding.  It also coincided with weather which could probably best be described as "scorchio".

Our evening of arrival was however dull and overcast, though warm enough, so we set off for a wander, heading towards the Gherkin with the intention of having a pint at the nearby  Craft pub and thence on to the Liverpool St area and home via Pizza Union in Leman Street. Craft had several inside tables booked, so we sat outside on very uncomfortable stools, with our beers. This was a pale ale from Kent Brewery which seems to be a house beer - see below.  It was okayish, but lacked that peak of cask conditioning that might have set it above ordinary. But as the only cask ale of the trip, I thought it worth mentioning as it is fair to say, it didn't inspire me to repeat the experiment.  

We then had a couple (Camden Hells for me) in the rather attractive Kings Stores, a place we've been to before, then on to another haunt, the Castle on Commercial Road. This is an attractive pub, described on Google Maps as "Sophisticated Old World Pub". Well, sort of. We had Portobello Lager here in unetched tulip ale glasses, which did nothing for an otherwise very ordinary lager of little distinction. I should add,  in its dog days, the application of Covid 19 regulations here, was less than assiduous,  but we checked in and sat in a well ventilated area, between two open doors, so all was well.

Thursday saw another trip to Craft, this time on my own and this time to the Leather Lane one to meet my GBBF BSF colleagues, Jonathan and Stan. That's where I noticed the same Kent Brewery Pale Ale, so possibly it is common to all Craft pubs. 

As befitted our BSF credentials, we all supped imported beers while catching up.

The "Christmas" meal in the posh Charlotte Street restaurant The Ninth,  was excellent and open air, but you could see a lot of closed businesses around. Hopefully temporarily. A subsequent walk to a rammed Soho, was a bit abortive, as not only were outside areas filled, but people were hanging around hoping someone would leave.

We retreated to another old haunt, Sam Smith's Bricklayers Arms, just off  Soho in Gresse Street, and some excellent Nitro Stout and a most informative chat with the landlady who had been there for years. Sadly the pub was pretty empty. For those interested, a pint of nitro stout and a half of Pure Brewed was £8.45. Cards accepted.

Next Up: Richmond on Thames and the East End.

Friday, 23 July 2021

Czech It Out

I was in London in late May. Just a couple of days visit to see what the (junk) mail mountain in Tandleman Towers (South) was like - considerable - and to make sure the gaff was still standing and in good order. There wasn't too much time for beer really, but there was an opportunity to call in on their opening day at Pivo, a new joint selling Czech beer at the Clerkenwell end of Old Street, which was a pity in some ways, as we'd just had lunch near the more traditional Old Street Roundabout end. At least it walked some of that off. But I digress.

This is a modern looking two roomed establishment with contemporary rather than traditional furniture, a big bar, large windows and a downstairs area, which you could describe either as cosy, or claustrophobic, depending on your sensibilities.  We chose upstairs and were rewarded with good views of the whole room. Service was quick and pleasant considering that it was the first couple of hours of opening, the choice of beers was good and rather unusual. Prices were very fair indeed, ranging from around £5.50 to £7 or so a pint, for beers that you won't usually encounter, plus Budvar, which you will.

We stayed for three and a bit of people watching. Quite a mixed bunch, but of course, few conclusions can be drawn from an opening day crowd. Many seemed to be East European, and maybe such émigrés will find a happy home there, but I would certainly imagine that I'll be calling in again too, as should you. The beers are good enough for that, even if the ambience was a little difficult to read, but as I said, allowances had to be made.

 So. Rare Czech beer at reasonable prices, and a pub review from me. What's not to like? 

I note some misery guts have complained  that the measures aren't full pints. I must say, I didn't notice, but then again, I like my beer with a traditional head.  Not sure what to make of the 12.5% service charge, though I just noticed it today!

We had intended to call at the - new to me - Farringdon Tap, but after Pivo and our preceding very filling lunch at Blackstocks, Shoreditch, a lie down was more in order. Next time, hopefully.

This really is late, but I am slowly catching up with a few things.

Monday, 12 July 2021

The Beer Police

It all started so innocently. A few pints with a pal that I hadn't seen in over a year because of you know what and, in addition, my first chance of a pub crawl in Manchester City Centre for quite some time. Well - a year ago. With the same pal as it happens. Me having hopped off the bus at Shudehill Bus Station and him having arrived at Victoria, it seemed a good idea on this sunny Manchester day, to start  at the "new" Holts pub, in Shudehill. 

I say new but the pub in question, the Lower Turks Head is hardly new, dating back to 1745, when Bonnie Prince Charlie was still, just about, strutting his stuff. According to the Holts website, "Dating back to 1745, The Lower Turks Head was once an old stagecoach stop and enjoyed a proud heritage through successive centuries before closing its doors last August. Inside the deceptively deep and roomy venue, the pub is crammed with distinctive fixtures and fittings, including a long wooden bar, checkerboard floors, wooden staircases, cut tables and cubby hole seating." Sounds nice and as we checked in at the door, a glimpse showed that the boy Joey had done well. The place looked immaculate. We chose to sit outside, me drinking Holts Mild and Mike drinking Bitter. It was actually quite a good place to sit, with excellent and cheerful table service and great views of the comings and goings of both the Bus Station and the adjacent Metrolink stop.

We left with considerable reluctance for the joys of the Crown and Kettle and its rather large outdoor offering, where again cask pints and great service were had.

Now into each life a little rain must fall. We were peckish, so went to Bundobust for veggie offerings, Mike being a non meat eater. The bar there usually has a great range and so it proved. For Mike something by Squawk on cask and for me, a rather exotic sounding stout, Chaitro, brewed by the new in-house brewery. Described as a porter, but that is a very blurry line, this was served on nitro and was spicily different and bloody good. I tweeted accordingly, and we continued supping and munching in what was a very empty room, but the company, beer and food persuaded us to stay for another, though the staff seemed to prefer chatting rather than serving. Mike switched to the Chaitro, and we left, full and happy bunnies, to a quick couple of pints of Hydes cask outside the Abel Heywood, before going our separate ways.

Now, it seems that some folks don't like nitro stout or "well known" CAMRA types enjoying it. On Twitter rather a storm of annoyance about this occurred. 

Well. It did provoke quite a discussion and rather than go on about it, my point of view could be summed up as below: It is funny how tables have turned, but didn't CAMRA with its erstwhile disapproval of keg beer, used to get the same Beer Police allegations thrown at them?

For the record CAMRA is all about choice with an emphasis on cask ale. In line with that, my drinking last Thursday, with its overwhelming predominance of cask, fully complied with this. "Take that Beer Police."

The Beer Police have also been having a pop at us Bass drinkers. Liking Bass is harmless, doesn't mean approval of Molson Coors and there are bigger beery fish to fry, so lay off.

An aside is how much Manchester has changed in the last eighteen months. Wow.  

Saturday, 1 May 2021

Weather Turns - But the Future Gets Nearer

Allowing pubs to only open outside was always going to be of marginal benefit to both them and their customers. Only a quarter or so of English pubs have anything like you'd call a beer garden, with a small majority of the rest having various outside facilities ranging from a couple of chairs outside the door, to something a little more elaborate, but still hardly a bucolic garden with weeping willows and wisteria.

But hey ho. Ingenuity and optimism kicked in and a minority managed to stagger open and given that the weather was relatively good, the crowds flocked in.  Well until the sun went down that is and the bitter reality of a British spring with its chilly evenings  kicked in with a vengeance, sending customers scurrying home to warm up and gather their thoughts on the experience. I think though it is fair to say that most customers were and are well-disposed to the plight of pubs and publicans and went along, with as cheerful a face a possible, with conditions that they otherwise might have snubbed or derided. 

There has been a few complaints which can be regarded as nitpicking on one hand or, seriously demeaning the experience on the other.  Complaints about slow service can be regarded on the whole as moaning. The system is new to both customer and server and while a ten-minute wait is annoying, it should - as a general rule - be regarded as the price we pay for restrictions that are as unwelcome to the publican as they are to the customer.  Of course some pubs are better run than others and where customers have the galling experience of waiting excessively for their first drink while glasses are refilled elsewhere, they have a right to complain, but it was ever thus in the UK. All is fair in love and bar and while the wise and busy pub will have a manager keeping an eye on the queue order, many do leave it to survival of the fittest.  My top tip is to bag a seat near where the servers go in and out of the pub, no matter whether there seems to be more attractive seats elsewhere.  On the whole though, tolerance seems to have been good and although the way the offer has been presented has ranged from sublime to ridiculous, most customers have just been happy to be out and about with a beer in their hand and pals around the table and equally most running the show are doing their best.

Mudgie has mentioned one or two of the annoying interpretations of the law on all this. To it, I'll add plastic or polycarbonate glasses. I know some drinkers don't mind these and while I can just about understand it in City Centre venues where roads have been converted to chairs and tables and the customer  base is peripatetic, on the whole it is not only to be discouraged but despised.  The real reason for this imposition is, put simply, that those in authority don't trust the public to behave. I avoid such places though admittedly, it is a bit of a personal hobby horse.

  My own experience overall has been good. One  of  my regular local pubs has a decent beer garden, a top manager and experienced staff. When the weather was fine it was a pleasure to be there. I have been back in the perishing cold too and that as you can imagine wasn't quite so pleasurable, though the service was still top notch. The wait staff looked pretty cold too, but still smiled. A much bigger venue in Bury, with security at the gate, was also well-organised and controlled and everyone seemed happy. Beer was in cask and in glass, so what's not to like? I have also discovered a hidden beer garden in a small local pub which was a pleasure to be in and been tipped off on another. So on the whole, pretty reasonable in the circumstances.

Speaking to publicans, though it isn't customers - or restrictions that worry them most - it is the good old British weather. The next two weeks don't look great in that respect, but of course, we are getting nearer and nearer to the blessed day when pubs re-open indoors, for which thanks - or rather relief. 

So bear with it fellow drinkers. Everyone is doing their best and for all of us, better and warmer times are ahead.

I wrote this yesterday and I always allow a few hours, so I can review what I wrote. (Even if it doesn't look like it.)  E was out, so I nipped down to the Rose with a big coat on. It was busy and the sun was peeping out. As time passed the clouds rolled in and coldness was followed by rain. Not all tables were under any cover, but with admirable stoicism, the drinkers carried on regardless. It was - if you will - that British "thing" of sticking with it. Blitz spirit if you will. The show must go on - as it did - but I'll be honest. I was bloody freezing.

Today looks pretty dodgy too. The photo of customers in the rain is from the Lancashire Fold. It was much the same in the Rose. I took the other in the Trackside last Saturday when the weather was warm and sunny.

Saturday, 10 April 2021

Draught Beer for the Hardy

 Well the big day arrives in less than forty-eight hours. Pubs will be able to resume outdoor selling of alcoholic drinks, though with the kind of weather expected, hot toddies or blobs might be a better bet than pints of chilled amber nectar - or indeed, non-chilled pints of cask ale. Only 14,000 or so pubs will open after a fashion and while many are booked to the seams - if an outdoor drinking area can be said to have seams  - one has to wonder how convivial such an outing will be, even if the weather stays dry. Fine of course if we have warm sunshine and/or a bit of shelter from the chilly spring winds, but that is a very debatable point. One has to wonder too if the bookings will remain as firm when faced with the reality of English Spring weather, as they were when reserved in optimism. I'm not so sure that they will.

Of course, we read too, that many of the outdoor venues aren't looking as Covid secure as they might be - though admittedly the chances of catching anything outdoors are minimal. This has been pointed out photographically on Twitter, and it does remain a concern of a kind.  I note too on Twitter that some local authorities are making up the rules of this new game as they go along, which most certainly isn't helpful. Light touch on rule interpretation seems to be beyond most Local Authorities' understanding of their role in life. It may just be chauvinism, but as a  career civil servant, funnily, we used to always be told to find ways of doing something positive. In fact one of the organizations I worked for had "Bias for Action" as one of its core values. That rarely seems to apply in the case of our local friends, but enough of my prejudices.

Another worry I have is the effect lockdown has had on peoples attitudes to spending money. We have rather become accustomed to not spending much, so perhaps paying pub prices again will be a shock to the system, especially if that dubious pleasure is accompanied by a freezing and howling gale.  This of course will apply to the longer term too, and it is to be hoped that we'll soon get used to forking up an amount for beer in an afternoon or evening, what we previously spent in a week or more at home.  Of course that will be mitigated if your home drinking has consisted of exotic DIPAs and Imperial whatevers, but for the bread and butter customer of most pubs, that won't be the case.

We have five weeks from this partial re-opening of pubs, and then we will be permitted inside, albeit with restrictions and table service. Another five weeks if that and then, hopefully we'll be free. Or will we? The future is still slightly uncertain and depends on the virus being curtailed to a minimum, while vaccinations are pushed to a maximum Talk of Covid passports continues to muddy the water and cause division and is likely to continue to provoke concerns for some time.  

Of course, I am glad that there is a start to relieving the stranglehold the Government has put on pubs and I do hope it all works. I do hope too that at least some pubs can make some money from this. My eye though is firmly on the main prize, hopefully in June, when we can all go where we want, with the minimum of restrictions.  So, only one muffled cheer from me.

Last night, with my heaviest coat on, I had a bottle of beer in the sun in my garden.  It was pleasant. But it was a big coat. Wouldn't want to walk to the pub wearing it. But I will give the great outdoor experiment a go.

I am also concerned that when pubs re-open, it won't be long until full rent is resumed. That might well see a rash of pubs failing then, as may also happen when furlough ends. There is no doubt other pitfalls along this rocky road too.

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Happy Birthday to Us

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA)  is 50 today, and for many, this will be a reason to look back and certainly reflect on what CAMRA has or hasn't done. Either way, making it to 50 years, in an organisation, as much as in life, is an achievement to be celebrated and hopefully in this case admired. We have had our ups and downs, high points and low as a group, but we still have a dog in the fight, and we are (mostly) still out there campaigning for real ale.

I'm a relative newcomer, my tenure in the Campaign being a mere 40 years, but happily my anniversary as a member coincides, more or less, with the fiftieth year of our venerable organisation.  Like many, I'm looking forward to Laura Hadland's book outlining CAMRA’s rich history and to reading the tales of those who have made this epic campaigning journey, both with and before me. Of course, while the organisation is to be congratulated, it is also an excuse for members to raise a glass to themselves, whether they are grey in beard and sandal or - like some of us - still youthful and inspired. Young or old, we are all the Campaign for Real Ale, and we can justifiably bask in our own reflected glory, even if just for a day.

This brief note to mark the occasion won't outline the rights and wrongs, the successes and disappointments, or even the changing face of CAMRA - hopefully Laura will do that. Nor will I try to explain how it was in the early days so long ago, except to say it has been, for the most part, a great pleasure to have been a part of it, from my first meeting, back in my Liverpool days, and for the last 40 years. Hopefully too, while unlikely to have another forty, there might just be a few more years left to do my bit. I certainly look forward to resuming my personal crusade in keeping many more cask pints from going sour.

So raise a glass - even if an ironic one - to those campaigners, past and present, who have helped shape today's beer scene one way or another. I'll leave this blogpost with a brief recommendation to have a look here at what publican and blogger Jeff Bell has to say about the Campaign. He has the right of it on balance and is a fitting and optimistic note on which to finish.

Like many CAMRA members I was persuaded to join by an existing member while on a work course in Blackpool in 1980. One day I'll run across him and thank him properly.

Back to business tonight. We'll be meeting as a Branch Committee on Zoom and planning for the full resumption of local CAMRA activities.  The show goes on.


Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Substantial Meals Abolished. Insubstantial Meals Still an Issue

It seems that the bonkers and inappropriate condition that pubs could only open during a particular phase of lockdown restrictions if they served a substantial meal has been abolished under the new opening up "sometime in the future" policy announced by the Government last week.  If we are to believe reports, it comes from a legal challenge by the Manchester Night Czar, Sacha Lord, whose legal advice was that the rule was open to challenge in law. Presumably the Government's own legal advice confirmed they would be likely to lose such a challenge, hence the change of heart. Good job then that the Scottish Government weren't the subject of his legal foray, but I digress.

I have always held the view that this Government has little real experience of pubs as most of us know them and the manifest unfairness of their policy, which I have covered here,  was evident to all but the most myopic - and no - don't start me on people losing their inhibitions after a sniff of the barmaid's apron, or I'll call you out for the charlatan you obviously are.

Anyway, now my blood pressure has settled down again, I'll mention one thing that pubs can and should learn from the whole Scotch Egg debacle. And it is this. Instead of the Government forcing unwanted meals down our necks, in previous times it was pubs themselves. Feel peckish after a couple of  pints of the amber nectar and consult the menu? Like as not it was a number of main meals only. Nothing as we say in the North, "to put you on". Now I know the pedants among you will point out that the Strap and Manacle in Higher Poshley has a snacks menu to die for, but I am speaking generally. What happened to filled rolls, pies and the like and yes, even scotch eggs? This list is by no means exhaustive. The pizza slice is also a good idea and there are many more contemporary dishes that lend themselves easily to this category, be it samosas, hummus and bread or whatever.

While the daft substantial meal rule was in play, so many pubs that previously hadn't offered snacks found many ingenious ways to get round the restriction. Let's hope that they don't drop these innovative ideas. There is nothing better that a quick snack to allow you to continue a pub visit when hungry, but a full meal rarely cuts it for most of us, never mind the dedicated toper, out for a few pints or those just wise enough to want a little something and a bit more than a bag of Walkers while gently imbibing.

Now I am not saying abolish full meals in pubs, I am saying that in addition, or as an option, there should be snacks available just to keep you going without filling you up. I like a pub meal as much as the next person, but when I choose to have a pub meal, it is almost always in advance and I know that drinking a few pints will be out. Being full up and quaffing pints rarely go hand in hand.

Pubs need to come back from this catastrophic pandemic better and more savvy than ever. Snacks - substantial or otherwise should be a significant part of their revised offer. Let's see the same imagination applied to their offering when they aren't, under duress, trying to hoodwink the authorities.

I kind of exclude the Black Country and the West Midlands to a lesser extent from this undoubted criticism. Almost alone as a region, you can usually get something snacky, almost any time the pubs are open. I think too of Bavaria where snacks, even in pretty big meal oriented pubs, are always available.

On a related note, this piece in the good old Morning Advertiser is also worth reading. I might have a rant about that soon too.


Thursday, 18 February 2021

Not Now. But When and How?

 Next Monday the Prime Minister is due to lay out some kind of rough timetable to ease the current lockdown. Much speculation has ensued and in the usual way, there have been what seem to me, placed leaks in the likes of the Daily Mail, hinting at what may or may not be intended. In the case of pubs, kites flying include opening pubs for outside service only and opening pubs for the sale of only non-alcoholic drinks. I won't explore either of these options here, as I do believe that there is on behalf of the Government, a degree of managing expectations, and if enough worse case scenarios are mooted, then what actually happens, no matter how unappealing, will somehow appear acceptable compared to what might have been. The longing for re-opening will inevitably permit a degree of leeway.

There is also clearly, albeit somewhat tardily, a recognition that so much has been over-promised and under-delivered - something almost everyone has complained  about - that the proceeding with a degree of caution penny, has finally dropped. To my mind too, in the case of pubs, there is such a fog of misunderstanding about them within our rulers, that they just don't know what to do.  There is too I feel an inherent distrust of the people - perhaps with the odd justification - as bad behaviour and rule flouting in a few cases is wrongly extrapolated to "all pubs are a hot bed of infection" -  despite there being little by way of actual evidence to support that view.  There also seems to this writer at least, that what happens in London, with its crowded after work scene, spilling onto pavements with no signs of social distancing, is wrongly extrapolated to the rest of the UK, though events in Liverpool pre this lockdown hardly helped.  And let's not go too deeply into the obvious fact, as evidenced by its treatment of them, that the Government just doesn't "get" wet-led pubs.

Looking at where we are now, my best guess is that we are around six weeks away from meaningful relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions. Does that mean good news for pubs? Well, experience would suggest not, but things have changed and continue to change.  Vaccine rollout to all the most vulnerable groups may well be complete before the target date of end of April and all the key age dependent groups will have been covered too. Everyone over 50, or deemed vulnerable should be vaccinated and work started on those under 40.  That is great and way beyond what we could have hoped for only a few short months ago. At the same time, better weather should lessen the amount of infection, as will the increase in those who have antibodies through infection and recovery.  All in all a brighter picture though of course doubts and concerns remain. 

But into each life a little rain must fall.  Until deaths, infections and hospitalizations reach a level that is insignificant, the Government will be very reluctant to go the whole hog.  Hopefully some of their more hare-brained ideas will be ditched though. Apparently the thought processes - yes there was thought oddly - about needing to have a meal with a drink was to stop doltish, irresponsible people going out and getting pissed and then kissing everyone while gobbing Covidly "You're my best mate you". In fact in most cases, it just meant that more affluent  citizens went out for meal and a couple of pints, while those without the ackers, went down the supermarket for a dozen cans of lout at less than half the price, to then drink illicitly with their chums.  The pubs, in the main, lost money operating it.  Frankly it was a laughable policy that helped and suited nobody at all, but that of course doesn't mean it can be entirely ruled out for an unwelcome return. This government has form when it comes to repeating the same process in the hope of a different outcome.

So back to when and how.  Frankly, I don't know. You don't know, and I doubt if the Government knows. My feeling is that as a government that just doesn't trust its people - not unique to the Tories by the way - there will be more than minor inconveniences as we go through re-opening. Some restrictions will remain, whether it is signing in, masks, table service or worse, but the light at the end of the tunnel is there and this time, hopefully it won't be a train coming the other way.

When our beloved pubs re-open, it won't be the end of it though. Lockdown and closure has been devastating for the trade. Many pubs won't ever re-open, or will change hands as the financial toll turns into a grim reckoning. Health worries will remain - see above. Customers will be wary, as will those serving behind the bar. This virus is here for the foreseeable future. It has likely changed us all and those of us that love pubs have a job to do in supporting them.

The bright side is, pubs will be back soon, and we will again remember what makes them so much better than a can or bottle at home. See you at the bar.

Let's hope too, that pubs and of course breweries, get sufficient notice to prepare. Pubs will need cleaning, staff will need training to meet whatever requirements there are, stock will need to be ordered and beer will have to be brewed and conditioned.

One advantage of being old is that I tend to drink in older style pubs. There, most of us will be vaccinated. Don't judge me. I have less of my life left and need that valuable drinking time more than the young do.

Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Brexit Moan

You will no doubt have read in the press that one of the seemingly unforeseen issues we have after Brexit is the need for a customs declaration when sending parcels to or from the EU.  This seems to be a very complicated matter indeed, as although there is unlikely to be duty paid, the amount of form filling and put frankly - buggering about - is attracting fees in addition to VAT which is payable either by the seller in the EU in the case of EU-GB, or by the recipient.  Ideally this would be paid to HMRC by the European exporter - and many will do that and pass it on in the price- but for others the game is no longer worth the candle, and they will simply cease to trade business to customer with the UK.

 Already I have seen on Twitter and elsewhere that beer is affected by this and for my own part, my occasional cases of mixed beers from Bavaria will cease for the time being. OK it isn't the biggest worry in the world as I can buy substitutes here to a certain extent, or simply buy British beer instead, which I already do.  The pity is that when travel is banned, and we are all in lockdown, a bit of a taste of Germany is a welcome diversion, but I fear that in the future, for many lovers of beer from Bavaria or Belgium, the only way to get those rare beers, will be either to pay top dollar here, if you are lucky enough to find what you want, or do without. It seems we will likely be back to awaiting our foreign trips in many cases. Here's what the German company said.

Momentan ist kein Versand nach England, Wales und Schottland möglich. Wir arbeiten daran. Aber es muss u.a. eine Handelsrechnung erstellt werden.

Danke fĂŒr Euer VerstĂ€ndnis

 Euer Web-Bier-Team

Basically, for the time being until they work it out, no sales to England and Scotland.

My attitude, while annoyed by this being inflicted upon me and countless others was one of "Well I suppose I can be philosophical about that."  Less so when I discovered that the watch E had bought for me for my birthday in August had ceased to work.  It had been in its box more or less since then as it is a bit "dressy" for day to day use. I'd only taken it out to look at it out of boredom on Saturday, but when I did the bugger had stopped.  Like all of my watches, it is made in Germany and in this case was purchased direct from the manufacturer in Berlin. I ordered it one day and a day and a half later, UPS turned up with it. Easy peasy.

I wrote to the manufacturer complaining about the short battery life, but their response was to send me a prepaid label to send it back for repair or replacement.  Clearly they know something I don't and a mere battery replacement is insufficient. The prepaid label is also a customs declaration. It is a bit complex.  I need to know quite a few things I don't. Here it is - see what you make of it. Click to make it bigger.

Now of course I have asked the seller to tell me the stuff I don't know, but even then and with free postage I am reluctant to send a quite expensive watch back with missing information. I worry that I'll never see it again.

The beer I can sort out - or rather - live with, but my lovely watch, not so sure. Brexit dividend? I rather think not.

Yes - better inside the tent pissing out in this case.  And probably every case. Clearly business to business will sort itself out, albeit expensively, but business to customer and vice versa? I doubt it. 

And of course I didn't vote leave. I'm not that crazy.