Friday 29 January 2010

Think You Have It Bad?

An American Brewer mate of mine from years ago, in an act of kindness and generosity, recently sent me a case of his beer, including a new Imperial IPA. I won't name names except to say it is West Coast. I was looking forward to trying the six different beers within.

It arrived safe in the UK and a note from UPS when I was at NWAF said they'd tried to deliver it and no-one was in. Could I re-arrange? I did so and the day before it was due to come, I had a phone call. UPS tell me they have had a major raid at their Manchester warehouse and my shipment, along with many others has been stolen. I should inform the shipper I was told, as will they, as they are of course insured. Well that's fine and dandy then. Not.

I was almost speechless. I am not sure which infuriates me most, that some Manchester scallies are scoffing my lovely beer, or, more likely, have discarded it as not their sort of thing, or an international parcel service that is so insecure and incompetent that its warehouse can be so easily raided.

Either way, I am mightily pissed off.

Thursday 28 January 2010

Lees Freeze

JW Lees is freezing its prices for the whole of 2010. Managing director William Lees-Jones (left) said: "We are putting our customers and licensees first and are pledging that we will not put up the wholesale or retail price of any JW Lees beers in 2010. It would be "cynical" to raise prices because we have benefited from reductions in raw material and energy costs this year. However, any additional rises in beer duty or VAT would mean price rises."

Whayhay. More money in Tandleman's coffers and more importantly, in hard pressed publican's pockets, while not discouraging pub attendance. It might not make a huge difference, but it is a step in the right direction. Who's going to follow?

The Morning Advertiser has the story here.

Buying Out

I was out very briefly last night in a tied house of a well known brewer. I won't in this case name names, except to say, it wasn't a Lees house. They read this of course.

Surveying the pumps I saw nothing but smooth and a couple of handpumps without clips on them. The landlord, as it turned out was sat on the customer side of the bar watching a repeat of Midsomer Murders, God help him. He spotted me scanning things and asked what I was looking for. I said I was checking what was on and he then asked me what I usually drink. "Cask" quoth I. "Well" he said conspiratorially, "we have Bombardier on now and Black Sheep coming on." I pleaded driving, which was true and left.

Now I have seen this kind of thing a few times before, but rarely in brewery tied pubs. I have to say I was rather astonished. It isn't as if this brewer doesn't supply cask, but clearly not at either the right price or the right taste.

Either way it is a sign of the times and not a good one.

On Trade Bears Brunt of Sales Slump

Sales through the off-trade fell 3.1% in 2009, the biggest decline since records began in 1978, according to the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA). However, the decline was less than that experienced in Britain’s 54,000 pubs where sales fell 5.2%, contributing to an overall reduction in beer sales of 4.2%.

Still there is a silver lining in this cloud in that the decline in beer sales is slowing. The BBPA has revealed details of its Quarterly Beer Barometer which shows that while sales are still declining the rate of fall has dropped. For the last three months of 2009 sales were down 3.6 per cent – the lowest fourth quarter fall since 2006.

This of course could all be derailed by duty increases and increases passed on to the drinker by PubCos and brewers. In my own neck of the woods, beer sales as in "money off" are appearing, but one thing the figures show is that the recession has affected even cheap at home drinkers and shows that to some at least, at the poorest end of the market, that price affects consumption, unless of course they've all switched to cheap supermarket voddy.

Nonetheless it confirms in my mind, not that it needed much confirming, that minimum pricing will largely affect the poorest amongst us. But of course, they shouldn't be drinking anyway, should they?

Wednesday 27 January 2010

Back to the Day Job

NWAF is receding slightly though I'm still tired. We will have a wash up meeting in February and then think about it again, but for the meantime, it's back to being a CAMRA Branch Chairman, with my next duty chairing the 2010 Good Beer Guide Selection meeting. The GBG Co-ordinator tells me we have 29 new nominations for the guide as well as our current entries, so it looks like being a lively and (probably) heated meeting. People do get passionate about pubs and competition among licensees and CAMRA members to get "their" choice in is fierce. Also more nominations usually means there is more decent beer about. That's never a bad thing.

Then after we have narrowed it down and done our reserves, there will be a round of visits to ensure all is well and to get the stuff off to HQ by the deadline. A lot of work.

This brings me back to NWAF and why people do it? Well of course it's their hobby and their passion, but, having talked to so many CAMRA members over the last few weeks, it is also because they like to give something back, to spread the "beer is good" word to others, to project their love of beer as widely as possible. Beer Festivals and the GBG are two examples of just such selflessness. A lot of CAMRA work isn't glamorous, but it provides the means to allow others, CAMRA members or not, to enjoy the fruits of their labours, by being able to drink lots of different beers at a festival, or find a decent beer in a strange town.

You know, CAMRA may not be all good, but it sure as Hell isn't all bad.

Tuesday 26 January 2010

What a Success!

Looking at my blog count for January, it stands at a miserable eight. My worst ever I'm ashamed to say, but then again, I like to think I have an excuse. That bloody beer festival.

To let you into a sort of secret, when we heard that the Co-op wasn't letting out New Century House again, the future of the Winter Ales Festival in a Manchester venue was in severe doubt. The city was scoured for alternatives, with eye wateringly expensive and unsuitable alternatives being weeded out. It was getting difficult. We discovered the Sheridan Suite, firmly plonked in a pretty run down area and a mile and a bit out of town, though otherwise with a lot going for it. (Our booking took them by surprise as it is mostly used for Asian weddings.) It didn't get universal approval and caused some to spit their dummies out, but we went for it and guess what? It worked and people loved it! No-one was killed or stabbed on the way there. There was no trouble or mass invasion of scallies, just wonderfully relaxed people having a great time.

Some details. Last year's record numbers was more or less equalled in a venue that has no passing trade - you have to decide to go. The attendance was well in excess of 8000. We sold much more beer - an effective sellout - and banked more money. My abiding memory of a hugely successful Friday night was looking along Oldham Road and watching a stream of taxis queuing to deposit thirsty drinkers, while passing buses dropped off 10 or 12 each trip.

We had more seating though never enough, but happy groups sat on the floor, making their own personal space. Boak and Bailey were just such a pair. The number of young people, particularly women, who attended was gratifying and proved that "proper" beer can attract that sizeable market without gimmicks, if you create the right setting and enough choice. We had record numbers of volunteer staff from all over the country. I'm indebted to them. The venue management found it amazing that so many worked so hard for no financial reward. Me too. We signed up nearly 200 more CAMRA members, the beer was in record good nick, the food was appreciated, with the real genuine made on the premises curries going down well and though we did have the odd hiccup with the ladies toilets - surely they could cross their legs for 20 minutes while the header tanks refilled? - all was well. We even sold most of the souvenir glasses.

Will we be back? Well, we have a snagging list as long as your arm - standard for a new location - we have to look at price and any alternatives, but next year's NWAF has already been allocated to Manchester. If you weren't there, you missed a treat. Don't miss out again.

The photo shows Thwaites dray horses and handler on the Trade Session.

Monday 18 January 2010

Blog Silence

Sorry for it, but I am up to my eyes in National Winter Ales organisation. It's going well. Photos and some blogging tonight hopefully.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

More Government Bizarreness

If you wish to serve alcohol in England and Wales you have to either have a personal licence to do so, or be authorised by someone that does. Simples? Getting one isn't that difficult, though even if you pass the test, the coppers can still object to your personal licence application if you have been convicted for some particular offences. These are quite sensible in the main and include murder, rape, theft in many forms, blackmail, drunk driving and various forms of drunkenness and drugs. They are subject to a test: Is the offence relevant to carrying out the duties required of a personal licence holder?

All fine and dandy, but not for this nanny state government. They propose to add a whole raft of offences to the list including such bizarre things as: supplying firearms to a person drunk or insane; intercourse with a defective; incest; causing a person with a mental disorder to watch a sexual act; intercourse with an animal; sexual penetration of a corpse; the list goes on.

Given that only 0.7% of applications are refused on current grounds, this seems a bit of overkill unless of course the Dept of Culture Media and Sport has spotted a loophole allowing, necrophiliacs,animal shaggers and other sexual deviants to predominate in the licensed trade. Somehow I think not. This exercise in public consultation (this is what it is) is a requirement of law. Fair enough, but do we really need to double the number of pages of offences from four to eight, especially when they reckon that the percentage of refusals won't materially change? ("The Government does not estimate that this would be significantly increased by the proposed changes".)

It would be amusing if we weren't paying for it all.

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Take Me to the Pub

I mentioned that as well as the Pete Brown trilogy - no I haven't started reading the damn things yet - I got a SatNav for Christmas. Now in the heady days when I drove 30,000 miles a year on Her Majesty's business, such a device would have been a great boon and would have meant a great deal less stress and many fewer meetings where I stumbled in late, muttering apologies. But nowadays, where I rarely drive anywhere I don't already know, I am not so sure. Still, I mean to use the thing one way or another.

Two things caught my eye which provide a useful addition to my new technology. Firstly CAMRA supply a Point of Interest version of the Good Beer Guide for a fiver, so that's a good bet. Secondly, Cask Marque has put all their pubs on a similar platform and this can be downloaded free. I'll probably get both as soon as I can work out whether there is enough on board memory in my Garmin, or if I need an SD card. I can guess the answer, so I might as well buy the card now.

Of course this is well and good, but it doesn't solve the problem of designated driver. It seems I am doomed mostly to using this to check out pubs for articles for my CAMRA magazine, which I now edit, or for delivering them by the quickest route. There's always a use for technology, though I reckon a compliant partner would be a better option. She also likes a slurpo, so isn't likely to drive me to drink, at least in that sense.

Oh well, it works in walking mode too!

Monday 11 January 2010

National Winter Ales Festival - Some Highlights

This festival is hammering its way relentlessly towards us now. Though we don't open until a week on Wednesday, the first beer deliveries will be on Friday this week. Then a lot of anxiety as we pull it all together in an unfamiliar venue and even more anxiety as we wait to see if anyone shows up. The trade session a week on Wednesday will be preceded by a small cavalcade advertising the event, with two horse drawn drays - thanks Thwaites and Robinsons and a vintage double decker bus from Wells and Youngs Brewing, which will be on site all week.

But this is about beer, so a few highlights for you:

Cask: Acorn Gorlovka Stout, Brew Dog Punk IPA, Coniston No.9 Barley Wine, Dark Star Critical Mass, Hydes 4X Strong Ale, Otley O8, Phoenix West Coast IPA, Robinson's Old, Ginger and Chocolate Tom, Holmfirth IPA, Thornbridge St Petersberg.

Foreign Draught: Bernard Dark, Andechs Spezial Hell, Augustiner Edlestoff, Beck Brau Affumikator (unfiltered smoked trippel), Keesman Herren Pils, Lowenbrau Buttenheim Bock, Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock, Vierzehnheiligen Silberbock, Uerige and Schumacher Alt.

Real Ale In A Bottle: Dunham Massey Winter Warmer, Durham Bede's Chalice, Temptation, Fullers Vintage Ale, Titanic Stout, Worthington White Shield.

Foreign Bottles: De Prael Nelis, Emelise Double IPA, Jopen Bokbier, Servatummus Winterkunninkske, Karg Weizenbock, Schneider Eisbock and Danish beers from Indslev, Orbaek, Randers, Rise and Svaneke Bryghus.
And that's just my highlights. There is so much more. If you take your beer seriously, you really NEED to be there!

All at competitive Northern prices too!

Friday 8 January 2010

Cains Gassed Off

Our somewhat chilly winter weather has resulted in restrictions of gas supply to industry. Beer is industry, so it seems that in order to keep us all toasty at home, Robert Cain of Liverpool has been told that their gas supply is being stopped (it has happened now) until further notice. Sudarghara Dusanj, the managing director, said he was shocked when the brewery was given 12 hours’ notice to stop using gas. No date has yet been given for the return of the supply.

“We have had the brewery for eight years and this is the first time we have ever had to do this, so we didn’t have oil supplies,” Mr Dusanj told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Now Cains isn't everyone's favourite brewery and I dare say it will be happening elsewhere, though for now, no doubt, some will be enjoying a touch of schadenfreude at the Dusanj brothers expense..

Tuesday 5 January 2010


We're getting a proper winter at last. Repeatedly. More snow overnight. More snow as I type. It has been a pain in the proverbial. My walks are more or less abandoned. The pavements are like a skating rink and the roads are overcome. Today I have a lot of CAMRA stuff to do, both for the Branch and for the Winter Ales Fest. I am up to my neck in Chairman's newsletters, risk assessments, staffing guidelines, signing in sheets and other things.

Tonight, hopefully, I'm at a CAMRA meeting, but I am sick of beer and alcohol generally. So is this afternoon a time to start on my Pete Brown books? Which order should I read them in by the way, or does it matter?

Funny old month January.

Friday 1 January 2010

National Winter Ales Festival 2010

As some of you know, I'm involved as Deputy Organiser for the above event. This year we are at a new and bigger venue, so why not come along to one of the biggest selections of British beers, as well as an extensive foreign beer list that includes many rarities on draught and in bottle? Want to increase you beer knowledge all under one roof? This is the place!

Details are: 20th-23rd January 2010, Sheridan Suite, Manchester, M40 8EA

Wednesday - Evening; Thursday, Friday & Saturday - All day

The Sheridan Suite, Oldham Road, Manchester, M40 8EA, is just 1.2 miles from the Northern Quarter along Oldham Rd. It has a huge (free) car park (300 vehicles), that can accommodate many coach trips direct to the event. It is served by numerous direct buses from the City Centre.

ALL beers will be available at all times including the Champion Winter Beer Of Britain, as the competition will be judged before opening, allowing us to announce the winners early in the trade session. So be one of the the first to try the winning beers. Food will be available during all sessions.

This is a must attend event for the serious beer person. If any blogger needs trade session tickets (Wednesday from 14.30), then just let me know.

I look forward to seeing many of my readers there!

The X Factor

Chatting to the landlady after our beer tasting, we mused about how the trade is doing. We talked about PubCos, Breweries, beers, pricing, the smoking ban and all the usual stuff that comes up when you talk to publicans about their business, as I often do. Then she took me by surprise; "You know what I wish had never happened?" "Go on" I said. "The bloody X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing etc." Her view is that these have ruined Saturday nights in lots of pubs. Saturday used to be couples night, so now, the landlady propounds, it is hard to get the female of the species particularly, to get her arse off the couch and come to the pub with hubby. Sometimes, it might be the other way round, but either way it has vastly affected trade. It leads to more drinking at home, as couples sit on the settee with varying degrees of reluctance, supping bottles of wine or cans of lager.

Now I have to say, I'd never considered that, as I never watch either. All in all though it had a ring of truth to it and is yet another indication of how changing social and leisure attitudes have affected the on trade in the UK.

Putting it on in the pub isn't the answer either it seems, as it alienates as much as attracts.