Monday 26 November 2012

1000 Not Out

 I have always thought that the essence of blogging - beer blogging -is not only opinion, but the relating and contextualising of experience. It isn't just a medium for the wordsmith, but also for the ranter, the raver, the disgruntled and the obsessed, or even those just interested in telling you what beers they drank.  I probably am a bit of all that.  I like to think what I write is broad based and has a reasonably wide appeal, and though pubs are what I like most,  I have no wish to eulogise in Sunday Supplement terms about them, as to me the appeal of a pub is largely personal and often, non transferable.  That's why I don't simply write pub reviews

However this IS my 1000th post so looking back is inevitable. I can't help but notice the difference between blogging then and now. The people are of course mostly different. No Stonch, who was my inspiration in starting this, though I do see his ebullient alter ego Jeff Bell from time to time. Many others have fallen by the wayside too and many more have taken their place. To me blogging is struggling a bit at the moment. Or rather, beer blogging is. I do get the feeling that Twitter has pretty well undermined blogging and though my readership remains high, it is harder to make an impression when attention spans prefer the immediacy of Twitter to the more thoughtful and time consuming blog. Blogging has changed and the contributors have changed with it. For the better? Maybe, maybe not, but it has still been great to be part of it and of course to have met so many genuinely good people because of it, but of course, beer really does bring good people together.

 So I'll keep plodding on.  I actually enjoy doing this. How long will that continue?  Who knows?   Until I have nothing more I want to say, or when I get fed up. That Dear Reader may well be a while.

I'll finish with this link to my own favourite post.  An indulgence I know, but it's my blog, so there.


Sunday 25 November 2012

My 1000th Post

This will appear tomorrow. 1000 posts in five years. That's a lot of posts. Nearly 200 a year. Nearly five a week - well a five day week. So will it be a blockbuster or a damp squib (squid to the uneducated)?

You'll have to wait and see, but thanks for all the suggestions as to subject matter.  

Don't miss it whatever you do.

Yes Folks. This is a filler to make the numbers,  so I don't have to do two tomorrow!

Pub Update

The new landlord is ensconced and his first job has been to fill the oil tank.  For the first time in months (or is it years?) the heating is back on.  The pub, frankly, has been freezing recently, despite its coal/log fire, which is all too easily blocked by the chilled.

Plum Pudding is promised and the beer was in good form when I nipped in to say hello. There are even some new pictures on the wall and of course, accompanying John, the new boss, is a statutory new dog.

Fingers crossed eh?

I'm heading up there soon and the radiator behind my seat will be on. Great.

Thursday 22 November 2012

This Isn't a Spoof

I read this today.

Guinness launches holiday beer Guinness Generous Ale 

Ireland-based beermaker Guinness has unveiled a holiday beer, Guinness Generous Ale, Drinks Business Review reported on November, 20. The new beer is an amber brew with vanilla flavour.

Guinness master brewer Fergal Murray was quoted by AFP Relaxnews as saying that the beer is made up of poached pear, pie crust, toffee, a whisper of smoke and toasted marshmallow. The new beer, which is available in US, is packed in 11.2 oz bottles.

The brewery with the help of New York chocolatier MarieBelle, has also launched other seasonal beers, which include dark chocolate, vanilla, coffee and almond truffles with Frangelico liqueur.

Guinness will also be donating some portion of the proceeds to Bideawee, an animal welfare group. 

At least I don't think it's spoof. What do you make of it?

Me and Black Sheep

I received a very glamorous bottle of beer from Black Sheep Brewery last week.  It is a fancy 10% abv effort, celebrating 20 years of the company's existence.  It was nice of them to include me, though I'm not sure when I'll get the chance to drink a 75 cl bottle of such strong beer.  At least it won't go off soon.

We do have a slight connection though, me and Black Sheep and one that does make this kind gift  apposite.  Around 21 years ago, I was present at a beer tasting by Black Sheep before they launched. It was held at the Beer Emporium in Oldham, a pub which alas no longer exists.  I can't remember what feedback I gave on the beers, but no doubt me and others did, so I have contributed, albeit in a small way.  It is at least a connection.

Good to see they have survived and prospered.

There is a good photo of the Beer Emporium here, but take the date of the photo with a pinch of salt. It was closed and knocked down long before 2009

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Little Bits of History

I don't bother that much with history in this blog. You have to be a particularly pernickity person that likes facts and exactitude. I paint things with  an altogether much broader brush. But I do like to read and know about old breweries and the like, which is reflected to some extent by my small collection of breweriana.  I haven't collected anything much for years now really, but one or two interesting pieces adorn a bookcase in my sitting room, so I thought I'd share them.  These examples of advertising - showcards - in the parlance - are of course, history and both are quite old.

Murray's was one of many Edinburgh breweries that turned up its toes in the takeover frenzy of the 1960s.  According to the Scottish Breweing Archive, "The company was acquired in May 1960 by Northern Breweries of Great Britain Ltd, later United Breweries Ltd, York and London, England, which merged with Charrington and Co Ltd, London, in 1962 through a holding company, Charrington United Breweries Ltd. It continued to brew until May 1962 when brewing was transferred to Aitchison Jeffrey Ltd, Heriot Brewery, Roseburn Terrace, Edinburgh, Scotland. Bottling and malting continued at the North British Brewery until 1964"

Devenish closed as recently as March 2004 having fallen into the hands of Whitbread and subsequently, after a lot of mucking about, changes of ownership and brewing stopping and starting, it went bust and that was that.

Nice little mementoes of the past.

I've just realised since blogger inconveniently changed, I haven't done labels as they have moved them to a new place. I'll restore them now, but I'm not going back over those that have missed out.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Back in the (Flame) War

The good old Usenet had one big difference between it and blogging. It was interactive when that was hard to achieve on t'interweb and it was vicious.  Flame wars abounded, as I am forced to recall when I look at some of the old stuff. Brutal I'd call it, though not in the instance below. I'll try and find the one about short measure. That went on for weeks.

I did come across one piece in which I featured, which showed, if nothing else, what goes round comes round.  An exchange about CAMRA and the GBG took place.  Here it is:

On 1 Nov 1999 22:22:13 -0000, plutc...@SncsaP.uiucA.eduM (Joel
Plutchak) wrote:
In article <381e04dc .8821...=".8821..." br="br""">Peter Alexander

There is a place for all of these guides but ours is about cask
conditioned beer and where to find it.  No higher recommendation is
needed in my view but you have to adapt it to your needs.
plutc...@SncsaP.uiucA.eduM (Joel
Plutchak) wrote:

  That begs the questions (1) is all cask-conditioned beer good,
and (2) is all non-CC beer not-good?  The more cynical amongst us
view the zeal of the CAMRA fanatic with a bit of suspicion.

Peter Alexander

But you already know the answer.  I'll repeat it for you though:

1) No
2) No
The more sensible among us view any fanatics with suspicion. 

So there you have it. Tandleman. Always the voice of reason and I'm glad to say, consistency. Well back to 1999 anyway. On that one occasion.

Funnily enough Joel is my mate now. One of our Yankee circle. And me and that ersatz German, Erlangernick

Monday 19 November 2012

Further Local Update

I wrote here only as recently as August, about the new landlady of my local. Alas she didn't like it. Despite having worked in a pub before, being the boss just didn't suit her, so yesterday, we saw her off. It is a pity as we liked her and she liked us. She just didn't like being a landlady.

 Fortunately we have a successor. We know little about him, but no doubt soon will. At least our beloved Tavern will stay open. I have had a chat to the new man and he seems all right, but then again, he hasn't taken over yet,so we'll just have to wait and see.  This will be my sixth new landlord/lady in my time as a regular there.  My mates have seen even more.

Here's hoping our new man likes it and gives us some stability.

Bumpy Lane - dry hopped Lees Bitter was in splendid form yesterday.

Saturday 17 November 2012

Arran Ape BrewDog

Some time ago, I remember reading about Isle of Arran Brewery planning to raise expansion funds by issuing equity a la BrewDog. It was in the (Glasgow) Herald newspaper here, but frankly, I forgot all about it. Seems the plan was to issue shares to build a new brewery on the island and increase capacity. Sounds familiar.

Today I read in the ever useful Morning Advertiser that two things have happened. One is that last week Isle of Arran and Isle of Skye Breweries (one of the oldest in Scotland), are to merge and that the new company, Arran Brewery will raise £4 million and will be opening a number of "craft beer bars", starting with one in Hope St/ Regent St in the City Centre of Glasgow.

Now the original Herald article mentioned that the aim was to raise £10 million, so I am not sure what has happened to the figures, or whether the proposed upgraded brewery was ever built, but it is interesting nonetheless and a development that will be worth keeping an eye on.  Nor is it clear whether the brewery on Skye will close.

The new craft bar (define that - no don't) will seemingly have 25 different beers. As both Skye and Arran major on cask beers, lets hope that there is one aspect of "You know who" that isn't aped in rushing to exploit the craft scene.

 Make that two. Less hype.

 The BeerCast also covers this here.  There is also an informative piece on Business7 here

Friday 16 November 2012

Profitable Pubs and Social Media

From Hydes Brewery in Manchester comes an interesting couple of assessments of the pub game. Managing director Chris Hopkins said the use of Twitter and Facebook to publicise special events and promotional offers had helped increase footfall, along with more emphasis on guest beers, live entertainment and soccer match screenings.

 Like me you may think this a "no brainer" in the digital age, but it is truly amazing that many pubs have no website, no twitter account and probably no Facebook either. Even I, as an old codger, look for such things to know what is going on, what is on sale, or simply what the opening times are. Clearly if you have special events as suggested by Mr Hopkins, you are going to do better to let the world know about it, than rely on a dodgy hand written piece of A4 stuck in a window of the pub, or tucked where no-one can read it in a corner.  For the younger generations of potential pub goers, I can imagine that this kind of social media update isn't just handy, but essential. A destination changer even.

 Mind you, you do have to actually use it. I remember with a red mist still hovering over me, traipsing across London to a pub I'd wanted to visit, only to find it was to be closed for renovation the next day. They had a website, but gallingly, there was no mention of the rather salient fact that it was going to be closed for a couple of weeks and therefore there was no beer to speak of, as stocks were being run down. Stupid, or maybe thoughtless.

Another interesting point made by Mr Hopkins was that Hydes pubs are the most profitable area of the business and have been for "many years". That may explain a little why they are currently downsizing their brewing business, by moving to a much smaller, more flexible brewery, allowing them to concentrate more on servicing their 66 pubs, rather than aimlessly brewing the failed Boddingtons brand.

So, two points to take from this. One is that  pubs should get on the web, open these accounts and keep them up to date. Hydes tell you it makes a difference for them.  The other interesting point is that pubs can be profitable businesses, providing I assume you haven't saddled them with mountains of debt.

Unfortunately, for many, no amount of social media will remove or reduce that debt to a point of making a realistic living for owner and tenant, but either way, social media involvement is a must.

Hydes is a Family Brewer in Manchester founded in 1863.

Thursday 15 November 2012

Finally Gone

Scottish and Newcastle Breweries that is. The last vestige of that proud company which was taken over by Heineken (well the British bit was) is no more. Scottish and Newcastle Pub Company has been "rebranded" as Star Pubs and Bars. One interesting point is that they intend to be the "nice" PubCo and propose a low cost entry to the trade and an easy get out clause and want to be "good business partners". Probably they'll install some fairies at the bottom of your garden too.  

 That would be a change from those PubCos that see their tenants and lessees as cash cows to be milked, but lets be fair and just wait and see how it actually turns out. Records aren't good on this one I'm sorry to say. Not even theirs!

Needless to say they don't mention beer in any of this or on their main site.  There's a lovely cynical comment here by J Mark Dodds, the founder of the Fair Pint Campaign.  He doesn't seem to be a fan.  In fact he has a go at a lot of folks. Worth a read.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Black Hole

The aftermath of a company going bust is never pleasant.  Orders unfulfilled, clients disappointed, people laid off and of course, creditors unpaid.

Waverley TBS supplied the licensed trade with drinks and has recently gone bust. For years it was simply The Beer Seller, until sold to Scottish and Newcastle where it merged with their beer wholesale operation, Waverley, and became Waverley TBS. Later, in 2010, under Heineken UK, who took over S&N, it was sold off to a mixture of venture capitalists and its management team.  That is now all over and the business is in the hands of the administrators and 580 jobs have gone.

The list of creditors is considerable and debts are reckoned to be over £40 million with some well known names left in the lurch.  Unsurprisingly one of the biggest creditors is Heineken itself. I say unsurprisingly as they had a supply agreement with Waverley TBS.  This £4 million plus hit is exceeded by Diageo at over £6 million and other million plus creditors include Molson Coors, AB InBev and Miller.  Smaller amounts owed include a who's who of British brewing and some are considerable.  There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth in quite a few Finance Departments and believe me, even at the small end, the two and a half grand owed to Joseph Holt will be like a dagger in their heart. They run a tight ship there.  Others may well be pushed to the brink by this failure.

So all bad news then?  Well more or less, but not entirely.  Looking on the bright side this gap in the market should give SIBA DDS a boost as they rush to fill the gap, but as always when this kind of thing happens, there are more losers than winners and in the short term, less competition and that's always bad.

The Morning Advertiser has the full list of creditors here should you be interested.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Happy Days

I note that on this day four years ago, I was singing the praises of cask conditioned BrewDog Coffee Porter, a nice little nine percenter. Won't be able to do that again will I?. Going even further back in November 1996 on the good old Usenet we were discussing Blue Moon by Coors. Did you know it had been around at least that long? Well I say "it". Apparently there was a family of these beers at one time including Blue Moon Nut Brown, American Wheat, Blonde and Blue Moon Pumpkin.  The Belgian style was being compared unfavourably to Pierre Celis's stuff.  Unsurprising really, but it was mostly thought "not bad."

It was still dividing opinions then over whether it was craft beer or not.

 I posted 71 times that November. Another poster at that time was my mate Erlangernick. We go back a bit.

I Fancy a Mild

Our CAMRA Branch has an unusual meeting tonight. We have been invited by our biggest local brewer, JW Lees to hold a Special Branch Meeting at the brewery. We haven't been there en masse for quite a while,  so it is pleasing to be invited.  We have pretty good relations with Lees, though we don't always see eye to eye. This is as it it should be, as the tension between production of beer and a consumer and campaigning organisation about beer, is a real one. We are on the same side and while we generally agree on ends, we don't always agree on means.

As well as setting our Branch's campaigning priorities, we are looking forward to a talk by the MD, William Lees-Jones and the subsequent question and answer session. That should be lively and I am sure there will be searching questions and robust answers. Family Brewers are a very important part of our brewing heritage. To a large extent they are living history, as they are survivors with a wealth of experience, that still compete on a day to day basis for business. Some accuse them of being staid and boring and no doubt that will come up tonight too. I expect it to be a lively night.

Hopefully there will be beer. I expect that among the beers on the bar will be Brewer's Dark, formerly GB Mild, which is a former Champion Mild of Britain. It is, like most milds, becoming a rare beast in the pubs, so it will be nice to have a sensible few pints of it.

 I'll let you know how we get on.

There is a small possibility of Plum Pudding, Lees' revered Christmas special being on - if it is ready. Fingers crossed.

Thursday 8 November 2012

A Good USP

I read in the Morning Advertiser that Moorhouses of Burnley have sold 500,000 more pints of their beer this October than last.  A whopping 36% increase year on year, that's a lot of beer.  Last year Moorhouses opened a new brewery costing 4.2 million pounds with the capacity to produce a very respectable 50,000 barrels a year.

Yet I am sure many of my readers aren't that familiar with their beer.  I don't recall seeing it that often in my Southern travels, though of course, here in the North, it is relatively easy to come by. Their Unique Selling Point is their connection with nearby Pendle Hill and its witch trials in the 1600s, with their most famous brew being Pendle Witches Brew and another, a former Champion Beer of Britain, being Black Cat, a luscious mild. The brewery has grown from 10 barrels a week in the mid 80's, a time when I used to nip up there to buy a nine for parties, complete with a free handpump hire.  I remember the small cramped brewery well and have toured it a couple of other times, long ago, though I have yet to visit the new one.

Now of course you will have spotted that around Halloween interest in things ghoulish increases, but it isn't at all a bad USP that will bring you extra sales of  five and half thousand nines in a single month.  Moorhouses are an understated success story in British Brewing

Now I have to confess that Pendle Witch is a tad too sweet for my taste, but mmm,  Black Cat pulled through a tight sparkler. Now there's a breakfast beer.

Just thought I'd stick a good news story in after reading another depressor from Mudgie

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Approaching 1000

Just doing some totting up. I have 16 more posts to go to reach my 1000th post in five years of beer blogging. Must have a think about what it will be about.  My first post on 26th November 2007 was about the sparkler, that most divine of devices.  Should I re-visit that?  Have a read and see what you think.

Maybe I'll take requests?

Or maybe I won't.

Snacks in Pubs

As someone who likes pubs, I'm always interested in the dynamics of the business that lies behind the public face. The back end if you like and particularly the thought processes of the "offer" - what you do to attract customers.  Pubs have changed a lot since I started drinking in them. Then a pub, put simply, was in the main for drinking in, with the added welcome extra of a degree of social interaction and perhaps some entertainment in the form of darts or some board games. It was a simple place, with those with televisions being regarded as rather sophisticated - but then again I lived in the West of Scotland.  Food when offered, was basic stuff - pies, sandwiches and the like and was seen as an inducement to make you stay, or to attract you at lunchtime, back in the days when lunchtimes at the office were more often than not spent having a quick couple of pints and a sandwich or filled roll. What they were not, for better or worse, was the pseudo restaurants which many pubs today have become.

I've mentioned this before here a few times and was reminded of it again, as I am sometimes, on my recent trip to the area around Ironbridge and Shrewsbury.  Pubs still seem like pubs used to be in this neck of the wood and in the adjoining areas of the West Midlands and the Black Country.  By that I mean that more of the old fashioned type have survived and seem to thrive, though of course the pub/restaurant is very evident too.  What's the point of all this?  Well it is of course the pub snack.  Filled rolled rolls, pork pies, scotch eggs the size of a baby's head abounded.  Us veteran topers could munch on a well made cheese and onion cob while getting on with the serious business of boozing.  We even saw the good old "pie warmer" a few times.

Now I'm not saying that we should flip back to the era of Life on Mars, but this mixed economy seems to work.  It was good to be able to get a simple but filling sandwich that didn't cost £5.95, come with chunky chips and was so big that it put you off your beer.  It was good to graze in one pub with a scotch egg then have something else later on in another.  It may not suit everyone, but surely simple cheap snacks for those pubs that concenrate as much on beer as food would be a good thing to offer customers?

Times is hard, but wouldn't having a look at snack menus as a low cost way of trying to attract a few more customers and keep them once you've got them, be a worthwhile exercise for many pubs?

I very much welcome the return of the scotch egg in some pubs. London leads in this. Well done. It is the perfect pub snack.  This fine example, with black pudding came from the Golden Ball in Ironbridge and cost £1.50

Thursday 1 November 2012

The Great Northern Beer Festival

Last week I spent three days at the SIBA organised, but CAMRA run, Great Northern Beer Festival here in Manchester.  It was a good do.

On Wednesday, I judged beers, first of all in the first round of ordinary bitter category and then in the finals of specialist bottled beers and more bottles, this time in stouts/porters old ales categories.  I had not of course asked to judge bottled beers, but that's the way the cookie crumbles in judging sometimes.  Now I have to say a lot of the ordinary bitters were very ordinary indeed. In fact some struggled to reach ordinary, but as always, there were some that shone and while I don't know whether any I judged in the first round were winners, those in the bottled category certainly were.  I would say that I was surprised by the very high standard of most of the bottles, but of course, those that bombed had been weeded out by my fellow judges in the first round, as that's the point of doing it.  The judging process is interesting, but fortunately individual, as one or two judges based their scores, not on whether it did what it said on the tin, but whether they actually liked it.  One interesting aside is that in the words of wisdom to judges by the SIBA Chief Executive, Julian Grocock, we were advised that clarity was no longer an decisive point, but that SIBA hadn't worked out what to do about beers that were deliberately not clear.  The advice was basically "Make your own mind up." I didn't get the impression of enthusiasm for this change.

 My main job once the bars were open, was to manage the large bar of 64 handpumps.  The quality from our overhead cellar was excellent, temperature spot on and each beer was served into a fresh glass, through a sparkler, as God intended.  I tried many of the beers and can pick out a few breweries that impressed. These, in no particular order were, Stringers, Hawkshead, Kirkstall, Peerless, Bollington, Allgates, Abbeydale, Acorn and Roosters.  No real surprises there you'll be thinking, but quality will out, though there were plenty examples of well made beers from other breweries too.  I think SIBA North probably has the best set of breweries in the organisation, but I would say that wouldn't I?  I was also hugely pleased to see so many stouts and bloody good most of them were too, with Stringers and Roosters -OK a porter - standing out.  We don't see enough stouts on sale in pubs and in winter rather than dark, malty beers, give me a roasty and (if possible) hoppy stout any time.

It was also good to meet so many old friends, both as judges and when the trade session opened, brewers. 

Beer.  It's a people thing.

The gold winner in speciality beers was Hawkshead Whisky Cask Aged Damson and Vanilla Imperial Stout and in the Porter/Stout etc category, it was Croglin Vampire from Cumbrian Legendary Ales.  The overall SIBA Champion Beer was Watermill Inn and Brewery Isle of Dogs.