Monday 10 December 2018

The Blog. And BrewDog Cask

I 've been neglecting this for a bit now, largely because I'm to to my eyes in the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival for which I'm Deputy Organiser, but hopefully when all that is out of the way, I'll buck my ideas up a bit.

In the meantime, I forgot to give my views on the return of Brewdog to cask beer via a cask version of Dead Pony Club (3.8%) which I tried at the Draft House in Seething Lane a few weeks ago. Well I say a few weeks, but actually it was 21st November when I was last in London, so not so long ago really.

A couple of things. I wondered if there would be much change in the Draft House offering since Brewdog took them over and first impressions are that nothing much has changed. Maybe a bit more BrewDog on the bar - well definitely that - and possibly a decrease in choice in other areas - but still plenty to go at and all much as before.

I'd previously given up on the rancid cask offering here, preferring by far to drink Tankovna Pilsner Urquell. Many visits and really poor cask had put me off trying, so given that it was a quiet Wednesday afternoon, I wasn't optimistic.  Nonetheless a pint was obtained and duly supped. It was fresh, well conditioned and actually pretty good. With its malty base and hoppy finish, it was a very decent pale ale (or standard bitter since it was in cask form) which I would happily drink again. OK, it didn't set the heather on fire, but I can well understand why BD chose this and I look forward to seeing more (and more adventurous) stuff on cask from them soon, remembering as I do some of the fantastic beers they used to produce. Trashy Blonde (not an acceptable name now I guess) and Alice Porter being two I remember very fondly.

So from me, a qualified "Welcome back" and well done on sorting out the cask quality at the Draft House, though I'll be back later this week to confirm improvement has been maintained.

Don't forget to come along to Manchester Central for the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival. It will be fab and is of course very reasonably priced.

We are having a day out in Winchester on Saturday - so tips for musn't miss pubs welcome.

Friday 30 November 2018

Cloudwater in Bermondsey

It was the coldest night of the winter so far when E and I made the half hour walk from our flat in E1, across Tower Bridge, at this time of the year mercifully, virtually tourist free, heading to Enid St in SE1 to give the newest Cloudwater Taproom the once over.  We bickered our way merrily along through dodgy looking streets, though having been that way before, it is less dodgy than it appears. As often is the case of our minor disagreements, we were violently agreeing with each other; the difference in our preferred navigation being about "along one then over a bit", or "straight along and over a bit less". Such are the vagaries of thirty odd years together.

The  Taproom is in a railway arch, brightly lit and narrow, with a cold store at the rear to keep the beers cool (certainly not needed that night) and for off sales. There is a bar, bottom right with taps at the rear in the usual craft style. A number of beers - ten or so -  were offered in various sizes, all at £4 a pop.  Waiting for our companion for the evening, beer writer, Matt Curtis, we started with a very decent Helles Tettnanger which was bang in the middle of the helles style and on a warm day would have been even more pleasurable.  On Matt's arrival, we tried a few of the others with varying degrees of success. I liked the lightly smoked IPA - or maybe it was just pale ale, quite a lot, thought the Cranberry and  Papaya Sour both smelled and tasted likely mildy gone off Vimto. Okay if you like that sort of thing, but worth £8 a pint? You tell me.  Nothing really grabbed me, well, not quite true. The cold did.  Like a vice. My hands were freezing as some acquaintances from The British Guild of Beer Writers remarked as they shook hands. It was bitterly cold and I worried for the barstaff. How cold? Well, frankly it would have caused Ranulph Fiennes to check his fingertips and cuddle his husky a bit more tightly. Maybe I'm just a bit nesh though.

Which brings me on to another point. What's the attraction of a bitterly cold railway arch with the sort of beers on sale that you can get elsewhere for around the same price, but in relative comfort? Beats me really, but there were quite a few people there on that cold Wednesday night.  I have been in this neck of the woods in summer and sitting outside people watching - if you can get a bench or whatever - is pleasant enough, but so is sitting outside a proper pub.  For me these kind of visits are an occasional "something different" thing, but I know for others it's a way of life and how they like to drink. Sure beats me, but as I say so often, in craft related stuff, I'm not the target audience. But in this visit at least, the company was good and of course beer - as it usually does - and this is what really it is all about - engendered the social lubrication that enhances and tranforms an evening out and makes your surroundings much less important than the people you are with.

We left eventually and having spotted a pub, new to us, along with Matt, we popped into the Marquis of Wellington to be immediately enveloped in warmth in a virtually empty, but very pleasant pub. The beer was pretty good too, so we'll be back.

This isn't a pop at Cloudwater. As railways arches go, this was a very nicely appointed one, with attentive and helpful barstaff. I'm sure we'll visit now and then when a trip over the river to Bermondsey beckons. (Or Bermo as nobody but Cloudwater calls it.)

Thanks too to the lovely folks from Duvel-Mortgaat for their surprise company, the excellent chat and the beers.

Friday 16 November 2018

Cloudwater - The Return of Cask

Readers will be aware that like a sinner repented, Cloudwater Brewery has returned to the cask fold after a period in the keg wilderness. It is good to see them back and to note they will shortly be joined by that other recidivist - sorry - returner to the shining path - BrewDog. Is this the shot in the arm that the ailing cask cause needs?  I'm not sure, but it can't do any harm can it? Actually in the case of Cloudwater whose decent intentions are rarely called into question - certainly not by this writer - no it can't. In the case of BrewDog, let's wait and see.

Cloudwater has been seeking out pubs where their cask credentials are such that they will look after the beer properly, going as far as having a little interactive online map where you can seek out those who know how to coax the best out of beer from the wickets. Additionally, a vetting process, which while hardly the Spanish Inquisition, at least gets enough information about prospective sellers of the amber nectar to judge whether they'll turn it into flat vinegar or not. Good idea. Quality at point of sale is paramount and Cloudwater are to be praised for making such efforts as they have in the name of a quality pint.

One such pub whose cask credentials are proven beyond doubt is the Flying Horse in Rochdale, CAMRA's Greater Manchester's Pub of the Year.  On Wednesday night they had all four of the new beers on so as it is one of my usual Wednesday haunts, I nipped in to see what was what.  This was rather a low key affair, with the pub being little busier than it normally is, though I noticed one or two local members of CAMRA throwing their heads round the door, specifically to try the beers.

On offer were Pale, DDH Pale, Brown Ale and India Porter. I started with a pint of Pale, a 3.8% golden brew which was decidedly murky. My companion had the same and we sipped cautiously. First impressions were good with a burst of fruit and hops, but as the head subsided, the beer was a tad grainy and watery and sadly became less enjoyable.  It lacked the cleanliness and distinct flavours that I'd hoped for. Frankly I blame the needless opacity of the beer - but see below. This beer cried out to be cleaned up.  Cautious by now, my next beer, DDH was ordered in a half portion. This looked and smelt similar to the Pale, but with a slightly soapier nose. The taste was more of the same with the hops not seeming to get along with the malt. The increase in alcohol to 5.5%  was evident, but didn't help the cause that much. Again the beer seemed muddy, a little thin and imprecise. I didn't care for that one much at all.

I was getting worried by now. Brown Ale (4.6%), hardly my favourite style was next. Having had a taster and observing its pin bright clarity though, a pint was duly ordered.  Now this was more like it. Full bodied, resinously hoppy throughout and with clean and distinct flavours, this was a beer of tremendous complexity and vibrancy. It was multi layered and classy and quite possibly the best example of a brown ale I've had in years. A lovely beer.

Buoyed up by the Brown Ale experience, India Porter was next. Would it reach the heights of my previous one?  It did and in fact soared above it. No mean feat. Again clear, very dark, full of condition and a head a dormouse could have walked over without sinking in, it looked a treat.  Frankly this is a stunningly good beer. A booming joy from start to finish. Resinous hops throughout, delicious dark malts and such a clean tasting beer. A modern take on porter which knocks all the sweet, dull efforts you normally see into a cocked hat. It had great drinkability too and at 5.3% I felt its strength was pitched just right. I loved it.

So what does this tell us? A few things. Cloudwater can brew bloody good beer and haven't forgotten how to do cask.  The two beers I didn't like prove little. I and my ilk aren't the target audience for them. They are to keep their core audience onside while introducing them back to cask with something familiar.  While I didn't like them, plenty will and I have little doubt they turned out as intended. Cloudwater are too good for that not to be the case. Getting not one, but (if you include BrewDog) two two high profile breweries back in cask production with an enhanced committment to quality at the point of dispense can only be good.  I look forward to more; just tone down the cloudiness guys. To me it makes the beer taste cleaner and that is a good thing, though I reluctantly accept its all pervasive influence these days.

Conclusion? Mine's a pint of India Porter if you are buying. Even if you aren't, it still is.

So we have Cloudwater back on board cask wise and BrewDog too. I'll try that next week in London and hope for the best.

 I'm glad I tried these beers at the Flyer. Tremendous condition is assured there.  All beers were a very reasonable £3.50 a pint. In fact for the quality of the Brown Ale and the Porter, worth a fair bit more. Apparently they had sold very well during the day, which is good news.  

Friday 9 November 2018

Slightly Grudging Praise of Tennents Lager

I was in Scotland last week to see off my late mother's flat - you know - help my sister with all the  remaining bits and pieces  and discuss old photos of goodness knows who, as not only are the subjects of the photos all deceased, everyone who knows who they were are too. Very sobering and a reminder - hardly needed - that all paths lead ultimately in one inexorable direction.

Sounds like an excuse for a drink eh? Well I certainly thought so. I started off on the first night with a visit to the Captain James Lang, our local Dumbarton JDW.  Cask to me has been hit and miss in there, despite its Good Beer Guide status, but they had Adnams beer on. I like Adnams. Proper beer it is.  Adnams Nut Brown Ale and rather good it was too.  Typical Adnams taste and more complex than I'd reckoned on it being. A beer that made you think. Chatting with my non drinking sister, I found three pints weren't a hardship. For a proper description of the beer, see the Beer Nut here. I concur with his findings, even though these days, I'm more of a "good or shite" beer describer and as a rubbish blogger, I rarely take notes; rather I rely on my phone for photos of what I drank and my memory for how much I liked them. Not an entirely reliable modus operandi. Trust me on that one. 

Due to an unexpected funeral which I wasn't involved in, family plans were put aside the next day. I decided a little trip to Glasgow would fill the hiatus.  Charing Cross area was just a hop away on the train, chosen mainly for the State Bar and the Bon Accord - where - and I have mentioned this before - I had my first ever cask beer in 1974. But firstly the Griffin opposite the Kings Theatre. Years since I've been in there - all wood and glass with an old and comfy interior and a horseshoe bar.  One other customer in only, reading the paper and drinking a pint of Tennents, so at least I knew it had been recently poured.  Duly ordered from a silent barmaid - no warm welcome there - it was cold and gassy, so I swirled to release some carbon dioxide, knowing that if the pipes are clean, there was a chance to get something good from this Scottish standard. It wasn't bad after an atmosphere of CO2 was dismissed, but not hitting the mark. My solitary drinking companion left with no goodbyes exchanged. I entertained myself by watching a glum faced stocktaker, take all bottles down from the gantry and solemnly inspect by eye before noting the contents on a sheet. It was soothing stuff as he tutted his way around the bar.  Finally, my pint finished, I slunk out casting my eye without success for the now disappeared barmaid.  Like my erstwhile fellow imbiber, I too, left unnoticed for pastures new.

Just up the road is Henglers Circus, a large, bright L shaped Wetherpoon bar, which although it has a fair bit of low level chairs and tables, would be much improved by some bench seating. It was quite pubby with plenty of folks of varying ages dotted around, chatting, eating, reading the paper or just watching passers by through the large windows looking out to Sauchiehall St, where, and this happens a lot, they were digging up the street in my honour.  The greeting was very warm and friendly and unbidden the barman after ascertaining I wanted beer, rattled through the offerings.  By way of compare and contrast, I had a very decent pint of St Mungo from West Brewing in Glasgow.  I took in the pleasant atmosphere and enjoyed a leisurely people watching. I didn't have the cask, but some did and I know from past visits it is reliable enough to deserve its GBG entry.

A mere hop and a skip away is the State Bar, renowned in real ale circles. Well Glasgow ones anyway. I used to regularly sup there in 1976 when I did my Supplementary Benefit training in nearby Pitt St.  Then it was an all chrome and black keg bar and looked nothing like the traditional pub it is now. Odd if you think about it.  Only half a dozen in and again not much of a greeting, but GBG form Fyne Ales Everyone Loves Simcoe made up for that as did bumping into an acquaintance of mine. The beer world is small really.

My intended final stop was the Bon Accord just over the M8.  Busy and welcoming - big smiles and hellos - and beer from one of my favourite breweries, Stringers. Yellow Lorry was in Good Beer Guide form as I was drawn into a discussion on an inadvertently locked down laptop.  This widened with plenty of people offering solutions, but it still wasn't working when I left 45 minutes later. This pub never disappoints even if Hewlett Packard laptops do.

Now I know you are asking yourself. "What about the Tennents?"  I had intended to go back to Dumbarton at that point, but seeing a pub sign down a side street by the Mitchell library,I couldn't resist. The Avalon is odd. Just check out the reviews. Inside, like a souped up scene from Still Game, a few denizens chatted to each other by the simple process of bawling  in jokes and asides at a volume wholly incommensurate with the size of the pub. The barmaid was friendly enough and as the range of beers on offer was more than limited, I opted for Tennents Lager.  It was a cracking pint. Clean, fresh and very enjoyable. CO2 levels were good and as I surveyed the slightly down at heel boozer, I felt content, swigging mouthfuls of TL and listening to the patter.

Resisting the temptation for more I headed for home. Back in Dumbarton as I left the station I entered what used to be McCafferty's Railway Tavern.  I was a regular there many moons ago when it was actually run by Hugh McCafferty. Many a pint of McEwan's Export was consumed in there back in the day. Now it is a recently opened Indian Buffet Restaurant called Haveli having been closed for a number of years.  Now I'm not the biggest fan of this kind of eating, but it was handy and five minutes walk from home.  Apart from four women it was just me, but I had one of the best lamb bhunas I have ever had and one of the best pints of, you've guessed it, Tennents Lager.  The welcome was great too from the waiter and his dad who had cooked the bhuna.

Tennents Lager is no Augustiner Helles, but when not over gassed it is a full bodied, clean beer with a slight ting of hops.  Sadly too often it is not sold at its best.

 I met with a pal the next night in the Henry Bell in Helensburgh. This normally reliable GBG entry offered me two pretty undrinkable pints, though both charmingly exchanged. I reverted to gin and when the crew from RFA Fort Victoria arrived mob handed from HM naval base at Faslane, we avoided the hordes at the bar by using the  JDW app. Brilliant.

My last disappointment was on the way home when the Smoking Fox just outside Central Station had swapped the delicious Heidi-Weisse from West for Blue Moon. WTF?

Wednesday 7 November 2018

No Craft Cheer in Malaga

It is an opinion that some won't agree with - controversial maybe - but I've usually found craft beer bars a bit samey.  All shiny and sharp surfaces like Gordon Ramsey's kitchen; industrial chique instead of comfy decor; a stainless steel wall of taps and the barstaff's backs for a view. The Americans, as always, have a lot to answer for, as have their unimaginative worldwide copycats. Why can't we have some more craft bars with individual character?  Nonetheless being a reluctant democrat in such things, I sometimes find myself in them, usually with gritted teeth and quite often wearing, if not a sulky expression, a boat that shows faintly concealed resentment.

Thus it was in Malaga a few short weeks ago. I and my companions, (E excluded), had dutifully jotted down the must visit places of the crafterati and round them we traipsed.  I think we went to around five. Six if you count the visually appealing Cruzcampo Brewpub,  La Fábrica - a magnificent and brilliantly designed space with decent snacky food and a very shiny brewery producing slightly boring but incredibly competent and faultless beers.  In each bar, the same odd tasting take offs of beer styles from abroad. A muddy pale ale, a wheat beer, an overhopped, unbalanced IPA, a badly made porter and some murky one off, masquerading as a saison or a NEIPA (interchangeable in their awfulness and who knows how they should taste anyway - the brewers clearly don't? It made you shake your head with wonder that any brewer worthy of the name would let the bloody stuff out to trade. And always, well very nearly, an amber beer that everyone tries and then pulls a face at, before wondering why brew this insipid style at all?  The only saving grace really was, here and there, an Imperial Stout, so alcoholic, dark and dense that brewing faults were disguised to the point of non detectability.

Was I just unlucky? Is it just Malaga? I don't think so. While undoubtedly more competently made beers were to be found in Barcelona with the same friends last year and without them in Berlin, earlier this one, the general samey picture didn't change.  And why anyway for goodness sake, would you want to replicate abroad the experience you can find in any craft beer pub in Manchester, Liverpool, London, New York and everywhere else? It's the modern equivalent of demanding sausage egg and chips or pie and beans, no matter where you are in the world.  You pay top dollar for the experience too. That at least is consistent the world over and is the one thing that can be relied on.

Having said all that, Malaga is a great city to go to. Just get to the real Spanish bars around the giant market or anywhere away from the very touristy centre and you can have a great time in traditional surroundings. El Cid by the market was small and not at all self concious. Our entry caused no wonder or resentment at all and as we perched in a corner, four little tapas were presented with a smile. Victoria beer and the house wines were damn good too.  In fact cheery little bars on every corner, even on main roads in the city centre, were a feature of the town and away from other visitors you certainly got a feel for the vibrancy of them and the way they are used by locals. Welcomes were always warm too, unlike the general indifference of the craft bars.

So what's the lesson? If you are a fussy old duffer like me, when abroad just visit local pubs, drink local beer and wine and mix with local people.  If you want to drink craft - carry on, but don't expect it to be much different from home as an experience.  

Interesting too to compare basic Spanish beers. Least liked were San Miguel, Mahou and Cruzcampo, though none were bad. Very much liked were Victoria and the lovely and gluten free Estrella Galicia. 

Funnily enough in the tourist centre some excellent house wines and great grub can be found at very reasonable prices. Gambas al pil pil? Yum yum.

Tuesday 9 October 2018

Is Something Going On Here?

Three things struck me last week, two of which were writings about beer and the other, more superficially, but much more satisfying - well part of it anyway - was an evening supping the stuff in two contrasting locations.

First of all was Paul Jones of Cloudwater revealing what the brewery will be doing in Autumn and Winter this year.  All very insightful stuff where Paul, in his usual way of seeking to explain (and maybe justify) why his brewery does what it does, tells us a few very notable things he has observed about the craft scene he is undoubtedly immersed in. His are deep observations, which have attracted as far as I know, little real attention or comment, but which made me think a bit more about them.  First of all and I remember this, was that Cloudwater when it was founded, set out deliberately not to have a core beer range. The reasoning if I recall was that would enable them to follow the seasons and produce what seemed suitable at the time.  Seems reading what Paul says, is that while it may have happened at first, it "morphed" to quote the man himself, into a succession of beer styles, the most notable of which was a DIPA series.

The drawback Paul has realised and I paraphrase now, is that every other bugger and his dog have jumped on this bandwagon and crowded the market.  To add to this problem, innovative replacements have limited appeal too as the market follows along. To quote Paul, first of all speaking about DIPA, the about the sheer numbers of breweries and products seeking shelf space "Not every cover song hits the high notes of the originals. The same sense of saturation can be felt in the vast number of one-off beers, whether imported for a ‘one time only’ event, or brewed to appeal to the UK’s most fervent and exploratory beer geeks. This is actually quite damning stuff.  Paul then goes on to postulate " I fear the UK brewing industry may be on course to burn out and fatigue drinkers." warning that "For every beer geek there are 10-15 non-modern beer drinkers". Building up to the reveal, Paul affirms on a wider observation that - and I assume he means beer in its widest British sense - that "Our tradition, and its longevity thus far, is built on supremely drinkable everyday beers, and each brewery setting out its own stall."

These are interesting and profound thoughts as far as they go and they actually go quite far. I think what he is saying and I'm surmising rather than quoting here, is that craft beer is getting a bit samey on one hand and a bit too desperate to produce oddities (geek forward) on the other.  So Cloudwater will actually produce what is effectively a core range of well made beers, building on successful beers of the past and will not discard the successful and well-liked, just to attract the one-off brigade.  There is a lot more explanation, so have a read of what Paul says yourself.  Now Cloudwater aren't abandoning one-offs or experimentation, or barrel ageing, or indeed anything, but are taking a somewhat wider and perhaps less geeky view of the future, given that the real enemy "big beer" is starting to breathe hotly down their neck.

Oh and the announcement that everyone jumped on, ignoring the rather deeper and more analytical stuff?  They are bringing back cask beer to selected outlets which will look after it properly.  Yes, real cask beer.  Good news, as they used to be quite good at it, but perhaps a little unexpected.

Moving on, the good old Morning Advertiser had an article which was also quite profound, related to the above topic but approaching it from a different angle.  In this case, Sophie Atherton, Freelance Journalist & Accredited Beer Sommelier - so she should know a bit about tasting beer - observes that in busy craft beer bars, nobody is really drinking the stuff. She reckons she knows why; "the beer is too awful to drink". She blames excessive hopping rates which she reckon have the taste equivalent of carpet burn in the mouth. Her description of beer looking like "beaten eggs" may well ring a bell too.Her solution is also to consider and return to more nuanced (my words) cask beer. Interesting stuff and worth a read too.

On Saturday afternoon I attended a birthday "do" in a keg only brewery tap in Manchester. Drinking pints of supping keg beer (under 5% stuff) rather than stronger sipping beer, was a tad disappointing. The beer was quite thin and the carbonation was high, not being helped at all by the polycarbonate drinking vessels.  In short, to my mind, paying around £4.50 a pint to drink keg beer in a brewery shed isn't to me that much fun, but maybe not so to others. The experience was recalled when I read Boak and Bailey's piece about the decline of bottled Guinness drinking and the rise of CAMRA. The article has this quote: "Although it became linked by CAMRA mainly with flavour and body, the main original source of displeasure (about keg beer) was probably in the level of carbonation. Bitter has traditionally been flattish, thinnish liquid which can be drunk in prodigious quantity. People simply found that drinking a lot of keg beer blew them out and gave them stomach ache." 

While I have enjoyed many small measures of strong dark keg beers, to my mind, while the quality of ingredients may well have changed, excess carbonation will usually preclude drinking keg bitters - now of course conveniently re-imagined as Session IPAs - in any great quantity. Back to Saturday night, when chucked out of the brewery, a few of us repaired to the Angel, a freehouse which seems to have lost a bit of its cachet to some minds.  Top quality cask ale, a pleasant pubby atmosphere and beer at around £3.40 a pint made me wonder why.

Seems like a few more people than the Cask Report would have you believe, are thinking the same.

It will be intertesting to see which outlets will be deemed good enough for Cloudwater cask.  I do drink a bit of supping keg. Lager. Somehow that seems fine. 

Don't you observe that in craft beer bars, once inside you could be in any place in the world given the samey beer, stainless steel beer walls and similar decor and customers? 

Tuesday 2 October 2018

A Very Mixed Bag in Todmorden

Following on from the recent cutting articles by Martyn Cornell and Pub Curmudgeon about poor quality cask, I had the opportunity to run my own test in an area I rarely drink in and that I don't really know.  Step up Todmorden, which is in Yorkshire - though not by much - and has the benefit of being served by the 590 bus from Rochdale, a First Manchester service, therefore allowing me to use my First Day ticket.  In fact it goes all the way to Hebden Bridge and indeed Halifax, both pretty good drinking towns.  Going that far does involve quite a long bus journey though and was vetoed by a dubious E, worried by either losing valuable drinking time (doubtful) or needing a pee on the way back (more likely).

Now Todmorden is somewhat of a poor man's Hebden Bridge. It is, shall we say, a bit more rough and ready and isn't really immediately that attractive, apart from the very impressive Victorian Town Hall which hints at past glories.  After a quick walk round which revealed little of interest, we skirted the Town Hall and round the back, near the rather sad market is The Pub, a neat little one roomed micropub which Retired Martin advises is in the Good Beer Guide 2019.  Inside it is bright, cheerful, spotlessly clean and shiny. Very attractive. One denizen was sitting at one window and we settled underneath the other. Another and only other drinker, lounged against the wall. Amiable greetings were exchanged and the welcome from the young woman behind the bar was equally appealing.  Six handpumps were present.  I only knew one brewery - Brewsmith - but this was 6% - a bit much for a first drink. E chose a golden coloured half, while I at the barmaid's suggestion, ordered three different thirds. The stout was sour and exchanged and the beer withdrawn from sale. The beers were cool but not exactly on top form. The banter though was great as the discussion of imperial versus metric wandered off down maze like alleys before returning inconclusively to its starting point, not helped by everyone having a different idea of what we were discussing. This and further chats as we supped kind of proved the inclusivity of the micropub genre.  All in all enjoyable, but the jury is out on the beer. I may well have had the first drinks pulled and the pumpclips on display indicated that we may just have been unlucky with the range. I'd go back.

Next up was the Golden Lion.  Black walls and a kind of grungy feel didn't warm us to the place which was almost empty at 2.30 or so in the afternoon. The welcome though was excellent with a very friendly woman serving. Both Saltaire beers (Gold and Citra) were a tad tired and flabby, as was the local Tod brewed beer, Pale Eagle from Eagle's Crag Brewery. This is clearly a night time destination though. It serves as a music forward venue and has Thai food. Quite a lot to like, but not on a quiet Saturday afternoon clearly.

Tor Beers, round the corner, is attached to the Golden Lion, but seemingly rented from it in some way.  It boasts one keg beer on tap (something from Wiper and True) which was fine and a chatty young man who runs the offy, which seems to be the main business.  A large selection of very decently priced craft in cans and bottles is available, and while nobody came in while we were there, a couple of hardy souls sat outside in the autumnal sunshine.

Wetherspoons' White Hart was next. This is quite small and rather pubby, with a relaxed feel. It was fairly busy.  Service was swift and cheerful from the female barperson, while the bearded barman, who looked as though he had tumbled unexpectedly from a much finer craft establishment in a parallel universe and somehow ended up here, didn't seem to be viewing life from the sunny side. Win some, lose some. Here the cask stout from a guest American brewer (forgotten the details) was the pint of the day. Cool, conditioned and tasty.

Last up, by the bus station was The Alehouse, another micro pub with an extensive pavement with tables in front of it and one room inside. I opted for Salopian Lemon Dream which wasn't that cool or well conditioned and had slipped over an invisible dividing line, from beer into lemon furniture polish.  (I recall Hornbeam Lemon Blossom had the same tendency). Disappointing.

So four cask pubs and only one pint I'd call very good. Not a great result, but clearly reflecting that you aren't going to get top cask beer from empty pubs.

I rather think this little unscientific venture proves a few of Mudgie's points.  There are other pubs though, but we'd had enough of the place by the time we left.

Next time pee or not we'll go to Hebden Bridge. I think we'll find better there and of course, squeeze more value out of our First Day bus ticket.

Monday 24 September 2018

Which Way for Beer, Pubs and Brewing?

Last week two things in the beery firmament really caught my attention. Firstly there was the news that Dave Bailey's Hardknott Brewery will shortly be no more. Dave is giving up the whole shooting match which is a great shame.  He has always, in my opinion, been one of the good guys. The other was an excellent post by Glynn Davis in his Beer Insider blog where he takes a close look at that currently in vogue way to raise money, Crowdfunding.

Is there some connection between the two? Perhaps, but the real thing I took from both is that under the surface, all isn't as rosy with the beer world as some would have you believe. Firstly let's have a look at what Dave Bailey says about the beer industry. (This isn't a post about why Dave is giving up, so if that's what you are after, get in touch with Dave). One point he makes forcibly on his blog though is that basically big business is determined at all costs to shove the small guy out. He cites for example, where a major supplier of mainstream lager offered one of his customers £2000 to remove Dave's sole keg font.  Not nice and potentially very harmful to his business. No doubt they weren't picking on Hardknott as such, but it is probably safe to assume this is typical behaviour.

There is also it has to be said, too many breweries. In a world where the number of pubs continues to fall, (though there is some offset where closed pubs are replaced by other outlets such as cafes, bars and other non traditional outlets) the fight for bar space continues apace. This is the world of dog eat dog, with lower prices being demanded by bar owners and an eager rush to join the race to the bottom price wise just to get a beer on the bar.  That isn't a mutually beneficial market for anyone. Prices at the bar continue to rise in a buyers market, though many would argue that far from profiteering, any money made is being gobbled up by rent, business rates and more.  All in all, a lose/lose situation. As a corollary, home drinking continues to take market share and will likely continue to do so.

Many of the 2000 or so brewers are very small. Some are what I'd call hobby brewers. These are people who brew and sell beer, but don't rely on it as their main income.  These though are the ones that compete on a daily basis with those such as Dave, who rely on their business to put food on the table. A tricky one.  At the top end, as Dave points out, quite a few of the top businesses and brands have been bought out by the big brewers. As we discover daily, most of those are increasing their capacity hugely, so the possibilities for the mid sized brewer become severely limited.  Tellingly Dave has done a bit more analysis. I quote him directly: "Below 5,000hl annual production profitability is extremely slim. It's a sliding scale and closer one gets to this important number the more likely a brewery is to make profit, but that profit is still likely to only really satisfy an owners short-term living requirements. Below 2,000hl my research strongly points towards a loss making operation. What this means from a business valuation point of view is that within the range of brewery sizes we are talking about any exit strategy for the business owner looks poor. Making return on investment is highly unlikely without some sort of growth.

What will be the effect of this? Unsaleable assets and a business worth little. I quote Dave again: "This will have repercussions. Dave puts it thus: "My prediction is that most breweries will struggle to grow and therefore leave the owners without a plausible exit strategy".  Of course this gloomy picture, which you can choose to believe or not, does not put off those who see their future in much different terms.  There is always the prospect of success, but the failures will outweigh the sucesses.

I turn now to Glynn's piece about crowdfunding.  There are two ways to look at this. On the one hand you have people believing, that while they may not make much of a return on their investment, they have a reasonable expectation of avoiding wipeout and the tantalising possibilty of maybe a bit of money coming back. On the other, you have a sort of fan based club where people buy in to be associated with the company much as a football fan might.  They get special offers from the brewery, but little else. Commentator to Glynn's piece, Martyn Cornell, has wise advice "Regard all money invested in these schemes as cash torn up and thrown in the bin. You are very unlikely to ever see it again. " The analysis here by Glynn reveals that in making the "offer" to the interested (gullible) some very optimistic and arithmetically unsound predictions of growth are being made. Here is where Hardknott Dave's analysis and Glynn cosy up to each other.  The market is in overall decline. The cake is getting smaller. There actually isn't room for all. Relying on taking someone elses's market share is at best problematic. Nor is the take home market is unlikely to prove much of a salvation for most. The big players will always dominate here.

So where does this leave us? There will be further casualties and it won't always be the bad guys who will fail. It won't neccesarily be the ones with the worst beer. It may be your favourite small to medium local brewer and it may well be that even the optimists who are using other people's money to grow won't be successful either.

The market is changing and it is highly likely that if you want to survive you must have a guaranteed route to market.  Or find a niche that you fit neatly into. Growth is uncertain. Failure looms large.  Hard times ahead for many I fear.  Too many brewers and not enough market isn't a cheery thing to contemplate.

Tap rooms and micro pubs are one way to survive.  Their increasing popularity will ensure variety will endure.

There is also a squeezed middle here. Medium sized brewers will increasingly find themselves between the hobby brewers and the large breweies and already many are vacating the free trade as margins get trimmed away.

Photo used with permission under the Creative Commons

Thursday 13 September 2018

Mercato Metropolitano

According to the blurb Mercato Metropolitano is a "Community based Food retailer with an Italian soul that promotes sustainability, craftsmanship and community." (OK there is a needless repetition of "community" there, but hey ho, I'm not that much of a pedant.) Anyway that sort of thing is right up my right on street, so I had to go.

Fortunately its location on Newington Causeway is easy to get to from my London place and even easier from where I was when I set off.  Taking a break from my endeavours at the Dispensary Pub, I nipped round the corner to Aldgate Bus Sation and hopped on the 40 bus which drops you right outside the door. Lovely.  Only it didn't. As I was early to meet E for drinks and a bite to eat, I hopped off a stop early and went for a quiet pint of Harveys Mild in the Royal Oak.  And quiet it was too. Being mid afternoon I was the sole customer for most of my visit. But that was fine. It was rather restorative sitting with a pint and just reflecting on things. However man does not live by family brewers and inner contemplation alone, so after one, I bid my farewell and left.

Confirming the bus stop was indeed opposite the entrance to the rather anonymous looking building housing Mercato Metropolitano - think cross between a market and an abandoned Scottish League 2 football ground - in I went.  It was impressive. I entered through a area which sold all sorts of excellent looking comestibles from all over - but mostly from all over Italy.  All looked fab frankly, particularly the bread. I'll certainly be back for some of that. Leaving by a side exit into the main body of the kirk, my eye was immediately caught by brewing vessels and the home of Kraft, making authentic German beers with proper German ownership, braumeister etc.  "This should be good" I thought.  I started off with the helles, Heidi Blonde,  which was unfiltered. A bit chewy and grainy this, with a somewhat muddled flavour. Not bad, but no Weltschläge.  Next up was the Edel Weiss, which was much more on the money. It ticked all the weissbier boxes, with bubble gum, and cloves evident, though it would have been better in the traditional weissbier glass, rather than a handled pint mug.  I finished off as E arrived - from a completely different direction than I expected - thus surprising me. If I'd been a sentry, my throat would have been cut. Hopfen Kiss Pale Ale was rather a decent, just hoppy enough, bottom fermented Pale Ale. Very drinkable and probably my favourite.

E didn't fancy any of the beers at Kraft - she has a deep and well founded suspicion based on bitter experience, of opaque German beers - so we set off to explore. There really is something for everyone to eat and drink here. Plenty of craft beer choice, very decent wine and food from all over the world, sensibly not overlooking that staple of the traditional hipster/craftie - burgers. But seriously, good stuff abounded.  By the time we'd wandered round it and it is a good size, the place which had been virtually empty when I arrived, was filling up with the after work crowd. We found a seat and ordered some beer. My choice, from cheery Italians (I think) was a remarkably good Das Kölsch from Howling Hops.  This was such a good (and rather authentic) brew that my tentative half was immediately followed by a pint, though the glassware, a non nucleated nonic, was not perhaps the best way to present such a delicate beer. E being E had a pils of some sort from an entirely different stall, which is the beauty of the setup. Again, getting into the spirit of the place, I had Vietnamese food while E hopped continents to South America. I think I had the better of that though, which is rarely the case.

This is a seriously good place to visit. We will certainly be back and I now know I must visit Howling Hops soon. That Kölsch was good.

Handily the 40 bus is outside on both sides of the road, though road works made our return to Aldgate less handy.

Only complaint is that your clothes are likely to smell of cooking after a couple of hours. There is a lot of it going on, but that's a small price to pay.

Friday 7 September 2018

It's Not Difficult

Readers of this blog know I have shall we say, some issues in finding top quality cask beer in London. It always puzzles me why. Apart from the obvious antipathy to keeping cellars at the appropriate temperature of course. I get that. Not why they don't, just the fact that they don't. Let's be quite clear here. Too high temperature buggers up cask beer. You start off wrong and there  is no way back. Chemistry and all that.

I've been down in London helping my friends Annie and David with their beer festival at the Dispensary in Leman St. It's my local when down here and though not far away at all from Tandleman Towers South, it isn't the nearest pub, but it is the one where the beer is kept properly.  The cellar is kept at around 10 -12C and the beer is properly conditioned. Even without a sparkler, it sparkles. Just look at the photo of London Brewed Dark Star Hophead. Perfect.

I've looked after the stillaged beers in the bar. They are cooled and could do with being a little colder - but that's just me - I'd much rather have colder. Beer warms up. Customers have been fine with them and the beers are in great nick. How? Simple. Keep the bloody condition in them. Avoid soft spiles for a start. Most modern beers don't need them and they bleed condition. Porous hard spiles are the cellarman's or indeed cellarwoman's friend.  Keeping cask beer is not, despite what some would tell you, difficult. It just needs common sense and a little know how.

As long as you follow a few basic rules that is. They all begin with C. Cleanliness, condition and cellar temperature are the basics. The other is somewhat contrived, but is chronology. Time. Rack the beer to settle. give it a day at least. Vent when the beer has rested. Know when the beer went on and when it ought to be sold by. Nobody wants knackered beer and that can happen even if otherwise the basics have been observed.There is a bit more to it of course, but follow these guidelines and experience will provide the rest - or the questions that you need to ask.

The final C is for check. Check the beer before serving and at intervals. The last person that should find out a duff pint has been served is yet another C. The customer.

Reckon you can't afford to keep your cooling on?  False economy. Put a few more pence on a pint rather than do that.

Fullers seem to have done a smashing job matching Hophead at Chiswick. Well done on that one.

Sunday 26 August 2018

Old Beers Show Up Well

I was invited to take part in an impromptu tasting of old beers behind our bar at GBBF. I use the term "old" deliberately. These weren't "aged" beers in the sense that they hadn't been kept carefully in a cellar, or some such controlled environment, with a view to tasting them at a later date. Instead, they had come from God knows where and ended up in a CAMRA stall at the beer festival.  The carefully controlled conditions they had endured are unknown, but most likely consisted of years of neglect somewhere  or other, before ending up being donated to CAMRA, where the most controlled environment waslikely to be a cardboard box on a non temperature controlled warehouse shelf.

We wondered if we were in for a gourmet vinegar session and as the first bottle, M&B Centenary Ale from 1979, was opened with not a hiss, we feared the worst. To our surprise, the beer had loads of carbonation and was as clean as a whistle on the palate. Sherry and dark sugar notes dominated in a good way. It was perfectly drinkable.  One of our company remarked that this bottle of beer was brewed long before he was even a twinkle in his dad's eye. Sadly I couldn't say the same, even if then, by way of compensation for that melancholy thought, I had a lot more twinkle then than now.

Our next bottle however wasn't quite so good.  Centenary Ale from Home Brewery of Nottingham hadn't endured the years as well. Brewed in 1978, it was still conditioned but exhibited distinct marzipan flavours, as well as considerable stale cardboard notes. You can't win 'em all.

Our next two were really rather good. Both were well carbonated and again showed rich sherry/port like notes. Both were brewed to celebrate the marriage of Prince Charles to the late Diana Spencer. Royal Wedding Ale (1981) from Bourne Valley Brewery was first of the final pair. This was rather a nice bottle with a fired on label. Plenty carbonation again in this one, from a brewery which was then only three years old. (Brewing started in 1978. but, sadly, brewing ceased in October 1985 following a split in the partnership behind the brewery.)  We finished off with Celebration Royale from King and Barnes. King and Barnes were taken over by Hall and Woodhouse in 2001 and the Horsham Brewery closed.  They must have known what they were doing though, as this may well have been pick of the bunch, though it mirrored the M&B in many ways with its rich fortified wine flavour. 

This was an interesting little interlude and  it was good that the surprises were mostly pleasant.  Why not have a root through your cupboards? You might just enjoy that old bottle that you find, but even if you don't, you are drinking liquid history. 

Our host my colleague Ian Garret sourced these beauties for around a pound a piece from the CAMRA memorabilia stall.

I have quite a few old bottles at home. One day maybe.

Saturday 18 August 2018

Not So Brown and Boring?

On Thursday night I was out with an old mate of mine from the USA.  We met in the Blackjack Brewery Tap and after a couple of very decent beers my companion fancied a change.  "What do you fancy?" I asked? Now he had spent the afternoon enjoyably drinking at Runaway and Cloudwater and wanted something a little plainer and simpler.  "Any Holts or Lees nearby?" he asked?

We adjourned to the Hare and Hounds on Shudehill for some Joey Holts.  This is a splendidly traditional little City Centre local of the type that used to abound, but is now a relative rarity. The Holts was in splendid form and slipped down easily as we sat in the front room, catching up.  Time was against us, so we nipped round the corner to the much more recently opened Abel Heywood, which although quite traditional inside is only a few years old as a pub. Hydes own this and we settled on Hydes Original which in another era would likely have been plain old Hydes Bitter. My friend declared it even better than the the Holts. He enjoyed very much the balanced malt and hops and the easy drinkability of both beers and he remarked how he really appreciated these kind of beers which are rarely if ever available in his native Pacific North West of the US.

By now it was approaching 11 o'clock and the next port of call, the Millstone, for Lees, sadly had to be abandoned. T'internet said it closed at 11 and we didn't want to miss a final pint before I got the last bus. So, more Hydes it was, this time the excellent Lowry, much more modern with Chinook and Citra hops, but unmistakeably British in its malt profile.

And that was it, excellent Manchester brewed beers from brewers who have been around from 1849 and 1863 respectively showng that to an American beer writer and beer aficionado, that they can stand proudly against the modern brewers that we are  lucky to have so many of in Manchester.

We shouldn't overlook them or take them for granted.

My companion was Don Scheidt who I have known for many years. Read some of his stuff here. He is by no means the first American beer writer who has made a similar observation about our most traditional of beers.

As we walked to the Hare and Hounds, a fellow pedestrian approached. "Hi Don" he said.  He was a brewer from Runaway, who a tad ironically knew Don, not me.  

Friday 17 August 2018

Unser Burgerbrau

Bad Reichenhall is a charming little German town in the Bavarian Chiemgau Alps, noted in the past particularly for salt production. It is the capital of Berchtesgadener Land, set in spectacular forested countryside, not a million miles from Salzburg.

I first encountered it many years ago, cycling to it from the Alpine resort of Inzell in what can best be described as pissing rain.  It was in the early days of my long-lasting, but now defunct German cycling holiday phase and one of only two times I forsook the bicycle we had paid so much for. Both were for the same reason - the aforementioned pissing rain.  Our destination was Berchtesgaden, another charming (in a kind of colder way) Bavarian town , probably best known as the home of Hitler's Alpine redoubt, the Obersalzberg and its Kehlsteinhaus - also known as Hitler's Tea House.

After a horrible slog, in a torrent of rain, up countless Eiger like hills, we arrived, knackered and soaked in Bad Reichenhall and made for the nearest pub for much need liquid refreshment. I remember the relief and I thoroughly enjoyed the cloudy hefe-weizen brewed by the pleasingly named Unser Burgerbrau.  How do I know what I drank?  Well somehow, the distinctive glass - perhaps to cock a snook at the appalling German weather - found its way home with me and it took pride of place in Tandleman Towers for quite a few years. Back in Bad Reichenhall, we looked our maps and the waterfall of rain outside. Noting that the railway station was near and that Berchtesgaden was to be reached by even more precipitous alpine ascents, we decided. "Bugger this, we are getting the train."  And we did. And I've never regretted that decision.

Is there more to this tale? Well yes. A few years after acquiring the glass, while in bed one morning before work, while E made tea (my job these days and ever since), I heard a horrendous crash of broken glass. I immediately knew what had occurred having drank a hefe-weizen the night before. My treasured glass, on end to drain, had taken the knock by a sightless E, who had neither glasses nor contact lenses aboard at the time.

I was reminded of this a few days ago in Berlin at the Berlin Biermeile, when among the many beer stands, we came across one from Unser Burgerbrau. I was firstly uncommonly pleased that it is still on the go and secondly, I was determined, on this sunniest of days, to reaquaint myself with the thirst slaking hefe-weizen of that rain soaked day of yore.  Alas it wasn't to be. The hefe-weizen wasn't on sale.

Nor was it possible to pay the deposit and buy and keep a replacement Unser Burgerbrau Hefe-Weizen glass. They didn't have any. Some things are just not meant to be. 

It peed down in Berchtesgaden that first night too. I remember sitting in the almost deserted hotel dining room, when at about 9 o'clock, the waiter returned to our table with his coat on and gave us the bill.  The rain bounced back to knee height. Escape was impossible. We were in bed by 9.30. On a Saturday night too.

Our trip to the Kehlsteinhaus was completed in glorious sunshine. Our luck changed. We were the last group to enjoy the panorama (2600ft) before fog swept in rendering the views invisible.  

Friday 13 July 2018

Cain's to Return to Liverpool?

Readers of this blog will recall that Robert Cain, based in the old Higson's Brewery (itself the original Cain's Brewery) in Stanhope St, Liverpool, closed under somewaht of a shitstorm in May 2013. See the Liverpool Echo here for full details.

Suffice to say that the Dusanj brothers who bought the brewery had a somewhat chequered career in brewing and pub running, but finished with an idea of turning the Stanhope St site and its historic Grade 2 listed brewery into a "Brewery Village" with a hotel, beer hall and whatnot.  This never happened, though there is some beery activity on the site on a small scale now.

Now it seems it will. Local entrepreneur - well Rainford, but that's close enough - Andrew Mikhail, has taken the plan forward and in a £7 million plan, agreed a deal with owner (I think)  Sid Dusanj to take over the Cains brand and bring forward his 15,000 sq ft scheme on three levels of the original Cains Brewery building. Plans include a craft-brewery with cask and keg beers, an Altrincham-market style venture for artisan food & drink lovers, and a state of the art sky bar.

In addition, another bar with capacity for 120, already named as The Quarter Hoop, plus a brewery hall housing 400 guests will sit alongside the existing Brewery Tap and the Punch Tarmey brand (part of Mr. Mikhail’s existing portfolio) that will operate on the other side of the brewery.

The development will take place in four phases over three years include in  phase one, Punch Tarmey, an artisan food and drink hall. The brewery will follow in phase two, the sky bar in phase three and the hotel in phase four. Mikhail said the new Cains Brewery project will create 200 jobs and will partly model itself on Guinness Brewery in Ireland. He added: “For example, we’re going to create one of the biggest Irish bars in the industry that will be sports-led, include brewery tours, lots of customer interaction with a child-friendly, family-friendly vibe.” 

The building is wonderful and I for one certainly hope this all comes to fruition. There are already many reasons for the beer lover to go to Liverpool and hopefully, fingers crossed, this will be one more.

The revival of the Cain's brand is interesting, with Higson's (without the famous bitter, already revived), history is being recreated in Scousley.

Wonder if the Dusanj brothers are getting a cut? Who will own the site? Dunno, but watch this space.

Tuesday 10 July 2018

Down Memory Lane

I read, with a great deal of interest, Mudgie's article in response to one by Boak and Bailey referred to on Twitter and linked.  The subject, paraphrased, is dodgy pubs.  Now it has to be said that Boak and Bailey aim their piece squarely at the (American) visitor as it was published in All About Beer Magazine, but there is more than a grain of truth in their observations, summed up in this paragraph, which Mudgie quotes. It is necessary for me to do the same as it provides context.

"But if you wander into side streets, the outer suburbs, or into the shade of concrete tower blocks, you might still come across the kind of pub where it is possible for an innocent abroad to get into trouble. There aren’t many exterior clues other than a general state of disrepair, although with experience you develop a kind of sixth sense based on the state of the curtains or some subtle hint implied in the signage."

Like my colleague Pub Curmudgeon, I too have been visiting pubs where I'm not known for over 40 years and like Mudgie, I have had few problems in so doing.  Of course, to some extent in terms of pubs, you do develop a sense of impending danger and are able to quietly slip away before anything difficult to deal with occurs. I agree too that as you get older, you present no real challenge to those with the potential to do you harm at worst -  or alarm - which in itself is bad enough, but likely more difficult to deal with for the foreign visitor, who is already struggling to understand both culture and nuance.

I did relate on Mudgie's blog, a little story of my time in Liverpool, when I was once physically attacked, though then as a fit football playing young man under 30, I was able to shrug off my attacker, though not the locals who grabbed me and chucked my out on my ear, but no more than that.  In recalling this incident, I looked up the name of the pub concerned (The Newstead Abbey -see photo from Google)  as memory had faded. In doing so I came across this fantastic review of what was my manor. It talks about the pubs I used to visit frequently, most of which are closed. It concentrates on Smithdown Road in Liverpool 7. I lived 100 yards from that road, though most of my local drinking was done in the parallel roads and back streets. Nonetheless, those were pubs I visited frequently and usually with great pleasure.  The bus went from Smithdown Road, so it had that handiness too for a quick pee when returning from Town, or a swifty on the way there.

Do read the linked article. It hints at a pub life that has faded away to a large extent and in its observations, suggests I think, about why the beleaguered remainder may not be as welcoming as I can assure, most once were.

I think that the Newstead Abbey has now closed. My own local, The Earl Marshall a mere 100 yards away was still open fairly recently, but who knows now. 

The writer of the other article speaks of his dislike for the New Campfield. Me too. Unlike the rest (Mulliner excepted - ) it was keg. Whitbread of course. 

The photo is of the Mulliner which was a Tetley pub which sold "Drum Bitter" or keg. It was a nice boozer inside and very welcoming, but was called something else then which I can't remember, but everyone called it the Mulliner.. 

Photo:By Rept0n1x [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday 3 July 2018

Nice Lot in the East Riding

When it comes to how you best increase the viability of pubs and to a lesser extent how you make your venue more attractive to the diminishing number of pub devotees, one aspect that is overlooked when suggesting themed evenings, upping the food offer, serving cream teas, breakfasts, or using it as a venue for the local slimming club or the like, is simply getting the staff to smile, or even, horror of horrors actually talk to customers.

I may have mentioned this before - of course I have - I'm always banging on about it - but as someone who was trained properly in how to act behind the bar it always amazes me that this simple and cheap aspect is largely overlooked.  Last week three of us were served (separately and at different times) by the same "Shift Leader" in a local JDW without the server actually looking any of us in the eye. She did though manage to conduct, simultaneously and not without a deal of dexterity, an apparently more satisfactory and enjoyable conversation with her colleagues standing at the drinking side of the bar, who had just finished their own stint on the staff side of it. So, on the bright side, she did know how to do it, just it seems, not in the context of her job.

Simple things like "Hello" when you arrive and "Thanks" when you leave, an assuring "I'll be with you in a minute" if the bar is busy, are easy to do, but make a massive difference to how the customer perceives the place. It can literally can be money in the bank. If somehow staff can be taught to parrot annoyingly  "Is there anything else?" as if dealing with a chronic amnesiac, then surely the odd greeting and goodbye can't be beyond them?  As for the meaningless "You all right there?" well, I covered that one here years ago when it was in its infancy, but it goes on still, and still grates as much.  Try unambiguous "Can I help you?" or "What can I get you?" Trust me it will annoy the customers a lot less, especially grumpy old bastards like me, though of course like all customer facing jobs, you need to adapt your approach according to the situation.

But it wasn't last weeks JDW encounter that prompts this. On last weekend's trip to Hull and Beverley, it was noticeable how the staff in that neck of the woods, despite hoards of people - including our busload arriving more or less at once at one or two places - all seemed to be pleasant, interested and helpful - often unpromptedly suggesting pubs, or joining in conversations to give directions, or asking where we came from.  I don't recall one "You all right there?"  Well done to all.

Unless of course it was the sunshine that made them smile? Can't see it being that though surely. They were stuck inside.

Got a couple more tales to tell from that weekend of unbroken sunshine and indeed fairly unbroken boozing.

I also went to Nellies in Beverley. A Sam's gem. You'll all know it of course?


Wednesday 27 June 2018

So. What's Been Happening?

I've been away and busy with some personal matters, so while the odd Twitter comment kept me in touch while dodging rain in Dumbarton and Albania, I have spent a little time since returning, catching up with what's been going on.  The main chatter is about brewery takeovers - well nearly takeovers in this case. The airwaves are being choked by the dreadful news that one (more) of the darlings of the crafterati has fallen off the shining path and found itself in the arms of, in the eyes of some at least, an unsuitable suitor.  Yes folks, it's the Beavertown Show.  Now reading blogs and other social media, there is lots of righteous indignation as well as a smattering of insight and pragmatism.  You'll have, like as not, read most of it already.  Frankly I can't get too excited about it. I've only ever had the odd Beavertown beer and now, if predictions are to be believed, I'm likely to have much more of it available soon as the unsuitable suitor (Heineken) makes it widely available, but at a much smaller price.  Not exactly a losing position for most. Unless the recipe changes, but that won't happen, will it?

Of course takeovers are nothing new. In my time as a beer drinker I've seen many of them. The usual thing is that it will be good for consumers. Economies of scale, a bigger organisation helping out where needed and of course, the beer will be matched. It won't change. No Siree. But of course, change it did. Or it disappeared altogether.  So there is precedent, though then it was outlets (pubs) the predator was after, but now it is brand and volumes.  The fundamental reason remains the same - to protect and increase market share - whether by acquisition and absorption - or by owning the production one way or another. Elimination of the opposition is the name of the game I reckon. Mind you, in a lot of cases in the bad old days, it wasn't usually a marriage of convenience, but a shotgun wedding, the bride having been knocked up by the suitor by way of a hostile takeover. Nowadays, the complaint seems to be that the bride was busy behind the scenes prettying up for marriage and making herself a "catch". Same outcome, but usually given the ownership, a willing partnership.

Having read quite a few comments, I'd recommend Roger Protz's take. He's seen it all before and I reckon he has the right of it. My comment on Twitter and Roger's response is reproduced below.

A final thought from me. Business is business, though the ambition to build something called (slightly pornographically) Beaverworld is given as the reason for this. Oh and a shiny new 270,000 barrel brewery as a competitor might well explain the outrage by some. In the real world though there is still plenty decent beer to go at, so move along. Nothing much to see - for the time being at least.

Another thing to catch my eye is the carbon dioxide (CO2) shortage.  CO2  is needed in reasonable sized breweries for many things other than injecting it into beer, so it might affect some of us a bit. I think though this is more good headline stuff than a real worry. CO2 will be back in a gas bottle near you soon.

Right.That's under my belt. Think I'll go to the pub tonight and see if the Beavertown is on offer yet. 

Two beers that both required CO2 are shown to illustrate this article.  One is craft and was reassuringly expensive. The other was Albanian and therefore wasn't.

 I do feel the pain of some. My beloved Higsons Bitter has gone forever. It still hurts.

Thursday 7 June 2018

Old Style Drinking in Liverpool

I met one of my oldest friends for a few beers in Liverpool yesterday.  John now lives in Australia, but comes to see his elderly mother once a year or so. We always meet up and chat about what we are doing now and of course our times boozing, playing football, darts and the like in Scousley 30 odd years ago. It is a lot of fun.

Less fun was the Northern train journey to Liverpool.  Bad enough having to use that useless shower - I've already experienced their gross incompetence first hand while changing trains at Preston in my recent frequent trips to Scotland. Listening to the litany of cancelled trains as well as enduring their inherent inability to run a train on time has given me a healthy dislike of the company. And that's even before you suffer their wretched Class 142s, built over 40 years ago. Bloody boneshakers.

Yesterday's trip was by no means enhanced by the closure of Lime St station for upgrade. This meant a change at Liverpool South Parkway and a Merseyrail train to Moorfields, so we arranged to meet at an old haunt, the Lion, handy for the station and a fine traditional, corridored, multiroomed pub in which we originally drank Walkers, but now has many taps to choose from. At lunchtime, the pub being in Liverpool's business area, was actually fairly quiet, but a few diehards in suits gave it some atmosphere. Despite my two hour journey, I was early, so found a prime spot where I could watch the workers scurrying out for lunch and, with a pint of Peerless and the Times crossword, I was pretty much happy.  John, who has become an Australian Rugby League fan in his exile arrived a little late having persuaded some sports bar or other to beam in an important game live from Sydney. His team had won and after greeting him and a mate who I knew of, but hadn't met, we settled down to drink and chat.

I hadn't really liked my first beer enough to order a second, so changed to First Chop Hop. The boys ordered the same and we got on with the serious business of supping ale and chatting. Time flew and one round, melted into another. We considered moving to a different pub, but all agreed we were just fine where we were.  Pints mounted up and mostly we had the pub to ourselves, with the barman pitching in now and then to avoid boredom. Eventually around seven o'clock I decided I'd better get back to Manchester.  We'd been there, putting the world right for about five and half hours.  We stuck with the same round throughout and all left, pleasantly buzzed, but not at all drunk. Me for a further two hours on the train and the lads to get a bus home.

Later in Middleton, E met me off my bus from Manchester. "Thought you'd be pissed" she said. "Not me" I replied. And surprisingly, despite a certain nine pints, I wasn't.

4.1% beer drunk at a rate of around a pint every half hour was the kind of old fashioned steady drinking which is less frequent now. Not chopping or changing was refreshing in its own way and is to be recommended, even if the quantity isn't! 

Both Merseyrail trains were on time. I'd also forgotten how big and deep underground Moorfields is. Liverpool South Parkway was also rather impressive and larger than I'd imagined. I come from a railway family and like these sort of things.

Wednesday 9 May 2018

Muddying the Waters

I was struck recently by the tweet below from blogger @Super Crushy about that vexed old subject, beer clarity.
Never being one to pass up an opportunity to respond, I, err, responded with a tweet and then the following conversation took place:
I think people should focus their efforts on highlighting badly made beer, rather than just complaining about beer styles they don't enjoy.

No argument there but I quite like responding in kind to your proselytizing.