Wednesday, 15 December 2021

How Stouts Should Be

 Who doesn't love a good stout? Well, I certainly do, but what I'm not so keen on is those that have been extensively mucked about with. By mucked about with, I mean the addition of the likes of coffee and most of all that evil of all evils, which should only ever appear in confectionary or puddings, vanilla. To that, generally, I'd add blackcurrant - unless to disguise the cardboard taste of Guinness - and most other herbs, fruits and spices. I'll leave a slight exception for a touch of chilli, but that is a now and again thing.

It isn't that I'm against such stuff, and I agree and recognize that there are plenty out there that like these additions, but what I do dislike is that a bit too often, there isn't just a straightforward stout that tastes of, well, stout.  There are exceptions of course, and maybe too many brewers feel that a "normal" stout doesn't get them sales in a crowded market. Well that's fine, but let's at least have an unmucked about version as the default, with the additions as specials.

Others seem to agree that at least these additions should be used sparingly, as I ran a poll on Twitter with the following results:

A respectable 215 people voted, with the vast majority saying stouts should have adjuncts added sparingly and occasionally. 

This doesn't surprise me,  as that is how it should be. 

I did once brew a fantastic stout with Ramsbottom Craft Brewery. It had a hint of chilli. I did an even better one with Aldgate Brewery, which didn't, so make of that what you will.

The photo shows an unmucked about stout taken in Skipton. See previous post.

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

Plenty Kisses and No Frogs

A few short weeks ago, my local CAMRA Branch had one of our days out by coach. This time - and we have been there before - Skipton in North Yorkshire - was the venue. No great distance from us, probably 45 or so miles depending on where you measure it from, and a busy market town with lots of pubs beckoned. What would it be like? Now, the way we operate, we aim to get to whatever venue it is by around 12 noon. On this chilly but bright Saturday, we were dropped off at the coach park bang in the centre, more or less on the dot of twelve.

On these events, our social secretary usually prepares a list of pubs to visit. These are recommendations, not a route to be followed, as naturally we are all free to wander where we choose, as long as we are back at the announced departure time. The bus does not wait around.  This time our list was around ten pubs and micropubs, and as soon as we were let loose, off we went, dragging our thirsts behind us. Of course, we don't visit pubs mob handed, people deciding with their cronies where and when they'll go first, if at all, but inevitably groups bump into each other and exchange information. That's always handy, and it is great to meet our lot along the way.

Skipton is a great mix of pub types and micropubs, café bars and micropubs, quite a few of which didn't exist on our last visit around four years ago, but my little group started at a couple of old canalside favourites.  These weren't lacking at all on the cask ale front. Another thing is that the town is compact and while there are pubs further out, such was the quality, ambience and friendliness, particularly of the micropubs, that we found ourselves enjoying the places so much, that sometimes a couple of beers were decided upon, so good was the place and company. In fact, we got nowhere near our list of ten before the witching hour of bus departure, but did in fact, on recommendation from fellow topers, venture off-piste with great success. It was a happy bunch of CAMRA members that departed back to Lancashire, although we left with great reluctance.

So, what does this all tell you? Firstly, when cask beer standards are so high - and I didn't hear of anyone getting a duff pint - as a pub or bar, you simply have to raise your standards, or you will be left behind.  Where standards are high, you can shift a lot more beer, which in turn means you can offer greater choice without diminishing quality. This is the virtuous circle that cask beer needs to thrive.

How does this apply elsewhere?  While nothing is certain, it all starts with having exemplary standards in serving cask beer. Do that, and you should get the custom needed to maintain it. Then, hopefully, others will follow. Cask beer dead? Not a bit of it. Just do it well and see how that helps it thrive and survive.

 This is happening in practice in my CAMRA branch area. Rochdale has an increasingly great cask offer - and it has been pretty good for years. There the pubs get together to offer weekly discounts, annual ale trails and more. Bury is up and coming and the Oldham real ale revival is well under way. 

Another point to make was the great welcomes we all had. Locals keen to chat, friendly bar staff and great beer. Dour Yorkshire folks? Not a bit of it. As always, get the offer right, and you are much more likely to succeed.  Get it wrong and you certainly won't.

I haven't mentioned craft beer. When cask is this good, why would you?

Thursday, 2 December 2021

Looking for Frogs to Kiss

 Our trip to Helensburgh started well. The journey was pleasant, even allowing for the fact that at Gretna Services, nobody could supply coffee due to water pressure problems. Not that Costa, Burger King or KFC bothered telling anyone. They just let you queue, no doubt in the hope you'd buy something else. One shop though had one of these self serve machines, which did the job. But th'Alfa was in fine form, and we arrived in decent time at our digs.

First time we've used Airbnb, but this was a new architect designed build in a decent location, and it turned out to be just fine. Triple glazed against the Clyde's icy blasts and very well heated and modern, we were snug as bugs in rugs. We unpacked, checked it all out and decided a pint was in order.  We weren't eating until seven, and it was just before five, so why not?  Only one place to go, the Ashton, which was a former local CAMRA Pub of the Year, and which I used to have the odd pint in nearly 50 years ago. Mind you, I have been back plenty of times since.

Three cask beers on offer in this Belhaven outlet. Fyne Ales Jarl, Taylor's Landlord and something else which I have forgotten. Possibly even from Scotland? Not taking notes can be a disadvantage - but I don't look like a dork at least. We had to sign in and wear masks, this being Wee Nic's bailiwick, and we soon got used to it again. The beer was good, I was inadvertently short-changed, which gave rise to a bit of banter when I mentioned it. "She's been doin' it for years Son" and the like. A great start and the subsequent meal was fab, so all was well so far.

Next day after a wander round, we tried a pint in the JDW Henry Bell.  I wasn't confident, but after a couple of duff tasters, I had a pint of The Headstock, a somewhat sweet and insipid pale ale from Redcastle Brewery in Carmyle, which is in the East End of Glasgow. Carmyllie which is apparently in Tayside. I suspect that it might have been just about better -though likely not by  much - if it was turning over. By the time I struggled through it, my pal arrived and she, being a gin monster, it would have been rude not to join her in her preferred potion. E was a willing accomplice and after a swift one - or was it two? - we went to our booked table at La Jupe where a couple of pints of keg Jarl before too much wine, was the order of the day. No cask there.

A freezing cold Scotrail Class 334 took us to Oban the next day. The chillness of the train was somewhat abated by the views and good weather.  But so cold had I become, that our first stop was Mountain Warehouse for an additional layer.  Wisely E had more layers than Scott of the Antarctic.  No real ale at our fishy restaurant lunch stop, or at Aulays Bar, where my first pint of Tennents was from a pub that was a finalist in the best pint of Tennents in Scotland. There at least, was a fine traditional Scottish bar and the beer wasn't too bad either, in a tallest dwarf sort of way.  Seeking that elusive frog to kiss, after we had been shopping, we tried the Oban Inn. No real ale there and hence to the Lorne Bar, where a lonely handpump looked as though it hadn't pulled a pint since the summer. At least. A friendly welcome though, and a nice complete island bar with peculiar colour changing lights was enjoyable.  A sort of subdued Highland disco perhaps? Tennents again for us.

Our last port of call was next to the station. The very impressive Corryvwrekan, a JDW house had plenty of real ale at least. Frog snog it was. I rejected the Orkney Dark Island after a taste and settled on their Northern Light Blonde Ale, which was neither refreshing nor citrusy, as promised on the clip but was - well - knackered - and a complete diacetyl bomb to boot.  Back in a wet Helensburgh after another cold journey we nipped into the Ashton, where again, Jarl restored my faith as we watched Rangers win and some local drunks being pretty obnoxious.

Not much to drink at all the next day as it was curry night with my teetotal sister and brother-in-law.  We did manage a walk to the Belhaven operated Ardencaple Hotel, which we reached after a freezing walk in a howling gale, but a nice chat to locals and decent lager from West sufficed. I did note two handpumps, which while certainly not defunct, were not offering cask at that time.

Saturday took us to Glasgow and the Old Tenement House for a bit of culture. Fab place and well worth a visit and handy for the State Bar, a real ale bastion, where cask drinking is not a strange thing to be doing. Not too busy at one in the afternoon, but it was more than gratifying to see the pumps being used at a rate of knots. Stewart Brewing Citra Blonde was two pints good and if we hadn't been meeting our pal again, would have required more. I paid in cash and I doubt if it was giveaway. It isn't price, folks - it is turnover.

And so a final trip to JDW where I gave up on cask for the week. Redcastle again and I disliked the taste of both the IPA and the Red Ale. Bottles of Brookyn Lager - which was surprisingly good - is it still imported? - filled the gap until our evening meal at the fab and packed Sugar Boat.

Normally speaking, real ale drinking can be a bit of a kissing frogs exercise. Especially in strange territory, it takes a long time to find your prince/princess. Here you had to find your frog first and in what is effectively a real ale desert, this is even more difficult than usual. Turnover is very difficult where you are in a drinking environment where, if you don't sell Tennents Lager, just don't bother opening.

So what do I conclude? This neck of the woods isn't really cask territory at the best of times, so buyer beware.  Be very suspicious of a lone wicket and try before you buy.  Recommended Good Beer Guide places are usually a reasonable bet, but even there, turnover can be a problem and as I always say, cask needs turnover above all. 

Sad to see that Belhaven signage is being relegated to second place by its Greene King owners wherever you go. Greene King is being pushed instead on almost everything printed. If it wasn't for Belhaven Best, there would be nothing at all, really.

It was also clear that the English influence in real ale turnover within Helensburgh was diminished by a lack of winter tourists, and there wasn't too big a Royal Navy presence on our visit. They mop up a fair bit, though there were four English lads getting stuck into the TT Landlord in the Ashton.

In my next blog I'll tell you about somewhere where cask is King and the difference that makes.


Monday, 22 November 2021

Two Bad Ideas

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

Underneath the Arches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

A Tale of Two Holt's Pubs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, 6 September 2021

Book Review -Modern British Beer - By Matthew Curtis


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ISBN 978-1-852-49-370-7   Pages - 286

Copies are available from CAMRA Books here

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

The Codger Dividend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 13 August 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 12 August 2021

Rating Beer In Helensburgh

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Another Thing About Pubs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 30 July 2021

Normality. Of a Sort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 29 July 2021

Clearly Better

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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


Wednesday, 28 July 2021

The Near East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Richmond - A One Pub Visit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 26 July 2021

London Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Up: Richmond on Thames and the East End.


Friday, 23 July 2021

Czech It Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 12 July 2021

The Beer Police

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, 1 May 2021

Weather Turns - But the Future Gets Nearer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, 10 April 2021

Draught Beer for the Hardy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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