Tuesday 23 April 2024

A Cracking Pub and Two Microbreweries

Did you know that Melbourne has more trams than anywhere else? Well, I think that's what was said.  I can confirm at least the place was hoaching* with them. A line on every corner, it seemed. Anyway, on our free day, we made use of them to explore. As well as walking our feet off, we visited one of the best markets I've ever been in - and I've visited plenty. The quality and range of the food was outstanding. We ate in one of the most Chinese Chinatowns I'd ever set foot in - we were the only gweilos in a very big restaurant. We also visited the oldest pub in Melbourne, the Mitre, where I enjoyed pints of Cooper's Pale Ale and observed, in the Central Business District at least, that lunchtime drinking was alive and well in this part of the world.

Of course, we went to the various tourist spots - and enjoyable they were too - but the lure of beer was strong, so we decided that a little train journey to a nearby suburb of Abbotsford was a plan. Two microbreweries were the aim and that required a visit to the fabulous Flinders St Station and the nearby Prince's Bridge Hotel, a large and handsome pub and just the place to people watch.  This had a fine front bar and a larger room to one side where some people ate and some simply socialised and drank.  The bar was basically full of drinkers of all ages and became so busy in our late afternoon visit that the main doors were closed and the less obvious side door were used to limit the ins and outs. This was a fab pub, and we left with considerable reluctance. 

We got on the wrong train. Well, not exactly wrong, but it was a limited stop which overshot our target station by one. We crossed over by going down to the road and amazingly a different micropub than the one intended was just over the street.  Be rude not to, we remarked. Bodriggy Brewery was quite small and very welcoming, and we enjoyed the banter with the barman and locals. I even won a free pint on a (free) scratch card - well, it was a half pint, but they gave me a pint anyway.  Going for a pee, I was shocked to see that behind the cosy front bar was a huge beer hall with the brewery at the back.  Blimey. How had we not noticed that?  Again, the staff were great - they even charged my mobile for me - and we had a fine time checking out the beers. Sadly - a recurring theme - none were remotely dark. 

We checked Google. Stomping Ground Brewery was only a ten-minute walk away. This was a much busier, more family oriented brewery. We ate there and enjoyed the beers and ambience.  We noted the age range of those visiting was more diverse than at home, and frankly all the better for that. Disappointingly, there were no dark beers again, but there was some shiny kit..

So, a successful day. No pint or schooner issues were encountered.  In the more southern parts, it seems imperial pints are fairly to very common. This didn't last, though.

More Aussie beer culture. Pints were commonly unetched nonics, even when lager was served, which was strange to this writer at least. Branded glasses seemed rare beasts though the pint barrel jug, sadly was not.  More of this soon. 

Next week I'll cover the outback and the North. Beer glass oddities will feature. In the meantime,I'm off to Dundee and the CAMRA Members Weekend and AGM.

* Look it up

Friday 19 April 2024

More Than Twenty Minutes Needed*

Moving on from Perth, which I really liked, via Kangaroo Island - hardly saw a one - the fair city of Adelaide was our next stop. On the way to Adelaide, we stopped for a too short hour in the German town of Hahndorf. It was a beautiful Sunday and the town with its German bakeries offering bretzen, streusel and more and dotted with bratwurst stands was very enticing. As we strolled around looking for pubs noting and enjoying the scene, we came upon the Hahndorf Brewing Co, so in we went. A reasonably German like large pub with a rammed bar greeted us. We were immediately attracted to typical German porcelain fonts offering Helles and Weissbier and ordered both, oddly served in UK style dimple mugs. Then we people watched until departure, being joined by several other soaks from the bus.  Birds of a feather and all that. Sadly, with one exception, it was the last weissbier we came across. A great shame as it is a style that certainly suits the Aussie weather. I wonder why?

On arrival in Adelaide, we had a rather long - too long for some moaners on the tour - trip round while the knowledgable driver described every building and statue. I kind of liked it as the city was a mix of Victorian architecture and new shiny buildings, with lots of green space and, I noted happily, plenty of pubs.  I was pleased that the driver had the enthusiasm for it all.

The trip had the advantage of giving a better sense of our surroundings, and thus we were able to nip out from our handily placed hotel onto the central Rundle Street and the last night of a carnival. This with the various street acts and the throng provided a great atmosphere. We drank some beer and ate some food in a place with a very boisterous character and a good beer choice. As a nightcap, we nipped into the Exeter Hotel on the way "home" with the intention of getting a beer to drink on one of the tables outside.

We didn't do that, though. Instead, we found ourselves in a proper public bar, with a central bar serving the room we were in and another room opposite. It was basic, unspoilt with wooden floors, a few bar stools, a handful of characterful locals and a couple of rather fearsome women serving. We immediately knew we were in safe hands. It was stunningly good. Even on a warm Adelaide night, indoors here was way preferable. This was smashing.

It turned out to be a Cooper's of Adelaide tied house, with a reasonable number of their beers on offer. I settled on Pale Ale - fermented in the keg as are all their beers - and took in the scene. It was amusing to see some people - tourists I assume - entering, looking round and leaving with a look of dismay and concern on their faces. This was a proper pub. Looking through t'internet, I note it hasn't changed much for many years, and good for them. It was immediately and deservedly catapulted into one of my top pubs anywhere. If you are ever in that neck of the woods, don't miss it.


The next day was free and after the Botanic Gardens, museums and more we had a drink in another pub, dominated by Cooper's beers. There (the Austral?) I sampled, Mild, Sparkling and Barrel aged stout, as well as an anniversary ale.  All live beers.

We returned to the Exeter for our last drinks that night. Dark for me this time. All Cooper's beers were just fab, though in fairness, it was best to knock an atmosphere of CO2 out of them first! But the real winner was visiting the Exeter Hotel.

*Adelaide is known as the twenty-minute city, as nowhere is more than twenty minutes away from anywhere else. Confession: E was on local wine by the Exeter Hotel.

Pub culture fact. This was a schooner area. Next - more pub culture, less tourism.

Thursday 18 April 2024

The Lucky Shag

I'd previously been advised by a friend who visits Perth fairly frequently, not to miss the Lucky Shag pub. Not that you can miss it really, as it sits in a prominent position at Perth's river front, just where all the cruise boats set off from and return to.  So, having just returned to the river front from a cruise, it would not have been easy to miss as we more or less disembarked into it.  The ornithological amongst you will gather it is named after a seabird.  Those of a dirty mind may not.

This is quite a big pub with a very large river terrace which was well filled by workers enjoying a post work happy hour drink.   Incidentally, in most parts of Australia, happy hours between five and six o'clock are common. Sadly, very few seem to move much outside that time, though we did find the odd one, so best find one you like at six and settle in. The format varies. Some offer reduced prices on certain drinks or all of them, some give a pint for the price of a schooner and so on.  Some don't at all.  I think in this case it was around 3 dollars less for a pint, which was the most common measure in Western Australia, I'm told this is because of the proliferation of Poms in that neck of the woods.

So, a pint it was.  The unfamiliar nature of the beers had me settling for a locally brewed pale ale, Nail Brewery Pale was hazy and tasty in the New World style. At 4.7%, it slipped down well. E began her on/off love affair with Northern Crisp as we chatted to our travelling companions and watched the very busy staff fly up and down the bar. Our hotel was only a reasonable walk away and had a sort of Irish Bar next door, where we ate and finished the night off. It didn't seem very Irish to me, but given that it was called Fenians, I guess that was the kind of clue as to the aspiration if not the actuality. It was a decent enough pub though and there, usefully, I realised that I don't care for James Squire Lashes, a beer which seemed to crop up everywhere.

I also learned in Perth that Castlemaine XXXX is still a thing, that every bar has an XPA (Extra Pale Ale - An Extra Pale Ale is a beer style similar to a Pale Ale with a larger amount of pale malt than a conventional Pale Ale, which gives the beer a paler, brighter colour and crisper flavour) and that draft alcoholic ginger beer is very much an Australian thing.  I also increasingly observed - and this is a very good thing - that hazy beers are very much the exception, but available.

So, how much does it all cost? Despite being ticked off on Twitter by the Beer Police, I can reveal that pints were generally around AUS$13/14, with schooners being nearer $10.  There were more or less two dollars to the pound, so broadly halve it. This did vary, but two schooners could be relied on to be around £11 though like anywhere, it varied.

No worse than London or even Manchester City Centre pricewise really.

We returned to the Lucky Shag the next day and enjoyed a bit more room, but this is one busy and friendly pub and very much worth a visit.

 As I go through this sojorn, we'll learn a bit more about Australian pub culture, some great pubs to visit and beer measures. (Which aren't as striaghtforward as you might think.)

Wednesday 17 April 2024

A Pub With No Beer

Oh it's lonesome away from your kindred and allBy the campfire at night where the wild dingoes callBut there's nothing so lonesome, morbid or drearThan to stand in the bar of a pub with no beer
Lyrics - Slim Dusty 

Well, you have to start somewhere with your first Australian pub, don't you?  In my case, it was in Fremantle, the port city of Perth in Western Australia. A neat little town I observed as we trundled through it on our tour bus on the first full day of our Australian adventure.  Now, being on a guided tour has advantages and disadvantages. You do get to see things you wouldn't otherwise see. Of course the flip side of that, for the dedicated beer man, is staring disconsolately at very fine pubs or breweries you'd nip into in an instant should we perchance stop to examine a nearby view or statue. Thus, Little Creatures fine brewery and Tap Room came and went as we sailed past. It looked good. 

We did stop though in a small park just outside the main drag, and being unsure of the score cash and card wise, and processing no Aussie dollars we spent 20 minutes of the allocated 45 minute stop seeking a cash point.  We decided therefore that the nearest pub to the departure point would have to do and the boozer itself, the Ball and Chain didn't look bad at all, with its colonial style verandah and corner location.  Inside was a fine wooden floored open plan building with a large bar and a couple of rooms off. At around two in the afternoon, it was pretty much deserted, but it would do.  I surveyed the unfamiliar pumps, and before I could decide, the barman, somewhat morosely, pointed me to a notice. "All Tap Beers are Out of Order". What?  It transpired that there had been an electrical fault in the cellar and all draft beers were off. This was accompanied by a jerk of his thumb to a well stocked fridge full of cans.

I nipped back to the seated E to explain. We had no time to go elsewhere, so a couple of reassuringly expensive cans were bought for cash, as we now had money. Others from our coach wandered in. It gave us a chance to get to know them and in fact the beers chosen were local and very good, but it wasn't a great start to Australian boozing.

Our next excursion was a Swan River cruise back to Perth, where things looked up at a really great pub just where we disembarked. I had previously been advised not to miss it, so we didn't.

In fact, I had been drinking Little Creatures in the Qantas Lounge at Singapore's Changi Airport, so I didn't miss out entirely.

Next: A Lucky Shag.

Friday 9 February 2024

Let's Pay More for Cask?

Now we all know that the way to save cask beer from its inevitable demise is to charge more for it, don't we?  Well no. Of course not. Well, not in the general sense anyway, though of course there are exceptions.

A couple of weeks ago I read with a sense of disbelief that yet again this daft idea gets prominence in trade news, this time as it often is, in the good old Morning Advertiser. Georgina Young, Head Brewer at St Austell, in an opinion piece, tells us that a "dedication to quality would mean less chance of a poor pint". Well, that is surely obvious, but we all know that's not how it is, don't we?

Georgina doesn't expand her arguments much in the article - though that may well be due to editing - but let's rehash some of them. These are based on various open sources about premiumisation, adapted to the cask conditioned beer situation:

* premiumisation could be a strategy to enhance the perceived value of this traditional form of beer, potentially leading to increased sales 

*cask conditioned beer is typically associated with craftsmanship and authenticity. Highlighting the artisanal nature of the brewing process, the use of traditional recipes, and the dedication of skilled brewers can create a narrative that appeals to consumers seeking authentic and unique experiences
* using premium and locally sourced ingredients or speciality malts and unique hops, can set cask conditioned beer apart from mass-produced alternatives
* educating consumers about the distinctive characteristics of cask conditioned beer, such as the live yeast, natural carbonation, and serving methods, can enhance their appreciation and educating consumers about the unique aspects of cask beer can create a premium perception

The theoretical outcome, in this scenario, is that by employing these strategies, breweries can enhance the premium image of cask conditioned beer, attracting consumers who are willing to pay more for a unique and high-quality drinking experience.

On the other hand, there are decent arguments against: 

* if the cost of cask conditioned beer becomes significantly higher, it may alienate a portion of the consumer base that is price-sensitive. This could limit the accessibility of cask conditioned beer to a broader audience

* some enthusiasts and traditionalists will argue that the essence of cask conditioned beer lies in its historical roots and accessibility. The perception of exclusivity and high prices may be seen as contrary to the traditional values of cask ale, potentially leading to resistance from those who appreciate its historical and communal aspects

* the existing consumer base for cask conditioned beer often values its affordability and accessibility. If premiumisation strategies are not carefully managed, there is a risk of alienating loyal customers who appreciate cask ale as a traditional, everyday drink

* premiumisation relies on creating a perception of higher quality, but there is a risk that the perceived value may not align with the actual improvement in quality. If consumers do not perceive a significant enhancement in taste or brewing craftsmanship, they may feel that the premium pricing is unjustified

Now, you won't have to be that astute to guess that my sympathies, by and large, lie with the second set of bullets. It is perhaps the last of those, though, that really hits the nail on the head.  You have to get the quality right, and really there is a fat chance of that given that there is a wide and diverse range of outlets for cask beer, from the specialist supplier to the lone dusty handpump sporting a Doom Bar pumpclip. You have token cask beers, indifferent cellar keeping, differences between brewery outlets and those of pub companies and more. In the diverse pub market we have, you can't simply wish premiumisation upon it, bump up the price, and hope people will cough up.

Already in some specialist outlets that premium does apply, and it applies for the simple reason of trust. People will pay more for the certainty, especially if quality is poor elsewhere.  The other point that should not be forgotten, is that cask beer is a live product. Usually in premium situations, you price an object higher, but sell less at a greater margin. But pesky old cask doesn't lend itself to this arrangement. It goes off if you keep it hanging around.

So, is premiumisation dead in the water? Will cask continue to be the cheapest beer on the bar? It kind of depends doesn't it. In theory, quality always sells, but implying that premium pricing can apply to the whole market is misleading. Nobody really wants to spend top dollar on a gamble. Georgina agrees with this, but draws a different conclusion as to the solution. Baffling really as you have to achieve the quality. If you have the market, skills, quality and turnover, by all means bump the price up. In fact, why aren't you? Probably because you realise the beer has to shift. It is a kind of circular argument.

As I see it, logically, with minor variations, the old rule still applies. Cask beer has to be priced to go. That rules out premiumisation in very many cases.

Of course, prices of cask beer vary. Competition, and quality, make for cheaper beer in the parts of the North still  dominated by cask. The market still decides.

London has bumped up all beer to an eye watering extent, such that even Wetherpoons are now offering £7 pints, albeit, not cask. Well over a fiver is very common and over six not rare.  Not sure that's premiumisation though.

Tuesday 30 January 2024

Part of the Union

I heard recently of Union Street in Bermondsey as being a place worth a visit. Fortunately, E knew exactly where it is so following her directions, we had a pleasant walk across the Thames until I pointed out we seemed to be getting further away from it. Now it seems that the version of Google I was using could not be trusted in this matter. So after E consulted her much wiser version, we retraced steps and eventually found ourselves on Southwark St. There it was, just round the corner, as presumably it has always been.

Back a million years ago, my trade union was based in Southwark St, but I had never had a reason to visit it, but I could remember that they all used to go to the pub nearby. What was it called? I couldn't recall, but once again, fortune favoured me. We spotted the White Hart - that was it - and it looked very pleasant, but being a Fullers house, it wasn't what I had in mind, but later, we sort of wished we had called in.

Our first port of call was the Union Jack, quite a pleasant looking pub with long, large windows and rather an appealing inside. Quite old-fashioned, I suppose, but in a good way, and the welcome from the barman was genuine and warm. A sole, dusty looking handpump sported a St Austell Tribute clip on it, but we weren't taking a chance on it. A pint and a half of fairly ordinary Camden Hells was ordered - is it me or is this getting a bit rarer? -  and we enjoyed the visit. I feel being busy, which is certainly wasn't, would have cheered the place up no end, but it was fine, and the welcome made up for a lot.

We ignored the Charlotte just over the road on account of its Heineken sign and went into the rather unlikely looking Lord Nelson. Now, you couldn't accuse this eclectically decorated pub of being quiet. A very young clientele were filling the place, many wiring into hefty plates of fried food and burgers. The food looked fab and I quite liked the place, even though clearly we weren't the target clientele by several decades. Sadly, the rude barman, who was just finishing his shift, wasn't paying the least bit of attention and I had to repeat my simple order of a pint and a half of Camden Hells. I tried to engage him, but clearly I was wasting my time. He promptly thereafter went off duty and removed himself to haunt the other side of the bar. Ageist I wondered? Possibly, but I'm happy to give him the benefit of the doubt and allow he had just had a long shift. Either way, I honestly liked the place, recognised its attraction to others, and as a bonus the Camden Hells was a large cut above its neighbour's. E on the other hand couldn't wait to get out. So, I'd say visit, enjoy the vibe, but only if you are under thirty or are immune to feeling out of place if you aren't.

Of course, even in a small pub crawl such as this, you have to pick a favourite. Heading back to Borough Market and the 343 over the river, we nipped into Mc & Sons. This is an Irish style pub - without the umpteen intrusive televisions - and was severely rammed with after work drinkers.  Nonetheless, the service was swift and cheerfully efficient, but it was so busy I could see little of the bar. I'm pretty sure there was no cask and I wouldn't have had it anyway here, as everyone seemed to be guzzling Guinness.  If you can't beat them, join them is sometimes not a bad motto.  The Guinness was the best I have ever had in London. Perhaps a tad cold, but certainly the best since I was last in Belfast, and at least a match for Mulligans in Manchester.  

So we had another. Seemed the right thing to do, especially since the same barman who'd served me, when collecting glasses, saw us standing in a corner and shifted some office workers who'd purloined the table that should have been there.  Thus seated, we enjoyed the busy scene even more.

We left with considerable reluctance, but we will be back. As always.  "It's the offer, Stupid."

We nearly had a third drink, but it was Burns night, and haggis neeps and tatties in our local JDW were calling us.  That was rammed too, and the staff did their best, which really is all you ask of them.

I had hoped as mentioned in an earlier post, to tell you of the Sir Sydney Smith, but that, alas, must wait.

Thursday 25 January 2024

A Few London Observations

 I'm a bit of a creature of habit when I come to London. First night, check the flat is in one piece then off to the Aldgate Tap for a few pints, followed by a quick visit to get one of the few pizzas I ever eat at Pizza Union. Vesuvio of course.

Thus, it was on Tuesday. Flat in one piece - check. Aldgate Tap - check.  Now this is one of several taps, mostly near railways stations. In fact, we have two in Manchester and soon to be three, which is a bit of a secret, but I can make a guess as to location as I've been told it is a station. I know Jon, the owner, and he runs decent boozers at reasonable prices. I know the manager of the Aldgate Tap too, and he came over to have a chat and ask how the beer was.  Kelham Island Pale Rider was my choice of the two casks on offer, the other being Taylor's Golden Best. Both were under a fiver, and we spent a few minutes chatting about the pub, trade, and of course sparklers. All very pleasant, as was the pizza. 

The Aldate Tap is a peculiar building in Aldgate Square, all glass and metal, with a large outside area, which is fine, but draughty in winter with all the comings and goings. There is a good range of keg beers, and even Guinness, though my eyebrows were raised at the £7 a pint price. Better to have Rothaus Pils at £6.60 a pop in my view, but at least you can be sure the cask is in good nick.

Yesterday, in an effort to have a change, we walked to the National Portrait Gallery, which took just under an hour. My replaced knee took it in its stride - see what I did there -  and after a good look round  - highlight Rabbi Robert Burns and Mo Mowlem -  we decided on a local pint before heading to our destination in Gloucester Road for Lebanese scoff at Baba Ganouj which had been recommended.

 Now, Sam's Chandos is virtually opposite the National Portrait Gallery, but a quick look in revealed it to be virtually deserted, so in search of a better atmosphere, E suggested the Harp. And why not?  It was fairly quiet too, but even so, I have to mention that my cheery hello was ignored by the server, who was much more interested in his phone. Not something I appreciate, nor do I approve of the card machine being thrust under my nose without being told the price. The custodian of the bar seemed put out that I asked much it was, before turning the machine in a way I could read it. All wordlessly. He wasn't a lot better with customers, who on the way out thanked him. No response being his reply.

Maybe mine host had got out of the wrong side of bed or something, but it was an annoyance I could have lived without. Fortunately, my pint of Harvey's Best was on very decent form, which mollified me somewhat, and E expressed contentment with her Dark Star Hophead. But we didn't stay for another, despite the quality of the cask beer.  To spite him, I didn't take the glasses back either, as is my custom, but E did, insisting that we at least have standards. She's a good 'un.

And so to posh Kensington. The area around Gloucester Rd tube is rather agreeable. We spotted the restaurant, spotted a decent looking pub almost next door and with time to kill before our booking, decided on a stroll round before a pint. There is dosh in that area, and we enjoyed the to-ings and fro-ings, as posh parents picked up posh children from school and the general atmosphere of rich people about their business.  We walked a half mile or so, until a pub hove into view.  It looked fine, but the Greene King plumage didn't auger well. The Gloucester Arms is an imposing street corner pub. Inside was rather plain, but you could see in its day it would have been rather grand. Still decent now, with quite a few people in, though in fairness I didn't imagine them in the nearby mansions and mews houses, but perhaps I'm being unfair. The sole barmaid was pleasant and patient as we hummed and hawed, having dismissed the only cask beer, Greene King IPA. I chose Brixton Lager which was harmless enough, and we enjoyed a bit of people watching. The same barmaid smilingly thanked us when we brought our glasses back. See? Not that difficult, Harp.

The Stanhope Arms promised a selection of cask ales, but alas there was only Greene King IPA and maybe Abbott. I say that because the place was rammed and the bar hard to see. A very mixed crowd, with students, older couples, people coming straight from work and the like. It was very jolly and we enjoyed it. For me Portobello London Pilsner and for E who has a deep distrust of local lagers, Estrella, which I think comes from Bedford.   Two things of note. Firstly the tables, a mix of high and low, were so crammed together that any movement involved a convoluted exchange of "excuse me" and "sorry" as folks arrived and departed, or simply tried to go to the bar. The other thing was that in the hour we were there, not one pint of cask was sold. But we liked the place a lot, and that is not to be overlooked. The staff were cheerful and willing too.

After a fab Lebanese meal - you really ought to go there for the real thing and smiling cheerful welcomes and service - we headed home. Beer was out of the question as there was simply no room left, but we thought why not go to the Dog and Truck, which is probably our nearest pub, though equally it could be the Brown Bear or the Princess of Prussia.  Alas, our anticipated nightcap of a glass of verdejo was ruled out as the place was closed. Ruling out the Brown Bear (a bit rough for E) and the Princess of Prussia (bloody expensive), we headed to the excellent - why don't we go there more often? - Sir Sydney Smith - where decent wine at a good price was procured and the atmosphere enjoyed. More of this soon.

So, in summary, the much lauded Harp had the most indifferent service, but the best beer; outside known places cask is in deep decline; and even the most unlikely pubs had a decent welcome and service. Make of that snapshot what you will.

I'd observe from Brixton lager and Portobello Pilsner that the brewers really need to put a few noble hops in their beers to give them some character. Both tasted more or less of nothing, and whoever thought that heavy handled glass with a thick rim, was a good idea for Portobello Pilsner, should have a quiet word put in their ear.

I walked over 16,000 steps. Not too shabby. Oh, and price? Expect nearly a tenner for a pint and a half of anything.

Friday 19 January 2024

Baby, It's Cold Inside

In these difficult and expensive - and it has to be said this winter -  bloody cold - times, it is rather pleasant to leave the dank and chill of our underheated homes and head for the conviviality of our nearest pub. How satisfying it is to turn the heating down, head for the door and spend the saved money in a venue where the price of your chosen drink includes you being nice and toasty while you sup your amber nectar.

Or is it?  The problem of affording heating at home, alas, cannot with certainty be avoided by jumping ship to your nearest boozer. Like Doc Morrissey in the Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, you may well find that they have it worse.  You see, unlike us lucky sods at home, who have at least some limits applied to our energy supply, your local pub is entirely subject to the vagaries of the market and the various commercial contracts that they have entered into. In short, the price of heating pubs has gone up considerably.

Recently in the cold weather, I have noticed some pubs, quite frankly, to be more than a tad chilly.  Now this is a problem. Nobody likes a cold pub, and not many of us will sit in one for a long time. Being cold when out spending your hard-earned is hardly an agreeable experience, and while it isn't difficult to sympathise with the situation pubs find themselves in, it is yet another disincentive to visit. We have quite a few of those already.

Yesterday in Manchester, two out of the three pubs I was in while celebrating my 25,000 days alive - I won't be doing that again - were actually cold.  So cold in one that my wife refused to allow a further drink, as she was perishing. In this case, it was not helped by a door at the rear to the courtyard was left open by smokers as they nipped in and out. With a door at the other end admitting customers, it made for an icy through draught from the sub-zero temperatures outside. While the radiators were feebly doing their best, it was a losing battle, and in any case they didn't seem to be that hot anyway. Our earlier experience in a very large venue wasn't much better, though they did have a huge space to heat, nor was the small restaurant where we tried to enjoy a meal. I'd call that a trend.

So, what's to be done? Well, hard to say. Pubs could put prices up, as I, for one, would rather the drinks cost a bit more than be cold inside the pub. They could also ensure that their pubs are as draughtproof as possible, but whatever, in a cold winter like this, something needs to be done.

For me, I reckon if it is cold inside the pub, I'll just be voting with my feet and go elsewhere. I'm too old to be suffering over a pint.

It has to be said that you are less likely to encounter cold pubs in the managed estate of breweries and  of course, busy pubs do generate human heat, so a bustling and busy pub is also likely to be warmer.

Not much chance of warming up on the bus on the way home either. The shocking state of our buses makes a warm bus a real rarity

Friday 12 January 2024

Best of Luck with That One

Hot on the heels of me writing about the difficulties some pubs are facing, causing them to operate on reduced hours, I read with a degree of astonishment that the number of applicants to run pubs is running rather high at the turn of the year.  It seems January is the peak time for this optimistic attitude, with, according to the good old Morning Advertiser, numbers up by over 50%.  As the MA puts it,“New year, new me.

"So often the cry of someone who managed to survive the previous 365 days despite facing hammer blows all the way, with the intention of reversing such misfortunes in the time it will take for the Earth to revolve around the sun again."

Well, it may well take longer than that if the current difficulties facing the trade are anything to go by, and while it is good to see prospective pub operators - both buyers and sellers - looking on the bright side, it would seem to this writer that it somewhat flies in the face of how the economy is faring now.  Of course, good sites and pubs - and there are some - will always attract interest, but I wonder just how much of this activity is at the wet lead end of things, and how much is in the more deprived areas of the country.  

The companies quoted are Admiral Taverns, Marstons, Greene King and Star Inns and Bars (aka Heineken), who are particularly keen to emphasise that around £4000 can get you started.  Heineken are also happy to say their new model means less risk (for them). How do they do this? Easy. They tell the MA that they buy all the products and set all the prices.  That's all right then, isn't it?

If you feel inspired, the article is here. Don't all rush at once after reading it.

The Morning Advertiser is always worth a read, though you have to register after two articles.

I notice, too, that Stonegate Pub Company with 4500 pubs and 19,000 workers is seeking to refinance £2.5 billion worth of debt. Pub companies are always a worry.

Thursday 11 January 2024

Opening Hours Erosion. Good or Bad?

In the world of hospitality, pubs have long been regarded -  probably through rose-tinted glasses -  as communal hubs where friends gather, strangers become friends, and general relaxed jollity ensues. However, in recent times, there has been a growing tendency for pubs to close during quiet business periods. Outside city centres, it has become increasingly difficult to find a wet led pub that is open at lunchtime, never mind one that is bustling.

 Managed houses, with a food offering and salaried staff rather than part-timers are likely your best bet, though these may be a bit too restaurant like for the casual drinker.  It is particularly noticeable that pubs run by tenants often see little point in opening the doors just for the odd one or two punters that might wander in and stretch a pint for a couple of hours. In fact, increasingly, days like Monday and Tuesday are often being written off altogether. This shift in perspective challenges the traditional notion that pubs should remain open at all permitted hours, and highlights the dilemma for pub owners and the effect on the community at large. 

Running a pub is a pretty hard game these days, especially when it comes to juggling costs and earnings. Lots of places end up staying open when things are slow, which means more expenses - heating being a prime example. Shutting down during slow times seems like a sensible way of overcoming this. It helps pub owners make the most of what they've got and build a business that matches the actual number of people coming in.

The logic is quite a simple one: closing the doors during quiet periods allows pub owners to reduce operating costs significantly. Energy consumption - a huge overhead these days -  is decreased and staff wages reduced. By strategically closing during these hours, owners can better match staff to demand, and thus operate more efficiently. Getting opening hours in synch with likely footfall is also good for morale, as it were, as there is little more soul-destroying than overseeing an empty pub as the clock slowly ticks away the pointless hours. 

Hopefully too, focusing efforts on the hours when customer footfall is at its highest can also make for a better customer experience, as after all, who wants to sit in a miserably empty pub? Customers make for atmosphere, and the lack of it does not encourage a lengthy stay. Concentrating efforts and resources on peak business hours, can - or here I'll say should  - ensure that the service, atmosphere, and offerings are of the optimal standard. It does not work at all if you simply take the same sad old offering and simply spread it over a shorter period. If you are going to open less, greater efforts have to be made to make the pub attractive when you do.  And above all, you need to ensure that potential customers know when you will be open. Even now, far too many pubs seem to think that opening hours are some kind of state secret that should jealously be guarded. Telling potential customers about opening hours and what's happening in the pub is not a bothersome extra. It is an essential part of the business.

While the idea of closing pubs during quiet business periods may seem a bad idea at first, it can be an acknowledgement that times have changed and cloth must be cut accordingly. By embracing a more strategic and efficient operational model, pub owners can create a sustainable business that benefits both their bottom line and the customer experience. 

In the end, finding the right balance involves satisfying customer needs, while also securing the enduring sustainability of the business in a constantly changing market, but it does look as though reduced hours are here to stay and ultimately, better than the pub closing altogether..

Wednesday 3 January 2024

What's Going On?

At this time of year, one becomes introspective. Resolutions are made and lives, intentions and hopes are re-evaluated, usually in an optimistic and entirely unrealistic way. Such thoughts equate entirely with our human need to see the best of things - to look for hope, change and better outcomes - this, despite all the evidence that a new year and promises to oneself, rarely if ever change the probable and probably inevitable course of events. It is all pretty hopeless in that sense, but then again, we live in hope. It is the meaning of life to a very great extent.

Thus, I won't be making impractical promises about this blog, though my own promise to myself is that I'll try to write more, but I'll likely fail. Instead, to make it easier on myself, I'm looking to write more about things that might interest me. And guess what? It is, funnily enough, going to be beer and pubs, so that's all right, isn't it?  I know a bit about them.

Last year, having wasted many mornings of my life watching YouTube -  though almost never about beer - I definitely need to pack that in.  I have though watched from time to time, usually shouting at the telly in sheer disbelief, the inane Real Ale Craft Beer Channel, and I have also learned a lot of useless stuff - mostly about London Underground (fascinating) - the differences (many) between us and these goddam Yankees - and where to get the best cooked brekkie in London. (Widely thought to be Pellicci's - been there - but it would almost certainly be cheaper at the Ivy, though you won't get bubble there).   And so on.  So it is back to beer.

So what has been happening? Well things are still iffy in the industry to be frank, though maybe they could be worse.  I note record turnover from my local brewery JW Lees and that's good. Lees continue to invest heavily in their business and it shows. They deserve to do well, by and large. I see also Fullers and Youngs are doing well, so that's good, though London, as always is a different animal to the rest of the UK.  Sir Timbo deserves a mention, and I'm grateful for this piece being pointed out by Cookie. It is rather well written and mentions the obvious fact - often overlooked - that he started off with one pub and now has over 800. If you believe in honours lists, it would seem to me that he deserves it, and as Mudgie always points out, it is a dependable company in an industry that isn't very dependable as a whole, and one where there is that oft talked about, but usually missing, social mix. Incidentally, making alcoholic drinks and pub visits affordable isn't "wrong" if you want to see pubs succeed.  Again from Cookie is a similar piece from the Guardian.

I'll leave it there for now.  The blog will certainly be back a little more often, and I'll be returning to short sharp posts like I used to. I've been reading a lot of my previous stuff, and you know, it isn't that bad. I recommend particularly my stuff on Sam Smiths, and I'll be resuming my trek round the ones here and those I visit in London. I'll also tackle the issue of what might be called "opening hours deficit".  I note quite a few pubs here, have simply closed for parts of January, and while understandable, it isn't really a healthy sign.

So. Watch this space, and Happy New Year to you all.

"Let me say, for the benefit of those who have allowed themselves to be carried away by the gossip of the past few days, I know what is going on. I am going on."  Harold Wilson 1969

Best beer of 2023? Acorn Gorlovka Stout.