Sunday, 30 May 2010

Brassed Off

There is an increasing feeling that the Police and Local Authorities don't use existing legislation enough to deal with anti social behaviour brought about by alcohol abuse. The argument goes that instead of enforcing existing laws, they bleat for the need for new ones, usually in the course of doing so, calling for even more restrictions on civil liberties. On the whole, I happen to agree with that point of view.

I mentioned before in this blog about the Saddleworth Brass Band Contest, which is held annually, spread around several villages and seemingly the sort of thing that attracts bad types and needs to be severely restricted. Now even the dullards in Oldham Council don't (I assume) feel they can ban the contest, but what they do feel they can do, aided and abetted by the local Plod, is to severely restrict the sale of alcohol, costing the local pubs much needed trade and curtailing the enjoyment of those attending. I won't go into huge detail, but originally 19 pubs had restrictions placed on them, including the Royal Oak, up in the hills in Saddleworth, which is nowhere near any of the contest and so isolated, that they get almost no custom on Band Night, as their customers are off watching the bands. I commend the Oldham Chronicle who document the farce well, especially how the hue and cry brought an intervention from Phil Woolas MP (who up until now I hadn't had much regard for) and a reduction to six, all in Uppermill, in the pubs that had to have bouncers, plastic glasses etc. All pubs however had an arbitrary closure of 11.30 forced on them though it was in Uppermill that all the previous arrests took place.

It is worthwhile looking back at the outrageous behaviour that caused the Public Guardians to rise up on our behalf. It seems that last year there were six public order offences related to alcohol, which while obviously regrettable, pales into insignificance compared to the many thousands that attend. So successful were the restrictions this year, that the number of arrests soared to 23, almost all again in Uppermill. Local residents allege that almost all the problems are caused by outsiders who bring alcohol with them, or buy it locally from off licences. In Greenfield where I was and no less than 62 bands performed, I saw no problems whatever. There was a mixed crowd of all ages and lots of women and children. Pubs were less busy than you might have thought though - my assumption is that given the well publicised restrictions on pubs and the subsequent doubt in people's minds about what would or wouldn't be open - caused a lot of people to bring their drink with them. The largest queue, apart from the ladies toilet in the King Bill, was for the local off license. Plastic glasses (unmarked and illegal) were in use everywhere and there were plenty of police around mingling with the happy throng.

Now I appreciate that the bobbies have a difficult job to do, but put simply, the enforcement of public order is their responsibility. Scapegoating licensed premises for trouble on the streets, in all probability caused by low cost alcohol bought elsewhere, is a concern. The need to target likely trouble spots is another. What isn't and shouldn't be their role is to restrict businesses and the public on the basis that it is better to punish the innocent along with the guilty and only be forced to back off from that when an MP intervenes.

I think the public deserves a more intelligent response.

The photo is of some of the Stavanger Brass Band from Norway

Thursday, 27 May 2010


I'm not often in Manchester during the day, well not in the centre anyway, but yesterday I had to nip into Piccadilly Station to enable some rail vouchers to be used. Having queued for 20 minutes the idea of a pint seemed an attractive one, though not in the station. That could be dismissed out of hand, as not only is there no cask to be had, but the sheer bland, characterless crappiness and soul destroying emptiness of the places, would make the idea of throwing yourself under the nearest Pendolino an attractive one. Not feeling suicidal, I went elsewhere.

It had started to rain as I walked back and a quick decision had to be made. The City Arms it was. This is a little hidden gem just behind the Town Hall (an inadequate name for a magnificent Victorian edifice by the way) and a welcome oasis after the suits have gone back to work. Small, cosy, old fashioned, with a small front room, a magnificently tiled corridor and a bigger back room with bench seating, it was just what I needed and the type of pub that used to be in every city centre, but nowadays is all too rare. The beer range here isn't that adventurous - think mainly regionals and family brewers - but it's always well kept. I settled on a bench in the back room with a pint of Bateman's Spring Goddess which was a very decent drink. The Bateman's house style was evident, but it's a taste I like, so all was well. There wasn't many in, but I people watched for a bit. A voluble Northern Irish businessman and his colleague. A couple of middle aged female shoppers gossiping over a glass of Pinot Grigio, a few at the bar putting the world to rights and just by the door, a racing type, quietly studying the form as he sipped his pint of Tetley. One other inmate chatted conspiratorially with the landlord, whose eyes constantly flicked around, checking all was well. No background music, just people calmly enjoying a respite from whatever.

There is a newspaper rack too and I wandered over to pick up the Guardian. I like its Berliner size, and though I used to buy it daily and haven't really read it for over a decade, somehow it seemed just right. The clock ticked on and my pint slowly diminished as I adjusted to the pace of things and enjoyed a moment that seemed fixed in time. When my pint was eventually emptied, I put the paper back and left.

In this rare case, one pint was just right.

The City Arms is at 46-48 Kennedy Street Manchester M2 4BQ

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Dying Brands up for Sale

It seems that AB InBev are putting the brands Bass, Boddingtons and Flowers up for sale. The Morning Advertiser has the story here. While no-one in their right minds gives a monkey's chuff for any of them, discredited and unloved as they have become, there is a potential fall out for the regional brewers that brew them for AB InBev. Hydes of Manchester who brew cask Boddingtons, could be a potential victim of this aspect, though that is speculative at the moment.

The problem may be in finding a buyer despite the rumoured low price of £10 - 15 million, especially as the sale of Bass will exclude both the trademark and international rights, including lucrative exports to America, where the beer is still very popular.

Somehow I doubt that anyone will want to cough up for them. They are unloved and almost forgotten and I doubt if they can be revived. Their heritage and history have been destroyed long ago.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Size Matters

Well they do say that don't they? Of course it all depends on context and to some extent disposition, circumstance and perspective, but when it comes to cask beer containers, size matters very much and in a specific way. Size must equate to turnover and freshness. "Container" by the way, is the generic trade name for the vessel from which your beer is dispensed and is divided into various sizes, the most common of which is the nine or firkin, but eighteens (kilderkins or just kils for short)are still very common. They are both sub divisions of "barrel" which is 36 Imperial Gallons. There are others sizes too.

Why the lecture? Well, I like to read the blogs of various people in The Publican. Not just our own dear Pete Brown, but when he appears, Chris Maclean, who is a a Shep's landlord and old school. He therefore appeals to my way of seeing things by and large. In his latest column here, Chris calls for wider availability of the "pin", a vessel of 4.5 gallons which used to be common, (often seen on a stillage on the bar in winter and containing something dark, strong and warming,) but sometimes too, utilised in the cellar for slow moving beers.

If you've never seen a metal pin then you won't know how cute they are. That's part of the problem. They are very desirable, nickable even and they are relatively expensive to buy too. Modern automated cask washers often can't handle them, so they have to be hand washed, thus increasing costs. While they offer the possibility of fresher beer to low turnover outlets, they mean that less beer might be ordered from the brewery as publicans downsize to a pin. The upshot is that for all these reasons and more, most breweries simply don't supply them.

I moaned the other day about dodgy pints, though that was probably aimed more at breweries than publicans and while probably not what I had in mind, no doubt container size plays a part in some cases. Metal pins may well be too expensive an answer, but I can't help but think Chris has a point. Surely the breweries could do something to modify a polypin, say with an integrated demand valve that vented off excess CO2 - like the Race spile - and an adapted tap to which a line to the handpump could be readily attached - thus solving the cost problem? I sympathise with the argument that for some, offering a guest beer or a seasonal one in a pin, is just less risky and costly than buying a nine. It is less risky for the customer too in these outlets.

These days few breweries supply beer in anything other than nines or eighteens. A few high volume outlets will still take barrels and there is still the odd Joey Holt's house with the mighty hogshead, (54's) but surely anything that helps shift cask beer, maintains quality and offers more choice and less wastage must be worth a go?

I have visited Joseph Holt's store of hogsheads. An impressive sight indeed. One of my mates used to be a Rochdale and Manor Brewery Manager and before that, a drayman. He tells me tales of handling wooden hogsheads that would have you rushing for your steel toecaps!

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Drinking a Pint of Cask is Like Making Love to a Beautiful Woman*

There is a fair degree of agreement that when cask beer is served at its best, that it is an unbeatable way of serving draught beer. Cool, but not cold, bursting with condition, clear, a tight creamy head - and yes it is better that way - full bodied, clean in aroma and so easy to drink. Of course your first mouthful in any beer is so important. It sets all your senses on red alert. "Is this going to be good?" is the silent question. In cask beer it tends to tell you so much more than keg beers. It is a is a much more nuanced product. Having done the visual inspection and the nose test, you are already forming an opinion, building up the anticipation, getting ready for that first mouthful that will confirm whether it is as good as it looks. Or, unfortunately as bad. Sometimes it isn't that good. Too often you can tell by that visual and olfactory inspection that things just aren't going to be as good as you'd like. Here's where the making love analogy starts. I think you'll be getting my drift by now.

Any cask ale drinker knows one simple fact of life. You aren't always going to get a good pint. Unlike the lager or smooth drinker, who knows what to expect and is delivered with it every time, the cask drinker is an uncertain soul. He is hopeful that the heights that only cask can reach will be in that pint. He knows one thing though. He will sometimes - quite often actually - get a duff pint. It is the the elephant in the public bar. Like death and taxes, the dodgy pint is always with us. Too often cask beer isn't served as it should be. It is ordinary or it is bad. It is middling or damned by that phrase, " It was OK". That usually means it was poor, but you could just about choke it down without real enjoyment and for this writer, not to enjoy beer defeats its purpose. Making love analogy again!

There is a way to mitigate this of course. You drink in pubs you trust. You drink beer from breweries you trust. (There is a long list of breweries whose beer I wouldn't touch with a bargepole and they are almost all micros). You use the GBG. You check for Cask Marque signs. You ask ahead (of fellow customers) "What's the beer like today?" This doesn't help the casual drinker of course. He or she is as likely to be a loser in the lottery as a winner. I don't believe many will disagree that the possibility of bad beer is the biggest enemy of cask . It puts more people off than anything else. Nor should you expect redress at the bar. You will be told in all probability that "Everyone else is drinking it", "it is just new on today", "that's the way it's meant to taste" etc. etc. And this won't just happen in dodgy pubs either. It will happen with a straight face in pubs that are considered the best of breed and about beer from breweries that are worshipped here in the blogosphere and in the real world. In short, over your drinking career, you will be taken for a mug time after time. An inconvenient truth if ever there was one.

What's prompted this introspection? After all I'm a cask man through and through. The other day a trip to the edge of my CAMRA Branch area, gave me some poor beer. Poor beer in Good Beer Guide pubs is irritating enough, but poor beer in pubs that usually sell it in tip top condition, is both puzzling and annoying. But sadly this isn't atypical. When some in the trade call for cask beer to be sold at a premium price, my response is along the lines of "Bugger off, I already pay a premium in that at least one in five of the pints I buy, will be poor and quite a number of them won't be as good as the brewer intended."

Why drink cask beer then? Simply because when it is right, when you hit that cask in peak of condition, when you have the taste experience which has you mentally cancelling the next few hours as the first pint slides down, it is the best beer experience you are likely to get. So when that perfect pint caresses your lips and sets your senses all aglow, do savour it, but then get stuck right in, get it down and get yourself back up to the bar, because then you really do have the beautiful woman in your arms and a night (or day) of true passion ahead of you. No unsatisfying bonk against the wall with the pub slapper round the back of the pub for you. You have the real thing. She is yours for the night and she may not come along again any time soon. Fill your boots!

So there you have it. Flirtation can be fun, but ultimately true love gives you what you really need. And one more thing. The memory of good and bad will each remain in your mind for a long time. If you are a publican, please make these memories good.

* If you are gay or a female, feel free to substitute gender as required.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Free Beer

Look what just plopped through my letterbox. A free pint of Carling from the lovely people at Molson-Coors. Very thoughtful of them.

As I won't be using it, anyone can have it. You'll have to go to the Oddies in Middleton though; a decent enough boozer, where back in the day, I used to sup a gallon of Holt's Bitter of a Thursday night.

The Holt's has long gone, but there is now Carling it seems. Maybe there always was? After or during a gallon of Holt's, you just don't notice.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Nothing Ever Happens?

Pete Brown set the challenge. We are all too boring it seems and we need to buck our ideas up a bit and start thinking outside the box. We've settled into a "complacent rut" he says. And you know, I think he has a bit of a point. But only a bit of one. To me, most blogs I read are pretty good, though varying in style and content and some of course are better than others. Wasn't it ever thus? When I started blogging a long time ago (November 2007 in fact) it was due to being inspired by Stonch who has since packed it in. And he isn't the only one. Many have come and gone since then and some were actually quite good. What caused them to go, I can't say, but one thing was for sure, those who blogged then did it for fun and for their own amusement and edification. For most that is still the case, but we do have more "professionals" now and they have a big influence and share of the market, at least as indicated by Wikio? I'll come back to that.

Darren Turpin in a thoughtful piece on his blog said " I've been wrestling with questions like "what's the point?" and "why bother?" and have been on the verge of quitting this blog (and, most likely, blogging in general) several times during the past few months." Well indeed. Who hasn't? But why? For me blogging was a chance to put across my view of beer drinking to a wider audience and my main slant has always been a mix of industry comment and pro pub bias. I don't tend to do detailed beer tasting notes, which to me seems a bit of a nil sum game in a crowded market and which few do well anyway. I like to choose what I think are fairly interesting subjects, then write a piece which is then thrown open to debate. And therein lies at least some of the current problem or malaise. People just aren't commenting any more. There is little debate, which to this writer at least is discouraging. Now maybe I'm just getting my subject matter wrong, but then if that were the sole reason, everybody who does write interesting things would be flooded by comments. But they aren't and when they do get comments, it is generally words of agreement from fellow bloggers. How have we arrived at this point? Well Twitter has a part to play and a bit of the blame to shoulder. It seems easier just to write inane and boring posts there, than to take the time to write a thoughtful response to a blog post. I have little doubt that blogging has suffered from that. Maybe too it has all got a bit cosy? Maybe we have through this cosiness, driven off the casual reader and commenter? Maybe it has all just got as bit complacent, cliquey, self congratulatory and just too bloody nice? Or maybe it is all too boring and samey and just not worth commenting on?

Back to the professionals. When I started blogging there was little by way of blogging from the "professionals". Now we have Pete, Zak, Melissa, Dredgie, ATJ et al, quite prominent in our blogging world. Yes they do self promote, mutually support, name drop, and the rest but while doing so, generally just are annoyingly better writers than the rest of us. It can make you feel a little inferior at times, not just because of the writing, but who they know, the places they are invited to and the like, but is it a contributing factor to making blogs boring? I really doubt it. In fact most of it is to me at least, very interesting and enhancing, but it is a factor in the sense that it is in the beer blogosphere and it is happening and it may just have an effect on other writers. Have they brought about a subtle change in the way we do things? I first tackled what I called the" uneasy co-existence" between the professional and the amateur way back in March 2008. You can read it here. I think then though the beer blogging world was a different beast. Much more independent. At least my post seems to imply it was. So now as more professionals have come in, has it put others off? Maybe. Has it put commenters off? I would think not, but clearly something has happened, as blogging has become a little more competitive than it used to be and sometimes at least, a bit less edgy and it was a kind of edginess that Pete called for. To blame the "proper" beer writers would be inaccurate and wrong. In my view the pros enhance blogging on the whole, by upping the standards, making you think more about what you write and often, just writing very good pieces that are great to read. (Some are more inclusive than others, but you could say that about anyone.) So it isn't them. But I think there is a collective feeling that something has changed.

Assuming we agree it has all gone wrong in some way, how do we make blogging meaningful again? Well I think like Darren, there probably isn't a need to. Is lack of variety the problem? I don't believe so. Beer blogging is still incredibly varied. Darren pointed out some of the types we have doing it. A diverse lot indeed and there are still plenty who write, not about the big wide world, but their local scene. And why not? For most of us, we'll just continue to write our blogs as we wish to. It's probably all we want out of blogging. It may be boring from time to time, but for me, like many others I suspect, it is about the writing. I do it for me. I don't want to become a professional beer writer, I don't particularly feel the need to use my blog to convert people to anything other than (perhaps) pub going, properly kept beer and sparklers, though I do want to open people's eyes a little to the beer world I see. Isn't that what everyone does? Mostly I want people to comment on what I say, even when they disagree with me and I am discouraged when I get few or none. Do others feel the same?

So, yes we can do some things to improve matters, or rather those who feel there is a need to can. For those, I would urge more challenge, more grittiness, more disagreement, less cosiness and maybe the odd row. This is blogging after all. It should be opinionated and open to challenge and comments should be made where possible. It should be fun (always) and controversial (sometimes). We should recognise that blogging and bloggers may inspire or irritate, but we should call it as we see it, whether you are a disgruntled old soak, an evangelising idealist, a dewy eyed cheery beery sort, or just someone who wants to write in their own way about their local beer scene.

So we should keep blogging in our own individual and idiosyncratic ways, but whatever we write, it shouldn't bring about indifference. If we are doing that then we are all getting something wrong.

I keep changing this trying to get it better, but bugger it. Just let me and the rest of us know what you think.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010


No, you haven't dialled up Curmudgeon by mistake. It's still me, but a different thing this time. Mudgie is always banging on about the anti alcohol brigade, so I draw his attention and yours to this in the Morning Advertiser.

Interesting - a good piece to set you thinking.

Beer at Home

No it isn't a conversion. Quite the reverse. I was in Aldi today and spotted Berliner Kindl Pils on sale and a madness overtook me and I bought a couple.£1.19 each if you are wondering.

When I got home and put them in the freezer to speed things up, I really fancied a beer. When they were cold, I transferred them to the fridge - not making the mistake of leaving them in the freezer again. Then I went off the idea.

It was ever thus. Maybe later?

No it didn't come with the nice little pils glass. Pity.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Last Pint in the Cask

When I got to the pub I knew I could only have two pints over the two and a half hours I would be there as I was driving. Choice? Black Sheep Bitter or Landlord. I went for the Landlord, but it wasn't in good form. Muttering under my breath I took it upstairs for the quiz. One of my mates came up and said cheerfully, "I think you got the last pint of Landlord, they are just changing it". Damn. My pint wasn't bad, just not good and someone has to get the last pint I suppose.

Why me though when I can only have two?

I had the weaker Black Sheep for my second pint which was OK if you like that sort of thing. And we lost.

Goose Island

One of the first things I learned on my Chicago trip was that Goose Island at Clybourn had changed and that I wouldn't like it. Maybe that affected my friends thoughts on the matter, as no trip there was scheduled, but I had liked it a lot last time and thought "What the Hell? I'm giving it a go." Opportunity knocked when the Yankees who didn't fly home on Sunday went to the baseball on the opening day of the season. Now I'd rather scoop my eyes out with a spoon than do that, so Goose Island it was. Again the Chicago Public Transport system was up to the task. It's pretty good, though for some bizarre reason, you can't buy a day ticket from most stations, instead having to go to a convenience store. Just a little tip should you ever go there.

Set in what can best be described as an industrial area, I got there around one in the afternoon to find the place heaving. I found a good spot at the bar though and soon made friends with the young couple next to me. Thanks Becky and Derek. The beer menu was perused and I knew I was in for a good time when I realised there was 24 beers on offer ranging from an English style mild at 3.5% to a mighty Bourbon stout at 13.5%. None seemed more expensive than anywhere else, despite dire warnings to the contrary. Being a sucker for Belgian style wheat, something the Yanks seem to do even better than the Belgians, I started with the Wit which was on the money, but maybe a little too lemony for some. Then via a couple of tasters - as long as you are buying, tasters are no problem and in fact were offered more often than not - to Goose Island IPA, the classic GI beer and just as good as ever. Then to celebrate the new baseball season in the only way I'd be happy doing, by drinking the celebratory Opening Day IPA at 6.4% which though it I didn't like as much as the "ordinary" IPA, was pretty damn good anyway.

Then the stouts; Maplewood Farm Bacon Stout which was much better than the name suggests, a pint of Blackberry Stout which was an excellently balanced beer and followed by generous tasters of Bourbon Coffee Stout and Bourbon County Imperial Stout - the 13.5% bad boy - both were magnificent, but you wouldn't want a lot of them. I moved down the scale somewhat, by settling back to drink Honkers (cask) and IPA. (As an aside I made a mental comparison with the version brewed in the UK for JDW and from memory they were pretty similar.) Then my civilised visit was over and it was off to the Map Room for a bit of an Alpha King sesh with some cold and wet baseball fans. That was a bit less civilised!

Goose Island Clybourn really does have something for everyone. It is friendly, buzzy, has knowledgeable and attentive staff and good food; it's easy to get to and isn't overpriced by Chicago standards. Oh. And the beer (and company)is pretty damn good too. If you are ever there, don't miss it.

Apologies for this indulgent post, but that's my Chicago trip done with.

Post No 600

I just noticed that my post "Hitting Rock Bottom" was post number 600. Seems appropriate!

Bavarian Beer Prices Stable

As the good weather returns and the beer gardens open again, public broadcaster Bayerische Rundfunk reports that most Bavarian drinkers can enjoy a beer at last year's prices. The exception is Munich where prices have gone up by around 20 cents a litre. The somewhat bizarre explanation is the Munich attracts more tourists who steal more beer glasses. It seems for example, that 30,000 mugs a year are stolen from the Chinese Turm Beer Garden alone.

Beer price inflation in Germany, like here, runs way ahead of "normal" inflation which since the 1950's has run at around 300% while beer prices have increased by 1500%. Seems to be an easy profit maker for both retailer and government no matter the country!

Get away from Munich though, where you will pay €6.90 a litre this coming season, prices are much more reasonable. According to checks conducted by the radio station, prices per litre have changed little since last year, when they were on average €4.40 in Bamberg, €5.20 in Passau, €5.60 in Augsburg, €5.80 in Regensburg, and €5.90 in Nuremberg and Würzburg. The most affordable Maß was found in the Upper Franconia region, in the town of Hallerndorf, for just €3.50.

So there you have it. Not only does Franconia have the best beer in Germany, it is cheapest too. Another good reason to go if you haven't been or indeed, if you have.

Monday, 10 May 2010


The daft antics of Oldham Council have made headlines before, with allegations of exceeding their authority and other incompetencies, all under the guise of cutting disorder and increasing public health and safety, but I heard a new one on Saturday.

I was visiting the Landlady in her new pub and mentioned a bunch of us from her old pub would be coming up to the Brass Band Contest on Whit Friday. This extravaganza is held throughout the villages of Saddleworth every year and attracts thousands of visitors. It is free and a lot of fun. Naturally the odd libation plays a part in this and it is a money spinner for the local pubs. My mates are already anticipating the pies in one pub as a yearly treat. This year though it seems it may not be possible for them to enjoy this little pleasure.

The Landlady tells me that on Whit Friday, the Police, at the behest of the council, will be enforcing some conditions for those pubs wishing to be open from half past four onwards (the start of the contest). In her case she will have to have two doormen on each entrance from four o'clock until closing. She will be limited to 75 people in the pub at one time which will be administered by the doormen clicking customers in and out. The cost of course will be borne by the publicans. It seems that similar notices have been served on another dozen or so pubs on the band circuit. The Landlady reckons she can't make money on that basis and in all likelihood won't be open that evening. She reckons some others will do the same.

Now it may be that it isn't as bad as all that and the pubs will open albeit with restrictions, but this is a brass band contest attracting the middle aged. It isn't a source of drunken thuggery or anything like it. Why on earth does the council and police think they need to poke their noses in and quite possibly spoil or at the least make it more difficult for everyone?

If you look at the Oldham Council web site, you will see the following objectives:

The Act is supported by four statutory licensing objectives:-

* The Prevention of Crime and Disorder
* Public Safety
* The Prevention of Public Safety
* The Protection of Children from Harm

Yes the prevention of public safety is a licensing objective on their web site. Incompetents.

Update - the council has corrected the error on their web site now. And it did say that, as I cut and pasted directly from their site to mine. The power of the blog!

The Pub - Evolving and Relevant

Dredgie in his inimitable way has a speculative and thought provoking article here, in which he postulates that the pub is doomed in its present form and that if it survives at all it will be as a specialist outlet for Fancy Dan beers, sold at premium prices to the cognoscenti or curious, who will visit once a week to eat as well as drink. These people according to young Mark - who as far as I can see has little by way of pub going pedigree and I don't mean that as a criticism, but as a point of observation - will be generationally ill disposed to pub drinking and that pub going will die or radically change when all us pub going old fossils have shuffled off our mortal coil. Well maybe, but I reckon not.

Now there is no doubt these days that there is a lot of pressure on people to behave more responsibly, eat healthily, take exercise etc. (we used to be brought up to do most of that by the way) and the rise of alternative entertainment and cheap supermarket beer has had an effect on pub going too, but there are one or two factors that Mark doesn't take into account. His assumption that the current habits of younger people will continue in exactly the same way into later life, is unlikely in the long term to be true. If it was, the older generation would be hobbling around in winkle picker shoes, loon pants, heavy metal T shirts and all the dodgy paraphernalia of their youth. But they don't. They change. As people get older, more comfortably off and want to see the world from a vantage point other than their sofa and see their friends in person, rather than through text and tweet and need a break from family, they will, at least sometimes, seek the pub as a place to meet. Their aim will not always be to eat, but to socialise. It won't be to seek out strange new beers, but to drink something they are comfortable with in the company of people they like. Much as it always has, the pub is constantly changing due to social evolution. It has always survived by adapting to meet new challenges and changing social habits and it always will.

A lot has been said about the smoking ban and pub closures, but one thing is true, like it or not. It is the bottom end of the pub market that has failed, but that was always going to happen sooner or later, in the face of a widening gap between supermarket and pub prices, especially as these pubs had no USP (to use Mark's phrase) and were effectively selling expensively in grotty surroundings, to relatively poor people, the same cheap beer that can be bought from the supermarket and drunk at home for a quarter of the price. Why drink Carling or Fosters in the pub when you can get the same product and drink (and smoke) at home much cheaper? For some, that question is a no brainer. Given the expectation of higher standards on top of this, a weeding out of the weakest was always going to happen. This is an evolutionary change just as much as food led pubs are and should be recognised as such. Shake outs of pubs are nothing new and it is usually the bottom end that is shaken out.

Yes, the pub is changing and yes there will be more specialism and yes it will be the more affluent that will frequent them, but it was always thus to some extent and became more so as the gap between on and off trade prices widened. It is also a bit of a myth that people of my generation spent all our time in pubs as young people. While we may not have had the dubious pleasure of Sky's 500 channels, or Nintendo Wii, we had the same problem that everyone starting out in life has; that is, coppering up to find enough money for the cinema, or a night down the pub (and the bus fare home) and concentrating as much then, as now, on horizontal activities with the opposite gender. (Trust me, the pub always came second to that.) The pressures on modern youth are no more difficult than they were for me and my generation, though they may differ in some aspects of course. Money, jobs, sex and a finding a way to relax with friends will always be a basic human requirement and will, in my forecast, in the UK at least, always include a drink or two at the pub from time to time. (It is also my belief that even though we are bombarded by Nanny State nonsense about health, that there will always be sufficient numbers of sceptics that will take it all with a pinch of (forbidden) salt.)

Maybe if Mark had a local where he met his friends, where he knew everyone and where the pub is the centre of village or neighbourhood life and gossip, he'd see things more optimistically. I'd also speculate that in time he probably will. In many thousands of pubs up and down the country, people still go for that feeling of community, where the bar staff know you and your family, call you by your name and where you know most people and the sense of belonging and being part of things is palpable. It happens everywhere. You just have to visit Stonch's pub, with its loyal set of characterful customers to see that it can be done, even in the heart of a big soulless city. I would guess that the same feelings of belonging are engendered there as in my local. And yes, in most community pubs, in towns, villages and neighbourhoods, young people are there and gaining the same sense of the pub that I have. But here I need to scotch a myth once more. Pubs were always dominated by the older generations. How younger people see pubs today will likely change as they get older and evolve. It was always thus. I think we have to remember that what we do when young and what we do when older, are vastly different things. Life changes us all.

So will the pub change? Yes it will. Will the way we use it change? Yes it will. Will the numbers of pubs continue to diminish? Probably. Will how we perceive pubs change? Yes it will. Will pubs evolve and change to meet the new demands of their customers? Of course they will or they will close.

Above all, will we adapt to the new situation and want to go to the pub however it evolves? Yes we will, as long as we have the need to mix and socialise over a drink and I forecast that won't die out any time soon.

Thanks to Mark for a really interesting post. I would have replied there, but hey - I have also have a blog to write. I reckon too that we aren't far from (mostly) agreeing.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Ever Have One of These Days?

One of the down sides of being a pub drinker and a CAMRA Chairman and regular quiz leaguer, is that I sometimes end up in a pub I wouldn't necessarily choose to be in, or sometimes in a very good one that has an off night, or simply has beers on that I don't fancy.

Thus it was the other night when I just didn't like or take to the beers in the otherwise excellent venue for the CAMRA meeting. That's a rub of the green sort of thing, but at least I suppose when you drink mostly at home, that is less of a problem. My perception is that with a few exceptions, most home drinkers have at least chosen their drinking range for themselves and have only themselves to blame if it goes tits up.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Hitting Rock Bottom

While Rock Bottom is a brewpub chain, they do allow their brewers considerable autonomy. The one in Chicago has changed since my last visit a few years ago and is now more of a sports bar, which while annoying in some ways, with various televisions tuned to different sports channels and all blaring out at full toss, it isn't peaceful,but it is busy. And this is unmistakeably a business and if it works for them, who am I to argue? It's an American Sports Bar Brewpub. Got a problem with that?

We all met there on Saturday afternoon, variously tired, excited and content and spent a few hours putting the world to rights and drinking beer. I more or less went through the list, while concentrating on a fine German style pilsner, but mindful of Pete Brown's admonishment about boring blogs full of "what beer I drank", I'll not mention it further, except to say it was all super fresh and well made. What I will mention is the pub itself and how it works. Firstly you get served at your table (unless you get a seat at the bar) and you have to understand that the servers are paid little and rely on tips. While alien to our culture in lots of ways, it does result in extremely attentive and pleasant staff, who seem genuinely happy to have you there as a customer and to actually make you feel wanted and welcome. Your server will make sure you never run out of drinks, check on you frequently, bring glasses of water (Yankees drink a lot of water with their beer) and remove empties. That in itself is an extremely welcome thing and seems to me to be a direct result of the relationship that has to be established between customer and server.

The Rock Bottom crowd was predominantly in their 20's and 30's (we bumped up the average a bit) and a lot were watching the sport. All were drinking craft beer and of course some were getting merry too. Pretty good food is also available and it was there I had my only burger of the trip. It was bloody good too, with the home made coleslaw being absolutely superb. One nice touch for me was the generous imperial pint at the same price other pubs charged for 16oz or less. For those interested, you can see the very hi tech brewery from the stairs on the way to the toilet, sorry, restroom.

So is it like a British pub? Well it was reasonably pubby - at the trendier end of the spectrum - and very friendly - so yes, it is. The only real difference was the table service and the tab at the end, rather than pay as you go. It is a place well worth a visit, with a good atmosphere and excellent beers. If in Chicago try it.

Our server got a $50 tip afterwards. She earned it.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Mild for May

I read somewhere recently (can't remember where) about the resurgence of mild as a drink and as a fan of the style, I was pleased to read it, but this endangered species needs active promotion to climb back from its near extinct current state. CAMRA's Make May Mild Month campaign aims to do just that.

Now I am lucky enough to live in an area where mild clings on as a drink you can readily purchase over the bar and am a regular drinker of it, so I do my bit. Back to promotion though. Thus it was I found myself at Lees Brewery early on Saturday morning to launch my CAMRA Branch's contribution to the first day of the campaign. Lees Brewer's Dark is a former Champion Mild of Britain and is very dark, chocolatey and luscious, with a tight creamy head. It drinks very easily indeed. It was a good start to the day and with the first going down at around 10.20 in the morning, a perfect breakfast pint.

The coach then took us on to the Hare and Hounds (The Dogs of Tyson fame) where four more milds awaited us, with Pictish Black Diamond Mild being considered by those present as a very good example of the style. Then to Rochdale and the Baum, where two milds were available (one from local brewery Green Mill being favoured) and the Regal Moon where no less than six were on the bar, ranging from Phoenix Black Shadow -another local beer - to rarer milds from Hook Norton and Allgates. Wisely and thoughtfully, Chris the Manager had dug out the third pint glasses, allowing all the beers to be tasted easily.

Our final official stop saw us at the Ashton Arms in Oldham, newly elected as our Pub of the Year, where more Phoenix was drunk, though two milds were available. All the mild handpumps had pump clip crowners in each venue, urging customers to give mild a try, so hopefully there will be a lasting effect. Not an official part of the trip, but just round the corner, the Squire Knott had a determined show of strength, marking its up and coming status as a cask venue with four more milds. Coach House Gunpowder was my choice, a little stronger at 3.8% and my last drink of the day.

So, at least 16 milds available (and sampled) and all were pretty damn good. Go out and seek some mild this month. I doubt if you will be disappointed.

Another good thing about mild is that it is not as intoxicating as most other beers. After a full day out I was able to go home and follow the sub titled Wallander on TV. Proof I'd say.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Bengal Lancer

I bought a bottle of this the other day to see if I would find it better hop wise than the cask examples I have had in London.

It opened with a nice hoppy hiss and there was a bit of hop taste, but sorry, I found it rather highly carbonated, a bit thin, underhopped for what it is meant to be and just not the beer others have raved about. I couldn't discern any sediment either.

Maybe I just don't "get" Fullers beers.