Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 - A prersonal summary

The year is just about over so I found it interesting to consider if my drinking habits had changed during the year. My overall consumption was probably about the same but my choices altered subtly. All comments refer to drinking in this country.

Cask ale - consumption down slightly.

Keg beer - consumption low but up from nil in 2011.

Bitish bottled conditioned beer - up slightly.

British non-bottled conditioned beer - consumption low but again up from practically zero in 2011.

Belgian bottled beer - down slightly as other countries upped their game/became more widely available.

Other European bottled beer - up; greater availability

American bottled beer; up; ditto.

It is noticeable that pubs and bars are expanding their range of foreign bottles beyond Chimay, Duvel and the odd German wheat beer. American beer is becoming easier to find with Flying Dog seemingly everywhere. Nøgne Ø from Norway are picking up sales too.

In my area, we've finally gained a chain of decent beer shops. 'Ship in a Bottle' have quickly expanded from Liverpool City Centre to Wirral with new shops in West Kirby and Heswall. The owners considered the new shops a bit of a gamble, but I'm told that the takings in the West Kirby shop were over £4,000.00 on the Sunday before Xmas. We're a discerning lot in Wirral.

Friday, 28 December 2012

The Refreshment Rooms, Rock Ferry, Birkenhead

It's always good to see a closed pub re-open especially when it does so with a range of real ales. I have good memories of the Admiral as it was called for many years, now reverting to it's original name. It was one the first pubs in the area to stock Special Cask Bitter when Whitbread West Pennines finally acknowledged the real ale revolution in the 70s and I actually won a few medals playing for the pub football team.

The Refreshment Rooms in the 1880s
The Refreshment Rooms (CH42 1LS) was built in the 1870s to cash in on the trade from the adjacent Rock Ferry when ferries were the only way for the public to cross the river Mersey until the underground rail tunnel was drilled. The imposing Royal Rock Hotel over the road was well known in the region and the prestigious Royal Mersey Yacht Club, whose current patron is the Duke of Edinburgh and members include King Harald of Norway, is just 50 yards away.

However, the construction of the 1st Mersey Tunnel did for the outlying ferry routes. Later in the 20th century the Tranmere Oil Terminal ruined the view across the Mersey, as it still does, and even worse, a late 60s act of planning vandalism, the Rock Ferry by-pass, decimated the adjacent Rock Park estate of 18th century merchant's mansions. The Admiral had previously been 400 yards from the nearest railway station, bus stops and shops but the replacement road bridge over the by-pass took a tortuous route leaving the pub in a backwater.

Not the most inspiring river view even after I've cropped the worst bit.
The pub still  did reasonably well for a number of years, partly because it's secluded position, close to but somehow cut off from the rest of the community gave it a special atmosphere, but it struggled like many other pubs in recent years before it closed, seemingly for good.

Re-opened by new owners who have a track record of rejuvenating tired pubs; a mixture of cask beers, good value food, live music and discouraging unruly elements has worked well and the pub is doing very well. Lees have funded the beer engines and provide three beers, and other beers are usually sourced from local favourites Brimstage and Liverpool Organic.

A recent visit on a Sunday afternoon showed a reasonable numbers of punters at the bar and families dining, with a good proportion of the custom female so the pub seems to be back on it's feet.

By the way, anyone who's aware of Duffy's CD 'Rockferry' may like to know that it is named after this Rock Ferry. She has family in the area and has fond memories of visits here. Her Auntie Mo works for the same company as I do.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Bah Humbug!

Contrast our miserable Nannyist state's 'Don't exceeed the recommended units', 'Don't drive the morning after a night out' and Don't forget that public transport ceases to exist at Christmas' messages with Belgium, where I spent a very pleasant time last weekend.

Over there, the conspicuous consumption of ultra-strong Christmas beers, gluhkriek and jenevers is almost compulsory and trains, buses and trams run 365 days a year. They even lay on extra buses after midnight on New Year's Eve to take the revellers home to their outlying villages. Just like they do in the U.K. (I wish).

Friday, 7 December 2012

Rose & Crown, Bebington

The Rose & Crown in Bebington Village is a Thwaites pub about a mile and a half from my house. It was my (very) regular for over 25 years. My first  visit was after my last day at Wirral Grammar School and from then on I could be found there on most days of the week listening to the juke box and playing darts. I captained the darts team and couldn't imagine it not being my local until marriage started to gradually curtail pub visits - as it does. It sold just two cask beers; Bitter and Mild, but in vast quantities.

It was a fixture in the GBG for over 20 years until changes in management and the perception that Thwaites' had lost their way took their toll. Still a very popular drinkers' pub (no food) the beer quality nowadays is pretty good and seasonal beers plus the odd guest have spiced up the range.

Finally getting to the point of this post, it's had a bit of a spruce up recently. Thwaites have been spending a few bob on their pubs and rolling out a new corporate image. You can see the difference  between the investment by the traditional pub-owning brewers and the total lack of it by most of the Pubcos who extract vast sums from their leaseholders while giving little or nothing back in return.

Anyway, it looks pretty smart externally and internally. Who pays you may ask? Amazingly, not the drinker. Thwaites Bitter which was £2.50 a pint previously is now down to £2.25!

Friday, 30 November 2012

Stella Artois Christmas Bottle

Following on from my piece about fancy packaging of beer if you aren't aware of ABInbev's festive offering it's pictured below:

So all that's needed to change wife-beater into a desirable craft beer is an embossed, corked bottle with a champagne enclosure. Easy eh?

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

It sounds so innocent

There's plenty of comment about David Cameron's announcement regarding the minimum pricing of alcohol. Leaving behind the very dubious reasoning for the move, one reason why the backlash won't be huge is the phrase itself. You can here people thinking to themselves " minimum, well that's nearly the same as low, and low pricing sounds o.k." Also, "45p; well I'm paying a lot more than that now for a pint/shot/short so it won't be a problem."

Of course, it will be a problem though because the more savvy of us well realise that a typical alcoholic drink has multiple units of alcohol. No doubt the confusion of what a 'unit' actually is will be exploited by retailers as an explanation for profiteering - "sorry for the price rise, but it's the minimum pricing to blame".

As many of us know it's only the start. Alcoholics don't stop drinking because a bottle of whisky goes up in price by £1.00. So when' statistics' are produced to show that binge drinking is still a problem the health lobby will say that the minimum price per unit is too low and demand a further increase: then another, and another.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

I saw you coming

Harry Enfield's and Paul Whitehouses's T.V series may not not get the audiences of some years back but still makes some clever observations.

I checked out Shepherd Neame's Generation Ale which had looked interesting. Here's some information from the brewery:
"Generation Ale launched in 2011 as a limited edition ale hand-crafted to commemorate five generations of Shepherd Neame as an independent family brewery.
With only 3,000 bottles released, Generation Ale boasts a 12-month ageing process resulting in a rich, full-bodied ale to be savoured and enjoyed.  Beautifully packaged in a wooden presentation box, Generation is a collectors’ item and the ultimate gift for ale lovers.
Generation Ale is presented in a traditional amber bottle, embossed with the Shepherd Neame crook.  Each bottle is hand-wrapped in paper and encased within a wooden box bearing the signature approval of chief executive Jonathan Neame.  With an ABV of 9% and served in a 75cl bottle, the beer is priced at £17.50 and exclusively available from Shepherd Neame. The perfect ale to sip, share and savour with friends, Generation is the ultimate beer from Britain’s oldest brewer."
The £17.50 doesn't include £5.00 postage!  No recession in Toryland then.




Sunday, 18 November 2012


........is the maximum number of drinkers allowed in Port Street Beer House, Manchester. At least that's what the security bod told me as a reaon for leaving me standing on the pavement for five minutes yesterday. Was he telling the truth or being a jobsworth? I've been in any number of pubs much fuller than this was. Or is it because craft beer drinkers need more space to protect or show off their expensive purchases.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Wetherspoons are different in Essex

I stayed overnight in Braintree last Saturday. Tranmere were due to play an FA Cup tie on Sunday lunchtime so I'd decided to travel down the day before. It was an expensive trip as the match was postponed an hour before kick off.

Anyway, my Northerner prejudices were demolished as I found it a pleasant town with friendly locals. I drank some excellent beer in Braintree including a Mild (!) and also in Chelmsford. Late evening I was tempted into the local Wetherspoons by their beer festival. A cavernous former cinema I was surprised to find a mixture of Dance and R & B music playing at a high volume. There was also Italian football on numerous screens. Is this a change of tack for Wetherspoons? I've not been in one of their pubs before with loud music playing. I found the juxtaposition of drinking Minagof Pale Ale from Guam while watching the Essex youth singing along to Ne-Yo blasting out from the sound system rather surreal.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Someone has to lose

 The Cask Report has just been published. In general, it is good news for cask beer with sales up in 2011 by 1.5% and static so far this year. Measured against an overall decline in the beer market that's reason for optimism.

However, micro-breweries are still opening and existing ones expanding at a fair rate so which cask brewers are in decline? There can't be much more market share to take from the decline of the former 'national' brands like Boddington's and Draught Bass. The bigger players such as Marston's and Fullers have reported increased sales and Coors' purchase of Sharp's has seen Doom Bar production  rocket.

I'll wager that the remaining family and regional brewers are the ones struggling to keep their heads above water. Unable to compete with the likes of Wetherspoon's on price and with brands seen as old fashioned and irrelevant to the committed cask or craft drinkers I predict more takeovers in this sector soon.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Meantime IPA in Sainsbury's

It looks like Meantime IPA has lost its listing in Sainsbury's. That's a shame because in my opinion it was the best beer avaialble yearlong in a national supermarket. Before you shout 'Waitrose' we don't have many of them up here.

I often used to visit Sainsbury's especially to buy this beer. Usually, I'd remember other things I needed or make an impulse buy so they've lost more than just the cost of the beer.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Stalybridge Buffet

I'd heard rumours of trouble along the Transpennine real ale trail with stag/hen groups. I saw proof of this on Saturday on a visit to Stalybridge for a footy match. The Station Refreshment Rooms aka Buffet now use plastic glasses on Saturdays at the behest of the local Police.

In my experience the beers here appeal to the ticking fraternity and are not necessary the greatest examples of the brewing art. Add a plastic glass and mediocrity is the order of the day. The Buffet serves a number of Belgian beers. It seems ludicrous to be given a plastic glass with your Chimay Bleue. Ditto wine.

The Police-driven dash for plastic is a worrying trend and can only deter the discerning drinker from visiting pubs even more.

Monday, 25 June 2012

I didn't know that

A friend of mine who has been in leading light in CAMRA for many years told me something I didn't know. In the time before all day opening and late licences it seems that those pubs that weren't averse to serving after hours were indicated in the Good Beer Guide by a double full stop after the description.

If true I wish I'd known this at the time. I can't be bothered searching the loft for my old guides to check them out. Can anyone else verify my friend's disclosure?

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Unsworth Yard Brewery, Cartmel

I've mentioned the excellent choice of beers around the Cartmel Peninsula and now the village has its own brewery. Unsworth's Yard was formerly a bit of an eyesore in this pictureseque village but has been transformed by the building of units from traditional stone and slate housing an artisinal baker, cheese and wine shops and now a brewery.

The plant has approximately two barrels capacity and brewing is already taking place two or three times a week. The refreshing Crusader Gold is selling very in the Cavendish Arms about 200 yards away. Even nearer is the newly re-opened Priory Hotel which is taking the darker, malty Cartmel Peninsula. The beers have reached pubs as far away as Lancaster and are proving popular at beer festivals.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Spoilt For Choice

I'm on one of my Bank Holiday stays in Cartmel. There are five real ale outlets. Rogan's has fallen by the wayside but The Priory Hotel has re-opened with Cartmel Peninsula on sale from the new Unsworth's Yard brewery just around the corner.

The King's now has Hawkshead Biiter, Red, Windermere Pale and Draught Bass. The Royal Oak has Coniston Bluebird and Skiddaw Bitter. The Cavendish Arms has Deuchar's IPA, Flying Scotsman and Unsworth Yard's Crusader Gold. The Pig and Whistle has four Robinsons' beers but you can't have everything. In fairness, the Crusoe was quite good.

Note that with my loyalty card Hawkshead Bitter is £2.38 a pint. The Crusader Gold in the Cavendish is £3.75 a pint! They do have to transport it a whole 100 yards from the brewery.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Exactly a month

...since my last post and virtually nothing in the month before that. It's hard to break a habit but once it's done it's just as hard to regain it.
It isn't as if I've left the world of beer. I went to Belgium twice in April - ZBF in the new Leuven venue was a superb experience. I've been to the Walsall Beer Festival, had a trip to the Bridge End, Ruabon (CAMRA POTY) and jaunts to Liverpool, Chester and Southport. But I just couldn't be bothered writing about anything. The funny thing is I didn't read anyone else's blogs either. I can't really explain why.

What has invigorated me is the the conjunction of good weather and my impending 12 day (!) holiday in Cartmel. The thought of unlimited Hawkshead Bitter plus numerous other beers on offer has got me like a child counting down the days to Christmas. There is even a new brewery which has opened in the village since I was last there.

I've been teetotal this week as part of my training for this epic challenge. Next Tuesday night I'll be propping up the bar of the Kings Arms. I'll keep you up to date with events.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Too busy to blog

The end/start of the financial has been even more intense than usual for me at work. Blogging takes a back seat when you've been putting in 12 hour days with weekend working as well.
Things are back to normal now and tomorrow I head to Belgium for the ZBF beer festival at the new venue in Leuven. Stella Artois will not be on my menu.

Thursday, 29 March 2012


I had a letter printed in The Independent today. It is in response to another attack on drinkers from an anti-alcohol lobbyist. It is the the fourth letter down on this page. The original letter is here.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Holt's not cheap anymore

£2.62 is how much I paid for a pint of Holt's Bitter in the Crown & Anchor, Manchester this week. There are still many pubs in the North West cheaper than this. For instance the nearby Micro Bar in the Arndale Centre has beers at £2.30 a pint. Sam Smith's prices are creeping up too. Has David Cameron been having a word or two?

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Name dropping

Unplanned circumstances meantthat I didn't arrive at my hotel in Manchester on Tuesday night until 10:30 p.m. It was straight in and out to head for the pubs. A quick couple in the Marble Arch and on the Port Street beer house. It was quiet but one drinker caught my eye. Garrett Oliver, the famed brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery was in conversation with a small group of drinkers. I managed to gain a few minutes chat with him, breaking the ice by saying I'd met him once before in Belgium. He was polite enough to say that he recognised my face although I'm sure that he gets bothered by plenty of beer groupies. I soon found out that one member of his party was the brewer from Nøgne ø in Norway. I can barely pronounce the name of the brewery correctly so I thought better of trying to speak to him.

Port Street shut at midnight and deciding that I could manage a nightcap I trotted round to The Castle. Lively as ever I was soon in conversation at the bar. I was talking to a friendly chap called Ian when I blurted out that he looked familiar. His laughter caused me embarrassment as he told me that he was in Coronation Street. He plays Owen Armstrong and for those who are interested in these things he had another Corry actor in tow, Mikey North who plays Owen's daughter's boyfriend Gary in the soap. Keep up! Anyway, he came across as a a very nice chap.

Friday, 9 March 2012

The Health Lobby - More drivel in The Press

Most of the papers have been running stories today stating that people over 45 are more likely to drink every day than younger alcohol drinkers according to statistics. They all report this in a negative light, following on from the medical advice that we should refrain from alcohol on at least two days a week. It is interesting to see the pseudo-facts and mis-interpretation of the findings that they print.

The Independent, as one would expect, reports the statistics responsibly until the final few paragraphs:

'Experts recommend three alcohol-free days a week' the paper pronounces. Who are these 'experts'? The Indy doesn't tell us. Plus hang on a minute. It was only recently that they recommended two days a week off booze. At this rate we'll all be told to become teetotal by Easter.

They go on to quote Professor Tony Ray, a consultant in old-age psychiatry. 'This is such a hidden problem-older people drink behind closed doors. There are a variety of problems but they are usually below the radar because they do not involve death or liver disease.' It doesn't sound such a big problem to me.

My local rag the 'Liverpool Echo' trails the headline 'Over 45's Drink More Alcohol.' What does this mean?  Does it mean they all had a drink one night and then decided to risk a second? Do they drink more than they used to? Is it meant to say that they drink more than the under 45's? Nothing in the article substantiates the latter two conclusions. Someone aged over 45 drinking a couple of pints or glasses of wine every night isn't necessarily drinking more than the teenager who binge drinks at weekends. Also if they've been drinking those couple of pints every night for last ten years then they haven't increased their consumption either and indeed quite possibly may have reduced their consumption over time.

But these articles are all part of the softening up process.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Northern beer in London

I was in London on Saturday. While my wife and daughter went to see 'Wicked' at the ApolloVictoria I strolled down the road to The cask in Pimlico. I gave wry smile as I perused the handpumps. Five were taken up with beers from the superb Liverpool Organic Brewery.

I like their beers very much, but considering that they are freely available in the pubs I visit back home I'd hoped to find a wider choice to sample. Anyway, I started off with a pint of their 3.8% Cascade. Two things stood out. £3.40 for a low strength beer is on average 70p dearer than on Merseyside. Furthermore the total lack of sparkler left the beer flat, insipid and not enjoyable. I am neutral on the sparkler issue but this showed that some northern beers are best served with a head.

If I thought that the Cascade was expensive, Organic's other beers were even more so. The Liverpool Pale Ale at 4% was £3.70 and Shipwreck IPA at 6.5% was £4.60 with Imperial IPA at 7.2% selling for £5.20. I would . The Pale Ale would probably cost the same as the Cascade on home territory and the others about a £1 per pint less.

The customers at the Cask seem happy to pay these prices but I couldn't afford to drink there regularly.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Abbotsford bites the dust.

I showed this photo of The Abbotsford in a previous article on closed pubs in Wirral. There had been rumours that it was to be turned into a supermarket. Well if you look below you'll see that it has now gone forever the victim of one of those mysterious fires that break out without warning in empty buildings. The local council stepped in to order demolition on safety grounds.

Built in the mid 60's to a standard design favoured by the latter years of Birkenhead Brewery/Threlfalls who were already firmly under the Whitbread umbrella it was viewed as a prestige addition to the tied estate. Local industry was still thriving at the time with many thirsty workers emerging each evening from Cammell Laird and other large employers in the area.

Although it never sold cask beer as the ground floor cellar was filled with large tanks dispensing tasteless liquids and leaving no room to store casks, it was important to me. My Father was a pub manager for Whitbread in the nearby Star Hotel who applied to run the new pub but was deemed too inexperienced at the time. The Manager's job became vacant in 1973 and this time he got the job. So this was became my home for ten years. After my Dad had taken early retirement ten years later trade deteriorated as heavy industry was lost, unemployment grew and slum clearance reduced the local population.

Visiting the pub ten years ago it was going downhill fast. The original design of a large bar, lounge, best lounge open at weekends and outdoor sales was knocked into one vast soulless room driving away the more refined customers leaving behind a number of unsavoury characters. The most recent manager had been waiting for a new housing development to breathe life into the area but eventually gave up to concentrate his efforts into the nearby Derby Arms. So another 'community local' is no more.

Monday, 27 February 2012

If this is the future....

.....it's time to go teetotal. A 2.8% 'smooth' beer. I don't care if it is only £1.95 a pint.

Spotted in Mills Hill on Saturday I think I made the right decision to give it a miss. The Dobber in the Marble Arch later was a much better choice.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Liverpool Beer Festival 2012

I know why it is so difficult to get tickets for this festival. Liverpool & District CAMRA want to keep all great beers on sale to themselves. Seven from Hawkshead, four from Marble, five from Thornbridge plus offerings from Amber, Castle Rock, Dark Star, Ilkley, Purple Moose, Osset, Rat, Saltaire and rare draught Golden Pride from Fullers.

Plenty of excellent local ales too. Sponsors Liverpool Organic provide twenty (!), with Brimstage, George Wright, Southport and Wapping amongst the highlights.

I don't have a ticket for tonight or Saturday but The Dispensary are putting on their own festival so I may well pop over the river for a few after Rovers' match tomorrow.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Snowy Staveley.

I took a trip to Staveley Beer Hall yesterday courtesy of a cheap advance ticket from Virgin Trains. Inevitably, Virgin ensured that we missed our connection at Oxenholme so we decided that the extra expense of a taxi was a better option than losing two hours drinking time. The compensation form is on its way.

Arriving in Staveley was like walking through the back of the wardrobe into Narnia. Wirral was cold and damp, as it still was when I got home, but south Lakeland was carpeted in snow which did not relent all day with the eerie quietness that the snow brings.

The Beer Hall was as welcoming as usual with a god smattering of customers considering the weather. We went through the card, including the new Dry Stone Stout and lingering at the wonderful NZPA. Just as well it ran out because it is dangerously drinkable for 6%. The Mushroom soup and a large cheese board sustained us through the day.

We interrupted our visit to make the short trudge down to the Eagle & Child. Sitting in front of he real fire watching the snow come down is a great pleasure but the Coniston Bluebird was second rate compared with the Hawkshead range. This beer is a poor shadow of its former self in my opinion.

So it was back to the Beer Hall for more Windermere Pale Ale and Cumbrian Five Hop. The bottle shop has shifted its emphasis away from Belgium slightly and now stocks some excellent English beers. I noticed Magic Rock, Summer Wine, Thornbridge, Dark Star and even Kernel represented. But NZPA is now available in bottle so that was my choice. Another excellent day at this superb brewery.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Low Alcohol Beers

I was propping up the bar the other week during my jaunt down south. A punter ordered a pint of Wychwood January' Sale. I wasn't aware of this beer but a quick perusal of the pump clip told that it was only 2.8% and I realised it was one of the new wave of beers brewed to take advantage of the lower duty band.

I was interested to see how much it cost and was astounded when the barman asked for £3.10. It doesn't look like the duty saving is going to be passed on to the customer.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Minimum alcohol pricing on Merseyside

"MERSEYSIDE is set to lead the way by introducing a minimum alcohol price tag.
The proposed 50p per unit cost is intended to stop supermarkets selling cheap booze as loss-leaders fuelling binge drinking amongst local youngsters.
The move will be included in a report published next month by the Liverpool City Region Child Poverty and Life Chances Commission which represents the five councils and associated bodies.
Former welfare minister and poverty tsar Frank Field told the ECHO today: “Increasingly in many of our constituencies alcohol is a bigger social problem than drugs – particularly amongst young people.”
The Birkenhead MP added: “It is outrageous that big supermarket chains exploit the situation, selling alcohol below cost to draw in customers and increase their profits.”
The leaked report pointed out across Merseyside alcohol-related hospital admissions of under-18s is 149 per 100,000 of population – well over double the 64.5 national average.
Research by academics suggests a 50p minimum price would reduce such admissions by 4,355 in the first year in the Merseyside and Cheshire health area. And it would cut regional NHS costs by £2.1m each year.
The report said: “Increases in price would not impact equally across all drinkers because those who drink hazardously and harmfully tend to choose cheaper drinks.
“A 50p minimum price would lead to consumption of low-risk drinkers falling by only 3.5%. Therefore minimum pricing would affect harmful drinkers far more than those who drink in moderation.”
Under the proposal, which will require new local bylaws, a two-litre bottle of supermarket brand cider currently sold for £1.85 would cost £5.30.
The current supermarket cost of cheap drink can be as low as 17p a unit.
Last year the Home Office confirmed retailers will be banned from selling alcohol below the rate of duty plus VAT.
But the Merseyside report pointed out such curbs will still allow supermarket chains to set unit prices as low as 21p for beer and 28p for spirits which works out at 38p for a can of lager and £10.71 for a litre of vodka."

I presume that Tesco et al are pretty robust in not selling alcohol to under 18s so blaming the low price of booze in supermarkets for a rise in alcohol-related hospital admissions in this age group seems grossly wrong. This is where the Law of Unintended Consequences which Tandleman is fond of quoting kicks in. Instead of learning how to drink responsibly in a pub atmosphere under pain of sufferance by the Licensee and pub regulars, this generation of teenagers get older youths to buy their alcohol or at the mercy of criminals offering supplies that have avoided duty and tax. Drinking in their homes or in parks, there is no regulation of the binge drinking that ensues.

The minimum pricing will not solve the problem. Merseyside has many 'entrepreneurs' who can undercut the higher price levels that the supermarkets will be forced to commit to. With no social conscience the under age drinkers will continue to be exploited with a few older and poorer drinkers tempted as well.

Will any increased tax revenue from the off-trade be used to help the heavily regulated on-trade? Not likely! Note that there is no apology for the consumption of low-risk drinkers reducing by only 3.5%. Why should this blameless group be penalised? 

Friday, 27 January 2012


I spent three nights in Bournemouth last week. It was a mixture of business and watching Tranmere Rovers which certainly wasn't pleasurable. Of course, I spent plenty of time in pubs but I found the drinking experience a little disappointing. I visited six GBG pubs, three in Bournemouth and three in Poole which adjoins its neighbour seamlessly. I also tried two Wetherspoons. I'm pretty brave you know.

Beer quality was good apart from the 'Spoons in Boscombe, with the Bermuda Triangle in Lower Parkstone setting an excellent standard. It wasn't the quality but the beer styles that I had trouble with.

Ringwood and Wadworth dominated, two breweries producing old fashioned malty beers, particularly Ringwood whose beers I always find too sweet. There was a distinct lack of  hops and beers from micros. Nottingham, Orkney, Tirrell, even Robinson's Build a Rocket Boys! could be found but nothing resembling a hoppy bitter or IPA. The only beer I found from a small brewery was from the Dorset Brewing Co., Dorchester which didn't impress me this time or previously.

There was no vibrant pub selling craft beers and unusually for such a large population centre there seems to be a lack of good cask beer venues.

Nice scenery, but don't expect great beer.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Paul Scholes: The secret of his success?

According to one of the weekend papers Paul Scholes has given up his slippers and his favourite pint of John Willie Lees Bitter to return to playing for Manchester United.

So drink good no nonsense real ale from a traditional family brewery and you too can be a footballing legend.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Hydes to downsize

I've heard a very strong rumour that Hydes are to vacate their brewery site in Moss Side, Manchester and downsize to new premises. They have reached agreement to relinquish their free trade accounts to Thwaites and will concentrate on their tied estate.

Hydes had invested in greater capacity some years back when they won the contract to brew Boddington's Bitter after the closure of Strangeways Brewery. I could probably satisfy the current demand for Boddington's with a home brew kit so the extra capacity must have become a drain on finances. Hydes may be well-respected but have struggled in the cut-throat guest beer market and their brewery is not valuable as a redevelopment site. A good business move or last throw of the dice?

Friday, 6 January 2012

Different attitude to beer.

I was in Belgium leading up to New Year and it was as wonderful as ever. This piece isn't about my consumption though, rather that of my 14 year old daughter and her friend. In Britain alcohol is tightly regulated on licensed premises. Looking back to my teenage years, wearing long trousers and having a vague idea of what to order was enough to obtain a pint of mild. As the years past, looking over 18 wasn't enough and the latest scheme is the 'Think 25' where it seems that almost anyone under pensionable age has to produce ID.

Belgium is far more relaxed. Our teenagers drank fruit beers with strengths of 3 to 4% in four different bars in three different town/cities during the week and not one barperson so much as raised an eyebrow never mind enquired of their age. Note that it was one beer per day maximum. I am aware of Belgian commentators pronouncing that weak beer is better for school children than fizzy soft drinks such as Coca Cola.

The question I ask is am I and the Belgian bar staff being irresponsible in allowing teenagers to drink beer in a controlled but relaxed environment? Or should Britain follow this lead to discourage the binge drinking by teenagers at home, in parks etc. I knew exactly how to behave in a pub by the age of 16 and education denied to current teenagers.