Saturday 29 August 2009

Drinkers have more fun

Somehow I doubt whether Sir Ian Gilmore and Don Shenker will be latching on to this piece of research that shows that teetotallers suffer higher levels of depression.

Those who abstain from alcohol are also more likely to lack social skills and have higher levels of anxiety, it was claimed.

Non-drinkers even have more mental health issues than those considered heavy drinkers, the survey found.

One reason why non-drinkers were more gloomy could be that they have few friends, the study suggests.

“We see that this group is less socially well-adjusted than other groups,” said research leader Dr Eystein Stordal, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
Sounds a bit like something from the Department of the Bleeding Obvious, but the fact it’s from gloomy, prohibitionist Norway is all the more reason for the miserabilists to give it credence.

I can respect vegetarianism, as it is following a sincerely-held (although in my view misguided) principle, but I can never get teetotalism at all – it seems to be a case of deliberately donning a hair shirt and cutting yourself off from one of life’s greatest pleasures for fear of beginning a slide down the slippery slope. Not being bothered about alcohol is one thing, but actively avoiding it on principle something else entirely.

Access all areas?

I recently concluded a poll which asked the question: “Should children be allowed in all areas of pubs?” There were an impressive 61 responses, and the results were as follows:

Yes, at all times: 3 (5%)
Yes, at lunchtimes and early evenings only: 11 (18%)
Yes, at lunchtimes only: 3 (5%)
No, all pubs should have a child-free area: 44 (72%)

The poll was originally prompted by a discussion – I think on the CAMRA forum – where someone was complaining about being asked to leave a pub in mid-evening because he had children with him. He seemed to think that was unreasonable, but the poll clearly shows that well over two-thirds of respondents believe that pubs should offer their customers a choice of child-friendly and adult-only areas throughout the day.

Yet I find it very rare that pubs (or at least the pubs in residential and rural areas where people might be expected to bring children) have an explicit policy of keeping part of their drinking area for adults only. Shouldn’t it be a basic maxim of customer service that you give people what they want – and here we are talking about choice, not a uniform, one-size-fits-all solution?

It should be made clear that the poll was entirely concerned with the policy towards admission of children that people would like to see offered by pubs – it had nothing to do with the law of the land.

Now in what other context have we heard the complaint before about pubs not giving (or being allowed to give) their customers a choice?

Friday 28 August 2009

Too much information?

A report from market research consultancy Mintel claims that people in Britain are drinking more than they think because of “stealth increases” in the typical strength of drinks. The implication is that drinks manufacturers are in some way subtly reformulating products to make them stronger, whereas in reality we have seen the strength of many drinks such as Stella Artois, Old Speckled Hen and Dry Blackthorn cider actually reduced.

In fact, though, what is happening is a change in the mix of drinks consumed, with people moving away from light German wines to richer, fruitier ones from the New World, and abandoning milds and weak bitters and lagers for more premium beers. And it’s disingenuous to suggest that drinkers don’t know what they’re doing – in fact a major reason for the demise of the old-style cooking lagers such as Skol and Heineken was making their very low alcoholic strengths public. In the 70s and 80s, standard draught Carlsberg was a mere 3.0% ABV. Brewers for many years campaigned against the publication of strength information as it would expose just how weak many of their products were.

Anti-drink campaigners are always going on about the need to provide information to consumers of alcoholic drinks, with the result that the back of a bottle now looks like the safety instructions for a nuclear power station, but of course one of the key pieces of information is the amount of alcohol actually in the drink, which inevitably some will use to choose stronger ones. Indeed this problem, if it is a problem, could be said to stem not from ignorance amongst consumers but from knowledge.

The report is also inaccurate in referring – as many others do too – to Britain’s “rising alcohol consumption”. While it is true we are drinking more than we did in the 1950s, as Gavin Partington of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association points out, since 2004 per capita alcohol consumption has actually been falling.

And a report like this does raise the question of whether the UK now has the greatest level of ill-informed anti-drink hysteria in the Western world. In European terms, we are well down the league of alcohol consumption, yet hardly a day goes past without some new scare about the dangers of drink.

Thursday 27 August 2009

Inncider deal

It’s reported today that Irish firm C & C Group, makers of Magners Cider, have acquired the Tennent’s lager brands and the associated Wellpark Brewery in Glasgow from Anheuser-Busch InBev. It’s also interesting that they have acquired the distribution rights to InBev brands such as Stella and Becks in Scotland and Ireland, so the two won’t be in direct competition with each other in those territories. It’s a striking fact that Tennent’s Lager still commands over half of total on-trade lager volume in Scotland. It isn’t clear from the reports what is to happen to the iconic tramp fuel brand Tennent’s Super.

I posted last month about the possibilities of such a sale. It’s unusual for a major brewer to divest a substantial part of their brand portfolio in this way, although the nature of the deal seems to make C & C more of a junior partner than a direct competitor.

There must be a large question mark, though, as to whether this deal will actually bring any benefit, or make any difference, to the discerning consumer of either beer or cider.

Wednesday 26 August 2009

Directions by pub

It’s long been a British tradition to give people directions using pubs as landmarks. But, sadly, nowadays it’s more likely to be “turn left at the lights by the site of the Red Lion, then straight ahead by the boarded-up Dog & Partridge, fork right by the McDonalds in the old Crown, then left again at the block of flats where the King’s Head used to be”. I wonder what the record is for people continuing to refer to a road junction by the name of a long-defunct pub.

Sunday 23 August 2009

Vanished into a black hole

One of the biggest recent mysteries in the brewing world was InBev’s cancellation of the launch of the 5.5% ABV Stella Black, when everything was apparently ready to go. There appears to be an obvious gap in the market between the typical 5% premium lagers, and the mind-numbing and unpalatable 9% supers, but it’s one the mass-market brewers seem strangely reluctant to fill, no doubt for fear of an adverse reaction from the anti-drink lobby.

And maybe, given Stella’s nickname of “wifebeater”, calling a stronger variant “black” conjured up unfortunate images of black eyes.

In case you’re wondering, a Google search for images of “Stella Black” produced the stuffed pussy.

The future may not be real

Regular readers of the blog will be aware of my appreciation of the architectural and beery delights of the city of York. On my most recent visit, prompted by this posting by The Beer Nut, I called in at Pivo, housed in an ancient half-timbered building just off the main shopping street, which bills itself as a “world beer free house”. It has three cask beers, but its unique proposition is a range of about ten unusual imported beers served on draught (in keg form), mostly in the proper branded glassware – with half-pint and pint lines. It’s not the usual suspects, either, no Krombacher and Hoegaarden here. There were even British kegs from Meantime. The prices aren’t as steep as you might expect, with the 4.7% ABV Czech lager Bernard Svetly Lezak at a mere £1.45 a half, which is probably less than the usual price of Stella in York. It seems to attract a youngish, upmarket clientèle, and it was striking to see groups of them happily supping and discussing exotic, often cloudy beer. It may not appeal to the old-time Mild and Bitter diehards, but it has to be said that this kind of bar (regrettably all too rare) feels far more forward-looking and aspirational than a bare-boards boozer serving Slutty Sally and Old Disreputable.

Having said that, the Swan on Clementhorpe is a traditional pub par excellence, with a range of six cask beers and a great atmosphere and, to be honest, somewhere I personally feel more at home.

Friday 21 August 2009

A little of what you fancy

It seems that cigarette, alcohol and junk food sales have soared in the London area while spending on fruit and vegetables has fallen. The article quoted interprets this in a negative way as slipping back into “unhealthy” lifestyles as a response to the financial and mental pressures of the recession. But could it be that people are seeing through the ever more shrill and ludicrous claims of the Righteous health lobby and taking the entirely sensible view that a little of what you fancy does you good?

(h/t Raedwald)

Thursday 20 August 2009

Marketing on strength

One of the reasons given by Alcohol Focus Scotland for their complaint to the Portman Group about BrewDog’s Tokyo* was that it was being “marketed on the basis of strength”. This is obviously a gross misrepresentation, but it led me to think that in practice alcoholic drinks of any kind never are marketed on strength – indeed it is something that goes against advertising codes. People may choose a particular category of drink, but within categories nothing ever seeks to appeal on the basis that it is stronger than its direct competitors.

Many years ago, Whitbread got into hot water with the Advertising Standards Authority by advertising Gold Label barley wine (then sold in nip bottles at 10.9% ABV) as “as strong as a double whisky” and nothing remotely similar ever appears nowadays.

I can’t recall seeing Gold Label in a pub for ages, but it still lingers on in 33cl cans in the off-trade, now reduced to 8.5% ABV, and presumably selling overwhelmingly to old blokes. Interestingly, its makers seem to be able to extract a premium price for it, four cans typically selling at just under £5, or 44p per alcohol unit, compared with the 35p more typical of super-strength lagers.

There’s a review of canned Gold Label here on a site – Hywel's Big Log – that is refreshingly different from the usual CAMRA/beer geek style of beer reviewing.

Old Tom to be castrated?

The Tories’ plans to triple duty on “high-strength” beers and ciders are ill-considered, indiscriminate and unlikely to achieve their stated objectives. They may put people off drinking the likes of Special Brew and Diamond White, but they will also impact on high-quality strong ales such as Robinson’s Old Tom, recently voted world’s best ale, Belgian imports such as Chimay and Duvel, and the products of independent cidermakers. These products are consumed responsibly by discerning drinkers and already are often relatively expensive in terms of price per alcohol unit.

Yet again beer and cider are being unfairly singled out when wines and spirits are equally to blame for our supposed alcohol problems.

The vast majority of the alcohol-fuelled disorder we see on our streets results from people consuming normal-strength drinks. The super-strength products are overwhelmingly drunk at home and scarcely feature in pubs.

And you can bet your life that the promise to reduce duty on “low-strength” products will only apply to the sub-3% pisswater that nobody wants to drink, and not to everyday quaffing beers in the 3-4% range.

It is also inevitable that if there is a sudden jump in duty levels at a particular strength level, numerous products will cluster just below that level, thus distorting the market.

The plan is a thoroughly bad idea which is likely to cost the Tories many votes from people who would often see themselves as their natural supporters. More proof, if it were needed, that defending the interests of responsible drinkers is not a straightforward party political issue.

Tuesday 18 August 2009

Useful idiots

As usual, the Filthy Smoker tells it as it really is, and completely destroys the very weak argument that minimum alcohol pricing might in some way help pubs (strong language alert).

And do you know what? Even if they make the minimum price £2.50 per unit, I will still not be returning to the pub. Why? Because I am not standing in the f*****g street to drink a pint of beer...

The SLTA and CAMRA are making a big mistake co-operating with latter-day temperance groups on this minimum pricing issue. They are not people who can be reasoned with because they are not reasonable people. They cannot be appeased. They cannot be compromised with. The government has no right - no right at all - to decide how much a drink should cost. That should be the only message the politicians hear on this issue. And for anyone in the pub industry to collaborate with these puritans in a selfish attempt to undo the damage that occurred last time they got tricked by them is nothing short of pathetic.
If you're wondering why I've used a few asterisks, it's because I want my posting at least to be readable in offices and other places where Internet filters are in operation.

Monday 17 August 2009

Unsustainable communities?

Over the past few years, CAMRA has devoted a lot of campaigning effort to getting the piece of legislation known as the Sustainable Communities Act passed. They claim that: “The Act provides a channel for local people to drive Central Government assistance and action to improve the economic, social and environmental well being of their area. This means that local people can use the Act to promote community pubs and the availability of local beers.”

But it completely escapes me exactly what in practical terms it is meant to achieve, or how it is to be done. Surely the best way of ensuring the success of pubs is to encourage more people to go to them, which seems to be dramatically at variance with recent government anti-drink initiatives, not least Oldham’s notorious crackdown. As far as I can see, the actions of local government almost always seem to be directed towards curbing the activities of local businesses, especially small independent ones.

It seems to me the best way to protect pubs is for government, whether central or local, to keep out of their hair...

Saturday 15 August 2009

Suffer the little children

In CAMRA’s quarterly magazine BEER, veteran cookery writer Prue Leith has proposed that pubs should provide school dinners for children whose schools have no kitchens.

She seems to assume that pubs have cooking and waiting staff hanging around at lunchtimes doing nothing, whereas in reality pubs would need to recruit staff to carry out this function, and put them through the expensive and time-consuming CRB checks required for anyone working with children.

She says:

Many pubs are empty miserable places at lunchtime, with a couple of old codgers supping their pints in silence in the gloomiest corner.
Sounds like me, really, although I always try to find a spot where there is good light to read the paper. And does she imagine those old codgers would still be there if their quiet space was invaded by a troop of schoolkids? In any case, most of the pubs where that was the case have either closed down or stopped opening at lunchtimes.

To be honest, you have to wonder when she last went in a pub. Some of the comments inject a welcome dose of reality.

Nil by mouth

Last week, the BBC reported that alcohol was responsible for a 26% rise in cases of mouth cancer. This immediately had the whiff of dodgy statistics to me, and Pete Brown had a good go at it, especially with reference to the inaccurate link to beer.

When you look into the subject, it is clear that there are numerous risk factors for mouth cancer. By far the greatest is smoking, but chewing tobacco, mouthwashes and Human Papilloma Virus also feature alongside alcohol. And, even within the alcohol category, it is mainly linked with neat spirits rather than wine and beer.

It has also given rise to some ludicrous flights of bansturbation from the Righteous. Just look at this nonsense:

Dr Vinod Joshi, founder of the Mouth Cancer Foundation is suggesting people should 'avoid drinking alcohol altogether'.

The Department of Health's current advice is that men should not regularly drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol per day, and women should not regularly drink more than 2-3 units of alcohol per day.

He says: 'In view of the latest reports from Cancer Research UK, the current alcohol guidelines that we've got are actually very high.

'To reduce the risk of mouth cancer risk, the Mouth Cancer Foundation recommends that people should limit or avoid drinking alcohol altogether.'

For men, the Mouth Cancer Foundation recommends no more than occasional drinking of two standard drinks a day and for women no more than one standard drink a day.
Given that the current “guidelines” are ludicrously low, when he starts banging on that they are “very high” you have to question exactly what planet he lives on. Has this man ever been in a pub? And the question must be asked whether the Mouth Cancer Foundation is actually a fakecharity.

And it continues:
Hazel Nunn, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, says: ‘These latest figures are really alarming. Alcohol consumption has doubled since the 1950s and the trend we are now seeing is likely to be linked to Britain's continually rising drinking levels.
Umm, for the past few years, alcohol consumption in the UK has actually been falling. So why are you telling fibs, Hazel?

It all adds up to a typical fake health scare.

When alarmist reports speak of a “25% rise” in anything it is important to know what the baseline is. And apparently mouth cancer kills about 1800 people a year, as compared with 3000 with die in road accidents. I won’t be stopping going out of the house to avoid road accidents, and it’s highly likely most of those 1800 deaths are of people who have engaged in high-risk behaviours for many years. So it won’t deter me from drinking my quota, mostly in beer, each week.

Wednesday 12 August 2009

Stretching the law

The Daily Mail reports that a disabled pensioner has been convicted of riding his mobility scooter while over the drink-drive limit. I had always understood that, as mobility scooters were not licensed vehicles, the same law applied to them as to pedal cycles, in that it was illegal to ride them when “under the influence of alcohol”, but there was no defined legal limit. However, in this case the man was breathalysed and found to have a blood-alcohol level of 122mg (the legal limit being 80mg). At that level, while not fit to drive a car, someone isn’t in any meaningful sense “drunk”, and it seems that the police are stretching the law in a way that was not intended. I know a number of old boys who use mobility scooters to get to the pub, and if they were being hounded for having more than a couple of pints it could kill off what social life they have. And I imagine a lot of people would be up in arms if the police sought to extend the same principle to pedal cycles.

The comments on the article also show a depressing level of prejudice against the disabled.

Monday 10 August 2009

Killjoy was here

There’s an excellent article on Sp!ked today by musician Joe Jackson entitled How killjoys colonised Britain’s public houses, in which he argues that “the smoking ban, on top of strict licensing laws and CCTV, has turned pubs from places of choice and tolerance into outlets for official meddling.”

Though I’m personally infuriated by the ban – which forbids smoking in enclosed public spaces and enclosed workplaces – and don’t believe that it’s doing anything for anyone’s health, I don’t claim that it’s the only factor in the decline of a once-great British institution. But I do believe it has had an insidious effect, which needs to be more widely recognised. Traditionally, a pub is supposed to offer hospitality, tolerance, free choice, and a place to relax away from official interference. The ban goes against all of this. It also sets a terrible precedent by overruling the property rights of publicans, and prohibiting adult citizens from negotiating their own arrangements – in this case, with regard to a perfectly legal habit.
He also – perhaps surprisingly to many – says that British pubs are now far more regimented and restricted than their counterparts in Germany, especially Berlin:
I’ve always loved English pubs, but just how awful they are becoming wasn’t completely clear to me until I relocated a couple of years ago to Berlin. While too many pubs these days are soulless, generic commercial enterprises, staffed by people who clearly don’t give a damn, Berlin bars are often wonderfully idiosyncratic, and operated and patronised by people who clearly love them.

Sunday 9 August 2009

Happy days

I was spurred by this post from Raedwald to think about my own days of adolescent drinking. I grew up in an industrial town in the North-West, but having passed the 11-plus, attended a grammar school seven miles away out in a more rural area. I made many friends from that area, and most of the socialising I did in the 18-21 period, in the latter period of the sixth form and during university holidays, tended to revolve around the rural side. The usual pattern was that we would get in one of our fathers’ cars and go out exploring the pubs in the rural areas around a fifteen to twenty mile radius, and also the nearest cathedral city.

It was a journey of discovery – we would find grotty pubs, snooty pubs, dull but welcoming pubs, interesting but unwelcoming pubs, and plenty of pubs of genuine character that we would return to again and again. We knew we had to be respectful to the locals and regulars, so we moderated our behaviour accordingly. One pub in particular, hidden away up a rural cul-de-sac, with two tiny rooms, a quarry-tiled floor and beer straight from the cask, really sticks in the memory. It isn’t like that now, of course.

This was the late 1970s, when the breathalyser had been in place for ten years, and it was drummed into us by our fathers that to be OK we should stick to two pints. In those days, when virtually no draught beer was over 4% ABV, that simple maxim made more sense than it does now. Sometimes we might push it to two and a half, or three over the course of an evening, but I doubt whether that would have led to a failed test anyway. I can honestly say I can never recall an occasion when anyone took the piss with the drink-driving law. On recollection, it seems to me that as a confident driver who passed his test first time before he was seventeen-and-a-half, I did more than my fair share of driving, but I didn’t really mind. And even those who weren’t driving would never have more than four or five pints, and weren’t puking in the streets.

Nowadays, young people just don’t do that – they go on pub crawls around trendy bars in town centres and get arseholed. The rural pubs have in many cases gone over entirely to food or closed down for good (although most of those I recall visiting, to be honest, survive in some form). I think we are missing something in terms of young people being socialised to the ways of pubs and finding out just what is out there on their doorstep.

It is also striking looking back how few of even the up-market pubs served evening meals, yet they were still busy, generally far more so than today. We may have lots more beers nowadays, but I can’t help thinking that the pub trade as a whole is a thin echo of its former self.

Labelling lunacy

Recently we have heard numerous complaints from the anti-drink lobby that an unacceptably high proportion of bottled and canned products are still not carrying the “voluntary” alcohol health warning (sic) information. As I pointed out last year, this analysis is fundamentally dishonest, as it only looks at the proportion of individual products without considering how much of each is sold. If more than 90% of all actual packages sold are covered, can it really be argued that consumers of the remaining 10% are never exposed to these messages (which are in any case a work of fiction)?

In my experience, the products that don’t carry them tend to be low-volume, premium-priced specialist imports which are hardly going to be the drink of choice for problem drinkers. For example, I have in my cupboard a 500ml bottle of Tegernseer Spezial, a high-quality 5.6% ABV Bavarian lager that cost me £2.20 for the bottle, or 79p per alcohol unit – surely dear enough to satisfy even the most ardent anti-drink campaigner. But it carries no health warning, so it will inevitably carry me further down the road to ruin. If the worst comes to the worst, importers will have to stick superfluous and unsightly extra labels on bottles to satisfy the requirements.

While I’m far from the greatest fan of the European Union, surely individual countries applying their own labelling rules should be outlawed as a restraint of trade.

And so it continues

In the latest incident of backside-covering supermarket hysteria, a disabled shopper was forced by Tesco to carry a bag containing wine with his teeth because he had his sixteen-year-old daughter with him. At least in this case Tesco did apologise and said “We know there will be plenty of times when adults will have under-18s with them when buying alcohol and this remains perfectly legal,” which is very welcome. But surely supermarkets have to recognise that it is one thing to expect staff to ID purchasers of alcohol who may appear underage, but something else entirely to expect them to make a judgment as to whether the person with ID is buying alcohol for other members of the group who don’t. Anyone who was intent on buying alcohol on behalf of underage drinkers would in any case have the common sense to ensure they stayed outside the shop while negotiating the till.

And it baffles me why people are prepared to suffer such indignities rather than just abandoning their shopping at the checkout and walking out. Are we a nation of sheep?

Saturday 8 August 2009

Fun in the sun

Oh dear, smoking a fag and drinking beer, how can this represent enjoyment? Signs of a depraved lifestyle, more like.

While I doubt whether a drop of real ale has ever crossed her lips, Kate Moss has created a reputation for knowing how to have a good time.

Good luck to her!

Thursday 6 August 2009

Weak thinking

CAMRA’s plea for the government to scrap beer duty on low-strength beers of 2.8% ABV and below was a predictable publicity stunt to coincide with the launch of the Great British Beer Festival. But it is regrettable that they chose to promote an idea that panders to the anti-drink lobby and displays seriously muddled thinking. Haven’t the powers-that-be at CAMRA realised by now that anything that appeals to Don “weasel words” Shenker and his chums at Alcohol Concern is inevitably going to be a thoroughly bad idea?

It is very difficult to brew a beer below about 3.5% ABV with much flavour and character. Many of the old-style milds and boys’ bitters were very bland, and were designed to be drunk in large quantities by industrial and agricultural workers wanting to restore fluid levels after a hard day’s work. However, as society changed and people became more prosperous, they started switching to bitters which were more expensive, but had more taste and body.

People drinking in pubs are not generally motivated to choose cheaper drinks to save money, otherwise mild would still be all the rage, and (whisper it quietly) one of the main reasons people drink beer is because it actually does contain alcohol. Ordering a cheap, weak beer is hardly a very “aspirational” choice in the pub and comes across much more as a distress purchase. If people want to cut their alcohol consumption they will tend to drink “less but better” rather than making a conscious decision to go for weaker drinks.

In the early 1990s, some of our local brewers introduced cheap “economy” bitters at around 3.2% ABV, such as Hydes’ Billy Westwood and Boddingtons’ Old Shilling. When well-kept, these could in fact be surprisingly tasty, but they never really took off in the marketplace and were dropped after a year or two. And in recent years we haven’t exactly seen the 2% ABV Carling C2 setting the world alight.

The idea that micro-brewers would be able to sell 2.8% beers for substantially less than stronger ones is misplaced anyway, as they benefit from Progressive Beer Duty and thus pay a greatly reduced rate of duty in the first place.

The comments on the BBC article are laughable, as many are along the lines of “I hardly ever go in pubs, but I would like to have the choice of drinking weaker beers” – no doubt from the same kind of people who say “on my annual visit to the pub it is great I no longer have to put up with smokers trying to murder me.”

And please can we drop the nonsense of calling such pisswater mid-strength? It’s only “mid-strength” in the sense that a Smart is a “mid-sized” car, i.e. halfway between a proper car and a pushbike.

Saturday 1 August 2009

No room at the inn

Today I called in to the Salopian Bar in Shrewsbury, the current Shropshire CAMRA Pub of the Year. Good range of mostly local real ales, a few proper real kegs, plenty of interesting bottles. So you can understand why it won the award. But there was a disappointing dearth of decent seating. There is a central bar and three distinct areas. One had a few high-level posing tables, the second expansive, low-level sofas that allow one to sit where five could normally be accommodated, and only the third had normal chairs at tables, albeit no benches even there. If the pub had standard wall-mounted bench seating in all three areas it could probably cater for three times as many seated customers. Surely the lack of seating must impact on trade – it baffles me why pub owners sacrifice capacity in this way in the interest of appearing trendy. The picture shows the aforementioned posing tables and gives a good idea of the general not-very-pubby ambiance.

Wetherspoon’s are another major offender – I have been in plenty of their pubs which hardly seemed busy yet all the tables were taken. If they used wall benches they would be able to accommodate lots more seated customers. But apparently benches make a pub look old-fashioned. So it goes, I suppose, can’t be having too many people in pubs otherwise they might be too successful.

If you’re in Shrewsbury, the Admiral Benbow is a must-visit pub, with a wide range of local real ales and ciders, and plenty of comfortable bench seating too. Unfortunately it only opens at lunchtimes on Saturdays.

Incidentally, I was followed around Shrewsbury by a rowdy, youthful stag party, including a guy wearing a pink smock and horns. Not surprisingly, they were served in Wetherspoon's, somewhat more surprisingly they were served in the Armoury, the up-market Brunning & Price pub. How often do you hear the cry “lagers all round” in there? I suspect a more mature barperson might have asked them to take their custom elsewhere, as some of the clientele were visibly flinching. Encouragingly, they then went into the Admiral Benbow and seemed to be politely told that wasn't quite their type of pub. Nothing wrong with rowdy stag parties as such, but some pubs aren't the place for them.