Thursday 29 December 2011

Price and value

I was recently rather surprised to see a comment about one of Brunning & Price’s pubs in the South-East describing their food as “hearty stuff at moderate prices”. Up here, I’d describe them as unashamedly expensive and up-market, and I doubt whether that is much different down there. Let’s take their nearest outlet to me, the Sutton Hall near Macclesfield. The menu, which obviously is likely to change, currently offers, for example:

* Braised shoulder of lamb with dauphinoise potatoes and redcurrant gravy £16.75
* Pan-fried seabass fillets with a chorizo, caper, lemon, herb and tomato dressing £15.25
Now, of course they are perfectly entitled to charge those prices, and I’m not saying the food isn’t worth it, but those dishes on a pub menu are unquestionably expensive, ambitious and upmarket. There are cheaper main courses, but nothing, not even ham, egg and chips, below £9.95. To be fair, their sandwiches are not so much out of line with other food-led pubs.

To my mind, I would expect main dishes – excluding prime steaks and the like – in middle-of-the-road pubs to cost maybe between £7 and £9. Below £6 is cheap’n’cheerful, whereas over £9 is getting a bit steep, north of £10 and the eyes start to water.

The whole question of pricing in pubs, whether for food or drink, is far from simple. You have to consider the quality and choice of what is on offer, convenience of access, general atmosphere and the preferences of your companions. There may be forty pubs within easy reach of you, especially if you can travel directly to a town centre, but realistically on each occasion you’re unlikely to be choosing between more than a handful.

Recently, for beer of around 4.0%, I have paid £1.60 in a Sam Smith’s pub, £1.99 in Wetherspoon’s, £2.15 in a Holt’s, £2.46 in a Hydes’, £2.53 in a Lees’, £2.71 in a pub company outlet, £2.80 in a Robinson’s (one of the more upmarket ones), £3.30 in a Brunning & Price and £3.60 in the Pointing Dog in Cheadle Hulme, all within 15 miles of my house. This demonstrates the huge range of prices that are on offer. I won’t be going back to the Pointing Dog in a hurry, though. The Sam Smith’s beer was just as good as most, and rather better than some.

Each pub has its own target market, and the £3.30 in the smart B & P pub will be acceptable to those who have come for a meal and are only going to drink one or two pints, but won’t appeal to the local six pints a night men. But you do need to be careful that your pricing aspirations don’t go beyond what your customers think is reasonable, otherwise they will start to drift away. People still have a strong sense of fairness and value for money. Also, the headline prices of a pint of bitter and lager are likely to stick in the mind, and be readily comparable to other pubs, and so it makes sense not to be seen to be out of line on these.

And price competition is much more intense in town and city centres, where there is much more of a choice of pubs, and where the influence of Wetherspoon’s is likely to have been brought to bear.

It must be said too that people are often happy to condemn pubs they don’t like as expensive, while happily tolerating similar prices in those they do like.

Wednesday 28 December 2011

Unlikely pioneers

You wouldn’t have guessed it in advance, but conservative, secretive family brewer Samuel Smith’s of Tadcaster seem to be leading the response to the reduced beer duty for beers of 2.8% or below. They have cut the strength of their keg Light and Dark Milds to this level, together with that of Alpine Lager. I think the two milds were only about 3.0% before, so it isn’t a huge difference in strength, and Alpine, once their standard lager, has now been supplanted by Taddy Lager as their full-strength offering.

It is significant that they have done this by cutting the strength of existing products rather than introducing new ones which will inevitably carry something of a stigma. Would you really want to go in a pub and order a pint of Small Beer?

I sampled a pint of the Light Mild, available at the Boar’s Head in Stockport at an incredible £1.18 a pint (where Old Brewery Bitter is £1.60). It’s a nitro effort, although not quite as soapy as John Smith’s Extra Smooth. It’s a bit darker than OBB, with a dense, lasting head, and is bland but inoffensive in flavour, with a slight burnt caramel tinge. Nothing to write home about, but if your finances are limited and you fancy a pint it has an appeal.

It was notable that, despite there being no actual market in the Market Place, the Boar’s Head was standing room only at lunchtime today, when Robinson’s nearby Baker’s Vaults and Bull’s Head were both closed.

Jumping on the wagon

The Daily Telegraph reports today that Call Me Dave is actively looking into the introduction of a minimum unit price for alcohol. I’ve gone through the arguments against this at length in the past – it is wrong in principle, even on its own terms it won’t work, and it is against EU competition law anyway. Several other bloggers have criticised the plan this morning – I thought Cranmer (not one of my usual sidebar links) offered one of the best summaries.

Perhaps part of Cameron’s thinking is to pick a fight with the EU, although it is unlikely that many of his natural supporters will be with him on this one, and ironically it would give UKIP the opportunity to open up some more clear blue water.

And can we expect Labour, which historically has claimed to be the champion of the poor, to fight him on this? I strongly suspect they will do so just as strongly as they stood up for working-class pubs and clubs in 2007. Mind you, it’s unlikely to affect the price of Chianti, is it?

Edit: and I see the Telegraph in its editorial column is not at all keen. Could this be the Coalition equivalent of Blair’s “marching yobs to the cashpoint”?

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Brass in pocket

You often hear representatives of the medical profession moaning about alcohol being available at “pocket-money prices”. However, they’re always vague about what specific products they are referring to. It would be illuminating to get them to name the products they are talking about, and to demonstrate that they have some kind of disproportionate involvement in alcohol-related health problems.

And are they talking about the price per individual pack, or the effective price per unit? Tesco will sell you a single bottle of Czech lager for 99p, but in terms of bangs per buck that is a lot dearer than a 20-pack of Fosters for a tenner, and the latter can hardly be regarded as within the scope of “pocket money”. And the average weekly pocket money for a child is apparently £6.84, which will comfortably buy a four-pack of pretty much any beer in the off-trade.

In reality, the UK has about the third-highest alcohol duties in the European Union, and amongst the highest 10% in the world. In no meaningful sense can alcoholic drinks in this country overall be regarded as cheap.

If anything really is available at “pocket money prices”, then that suggests one or both of it being very weak and in a very small measure. This is a dishonest and emotive use of words that is only too typical of the anti-drink lobby, and regrettably is occasionally taken up by some claiming to represent the interests of drinkers who really should know better.

Bang on?

I seem to have got the idea into my head that Wells’ Bombardier is a beer I don’t like. I tend to feel it has an unpleasant, cloying maltiness that really isn’t to my taste. But, I have to say, on at least three occasions over the past twelve months, I have ended up with a pint of it as it was the least bad option on the bar, and actually found it quite enjoyable. And – dare I say – the cut in strength from 4.3% ABV to 4.1% actually seems to have made it lighter in body and more palatable. It’s got to the point now where I may even actively prefer it to some other mainstream beers on the bar.

Having said that, I was recently in a (decent enough) pub where the beer range was Bombardier, Everards Tiger and Hobgoblin. Does that not perfectly define “dull and predictable”?

Friday 23 December 2011

Strangers in tonight

Last night we had a very enjoyable evening in the Davenport Arms at Woodford to present licensee Yvonne Hallworth with a certificate commemorating 25 consecutive years in the Good Beer Guide. This is a classic pub, bursting with character and, while it has been altered a little over the years, still has a cosy tap-room and snug at the front, all warmed by real fires which, on a fairly mild evening, produced a roasting atmosphere. Robinson’s Hatters Mild, Unicorn, Mr Scrooge and Old Tom were all on excellent form.

However, amongst some people, this pub seems to have got a reputation for being “cliquey”. It was described by one person as “ very much a locals' local in the style of "American Werewolf in London"'s Slaughtered Lamb: odd looks from (most likely) regulars, and the like.” Well, yes, it does have a strong band of regular customers, and isn’t that really a sign of a good pub? And, given its location between Bramhall and Wilmslow, most of them tend to come from the comfortable middle classes.

I must declare an interest as I have been going in there throughout those twenty-five years, and before, delivering the local CAMRA magazine, and have had many stimulating conversations both with Yvonne and her late father John who was the licensee before her. Every pub has its own character, and I can understand why this one may not be to everyone’s taste, but I can honestly say I have never experienced that exclusiveness of which some complain. And, in reality, especially in the tap-room, it’s a lot more down-to-earth than some seem to think.

Do these moaners simply have a problem with any pub having regular customers? Another excellent Stockport pub sometimes unjustly tarred with the same brush – and which undeniably has a mostly middle-class clientele – is my local, the Nursery in Heaton Norris.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Class in a glass

There have recently been a few postings on beer blogs discussing the issue of when the appreciation of unusual and expensive beers turns from simple enthusiasm to beer snobbery, such as here, here and here.

A point that was made was that some of this was tied up with the British class system, and it wasn’t anywhere near so prevalent in other countries. However, I have certainly got the impression that food and drink snobbery was alive and well in the USA, and indeed was often accentuated by being tied up with the “culture wars” that are a much more pronounced feature of that country’s society. This was confirmed by this piece I unearthed about food snobbery, which has very clear echoes of the way many craft beer devotees enthuse about their favoured brews:
Whereas you’re keen on Granny Smiths, he insists that you haven’t even tasted an apple until you’ve sampled a Newtown Pippin...

...Artisanal. Adjective suggestive of handmade goods and old-fashioned craftsmanship. In the food world, a romantic epithet bestowed upon the cheesemaker, breadbaker, bacon-curer, etc., who labors in his or her integrity-steeped native locale, independent of the pressures and toxicities of Big Food, to produce exquisite high-end, SMALL-BATCH edibles available by mail-order.

“The farmstand’s shelves groaned with a dazzling array of
artisanal pickles.”
To my mind, anyone who ever uses the term “artisanal” in a food and drink context is unquestionably guilty of snobbery.

The pieces on the same site about rock snobbery and wine snobbery are also well worth reading.

Much of this modern snobbery is not driven by social-climbing affectation, as was often the case in the past, but by a genuine belief that one is being a champion of quality in food and drink, and indeed in other aspects of culture. But this can easily turn into a rancorous and patronising denigration of those – often from a working-class background – who do not share your heightened appreciation. Ironically this often comes from those who would consider themselves as having a left-wing political outlook. It’s far from uncommon to read denunciations in the columns of the Guardian and the Independent of people who swill Carling and eat Big Macs and pizzas from Iceland. If only we could have a society where everybody could afford to buy polenta from Waitrose!

In beer terms, I would say the key factor differentiating the snob from the mere enthusiast is whether you feel a sense of superiority over the unenlightened by choosing the expensive and exotic, or whether you just think “each to his own”.

I also came across this blog post about beer snobbery. Some of the “types of beer snobs”, particularly the “Beer Führer” and “Beer geek” are all too familiar.

A rum do

Innis & Gunn’s beers take a little bit of getting used to at first. As they’re brewed in Scotland, and oak-aged, you expect them to have some of the peaty, smoky character of Scotch whisky. But they don’t, and that takes you aback a bit. What I eventually decided they most resembled was a beer equivalent to American Bourbon-style whiskeys, smooth and slightly sweet, with pronounced oak, vanilla and toffee notes to its flavor. Once you understand what it’s getting at, you can appreciate it more.

A variant that seems especially suited to the style was the Rum Finish variety that I recently picked up in Tesco. (The photo says “Rum Cask”, but it was “Rum Finish” on the actual bottle) This was a rather steep £1.99 for 330 mls, but was available in a 3 for 2 offer covering a wide range of “world” and “craft” beers. It’s 7.4% ABV, so just coming under the HSBD threshold, and in the glass looks very much like Coke – dark but translucent with a thin but lasting head.

The typical I & G vanilla character is fairly subdued, but the toffee comes through strongly, and it is mixed with distinct fruit and spice notes. There’s a definite alcohol kick, but it’s relatively smooth and light-bodied and so is easy to drink – it’s not a heavy, chewy beer like many ales of this kind of strength. An ideal beer to sip and savour on a cold winter’s night, and probably the best I have sampled from this brewery.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Lansley speaks sense shock

I can’t say I’ve been the greatest fan of Health Secretary Andrew Lansley since his appointment last year – far too much of a Nanny Stater for me (although no worse in that respect than his predecessor). However, he came out with some surprisingly blunt common sense last week on the subject of minimum alcohol pricing:

He said that there were “big problems” with the idea, which he said would penalise the poor, fall foul of EU competition laws, and do little to tackle the kind of dangerous drinking seen in town and city centres on Friday and Saturday nights.
Roll on the day when this misguided, illiberal and élitist policy comes before the courts and gets struck down. I really do look forward to seeing the egg plastered over that face of that smug, sanctimonious git Salmond.

Lansley’s government colleague Chloe Smith was speaking on similar lines last week. Interestingly, in that debate, some backbenchers “condemned Tesco for marketing tactics that encouraged shoppers to buy from English stores when minimum pricing for alcohol is introduced in Scotland.” You do have to wonder what else Tesco are supposed to do. It would undoubtedly be illegal for them to stop Scottish people buying from English stores, and I doubt whether it would need much if any publicity for canny Scots to realise they can get a bargain in Carlisle Tesco.

Join the revolution

It’s interesting that Robinson’s have created a Facebook page here to campaign against High Strength Beer Duty, which for them is the “Old Tom Tax”. Rare to see a major company directly challenging a government policy in this way. However, although I have a page (under my own name, not A. Curmudgeon) I have to say I’ve never really “got” Facebook and would question how effective this is going to be – wouldn’t a simple petition on the brewery website be better? In reality, I would suggest it’s primarily a marketing tool. But good luck to them – it’s a fine beer.

Saturday 17 December 2011

Staggering uphill

It is believed that the annual Hillgate Stagger, performed by the local branch of CAMRA, has been regularly held for longer than any other CAMRA event anywhere. Hillgate – divided into Lower, Middle and Upper – is a long historic street which stretches about three quarters of a mile south from Stockport town centre until it joins the A6 in Heaviley. It was originally the main road through the town, and would have been traversed by Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745 on his ill-fated advance to Derby. However, it was bypassed in the early part of the 19th century by Wellington Road South and North, the current alignment of the A6. This must have been one of the very first road bypasses anywhere in Britain.

Over the years, there have been 19 different pubs included on the crawl, although I don’t think there have been more than 17 serving cask beer in any one year. Sadly, due to inner-urban decline and the general contraction of the pub trade, there are now only nine pubs on the route with real ale, plus a couple that are keg-only. Those nine include six Robinson’s, two Holt’s and one Sam Smith’s, a considerable reduction in beer choice compared with what was available twenty years ago. At some point around 1990, the direction of the crawl was reversed to go uphill rather than downhill, as problems had been experienced with some of the pubs near the town centre locking their doors after 10 pm due to the crowds of revellers. That isn’t a problem nowadays, but the uphill direction has become well established and does mean ending up at the Blossoms where Robinson’s Old Tom is available.

The 19 pubs, starting from the bottom end, are as follows:
  1. Queen’s Head (Turner’s Vaults) (Samuel Smith’s), originally in the early years of the crawl a free house offering no cask beer. Currently open and serving cask beer.
  2. Winter’s (Holt’s) – converted from a jeweller’s shop in the early 1990s. Currently open and serving cask beer.
  3. Spread Eagle (Robinson’s) – now closed and used as brewery offices
  4. Royal Oak (Robinson’s) – actually just off Hillgate on High Street. Currently open and serving cask beer.
  5. Bishop Blaize (Tetley, then Burtonwood) – previously called the Gladstone, now closed, but still in pub livery
  6. Red Bull (Robinson’s) – currently open and serving cask beer. Shown on the picture
  7. Waterloo (Robinson’s) – currently open and serving cask beer. Actually on Waterloo Road, just off Hillgate
  8. Black Lion (Boddington’s) – closed for some years
  9. Sun & Castle (Tetley, then Holt’s) – currently open and serving cask beer
  10. Pack Horse/Big Lamp (Whitbread) – closed for some years
  11. Golden Lion (Burtonwood) – closed for some years
  12. Crown (Corner Cupboard) (Wilson’s, then Vaux, then pub company) – currently open but not serving cask beer, although it has in the past
  13. Star & Garter (Robinson’s) – currently open and serving cask beer
  14. Ram’s Head (Wilson’s) – long closed, and now an Indian restaurant
  15. Flying Dutchman (Robinson’s) – currently open and serving cask beer
  16. Royal Mortar (Robinson’s) – closed for some years, still derelict and boarded
  17. Bowling Green (Wilson’s, then pub company) – very recently closed. Actually on Charles Street, just off Hillgate
  18. Wheatsheaf (Wilson’s, then pub company) – currently open but not serving cask beer, although it has in the past
  19. Blossoms (Robinson’s) – currently open and serving cask beer
That really is a classic collection of British pub names. I made a few notes on this year’s event, held last night, and with a bit of luck will write them up and post them some time over the holiday period.

Incidentally, this is post #284 for this year, thus exceeding the record set in 2009.

Friday 16 December 2011

That was the year that was

I’m not someone who deliberately goes out seeking exotic and unfamiliar beers, and even if I encounter them I tend to forget the names. So I won’t be doing a “best of the year” awards including categories such as Best Black IPA (sub 6.5%). But I thought I might mention a few highlights of the past twelve months.

My best pub experience (in an unfamiliar pub) was the Barrels in Hereford, a city not generally known for the quality of its pubs. This is Wye Valley Brewery’s flagship tied house, selling the full range of their own beers, together with guests and cider, at notably good-value prices. It’s a spacious, four-square pub with a good choice of rooms, a lively atmosphere and a varied clientele ranging from Bohemians to businessmen. On a dry Monday evening it was noticeable how the extensive, part-covered courtyard at the rear was absolutely full of groups of smokers and their friends.

I’ll also congratulate Joules Brewery on their sensitive refurbishment of the Royal Oak in Eccleshall, Staffordshire, which I haven’t previously mentioned on here. This is a striking pub on the main street of this small town with a distinctive arcaded frontage. I don’t know what it was like before, but they have given it a very congenial, pubby interior with a main bar, snug and lounge/dining area making much use of dark wood. It sells Joule’s three cask beers – Blonde, Pale Ale and Slumbering Monk.

Most memorable pint of the year was a superb drop of Batham’s Best Bitter in the Great Western in Wolverhampton (currently featuring in a Sky Sports darts trailer). And an honourable mention to drinking BrewDog’s Avery Brown Dredge in the Magnet in Stockport. Brewery-conditioned bottled lager at a CAMRA meeting – whatever next?

Saddest event of the year was the closure of one of my local pubs, the Four Heatons (formerly the Moss Rose). While it had declined in recent years, in the 1990s this featured in the Good Beer Guide for a number of years and was a classic example of a thriving, down-to-earth boozer. It’s still standing, but with the windows now covered by metal, not wood. There can be little doubt that this pub was kicked over the edge by the smoking ban.

Extinction threatens

The “alarming rate” of pub closures and the decline in beer volumes is a wake up call of epic proportions, claims British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) chairman and Molson Coors chief executive Mark Hunter…

…“Beer volumes have declined by a fifth in five years… while pubs continue to close at an alarming rate.”
How very perceptive of him. Perhaps he – or his predecessor – should have thought about that five years ago. And on-trade beer volumes are down by over a quarter.

Monday 12 December 2011

In memory of the smoky pub

Phil Mellows is normally someone who seems to have his finger on the pulse of the licensed trade, and has been alert to the threat from the anti-drink lobby. But this posting about the smoking ban is, sadly, the most ignorant and bigoted nonsense imaginable. He concludes:

I supported the idea that pubs might, by installing efficient ventilation and air-cleaning kit, ‘remove the smoke – not the smoker' as the slogan went. But over a number of years, as the pub trade fought a rearguard action against legislation, it became clear to me that the world was changing and that people – smokers and non-smokers alike – were ready for a ban.

And so it's proved. The smoking ban, it's true, was the last nail in the coffin for some pubs but the vast majority, and their customers, have adapted to the new circumstances.

Has it made pubs better places? I'm afraid you have to say it has.
It’s some adaptation when pubs have lost 25% of their beer trade in less than five years. And are all those pubs that have closed, and those that have lost most of their regulars and are now just running on empty, really better places?

And he repeats the old canard that, in the days before the ban, non-smokers felt obliged to throw their clothes in the washing machine after a night in the pub, whereas in reality I doubt whether even 1% did.

Edit 16/12/11: and four days on, no comments have been approved on that article, even though I and several of the commenters here have said they have submitted some. Are they afraid of open debate or something?

Dog in the manger

Iconoclastic Scottish brewer BrewDog have recently opened their first “craft beer bar” outside Scotland in Camden, North London. Like the existing ones, it serves no cask beer, only keg. Despite this, beer blogger Mark Dredge reckons it will immediately become one of the go-to beer bars in London. BrewDog have also recently let it be known that they are going to discontinue cask beer production entirely in the New Year.

Now, from my perspective, BrewDog’s craft beer bars are very much an “urban beer bubble” phenomenon and of minimal interest or relevance to me as a consumer. However, by completely eschewing cask, they are very much throwing down the gauntlet to CAMRA. Is this a sign that the terms of discourse of the enthusiast beer market are increasingly moving away from CAMRA, or does it just show that the bubble is becoming increasingly disconnected from the mainstream?

Sunday 11 December 2011

Moment of truth

A point I have made several times on here is that many “beer enthusiasts” seem strangely oblivious to the threat to their pleasure posed by the growing movement to have the State control and dictate individual lifestyles.

Not only do they refuse to accept the first they came for the smokers argument, but they seem to believe that their particular interest can sail on unscathed through the obviously increasing trend towards the denormalisation and demonisation of even moderate alcohol consumption. One day, though, something will happen to make them wake up and think “oh shit, this really does mean us!”

Perhaps it will be when the UK ends up with the highest beer duties in the developed world, which a few more years of the annual duty escalator will bring about. However, from the government point of view, we are already into the realm of diminishing returns on that one, with absolute revenues dropping and a substantial rise in smuggling and illicit brewing and distilling.

Or it could be when tiered beer duty makes selling anything beyond very weak beers prohibitively expensive.

Or maybe when restrictions on promotion and advertising (which is where I fear we are likely to see most action) make it impossible to carry on the activities of running beer festivals and producing local newsletters and render most micro-breweries unviable.

I don’t know, as I’m not in possession of a crystal ball. But one day it will happen, and the one thing that is absolutely certain is that it will be too late.

And, in case anyone still didn’t accept the “first they came for the smokers” argument, you only have to read this singularly vile article from Prohibitionist harridan Joan Smith in today’s Independent on Sunday, ably fisked by Chris Snowdon here.

Any suggestion that the principles behind the smoking ban be extended to junk food prompts near-apoplexy, as though we have an inalienable right to consume as much high-fat, sugary rubbish as we wish.
You do have to wonder what is the underlying motivation here. The hackneyed argument about “unhealthy” lifestyles imposing costs on the rest of society does not really wash, as it has been amply demonstrated that, over their lifetimes, those “healthy” people who live into extreme old age cost the NHS far more.

Or it is that we need to have a healthy population to fulfil our national destiny, something disturbingly redolent of the totalitarian ideologies of the 1930s? Or simply a desire to control others and stop them doing anything that the Righteous disapprove of?

And, for what it’s worth, although she says “filling your face with popcorn is not a human right”, in my view being able to choose your own diet and not have it imposed on you by the government is a fundamental human right.

Saturday 10 December 2011


Redwillow Brewery from Macclesfield have been gaining a lot of plaudits for the quality of their cask beers. So I was interested to see a selection of their beers on sale in bottle-conditioned form. Now, I know I’ve had some bad experiences in the past with BCAs from micro-breweries, but these had to be worth a try, so I ended up with a bottle of their 4.1% “classic bitter – but a bit more so” Feckless. The bottles have attractive, stylish labels with the brewery’s distinctive branding theme.

It was crystal clear in the bottle, with the yeast firmly sticking to the bottom, and I was able to pour it clear without any difficulty. However, it was almost totally devoid of any condition, so I ended up with a glassful of flat brown liquid. Even though it was clear, there was a distinct yeastiness in the taste akin to poor-quality homebrew. Sorry, guys, you’ll have to do far better than that.

I’ve described drinking BCAs from micros as a bit of a lottery, but it seems that this is a lottery you are bound to lose. Wouldn’t it make more sense for breweries like Redwillow to just bottle one flagship beer and make sure they get the quality control right?

It’s worth noting that the label didn’t have the questionable “CAMRA says this is real ale” logo.

If anyone out there runs a micro-brewery and thinks I’ve just been unlucky, feel free to send me a sample of your beer. I’ll store it upright in a cold dark place for a week or so and then give it an honest tasting without prejudice. But if I can’t (with a bit of care) pour it clear, or it shows zero or minimal condition, then it won’t even get out of the starting blocks.

Jumping to conclusions

Well, with 57 responses to the poll, there’s an exact 2:1 split between those who think “Beachy Head Christmas Jumper” is funny and those who think it’s insensitive.

Thursday 8 December 2011

A couple of niggles

Two things recently observed in pubs that, while individually trivial, both contribute to a feeling of lack of interest in customers:

  1. The pub isn’t busy, and a middle-aged guy who I presume is the licensee is the only one serving. He’s chatting on the phone, and carries on doing this even though he can see I am waiting to be served. This continues for maybe three minutes. Couldn’t he have either said “hang on, let me just serve this customer”, or said that he would ring back when more convenient? And no apology even when he eventually comes off the phone.

  2. Another pub is nowhere near full, but ticking over reasonably. The landlady has allowed her daughter, aged approximately 10, to occupy what to my mind is the best seating position in the pub to do her maths homework on her laptop. There were other places to sit, but that, a comfortable corner bench with a clear view of the bar and a window behind, is where I always sit by preference in that particular pub if it is available.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Pilgrim’s Progress

In a recent post, I referred to Hereford’s Pilgrim Cider, a new product on the market which makes a donation to Help for Heroes of 10p for each bottle sold. Unfortunately, I wasn’t too impressed, and was taken to task in the comments by Chris Newall.

So, to be fair, I thought I’d sample another bottle. It’s 5.0% ABV and £1.75 for a 500ml bottle at Morrisons, or 4 for £5.50.

In appearance it is clear, a pale straw colour with a very gentle carbonation. The flavour is fairly sweet, with subdued fruitiness and a distinctive, somewhat “floral” note, which is what I previously described as “perfumey”.

I make no claims to any kind of expertise on cider, but this isn’t really to my taste at all. Given that it is supporting a worthy cause I’m sorry I can’t be more enthusiastic.

(And no, I didn’t just drink it this morning...)

Monday 5 December 2011

Steer clear of pubs this Christmas

We have recently seen the launch of the annual advertising campaign against drink-driving over the festive season. Of course the sentiment is laudable, even if the means of delivering it is not always as well-focused as it could be, but surely for every person who says “better get a cab, then”, there will be another who thinks “better safe than sorry, stay at home and get some cans in”. Might it not be the case that, over the years, the subliminal drip-drip effect of these campaigns, however noble the intention, has had the unintended consequence of encouraging people to stay away from pubs, even if they are individuals who realistically are not going to become offenders? In effect, it’s a high-profile annual anti-pub marketing campaign.

Saturday 3 December 2011

The beer bubble

Reading many beer blogs, you can’t avoid getting the impression that a “craft beer revolution” is taking place. The country, it would seem, is awash with new, exciting, challenging styles and flavours. But how far does that really spread beyond a handful of specialist outlets?

In the general run of pubs I go into, while you might see the odd guest beer or Peroni tap, that’s about it, and the vast majority of the beer drinkers are still necking Unicorn, Holts Bitter, John Smith’s Extra Smooth, Carling, Stella and Guinness. In Tesco, while there might be a little ghetto with a few BrewDog bottles and Belgian and American imports, much the same is true. I don’t really think the craft beer evangelists are giving a warm embrace to bottles of Spitfire and Warsteiner.

It’s also very much an urban phenomenon, confined to major city centres and the urban villages of the prosperous, liberal middle class. You might see it in Chorlton, but hardly in Levenshulme, let alone in Leominster. And, because London has quite a few neighbourhoods like Chorlton, it’s supposedly sweeping the board in the capital. But, beyond that limited sphere, it just doesn’t resonate at all. It’s a bubble of urban hype.

Back in the 70s and 80s, you would travel around the country and see plenty of A-boards and roadside signs proclaiming “The Red Lion -15th Century Inn – Good Food – Real Ale”. The concept of “real ale” is something that, at the time, had really caught the popular imagination. I never see similar signs advertising “craft beer”, and I don’t expect I ever will. And the Red Lion itself is probably now a private house.

“Real ale” connected beer enthusiasm with the wider drinking public. Far from evangelising to a broad audience, “craft beer” locks beer enthusiasts into a bubble of self-absorption and means they end up just drinking in their own exclusive venues and steering clear of any engagement with the hoi polloi.

Friday 2 December 2011

A seasonal leap forward

There has been an outburst of manufactured outrage about Beachy Head Brewery naming a seasonal beer Christmas Jumper. This, it is claimed, is offensive to those unfortunates who take their own lives by jumping from said headland.

In a sense that is true, but it isn’t referring to any individual, and in any case much of the best humour has a dark edge to it and to some extent plays on our inner fears. Very often the funniest things you see are the viral text message jokes you start getting a few hours after some “tragedy” in the news.

It seems today that the acceptable subjects for humour in public are becoming so circumscribed that you can listen to some so-called comedians without even raising a smile.

In any case, the brewery’s story that they originally named a beer after the well-known unwanted gift of knitwear and only then realised it had another connotation seems entirely plausible. If any other brewery had done it, nobody would have batted an eyelid or spotted the alternative meaning.

The people complaining about this are probably the same politically correct, humour-free “legions of the perpetually offended” who were whingeing yesterday about Jeremy Clarkson suggesting in obvious jest that public sector strikers should be shot.