Not Tired of Life, Just Tired of Manchester (pubs)

I’ve never liked crowds; or being honest, people in general, the thronging masses of homo sapiens and their need to get wherever they are going and quickly as they can and fuck everyone else. Or the opposite of this, who toddle along or stop and chat on stairs or outside doors and are a general nuisance to everyone trying to get somewhere. Misanthropy can make you view things in extremes but all I see it common sense not being that common.

When I stopped working in Manchester I stopped having to commute through Manchester and I stopped having to go to pubs there to console my time wasted as another train or bus home was late, delayed or cancelled.

I started working and therefore drinking, in earnest, in Manchester some 15 years ago, not long in the scheme of things but a lot has changed in those years and I suspect a lot of people who communicate about beer probably weren’t old enough to drink back then either. For a point of reference it was a time before Port Street Beer House existed, then during, when it opened and became excellent and then further down the line, when it went on to become arrogant and shit.

During the past few weeks I’ve drunk in many towns and cities on extended holidays, especially in London, a place I have also seen change over the past decade or so I’ve made regular trips down there for drinks and the purposes of entertainment and relaxation (get your mind out of the gutter).

I note how the first stop is the Euston Tap and they just seem to be coasting along, resting on their laurels and the captive audience they have but at least that place was deserving of a pedestal at one time, unlike its Manchester Piccadilly counterpart which has always been a hollow shell.

I entertained finally going to the Bermondsey beer mile, if only to indulge my love of Kernel Brewery beers but they don’t open apart from to sell bottles and seeing as very few of the micro (call them craft if you so wish) London breweries are actually much cop (Weird Beard being one rare exception), it wouldn’t be worth my time or money. Full marks to Kernel for not being a slave to trends which now seems to have convinced people that drinking in industrial units under heavy neon lights surrounded by a bit of art is tip-top entertainment. I like Fox’s Biscuits and Heinz Beans but you wouldn’t see me clamouring to get to the a taste of those wares in the factories at Batley and Kitt Green, far better to consume them at home, in the warmth, away from notice-me-wankers (and probably Greg(g) Wallace).

London as a whole has changed, always a heaving metropolis, the description that opens this piece fits it best, though I’ve always respected the seeming fact that London centre pubs are treated as iconic and as necessary furnishments to the economy, something that Manchester, in its clamour to look exactly like London spectacularly loves to ignore and destroy. The personal epiphany though was that all the pubs in London I went in to were havens from the gaggling hordes, something I can’t say for Manchester.

That my opening gambit in every pub and bar I went into was “do you still take cash?” and only once was the answer a “no” still heartens me.

I thought it was just city drinking I was dulled to however not only tolerating but actually enjoying recent trips to Leeds, York, Edinburgh and Sheffield and a whole host of small towns coupled with the London excursion showed that maybe its a case that familiarity breeds contempt and it is well possible because every time I’ve been back to Manchester it has just been a bit meh.

I speak for me, this is my “Rekall moment,” and not to slight the pubs, old and new that are there or the drinks that are on offer.  I am fully aware I’m the factor here.

This piece seems to be acting as a nice intro into another small bit I’m working on called “My Love of Holt’s Pubs” which will be published, when I can be bothered.

 

I’m Linus van Pelt and pubs, except for those in the centre of Manchester are my security blanket.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Oh, of note in London pubs.  Cask beer was significantly improve over recent years (I don’t take my own thermometer though).  Sam Smith’s pubs vary in whether they bother in enforcing their “no mobiles” rule or not.

CAMRA MUPpets

After the Revitalisation project CAMRA started, whenever, no one really cared, they voted on many things.  Needing 75% approval but only achieving 72%, the organisation failed to recognise that all beer was equal, or something like that.

Cask was the ultimate and keg was secondary.

I’d agree but as we have learnt with voting…well as the Simpsons put it

 

You never get the results you want and most appreciate that and with an organisation such as CAMRA you can simply cancel your membership and leave and in all honesty that decision won’t impact on you enjoyment of beer and where to have it, well pubs may continue to close but CAMRA aren’t really trying to stop that, no one can except those who wish to continue spending money in those establishments.

Quote Joni Mitchell…

Many left CAMRA at that moment and bragged about it in a show of pure virtue, the stay-and-reform-from-within group looking slightly bemused by the whole process.

You pays your money, you takes your choice.

The insidiousness of the public health lobby groups coupled with an authoritarian nanny state is leading to us responsible adults being forced into to take numerous hits no only to our personal freedom and the appreciation of the fact we are responsible for our own well being, but also being hit in the pocket.

Tax, tax and more tax.

Which brings us onto minimum unit pricing, or MUP, and quite frankly I’ve just waffled on enough when the title of this piece would have been enough.

Like all CAMRA proposals, it won’t really have any impact as MUP will be steam-rollered in by far more powerful and of-the-zeitgeist organisations than the sandal brigade ever were.

Slow. Hand. Clap.

Just when voices against were required.

Fuck it.  I’ll just drink beer under my bed covers, locked in my own home, that way I might get some peace.  The stockpiling begins now.

Democracy – so good the Simpsons did the same joke twice.

Thanks for reading.

Cloudwater Can’t Save Cask Beer, But…

….ooh dramatic ellipsis after a click-bait title…

Choose your own subtitle, it was either going to be:

…they can save themselves.

or…

…neither can CAMRA.

Now, on reflection since I started penning this I’ve thought is might be…

…they could destroy it.

I should hasten to add that this piece is not anti-Cloudwater, they are just an exemplar of the perceived problems with cask beer, or not as the case may be.

In fact the initial subtitle was only based on reading an interview with yon mon Jonesy in Brewers Journal (Vol 4. Issue 6, July/August) before reading the October blog post but then that is how quickly viewpoints change within a business and when looking in from the outside.

 

 

I’m impressed with the health and safety of the glasses, less so about the pose, anyway…

Cloudwater’s Launch (2015 blog)

It was Tandleman’s post that piqued my interest, rather ironically the last blog post I read from the Manchester Messiahs was when they talked about themselves binning off cask.  How times change.  That post also feature some rather childish political epithets and where I’m obviously never going to suggest people just “shut up and brew” (or “shut up and stick to business” in this case) as that isn’t a ringing freeze peach endorsement, you should never be surprised when nailing your colours to a mast when it comes back to butt fuck you.  Which it did.

Still, upon reading Tand’s post my first thought was “they must be desperate” (*cheerfully withdrawn by request*) – but to be fair there may well be gaps in the market for premium cask beer.

What is a premium cask beer?  Well personally I’m only going with a price band.  There is talk, most of it with some merit that the advent of Wetherspoons has forced the hand of other cask pubs to demand a lower price for their cask, couple this with SIBA and their tied trade pubs and don’t it becomes increasingly difficult for a brewer to make a good profit on cask.

There is in general a lot of smoke and mirrors about what JDW actually pay and, just how fresh the actual product is but truth be told, there is a fair whack of cask beer that is sold off cheap just to get it out there and not be ullage.  The hard point of this is that regardless of what “best before date” is placed on a cask of beer by the brewery there is still little reason for it not to be in good nick when it is on the bar, because most obviously as with many products a “best before date” on any foodstuff is not a science and it really is up to the customer to use all sense to discern whether the product is fit for consumption.

Of course the difference between short coded food items reduced in a supermarket, that bit of cheese you find that is 3 weeks out of date but you know if you cut off the blue mould it will be fine and cask beer is quite vast.  The latter being that you are being served it from an establishment you expect to sell it to you in at least some respectable state.

So let us talk price points (exclusive of VAT in all instances). £50 seems to be the general figure banded about for Wetherspoons cask.

I know of many breweries that can and do sell their beer at around this price and up towards £69.  That is a stock price, across a range, with little variation when it comes to ABV.

Though the beer duty escalator does have an influence on the price once the ABV goes over, what was it, 4.2-4.5%, some breweries do have the capacity to keep their prices lower.

Of course it is a total joke that I know of one Manchester pub that pays no more than £60 per cask. Now with line cleans and lost beer even if you were only getting 60 pints out of a firkin but charging Manchester centre prices of £4+ you can see just how much profit some pubs can make on cask beer.

So, again what is a premium price for beer.  Some prices I’ve seen are clearly not based on ABV but clearly the cost of the ingredients needed to make it, so these beers push around £100-£120.

But as the launch of Cloudwater cask comes around I noted that one cask of their 5.5% beer is being sold to pubs at *cheerfully withdrawn by request/correction*.

I’ve written about the difficulties of cask beer previously and really though it all falls on the brewery, it really is the pub that should bear primary responsibility.

It is said that a rising tide carries all ships, that Cloudwater seem to only wish to sell their cask to reputable pubs with excellent cellaring is logical and sensible, though I do wonder if they are going to send out staff to check, a Cloudwater Marque if you will.  Given the customer facing nature of the brewery I expect them to know full well if a cask of theirs isn’t up to par and that should make for interesting bantz between punter, pub and Paul.

Therein lies another strange schism that could develop but this is the second day of writing this post and I’ve realised I don’t really care that much.  Something about pubs willing to pay for big premium cask; something, something, turnover, something, something would people pay £5+ for 2/3rds of a session strength beer; something, something, beer goes off regardless of how much you’ve paid for it.

As an aside, would a punter solely used to keg know any minor faults in a cask beer, would the general, natural differences between cask and keg delivery of beers cause confusion.

Do people even fucking care?

CAMRA could of course be trying to do more for the sale of cask beer and its quality but they seem to be rather confused at the moment, where press releases don’t really seem to match the general feeling at a branch level.

Plus Manchester Beer & Cider festival organisers are shedding a tear now they can’t trumpet their own festival as having “last Cloudwater cask,” for the 3rd year in a row.  Shame.

Of course cost is not equivalent to quality, it can be said and I will say it too, that people are quite happy to pay over the odds just to be seen to be paying the price along with what they are drinking and where they are drinking it.  It is a status symbol to some.  I bring it up only so I can post this line from Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (time stamp, 7 mins 50 seconds)

 

 

Thanks for reading.

 

06/11/2018 – Post edited on request – I’m now in the odd position as to whether to approve the comment with the request in for full transparency or keep it anonymous out of respect for the poster, in this instance I’ve chose the latter as it would then seem to undermine the request, but that is their choice and can be changed if need be.  Still it is good to know my blogs are still be read by the great and powerful.  Go me.

Atherton – Between a Marston’s and a Gin Place

If you’ve ever wondered why this blog has the title it does then please observe the screen shot below.

 

I’ve been “working on” a historical blog about Atherton for over 5 years (yes, 4 edits, you should see the paper work and photos) and as such doing this piece is a stop-gap of sorts.

So I’m not going to go on about the town’s history or the name, though you pronounce it “a-THER-tun” not like the cricketer.

In reading this piece please excuse my use of the apostrophe, possessive, lack thereof, or otherwise as basically I don’t care, you know what I mean.

Entering Atherton from its various directions you will first encounter…

  • The Atherton Arms (Holt’s)
  • The Mason Arms (Heineken)
  • The Talbot (Marston’s – known as the Jockey after Shameless)
  • The Letters Inn (Random)
  • The Lion Inn (Random – known as the Little Lion)

An additional brewery tied pub is The Royal (Hydes).

Then it gets murky as we then have regular CAMRA award winner, The Jolly Nailor.

The Nailor was the scene for a meeting with a fellow and far better beer blogger

This was Thwaites, then (and currently) Allgates.

Not that Allgates exists as such any more, that is now subdivisions of Two Left Feet Brewing and Wigan Brewhouse.

There is also another perennial CAMRA award-winning pub in the shape of The Pendle Witch, owned by Moorhouse’s

In the past year Atherton has seen 4 individual alcohol based establishments open.

The Taphouse (micropub – cask, keg, gin) and across the road, set up by the same bloke, The Sin Bin (sports bar – keg).

There is also The Cazbah (gin, keg, real cider) and The Lamp (gin, keg).

The point about this piece is why I find it all very murky and annoying now, not that I wish to detract from any establishments named in this piece, that all have their merits and I will always frequent most of them as and when I can.

So, The Lamp has the same keg supply as the Taphouse (not unsurprising as breweries and suppliers will install lines for free/discounted, if you carry certain products).

The Jolly Nailor, which like all other Allgates pubs always has had Wainwrights on (Thwaites/Marston’s), seems to be getting no Wigan Brewhouse beers on recently.  In fact the cask range; barring we are approaching Halloween so it seems mandatory every cask outlet has to have Hobgoblin on (Hobgoblin Gold, for a small change), seems to be similar to that of the Taphouse.

Not only that but new keg lines are now installed on the bar carrying the DE14 Flight Suit (Marston’s) amongst others with Lancaster Bomber Ale (Thwaites) also a mainstay.

Switch over to the Pendle Witch and you have 10 cask lines. 5 are standard Moorhouses brews (but not Witches Brew recently, which is most annoying, perhaps they don’t have the right syrup in stock for it at the moment), 5 are guest, which used to man a wide range of breweries (at least at the weekend) were represented but now now one is always a cider, 2 are Moorhouses specials (one being always fucking Stray Dog) and oh…its another Marston’s beer.

Add to that a keg line now carrying 13 Guns by Thwaites Crafty Dan and then the addition of this…

As if the other 5 lagers they carry just isn’t enough.

Don’t get me wrong I love the Pendle Witch (and the Nailor) they are comfy, proper pubs with bench seating, gamblers and patrons from all walks of life.

Barring the last on that list the same can’t be said for The Lamp and The Cazbah, which are all brick, industrial metal and other repetitive crap that I really am getting sick of seeing in new alcohol-led ventures but that is a rant I’ll save for another post.

So quite what is happening with the beer selection in some of Atherton’s pubs I don’t know.  I obviously care enough to write this piece, it is probably written slightly out of worry, as I always do when pubs become seemingly change tack with regards choice of beer.

I know choice isn’t everything but both these pubs, though they have both seen owner changes over recent years, seem as popular as they were back when I started this blog and way before that.  They seemed to always be turning over their beer and always had a fine range of cask.  It is just a bit sad when you can walk between a few non-tied establishments and be confronted with the same bar.

It is a good thing they provide things additional to that, that still make them worth visiting.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Sidenote: In researching to clarify brewery relationships it was nice to see the TAND quoted in a Wikipedia piece

Alcohol, Money and Duty of Care

Following on from this posts and the comments it prompted I found myself dwelling on the nature of cash.

I’m not a complete Luddite (not that only using cash is Luddite behaviour), I have used card to pay for a few things, mainly shopping but this is because I do like have money on me, just a card is a bit odd and very much like eggs in one basket.

When I was on twitter and known by my handle and this blog, I was one for keeping private, as such even when I went to beer shops I’d pay cash so the people, even those I frequently talked to, did not know who I was and if they did, then they would not have my details.

I suppose wanting to be private can lead to paranoia but I like paying in cash in on the whole.

How do you tip if you just pay by card?

Of course, an establishment only taking card does not mean that the customers don’t have cash on them but I’ve never much liked tipping jars, I like to give to the individual.

I suppose what it does remove (apart from apparent lower insurance costs) is the need to check balances and not have to accuse people of creaming money out of the till, or of patrons by over-charging/short changing.

The loss of mental arithmetic

In that there London over the August bank holiday I found myself in The Carpenters Arms, Fitzrovia.  They took cash but the barman (very good service I will say) looked all a bit confused and the wait for getting my change, despite being in big numbers on the till, took some time.

Of an evening the club I frequented, which was busy, after I’d said my drinks request, was met with a sometimes rather sharply thrown card machine in my direction.  This was met with a smile and a flash of a note (again, faultless service).

Any over reliance on technology, as complimentary as it can be, does have its downsides.

Loss of Customer Service

Everything seems a bit mechanical, if all you do is give your order and then tap your card it seems that you, and the server, lose a bit of human contact and interaction.  The automation of one part of service seems to turn us slowly into automatons.

Contactless doesn’t just describe the method of payment.

Addiction and Duty of Care

Don’t serve drunk people, or those who have clearly had enough.

Don’t serve those you suspect are under age.

Don’t serve those you suspect may drive afterwards.

Bar staff really are the front line between people and the harm they can cause to themselves and others and whereas it seems obvious that a server would have no idea if the person they are serving it spending they’re last £20 in cash or by card, speaking from experience, you can get a feel for a customer and their habits more from cash.

In the end it comes down to personal preference and especially personal responsibility; the physical nature of cash, going out with an amount you are willing to spend all ready in your pocket (yes, yes you can top up at a machine) is a far better way of monitoring your own finances than hot chip on pin action.

Plus I’m not having the state tracking and cataloguing my drinking habits…

 

Comments welcome below.

Thanks for reading.

Northern Ireland – Beer and…Bass

Just a brief write up of a recent trip I had around Northern Ireland, hopefully not mentioning politics (past or current) and with no pictures of The Dark Hedges, Giant’s Causeway, boats, mountains, flags, sectarian gift shops and murals.

 

Larne

 

Larne is an odd place, eerily quiet on the Saturday night when I visited but the first thing I saw on the high street set the tone for beer (kind of) for the rest of the trip.

If you are ever in Larne, eat at Carriages, they feed you well, the feed you very, very well.

Portrush

The wondrous thing about many of the bars, pubs and restaurants I went into across the nation was that as well as the usual macro beers that everyone knows and loves the representation from local breweries was very well represented.

To dine (as opposed to takeaway) in Portrush is to seemingly have a choice between 6 restaurants all owned by the same company but the food was great as were the choices of beers but this place came alive when I found a place called Kiwi’s.

All towns (big or small) in Northern Ireland seem to work on some daft one way, pedestrianised system which directs cars on the longest route possible to find the smallest amount of car park spaces, not good if you are there for a few hours, makes sense if you are staying overnight.

Lacada brewery is the community brewery based in Portrush (community brewing seems to be big across all of NI) and to their credit, and that of many of the other businesses in Portrush, their beers were to be found in most outlets.  Kiwis itself has a wide selection of beers micro and macro plus the obligatory gin selection too.

Portstewart

People here can not drive and that is all I have to say, they also don’t like working late either so just stay in Portrush.

Derry (LondonDerry)

For my sins I only passed through Derry, on the way to the north part of Southern Ireland, it looked like quite a nice place to stop off, maybe next time.

Newry

 

The Stoke of Northern Ireland, a place simultaneously bustling and run-down. Welcoming and hostile. Where the Tesco sells a fine mix of many local breweries.

3.7% – who knew?

Mourne Mountains / Warrenpoint

Visit the Silent Valley – take insect repellent and a few beers.

Comber / Newtownards

Again many nice pubs and restaurants, quite a few carrying local beers from Bullhouse and Farmageddon.  Lots of ancient ruins and scary locals off the beaten tracks so lock your doors when you drive around Ballydrain.

Belfast

Driving into Belfast I could smell beer being brewed.  It is the exact smell you get as you drive into Cheetham Hill (Holt’s) or back down the Irk Valley (Blackjack & Runaway).  Sometimes I even mistake it for the smell of cooked liver.

Lovely pub.  And the only cask pint I found (Hilden Brewery, take a bow and the pub, it was a great pint).

Obviously a capital city has many pubs to choose from and also a wide choice of beers.  Apart from The Sunflower I was very taken by the John Hewitt and of course, The Crown

I’d take pictures of the inside but I’m more interested in the drinking, quite ethereal in here.

Bass

Bass (keg) was prevalent in many of the places I visited.  There seems to be some tie in to Tennents, possibly when both were on by InBev.

So there you have it.  Northern Ireland; a place of fine natural scenery, good hostelries, many, many flags, red triangles, big red T’s, fake retro Guinness pumps, potatoes, so many potatoes and me trying not to sing out loud lyrics to Stiff Little Fingers songs.

One final thing…

 

Public signs for dog fouling seem to all have to display the actual mess, either falling out or a steaming pile of it next to the cartoon dog…it is the small things in life…

 

Thanks for reading.

Beer Flies and The Sopranos

If you’ve not seen The Sopranos this post may contain spoilers…

Beer Flies

I’ve worked in 3 main environments in my employed life; in bars, in breweries and mainly in laboratories and in all three flies were a problem.

You’d think in fairly modern lab environments that creepy crawlies wouldn’t be a factor but they always find a way in.  Through doors, through windows left open in the hotter summer months, through fume cupboards and extractor vents.  With all the nasties I’ve inhaled over the years you think that those chemicals would be a big enough deterrent for these critters but no, there they are, what was a pristine working surface when you left for the day is returned to in the morning to be met with a fly somehow doing backstroke in your mobile phase.

For me, most of the bars (or cellars) were relatively flying pest free, the biggest problem is always at the brewery.  A lack of storage space in most pubs will see used casks thrown outside, most of the time not sealed and lord what a grand job cleaning fly eggs out of cask is. Bar flies are not included in this piece, loveable rogues that they usually are.

I’m not a fan of chemical weapons; watching something slowly twitch its last as its mitochondrion cease respiring is never pleasant so the short, swift splat against whatever surface they are resting on is preferable, or the Mr Miyagi school of snatching it out of the air is also employed, usually without chopsticks.

Though I find that every time I do this I consider what the fly is thinking; one minute buzzing around, bumping into things, smelling the sweet wort of the final beer and looking for a way into the fermenter, the very next moment – nothing.  Obviously at point of death they aren’t thinking anything at all but in some ways this then gets me thinking about…

The Sopranos

I was bought the box set of The Sopranos many years ago and finally, over the course of the first few months of 2017, got round to binge watching it all.

When it comes to TV series it started with the original run of Oz, which despite being bumped around the late night schedules of Channel 4 (UK), I was still able to catch most of it.  I never watched 24, save the very last episode of Season 1.  I can chalk off Breaking Bad, Games of Thrones is still ongoing for now and The Wire still remains my personal favourite but a lack of The Sopranos always seemed to hang over my head, so I settled in to watch it.

The series was originally shown on Channel Four and when this happened I caught precisely, one opening credits sequence, one scene of Lorraine Bracco, a Rottweiler and a vending machine (which obviously made little sense at the time) and the last few minutes of the final episode, which everyone had banged on about but again made little sense in any context.

The scene is famous for a long and protracted diner scene in which Tony Soprano (the sadly deceased James Gandolfini) waits and meets the arrival of his wife, his son and maybe eventually his daughter, all to the sound of Don’t Stop Believing  by Journey.  As they discuss mundane family matters, the bell in the diner rings to announce the arrival of each new customer and each time Tony looks up to see if its his daughter, then over the course of some onion rings the bell rings, Tony looks up and then the screen cuts to black.  There is a wait of some 30 seconds before the credits roll.  The ending baffled most, mainly because of its ambiguity let alone the suddenness of it all.

Personally I never saw Tony as anything more than the gangster he was, on my scale he didn’t even measure up as an anti-hero but the ending still have a hard impact despite not being wholly loving of the main protagonist.

There are many videos out there discussing what the ending means and a very good one that picks out “clues” from the preceding few episodes to point to the fact that Tony died.

Swift, short, sudden and the victim was totally anonymous to their own death, in essence just like squishing beer flies.

Who wants a protracted death, body flooded with chemicals that are only palliative, far better just to have the lights turned off.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

One thing I can agree with Tony Soprano on is this…