About Me

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Manchester, United Kingdom
Tyson is a beer hound and cheese addict living in the beery metropolis paradise known as Manchester
If the people are buying tears, I'll be rich someday, Ma

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

A Working Class Hero

Thanks to the Pub Curmudgeon for drawing my attention to the recent attack on Wetherspoons. There seems to be a growing trend of bloggers attacking “soft targets”, although the Spoons conundrum has been a bone of contention for some time. To say “They're a big part of Britain's problem drinking culture” is pure nonsense. For one thing, they simply aren’t big enough to have that sort of influence, even if they do sell proportionally large amounts of beer. I tend to avoid my local one simply because it’s poorly run and I can easily get to better pubs. However, there is nothing wrong with their premise and name-calling of them wholesale smacks of beer snobbery.

Speaking of which, it appears I’m one. I know what you’re thinking-what you, Tyson? The anarchist beerhound? The class warrior? Yes. Thanks to a tip-off, I see that antipodean blogger Tim is still (trying) to put me down. “Pure beer snobbery. A bit like that Tyson blogger.” Hmmm.

The problem with Timmy is that he doesn’t like criticism. Even the mildest questioning of his somewhat bizarre theories will earn you a Stalinist labelling. And may Vishnu help you if you actually dare to disagree with him. First you’ll be dismissed as a Camra reactionary. And if that label doesn’t fit, you’ll be castigated as a little Englander, as bad as if you were Camra. You obviously don’t appreciate or understand foreign beer-otherwise you’d agree with him.

But hold on, Tyson, you haven’t got a drop of English blood in you, have you, I hear you say. Aren't you the direct descendant of bloodthirsty cossacks? Haven’t you pissed out more Polish lager than Timbo has ever dreamt of? Ah but grasshopper, he is an outsider who asks questions no one else has. Well maybe some of us did twenty years ago, but hey, some people like reinventing the wheel.

Some might even say, it’s a bit rich of someone drinking in the poncy suburbs of London, who lives, in his words, in a “posh village”, to persistently call you a “beer snob." Especially when you’re out there in the real world, drinking in the real pubs, day in and day out. You might say that-but I couldn’t possibly comment.

In the words of John Lennon
"And you think you're so clever and classless and free, But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see."

If Only All Pubs Were Like Manchester Central

It’s no good putting it off. It’s that time again. Yes, here comes that man again. It’s time for my rounds of all the pubs in the Bury licensing area. It’s going to be tough this year with other commitments pressing but life ain’t all beer and dominoes. Of course, it would be nice if the local authority provided me with the information instead of the other way round, but some essential services you just can’t get on the rates.

But before tackling that, I had a little day out with the Northern Restaurant & Bar Show in Manchester Central. I did try a little beer (and cider) whilst there, including the very Leesy Coronation St offering, but mainly concentrated on the wine tastings. It did take some logistics as they seemed to be every half hour. But I’m nothing if not dedicated.

I was pleasantly surprised by the Spanish reds and the Lebanese contingent were an eye opener, but the star for me was the “Giving Pinot Grigio the X Factor” tasting. I don’t know about the X Factor, but I certainly gave it some welly. Fortified with some Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding, I staggered out of there and faced the shock of having to pay for drinks in the local taverns.

First stop was the Waterhouse which surprised me with some excellent Hawkshead Lakeland Gold. Now that could have been it for the night but for a desire to check out the Bank. There, snuggled against the Fullers London Pride, was Brewdog Trashy Blonde. This is a favourite amongst hopheads and signalled the end of the tour. Well a blonde in the hand...

Monday, 30 March 2009

Tandle Hill Tango

As Tandleman has already mentioned, yesterday was the day of the polecat. And ferret. There really is no room for these smelly wee beasties in a pub the size of the Tandle Hill. However, as befits a monarch of his standing, Tandleman took it in his stride and it didn’t seem to affect the hordes of autograph hunters trying to catch his eye. Of course he only has eyes for his true love-J.W.Lees. Being a traditionalist, he stuck with Bitter, despite several other options being available. All were in good nick with only Game On proving too hardcore for most palates. Tellingly, Pineapple Pete thought it had an “interesting tang” whilst someone else summed it up nicely with “It REALLY tastes like Lees!"

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Carling Calling (Or Should That Be Calling Carling)

Carling are joining the Axe The Tax campaign and have put a link to it on their webpage. But what intrigued me is that they apparently get half a million hits a month. Now that’s a lot. Probably nearly as many as me. But since we know –and I make no apologies for being “elitist” here, or upsetting the new militant keggers-it’s shite, why do people log onto it?

Of course there was only one way to find out... and it’s still a mystery. Very wisely they avoid talking much about the actual beer and seem to concentrate on music and football. Although we do learn that they’ve been using British barley for 30 years. No mention of what they used before, I note. Still, nothing too exciting and I can only put its success down to the “Google effect.”

The Carling page on Wikipedia used to be quite funny, with them getting the blame for the decline in male fertility. Sadly, now it reads just like an advert.

Lightning Crashes

Some bad news for those liking a strong drink AND a link to Britain’s cultural past. Tramp’s and kids in parks favourite White Lightning is being reduced in volume from 7.5% to a mere 5.5%. Apparently they want to give consumers a “responsible choice.” Ah, but will they be reducing the price?

Monday, 23 March 2009

A Dog's Life

I was reminded of the expression “one final push for victory” this weekend as the Hare & Hounds beer festival drew to a close. For it had been a hard fought campaign, a tireless war of attrition on the senses. Not to mention the liver. It was always going to be difficult to keep up with all the new beers, but it had to be tried. Eddie, the eager, legal beagle said it’s the law.

Saturday saw a motley crew attending and a wide range of beers sampled. Pineapple Pete (AKA The Stomach), kicked off dangerously with Thornbridge’s 7.7% Saint Petersburg stout. This is very rich, full of chocolate and coffee and a pronounced finish. Brewdog Punk IPA was once more up to Boldscratch and proved very moreish. Anglo Dutch Oliver Crunch was a very reasonable 3.6% but proved light and refreshing. Cathedral Golden Imp was disappointing and Woodlands Woodcutter actually tasted woody. The best of Saturday’s lot was Pictish Glacier-a beautiful balance of citrus, pine and tropical fruit.

Sunday was of course Mothering Sunday. And how else to celebrate this important day other than to spend it at a beer festival. Next year I might even bring the old gal. There was a slight problem-most of the beer had gone. Undeterred we ploughed on. Spitting Feathers Thirst Quencher once more failed to live up to its name, instead having unpleasant burnt malt finish. As the remaining beers tumbled, it was hard to get away from Jaipur IPA. This was in stunning form and went down way too fast. The reduction to £1 a pint for the remaining festival beers sadly came too late to be of much use, as ale saturation kicked in.

As in all good campaigns, sadly there are casualties. However, some survivors did manage to make it up the road to the Major. Here we sampled some excellent, if technically unnecessary, Hawkshead Gold. Certainly staggering across the road to the First Chop was sheer showboating and definitely unwise, as my head this morning could testify.

Scores on the doors: 138 beers tried during the H&H festival. None of the new breweries, with the exception of Keswick, proved particularly noteworthy. The beers ranged from the excellent-Pictish, Brewdog, Mallinsons, to the poor-Breconshire, Woodlands and of course, the strange-Boggart. Dates have already been set for the next one, so looks like I’ll be doing it all again in six months.

.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Supermarket Sweep

Depressing news from today’s Sunday Telegraph. According to research organisation IGID, there are now more supermarkets and convenience stores in the UK than pubs. From a high of 61,000 a decade ago, the number of pubs has now fallen to 54,818 as of the end of last year. Meanwhile, the number of stores now stands at 55,854. As someone who believes that the number of pubs directly correlates to the health and morale of the country, this finding is particularly worrying.

Let’s put an end to this nonsense. I want to see fewer supermarkets opening and more pubs instead. After all, man does not live by bread alone.

Can't Do A Thing (To Stop Me)

The latest crackpot attempt at prohibition comes from Professor Ian Gilmore. The prof, being a liver expert, is naturally worried about the state of our organs. He’s concerned that too much emphasis has been placed on alcohol’s (alleged), link with anti-social behaviour and not enough on the health risks. His solution? Grant councils the right to refuse licences on health grounds. This would create drink-free zones as health blackspots are targeted. Unfortunately for local drinkers, Manchester and Rochdale would be affected by any such plans as they top the naughty table. I can just picture hordes of thirsty drinkers trampling across borders in order to get their booze fix.

Interestingly, the drinkers of Middleton are apparently the most likely to be admitted to hospital for alcohol related reasons. Now Middleton just happens to be the domain of Tandleman. Hmmm...

Friday, 20 March 2009

Skol, Skol, Skol

Great news for lovers of retro, as Skol is set to make a comeback.Following the trend for 4% lager that Stella and Becks have established, comes the imaginatively titled Skol 4. Brewed exclusively by Daniel Thwaites, it’s described as being “contemporary.” Without a trace of a smile, Sue Allen, commercial director at Thwaites, said: “Skol in the on-trade is well-known to pub goers having been held in very high regard by lager drinkers over many years.”

Of course I’m sure it’s much better now, but I can’t say it was held in very high regard when I use to drink it in the Two Tubs. At 68p it was slightly cheaper than Tuborg and therefore the choice for the impoverished and desperate. It was truly awful and when you were sick after one too many Skol Snakebites, your puke was a bright orangey yellow colour.

The best thing about Skol was their campaign featuring Hagar the Horrible. Sadly, he won’t be making a comeback, having been killed by the fun police. However, his legend lives on. Altogether now, Skol, Skol, Skol.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

White Lines (Don't Do It)

Licensee Pauline Terry was outraged at police suggestions that drugs were rife in her nightclub, Club Compass. An earlier raid had found traces of drugs in the toilets and serving areas. This and various other licence breaches led to her being fined £1000. Still, determined to defend the club’s honour, she wrote a letter to Ramsgate police. Unfortunately, as it turns out, probably not a good idea. For the letter was covered in cocaine. She’s subsequently been stripped of her licence and is, strangely, currently unavailable for comment.

As Long As The Price Is Right

The controversy over minimum pricing continues to rumble on. This despite the (English), government giving it the official cold shoulder. The Welsh-never the biggest fans of booze-Assembly are the latest to show interest in the idea. Meanwhile, cracks have started to appear in the trade’s opposition to it, with feisty Brewdog joining out-of-touch CAMRA in being in favour of punishing the working class.

Luckily, a lot of the opponents don’t bear much scrutiny. Well known Labour loon Keith Vaz, for example. The chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee has come out strongly in favour of minimum pricing, quoting alcohol as being a “major factor in crime.” Isn’t that what the government said about drugs at the launch of “the war on drugs.” Now some people might think he was cynically trying to hide from the failures of the government’s various law & order initiatives, but not me. I think he was misquoted. I’m sure he meant to say he was going to tackle the socio-economic, parental, and communal underlying causes of crime. And then celebrate with a pint. Anyway, his holy crown is looking tarnished, what with him writing dodgy letters trying to get his dodgy mates off.

Sadly, the apologist mouth piece of Rupert Murdoch-the Times, has also jumped on the bandwagon. Sounding more like the Old Farter, rather than the Old Thunderer, it lambasts Gordon Brown, claiming “but he knows, because Sir Liam Donaldson, his Chief Medical Officer, has told him that the statistics show overwhelmingly that putting up prices would cut the number of alcohol-related deaths - and dramatically at that.” Except that they don’t. Still, as with alcohol units, don’t let the facts get in the way.

A more measured response has come from the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR). They don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach and suggest banning below-cost selling would be a better option. One thing’s for sure. This one will run and run.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Who's Laughing Now?

On my weekly shoplifting trip through Tesco, I came across the special Comic Relief edition of Morrissey Fox’s Blonde beer. 25p a bottle goes to good causes. Or does it? As the Pub Curmudgeon recently reminded us, the whole things a con. Apart from the questionable tactics of moral blackmail that the campaign uses, the choice of where your money goes is completely out of your hands. Now I cottoned onto this long ago, but many people are still ignorant of the truth. Comic Relief (and therefore you) actually help fund a group that is dedicated to destroying the British way of life. An insidious organisation, it will stop at nothing until its evil aims are accomplished.

Who is this group, you might ask. Al Quiada? No, Alcohol Concern. These moral terrorists are government funded and yet expect ordinary folk to contribute to their coffers via Comic Relief. The very people who Alcohol Concern wish to make miserable. And pubs who contributed were, in effect, contributing money to their sworn enemy. As Archimedes did when he threw a handful of kopecks in the barmaid’s apron on Friday. When he realises he may have given sustenance to people who would stop his only pleasure in life, I expect him to demand a refund.

What we need is a new organisation to counter the prohibitionist Alcohol Concern. Who’s for Alcohol Unconcerned?

Monday, 16 March 2009

Pleasant Valley Sunday

After Saturday’s exertions at the beer festival-I was second in the queue waiting for the doors to open-I planned a quiet day of needlework. But Eddie, the eager, legal beagle had other plans. Seems the Manx Minx was celebrating National Manx Bee Gees Day. The Gibb Brothers are considered living gods amongst their fellow Manx kin and every year a day is set aside to give ritual thanks. As this mainly consists of marching round the house, dressed in animal skins, singing “O Land of Our Birth”, Eddie was keen to get away.

I suggested a few cans of Carling in the park, but he wasn’t having any of it. He insisted we boldly go where no man (well not many, anyway) has gone before-the Robin Hood in Helmshore on the bus. So it was that we found ourselves on a magical mystery tour of the back roads of Rosendale. Now I thought Eddie was flaunting his manly toughness when he appeared on the jitney sans jacket, with only a shirt for comfort. But it seems not. Having quickly popped out for the Minx’s potions, he found himself stranded on the doorstep, unable to catch his beloved’s ear and therefore unable to gain access. As time was pressing, it was a case of leave the goods and dash for the bus. That’s the problem with having a cavernous mansion. One word for you, Eddie, doorbell. Get one.

Still, he did bring that most important of tools with him-a good strong drinking arm. And very busy it was, as we sampled the full range of Copper Dragon beers. More than once, actually. Fully refreshed, we hailed a local remise and headed for the Hare & Hounds. It's always good to have a choice of 40 beers for a nightcap. Here our jaded palates were given a tune up by some excellent beers. Darkstar American Pale Ale lived up to its name, delivering a delightful crisp hop bite. Equally good, but different, was Oakham Tera. This was copper in colour and was bursting with juicy malt, and a citrus and blackcurrant hop bite. Both very moreish.

Being completely beered out by now, we finally turned our attention to food and the drinkers’ favourite-curry. Step forward, Sriti, who delivered up the necessary nourishment. Eddie enjoyed his Agra Special, although the last time I saw anything that red was last time when I gave blood.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

A Beer Or Two At the Dogs

Friday saw the second day of the Hare & Hounds beer festival (http://hareandhoundsbury.com/ThePub/BeerFestival/tabid/62/Default.aspx) and it was all go. With so many beers available, all served as God intended-cellar cooled, handpulled and sparkled, you were spoilt for choice. Well, the landlord is from Yorkshire.

The scooper contingent were already well settled in when I arrived. They really are a hardy bunch, with Hutch going for a half of Allgates and a half of Bazens in the same round. A braver man than me. As usual a lot of new breweries means a lot of new beers. And, unfortunately, as usual a lot of mediocre beers. Brown/copper and dull. Step forward Hexamshire Devil’s Elbow. And Hammerpot Meteor.

Mind you they were both a lot better than Northern Golden World, which was like someone had melted a packet of butterscotch sweets. Even Archimedes couldn’t manage to drink it. Much better (naturally) were the first two (of four) Brewdog beers that were available. Trashy Blonde (4.1%) was a real hop mess-good for hopheads but not to everyone’s taste. There’s a real piny hop explosion on the tongue, but some people felt it was too much and lacked a clean, crisp edge. It didn’t stop me sinking a few when Eddie, the eager, legal beagle turned up.

Brewdog Devine Rebel at 12.5% drew a fair bit of interest. All you can say about it is that it tastes like you would expect-a barley wine. It hides its strength pretty well, but you’re still never going to be able to throw it down in a hurry.

Best new beers: Sheffield Pale (crisp and hoppy), Hopstar Dark Knight (pleasingly lush).

Friday, 13 March 2009

A Place In The Sun

Time for the strange pub story of the week. Customers and staff at the Pub in the Square in Buckie, Banffshire developed sunstroke after a manager accidentally replaced blue strip lights with ultraviolet tanning tubes.

Emma McLean installed the tubes behind the bar, leaving unsuspecting staff and regulars exposed for hours. This is far longer than the recommended dosage and led to dizziness and several instances of burns and peeling skin. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said it was the first time they’d ever heard of such an incident, admitting “It's not the kind of thing you hear about every day.” Now, I expect the pub to be hit with several claims for compensation and perhaps Ms McLean will soon be looking for another job?

Last word, though, has to go to Buckie councillor Gordon McDonald, who said: "It's very rare for anyone to be getting sunburnt in Buckie at this time of year.”

Dream A Little Dream

More (possibly), good news for the trade with the latest ruling from the European Commission. They’ve agreed that member states can lower VAT rates in certain sectors. This includes pub and restaurant meals. So, and it’s a big if, the government decide to go down that route, pubs could soon be charging VAT as low as five percent.

Now this concession could have even bigger implications. CAMRA see this as a chink of light and hopes to bring more relief to beleaguered drinkers and publicans alike. They will be campaigning (yes they do do that), for the EC to allow a drop in duty on beer sold in pubs. Well, we can all dream, can't we?

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Freedom Come Freedom Go

Let’s hear it for freedom fighter Nick Gibson. For he fought the law. And won. Prospective landlord Mr Gibson objected to the police’s insistence that he install CCTV in order to obtain a licence for his pub. He felt that filming everyone entering and leaving his pub-the Drapers Arms in Islington, would be an infringement of their civil liberties. After all, they were only going about their everyday lawful activities.

The Information Commissioner’s Office took on the case, writing to the Met warning them that blanket installation of CCTV in pubs “raised serious privacy concerns.” Mr Gibson duly got his licence and the ICO have pledged to pursue the matter with both the police and the government. Because what’s at stake here is the presumption of innocence. Should every pub, regardless of its record be forced to spy on law abiding customers? Or should CCTV be a targeted measure? If the government gets its way, it will be yet another condition that licensees have to meet. And there’s already too many of them.


Meanwhile, Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi, has been jailed for three years for failing to hit George Bush with his shoes. I shudder to think of his sentence should he have actually managed to hit the poor old boy.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around

Breathe easy-for now. A small victory for Scottish drinkers was scored last night as plans for minimum pricing and bans on drinks promotions were shown the red card. Opposition MSPs have united to block the SNP’s attempt to bring in legislation via the backdoor-i.e. amending existing legislation. They quite rightly argue that such controversial measures need to be fully aired and come before parliament as separate legislation. In which case, it would be next year before any legislation could be enacted. And everyone knows that’s a long time in politics.

The SNP have pledged that they will continue to try and sneak the measure through, but the joys of minority government make this currently unlikely. Let’s hope so, anyway.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Got Your Money

Well I knew he was fleecing me, but seeing it in black and white really brings it home. Thanks to the marvellous Beer Tax-O-Meter, you can see just how much Mrs Darling’s son is milking you for. Based on an average week’s beer consumption, I’m putting £1622 a year in his pocket. And if the government implements its planned increase, this will rise to £2288. And that's just from beer. No wonder he looks so bloody smug.

Gotta Travel On

Can you have too much of a good thing? I only ask as I was beginning to see a pattern. The WHB, having returned from the land of sand, sun and senoritas had already forced me out drinking on Thursday-nothing too exciting; Kelham Island Best Bitter and Hatters Dark Mild were the best the Trackside could offer. And we already had plans for Saturday. But that wasn’t enough for the beer fiend. He demanded a drink in Manchester yesterday. Even though he was still feeling the effects of yesterday-I blame the whisky he forced down our neck.

Since Archimedes was busy fiddling, I mean organising, his tax return, it was just us two that found a seat in the already busy Smithfield. There was a beer festival on and, as they had been visited by both the police and Environmental Health, I was willing to give the place another go. The refurb seems to have stalled and it still has the same problems as before: the misplaced pool table is still frequented by people who gaze in bemusement at customers actually drinking beer and there is a severe lack of light at the rear.

However, they’ve banished the old jug routine and now do cellar runs to placate the tickers. And all the (handpulled) beer I tried was fine. Best of the bunch was Cat-A-Tonic by Abbeydale, which was light with a crisp hop bite. Feeling in a generous mood and having been told it had improved, we called in at Bar Fringe. It’s still depressing after seeing North Bar in Leeds and service was its usual sparkling self. The beer range did seem to be a little better though and the Prospect Blinding Light was fine.

Our musings were interrupted by Eddie, the eager, legal beagle. He wanted to know if I knew the way to San Jose. The answer would obviously require a trip to the Trackside. The WHB very sensibly figured it wasn’t worth going back for a final drink, so I left him heading in the direction of the Marble. Back in Bury, having finished covering his paper trail, Archimedes joined us.

I was feeling bloated by now and had to rely on sheer professionalism to get the beer down. The first choice proved unwise. Robinsons Trouble & Strife was copper coloured and did have strong notes of malt and toffee as advertised. However, it didn’t have the fruity hop as promised, or the crisp biscuit taste that characterises a good Robbies. Hard going. Much better was Cathedral’s St Hugh’s, a light easy going session beer from Lincoln’s only microbrewery. That was the order of the day till I could get the last bus up to the Towler. Which was probably a mistake...

Friday, 6 March 2009

Money's Too Tight To Mention

Some welcome news as the government announces an expansion of its Enterprise Finance Guarantee scheme. Under this initiative pubs can apply for emergency loans of up to £1 million, with the government guaranteeing 75% of the cash. Initially, tied pubs were excluded from applying, but this ban has now been lifted. Hopefully, some of the £1.3 billion available will now get to those pubs that really need it.

Although to be applauded, it’s only part of the measures that are needed to sustain the on-trade. And the government hasn’t been overly helpful, seemingly more interested in closing pubs rather than keeping them open. Hence I had to smile when Licensing Minister Gerry Sutcliffe came out with “Pubs are often the lifeblood of communities and I am keen to do what I can to help while are hard.” Sssh, don’t tell Alistair Darling.

Meanwhile

Householders are living in too warm houses, according to a report by our masters in Westminster. Shockingly domestic properties account for 27% of all CO2 emissions. If government figures for cutting greenhouse gasses are to be met, this needs to drop. The report urges not only more action to make homes more energy efficient (sensible) but, somewhat bizarrely, the need to tackle “the desire to live in warmer homes.” Hmmm.

To me, this smacks of picking on an easy target and passing the buck to them. And once again that easy target is me. And you. People should use less electricity etc sounds very much along the lines of forcing people to pay a tax for daring to fly away on holiday. It’s simpler than the government actually tackling the roots of any problem.

But shouldn’t the government be addressing these problems? In the 21st century shouldn’t they be finding ways so we can use MORE electricity, not less? And hold on, if homes make up 27% of carbon emissions, that’s a whopping 73% that does the rest. My O-level in maths tells me that 73 is much bigger than 27, so let’s get things in proportion. It’s all very well doing “your bit” but unless the big picture is addressed, it’s like collecting iron railings in the war-pointless. Is there a real desire for change, or is it just another case of being seen to do something? I know which one I’d bet on.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

I Shall Be Free

But let’s not be too hard on our haggis chomping cousins. For England has got its own problems. Not least the government’s determination to press on with its vote-winning ID cards con. Further details of how they intend to fleece the ordinary citizen have now emerged. And it doesn’t look good.

There will be fines of up to £1000 for people who lose their cards and fail to report it within a month. It looks like being an expensive future for me-but how will they know? If I turn up and say I lost it yesterday, will the goons of Prinz-Albrecht-Street take you in for questioning?

A new card will then set you back £30, bringing in an estimated £33 million for the Treasury. However, it’s noticeable that the government do not fine themselves. Not surprising, as Whitehall departments lose an average of 23 passes a day. The MOD alone managed to misplace 11,245 items in one year. An insult to democracy (and good sense), you might think. But what else to expect from a government that welcomes emissaries from the People’s Dictatorship of China with open arms.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Fou The Nou

The beer blogosphere is awash with opinions on the latest news from north of the border. Yes, it seems the SNP, taking a leaf out of Westminster’s book, are eager to prove themselves true Caledonian clowns. I’m an advocate of measures favouring the on-trade, but what we have here is just plain bonkers. As others have pointed out, there is a big difference between banning loss-leading and imposing minimum pricing.

Minimum pricing is an attack on the working classes and the enemy of all drinkers. It’s lazy thinking, ill thought through and a green light to bootleggers. And typical of politicians everywhere, they even lack the convictions of their beliefs. After proclaiming they were raising the off-trade age limit to 21, they got nervous after student dissent and scrapped that idea. Except that local authorities can bring it in if they feel the need. Which would create a two-tier system between different regions? Very clever.

Mind you, opposition to this madness does put you in with some strange bedfellows. The Portman Group? They’re only marginally saner than the Scientologists. And SAB Miller? The spokesperson for that bunch of money grabbing, purveyors of crap had me in stitches as they tried to portray SAB as some sort of “free trade” champions. Apparently they have a deep concern for the drinkers of Scotland. Hilarious.

Still, it’s bad news. And talking of news, what did the BBC do yesterday? Yes, headline the story with (yet again), stock footage of real ale being pulled through a handpump. Great. Nice one, Auntie Beeb.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Unleash The Dragon

The village of Helmshore lies in the Rosendale Valley and is roughly 16 miles to the north of Manchester. It owes its expansion to the Industrial Revolution and the need to house large numbers of mill workers. More recently it became a hub for Manchester commuters. It boasts the Helmshore Mills Textile Museum and, more importantly, several public houses.

Most prominent of these and one of my favourite boozers is the Robin Hood on Holcombe Road. Now a Copper Dragon house, it dates from the 1880s and was originally two mill cottages. Up to 40 people lived in the cottages at one time and the pub is reputed to be haunted by the ghost of a mill worker by the name of Wilf. The layout is traditional with a small bar serving three rooms and blazing log fires keep it warm during winter. The windows are etched with the livery of Glen Top Brewery-a long defunct brewery from nearby Waterfoot, I believe.

Now there is one problem with the Robin Hood. It’s 4.5 miles from my usual haunt, the Hare & Hounds in Holcombe Brook. Meaning that you can’t just pop in for one-any expedition has to be of a serious nature. So, like Scott of the Antarctic, I set off yesterday. Except I planned to come back. Mind you, I suppose he did as well.

About 0.5 miles before you get to the RH, there is the White Lion. To me, this is a classic example of converting a perfectly good pub into a “bar and restaurant.” All character has been removed and it has a sterile hotel lounge feel to it. Although it tries to sell itself on food, it was empty when I called in. Food options include Fish & Chips (with crinkle cut chips!) for £9.95. No pies. And no ploughman’s either. Instead the veggie option was a sandwich of goats cheese with marinated Tuscan vegetables and basil mayonnaise. Only two of the four pumps were in operation, but the Lancaster Blonde I had was in very good condition.

Down at the Robin Hood, I wasn’t disappointed. Four Copper Dragon beers and a guest from Bank Top. All served in excellent condition with the taste potential fully maximised-i.e. served with sparklers. As I made my way across the bar, starting with Best Bitter, I gave my silent thanks to the beer gods above. And to the beer tie, of course.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

I Got It On Milk And Alcohol

Seems the Nanny State is at it again. Having spent time and money encouraging us to use the alcohol hand gels in hospitals, they now plan to withdraw them. According to reports today, NHS bosses are worried because some people have been applying it internally. Now I prefer to have Highland Park smuggled in, but what has happened to freedom of choice? After all, If you can’t get legless in hospital, where can you? As someone said, “if the NHS is going to provide free alcohol, then it’s not surprising that people take advantage of it.” Exactly. Honestly, this country.

I Fought The Law

Who says nostalgia isn’t what it used to be? Seems we’re currently stuck in something of a time warp. First we hear of elephants returning to British circuses and now Bury has its first successful shebeen for a long time.

There have been unconfirmed stories of an illegal drinking den circulating for some time, but now I’ve had it confirmed by a reliable source. Seems the place is doing a roaring business. This being the 21st century, it’s far from the dingy basements of old. A plush conservatory houses a bar with chilled bottles and cans available for £1 each. There’s free Pool and a giant screen showing Sky Sports. For the gambler, there’s poker with the house taking a cut.

So far everything has gone smoothly, but how long before the authorities come a knocking? My advice: get some real ale in and improve your customer demographics, before it’s too late.