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Showing posts from July, 2009

It's The Same Old Song

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A group of MPs on the Commons Public Committee had published a report entitled Reducing Alcohol Harm and were questioning whether the government’s guidelines were “fit for purpose”. It looked for a brief moment that common sense had prevailed. But no sooner had I donned my party hat and put “Hallelujah” on the hi-fi-Leonard Cohen version, naturally-than reality bit me in the Alistair Darling.

What of course they were actually getting at was that they wanted more stringent action. Such as compulsory unit labelling of drinks and much clearer advice to the public. Because, apparently, there is “a widespread and longstanding lack of clarity in the minds of the public over how many units it is safe to drink”.
I don’t know, it’s as if these public purse-spongers don’t read this blog. The only lack of clarity is in the fuddled minds of anyone who continues to peddle the discredited notion of drink units. They’re more fitted to the works of Enid Blyton, rather than government policy. Laughably …

Carry On Up The Khyber

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Spice Valley is a utilitarian looking curry house on the Valley Leisure Park in Bolton. But looks can be deceptive. The building is a former Fatty Arbuckles. Weren’t they rubbish? Whoever thought naming a brand of restaurants after a very early silent film comedian would work in the UK was a bit of a joker himself. Although Arbuckle’s died prematurely in 1933, his third wife outlived him considerably, dying aged 97 in 2003. But I digress.

What Spice Valley has gained from the original build is lots of light, thanks to the large windows, which fits in well with its modern, contemporary style. It may not look like your traditional curry palace but it is highly regarded and currently lies at No 1 in the Bury Curry Club chart. Now it was time to put it to the test.
I started with Dahi Vada. Or Darth Vader as Boltonians like to call it. This is a South Indian speciality-ground lentil dumplings served in specially flavoured yoghurt. This proved very tasty, with the spicy lentils perfectly mat…

Here Comes The Sun Rain

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The Met Office finally owned up today to the worst kept secret in Britain: they’re officially rubbish. They’ve apologised for saying, back in April, that we were in for a scorcher of a summer. They had people rushing to buy BBQs and the Sun was all set to splash “Phew! What A Scorcher” across its front page. But strangely this hasn’t materialised and people have started suspecting the MO of telling porkies. Hence today’s attempt to get out from the damage. Apparently they only said there was a 65% chance of a good summer and anyway, don’t blame them, it’s the jet stream’s fault-it’s just too unpredictable.

Questions are now being asked about the MO’s accuracy rate-they claim around 85% but some experts put it as low as 38%-and the wisdom of having long range forecasts at all. And this is all despite the MO using a £30M super computer. It’s been pointed out before on this blog that anything other than short term forecasts have proved very iffy indeed. Now why is that?
Well if, like me, y…

There's A Light That Never Goes Out

There were red faces all round when Bury councillors recently voted to scrap their latest barmy money-saving scheme. The Conservative controlled authority had been expected to push forward with plans to switch off 40% of streetlights between midnight and 5.30am. But it was left up to Cllr David Higgin, chief crackpot of the economy, environment and transport scrutiny panel, to do a 3 point turn and pull the plug on the idea.

For, amazingly, councillors found the idea wasn’t too popular with residents. Fears of tripping over, rising crime rates and the fact that that is just the time of night when you really need streetlights were all raised. Indeed, spare a thought for late night beerhounds. We fall into enough ditches on the way home without having to do so relying solely on moonlight.

Some people, including myself, remember when it was all the rage to promise MORE streetlighting, not less. I suspect that idea has gone the same way as tarmac for the backstreets, which was coming in tim…

Chang Beer

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Chang (which means elephant in Thai) is an imported 5% lager hoping to muscle in on the lucrative Asian drinks market. Pouring pale gold, it had an initial sweet fruit aroma and plenty of carbonation. Apparently brewed with pure well water, all the ingredients say is “contains malt barley”. It’s aimed at the brand conscious drinker, but whether it has the legs to go head to head with the likes of Kingfisher, we will have to wait and see.

I Travelled Among Unknown Men

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Saturday dawned a little overcast but with the promise of sunshine. So it proved. Too good an opportunity not to have a trip out somewhere. And where better than the Hawkshead Brewery? For they were having a beer festival, making it an even more appealing prospect.

Hawkshead is a very pretty village in Cumbria and inspired local lad Wordsworth to scribble some lines about it. Of course, Hawkshead Brewery isn’t actually in Hawkshead but in Staveley. This makes it accessible by train, but only after changing at Preston and Oxenholme. And then there’s the daft ticket pricing policy, although that can be negated by loitering in First Class and then dashing to the toilet at the first sign of a conductor.
The brewery is only a short distance from the station and is quite impressive for a small outfit. There is a smart beer hall upstairs with a 7 metre bar that sells the full Hawkshead range. There is also a wheelchair capable WC, although no indication how you would get your wheelchair up the…

Over The Hills And Far Away

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Eddie, the eager, legal beagle had wheels and a plan. So it was into the Babemobile for an unusual weeknight crawl. First up was a little jaunt of 11 miles to our old friend the Robin Hood in Helmshore, where I sampled the quite rare Copper Dragon Best. Round the corner (2 miles) was the Griffin at Haslingden. This is a brewpub, started by Dave Porter (now of Outstanding), but under new ownership as Pennine Ale.
The problem with Pennine is that they brew too many beers for such a small operation and I was surprised to see that the Griffin had a guest beer on as well. Strangely (or logically) given the area, it was Thwaites. Due to volume of beer, consistency isn’t always great with PA and so it proved today. The light, hoppy Floral Dance (3.6%) tasted nothing like it should and had that unpleasant smokey-Bazens taste.
Five miles later and we were at the Jolly Sailor and Ye Olde Boot and Shoe, which stand next to each other in Waterfoot. Both were in the Good Beer Guide, Eddie assured …

Chocks Away

And we’re off. After much speculation, CAMRA has finally exercised its “super-complaint” power. This will force the Office of Fair Trading to fast-track (within 30 days) consideration of anti-competitive practices in the UK pub market.

The problem as laid out in their complaint-A Fair Share for the Consumer is that unjustifiable high rents and tied beer prices are contributing to the grim harvest of pub closures. And they’re not exactly benefitting the consumer, either. Which is the whole idea of exclusive purchasing agreements as allowed by the EU.

CAMRA aren’t seeking an end of the tie, merely progressive reform to allow more of the benefits to be passed onto landlord and customer alike. And for tied pubs to be allowed to buy in one “guest beer” (sounds familiar)-well, they are the Campaign For Real Ale.

In terms of pub rents, they are seeking an independent and fair assessment method which allows the licensee access to how the rent is calculated. And it must take account of the fact t…

Holding Out For A Hero

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In these grim times, we need heroes. Real heroes who are willing to take up the mantle for the oppressed and downtrodden. Davids who aren’t afraid of Goliaths. Step forward Patrick Kelly. Mr Kelly is the licensee of the Mess House in Oldham. He objected to Oldham’s proposed hard-line blanket ban on drinks promotions and their daft ideas such as post office queuing.

For, as was pointed out to the licensing committee, there was no evidence of any trouble caused by drinks promotions at his premises. Indeed, he has only ever had one drinks promotion, anyway. So, as Trading Standards couldn’t refute his claims, it would be unfair to penalise him based solely on generic disorderliness in the town centre. And the committee agreed.
Sadly he is (so far) the only licensee to step forward and challenge the council’s bullyboy tactics. Hopefully, now that their legally dubious and morally corrupt campaign has suffered a blow, others will follow suit

Radio Ga Ga

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I see public busybodies the Advertising Standards Agency have been at it again. This time the victim of their killjoy mentality was Mattesons sausages. These seemingly harmless objects certainly got (a very small) number of people hot under the BBQ and ensured a ruling by the ASA.

The problem lay in a number of radio adverts in which listeners were asked where they would like to “stick it”. Frankie Howerd would have been proud. However, not everyone was amused, as , (gasp) wee bairns could be listening. 21, yes all of 21, very sad people actually complained that the innuendo made the ad offensive. Personally, with only 21 complaints out of thousands of listeners, I would have told them where they could “stick it”. But instead of laughing their socks off, the ASA loves nothing better than to pontificate on these matters.
Bizarrely it cleared the ads of being offensive and agreed with the manufacturer that the ads were light hearted. It also agreed that the wee ones would be too, er, wee …

Working For The Yankee Chinese Dollar

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That most Irish (or should that be Oirish?) of institutions, Guinness, may be about to become a little more exotic. As will other familiar brands such as Baileys and Smirnoff. For the China Investment Corp (CIC) has taken a 1.1% stake in their owner-Diageo. This might not sound a lot, but the deal, valued at 365 million dollars, actually makes CIC Diageo’s ninth largest shareholder.

The CIC was set up to make good use of China’s 2 trillion dollars worth of foreign currency reserve. Traditionally markets have been sceptical and somewhat resistant to investments by these so-called sovereign funds. However, according to the Financial Times, they have “softened” their attitude to Chinese money. Read that as beggars can’t be choosy. In these economic times, Diageo and their ilk can’t afford to worry about where the money is coming from. If it’s the largest dictatorship on Earth, so be it. To be fair, judging by past standards, it’s doubtful if they ever/will care.
The Chinese drinks sector …

Larkrise Sowerby Bridge to Candleford Leeds

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There were tears and trauma on Friday. No, it wasn’t Fern’s leaving do on This Morning-although I’m sure daytime TV will never be the same-but the agony of watching Dumbledore’s death in Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince. And all on the giant canvas of the IMAX, as well. After that, a drink was needed and luckily the WHB was on hand for emotional support. As was Mallinsons Cascade-at the Marble Arch.

However, come Saturday and I had to pull myself together. Eddie, the eager, legal beagle was on the case. Seems the Manx Minx was busy planting a coolabahs forest in Douglas. So a trip out to Leeds materialised.
But first we broke our journey at Sowerby Bridge station to look at the Jubilee Refreshment Rooms. This is a new venture based in the long disused Victorian booking office. It’s only been open a week and is still a work in progress but it’s a very promising development. Basically it consists of one, smart, rectangular room with the bar at one end. Six real ales are available…

Don't Fear The Reaper

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Why are councils so determined to demonstrate their lack of knowledge and grasp of reality? In a worrying move, Bury Council have backed proposals to amend the Licensing Act 2003. At the moment, health issues are not part of the four objectives of the Act. However, there are plans afoot to change that.

The Sustainable Communities Act (SCA), a rather good piece of legislation, allows local authorities to propose amendments etc after community consultation. A good idea in theory. But here, we have a classic case of backdoor lawmaking, or doing the dirty as I like to call it. The idea is to add “protecting and improving public health” to the four existing objectives.

Now firstly, there’s the question of whether, if it really is that important, why wasn’t it included in the original legislation. Secondly, is the issue of consultation. Or rather lack of it. Who exactly have they consulted? Not me, obviously. If they had, I would have told them, in the immortal words of Edmund Trebus, to sti…

Cider At The Continental

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The Continental on South Meadow Lane, Preston is a surprising place. Tucked away by the River Ribble, seemingly without any chance of passing trade, you’d think it would struggle. And apparently it did. That was before it was given an enthusiastic and very successful makeover. Out went the image of an end of pier Stella drinking den and in came a contemporary, comfortable pub selling both good food and beer. And cider.

Yes, the excuse to pay a visit was cider. Specifically, their first international cider festival. This was obviously doing well as, despite arriving early on Saturday, we found a lot had been drunk on Friday night. Nine out of eleven perries had been drunk but there was still plenty to go at. We grabbed a seat in the large beer garden-despite (naturally) the BBC predicting rain; we had good weather all day. Kicking off with the rather bland Thatcher’s Heritage-well it is only 4.9%, we counted them in and we counted them out in the toilets later. Gwynt Y Ddraig (try saying…

Hello Children Everywhere

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Fake charity and alcohol Nazis, Alcohol Concern are at it again. Their latest suggestion at ruining Britain’s drinking culture is to stop alcohol adverts being shown on TV before 9pm. The reason? Children are being exposed to horrendous images of booze during programmes such as X-Factor. And shockingly, a supermarket was found to be advertising WINE during Coronation Street. Saints preserve us.

The first thing that head honcho Don Shenker seems to have overlooked is that these programmes are aimed ostensibly at adults. Yes, adults and anyway it could be argued that responsibility for children during these programmes rests with their parents. If they were advertising during Bob the Builder, then he might have a point.
Another point he misses is rather obvious. Kids aren’t supposed to be able to buy the stuff. If a ten year old gets the urge for a bottle of Chablis after watching Corrie, then I expect measures to be in place to ensure the law is being enforced. After all, Chablis is wast…

Our Friends Electric

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There’s been a lot of chatter recently about Sam Smiths and some rose tinted views on their prices and their seemingly axiomatic love for all things quality. It has to be said, though, that they are a funny beast and like any/all pub groups, get it wrong sometimes.

For example, they seem to have a dichotomic approach to real ale. Producing only one, you’d think it would be in their own best interest to support it wholeheartedly. However, swathes of their pubs don’t sell it and whist they lavish money and time on some of their estate, some of it is in need of TLC. And the imposition of a dumbed down menu on their managed houses didn’t go down well with publicans or customers.
Having said all that, I was surprised to see the recent change at Sinclairs in Manchester-surely one of their flagship boozers? They’ve gone all retro and ripped the handpumps out, replacing them with box fonts. Somewhat bizarre in a pub they are always trying to sell as “traditional”. Apparently the change has see…

Any Old Iron

I just knew it was going to be one of those days. Initially it did look promising-go and review a nice tearoom-Cafe Tor-in Helmshore. However, I was soon discombobulated. I was actually going past that and heading out to Holden Wood Antiques in Haslingden. They have a tearoom attached to the antiques centre.

The antiques (and tearoom) are interestingly housed in a listed former church. Turns out the antiques are a mix of the genuine-a very early Victorian rosewood wardrobe, for example and some cheap repro tat, presumably for the tourists who use the area as a base for exploring the North West.

The tearoom was clean and airy and service was good. I was less pleased with the actual food. Although the usual staples were on offer, I noted that, like several cafes nowadays, they were offering that pub great-the Ploughman’s. Curiosity got the better of me, even though I know that these places seldom get it right. And so it proved here. They’d prettified it. The plate was awash with salad acc…

Somewhere Over The Rainbow

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Talking of the eager legal one, it was at his suggestion that we enjoyed a post work shandy. Seems he has secured the entire front row for the forthcoming Nolans comeback tour and was keen to celebrate. He fancied exploring central Bury as it (can be) the place to be. I was a little wary after being stung the night before when the WHB and I ended up on a session of Welsh whisky in the local Spoons. However, fortune favours the brave. Or so they say.

Our first stop-the Trackside-immediately threw up a problem. The board didn’t look particularly appealing and the first (and last) drink in a session is crucial. Among the offerings were a dark Bowland, a honey beer and two undrinkable efforts by Bazens. We settled for Marstons Ashes Ale which tasted like, er, Marstons. The biggest problem was the temperature-they don’t have a conventional cellar and lacking cooling facilities, the beer tends to be on the warm side. Even more so during the summer.
A wander over to the Robert Peel enabled Edd…

Aint No Cure For The Summertime Blues

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The latest round of alcohol bullshit scaremongering has been launched by the Drinkaware “charity”. Well, they’re not what I’d call a real charity, as you won’t see collectors waving a tin in your face in the local shopping mall. Although I’d love to see them try it. No, their income comes from industry sources. Bizarrely some comes from brewers and even pubcos. The vast majority though-over £2 million-comes from alcohol killjoys The Portman Group. And yet Drinkaware claims “for the facts” as a motto. Yeah, right.

So what has Drinkaware got to teach us? It seems that they surveyed 2000 drinkers and discovered some amazing facts. Firstly, that people drink more when it’s warmer. Yes, 24% admitted to drinking more in the summer, compared to only 11% who drink more in the winter. Well knock me down with a feather and call me Daisy. Apparently it’s all down to wanting to sit outside in the sun and the fact that there are more social and sporting events in the summer. You live and learn, eh?

Don't Look Back In Anger

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Well the second anniversary of the Smoking Ban has been and gone. Despite the vociferous protestations of the pro-smokers, the Earth hasn’t been struck by meteorites and strangely remains on its axis. There’s a very sensible piece by Hamish Champ in the Publican that says it all, really.

However, there’s always the danger of the enemy within. In these days of pub closures and increasing pressure on the licensed trade, it’s more important than ever to have a united front. So it’s sad to see the (inappropriately titled) Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign split the support by focusing on a single issue.
It’s always illuminating to see the people behind these groups. Invariably they consist of right-wingers, self interest groups and “libertarian” kooks. And so it appears in this case. With supporters such as tobacco company apologists, Forest, the Adam Smith Institute and Progressive Vision, who needs enemies? And to top it all, one of the world’s most annoying and arrogant (I’ve met him) …

The Bhurtpore Inn

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The Bhurtpore Inn at Aston is a famous hostelry tucked away in the depths of Cheshire. A classic, large multi-roomer, it has some outstanding original features and an excellent beer garden. It holds two beer festivals a year and the reason for my visit was the fourteenth summer fest. It had been some time since my last visit and I was interested to note any changes.

Having made sure the WHB had taken his travel sickness pills and was packing his hot water bottle (we were taking him outside of his comfort zone) we boarded the train to Wrenbury, which is the nearest station to Aston. During festival time, arrangements are made for certain trains to stop at this usually deserted station, thereby saving a change at Crewe.

A leisurely walk takes you from the station to the pub, although there are various short cuts-some shorter than others. The beer festival consisted of a selection on handpull on the main bar and a selection on gravity at a back bar. Now usually I’d start on the handpulled …

From North Cape To The Bluff

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Hold it and people will come. That seems to be the motto for wine tastings. And it was certainly true of last night’s New Zealand Wine Fair at the Bridgewater Hall. So many wines (200) and so little time. Of course, I was only there to soak up the cultural ambience but I did manage the odd glass or two-well it would have been rude to refuse.

Now not everyone is as high-minded as me, so I wasn’t surprised to see some familiar drunks staggering round. Jack & Jill were getting tanked up straight from work, whilst Pythagoras was on the Rosé hunt. Meanwhile Archimedes was overheard bemoaning the fact that they weren’t serving red wine by the pint.

Taste wise, it was mainly good, with only a few bum notes. I wasn’t impressed with the Kim Crawford range. Their Spitfire Sauvignon Blanc is supposedly a “premium” wine-it retails for £13.49 a bottle but I was left underwhelmed by the lack of crispness. And their Dry Riesling Marlborough 2007 was far too acidic. Luckily there were far better ex…