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

Friday, 31 July 2009

It's The Same Old Song

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 these booze guardians also claim that alcohol has become 69% more affordable since 1980. Well beer certainly hasn’t and even if alcohol has as a whole, then so what? Is this supposed to be bad?

Naturally this latest report has got the usual puritanical/nutters howling at the moon and banging on about minimum pricing-again. This is something the Welsh Assembly seems keen on. Yes, there are nutters all over this here green and pleasant land.

Seems the WA isn’t happy with Westminster’s attitude to having fun and want measures introduced to curtail it. These include banning happy hours (yawn) and a ban on alcohol advertising. Who votes for these weirdoes? If Westminster fails to deliver the goods, then they may seek greater powers for themselves. Which sounds to me like the perfect riposte to any notion of devolution that the cottage-burning brigade might have.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Carry On Up The Khyber

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 matched by the sweeter yoghurt. The carnivores were debating whether to ask the “lamb question” That is whether it was tender or not, as some places like to serve up chewy lamb. Or the Herbivores Revenge as I like to call it. Having been assured it was, they went for chop starters and proclaimed them excellent.

Mains were accompanied not by rice (although you could if you wish) but by Roti ki Tokri-an assortment of breads. And very good they were as well. My Matar Paneer had a rich tomato sauce with a good dose of coriander thrown in. In fact, everyone thoroughly enjoyed their mains. Service throughout was good and it worked out about £16 a head, which considering the quality was reasonable. Highly recommended.

Spice Valley is at Valley Park, Bolton B1 8TS. Open Mon-Thurs 12-2, 5-10.30 Fri 12-2, 5-11 Sat 12-11 Sun 12-10

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Here Comes The Sun Rain

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, you’re interested in the answer, you could do worse than read some of the works of Professor Jeffrey S.Rosenthal. Jeff’s something of a clever clogs-he had his PHD by age 25 and is now one of the world’s leading experts on probability. Annoyingly he’s also a pretty good writer. His 2003 Probability and Statistics: The Science of Uncertainty; now a standard text across the pond, is a good place to start.

Basically, detailed weather forecasts are good for 2-3 days only. A week’s forecast is playing the long odds and anything beyond that is pure happenchance. There are simply too many variables that increase exponentially with the length of time. These are simply impossible to predict. Think the Butterfly Effect. You may as well flip a coin. And if you get it wrong, you can always blame the jet stream.

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 time for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, way back in 1977. I’m still waiting...

Chang Beer

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.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

I Travelled Among Unknown Men

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 stairs in the first place. On this occasion there were extra beers on the bar and a separate festival bar in the large marquis outside.

The outside bar posed one big problem, though. Health & Safety meant that only the dreaded plastic glasses could be used. However, H&S didn’t mean that you couldn’t take a proper glass to the bar and pour the contents of the plastic into it-right in front of staff. Go figure. Anyway after my second visit, I came across a gent of a barman who was quite happy to forgo plastic and serve straight into the real thing. Problem solved.

The festival bar did throw up some tasty treats. Hawkshead Lager, despite being 5%, was nice and tangy but was outshone by their Windermere Pale. This 3.5% little bombshell had a clean, crisp hop bite that punched way above its strength. Very impressive and my favourite of the day. I tried several on the main bar including Bateman’s GHA and Harveys but the guest ales were disappearing fast. With only a firkin of each, I’d suggest that next year they will have to up their beer order quite considerably.

Catching the once-in-a-blue-moon direct train back to Manchester made the return journey literally a snooze. Back in Bury, I was shocked to discover not one, but several hoppy beers on in the Robert Peel. Thoughts of an early night went out the window as my liver (and bladder) went into overdrive to cope with the likes of Acorn Summer Pale and Goose Eye Chinook.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Over The Hills And Far Away

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 me. Yes, as it turns out, the 2006 guide. Hmmm. Let’s just say they’re not in anymore.

Only 3.5 miles to our next stop and the eagerly awaited Crown Inn at Bacup. A new one to me and being off the beaten track may explain some of its appeal. Bacup hostelries have traditionally had a reputation for being as welcoming to strangers as the Slaughtered Lamb in An American Werewolf in London. Not here, though, and it has been rightly praised in the Daily Telegraph. Although the Pictish beers on offer were tempting, I went for Phoenix Hopsack which was lovely and bitter.

We crossed the border next into Yorkshire for the Mason’s Arms in Todmorden. This is a small, cosy Copper Dragon Pub with their full range on. A pint of Golden Pippin went down very well before we made the 15 mile journey back to Bury. But before deserting the car altogether, we stopped off at Waterfold Farm as, shockingly, although it’s a pub and it’s in Bury, Eddie had never been. It’s a large new-build in Bury sited in a Business Park. It’s female/family friendly and is obviously doing something right as the car park was very busy. Recently it’s been selling Moorhouses beer but on our visit there were two Copper Dragon beers on. As usual, the beer was in good condition, although at £2.70 a pint would be considered a bit pricey for the area.

Back in the centre, there was time for some Northern Lights in Automatic before finishing on some tasty Pure Blonde in the Robert Peel. An enjoyable night and it’s amazing how much time you can save if you ignore “Road Closed” signs.

Friday, 24 July 2009

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 that the licensee is paying inflated prices for his stock. Certainly one measure that everyone seems to agree with is the end of the “restrictive covenant” whereby pubcos can prevent the pub being used as a licensed premises in the future.

The ball will firmly be in the OFT court now. So keep watching the skies.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Holding Out For A Hero

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

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Radio Ga Ga

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 to make sense of any possible innuendo. And yet the ads were banned from early plays in case older children were listening.

I’m not sure who the ASA are supposed to be protecting here. The “children” who are old enough to be paying attention to the radio and are interested enough to follow the adverts? Haven’t they heard that innuendo is all in the head? If the kiddies are old enough to get the joke, they’re old enough to hear it.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Working For The Yankee Chinese Dollar

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 is an expanding market and it makes sense for the CIC to want a share of it. Indeed, the Chinese government likes to take a stake in any large foreign operator trading on their soil. So it comes as no surprise that the FT also reports that the CIC have a 0.5% shareholding in Tesco-well I suppose, every little helps.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Larkrise Sowerby Bridge to Candleford Leeds

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 and with one of the owners a life member of Camra, they’re keen to support the micro brewers. We tried Durham Magus, which was sadly at the end of the barrel-they’d had a busy Fri night and hadn’t had chance to take stock. However, it was happily switched for Phoenix Midsummer Madness. Opening hours are 0730-2300 and breakfast is served till 12.

Arriving in Leeds, the obvious first stop was the Brewery Tap. Nicely refreshed with a pint of Leeds Pale, we moved onto the Victorian & Commercial. Being a Leeds virgin, Eddie had a sniff round this grand pub before we settled down with some Barnsley Gold. Next stop was the Town Hall Tavern. This is a tied Taylors pub and has the feel of a London boozer. Indeed, like many pubs in the big smoke, it relies mainly on weekday trade and was very quiet. It was the first pub in Leeds to earn a “Beautiful Beer” award, though, and the Taylors Golden Best was in good condition.

Further along The Headrow we called at Mr Foley’s Cask Ale House. Here we grabbed some tasty fish & chips and a pint of Elland Mr Apollo. This 4.3% has been brewed to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the moon landings and contains a heady mix of Cascade, Mount Hood, Simcoe, Brewers Gold and Pacific Gem Hops, plus the experimental Barley variety Flagon. This produces a wonderfully bitter beer which is very moreish. I paused to shake my head at the blackboard offer on the way out-a ploughman’s and a pint for £7. But it was one of those fake ploughman’s-it came with a pork pie. Repeat after me, cheese not pork.

On the way to North bar, we looked in at the once mighty Horse & Trumpet. This is a shadow of its former self, looking in need of a good clean-as did some of the clientele. North delivered the find of the day, if not the year. I’d read recently about the American beer festival at the White Horse in Parson’s Green and one beer in particular had caught my eye-“Johnny Cask” Dogfish Head 75 Minute IPA. A blend of their 60 and 90 minute IPAs, dry hopped with whole leaf Cascade and fermented with a dose of maple syrup. Well it seems North had also been having a Yankee Doodle Dandy fest and what awaited us on the bar but...

Considering the strength (7.5%) and the crawl we were on, we reluctantly broke our pint rule and settled on halves of this behemoth. But this was no half you could rush, anyway. Once you cut through the heavy hop barrier, you get a beer with both fruit and clear citrus notes-definitely a beer worth savouring. There was also Sierra Nevada Smoked Porter on offer.

Whilst at North we discovered that one of their sister bars wasn’t too far away, so we decided to detour and take a look. The Reliance is at the end of North St and can probably be best described as a gastrobar. Enticing cooking smells waft from the mezzanine kitchen area and they have a similar, if smaller, range of beers to North.

A bit of a yomp took us along Kirkgate, past the boarded up Duck & Drake, to the Palace. We enjoyed some al fresco Roosters whilst admiring the local wildlife. As the sun started its inevitable decline in the sky, we marched round to Pin where I tried the Leeds Pale once again, leaving Eddie going loco on the Leeds Best. The Grove was the quietest I’ve seen it, but the beer was in good form as usual. It was a race now to complete the crawl or facing being stranded in Leeds. Increasing our drinking pace in a heroic demonstration of mind over matter, we managed to squeeze in the Cross Keys and the Midnight Bell before catching the last train headed back towards red rose country. The amount of drunks in Manchester in the early hours of the morning is truly shocking, though.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Don't Fear The Reaper

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 stick it up their chuffer.

But perhaps I’m being too hard on our local political representatives. Obviously they must have good reasons for supporting such a draconian measure. Only it seems not. They seem to have fallen for the propaganda continually spewed out by the anti-alcohol brigade. Apparently 25% of UK adults drink above the low risk level and locally some 20% are “hazardous drinkers.” Yes, they’re even using the meaningless jargon of the anti-booze Nazis.

Deputy council leader and fun-police spokesperson Yvonne Creswell actually had the nerve to say: "It has been proved that cheap alcohol has a key role in excessive drinking and damage to health and, at this time, local authorities have no legal power to consider the protection of improvement of public health.” Of course not, luv. That’s because it’s not your job. Your job is to ensure my bins get emptied. Repeat after me, bins, not booze.

Of course this is the same council who have used alcohol licensing as an excuse to print money. If they were really interested in public health, they’d take more of an interest in the type and number of licensed premises. There’s been quite a lot of local publicity about a glassing in the town centre that could leave the victim blind in one eye. He was glassed in Coolers, a filthy dive on Silver Street and atypical of the late night rat-holes that have been granted licenses in recent years. Evert time there’s a serious disturbance, it’s in one of these places and yet we have councillors waxing lyrical about alcohol and health. Physician, heal thyself.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Cider At The Continental

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 that after an afternoon on cider) Orchard Gold was of similar strength but was a medium cider with a definite touch of oak in the flavour. As did Hecks Kingston Black.
Of course we also sampled some old friends-Cheddar Valley and Morris Minor Mike’s favourite, Black Rat. Special mention has to go to Ross on Wye’s Dry Farmhouse. This started off as if it were going to remove the enamel from your teeth, but as Archimedes commented, “You actually get to like it after a bit”. However, man does not live by cider alone, so we felt compelled to try some beer before we left, including the excellent Phoenix Midsummer Madness
We called in at the GBG Black Horse on the way back to the station but this proved disappointing-as I think it was on my last visit. This seems to be one of those pubs that some elements of Camra tend to favour-slightly down at heel and with more emphasis on number of pumps, rather than quality. Leaving our pints of butterscotch, we headed across the street to Wetherspoons. The Titanic Iceberg here not only was much cheaper but in much better nick. A good last call before our trek back to the station.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Hello Children Everywhere

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 wasted on the under 12s.

Of course what we really need is more alcohol advertising to try and halt the worrying decline in on sales. Let’s see adverts with kiddies in the pub enjoying foaming pints of Bitter or musing over the delights of Duvel. You know it makes sense.

Our Friends Electric

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 seen a drop in sales, as presumably people are creatures of habit and are ignorant of electric dispense-which I presume they now are. Whether this is just a temporary blip, time will only tell. And they really should stop insisting on plastic glasses inside.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

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 accompanied by baby tomatoes, sliced cucumber and a diced apple. There were three slabs of cheese but only one small bread bun which promptly fell to pieces when I attempted to spread the frozen butter. And the cappuccino was the smallest I’ve seen. Eddie does assure me that the breakfasts are very good, however.

Somewhere Over The Rainbow

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 Eddie to slice off some of his Spoons tokens, the only problem being choice. Or rather lack of it. Naturally yesterday’s excellent George Wright Pure Blonde had gone. There was a rather less than seasonal treacle stout or Allgates Hair of the Dog. This turned out to be dark with some liquorice fruit and a slightly bitter finish.

The new kid on the block-Malt-is still finding its feet and has stopped opening Mon-Tues and has rationalised its beer range. However, it was still disappointing to find it only had Landlord on. An expedition into Manchester seemed the solution to our woes.

First stop was the Waterhouse and those vouchers again. Here we came across our old friend Storr which was in good condition. The Athenaeum did have three on, although a rather less than exciting range of John Smiths, Bombardier and Deuchars. The Paramount failed to tickle our taste buds, so we marched on to the Pevril for some guaranteed quality Copper Dragon.

Heading back, we called at the Bank. Constantly overlooked by Camra in favour of more traditional venues, it has built up a solid reputation for the quality of its food and drink. And service. As evidenced by barmaid par excellence, Kelly, who despite (or because of?) not being a drinker herself, insisted we sample several drinks, including the ciders.

We eventually settled for the St Austell IPA which packs a lot of flavour into its 3.4% body. An initial spicy fruit flavour gives way to a pleasingly dry finish, which I suspect is down to their use of Willamette hops. Before leaving we decided to try our old friend Hawkshead Gold. This was getting slightly past its best but the staff were happy to give a refund as time precluded another here.

Time for a last drink somewhere. With no beer on at Odd, we found ourselves at the Smithfield. This is much feted by the local Camra lot, who seem oblivious to its faults. It didn’t look too promising but it did have Mallinsons Heatwave on the bar, so we couldn’t go wrong, could we? Unfortunately this turned out to be the first Mallinsons to disappoint. Orange peel seemed to be mixed in with burnt malt. It wasn’t helped by the ridiculously high serving temperature, not welcome at any time but bizarre at post 11pm. Dejectedly we left it on the table and headed for Hunters where Eddie could satisfy his curry lust.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Aint No Cure For The Summertime Blues

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?

Shockingly 62% did not know that alcohol is a diuretic and even more shamefully, 18% of people do not keep track of their booze intake. What’s wrong with these people? Haven’t they heard of blogging? They save the best for last, though. Some 49% of people claim to have missed a key moment of their life because they were on (do they mean in?) the toilet at the time. And it’s alcohol’s fault. What puzzles me is how long these people were in (on) the toilet for? And what key moments did they miss? Was it their wedding, the birth of their firstborn or simply the milkman calling round?

And what do they conclude from all this? It’s obvious-that we should drink less and miss less. Hence the name of their new campaign. In response, I’m launching the Drink More, Don’t Be A Bore action plan. Coming to a billboard near you, shortly.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Don't Look Back In Anger

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) men-Antony Worrall Thompson-is behind it. Say no more.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

The Bhurtpore Inn

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 stuff and avoid the dreaded gravity dispense. However, initially at least, the selection on the main bar was strong and or dark, so gravity it was.

Birmingham BMA and Backyard Shire Oak were very average beers. Blue Monkey Evolution was much better but the standout was Mallinsons Nelson Sauvin. This 3.7% golden ale was packed full of hops and a lesson to those who think only stronger beers can carry a lot of flavour.

Back on the main bar, the beers were turning round quickly now-it was a good job we’d partaken of the excellent grub on offer. Summer Wine Galleon was followed by another tasty Mallinsons-Alestock, which was light and fruity. Also worth more than one was Phoenix Cotton Banker. However, time and Arriva Trains Wales wait for no man and so eventually we found ourselves back in Manchester.

Considering it was the 4th of July, it would have been rude not to celebrate, so a visit to Piccadilly Wetherspoons was in order. Uncle Sam’s Independence Ale was light and very easy drinking for a 4.7%. There were certainly some interesting characters in there-notably Jackie Chan (yes, that was his name) who was drinking Guinness with a red wine chaser.

Back in Bury it was time to meet up for a late night drink with Pineapple Pete in Automatic and after being thrown out of there, it was curry and taxi-in that order.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

From North Cape To The Bluff

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 examples knocking about-Hunters Riesling Marlborough 2008 being a good example.

What was the best? A lot of people seemed to like the Felton Road Cornish Point Pinot Noir but although it weighs in at around £25 a bottle, it didn’t do anything for me. Some of the unoaked Chardonnay was reasonable but the standout was the Pernod Ricard stable of wines. All of their range was good with the best being Deutz Marlborough Cuvee Sparkling. This was a delight, sending a fizzy taste sensation across the tongue. More than a match for most of its French counterparts.

Having been robbed in the wine tasting competition, we decamped to the nearby Pevril for some tasty Golden Pippin. The survivors finally made it back to Bury just in time to see Automatic close. Luckily there were pints of (very hoppy) Outstanding SOS waiting to be drunk at the Robert Peel. Strangely, it was at this point that I began to realise why everyone else had booked the day after off...