Friday 28 November 2008

Moving into the deeper darker south

No WIFi yesterday, so no post. Luckily I am at my brothers house tonight so as he's he's an IT wizard (or is that geek?) I've got massive bandwidth in this London suberb. So any detrimental blog quality can only be down to the authors ability.

We got to the BBC food show yesterday. Visiting the CAMRA run beer tasting session with Roger Protz. I can't say that the beers where fantastic. Good examples of classic beers styles, but nothing brilliant, in my humble view. I'm none plussed as to why CAMRA advertised this by email junk shot. It got me to go because I'm interested in food and beer. I would not go again, either to the beer tasting or the food show. Perhaps I'll explain why in detail in a later post.

I like though a little business that was at the food show. As this is a beer blog I thought you might like this. Run by to nice ladies, they make cakes and call their operation "Nutty Tarts". Most importantly they make a beer cake using Black Dog, which I understand is a mild. The cake was nice and similar to a cake I've made with stout and bananas. I might just give you the recipe sometime.

That evening we made our way down to a nice little pub called The land of Liberty, Peace and Plenty. Jill and Martin have been coming on holiday to our place for a couple of years now - we just knew the place would be our kind of pub. Again, I've got much more to say about this than I can fit into today's post. So much later, in the meantime, thanks for the hospitality and letting me show how to pull pints WITH a sparkler.

Yes your right, this part of the world just isn't quite ready for sparklers yet.

Today, I decided to look for The Gunmakers. I'd heard that the publican was a bit of a character and after all, as he's taken the time to comment on this blog occasionally I thought it would have been remissful to not call in. The fact that we had to wait in the rain for a bus at Shooters Hill for 1/2 an hour before two buses arrived together, then a tortuously slow journey on the London public transport system resulted in a journey that Google Maps reckoned I could walk in 3 hours, took a mere 2 hours. Public transport is so good, isn't it?

For some reason I expected this pub to not be as good as it is. However it tuned out to be pleasent. Three nice beers and a friendly environment. I wondered if the Publican would recognise me, at first he didn't and I was taking pictures to post without his knowledge. Then Ann let slip where we were from - bugger, cover blown!
We had a nice chat for a while and would have stayed for anouther pint, but had arranged to meet my brother so had to leave - could have stayed several more pints as it turned out, my brother was over 1 and 1/2 hours late.

Are tank tops back in fassion? must have missed that.
OK, this blog is not to it's usual standard, pics need colour balance and noise sorting out and the copy is a bit ropy, but I'm doing this while trying to be sociable in my brothers house.
The stries here a condensed and there are many ideas collected over the last couple of days. Look out for more when I get back.

Wednesday 26 November 2008

On the move

Well this is the first post from the laptop using WIFI - just really to prove it works....

I'm sitting in The White Swan Hotel, Henley-in-Arden. A last minute booking for accommodation. If I'd been organised I'd have found something out of the good beer guide. Organisation is not my strong point.

They have got Jennings Cumberland and Black Sheep Bitter on the bar. Goodness, I'm in Warwickshire and I've got the choice of a Cumbrian ale or a Yorkshire ale. Northern ales and they're not using sparklers - oh my god!!

But they have got Purity Gold which is brewed in Warwickshire. I have to say that out of the three tonight the Purity offering wins by miles. It's got a nice nose reminiscent of Parmesan cheese, weird, but not unpleasant. Good bittering and a good hoppy, fruity taste. My kind of golden ale. Best of all the brewery is less than 6 miles away from where I am sitting. The other two are probably over 200 miles from here - not good beer miles and poorer beer.
Well lets see if Mr Protz' beers tomorrow are worth the trip....

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Just packing up..

OK, we're off on our first leg of our International Beer Tour. Bar cooler bits and beers ready, (need to find one pump clip) Alan, Pads, Mick, My Dad, and even Harry (would you believe it?) all primed to keep the place safe and sound in our absence. Ann is panicking about such things as Euros. Doesn't she know, even deepest Europe has ATMs? The banking system isn't that close to collapse yet.

Calling in to see that nice Mr Protz at the NEC on Thursday. Apparently he's going to tell us about 5 beers to try before you die. mmmmmm..we'll see.

Thursday night we're off to the big metropolis. Yes us country types can survive in the city. We don't like it much. Far too many people all over the place. Hopefully my brother will put us up in his gaff for a few days. It'll give us a chance to work out why this southern beer is better without being sparkled. I doubt it'll change my mind. There are pubs I've heard are good in the village of London so I might give a few a try.

Then off to Brussels. Sunday we set up a bar in the Brewers of Europe House so that by Tuesday evening we can impress some people there with our excellent cask ale. OK, maybe taking beer to Belgium is like taking coal to Newcastle, but it'll be fun. We can try and get a few digs in at the MEPs about how there are rules that limit our governments ability to reduce VAT for pubs - according to the Treasury it's all Brussels fault - well I can ask them myself and let you know.

Then whilst in Belgium we might just have to sample a few of their beers. It would be rude not to, wouldn't it?

So, if this blog becomes a bit erratic for a week or so you know why. I'll try and update from the laptop if I get a WIFI connection, otherwise we'll see you next week.

The budget

How many of you wonder just what effect the budget will have on beer in you favourite pub?Well for a start, because most pubs are struggling, it was unlikely that any VAT reduction was going to end up being taken off the price of your pint. The best thing you could hope for was your pub not going bankrupt.

I've done the sums for you. Oh alright, MicroShit Excel has. Unfortunately, my worst fears are realised, it makes very little difference to the amount I'm going to end up paying to HMRC.

There are however two pieces of good news. Firstly, it will hit small brewers less than big ones because we get a 50% discount on beer duty but not VAT. I save £0.03 per pint!!! Secondly, it will put more costs proportionally on the big brewers, supermarkets and low end pubs like Wetherspoons.

I've assumed £2.50 a pint at 4% ABV. If the beer is good and the pub is good I think this is a very reasonable price per pint.
Please note, your pint would only cost about £1.80 without VAT and duty - remember that next time you whinge about the price of a pint.
Also remember that most publicans pay HMRC much more than they earn for themselves.
If anybody really wants to know the duty rate, it's here

Monday 24 November 2008

More on the tie

Firstly, Hoppy Birthday Tandleman - It's not the blog authors birthday you understand, just his blogs first year. I have Tandleman to thank in part for helping me find my way in the blogging world by comments on my blog, and putting up with my comments in reply to his writings.

Another blogger who has helped me is Jeff Pickthall, who regularly puts up worthy issues for discussion and provokes Tandleman into interesting counter comment. Recently the discussion has been over the tied pub. Tyson also occasionally has some things to say on this and other subjects that cause stimulation of my thought processes.

The Pub Tie, cause and effectWhat is interesting about these three worthy characters is that although they seem to disagree on finer points, there seems to be a general consensus that there are problems with the tie system. What is not being agreed upon is just what should be done. Ho hum, at least there is some common ground. Mr Tandleman has helped me realise that the discussions are good.

But what shall we do about it??

I don't know, but Mr Tyson made an interesting post here about the governments ideas to tackle drink related problems. His post seemed to have a level of sarcasm in it as far as I could tell. No? Must be my imagination then. Anyway, after recent postings by all three of these bloggers I started doodling - and the diagram here is the result after tidying up.

Jeff's recent post

Tandleman's recent post Actually I thought he'd made more posting on the subject - perhaps I'm just getting mixed up with comments
I knew there was another one,It's here

Wrap up on West Cumbria beer fest

I managed to get through on Saturday night. When we arrived more than 11 beers had run out. By the time we left there was probably only 11 beers left.

I tried a few beers and have now lost my copy of the program, complete with comments. I'm going a little off memory. For me the most memorable beer was Yorkshire Dales, Usha Gap 5% which was wonderfully bitter with a flavour I decided was orange pith. From the same brewery Brussels Stout 4.0% was also nice. Whitehaven's Ennerdale Blond 3.8% was popular and sold out quickly, as did my own Saazy's Wiesse 4.3%. Bitter End Barley wine 6.2% didn't really clear, didn't seem popular, but most importantly I thought the tasting notes were wrong, no way was it hoppy. Tigertops Blanch de Newlands 4.5% I've already said was good, Graham and Tony both agreed but the official tasting panel didn't - that's a shame. But then the tasting panel voted Jennings Snecklifter 5.1% beer of the festival. I like Snecklifter and it's OK, but there were better beers there in my view.

I went on Sunday morning to recover my handpulls and my empty cask and pretend to help pack away the bar. Apparently there was very little beer left. The treasurer was still unsure if enough money was taken to cover costs, but hopefully it'll be OK. I took Alfie along and he did a magnificent job in helping strike the bar, I might just be nurturing the next generation of beer drinkers, at 12 years old he'd sup a pint now given half a chance.

Saturday 22 November 2008

West Cumbria Beer Festival - beer list


Amber, Derbyshire Gold 3.7
Gold coloured ale with a very dry bitterness.

Beckstones, Millom Reverend Rob ** 4.6
Golden malty hoppy beer with a resinous grapefruit flavour

Bitter End, Cockermouth Barley wine ** 6.2
Pale amber coloured strong ale; extremely resiny top notes.
One for the real hop heads

Beckstones, Millom Leat 3.6
Refrehing golden bitter with tangy fruit and a rising hop finish. CTN

Black Country, W Midlands Fireside 5.0
Golden sweet malty bitter

Boggar, Manchester Black Christmas 3.9
Deep mohogany quaffable beer with some subtle chocolate notes

Boggart, Manchester Big Ginger 6.0
Sweet golden beer with a subtle ginger , lingering flavouir

Brewdog, Frazerburgh Coffee Stout (1/3 pt) 9.0
Potent tasting stout - with a double expresso!

Crown, Sheffield Count Basie 4.6
Complex straw coloured ale; honey sweetness ; bitter finish

Empire , Huddersfield Four Corner 4.2
Straw coloured bitter beer

Foxfield, Prince of Wales Harry's Encounter 4.0
Straw coloured dry bitter

Foxfield, Prince of Wales Sonic Boom (1/3 pt) 10.0
Big bodied Russian imperial stout. Sweet with a discernable alcohol note.
Not for the faint-hearted

Fugelestou, Lincolnshire Brew 500 5.0
Copper coloured; malt sweet beer; moderate hopping; smokey notes

Great Gable, Wasdale Hd Western Valleys Ale 5.1
Copper coloured maly sweet ale with sulphur in the nose

Great Gable, Wasdale Hd Golden Gill 5.2
Golden ale with a slight sulphurous nose with balanced bitter

Hardknott, Boot Saazys wiesse ** 4.3
Straw coloured wheat beer; light; drinks like a session beer;
full of citrus notes.

Hornbeam, Manchester Evil Monkey ** 4.5
Golden, malty, well balanced bitter;very drinkable for its strength

Jennings Cumberland Ale 4.0
A llight creamy hoppy beer with a dry aftertaste. CTN

Jennings Snecklifter 5,1
A strong, dark brown ale with a complex balance of fruit malt and roast
flavours, through to the finish.CTN

Keswick Thirst Rescue 3.7
Golden , fruity, quaffable bitter

Leadmill, Derbyshire Road Runner 4.8
Slightly sulphurous, golden coloured bitter

Loweswater, Kirkstile Loweswater Pale Ale ** 3.5
Aromatic nose; straw coloured; lasting bitter finish

Loweswater, Kirkstile Grasmoor 4.3
Dark mild; roasted malty taste and finish

Moorhouse, Burnley Pride Of Pendle 4.0
Well balanced amber best bitter; fresh initial hoppiness;mellow
malt-driven body. CTN

Northern, Northwich Nitty gritty 4.0
Malty, golden, biter sweet ale; caramel in the nose

Prospect, Wigan Clementine ** 5.0
Complex wheat beer with a taste of orange and mulled spice

Robinsons, Stockport. Double Hop 5.0
Pale brown bitter; malt & fruit nose;hoppy, malt fruit taste;hoppy bitter finish. CTN.

Strands, Nether Wasdale Errmmm 3.8
Gold in colour with berry fruits in the nose; sweetish with a bitter finish

Stringers Best Bitter ** 4.2
Hoppy well balanced golden coloured best bitter

Stringers Dry Stout ** 4.5
Luscious dry stout full of smokey bitter chocolate flavour

Tigertops, Wakefield Blanche de Newlands ** 4.5
A good representation of a Belgian wheat beer. Better than Hoegaarden.
Intensely complex beer with notes of coriander, cloves and banana

Whitehaven, Croasdale Blonde 3.8
Sweet, fruity session beer

Yates, Westnewton Fever Pitch 3.9
Skilful use of lager malt & hops results in a pale beer with light bitterness;
melon fruit and clean refreshing finish. CTN

Yates, Westnewton I P A 4.9
Complex honeyed lager style ale, packed with tropical fruit. CTN

Yorkshire Dales, Leyburn Brussels Stout 4.0
Dark malty ale, some sulphur notes in the nose

Yorkshire Dales, Leyburn Usha Gap 5.0
Very bitter golden ale in the style of an IPA

Ciders, Perries, and Fruit wines

Ben Crossman's, medium Somerset cider 6.5

Burrow Hill, medium/dry Somerset cider 6.0

Henry's, sweet Somerset cider 6.0

Solway Cider, Medium Cumbria cider 6.0

Thatchers- Heritage Somerset cider 4.9

Newton-Pyder,medium Herefordshire Perry 6.2

Strawberry Fruit Wine Herefordshire

Various Fruit Wines Yorkshire

CTN indicates CAMRA tasting notes supplied by a trained CAMRA tasting panel and printed in GBG09.Other tasting notes were by the West Cumbria branch tasting paned Thursday 20 November 2008

……………………….. ………………………….
NB. All the beers will be tasted on Friday, a selection blind tasted (!) by a panel of experienced tasters on Saturday, and one declared ‘CAMRA Beer of the Festival’.

West Cumbria CAMRA thank the following for their sponsorship of the Beer, Festival glasses, T shirts, and CD music:

The Candlestick, Whitehaven Bitter End Brewery Jennings Brewery Great Gable Brewery Hardknott Brewery Keswick Brewery Loweswater Brewery Strands Brewery Whitehaven Brewery Yates Brewery Fellside Records Blackbeck Brewery

Thanks to Ron for forwarding this to me - Nether the Woolpack Inn nor West Cumbria CAMRA accept any liability for errors or omissions - we tried our best!!

Friday 21 November 2008

Get your MP involved

It's hit the press today following the CAMRA press release I talked about yesterday. I think that it's a good job done by CAMRA in highlighting some of the issues brought out by the Community Pub Inquiry report.

It was the opening of the Whitehaven beer festival today. We managed to get Jamie Reed MP along so we could talk to him about the issues of pubs closing. He seemed really interested.

He was also due to join the beer tasting panel, but I had to leave early as I have a pub to run so I didn't find out what happened there.

If we are to halt the closure of pubs we have to engage the popular opinion on the issue and get the public to realise that pubs are the solution to providing a safe and controlled environment where quality drinks can be enjoyed. Unfortunately the popular opinion is focused on binge drinking and the so called increase in drink related harm. Without getting the public on side we have an uphill struggle in getting sympathetic politicians to do too much. Getting your MP involved cannot be a bad thing though. Once the effects of the descriptions below have worn off I will give a longer report on the meeting.

Although my main reason for visiting was the arranged meeting with Jamie while there I had some Brewdog Coffee Stout 9.0% which was very, well, coffee tasting. I like coffee and I felt this worked. Also had some Foxfield Sonic Boom 10% which was sweet, rich and had a flavour reminiscent of port wine. It is after all at the strength of barley wine. Boggert Big Ginger 6.0% had a nice ginger nose but lacked a ginger bite that I would have preferred. I sneaked a taster of Tigertops Blanche de Newlands 4.5% which I liked better than some of Barry's other beers and actually is better than my own Wheat Beer, Saazy's Wiesse 4.3% which I also sneaked a taster of.

Maybe the volunteers on the bar just directed me to nice beers, but the ones I tried I really enjoyed.

Thursday 20 November 2008

8/10 for CAMRA

Mike Benner, the chief executive of CAMRA has written to the Chancellor asking him to consider some important points. There is a press realise on the CAMRA site. This is also reported by The Morning Advertiser.

This clearly comes in the wake of the excellent Community Pub Inquiry report. Although this report is grand it will not work to simply give politicians recommendations. They will only act if they think it improves their vote. So we need to show the government that we care about the findings. We need to gain the support of the popular opinion.

CAMRA is doing the right thing in starting to publicise the issues contained within the report. My only complaint is that it's not enough yet and it's happening too slowly. However, it's the right move.

Looking at the responses to the Morning Advertiser article is interesting though. The ferocity of the attacks on CAMRA and the tied system are alarming. From the CAMRA perspective I rather think that this is a little like a pupil who has done his best piece of work to date, only to be told off by teacher for a few spelling mistakes.

It does also show just how hated the tied system is, mainly by licensees, but still, CAMRA perhaps does need to think about this.

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Whitehaven beerfest 08 the start

Sorry, no beer list yet....

But we've got a bar!!

Tuesday 18 November 2008

....and a bit more on the Beer Tie

I was going to say something thoughtful about Ted's post yesterday on The Round. But at least mentioning it here gives Ted a link for now. Have a look at it. It's interesting, but I'm afraid it's one of those cultural things that is fading here as well. I'll say more later.

More urgently Jeff Pickthall reminds me again that I don't like the tied house. I've tried to give a balanced and factual account, but I still don't like it. Jeff clearly is in no doubt but despite me wanting to vote "both" on his little amusing poll, I have thoughts about the wider picture.

The problem is, if we suddenly banished the tie what would happen? I guess I don't really know and neither does anybody else. But be sure that the pubco's make their money out of selling beverages to tied pubs. If they all of a sudden stop being able to make money this way my guess is that rents would go up. In any event the economics of the model would change. It might mean that pubcos sell off some estate. It might mean some lessees find the rent too high. Maybe it's the right thing, but there would be an upset to the industry as big as the smoking ban was.

I think the smoking ban was done incorrectly. I am in support of it now but I think it was too much of a shock to the industry and a half way house should first have been employed. If we ban the tie overnight then we would undoubtedly rock the pub boat so much that innocent pubs would fail. I am in suport of a change but if it happens it needs to be done carefully.

But really, what's the problem? Well I don't like the tie because it creates the sort of pub that I don't like. So I go to a pub that isn't tied. This is almost entirely true whenever I am aware there is a choice. It's true that in some areas there is no choice and sometimes the pubcos eliminate the choice in a particular geography. I would hate to run a tied house, so I don't and I knew I wouldn't when I started in the industry.

The punters who use tied houses generally like them. Those that don't like them choose a free house (although there are some "free houses" that are not, but that's perhaps a different story) I am very happy to hear from anybody who thinks that an area is devoid of sufficient choice, this would help me to sure up my need to hate the tied system.

Where there really is a problem is the case of licensees that find themselves running a tied house. Yes they signed a contract. Yes they really, really should have read the small print. I really do not think that most licensees go into the industry fully understanding the implications of the tie. I know far more people who believe they want to run a pub than are actually doing it. I also know quite a lot of people who have given it a go and failed, or at least got out as soon as they could.

I believe that the tied, leased pub works because many people go into it being promised the world by the pubco, and because they are so struck with the idea that they would like to run a pub they would agree to anything. I believe this is being exploited by the pubcos, perhaps not cynically or even deliberately, but everybody considering taking a pubco lease needs careful, unbiased advise.

I know how easy it is to get behind on suppliers payments. There are all sorts of reasons for it. In the free trade it is not uncommon to be put on "stop" by a supplier. It's a kind of telling off. But normally you just go to another supplier and order off them for a while whilst you get the original supplier in credit again and go back to normal. It's a nuisance and it's supposed to be because suppliers need to be paid and "stopping" the account normally works.

There is also the situation where the pubco fails to deliver. It does happen. We've been let down by suppliers more times than I care to remember. We just do what we have to, buy from where we need. It helps keep suppliers on their toes to stop buying of one that is failing to deliver. The tied lessee has not got that advantage. The pubco can still put them on stop, a little unfair I'd say.

With the tied lease the lessee has not got that valuable strategical tool. A few hundred pounds owing to the pubco can prevent trading for a weekend. What would you do? I'd go to the cash and carry for sure. If the wrong item was put on the waggon I'm sure I'd get it anywhere I could to keep my customers happy.

I'm afraid the tied lease will continue to work so long as people think it's good to get into the pub industry that way. If I were to advise anybody I would say don't take on a tied lease unless you were sure and even then be sure that the property was right. But most of all, screw the pubco for the best deal you can get, including an element of freedom, if they don't play ball, walk away because running a pub is your life and your life is worth more than that.

Monday 17 November 2008

Greetings and a strange idea from Cumbria....

I have this idea.

I have a brewery and a quiet remote Inn in a beautiful part of the Lake District. We have comfortable rooms and serve nice food. We often have a good selection of Cumbrian ales on the bar. I like talking about ale and brewing.

I normally brew mid week. Weekends are taken up trying to keep customers happy. I sometimes have rooms empty mid week, which is why I brew then. I do wonder if there are any beer fanatics who might like to stay mid week and try their hand at brewing?

I did help to get Ted on the road with his project I believe he might be doing alright, so I guess I've got a little bit of a track record. I do suspect that Ted would have done just fine without me, but hey, I'm taking some credit anyhow.

So the deal would be along the lines of: Stay for a couple of nights. During the day help with some brewing, cask cleaning and ask me questions about how it all works, in the evening you buy food and beer off me.

It wouldn't be a high tech course, not all about brewing science, because I don't know much about it. It would just give the discerning beer drinker an idea of how beer is made in a microbrewery or the home brewer a chance to try his hand on bigger plant, or maybe give somebody who thought they might like to venture into brewing a taster of the work involved.

This would be most likely to happen in February or March 2009 on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. If anybody wanted to bring a beer widow/widower with them then that's fine, if there was enough interest we'd organise a day trip or something.

I'm treating this as kind of market research. If I get no response then I'll forget the idea, if I get enough response I'll develop it further and start setting dates.

Leave a comment or mail me: dave at woolpack dot co dot uk

Sunday 16 November 2008

Learning to taste

I really do know that I'm going to have to be better at tasting beer. I need to say more than I enjoy an ale I'm tasting or I don't. I'm hoping, in time, to work my way through most of the Cumbrian Ales out there. It'll take some time and with the number of brewerys springing up I doubt I'll ever catch up.

But as I know quite a few of the brewers, and they are mostly nice people, so I need to be more descriptive about the beers and just because I don't like a beer does not mean that it's a bad beer.

Tonight it's the turn of Tirrils Red Barn Ale. Now part of this brewery's spiel talks about traditional British ales made with UK varieties of whole hops. I've come to a conclusion that I prefer ales made with hops that include some continental or American hops. Cascade is my favourite but I also like Willamette. Most importantly I like beers with lots of hops. Dark, light or whatever, hoppy is best, for me.

Red Barn ale is at a disadvantage with me from square one because it is a low hopped beer. But we need to be an intelligent taster. We need to try and ignore that fact that it would not be my forst choice.

So firstly the nose, it seems to have an aroma dominated by malts. It reminds me of malted milk biscuits, to the extent that I get an aroma reminiscent of sour milk. But that's bad, is it?

I'm drinking my second pint as I type this post. It grows as you drink. The flavour is perhaps not as full as I'd like. Not enough bittering and again a malty feel with a sweet and sour sensation dominating the rest. I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that any beer that has not got sufficent bitter flavour will score less highly with me because the sour sensation that takes over reminds me of acetic, which of course suggets an off flavour. But if it were acitic I would KNOW by the end of the second pint (which is were I am now) and it's not.

So, in conclusion, it's a low hopped, slighly malty beer. Exactly how it's designed and tastes better after 2 pints than at first tasting. Some would say this is better than a wow factor first off, but leaving you hopped out and declining a second.

I think then, I need a third pint - just to make sure you understand.

Saturday 15 November 2008

The Prince and Pauper

I mentioned yesterday about The Prince of Wales, a fantastic brew pub with fantastic owners. I said I'd write a little more about them and so, here it is.

I called in yesterday after a trip to Furness College to renew my Food Safety qualification. I believe I will have done reasonably well, so ensuring I can carry on my art of fulfilling people's gastronomic desires without inflicting gastroenteritis.

When travelling through Foxfield on the way back and seeing as I had been very good not to succumb to Claire's* burgers and surly, brusque welcome in the morning I felt the need for a pint.

This pub is not the poshest of places. It's almost like someone's living room inside. No plastic razzmatazz here. Linda and Stuart seem to be able to make anybody feel at home and Linda's mother-knows-best ways of gentle persuasion are endearing and hard to argue against - yes, even for me.

But the best thing about the place is the complete array of non standard draft products. A request for "lager" is often met with the response along the lines "We don't serve lager in here, we don't encourage that type of custom" A little bit Little Britain maybe, but it might just help to make the place as good as it is.

They DO serve lagered beers of course. SAS Pilsner is popular if you have 10 minutes or so to wait while they pull it. Next week it's likely to be something else "dispensed under great pressure" They will probably have a fruit beer on draft as well as perhaps a wheat beer on the gassy tap things.

The food Linda cooks is good and wholesome; nothing gastro here. Good honest pasties and giant home made yorkie puds fuelled with various fillings. A notice on the food board declares, as most good food places do, that the food may take a while. It also warns that if you all order together it will take a little longer. It also goes on to advise that the impending danger of your train departure will not enable the cooking time to be reduced. You might get your pasty served with salad or mushy peas or various other accompaniments - the "good luck" suggesting that you will not get a choice of which. Mother-knows-best and if you don't eat it all up you might not get a pudding (but if you ask nicely, I assure you that you will)

Then there is the cask ale; 6 on yesterday. Unfortunately, none of Stuarts own. As I was driving I only had a mouthful of the Grinddleton Ribble Reaper 4.2% which was too sweet and caramel for me and then a proper taster (FULL 20oz) of the Little Ale Cart Rob Roy at 4% which was a lovely light beer with the right amount of bittering, loads of nice aromas and a dry lingering finish.

The pub has a great appeal for tickers. I have rarely been in there and seen a beer I've ever seen before (except when they've blagged one off me) and this pub may just be what is responsible for me being a closet ticker. It was perhaps surprising on one evening when a mild complaint from a regular was that he really enjoyed what he was drinking, but you had to search out what you like and once you found it, it would run out.

Foxfield brewery is of course in the same building. Stuart often doesn't know what he's going to brew when he gets up in the morning, or even isn't sure what hops he's going to use until after he's mashed in and had breakfast and the ABV might be different than expected but it'll be good beer. His beers often have adjuncts in them like nettles, cornflakes, cherries or damsons and rarely does he repeat a brew. The brewery is a mishmash of various bits of second hand equipment held together by a wing and a prayer and a good deal of Stuart's ingenuity and Linda's support and faith.

I may be biased by my love of this place because without Stuart and Linda's encouragement, advice and being let loose one day on their brewery, we would probably have moved on by now. We certainly wouldn't be brewing without their help. It's a regular pilgrimage for us for inspiration, confirmation and general good crack.

It would be so nice to prove that this style of pub could work more often. I fear though that Linda and Stuart are a unique pair that will become extinct when they leave their little treasure. There are very few who would work so hard, for so long, with such dedication and conviction for so little reward other than the grateful thanks of the customer base.

*Claire runs a very interesting burger van in the lay by to the south of Broughton in Furness. It takes some time to become accustomed to the service there. The burgers are simple and good. Prices are very reasonable. Do not be surprised though when you hear an abrupt "Yes please" on approaching the van, in a way that suggests any request might result in a risk to your life and then an "Oh F*<&" which is a response to the fridge door not shutting, rather than your request for a simple cheese burger.
I love to stop there, even if only for the entertainment value. The burgers are good too.

Friday 14 November 2008

The Wetherspoons love affair

I have long worried about the effect Wetherspoons has on the small, local, independent, community pub. I worry that Wetherspoons is to the small pub as Tesco's is to the corner shop.

I've just called in this afternoon to The Prince of Wales, a pub that should make the owners money, but doesn't because they think they have to compete with Tim Martin's prices. I don't think they have to as their beer is great.

I was going to write some more about this pub owing to it being one of the pubs I love best, but then I saw a piece on Wetherspoons and their relationship with CAMRA, it got me thinking a few things.

Initially I thought that I agreed with many of it's points. I certainly question Wetherspoons friendship with CAMRA. It is certain that many pubs just cannot compete with Wetherspoons prices. There is a finite beer market out there and Tim Martin's empire has very successfully captured a proportion of that at the expense of other pubs. This is a truth that will cause some pubs to close.

I found myself at odds with the piece when it started to question what it calls "petty rules". I am a big fan of licensees being permitted, in fact being encouraged, to define their style of business. A dress code for instance is a sure way of defining the ambiance in a subtle way. Although banning tracksuit bottoms might eliminate some desirable customers, if a premises makes the link between a certain style of dress and a certain style of behaviour then it is a useful way of defining the customer base.

Tim Martin gained points with me by his rules on children. Family orientated pubs are fine. Some pubs though do not need to be so accommodating to families, indeed I believe we still need some child free zones if we are to avoid posh restaurants taking over from the pub. I was so pleased when he made his rules about children not staying in the pub under certain situations. I believe if the pub industry is to regain some credibility in the responsibility stakes then we all need a little of this.

Criticisms of CCTV and the EU are also things that question the author's understanding. CCTV can be a realistic necessity to ensure compliance with licensing conditions suggested by local authorities, especially where cut price alcohol is involved. The EU is no friend of small business be assured of that, and the small pubs that Wetherpoons threaten are all small businesses.

At my local CAMRA branch meeting there were mixed thoughts about Wetherspoons. Spurning free handouts of discount vouchers conflicted with the fact that the branch passed an important membership milestone as a direct result of Wetherspoons involvement in recruitment.

I have met Mike Benner, the chief executive of CAMRA. There could be a suspicion that he is getting too cosy with Tim Martin. It is very difficult not to think that CAMRA and Mike are being bought out by Wetherspoons. But Mike does not strike me as that type of guy. He believes in CAMRA, he is trying to make it work, he convinces me that the Campaign is more important than just numbers, be it people or pounds sterling.

It is not unusual in history for there to be an unpleasant, but necessary alliance between the friend and foe to fight an even bigger foe. I find myself questioning my whole hatred of Wetherspoons. I doubt I will ever like the concept, but might learn to live with it as perhaps it is a necessary evil.

Perhaps Wetherspoons, CAMRA, Mike Benner and Tim Martin, the closing pub that is not viable and the opening of disused bus depots as pubs are all part of a moving vibrant industry that brings us Real Ale.

Thursday 13 November 2008

Cask Duty Petition

Saw an article in the Morning Advertiser about reducing duty on cask ale.

The Landlord of a pub has started an epetition to call for the reduction of duty on cask ale - this is a fantastic idea.

Sign the petition here

Tonight, CAMRA is my best friend

Sometimes I criticise CAMRA for pursuing policies that I think might damage the very pubs they are trying to save. But today, how can I be critical. (Do you end a rhetorical question with a question mark?)

The local branch voted us Pub Of The Season (POTS) a little while ago. The press secretary has issued a release this week and hit the local papers today.

I just think at the moment the branch needs more publicity for the Whitehaven Beer Festival. But it's The Woolpack Inn that's done best out of the publicity. Fantastic.

Here's the press stuff.

Whitehaven News
News and Star
Times and Star

Brussels Madness

We all know there is plenty of madness in Brussels, most of it gets transmitted to us in the form of EU directives. Well, despite there already being sufficient madness and beer already there, I'm taking some beer at the beginning of December, thereby increasing, by only a small amount, the quantity of both.

The idea is we are going to offer some MEPs fine British (well northern English actually) ales and hopefully, in there weakened state, persuade them to do some things that help us here in the UK, rather than hinder. It's all linked to the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group and their Inquiry, which I have mentioned here and here and here.

Barry from Tiger Tops brewery is also sending some. Beer that is, not madness. He's keeping his version of sanity challenged personality at home on this occasion, leaving me to to do all the work. To do this though he urgently needs a bag in box pin (4.5g) so he can rack off his most excellent latest brew so that I can take it with me - he needs it soon.

Can anybody help?

Barry is in Wakefield WF2 9LN

Can't afford a stamp!!

I've just done my beer duty return.

HMRC have stopped sending prepaid envelopes - I've got to put a stamp on now. You'd have thought after putting up beer duty soooo much they'd be able to afford to keep up the prepaid envelopes. Just lets say my permitted blog vocabulary does not do justice to my feelings.

Incidentally - Customs have the power to enter property without a warrant. I don't believe the Inland Revenue used to have that power. The departments are now combined. Do you think HMRC have given up their previous rights or do you think HMRC now have the ability to enter without a warrant just for ordinary tax issues now??? I think that was quite a clever move by the Revenue.

Wednesday 12 November 2008

A non prejudiced Vagabond

I was at a meeting last night about the Whitehaven beer festival. Did I tell you about the festival? I did? So are you going.....??

Anyway, the meeting was at the Vagabond in Whitehaven. This is a fine real ale pub. I've never seen more than three hand pulls running but the beer has always been good when I've been in. It has a special interest for me as we bought The Woolpack Inn of the current owner.

On approaching the bar I was of course disappointed to see the predictable Jennings Bitter. I'm never going to pretend that I think this is a very exciting beer. Popular with the locals, but predictable.

On either side of this though,was Ennerdale Blond and Ennerdale Autumn. Great, it's the first time I've had the chance to try these two on the same night. Having reported previously that I was less than totally keen on the Autumn I was pleased to be able to give it second chance.

I started with the blonde. As you can see from the picture there is a good tight head and it's a nice light golden colour, although here the colour is distorted a bit by the dark background. This beer has a very distinct caramel flavour. I questioned butterscotch in my own mind, which would suggest diacetyl, but I'm not sure. Clearly I need some more practice at identifying these flavours. I do not find this beer unpleasant although the creamy, chewy, caramel flavour confuses me because, in my mind, it should be in a darker beer. I'm guessing there is quite a lot of light crystal malt in this beer and a high mash temperature combined with light hopping makes it sweeter than I'd like.

By contrast the Autumn is quite light in texture. A much dryer beer, actually quite bitter but seemingly un-complex. I would wonder if there is only a small amount of heavily roasted malt, or maybe even some plain roasted barley, but a very small proportion of the grain bill made up of adjuncts. My detection of acetic seems not to be here on this occasion. Perhaps last time having Theakstons between times spoilt things or perhaps it was because the cheese and onion sandwiches had run out by the time I got onto my second pint.

Ted in a recent piece that I very much liked talks about prejudice against black beer with a reference to some president elect. I'm beginning to wonder if my prejudice against the Autumn, and Jennings bitter for that matter, is based on it being quite dark relatively boring ale. This does not make them "wrong", just not for me.

I still prefer the Blonde over the Autumn. I think there is an apparent improvement in the beers from Whitehaven brewery as time goes on and with the interest that seems to be there with cask ale, this very recently started brewery can only go from strength to strength as the brewers gain experience and trial new brews.

Thank you Vagabond and Whitehaven brewery for giving me the chance to try them both together. The beer experience was much better than my last visit to Whitehaven.

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Chilli crisps and beer

Wurst AKA Whorst is a newly found blogger friend of mine. I think he's slightly crazy, but then who am I to talk? He shares my view that good chilli and beer go together very well.

I like the Tyrrell jalapeno and lemon potato "chips" that we used to get here and these always went well with any beer, but in particular a nice light hoppy thing like Mothbag by Barngates. The chilli bite along with the sour of the lemon works well with beer and makes you want to drink more beer.

Sadly, Tyrrells have now changed to a more wussy version which is Chilli and sweet pepper. Not anything like the original.

Right, now I need to do some work - I'm in soooo much trouble for spending time blogging, Ann's going to smash up the modem soon I think.

Do me a favour and mail Ann at and tell her to stop bothering me as this is important beer work.

Now I really will be in trouble

Cause and effect

Newtons Third Law Of Motion states: "To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction."

Now although in economic and social terms it would be harder to apply this law absolutely, there is, I'm sure, some parallels.

The smoking ban is a clear example. From my biased view point I am now very pleased about the smoking ban, primarily because the style of pub I run has probably benefited and also because I am now a non smoker as a result. It is clear that there are many pubs not in this situation. It is one of the myriad of effects that are causing problems with some pubs as smokers who might not smoke in their own homes, now feel they might as well smoke on their own door step. I might be the case that for the health of the nation and to weed out the poorest of pubs this is worth the pain, or maybe not.

The CAMRA full pints campaign claims that the pub industry is ripping of consumers to the tune of £481 million a year. Firstly, if this were to be true then the pub industry would not be in the terrible state it is in. The truth is that many pubs are struggling to make a profit. Many larger brewery's are reporting dropping profits. So where is this mystical £481 million going?

It may well be the case that more clarity is required for the pint measure. A lined glass does show clearly the pint mark. The reality is that if legislation were to be brought in to ensure pints were uniform, to the line, then more product would be used, costing the pub more and so the only way to maintain profitability would be to put up the price of the pint. Cause and effect.

Since owning my own pub I have become more aware of the number of people who have tried to make a living out of the pub industry and failed. I know a significant number of people that have tried very hard to make their pub work and found the rewards just not significant enough to be worth the effort. Many of these people are significantly disillusioned and would never run a pub again, despite having gained significant experience along the way.

The Community Pub Inquiry there is a mention, if disappointingly brief, about how increasingly difficult it is to find people to run pubs. (see para 40 page 12). It would be useful for the industry to find a way to make running a pub attractive again. This would be especially good if we could find a way to retain valuable skills lost due to failing pubs.

Kipling often comes to mind during our days here, and at the risk of going against the quote, I find this useful:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

I believe a prerequisite for being a good licensee is a desire to achieve the aims of Kipling in "If" His advice is hard to achieve and I regularly fail on the first two lines:

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

I do believe many achieve this, and go on to "build 'em up with worn-out tools". The great shame is that they rebuild away from the pub industry, and often without breath of the loss they suffered at the hands of the industry.

The inability of a freeholder to achieve market value for a failing pub drives many away from the industry vowing never to return. Having lost their all, but perhaps not wanting ever to share the experience of their failure with others.

One of my criticisms of the Community Pub Inquiry, and I hesitate to criticise an otherwise excellent piece of work, is that it suggests that it should be made harder for pubs to have their uses changed. I believe that there are huge numbers of past licensees who have lost much, and gained nothing other that skills that the pub industry needs. Failing to allow individuals to sell their property for it's true market value is driving people out of the industry. Cause and effect.

It may well be true that this pub or that is an important part of the community. But if the community is unable or unwilling to financially support the establishment then is it fair that we burn out an increasing number of good people and insisting that there is an ever decreasing value for pub property?

I believe there are many CAMRA campaigns where the end result of the campaigning may be doing more harm to the pub industry than is realised. I believe that the message from the Inquiry towards planning restrictions on change of use comes from CAMRA HQ. I strongly believe that we need a shrinkage in the number of pubs to make the remainder better and to match the number of available people to the number of pubs - otherwise, the likes of me, the enthusiastic licensee, will disappear completely.

Saturday 8 November 2008


In Seaching for good beer and Penrith Beer not so good I complain about the beer choice not being as good as I'd like. What am I complaining about though? The beers were perfectly good beers. Nothing, really, technically wrong with them.

I remember David from Cumbria Legendary Ales first delivering his King Dunmail, which is a classic best bitter. I was disappointed by this particular beer after having had his Dickey Doodle and Wicked Jimmy - which I think are both excellent. I commented to him that I was less than completely excited about this one. He pointed out that the King Dunmail is designed to be a Best Bitter, and as such it is.

Lately I have seen some fuss over Tetleys closing down. Now to me this beer is nothing special. It's not a bad beer but I will not be mourning it's demise. I think it is unfounded to blame the owners of the brand for letting it fail. I believe any advertising in support of an old fashioned brand would have been commercially unwise, throwing good money away.

(Alan says "Tell'em to stop complainin' 'n' drink sumut else")

We have got Keswicks Thirst Fall on the bar just now. I'd class it as a Best Bitter but probably not in the classic sense. It's got some other stuff going on, more adventurous than the regular and predictable stuff out there. Malty and hoppy in equal amounts and a good balance between the two. Most importantly plenty of late drop hops - some aromas to play with your nasal cavity and enhance the whole experience.

I've also got Moth Bag from Bargates on the pulls here. Earlier I had reason to go down to Ravenglass and happened to park outside The Holly House. The Landlord came out to see me as he recognised the car. Well it would have been rude not to go in for one wouldn't it? He had TT Landlord on the bar. both of these beers hit you with some hoppy effects and let you KNOW you are drinking ale.

I met Jeff Picthall yesterday and I'll apologise now for plagiarising his comments. We were discussing some beers that we had tried and he pointed out why some didn't excite me. Tirrel for instance, is a good brewery, I have the beers here on occasions - and provided they haven't fallen out with me for making these comments will do so again. They sell and people seem to like them. I don't choose Tirrel for myself because they all fall into the category of classic.

So the question is why does a micro brewery want to brew something that is just a facsimile of an existing brand? Or alternatively, why do we so mourn the passing of big old unwanted breweries when there are so many micros that can do the same thing?

But equally, if you are in a pub and you pick your mates pint up by mistake, and you can't tell it's a different beer then what's the point of it being different? What's the point of a beer that's OK but no different to Watneys Red Barrel?

With the varieties of hops and malt and yeasts available and the variation to flavours and aromas depending on when you put the hops in the brew, why do so many beers taste the same? When there are so many beers out there to be tried, why do pubs put three beers on in a row that are all the same?

Tandleman gave Meantime Coffee Porter a bit of a slating and I've had something similar myself and not liked it. But at least it's different, if truly awful. It's a bit like modern art that most of us question, but at least modern art pushes the boundaries as does Coffee Porter.

To continue the art metaphor, a painter has a vast palate of colour to choose from and a huge range of media with which to work. If he used green pastel all the time he'd have to be a damn good artist to excite anybody.

(According to Alan, Picasso had a green period - bah, for a Manc he knows far too much)

Friday 7 November 2008

Ail and humble pie

I was starting to think that my blogs didn't get read much. Last night I posted how I felt about the ales I tried whilst out for the evening and made some less than completely nice comments about Whitehaven brewery's Ennerdale Autumn. Maybe I shouldn't have been quite so rude. Maybe I should save my posts until morning. If I wasn't fit to drive then maybe I'm not fit to be in charge of a blog either.

This morning Shelagh Ferguson's name was on my incoming mail from Blogger about comments to be moderated. "Oh bugger, now I'm in trouble" I thought. But Shelagh's comments were far more restrained than I might have been had anybody said anything bad about my ale. You can see the comments on yesterdays post.

Later in the day I was watching some stuff about an election that has just happened in some far away land. A Rottweiler wearing lipstick was actually being fairly cautious about telling the press that they should not make statements that later turn out to be economic with the truth without being prepared to own up and say they were wrong. I thought she was being too cautious, "go for it" I thought.

My barman, Alan, came to work after being off for a few days. He knows ale well and should be bestowed with an award for the efforts he puts in on his free time to support the pub industry. I respect his jugement on ale, he's normally right about beer (He knows sod all about anything else mind - now I'm going to find out if he reads my blogs) It seems he was drinking Ennerdale Autumn on Sunday, had three pints in fact, and said it was the best that Whitehaven brewery had produced to date.

And then, AND THEN!! Ted puts his 2 penneth in. "acetic?". That would suggest the ale was off. Weeeellll, no. Actually I didn't really mean that. It was just a faint hint I detected while trying to really determine why it didn't work for me.

So what was I thinking of?? I don't know. I suppose I'm trying to take this beer blogging thing seriously. If I'm going to comment on beers then I should say what I really feel about them. That's what I did. I've also complained in the past about people saying nasty things about other peoples' "babies". Microbrewing doesn't make many people a whole lot of money - they do it because they care about what they are doing. If Shelagh is selling all she can brew then she's doing something right.

Having thought all day about it I've decided I'm going to carry on making comments about ales I try. If I don't like them then I'll say so. If somebody thinks I'm wrong, comment on my blog. I'm not going to be accused of not showing the other side of the story. I've made it my policy to only reject comments that are offensive in nature. Don't use bad languge or be personal, (Alan, you can be personal, 'cause I'll get my own back) and they'll get through.

Have I smoothed things over? Or should I stop digging now? Well why don't you, my blog readers, go and search out some Ennerdale Autumn and then tell me I'm talking through the top of my head?

Wednesday 5 November 2008

In the search of good beer

My friend at Brewers Union 180 posed an interesting question, "is there such a think as bad beer?". Well for me, it is now the time of year I get out a little more. Tonight was the local branch CAMRA meeting and a chance to test the theory.

Oh, before I forget, it's the Whitehaven beer festival in a couple of weeks. 21-22 November. See West Cumbria Branch and Whitehaven Beer Festival sites. Tony Messado chose most of the beers, so it's worth going because there is bound to be a tick or two you haven't got. I'm also working on a plan to get Jamie Reed there, our M.P. so we can ask him to push for action on the Community Pub Inquiry recommendations as well.

Anyway, where was I .... oh yeh, looking for a nice pint. Tonight we were in the Sunny Hill in Whitehaven. Three pulls - Cumberland Ale, Theakstons Best Bitter and a new Ennerdale Autumn. What I have found is that when I am confronted with less than total exciting beers I fail to be able to describe the flavours with eloquence. But I am able to give enjoyment ratings.

I started with the Ennerdale - after all Shelagh is working hard to get this new brewery out there. I'm afraid that along with the Ennerdale Bitter it's just not quite getting there with me. The Ennerdale Blond is a better beer in my view, a bit more exciting. The Autumn and the Bitter are just more of the same "classic" bitters.

It strikes me that a bad beer is one that makes me wish I was in another pub. Ennerdale Autumn does just that for me. Sorry Shelagh, I would suggest a few more hops in the late drop would be a route forward.

Theakstons best. Well certainly better, cleaner somehow. A bit more zing, like a twist of lemon or lime or something. Third pint and back to the Ennerdale and yes, a hint of something not quite right - acetic I'd swear, rather than citric.

I know Cumberland Ale, I've said before. Tandleman, you might be right, it's just the same as always and better then either of the other two choices. Dry hopping, I must have a go at that.

So we had to end the night with something better. We called in to see my friend Rod at the Gosforth Hall on the way back. As always 3 handpulls running with something that starts at the "OK" end of the scale and then others that are better. Langdale Moonshine - Cumbria Legendary Ales. I've had that at my pub so skip that. (It's nice BTW) one that I forget - that memorable eh, probably his "OK" for the night, and Yates Fever Pitch.

I stopped buying Yates beers for my pub a little while ago, for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with beer quality, silly really. It is probably the beer I choose when not in my pub because ALL of Yates beers are really, really good. Fever Pitch has everything you really want. Good aroma, zingy sherbet mouthfeel flavour and fully satisfying. Yates have never done a dark beer, at least not that I'm aware of. I bet if they did it would be fantastic.

Anyway - don't forget the Whitehaven Beer Festival: 13 Cumbrain Beers are included in the list. 4 of which are new ticks for Tony - so they're bound to be for you too.

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Government - "Not in the business of keeping pubs open"

In the Community Pub Inquiry the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) are reported to have stated that they are not in the business of keeping pubs open. It is my view that government regulation and legislation is a major contributor to the failure of the pub as a small business.

DCMS are responsible for government policy on tourism and leisure including licensing laws. They are the main department that could do something to prevent the demise of the small pub.

We should remember that every small business that needs to employ a few people or has public areas are all having similar problems. The small corner shop, the little greengrocer or butcher are also burdened. There may be some advantages of the legislation that has been brought in. It is much harder now for rogue traders to do a bodge job on your electrics or your gas central heating. Perhaps this is good. Perhaps the small independent pub is just one type of small rogue trader that needs crushing.

The difference between the corner shop and a pub is complexity of the business, and if you are a small shop owner please don't be under the illusion I think you have an easy job. A pub has nearly every aspect of legislation to deal with. Health and safety at work, food safety, public safety, alcohol licencing, public disorder, employment rights, building regulations, fire safety, public entertainment, performing rights licence, etc. On top of this, because of the vast range of products that the pub goer expects to have available, has very complex accounts. A pub is possibly the most complex type of small business there is to run.

The problem is, for the small pub, the regulations are completely pointless. Take for instance the fire regulations. Last year their was a fire at a hotel in Newquay where 3 people were killed. That was tragic. The interesting thing is that the event made a major news story as would any hotel fire that killed people. The fact is that this incident, though very tragic, is extremely rare and despite continual increases in legislation there is little if any reduction in fatalities in the small community pub. The current situation is that the fire safety inspection is now the responsibility of the pub owner - the fire service is now just an enforcement rather than inspecting authority. This is a measure brought in to save costs for the government but puts these costs disproportionately onto the pub.

A similar situation arises with food safety. The new HACCAP regulations are designed to reduce the incidence of food poisoning by less than 20%. If you knew the complexities of HACCAP then you would understand that for a small business this far exceeds the laws of diminishing returns. In fact I imagine this sort of regulation simply distracts the licensee from actually running a safe kitchen as he or she is often the one in the kitchen telling the staff to keep the raw chicken away from the lettuce. If the licensee is too busy filling in paperwork then this is time away from safety supervision. HACCAP should not be required where the business owner acts as a daily on the job supervisor.

I am no fan of the Pubco. I am unlikely to ever be one unless I end up owning a chain of pubs myself. I am sure that they have a commercial advantage by having the resources to tackle the swaths of regulation that exists. The sole freehold trader does not have the advantage of this support. It is with some surprise then that several Pubco's have contributed evidence to the inquiry and they all seem to be supporting the idea that regulation has gone far too far.

So consider these things next time you are canvased by a Parliamentary Candidate. Ask them what they are going to do about regulation that has gone far beyond the point of sensible diminishing returns. Specifically ask them if they are going to simplify legislation that affects the pub industry. Ask them if the Government would like to make it their business to keep pubs open or if they think the small pub is a rogue trader that needs to be eliminated.

Penrith Beer - not so good

Penrith is one of the "Gateways" to the Lake District. There are now over 25 breweries in Cumbria. I always enjoy the chance to explore the various beers that there are around and when invited on a beer research trip to Penrith last night I expected to find something exciting. Unfortunately, from a beer point of view, nothing was further from the truth.

The company was first class. R invited me to join his group of people, and we did feel a little like gate crashers at first. Most of the group wanted to have something to eat in the hotel before the posibilty of exploring the town. We were made to feel welcome very quickly and this overcame the boredom of Thwaites Wainwright, which was the only handpulled ale in the hotel.

After dinner R, M and N were the only ones up for an exploration of the town, slightly disappointing for a group who professed to be interested in pubs. The GBG was consulted and we headed for the Agricultural Hotel. There was the predictable selection of Jennings ales - Bitter, Sneck Lifter and Cumberland Ale. Nothing wrong with the beers, but not exactly a reason to travel from our little pub to Penrith. They had "Wicked Witch" presumably a seasonal for Halloween. This was probably slightly more flavoursome than the Bitter - I took a sip from M's pint of bitter and had to concentrate hard to decide which was 'Witch'. The Wicked Witch had a little spicy hopping but was far from Wicked.

The Landlady and her Daughter were behind the bar which more than made up for the uninteresting beers. R was getting on top form and got good banter going with the ladies.

So, being close to running out of time and also getting slightly full of beer, R being a little wobbly by now, we could only fit one more pub in. We chose the Lowther Arms. The GBG gave it a good write up with up to 8 beers on.

We found there were only 3 pulls running - one with Deuchars IPA and two with Tirrel. Having tried the Duechars before, and being in Cumbria I thought it was only right to drink the Tirrel. Besides, Chris, who brews them is a nice guy and I know the beers well. Unfortunately the Acadamy Ale is so similar to the Wicked Witch and the Jennings Bitter that my excitement about the whole evening was rapidly only being propped up by the company I was keeping.

The Lowther Arms however is a nice pub. A shame it was the Landlord/ladies night off, but hey, I'm sure they deserved it.

So my mistake was not to drink Cumberland Ale, Sneck Lifter or Deuchars IPA, all of which I know well. It was the Thwaites Wainwright that turned out to be the best I tried during the whole evening. Come on Penrith, show a bit of imagination and get some Keswick or Barngates or Cumbria Legendary Ales or even, if you have to, some Hawkshead beers or hey, Hesket Newmarket aren't that far away either!!

Maybe I'm just turning into a beer snob. None of the beers were bad. In fact they are probably all good examples of classic bitter styles. All were well kept and served well. I need better beer choice though to want to travel that far. I did want to impress my companions with the exciting Cumbrian Craft Ale we have in our County - still, we'll get another bite of the cherry in Brussels I hope.

On the way back we had an excellent talk with N about pubs. So much agreement on the state of things made this big competitor turn out to be a really nice guy, hopefully we'll drink beer together again. I must remember though, to try and explain to him the difference between a cheap pub cheeseboard and a quality cheeseboard.

Monday 3 November 2008

Pub operating costs soar

I posted yesterday about the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group report on the Community Pub Inquiry.

I've finished reading it and I think the most striking thing about the findings is just how complicated the whole issue of pub viability is. It is just not appropriate to simplify the issues in the way many do. I do believe that it is the best, almost unbiased report I have seen for some time into the overall pub industry and it's problems.

I hope over a series of pieces to try and distill the findings for the reader. But as I say, the overall issues are complex and I would urge anybody who is intent on complaining about beer being too expensive or this or that pub closing should first very carefully read the report.

Today I'm going to simply quote some costs at you. Costs that have escalated over the last 10 years or so.

The operating costs of the average pub are now around 45% of turnover - they used to be more like 32%

Of the operating costs 17% was wages in 1997 - it is now around 50%. This shows that minimum wage, leave entitlement, statutory sick pay and working time directive have had a significant effect as well as a whole raft of other employment laws.

Beer duty has gone up by 27%, whereas duty on wine has only gone up 16% and duty on spirits and ready to drink (RTD) spirit based drinks have only gone up by 3%. To me RTDs are a main catalyst of the increase of alcohol related social problems.

It used to cost a single £12 fee and an instant decision by the Licensing Justices to have a simple change to a licence, called a licence variation. For instance to open up or brick up a door. Now it probably costs £1000 and months of work. This is not helpful when pubs need to adapt to survive. Pubs have not got the resources or time to do this. For a small change the cost of legislation far outstrips the cost of the practical work.

The cost of legislation on pubs is astronomical and moreover the type of legislation is not appropriate. Take HACCAP for instance. This requires a member of the team to document trivia for the environmental (mental) health officer to look at and give the pub Brownie points. This distracts the sole trader from the kitchen where he is often the one ensuring the food is safe. A classic example of paperwork detracting from safety and at the same time making the small business almost impossible to run. It is though, not one single piece of legislation, but the whole raft that is put onto the industry in a one size fits all policy making system.

One recommendation is for the duty on draft beer to be reduced. Alternatively for the VAT on draft products to be decreased. Unfortunately the E.U. prevents that. At least that's what the economic Secretary to the Treasury claims.

It is striking that the report finds that the average profit for the licensee is only half of what he pays to the treasury in VAT and beer duty. This is before he pays his employees' NI and income tax.

I say it again - reader, yes you!! don't let the government ignore this very important piece of work done by the APPBG.

Sunday 2 November 2008


I am halfway through reading the report on the Community Pub produced as a result of the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group Inquiry. It makes interesting, if difficult reading.

It can be found here. I think it is excellent and should help the industry - but don't let the government ignore it. It's been published for a couple of weeks and despite having talked to somebody who is very closely involved and reading the trade press as much as time allows, it only came to my attention today. (Probably partly my fault - but I still should have seen it in the trade press or on a blog or something - wake up guys!!)

It discusses the many and varied problems facing the smaller pub business. It includes of course the two major ones often cited:

1. Smoking Ban
2. Cheap supermarket drink

It also lists a whole range of other factors including:

1. Cheap, high quality home entertainment (reading blogs for example!)
2. Rafts and rafts of legislation (boy do I know it)
3. Beer duty increase(27%) is greater than spirits(3%) and wine(16%) (spirits surely are more of an alcohol problem)
4. Overzealous legislation enforcers - the council normally
5. Unfair rating system
6. Rising labour costs (minimum wage and employment rights effects)

And many more.

There will be more on this here - but if you think cheap supermarket booze and the smoking ban are the main issues, read the report and think again.

I believe if the consumer focuses only on the two big issues, because they are the ones that the consumer cares about, pubs will still close at an alarming rate because we miss the point.

Saturday 1 November 2008

Vaux reopening!!

It would seem that Vaux beers will once again be brewed in Sunderland, well nearby anyway.
I'm especially pleased about this. Ann is from Sunderland and remembers the smell of the Vaux brewery with fondness.

Our brewery is below our bedroom, and after brewing beer the bedroom smells, well, like a brewery. I guess most partners might object to that, not Ann, it simply makes her think of Sunderland.

So I can go to sleep dreaming about beer and Ann can go to sleep dreaming about Sunderland being a great football team - some people are easily pleased.