Saturday 28 February 2009

The North South divide

I know I can't please everyone. Two posts ago I was at a difference of opinion with Tandleman and Curmudgeon as a result of my views on the beer tie. Jeff Pickthall on the other hand seems to have closer ideas to me on such subjects. But sorry Jeff, today my story might find myself back in favour with Tandleman at least.

I know this subject has been done to death but I just thought relating the discussion in the bar last night might amuse some of my readers. Two drinkers came in to try my beers and seemed to rather like them, as of course do most drinkers of my beer. But then what do you expect? we make nice beer here. They were very pleased in general to be in the valley of Eskdale where several other pubs serve good ales.

They then continued to enthuse about how beer is much better in the North of the country. "After all" they explained "they don't use sparklers down south".

Honest, I didn't provoke them. The said gentlemen are, I believe, from Nottingham, which appears to be in the north, according to Tandleman.

To see what sparklers are all about see Tandlemans postor better still look at all the posts on the subject on Stonch's blog. Jeff Pickthall is known to view sparklers as "the work of the Devil" oh well, we all have our faults.

Friday 27 February 2009

Punch and Crunch

The decision by Punch recently to offer it's 7,560 pubs for sale to sitting lessees was, in my view, good news. A pub that worked as a leased pub under the helm of a sitting lessee would surely work owned as a freehold by the same person. The banks should see these pubs as safer businesses to lend to than new start ups.

It seems however, that despite the banks being urged to lend to small businesses they are reluctant to lend to pubs. Apparently, there is a blanket policy from many of the banks resulting in pubs not being extended credit when they need it. HSBC, which I have to admit is far from my favourite bank, have been quoted as saying they have “a very limited appetite” for the pub sector.

A further criticism that can be leveled against the banks are the magnitude of charges that are applied. Banking cash, getting change, card transactions and cheques all cost and the charges are increasing in a disproportionate way. All these experiences I can confirm are realistic constraints that we also feel here.

How many times has the reader visited the pub with a couple of £20 notes and gone home with over £10 worth of shrapnel? That costs the pub industry quite a lot to refill the float in the till. We're lucky, we found out that the milkman gets all the change and now we have an agreement.

It is no secret that I am keen to see the beer tie system reduced but it seems the good news from Punch is unlikely to yield any real change. The banks are also reluctant to lend to sitting licensees who wish to buy the freehold. Very clever Punch, wait until the banks won't lend and then offer the pubs for sale.

I've been looking for an excuse to use these pictures. We took them while on a trip to London. We had to change from the underground at Canary Wharf and walk to a DLR station. It just struck me at the time that this is where my bank charges have been going for the last 20 years.

Thursday 26 February 2009


The recent report from SIBA indicates that there is growth of success for the many microbreweries in the country. This is such fantastic news for anyone in the freetrade or who are owners of a small local independent brewery. It is also good news for the discerning beer drinker as the opportunity for choice increases. The only limiting factor to this success is probably a limit to the number of freehouses that these breweries have as outlets. Hopefully the Fair Pint Campaign will help to do something about this.

The Independent Family Brewers of Britain are obviously worried. In the Morning Advertiser there is an article that rather over exaggerates the role of the family brewers in providing choice. Furthermore, there is a claim that cask ale would have died out had it not been for the family brewers. Interestingly, I cannot find the article online but only in the printed version of the trade publication.

In the article, Paul Wells who is the chairman of the IFBB is quoted as saying.

"Cask ale has only survived because of the tie. Consumers only have choice of beer and regional diversity thanks to it. It is only because of the tie we have been able to resist the lager tide that Edward Taylor created with Carling Black Label through the '50s and '60s onwards, and the subsequent rise of the property pubcos."

The article seems to me to be suggesting that if the tie were to be outlawed then we would see the end of real ale and choice. I'm sorry Paul, but from where I am the freehouse is where you find good real ale. The freehouse is where you often find interesting beers from small independent microbreweries.

The industry figures would suggest that as a proportion of the total number of pubs there is a continual increase of tied houses. If we believe that the tie should remain to keep the family brewers in business then I don't think that's a good enough reason. When there is an increasing demand for micro brewed beer and an increasing number of microbreweries starting up, maybe we should consider how valuable the tie really is.

If a brewery is good enough and the beer is good enough it should not need to monopolise an estate of pubs to survive.

Wednesday 25 February 2009

Brewing and beer workshops

Provisional dates
10&11th March - too late, date scraped
24&25th March - confirmed, I need more people!
16&17th June
23&24th June
23&24th September
29&30th September

My readers might remember that a couple of weeks ago I ran a "Brewery experience". It seemed to go quite well and everyone was pleased with the result, including me. Some of the attendees are involved in a pub and are now seriously thinking of brewing themselves.

I have subsequently had various requests about further events. One lady, who was thinking of it as a birthday treat for her beer crazy hubby, coined the phrase "Brewing workshop". I like that term so that's what I'm calling it. I wanted to keep away from calling it a course because that suggests, for a start, that it might not be fun. Additionally anything that might be akin to formal training would require a tutor who knows what he's talking about.

There are some improvements like an advanced information pack, formal introduction session and improvement in the plumbing to stop mishaps at crucial stages. Making the brewery look nicer was also suggested, unfortunately my sons bedroom ceiling is falling down and that is more important, sorry.

The events also permit general "blokes talking about beer" type activities to occur so I'm including beer in the name as well. Before I get harangued for being sexist, we have several female brewers in Cumbria and some of the most critical beer palates I know are owned by women, so there are no "Yorkie" rules here.

I think I would like to try and do three more this year. Rather than dictate the dates now I thought I'd give a list of dates that work for me. These are dates that miss bank holidays and school holidays which are busy times for me. Anyone who is seriously interested can pick dates from there and once I have 3 firm dates we'll formalise it.

So possible dates:

10&11th March too late, date scraped
24&25th March confirmed, I need more people!
16&17th June
23&24th June
23&24th September
29&30th September

email me if you are interested.

Tuesday 24 February 2009

Monday 23 February 2009

Cellar Practice

Having deliberately set out to be controversial in the last post, perhaps it's time to reassert my belief in real ale. I expected some comments to my questions about cask breathers and I really enjoyed the considered responses. I probably expected more agitated comments but in reality it was a good debate.

Unfortunately my followers dropped from 18 to 17 today. I wonder if someone got upset. Well tough really, as Tandleman points out it's a difficult subject but one we should not shy away from.

Let me show you my little world where some of the magic happens. It's not that pretty but it's special, it's my cellar. This is where we really do cask condition our beers. I thought I might take the reader through some of my thoughts on cask conditioning without cask breathers.

Now, this is a special treat for my blog readers. I know it needs a coat of paint. You are my guests in here, just be nice boys and girls and don't pick fault.

The key secret to keeping cask ale good is reducing the amount of bacteria and oxygen getting to the beer and maintaining CO2 levels in the beer.

Firstly lets consider bacteria. Air contains bacteria, quite a lot actually. Letting air into the cask and coming into contact with the beer is bad news. As Ted and others said in the comments on my previous post there are filters that prevent any bacteria from coming into contact with the beer. We have one such filter, which we normally put on what we expect to be the slowest moving beer. We really need to buy more and put them on every cask.

The second enemy of cask beer is oxygen. Now there is some disagreement about the merits of oxidisation of beer. There is a school of thought that says oxidisation can improve certain beers. It certainly changes the characteristics of beers. Some beer drinkers detect oxidisation as a significant off flavour.

Oxidisation aside, most spoilage bacteria need oxygen to multiply. In the absence of oxygen they can't do a great deal of harm in the short period a cask is on sale. If we limit the amount of oxygen and bacteria getting at the beer then the beer will last longer before detectable off flavours occur.

Finally though, CO2 is the friend of cask beer. But if we concede that we are not going to add any by artificial means what can we do to ensure there is enough? In cask conditioned beer the residual fermentable sugars left over from primary fermentation are digested by yeast. Rather handily the yeast also uses up any oxygen that might be hanging around. This is good as we don't want any in our beer. So, during cask conditioning we eliminate oxygen and increase CO2. The level of CO2 we refer to as the level of condition. Sometimes people talk about volumes CO2 which effectively is a measure of fizziness. Too much fizziness in cask beer makes it difficult to dispense. Especially if you prefer the correct northern methods of dispense using a sparkler. Most cask beer is vented and allowed to gas off before dispense; Hard pegging the vent hole, to retain the valuable gas, once the correct level of carbonation is achieved.

On dispense of course this vent hole is opened to allow air into the cask. If we didn't do this the beer would end up under vacuum resulting in flat or under conditioned beer. If we are clever, and I admit sometimes I'm not, we replace the hard peg back in the vent hole when we are not serving beer to retain CO2 and prevent air entering the cask. If we are really clever, which clearly I am not, we buy race spiles or something similar. These are a one way valve that prevents CO2 escaping. Eventually too much air and bacteria get in and the beer spoils and CO2 escapes. The result is flat vinegar. The beer should be removed from sale long before this happens.

What perhaps disappointed me about the comments to my post was that no one picked up on the fact that much of the beer that is dispensed from casks is in fact not cask conditioned. To quote the CAMRA web site:
"Real ale is a beer brewed from traditional ingredients (malted barley, hops, water and yeast), matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide."
I repeat that much cask ale has very little secondary fermentation occurring in the cask. There is simply next to no yeast left in the beer. This is done to ensure the brewery has as fast a turn around on casks as possible by ensuring the beer does not need to be in the casks for long.

Perhaps this is not a problem. By this definition, providing some fermentation occurs in the cask then perhaps it's OK, but in reality most of this secondary fermentation happens in conditioning tanks in the brewery and not in the container from which it is dispensed. Moreover, it occurs under artificially added CO2

Beer that is racked straight from the fermenter, as is the case with my beer, has a good supply of yeast. Secondary fermentation does indeed happen in the cask and the beer is in the cask for at least a week and normally more than two weeks. The yeast uses up oxygen that helps prevent spoilage bacteria from growing. When all the oxygen is used up the secondary fermentation slows significantly as yeast cannot digest maltose easily in the absence of oxygen.

Once the cask is vented and the oxygen starts to come into contact with the beer the oxygen is used up in further fermentation maintaining condition in the beer. This also helps to inhibit oxidisation and bacteria growth by continuing to produce a natural blanket of CO2.

As a result, I find it is the beers that are not produced using conditioning tanks that keep better. The beers that have sufficient yeast and residual maltose tend to stay good for longer after the cask is vented. If we are to frown on the use of extraneous CO2 in our casks I think we should consider that perhaps conditioning tanks are not good either.

OK, that was a lot of technical stuff. I considered cutting it down but then thought damn it, there doesn't seem to be much on the interweb about cellar practice. If this is some help to someone then it's worth publishing the lot. If the reader disagrees with my points then feel free to comment, that's what it's all about. For the know-it-alls who have just had their intelligence insulted, I apologise.

Thanks must be extended to all my brewing mentors for this information. In particular Stuart at Foxfield and Mike Parker of Hesket Newmarket and Cask Marque.

Sunday 22 February 2009

Toeing the line

I have been advised not to broach this subject. The general feeling from within the industry is that it is too much of a controversial point to risk the wrath of CAMRA. To even mention the words in my blog will raise suspicions that I might be up to some sort of skulduggery in my cellar. I've always thought that risk can bring a bit of excitement to life, so hang it, I'm going to talk about cask breathers.

Before I go any further I need to point out that I do not use cask breathers and I am very unlikely to ever do so. The reason is simple; I believe I am an honest man. If CAMRA ask me if I use such things I would have to answer honestly. If any member of my branch wanted to see in my cellar I would be only too happy to show them. If CAMRA finds out that a pub is using cask breathers then the pub is not considered for inclusion in the Good Beer Guide. So while my pub is in the Good Beer Guide and CAMRA has it's rules I wish to be true to their policy.

I think I know enough about beer and brewing to be able to analyse this ruling. CAMRA's repulsion to cask breathers, in my view, is not an overall help to the pub and beer industry.  It is an issue that I see as being akin to extreme fundamentalist in in nature. After all, the only real argument against cask breathers is that it is the thin end of the wedge. I would like to find a way to compromise.

What I cannot and do not accept is the argument that CO2 at atmospheric pressure will somehow damage the beer. If the beer is already conditioned then the CO2 is simply stopping the air getting to the beer, that air contains oxygen and bacteria which damage beer. CO2 is not going to be detrimental to the beer as it won't get into it. Beer gives up CO2 to atmospheric pressure, so the only thing that will happen to beer in casks with cask breathers is it will loose condition, slowly, until an equilibrium is found.

There has been much discussion in the wine industry surrounding the use of screwtops. Although still controversial the wise people would argue that the only thing the stopper can do to damage wine is let in air. Screw tops are safer, cork is much more likely to be faulty and so the result is oxidized wine. I see the argument over air verses CO2 as the same thing. Air damages beer, CO2 does not. CO2, might make it more gassy, but that is it. Oxygen is bad for beer, CO2 is good for beer.

It is interesting that one of the key definitions of cask beer is that it is conditioned in the cask. I wonder how many ale drinkers know that many breweries don't actually cask condition. Many breweries, indeed some surprising ones, actually use conditioning tanks. These tanks are slightly pressurised with artificial CO2. The beer is racked into the casks when nearly bright and with a reasonable level of condition making it virtually ready to serve. It is not uncommon for beer to be in the conditioning tanks one day and being served on a bar somewhere the next. The beer is not in the casks long enough for conditioning to occur. Why are conditioning tanks with added CO2 OK but casks that have the same are not?

I know of pubs that cannot sell 72 pints of real ale in 3 days. I know some pubs that would like to put more beers on at a time, mine for one. Yes I know pins might be part of the answer, but in my experience pubs that order pins from breweries are not considered worth the effort for the brewery. Most of the time there is incentive for ordering more volume, not less. Many breweries do not offer pins as an option.

It's all very well CAMRA advising pubs that they should reduce the number of beers on sale if quality cannot be maintained. I agree that this is very good advice. I also know from my time running this pub that customers like a choice. Indeed, customer choice is one of CAMRA's mantras.

I currently have 4 fizzy taps in use, three cask beers and a real cider on handpull. I have ten handpulls in total which all get pressed into action on occasion. Normally 3-5 is the number we run to maintain quality. Even then my own brewed beer outsells anything else on the bar and it is the beer from other breweries that suffers.

Even if cask breathers were acceptable I would probably not use them on Hardknott beers as they sell fast enough. The dark beer that is currently on my bar is a keg product because I know I would not sell a cask product fast enough at this time of year. Why can I not put a cask product on, with a cask breather and make sure I declare it on the pump clip? Why do I have to resort to keg for a style of beer I would much prefer to source from a local microbrewery?

Right, now I will await your comments with anticipation.

Friday 20 February 2009

The drink that speaks for Britain

I have, like many other beer enthusiasts, been watching Oz and James. I think it is overall very good and a great boost for the beer industry in the UK. It's about time the subject was given more mass media coverage. Surprisingly for me I haven't shouted at the television once.

There have been a few criticisms of the series. Jeff Pickthall points out that they put down all lager. Which is a good point Jeff makes, although to be fair lager is not a British drink. Ron gets quite upset about the inaccuracies over the history of stouts and porters. I suspect quite rightly.

Roger Protz is somewhat annoyed about the complete cold shoulder given to CAMRA and Jeff Pickthall picks up on this. It is now starting to intrigue me that the words "real ale" don't appear much in the programs at all. I do wonder if the BBC have concerns over the image the product group portrays.

On Tandleman's blog and Boak and Bailey's blog there are some lively discussions about cask conditioned beer. I have enjoyed tremendously the passonate arguments that have been put across. Being an enthusiastic real ale licensee I both support CAMRA but also worry about their real potency. I think the discussions that are going on are very helpful.

It leaves me to wonder what Oz and James are going to declare as the drink that really does speak for Britain. It's going to be beer, right? But will it be cask conditioned beer, real ale, handpulled or whatever you want to call it? Or will it just be beer? Or perhaps gin or whisky has some claim to the throne due to a royal connection in the distant past.

For me I would have to say it should be cask conditioned beer. It is THE traditional drink of the UK. Like wine is to the French, vodka is to the Russians and perhaps pilsner is to the Czechs. Whatever, I think Oz and James seem to think the answer is worth making into a cliff hanger for the final program.

It's becoming common to run polls on blogs these days. Not wanting to be left out of the game I thought I'd see if we can correctly guess, just for fun, the conclusion of the drink for Britain series.

Thursday 19 February 2009

Following a passion

Readers of this blog could be forgiven for thinking that it's sole purpose is to complain about my lot. I might be lying if I didn't say that it helps me to get through difficulties knowing there are people that do care. It was nice in this post to receive a comment from Tim where he points out that "at least you are passionate about what you are doing". Well I do hope so.

Pub Curmudgeon pointed me to the CAMRA forum. I took a look and not surprisingly there were lots of people who gave loads of examples of what's wrong with today's pubs. Very often I agree with the individual points about the problems in pubs. Very often I think "mmmm...that criticism could apply to us" and "yes, yes, we need to do that, but we're busy, not got enough money...etc". It concerns me that although many of the things that need doing might be easy, piled up together it can be difficult. Yes, I know, I should stop blogging and sort out the pub.

The number of people who don't run pubs, but who consider themselves experts, greatly outweigh the number who actually have the task of running pubs. My blog is partly in response to that.

On the CAMRA forum, amongst the various comments there was one guy who pointed out that any landlord who read that sort of stuff obviously cares. Oh, that must be me then. That was two feel good moments in one day, fantastic.

Now you must excuse me because the forum pointed out that every pub should display it's opening times. I agree, but we don't, so I'm off to make a sign.

Tuesday 17 February 2009


We've all heard about the drop in beer sales and the even bigger drop of beer sales in on-licence premises. I include here the latest chart made using data from the BBPA site. If I've done everything right you should be able to click on the image to get a full sized view of the chart.

Let me know if it didn't work.

Really, this is old news. The red line, showing sales in pubs and other places licensed to sell beer for consumption on the premises is getting close to the green line which is off licence sales. The total amount, the blue line, is falling more slowly.

The UK has a population of 58 million. We drink between us about 30 million barrels of beer a year. That's just a tad less than 1/2 a barrel a year each. or 144 pints a year or less than 3 pints each a week. I'm more than doing my share then. The average person consumes not much more than a pint of beer in a pub a week.

What of course is alarming is that the drop of beer sales for pubs is around 1/3. This represents a drop of revenue, for which there is little I suspect we can do. The most common recommended course of action for the licensee is to look into diversification. This does have certain merits for some establishments.

What I really want to explore though, is the misguided concept that it's as simple as that. Diversification also represents increased complexity. Simple and complex are diametrically opposing concepts.

We have a diversified business. We have accommodation, we do food, we brew beer and we sell maps and books. This level of diversification results in a complexity of business that is difficult to sustain. I think I shall just bullet point the main problems with this.

  • A business that is operational 7am - 1am, with potential problems 24 hours per day.
  • Residents check in at the times the bar and kitchen are busy.
  • Bookings enquiries for rooms normally occur in the evening, when we are busy with customers.
  • The kitchen is in use all day, making maintenance difficult.
  • The number of products we buy make the accounts tiresome for the turnover value.
  • I have to do my beer duty, which is normally late, and I don't get around to invoicing for CAMRA festivals.
  • I have to beat off beer label collectors with a big stick.
  • A small pub is a very tying business for the owners. A more diverse one is even harder to leave in the hands of staff.

Diversification is not a simple as it seems.

There are other things I end up doing as a result of our brewing diversification. Showing people the brewery and talking about how it is made, for example. The fact of the matter is I enjoy this aspect, so I shan't complain.

Monday 16 February 2009

Cask Ale Week

Easter week, which will be busy for us, also contains National Cask Ale Week. I'm trying to decide what to do about this. The initiative is a combined effort by CAMRA, Punch Taverns, Enterprise Inns and Cask Marque. There is also a big list of major cask producers taking part. I'm being asked to fork out £40+VAT for stuff that will promote these organisations.

We will be busy during the Easter break. It's one of our guaranteed busy times. We will get lots of customers through our doors and as normal we will gently cajole those that have not tried cask before to try it. Some we win, some we don't.

National Cask Ale Week is probably a good idea from CAMRA. Most pubs that are keen on cask, for instance those in pub company estates or other tied houses, may well benefit. I am concerned that pubs are once again being asked to fork out for things that benefit other organisations.

It is difficult for me to see how the £40 will benefit my business. It is important for every business to ensure that money is not spent unnecessarily. I have not seen the promotional material, but I'm certainly not going to risk spending my money on stuff to promote Cask Marque and the pub companies.

Sunday 15 February 2009

A shrinking market

I have previously talked at great length about the many problems facing pubs and why they might be closing. But despite daily global bad news, we seem to be achieving some success in our own establishment, which I am very pleased about. Recent posts by Tandleman and Pub Curmudgeon strengthen my belief that we are approaching our own problems in the right way. Indeed, it is a shame that Tandleman thought I had fallen out with him, when in fact many of his suggestions for a good pub can be given a tick here. We don't get it right all the time, but we tend to know when we've failed and correct accordingly.

Curmudgeon focused a thought that I perhaps had not realised before. It is the fact that we really don't worry here about the price of drinks in the supermarket. This is because we provide a service that greatly exceeds supermarket service. A warm and comfortable place with a friendly welcome. Here is the proof, if any proof were needed. Equally, I should stop worrying about the alarming trend for economy drinking that is gaining ground in town centres as this is also far removed from the market we are aiming at.

So why do I complain so much? Well two reasons. One because we're not out of the woods yet. We still need to do more to make our pub sustainable. More importantly, I am keen to use my experiences to do what I can to communicate about common problems from within the industry. There are many experts out there telling it the way they see it. CAMRA, of course, who have a perspective from a section of customers, the breweries and pub companies, who are really only interested in financial performance, and then there is the industry press, who frankly I think tend to be slightly biased towards their big advertisers perspective. Apart from Jeff, I don't think there are many licensees who write about their experiences on a regular basis. That, really, is why I write this blog.

If we look at the wider pub industry, and this is something I think about a lot, there are many problems, as we know. The volume of beer sold generally is falling and the volume sold in pubs is falling faster. Wetherspoons has captured a grand market share, and good luck to them. Many other pubs have grown in size by adding conservatories, dining rooms, function suites and the like. But still the revenue into the industry is falling. Improving the financial turnover of one pub will reduce the market share somewhere else. 

I understand that there are about 700 Wetherspoons pubs. Many of these are actually new creations and much bigger than the average pub. Again, taking market share from an ever shrinking market. Clearly Wetherspoons provides a product that people want. That is why they grow, no other reason. If that is the style of pub that people want to patronise, then so be it.

From Wetherspoons financial report they take around £900m a year. That's over £1.2m per pub. Although I have no hard facts, I think that many marginal pubs struggle to get a tenth of that. So it could be argued that Wetherspoons have gained market share equivalent to 70,000 marginal pubs. I think, that as a result of Wetherspoons, many pubs have to close.

The industry response to Wetherspoons is generally price competition. This is causing, in my view, a drop in standards. In my experience, the UK is cheap for drinks in pubs. I have had holidays in France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland. The quality of service is generally better and the prices are higher for drinks than the UK. I think we should leave Wetherspoons to their market and every other pub should look at providing something better.

I think we are in a trap if we think that we can stop pubs closing. We cannot stop outlets from eventual failure if they are not viable and trying to do so is folly. I believe that resisting the change is damaging the industry. We cannot magic revenue out of thin air, if the total value of pub trade is dropping, then it's dropping. Not only that, if we permit some pubs to close the remainder will strengthen and become better pubs. Maybe we will get more pubs who tick the boxes in Tandlemans bullet list.

Friday 13 February 2009

Service with a smile

There was a risk recently of me disagreeing with Tandleman in his post about German pubs. I was arguing that good service costs money, whilst Tandleman gave me the impression that he believed it did not. But then came the final comment on the matter from the great guru:
".....If your staff can't say "Hello", "Thanks", "Is everything all right?" and "Goodbye" they are a false economy in the first place, no matter how little you pay them.

If the Landlord or Landlady can't, then there is little hope......"
That, of course, is all very true. If the management team that is in charge of the day to day running of the pub cannot get this right, then there is indeed little hope. However, there is something niggling at the back of my mind over this one. I need to rationalise failings that do indeed occur in the industry.

There have been times since we've been here when we know our quality of service has fallen below the standard we aspire to. This mainly occurred during busy bank holiday and school holiday times. We started here by operating a cheap as chips service that appealed to the lowest common denominator. Occasionally we would have a very busy night, packed to the gunnels, the staff, Ann and myself became very stressed, the service fell apart at the seams, the complaints became worrying and everything was thoroughly unacceptable.

When schools aren't out things are generally very quiet. We like this time a lot. We can ensure that our customer care extends far beyond the simple courtesy suggested by Tandleman. We can spend time talking with customers about all manner of things including beer, food and of course our wonderful countryside we have around here. Suggesting walks and other activities, relating various amusing stories about our time here and generally entertaining the customers are things we enjoy doing when we find the time.

Ann and I enjoy the interaction with pleasant people, perhaps if we didn't we'd be in the wrong job. The problem is, when we we're running a service that was geared to the mass market, there was not sufficient revenue to cover the overheads. Also there were various quality issues that could be improved, such as the food.

About 2½ years ago we decided to raise our game. We decided to remove all mass produced and mass marketed products from our portfolio. Coca Cola went in favour of Fentimans, all fruit juices are now Looza (Pronounced Lohsa, I believe) which are good quality Belgian fruit juice, we have keg products that are different and interesting and of course we only stock Cumbrian microbrewed cask beers. The food has significantly improved to something akin to restaurant quality with ingredients sourced from local producers.

The result is that we are happier. The customers we like to have here are happier. Best of all the overall quality of the service we provide is so much better. We hope we have achieved all of this without turning into the style of operation that looks down on the customer who just wants a drink. We hope we haven't turned too snooty.

It does cut out the cheap and cheerful brigade. Many of whom are very nice and pleasant people. Some however, very clearly are not. It has significantly reduced the unacceptable and unmanageable massive variations in the levels of trade. It just proves that for us at least, our bread and butter trade is in fact a quality trade.

Because all of this justifies a slightly higher price we run the risk of actually breaking into profit sometime soon. More importantly, because we are happier we remain calmer for more of the time and therefore the risk of providing poor customer care is reduced.

So, although the things the great Mr Tandleman insists cost nothing are important and should come second nature, they are less likely to fail in a pub where the landlord is happy and can make a living.

Wednesday 11 February 2009

The Centenary Post

There's not been very much from this blogger for a few days. The simple reason for that is I've been busy. Plus, this is my 100th post to this blog and I wanted it to be special. How do I make it special when I've not got much time to make it so?

Perhaps I should just look at what I've got in this little blog. Look back whence it came and look forward to where we're going.

Looking back to when I started this blog and the reasons for doing so; I believed that there was so much opinion out there as to why pubs failed, mainly put out by CAMRA, that I had to say something. Equally I found mainstream hospitality publications to be focusing on the mass market style businesses. There seemed to me to be very little synergy with the small, privately owned pub. I hoped I could contribute something to the understanding of the difficulties the marginal pub is facing.

What I found in the beer blogging world is fantastic for me. I've found people who want to explore the real issues and in a friendly and interesting way. It seems to me to be something that is a little more connected to the real world than mainstream media. It makes me realise that this is the media of the future. A media that is is interactive and in touch with what real people think.

Unfortunately I have an inn to run. But fortunately this Inn is getting customers. Their needs are more immediate than this blog. But there are stimulating posts from other bloggers that deserve more than fleeting comments.

Meanwhile I have 4 eager brew apprentices, I expect asleep up stairs. Tomorrow, no, later today, we will brew some beer, or at least get wort in a fermenter and await the yeast's magic tricks. There might be an interesting future as some of this group are considering a possible brew future for their own humble inn.

Saturday 7 February 2009

Happy Pub Day

We've been here 5 years today. Incredible considering after 3 months we didn't think we'd last the year. I said we would hope to be here no more than 10 years, so, halfway there. Then we'll be able to have a normal life again. I wonder how long I would have got for manslaughter.

I only realised tonight when a customer asked how long we had been here. "About 5 years" I said, and then added "What's the date?" knowing the anniversary of that fateful day was close.

I believe the average is 3 years for any licensee in any one pub. I'm checking the statistics on that one with the BII. A nice lady has referred it to CGA Strategy, who apparently know all these things. I think there will be a story on that soon - watch this space.

Thursday 5 February 2009

Being positive, my rod and staff.

OK, today I'm going to be positive.

Many days I enjoy the challenge and variety of the job I do. In the last month I have plastered two ceilings, piped up the bar, fitted new cubicles and a WC in the gents, repaired the burst pipes in the staff caravan, replaced the evaporator in the cellar cooler and brewed beer. At the weekend I became a chef for a short while and also conversed with nice customers. This week I ran a new cold water supply to the brewery, with Alan's help with the trench digging and today I've been fitting skirting boards. At the weekend I turn back into a chef for a while before next week demonstrating how brewing is done here.

Meanwhile, of course, there is the routine to do, answering the phone and taking bookings. Checking the prices on the till reflect the price increases from the suppliers. Trying to keep up with marketing and advertising. Checking the stock levels are satisfactory and ordering if not.

I enjoy this variety, although there have been specialists involved. For instance I used a refrigeration expert to remake the connection to the cellar evaporator, I could not do that myself. But being multi-skilled ensures things are done the way I want them done.

The problem with this is that with so much to do I could do with two of me. I've got Alan, who is very good at many things. I've got Ann, who is also good at many things, some things better than me. But we could still do with one more fantastically multi-skilled person. The trouble is we are remote and being remote doesn't suit everyone and so recruitment is difficult. Oh dear, that was nearly negative. Today, I'm going to be POSITIVE.

So, being positive, if I look at this economic downturn, there must be people out there who need work. Employing seasonal, foreign staff is OK, but hopefully I'll achieve my aims of employing one more British member of staff, full time. After all, a good pub is better with great staff.

So, would you like to work in a brew pub? Would you like the challenge of the variety of tasks to do in your job? Would you like to live in a beautiful, if rather remote part of the country?

If the answer is yes then check out our web site and email us. Hospitality wages are not great, but the rewards can be fantastic. You'll be surprised, it's not that bleak in winter at all.

The top picture is of the staff team we had last summer. Alan is still here, who you can see behind the bar. Despite looking a fearsome chap and supporting Manchester UTD, he's really a nice guy, when you get to know him. The rest are seasonal staff, all moving on to other things since. From left to right, Richard, Nan, Oya, Razvan, David and Christi. A great team, thanks guys. The bottom picture is of Harter fell yesterday. Today it looks just the same. Is there snow where you are?

Tuesday 3 February 2009

Blogging about beer

Why blog about beer? I've been provoked into asking this question by Wurst, our colourful and controversial blogger. I have a suspicion that the provocation was somewhat rhetorical and merely a vehicle to get across his obvious irritation about something. Rhetorical or not, it is clear that Wurst is wound up about a few things, it would be interesting to understand why.

The answer to the original question regarding beer blogging has been developing in my mind. I think there is a simple answer; Because we care about beer. That though, is not sufficient to compel us to write, one would imagine. It is because we have a view on the many issues surrounding beer, and pubs and other drinking related subjects. It is because we want to share our thoughts with others in the hope they might understand our views.

For me, the main issue was trying to share with a wider audience the difficulties of turning a failing pub around. Being a licensee and hearing some of the CAMRA rhetoric I found difficult. For me, the raft of CAMRA demands was conflicting with my ability to make an honest living. The full pint campaign a case in point. I used to be quite annoyed about it. Wurst is obviously still is, or maybe just with CAMRA in general.

Thankfully, the combined efforts of the bloggers I currently follow have been able to rationalise most issues. The full pint thing has been dealt with in a rational way with sensitive comments. But there remains a couple of issues that bother me. One is that of sparklers, which seems like an argument we might just have to accept. The other is the perception of CAMRA many people have.

Out of all the groups of people that have contempt for CAMRA, by far in a way the strongest are the people who are trying to earn a living from the industry. There seems to be barriers in some areas that are hindering a relationship that could be beneficial to everybody. I've just returned from a branch meeting, and I am quite upset about being made to feel like an outsider, the reason being I own a pub and therefor have an "interest". I fear the work of my fellow bloggers has all but been undone.

Maybe Wurst is a bit extreme in his point of view, but Tim is making some good points that back up his view. Perhaps this view is wrong, or misinformed, but if so I still want to know why it is there with many people.

Monday 2 February 2009


I need to tidy my shed.

But instead I found this cartoon.

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Sunday 1 February 2009

Happy New Season

Yesterday, I spent most of the day lying in mud under a caravan. The more time I spent there the more mud there was. Just as I thought I was done and I could go inside, have a bath and then be nice to customers, I found another reason to stay there. I was not happy, and contrary to my personal resolution to keep this blog reasonably free from obscenities, in real life, you would have found a completely different Dave.

Because our trade is so incredibly seasonal, and because we are so wonderfully remote, we have no choice but to have seasonal staff. There is no reasonably priced housing in the valley and so generally, we have to accommodate staff. They are, by and large, foreign students wishing to improve their English. We had one turn up last night. I had expected her to arrive on Monday, but no, it was last night, Saturday, the main trading day of our week.

When we went on holiday in December, we had intended to turn the water off in the staff caravan. We forgot. It froze and bust some pipes. Yesterday I had to fix the pipes so our new member of staff had somewhere to live.

No problem. Plumbing is second nature to me. I'll have it fixed in an hour or so; there's probably only one or two leaks after all. I've got a shed full of spare pipe, fittings and everything needed. My biggest worry was that it would have split the heat exchanger in the water heater, if that doesn't leak then we're OK.

So, I set to, supposedly helped by Alfie. He was there while the easy bits were fixed. A couple of compression fittings blown off. New olives and that was that. An old plastic push fitting, underneath, but right by the door, that was easy. Oh, and then that pipe that runs right underneath is leaking in the middle, must have split. It's OK though, I can get at both ends without climbing underneath.

OK, that's the cold side done, now for the hot. That's when it dawned that things were going to take a while. The hot water was leaking where it went up into the bathroom and then I realised that the cold should have gone that way also, but I had managed to bypass this with my new bits of pipe - oh well done Dave.

So I had no choice but to crawl under the 'van, in the mud, and fix them lying in it. Alfie disappeared just as I needed important things passing to me. Every time I switched the water on to check, another leak showed itself, watering the mud a little bit more. Not only that my resplendent supply of fittings and pipe were depleting under my very nose.

The new member of staff turned up and had to wait to move in and I only had around 1 hour to get washed and changed before doing the evening food service. Oh the life of a publican, I wouldn't swap it for anything - every day is a barrel of laughs. Despite my efforts, all Ann could do was complain about my muddy clothes.

But, the heat exchanger in the water boiler was fine, so at least it isn't going to cost me £££. Oh, and our customers were top notch people. We even had two off the road, on spec, booked a room, had three courses each, beer and whisky. There, a happy ending after all.

My Saazy's Wiesse has matured very well indeed. At the Whitehaven Beer Festival it was a bit watery and unexciting. It's now got a lovely slightly sour taste similar to some continental beers. Not an unpleasant acetic sour, but a nice refreshing zing. It would be fantastic on a hot summers day. The trouble is it's February. Do you think we try and drink our beers too young sometimes?