Pubpaper 842 – Haunts less common

Posted: 4th February 2016 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

This week, I’ve tried to visit a few pubs I have not visited in awhile.  Last Sunday I popped out for a pint at the Beck Brighouse and the Travellers Rest in Hipperholme.  Whilst during the week I popped into Millers in Brighouse during the day.   Three pubs, two what you’d call traditional pubs, the third is what could be now considered a bar / restaurant.  Avoiding peak time allows to see how these pubs are really doing, the good news being that I’d consider them all to be in good commercial health.

I’ve always considered on a Sunday that the pub really starts to warm up about 3pm, people have finished their dinner or been for that walk, and now it is time for that beer.   A good number of pubs have a nice stable level of custom from when they open on the traditional day of rest, but especially where a band is booked to play early teatime you find many people wandering in late afternoon.  Whilst at the Beck, I sat there over a good pint of real ale as I normally do at this pub, who’s five pumps usually stock a decent range of brewers and styles.  Reading the paper on my tablet in the corner, the blues singer for the afternoon was setting up before retiring to the bar for some beer based lumbrication pre show preparation.  The pub had a smattering of drinkers at the bar, the front alcoves filled with beer supping punters and the dart board getting yet more ventilation holes, a nice turnover of beer ensuing.

I’m a big fan of live pub music and get down to see it as often as possible, on this occasion I had to miss the show itself.   I’m an extremely amateur guitarist if you are being kind, so I appreciate people who can play and appreciate the blues as much as any musical style.   Watching the warm up and sound check and I always enjoy watching people physically play guitar, the gig is one I wish I could have stuck around for.  But one thing I do really like is when the artist asks nearby punters if the sound is good and balanced as I’ve been to a number of gigs where totally unbalanced sound levels can distract from what is a technically good performance.

I moved onto the Travellers Rest, where the entertainment was the afternoons FA Cup football and another dartboard.  This is an Osset joint, so a handful of own brewery ale are joined by a couple of guest beers.   Picking one of the guest beers, I settled down near to the wood burner in the next room up from the bar.  This time picking from the plentiful supply of the sunday papers and suppliments, another nice pint went down rather well, again as usual for when I visit there.  All three rooms were filling up nicely by then as tea time was coming into sight.  A nice crowd was watching the football in the main room, whilst a mix of groups and families occupied the back rooms.   I like the Travellers as it is a good honest pub, as is the Beck, it doesn’t try to do everything, but what it does it does well.  It’s a nice relaxed atmosphere at the Travellers, something you appreciate more as you get older and the combination of a friendly welcome, good beer and giving you somewhere to relax ticks all the boxes for me.

Finally onto Millers in Brighouse.  A midweek afternoon found the pub with about half it’s tables occupied, the majority just drinking (and many on soft drinks at that time of day).   They have recently introduced a menu, the contents of which are fairly typical pub dishes with an influence of gastropub in some of the posher dishes.  I haven’t eaten there yet, but the dishes being served looked decent value for money (chiabatas are about 6 quid, mains from 9).  I don’t normally drink the real ale here as I generally visit for the American ales and the Brooklyn Brewery beer was in nice form.   Even when off peak, places like Millers don’t seem as relaxing as a traditional pub, although I enjoyed the stay enough to sit and write this column there.  Maybe this is just personal preference, but lots of things can alter the atmosphere of a pub, from the number and attitude of customers, the music and of course your personal mood, but for me the old fashioned pub or your local just can’t be beaten.    

Millers is part of the Brighouse pub scene which is soon to gain another real ale pub, giving the town centre a proper independent real ale pub again.   Opening near the market is the aptly named Market Tavern, the bar is due to have at least 6 real ale pumps if rumours are to be believed.   More details when I get them, but this is a most welcome addition to the Calder Valley pub scene.

 

January has been a bit of a mixed month, I’ve enjoyed my first half decent beer session in four months, visited some of the pubs which have opened or re-opened in late 2015, seen the destruction to Mytholmroyd and Hebden Bridge from the Christmas floods and the subsequent roots of recovery that are now sprouting in the Calder Valley with all the community efforts to support victims both business and personal from a financial and practical point of view.  Not forgetting the amazing response by the local pub and music scene in the series of Floodstock gigs all across Calderdale to raise money for the same cause, with dozens of bands giving their time for free.  It’s a pity I’ve not had a chance to attend any of the Floodstock events with everything going on this month personally, but from what I’ve gathered they have raised a lot of money, for example The Bull on the Bridge (Sowerby Bridge) raised more than £2000 over their two day festival.   The Beck (Brighouse) also had a very successful all day festival this month where valuable funds were raised, only two of many events across the area.  Pubs often get criticised in the media, but this deserves a collective round of applause, extended to the musicians, from those who use our pubs either as a local or as a visitor.

In the Upper Calder Valley, the Old Gate (Hebden Bridge) and Dusty Miller (Mytholmroyd) have re-opened for business.   The latter pub is not fully restored to pre-flood state, but is open with four real ales and usual selection of other beers, giving Mytholmroyd a local pub again for people to go to.    Hebden Bridge is back up to four pubs now, the Old Gate adding to Trades Club (where I hope they have sorted their cellar issue to save the poor bar manager lugging kegs of beer up three flights of stairs to serve straight off the barrel), Fox and Goose and White Lion.  Further down the valley there is good news for the management at the Barge and Barrel, Elland after a terrible month both commercially and personally (more on this at http://chrisdyson55.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/not-dry-january.html).  Funding for repairs to the main Elland bridge and an adjacent temporary footbridge while the work is done has been provided from central government with £5.5m being pledged in total.  This means that soon Elland town based drinkers will be able to access the Barge and Barrel again without having to walk along the canal and use an existing bridge.  This existing linkage is a narrow limited canal lock bridge which does not allow Wheelchair or Pushchair access as well as having limited lighting in these dark nights.  Darkness, water and beer is not a good combination after a evening session on the beer.

I return to work this week after three months on long term absence.  If you ever want an incentive to get back to work, just look at your pay slip when you go off full pay.  This time off gives you a lot of time to think during the day and the sleepless nights.   You may resent routine and relative lack of free time in a 40 hour / 5 day routine, but take away that routine and you have to work hard to force yourself into a new productive routine if you are not 100% well.  Back in October and November I had weeks where post treatment I’d watch the same crap daytime TV in the same order each day of the week without even being aware of it until looking in retrospect.

Getting out and about was key to that, pubs being one of the main places I visited, even if not drinking beer.  It gave me that freedom to be with other people and not within the four imprisoning walls of home.  It was my choice to chat with staff and customers or be the unsociable sod in the corner on his phone and tablet, but variety was added to the day even if it was for an hour or two at most.   As my energy grew, the duration of my visits increased, I moved from non alcoholic to halfs to prints.   I still can’t drink like I used to, maybe something which won’t return, but I am back enjoying my beer and pubs and that is what matters.   The support I got from the regular pubs I visit was amazing, putting up with what were unsociable side effects for long periods.   Two shouts go out in particular, firstly to Hugh, Ruth and the team at the Cross Keys, Siddal for their support and concern over this period (thanks for the numerous free half pints).  The second pub is the Commercial / Railway Inn (Brighouse) with biggest thanks to Jason Fieldhouse along with Trevor and Sue.  It is people like this along with family and old friends which get you through tough times.  You never know when it will strike, so appreciate those places and people who show concern and interest in you and you will be paid back.

Pubpaper 840 – State of Health of Halifax Pubs

Posted: 24th January 2016 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

I’ve written these columns in a variety of places.  From one of many pubs I’ve frequented to trains en-route to London.  This weeks column comes to you from Bradford Royal Infirmary Ward 14 where I’m recovering from an operation to remove part of my kidney,  hopefully the final step in the battle to rid my body of any possible cancer.  I’ll find out if the Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy was totally successful in March, but this marks the end of a long six months of treatments for me.   Reality bites back in a week or so when I return to work after 12 weeks off, but it iis a reality I am looking forward to.

Last weekend I paid a visit to Halifax town centre for a few beers over an afternoon with friends. Recently I’ve had to limit myself to a couple of pints and usually in the one pub,  in Halifax that has usually meant Victorian Craft Beer Cafe.  I got out of the habit of going out in Halifax socially about 3 years ago, my pub visits being linked to shopping trips or going to other attractions in the town.  This has meant that there are a lot of pubs I’ve not visited in that time or not at all if pubs have changed name.    In fact the list of pubs I’ve been in can be counted on one hand and that includes the two Wetherspoon premises.   Otherwise it’s been aforementioned Victorian and the edge of town located Old Post Office and Ring of Bells.  So the chance to visit a few of the town’s other watering holes is most welcome.

One thing you do realise is there is some damn cheap beer out there and that is excluding the usual Wetherspoons Old Barum Top we visited en-route.   The choice of real ales is of course less in these places than the craft and real ale pubs I normally visit, but the beer can be at a price where only more mass market names in the real ale scene or local suppliers can sell at a price which enables pubs to make a profit at £2.10 a pint or less.   Example beers are Thwaites Wainwright and Copper Dragon Golden Pippin, with local beers coming from the likes of Slightly Foxed in Sowerby Bridge.   What we have is some very different kind of pubs, one type serves real ale with mainstream brands as an equal or second string where pumps will have at least as much prominence as keg lines, the other offers real ale as a part of an overall drinks offering with far more T bars than real ale pumps visible on the bar.  When discussing Wetherspoons they again are a totally different animal to both of these.  Of course the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe is a specialist craft and real ale beer house and proud of it.

En-route I visited the Plummet Line on Bull Green, Bow Legged with Brass across the car park and the Union Cross Hotel.   These pubs are not going to win any beer awards, but all served a drinkable ale in a decent atmosphere (this was a Saturday afternoon, so can’t comment on the evening experience in Halifax town centre) with friendly attentive staff.  A very healthy customer base was found at each of the venues as well, even taking into account this is peak drinking time.  Other pubs seemed to be doing as well as I passed.  Now I know that weekends are not the issue when it comes to making a decent living for the landlord but rather the desired steady trade during the week, but it seems to me that the pub scene in Halfiax town centre is looking after itself well.

The pubs are generally being well maintained, have a decent level of staffing and are welcoming places, all good signs of good financial health.  Pubs which are not covering their costs normally start cutting day to day maintainence of the property itself as well as reducing staff hours and coping with fewer staff to save money.   Back 8-9 years ago during the financial crash and it would have been a totally different picture and not a good one at that.   Of course there will be pubs in any decent sized town which are struggling, it is the same in any business sector, but as a regular pub go-er and having seen the pub sector in Calderdale first hand for nearly 20 years I am optimistic about the future, more pubs are opening (inc a new real bar in Brighouse), those which were affected by the adverse flooding are recovering and re-opening,    Most importantly people seem to be wanting to go to the pub and I’m sure we’ll all drink to that on behalf of all those people who work long hours to deliver us that pint of beer!

A man walks into a pub, orders a pint, pulls out a paper and sits there quite contentedly enjoying a good beer and the previous day’s news.  In modern times, the newspaper is likely to be replaced by a smartphone or tablet and the news will be up to the minute, but the principle is the same.  I’ve wrote many times about how the pub is a social centre of the community, a hub linking people from different backgrounds, where people find others who can help them.   But it is also a place where people go for “public isolation”.

Some people might say if you are going to sit and not chat to anyone else why go to the pub and just stay at home.   There is a huge difference, the pub offers people social interaction if they want it, at home alone it is not a choice but foisted upon them.    People have a go at Wetherspoons for many reasons, but you go in on a weekday lunchtime and you will see a good number of pensioners sitting there having lunch, a proportion on their own.  Why not, for £5 you can get a pint of decent real ale and dinner and it gets you out of the house, you have people around you and the social interaction of ordering your dinner.

Social isolation is an increasingly common issue in the retired population with too many of them not seeing another person for a week at a time or even longer.   Talking to the barman, the food server and other staff may not sound like a lot to many of us, but to some it is social interaction they crave all week and they see the same people each week, visa versa staff get used to seeing the same customers on certain days of the week.  This isn’t restricted to pubs, cafes can serve a similar purpose and I see this at my cafe of choice, the “pie and peas cafe” in Halifax market.    The William IV in King Cross also does brisk trade with pensioners (both solo and in groups) when I visit to have dinner with my wife during the week, again at £5 for a big, well cooked meal can’t be blamed.

Increasingly you see people using pubs to do work, Wetherspoons winning a lot this trade with free wifi and cheap coffee.  I was sitting in Calans just before Christmas, enjoying a couple of halves one afternoon, writing a column for this very paper on my tablet, occasionally breaking for a chat with one of the people I was sharing the high bench table with before returning to my writing.  The right place gives inspiration and if you writing about beer then there is no better place to write about it surround by real ale pumps and people enjoying the same product.

The purpose of the pub is changing, it has gone from a refuge for the common man after work and on weekends to having to cater for families, groups of both sexes and non drinkers to name a few.   Different pubs have chosen different routes.  Some have embraced all of these, some have decided to make some concessions.  I went into the Shepherd’s Rest last week for the first time ever on a walk to Sowerby Bridge, a large multi room traditional bar, they don’t allow children during the week with limited hours allowed at the weekend.  Serving 8 real ales (including a number of Osset brews, it being one of their houses), it serves a good pint and has a friendly atmosphere.

Another pub in the town allows children until early evening / tea time each day, namely the Works.  Neither is right or wrong, but it is how they want to conduct business and the amount of time they have been trading shows it works.   The Works sells a similar number of ales with just under half being from Timothy Taylor, one could say their “house brewery”.    Take a small micropub, a chain pub and two real ale pubs, what will they all have in common?  At the right time, you will find the bloke with the paper (or electronic equivalent) and a pint in the corner happy with their own company in a room containing others.  All successful pubs have the same thing in common, good drinks, good value and good atmosphere, adding optional nice well priced food.  People go to the pub for many reasons, that is their own business, but the pub has been venue of choice for 2000 years and I can’t why it will not in the future as venues change and adapt or decide stay the same.

 

Pubpaper 838 – Blandness v Choice in Pubs

Posted: 10th January 2016 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

A while ago I wrote about the buyout and merger between Green King Inns and Spirit Inns, who operate chains such as Chef and Brewer.   I said at the time once plans for how the two pub operators would be integrated were finalised, you’d see the choice of beer reduced.   I’ve got experience of chains from both sides of the fence, mainly from eating out.  The Greene King owned “family pub chain” Hungry Horse and the Spirits “Gastropub chain” Chef and Brewer.

The drinks range at Hungry Horse is pretty dire, when you resort to drinking Newcastle Brown from the drinks fridge, you know this.  The bar is full of big brand lagers, generic cider, keg dispensed smoothflow ales, the obligatory Guinness and poor excuses for cask ales from the Greene King estate.    Looking at the Chef and Brewer chain, it was a better picture.  Of course you have the full range of big brands lagers plus a decent premium European beer, but at least you got a choice of 3 real ales, brands most of us would consider mainstream ales with the addition of beers from Leeds Brewery and other local brewers.  

Greene King now say Greene King IPA (GK IPA)  is now being sold in 90% of the former Spirit operated pubs.   This is not a good thing, it is frankly one of the worst beers I’ve ever tasted (and I know people reading this will sit on both side of the fence regarding GK IPA), to say it is bland and uninteresting is being polite.   The fact that it is the biggest selling “British Ale” in China and was chosen to be drunk in a media event by our PM and the Chinese premier on a recent visit is even more depressing.  We have 10,000+ beers brewed in the UK to choose from, why choose the lowest common denominator.

Most of us would agree that the Chef and Brewer ale selections such as Black Sheep, Bombardier, Hobgoblin or Everard Tiger are not the best ales in the world, but at least gives us some stimulus for the taste buds.    But looking at the latest beers lists you see a lot of Greene King brands creeping onto the list, Abbot Ale and Old Speckled Hen on top of GK IPA.  On top of this you see Sharps Doombar, the mainstream ale from MolsonCoors, a beer not much better than GK IPA (I’ve given this beer many chances to impress and never had a good pint of it).  

This is exactly why big pub operators such as Greene King buy out other pub chains, it gives them a wider area of distribution for their main brands, where volume can give a massive profit margin for their brewing arms and distribution partners..  I’m sure that the beer is not being sold cheap because it is direct from the brewer, very much akin to the mega operators like Enterprise and Punch Taverns who can buy barrels by the million from big brewers for volume discount and then sell to pubs for well above market wholesale rate.

I see the pub market now moving into a number of camps, you have the small independent pubs or small chains where freedom of choice is encouraged and customers are offered a rotating range of good interesting real ales as well as a house ale or two.  On the extreme of this you have the pubs who’s ethos is to offer a wide range of constantly changing ale without a nod to the mainstream, either as cask only or cask and keg.  On the other side you have these massive generic chains who’s purpose from head office point of view is to shift as much core brand beer and ale as much as possible,or in the case of dry led pubs, the food being more important due to higher profit margins than beer.

One pub company has 3 tiers for landlords regarding real ale, the first being a selection from handful or ales, if you achieve certain sales targets you can get access to a wider list of ales (20-30 in number and generally from large and medium sized UK brewers), if you can achieve higher sales targets, only then are you allowed full access to the SIBA list where you can choose beers from any SIBA (Society of Independent Brewers) member.    How you are to build up a bank of real ale regulars with a limited choice is a hard one, enough to get onto the next tier of choice….and you wonder why a lot of bland ales sell so much?

 

Normally I’d be starting this article hoping you all had a fantastic christmas and fun new year, welcoming you back to a brand new year of taproom articles.  However for many people it won’t have been a merry christmas or a happy new year, especially those in the Calder Valley.  As you will know, Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd and Sowerby Bridge took the brunt of the flood water which overflowed the river defences all along the valley, not forgetting Copley, Elland and Brighouse.  A number of pubs were temporarily affected, but have managed to clean up and fully re-open again after much hard work by staff.  However many pubs are out of action for the immediate future, especially those in Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd.   The latter has lost the Shoulder of Mutton, Dusty Miller and Libertine Micro-brewery and pub, leaving it with virtually no pubs to service the town, remembering the Black Lion has been closed for a long time.

Hebden Bridge currently has the Shoulder of Mutton out of action until further notice, the Old Gate closed for repairs for a week or two, whilst the White Lion escaped any major damage and is open as normal, the same true for the Fox and Goose.  The Stubbing Wharf took some major damage being located between the two water courses into town and is closed for the foreseeable future.  Calans is closed in the medium term after opening for a short while post new year with real ales direct from the cask.   Other pubs in the town towards main street have also suffered major flooding damage.   Sowerby Bridge has only lost the Firehouse to water ingress, but all other pubs are operating as normal as we speak.

Whilst discussing the town, I finally had a chance to pop into The Sowerby Taps over the festive period and like the place.   Nice and friendly, having a good range of four real ales which are kept well and is getting a good mix of locals and visitors on a regular basis.  A welcome addition to the town in this long term pub location.   The pubs which have opened during 2015 have done really well and are doing good beer, something I’m happy to report.  Let’s hope that 2016 see’s a mix of good new venues opening and flooded pub’s re-opening, then let’s support these venues with our business as the only way to keep a healthy pub industry is to spend our beer tokens at the pub!

Whilst Pubpaper was taking a holiday, Camden Town Brewery was taken over by AB InBev for £85 million.   The brewery was started in 2010 and had just raised £2.75 million via crowdfunding and sold a 20% stake for £20 million to overseas investors.  The purpose of this fundraising was to build a second brewery on a separate site as the current plant in Camden Town had been running at capacity for a while.  These investors will make an immediate profit on their investment, but that is not the reason why over ten thousand people invested in the crowdfunding.  They invested because they wanted to support an independent craft brewer who made good beer.  The owner said that everything would stay the same, but allow them to reach a wider market.  

However, looking at other craft brewers who have been taken over by multinational brewers, they want the craft cache with craft beer prices, but without the costs of making it.   Ingredients are substituted for cheaper options, eventually brewing is moved to one of their mega breweries and the whole ethos of the company is diluted.  A prime example of this happening is Doom Bar, based in Cornwall who were brought out by Molson Coors to be their “real ale brand” where both of the above happened and Ab InBev’s Goose Island where the cost of production was reduced by degrading quality of products.   Reaction in the market was immediate, Brewdog removed Camden Town products from sale the minute the announcement was made, and social media were vociferous in their condemnation of the deal, especially as the brewery were one of higher profile poster boys of craft beer.

Many “craft beer” drinkers are already saying they will not buy Camden Town beers, and what have they to lose, if Camden Town want to lose the hearts of their core customers then there is another 1000 brewers waiting to take their place.     A few years ago another London based brewer got taken over in a similar fashion when Meantime Brewery got purchased by SABMiller, becoming their “craft” offering.  So after losing the “craft beer” followers and being absorbed into the mainstream beer world, they are being cast back out into the world after being put up for sale.  If they are purchased by a large or medium multinational brewers, the status quo remains the same, but if not they will lose the enhanced distribution chain that SABMiller offered and have to win back the drinkers and outlets on their own with far fewer resources than they are used to.   

Not Pubpaper 2 – The Pub Casualties of the Flood

Posted: 28th December 2015 by santobugtio in Writing

This week I want to discuss the devastation in Todmorden, Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd and Sowerby Bridge by the flooding over the festive period.  This article is not going to be the happiest I have ever wrote, but it shows the scale of damage that has been done to just the pub businesses in the valley, with many shops and retails outlets suffering the same or worse.     I’m not going to go into the politics of this, as Chris Dyson did it much better than I ever could and I recommend you visit his article here http://chrisdyson55.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/not-so-happy-valley.html.

A wall of water swept through the Calder Valley peaking at about 6-7ft in Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd.   Sowerby Bridge’s streets were flooded for the first time in many people’s memories (although localised flooding by the lower level mills have been more frequent).

3379_1675298932720498_2741067203321745827_nThe list of public houses hit by the floods makes sad reading.  Calan’s is not yet a year old and it was reported 5ft under water at peak.  The flood boards at best are a metre high, any fixture and fittings will be unusable, the interior and utilities need gutting, in fact they will be starting from scratch again.   To their credit on Boxing Day Bank Holiday Monday they were giving the beer away on the streets of the town rather than see it go to waste, I hope they recover soon as this is a great little bar and one I’d only just started frequenting.    The businesses on the higher levels seem to have survived with the White Lion reporting normal trading on the day after Boxing Day.  The Fox and Goose were also unaffected apart from power failures on the same day.  The pubs on the Haworth Road should be unaffected by the floods also.

However the pubs closer to the river would again have suffered major damage.   Even the Shoulder of Mutton on the main square, not 30 metres from the White Lion, suffered enough damage to close the pub, luck can be a cruel and fickle mistress.  I haven’t been down to confirm if Marshalls, the Albert and Railway are closed, but if Calans was under 5ft of water, so would these, with possibly higher levels, consigning them to the same fate.   Sitting on the canal, it was inevitable that the Stubbing Wharf would take a battering, and it did, closed like the list of pubs above until further notice.

4657Further down the river in Mytholmroyd, the Dusty Miller pub was inundated at the owners could only sit upstairs and watch it happen, however they not only lost 1 pub, but 2 as they had only opened the Libertine micropub two weeks ago on the main street, losing the venue as well as the microbrewery of the same name situated on site.  Another pub that was washed away before many of us even got to visit.   The other main pub in town also suffered the same fate as the Dusty Miller, with the Shoulder of Mutton landlord summing it up perfectly in a video he posted, simply saying “Absolute Chaos”.

So in two busy town centres, you are down to 2 pubs at the moment, one of them without any at all (I’m basing all this information of their facebook page status updates or equally lack of updates, please feel free to correct me).  Access to the valley is limited as the main road into Hebden Bridge also has suspected subsidence on the lane closest to the canal as I write this on Bank Holiday Monday and is under one way traffic control.   The Ryburn Valley has not coped much better,  I can’t confirm if the Old Bridge Inn, Ripponden has been affected by floods, but wouldn’t be surprised if it was, the Milestone Inn again gave no updates, but had more chance of avoiding damage than its lower brethren.  

Sowerby Bridge took a battering, but the pubs survived fairly well, but ironically the Puzzle Hall Inn which is being vacated in January dodged the bullet due to it’s location further up the river from the town.  The Works appears to be unaffected, again being in the opposite direction to the flow of water as it broke banks near the bridge.  Being on the bridge, the Bridge (not sure it was open anyway) and Firehouse are closed until further notice.  Luckily for new pub  Sowerby Taps and Bull on the Bridge, they escaped undamaged, the basin below where the old mills are located taking a good deal of water on the town’s behalf.  The pubs on the same side of the road as the Sowerby Taps seem to have escaped as well, as has Williams.

The Roxy Venue is unaffected, a surprise for me given it’s location, the same surprise that came that the Moorings is also open for normal business after a small clean up being in one of the vulnerable canal basin position at the far end of the town, the same appearing to be true for the other small venues in the basin, whilst further down at the Navigation Inn, it is business as normal.  

So a mix of good and bad news in the valleys, more bad than good on the banks of the Calder.  Brighouse saw some flooding in the area of Rokt and the main town car parks, but it appears that no damage was done to the towns pub stock, a blessing in these unfortunate times.

This week Camden Town Brewery was taken over by AB InBev for £85 million.   The brewery was started in 2010 and had just raised £2.75 million via crowdfunding and sold a 20% stake for £20 million to overseas investors.  The purpose of this fundraising was to build a second brewery on a separate site as the current plant in Camden Town had been running at capacity for a while.  These investors will make an immediate profit on their investment, but that is not the reason why over ten thousand people invested in the crowdfunding.  They invested because they wanted to support an independent craft brewer who made good beer.  The owner said that everything would stay the same, but allow them to reach a wider market.  However, looking at other craft brewers who have been taken over by multinational brewers, they want the craft cache with craft beer prices, but without the costs of making it.   Ingredients are substituted for cheaper options, eventually brewing is moved to one of their mega breweries and the whole ethos of the company is diluted.  A prime example of this happening is Doom Bar, based in Cornwall who were brought out by Molson Coors to be their “real ale brand” where both of the above happened and Ab InBev’s Goose Island where the cost of production was reduced by degrading quality of products.   Reaction in the market was immediate, Brewdog removed the products from sale the minute the announcement was made, and social media were vociferous in their condemnation of the deal, especially as the brewery were one of higher profile poster boys of craft beer.

My opinion is once you are part of a multinational mega brewer, you lose the craft tag, you become just another brand in their portfolio.  Of course there is the whole argument of the definition of “craft”.  In total contrast to Camden Town Brewery you have Vocation Brewery, based in Cragg Vale above Mytholmroyd.    I visited the brewery just before christmas to collect my beer for the festive season, a six pack of each of their core beers, the beers this brewery produces never fails to impress and I am not the only one of this opinion, so christmas this year has the delights of Pride and Joy, Heart and Soul, Divide and Conquer and Life and Death awaiting me.  The beers are not cheap (compare to regular shop canned beer prices) at £2 per 330ml can, but the flavour makes these more than worth the money.   I love visiting breweries as the smell of a brewery is one of the best odours in the world, the lovely yeasty smell which drifts out and when you get the chance to smell up close the hop smell in the vessel as it infuses into the beer as it is brewed.   From the open doors you can see the entire operations of the brewing plant at Vocation, with lines of silver vessels contributing to different stages of production.   The shop is small side room from the production area and one sign that a business is small scale is that it is still cash only in this world of even small cafes offering card payments and the increasing proliferation of contactless payment.  The two man operation, with the director also being head brewer and the brewing being at the heart of the business is what endears me to this brewer and other like them.  The closer those who control the business are to the production of their products, the more care that goes into making them. When your top man is the finance guy, that is where the disconnect begins and money starts to take over rather than the most important thing, what you make, and I can see this happening in the medium term with Camden Town Brewery and AB InBev when their people start getting moved into the day to day operations team of Camden Town.   

Many “craft beer” drinkers are already saying they will not buy Camden Town beers already, and what have they to lose, if Camden Town want to lose the hearts of their core customers then there is another 1000 brewers waiting to take their place.     A few years ago another London based brewer got taken over in a similar fashion when Meantime Brewery got purchased by SABMiller, becoming their “craft” offering.  With the merger between SABMiller and AB InBev, Meantime has now been put up for sale by SABMiller in their disposal of brands, others including Peroni.  A deal is already in place to transfer worldwide rights to the Millers and Coors family of brands back to Miller Coors, the separate US / Canadian based brewing company.   So after losing the “craft beer” followers and being absorbed into the mainstream beer world, they are being cast back out into the world, if they are purchased by a large or medium multinational brewers, the status quo remains the same, but if not they will lose the enhanced distribution chain that SABMiller offered and have to win back the drinkers and outlets on their own with far fewer resources than they are used to.   

You may take the devils pot of gold, but you dance to his tune and when he is done with you, you may be left to fend for yourself and it is wise to remember history has a habit of repeating itself

Pubpaper 836 – Falling off the Wagon

Posted: 12th December 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

We’ll after 11 weeks of not drinking, I finally fell off the wagon this weekend.   Of all places it had to be the Cross Keys at Siddal and the beer to befall this honor was Small World’s Long Moor Pale, a lovely session ale.   After living on non alcoholic beers and ale shandy, it’s so nice to drink proper beer again, even if I can’t fully appreciate the flavours, it actually tastes like an ale should, which is good enough for me right now.   It is things like this which lift your spirits when in recovery,  it may only have been a pint, but it is yet another step back into reality and that is where I need to get back to in the next 6 weeks.

That hour or so at Cross Keys opitimises what the pub is about, not full, but a steady flow of customers building up for later in the evening, good conversation, nice well kept beers and just a small rant from the landlord.  I also finally got to meet Chris Dyson after months of facebook interaction.  He is one of the best local beer and music writers around and recommend you visit him at http://chrisdyson55.blogspot.co.uk/.  I’m terrible with names, but good with faces, so I’ve been going there long enough now to know most people by face, but only about a third by name and one sign of a good pub is flowing conversation with people dropping in and out over it’s life and that was in full flow at the end of the bar on Friday.  

Before I move on, a small plug, If you are looking for good night out from New Year’s Eve, you could do a lot worse than pick up a ticket at the Cross Key’s for the Paddy Maguire Band, one of best bands in area. Tickets are £8, a bargain at the price (as you’ll be lucky if he finishes playing by 2nd Jan), with 6 cracking ales guaranteed on the night.

Moving onto Kings Cross and the William IV.   I’ve only really popped into the pub before while waiting for my takeaway from across the road and always found it decent pub.   Recently I’ve been meeting my wife for lunch there while on long term sick and the customer service is absolutely excellent there, the food great value as well.  One of the problems I have as a side effect of radiotherapy is swallowing food, even with enough painkillers to knock out an elephant.  Over a light lunch I can easily drink 2 pints of water to get it down.   Nothing is too much of a hassle for them, even offering to get me another glass of water whilst cleaning the table next to me and not blinking when I ask for half a ton of butter for my jacket potato.   The pub, which I call a proper traditional boozer (my favourite kind) has a steady flow of trade with a lot of regular customers, the beer is kept nicely and has a nice atmosphere, you can’t ask much else for a pub really, can you?

Heading into Sowerby Bridge, it’s good to see that The Bull on the Bridge Hotel & Sowerby Taps are now fully open.   I’ve still not had a chance to visit, something I need to remedy very soon as looks a really nice venue both up and down stairs.   The Bull on the Bridge is more contemporary than its sister venue below (why have I made the pub female?).   4 ale pumps adorn the bar which look like they adopt some of the beer range from downstairs along with the usual mainstream keg t-bars.  The transformation from the wreck they took over is fantastic and they need to be congratulated for the job done so far.   They don’t seem to be having any trouble getting customers from the town and further afield and are starting to develop a music scene there as well, never a bad thing.

I had a chance on Sunday to finally visit Calans in Hebden Bridge and I rather like the place, easily being the smallest pub I’ve ever been to.  A good range of five real ales on offer with the Vocation Brewery Bread and Butter hitting the spot for me.   The venue feels bigger than it is once inside with a modern stripped back feel, the drinks board dominating the pub.  It’s size certainly generates a nice atmosphere and the addition of a couple of good ciders makes this a place I’ll certainly revisit.    It may not have as many beers on the pump as the Old Gate or Fox and Goose, but if you have 4 or 5 varied well kept ales, it can do as good a job when you want a beer. On the way back home I popped into the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe, again another bar which gets the beer, atmosphere and surroundings right.  The Brewdog / Ilkey colab “Moo Let the Dogs Out”, a coffee stout was lovely beer.  Only my medication and car stopped me trying the Brooklyn Sorachi Ace which belies its 7.4% strength after a sample.  SAdly I’ve ran out of space, so adieu until next week.

Pubpaper 835 – A reflection and pubs keeping you sane

Posted: 2nd December 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

It’s only been a journey of 10 weeks, but it has seemed a lot longer since I had my last drink at the end of September.  I’ve now finished my therapy and am 3 weeks post treatment.  I’ve emerged relatively unscatched compared to what may go through and been told by both the teams at St James Cancer Centre and the team at Huddersfield that I’ve done really well.  I put this down to myself adopting an attitude that whatever it took to come out of this best I’d do it.  The last 3 weeks of the treatment and the first ten days post recovery was hard, both mental and physical, but I’ve turned a corner.  Life is not normal by any means, I’ve still got a lot of work to get back to the eating ability and having taste as I had 6 months ago.  But I feel myself again and that is a big thing.

My wife said to me about 10 days ago after visiting one of my best friends for the day that it was good to “have the old sean again”.   Over the months of treatment as it gets harder to talk, you get more withdrawn and minimise how much you engage in conversation, keeping it to the essentials.  You don’t have the energy for what would be the normal social discourse between husband, wife and family.  It affects the whole family, you don’t realise it does until you come out of your own bubble you create to cope while going through treatment.  As the psychologist at St James said “you stop being a patient and start being a person again”.  Little things like being able to sit at the dinner table, have energy to play with your kids and hold a sustained conversation with your spouse don’t mean a lot (they are taken for granted) until you can’t do it.

But the other side you miss is your social life, and for me that did revolve a lot around the pub.  I’m still not fully drinking as it interferes with medication I take, but being out and drinking decent non alcoholic beers was nice.  It’s even better when you move onto ale shandy which is my normal drink currently, hopefully I’ll be drinking properly sometime in the first month of 2016.  I’ve tried to visit pubs as much as possible to give my mind some sort of normality and looking back can track my progress.  6 weeks ago at the heart of my treatment, I popped down to the Cross Keys, Siddal for the band on a Sunday afternoon, lasted about an hour before I was knackered, had very little conversation with people and fell asleep on sofa when I got home.  My visit 10 days ago, I only left the pub because I had dinner at home, enjoyed a few shandies, felt no tiredness, was happily chatting for the duration and wasn’t tired when I got home.  That is a big jump.   When I go out, or we go out as a family at a weekend, nine times out of ten we’ll have a drink somewhere and getting back into this routine has brought some normality back over the last few weeks.

Most of us consider ourselves to have friends and acquaintances.    A lot of our acquaintances we know from the pub from hours of beers and conversations.  However what I have found through this experience is that some acquaintances I know through the local pub trade are willing to go the extra mile, even in small ways.  In some important ways I’ll come out of this period of my life a richer person in the important ways.    This is why we should value our local pubs and those we visit further afield, they are vital social hubs and as important as any other business or service we use on a regular basis.

I’d like to thank everybody for their support over the last few months and I’m glad to have kept doing this column throughout, although many thanks for the offers of contributions from other beer writers in the area.   Also the best of luck to a friend in the trade who is going through the same treatment at the moment and having a far worse experience of it. I consider myself lucky when you see what other go through.