Pubpaper 772 – Bland Cold Beer

Posted: 21st August 2014 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

Drink is an integral part of a meal, so it is a pity when a restaurant lets itself down with a poor beer selection.  They can have a rack of good quality spirits and a good wine list, but then disappoint with a bland draught beer.  The family meal at Chimichangas last weekend at the Broad Street Plaza didn’t disappoint, with them passing my acid test when it comes to a restaurant, can they make a good burger?   The burger in question was good, well seasoned, cooked until slightly pink in the middle just like I want it, with the extra pulled pork, chorizo, jack cheese and jalapenos helping to top it off.

Then came the beer, the Brazilian brand Bramha, possibly the one of blandest beers I have tasted, down there with Carling and Carlsberg, but it is classed as a premium beer in bars in the UK.  The bottle selection was Modelo Especial, Budweiser and Corona (strangely all of these are products from the AB-InBev Brewing Group), not exactly inspiring and at nearly £4 for just over ½  pint, I ended up taking the £4.40 pint of draught bland option.  It was the antithesis of the food and took the edge off the experience which was otherwise good.   How much effort would it be to source a good quality UK kegged pale ale to add to the Latin America themed choice.   Whilst on this theme, they only offered a tequila flavoured cider, again a bottled proper cider such as Thatcher Gold or Stowford press would not have gone amiss, whilst keeping mainstream recognition.

Beer (and cider)  is still overlooked in too many places with many a restaurant having the the stock Carling, Stella, John Smiths, Strongbow on single T bar, with the fridge dominated by a few premium big brand beers and Magners / Bulmers / Kopparberg as the second cider offering.    Most chains are guilt of the same laziness, sticking to a beer from their “brand homeland”.   These are not tied businesses, so the owners of these chains have choice and even if they are tied to buying from AB-InBev, there are 200 brands to choose from and most of them are better than Bramha.

Talking about making beer bland, how do you make an average beer even less interesting, that’s right you cool it down even more.   Take Guinness Extra Cold, for people who want to drink Guinness, but want the flavour chilled out it.   With Carling Cold and Carlsberg Cold, you are diluting negligible flavour to trace flavour.   However the Japanese brand Kirin (brewed by Youngers in the UK) are taking this one step further adding a frozen whipped top at -5c apparently keeping the beer cooler for an extra 30 minutes.  Every sip of beer will come through this cold layer killing any taste from lower in the glass.  Beer is reduced to alcoholic liquid, which without the taste is nothing really.

In Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, drugs and beer have been replaced by Soma, a drug which gives feelings of wellbeing and taking the user away from the real world in a simple pill.  These cold beers are the soma of the beer world, getting you to where you want to go without any memory of the journey there, rather pointless in my opinion.

Moving on to local news, I talk mainly about the on trade element of the beer business, but the off trade is used by most of us for our beer when we are not at the pub.  Over the last few years the two Beer and Wine Direct (aka OWLS) in Halifax and Brighouse have enabled me to sample some excellent bottled Yorkshire beers I’d not seen elsewhere in Calderdale including Summer Wine, Bad Seed and Great Heck as well as offering a range of the less common beers from people like Ilkley brewery.   These two shops closed down over the last 2 weeks, leaving a big gap for those of us who want to easily access products you won’t find in the big 4 supermarkets.  When a business puts the effort in to give a wide range of quality local beer at a good price, they deserve better than to close down and sadly it appears from their tweets this may have been beyond their control.

This week saw CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) take place at Olympia in London. Over 55,000 attendees and 900 beers to try, it is the biggest piece of publicity the organisation has each year, so quite rightly they launch their high profile campaigns around the same time. The last few years it has been the beer duty reduction campaign, but now that has got action, they have moved onto the people who serve that beer, the pubs.

As most of you will know, when a pub shuts down, a number quickly become part of one of the supermarkets mini mart chains (Sainsburys Local, Tesco Metro / Express etc), a number are turned into fast food joints such as McDonalds, others are turned into flats or the pub demolished to make room for a new development. The latter two conversions require planning permission to change the use of the land from commercial to residential, the former two do not need planning permission and hence the pub companies which own most of these shuttered sites are quite happy to take the purchase price or rent money from a supermarket chain and have a building they no longer have to maintain, manage or operate.

In fact the list of businesses that a pub can be converted to without permission is quite long, and extends past supermarkets to restaurants, estate agents, payday lenders among many others. CAMRA estimate that 31 pubs a week close in the UK, approx 1500 per year, out of a stock of about 50,000. This is up from 26 a week a year ago. Once a pub stops being a pub, it rarely ever returns to it original usage.  The reason for this easy conversion is a loop hole in a 1995 act of Government concerning planning rules.  Camra has called for the government to tighten planning legislation, making it harder for developers to convert pubs and obliging them to apply to local authorities for permission. Of course the Government are happy with the status quo with the minister for communities, Steven Williams warning that “excessive restrictions on changing the use of buildings would be counter-productive, leading to more empty, boarded-up buildings”.

This is from the same Government who are also attempting to stitch up the Statutory Code regarding the pub companies and their tied pubs so it suits the same pub companies who will benefit from easy disposal / rental of land and buildings to help pay off the huge debt piles which seem to go hand in hand with such businesses. Pub companies are also so keen on this option as it also means that competition for other pubs it might own in area will be reduced, where they hope for increased footfall and subsequent rent raising opportunities will occur.

The minister suggests using the Asset of Community Value rights to stop the conversion to other purposes, but this then relies on the community being able to raise the funds to buy the pub from the PubCo, who don’t exactly discount the premises when selling them. It has worked in Hebden Bridge, where you have a relatively close knit community and a good number of individuals who have retired whilst decent pension schemes were still running or with other disposable income who can invest. The Fox and Goose is going strong now and deserves all its success with congratulations to all who invested and help run the pub.   However the Dog and Duck on the local ex-council estate where there is higher unemployment or more people being supported by the state is not so lucky, who has the money in the immediate area to be able to put in £1000 or more, and where do you find 100 of them at least. It won’t happen and the pub will be converted in short time. You find that most pubs saved under the Asset of Community Value legislation is in relatively well off areas, the supply of money being no coincidence here.

A CAMRA report “Public Houses: How councils and communities can save pubs” says that “Pubs are more than just businesses, and more than just drinking establishments; they provide a very real and important service to many communities, in a variety of ways. They help to strengthen social networks between people who might not otherwise meet, host events, clubs and meetings that are necessary for community cohesion…once they are gone it is difficult to bring them back“. They are absolutely right, people don’t have meetings at Tesco Express, QuickQuid or Big Commission Estate Agents, people go for a social pint to discuss matters at hand or the world in general.

Add in that CAMRA estimate “pubs typically add £80,000 to local economies every year. They generate more revenue and jobs per pint of beer, than beer sold through supermarkets”.  I think that even without the money issue, the first point I quote is key. Pubs are for the community, many other businesses are not.

Pubpaper 770 – Huddersfield Food and Drink Festival

Posted: 9th August 2014 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

The Huddersfield Food and Drink Festival is something I try to visit each year.  However its popularity is both a blessing and a curse as whilst generating a great atmosphere, at peak times the queues can be up to 15-20 minutes to get a drink or food.   By the time you get to Saturday tea time, a sardine is laughing at you for the space it has in its tin.  Over a quick pint on Thursday night, I was informed by a regular at the Red Rooster that the best time to go is on the Friday afternoon, so a plan was hatched to get over there as a family the following day.

He was right, you could get a proper table (shared), the queue for the food and drinks stalls were minimal if not non existent.  This made it a far more enjoyable experience, you can actually browse the stalls and bars looking for what you want rather than compromise and just buy for everyone from one stall to avoid a second queue.

If you like your beer and cider, there is plenty to keep you interested.  The Star Inn, The Sportsman, Vox Bar and Zepher all have a presence on the St Georges Square site among others.   Add the two railway station bars in the Head of Steam and the Kings Head and you could happily not leave the area for 3 days, bar sleeping.   Over a couple of visits that afternoon I tried beers from 4 of the bars.  None were overpriced, coming in between £3 and £3.50 a pint, slightly above regular pub prices, but a small festival premium I don’t mind as I appreciate the costs which go into setting up a temporary bar and paying for a pitch.

The Star Inn and Sportsman bars were up to their brick building parents standards in both quality and range.  The Star Inn was serving a cracking dual hopped Galaxy Columbus from Mallinsons, one of my favourite local brewers, but had a nice range of 8 or so pumps to pick from.  The Parched Cider bar was serving a lovely medium dry Somerset Cider, as well as a 100% cider slush puppy I never got round to trying.  Zepher had a nice range of continental and american beers, the German brew I had hitting the spot.

Last but not least was the Sportsman, with a set of 8 pumps.  This pub in one of my top 3 pubs in Huddersfield, joining the Grove and Hand Drawn Monkey, so a nice range of local and excellent beers from further afield was on offer as expected.  However, I kept it local with two brews from Magic Rock Brewery, with both Rapture and High Wire being spot on, this brewery consistently pleases me with their beer range.

From a food point of view, the Jerk Chicken from Barringtons was excellent, the first time I’ve tried the dish.  I was having a good chat to one of the chefs there whilst at the Chilli Jam stall (as my mouth rapidly got very warm indeed from their Yorkshire Dragon Chilli Jam, well recommended if you want to clear a cold quickly), and given my experience of the food and the people who run it, it’s a place I will definitely give it a chance.  The curries from Kabana and Ali Murad were good as well, especially the vegetable curry from the latter.

As evening started to beckon and the post work crowds started to build up, we retreated to Hand Drawn Money just around the corner.  A couple of the brews from their sister brewing operation rounded off the night perfectly whilst my wife finished off a day of good cider with more of the same.  The bar is currently being refurbished, and was halfway done on this visit with new toilets finished and a bigger “cellar” area allowing a new rack of 10 or so beer taps to come online soon, this adding to the existing pump and tap selection.   If you took the location on a back street, the half finished decor, relatively small floor space compared to other pubs in the town and a number of other factors, it should not work on paper.  But it works perfectly in reality, good beer, good bar snacks, good takeaway range and great staff.   The size generates a good atmosphere with less than a couple of dozen people.

This was my second visit this week, I popped in with “local music impresario” Jason Fieldhouse from the Commercial / Railway in Brighouse and even when there were only 3 people in the bar you didn’t feel conspicuous.  If you are about Brighouse on the 30th / 31st August please come down to the Canal festival as he is organising music for the event, as much support as possible would be fantastic.

All over this planet a monster called Anheuser-Busch InBev leaves it footprints.  But this monster is rather like the creature which was created when all the Mighty Morphing Power Rangers combined their powers to create a 300ft high robot, it is made up of many small companies from all over the globe which have been taken over throughout the years.

Let me give you the brief history of this giant brewer (concentrate, there will be a test at the end).  InterBrew was created when two Belgian brewers merged in 1987, Artois being one of them.  This company then took over a number of other Belgian brewing operations before buying up Labatts in Canada and Bass / Whitbread in the UK.  They then popped over the border and brought out Becks, before expanding into China at the turn of the century.

Ambev was formed when two of the biggest South American Breweries (Bramha being one) merged, they then purchased controlling interests in a number of their continental competitors.  In 2004 these two companies merged and formed AB InBev.   This newly formed company then expanded further into China and increased their footprint in Canada and South America.

Anheuser Busch is most famous for its core product, Budweiser and its offshoots as well as operating a small number of niche brewing operations.  In 2008, InBev paid $52 billion in cash to purchase Anheuser Busch, creating a giant now worth $171 billion (£101bn), sales of $43 billion (£25bn) and employing 154,000 employees across the globe.  After this was finalised acquisitions continued, the most significant when they took over Grupo Modelo, the biggest brewing operation in Mexico, one of the top 10 beer consumers in the world.

The brewery has 17 brands which make over $1 billion (£680bn) on their own, out of a total of over 200.  They is a massive product portfolio in any sense of the word.  There is now increasing speculation that this company want to take over MillerCoors, this company itself being the result of a joint operation between SABMiller and Molson Coors, although the two constituent parts remain technically separate.

SABMiller itself is the the result of a number of takeovers and mergers involving companies including South African Breweries, Miller, Fosters Group, Grolsch as well as a lot of the well known Eastern European, Italian and Polish brands imported to the UK.   Molson Coors is the result of the merger between the two well known lager brands.  There is a good chance that Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABInBev to his friends) will make a bid to take over SABMiller and the two companies which make up the partnership in the near future creating a company with nearly 400 brands, a significant market share of the world beer trade (50% of profits made in the beer market in fact) and a total worth of $290 billion (£171bn)

Let’s be frank, this will create a structure more complicated than the story arc for entire run of Game of Thrones so far.  However the result will not be half as interesting to consume.   If Game of Thrones is the equivalent of craft beer, then most of the beers these two companies produce are the equivalent of Coronation Street or Emmerdale, entirely interchangeable, not unlike most actors who appear in these soaps.  Occasionally you get a good interesting beer, especially  some of the Czech brands, but most are inoffensive and simply quench a thirst.

There is no doubt that this would not be a good move for the world beer market.  The fact that we have two companies this big already segmenting the beer market is not healthy.  Currently ABInBev and MillerCoors both operate in major economic areas such as Europe and America, but MillerCoors is dominant in Africa whilst ABInBev is very strong in South America regarding market share.  Bringing these two together will mean global domination of the beer market.

We all know that countries such as the USA, UK, Belguim, Germany and Canada all have a thriving independent brewing sector, craft or not, but the combined sales of all these companies won’t even touch the revenues or profits of just one part of this mega-company.   Just as in most bars you can only buy soft drinks from either PepsiCo or Coca-Cola Enterprises due to the supply deals being with a single distributor; outside of regulated markets such as Europe and North America, what is stopping this mega brewery offering a bar highly favourable supply costs for beer from a stable of nearly 400 brands, but only on agreement they stock nothing else.  This locks out the local independents.

If we have to have giant brewers, I’d rather we have 2 to fight over the market, rather than one dominate it.

 

Over the last few weeks I travelled to see, or spend time with friends in various parts of the country.  Three things make up a good time when real day to day life is not adding the complexities of life.  The first is being with the right people, the second is a good location, the third is good food and drink.  The third one is an important element of my life 365 days a year, probably to the detriment of my figure, but going further afield allows you to try different things especially the local beers you can’t get easily in my home area of Calderdale.

It is also a chance to take some of West Yorkshires fine collection of beers for others to enjoy. So on my first trip to see a long time friend in North Wales, a selection of Summer Wine Brewery and Mallinsons beer was coming along for the ride. An early morning driving through the fine scenery south of the Snowdonia to pick him up from his house (located in the middle of nowhere and then a bit further from anywhere), then driving up to Portmeirion set me up for a cracking day.  The village where they filmed “The Prisoner” is a stunning place to visit, with few places equalling it in the UK as a piece of complete architecture.

Stopping at the Town Hall Cafe after deciding that hot muggy weather is not the best time to go for a walk, we tried a couple of Purple Moose beers brewed up the road at Porthmadog, both of which are well recommended, the Snowdonia Ale (pale session beer) and Madog (reddish session ale) hit the spot, refreshing with a nice balance of hops.  Then after spending another hour or two discovering more the lines of sight that its founder Sir Clough William Ellis designed into the plan, we sat in the Hotel garden overlooking the straits from which the Afon Glaslyn flows into the sea and chilled over a pint of nice european beer, not local I admit, but certainly what was needed in the increasing heat.

On the way home we took a diversion via Barmouth (made a lot longer by the Porthmadog – Harlech toll bridge being out of action).   If you are ever in the town I implore you to try the Welsh Black Burger at the Anchor Restaurant on the front.  Not cheap, but worth every penny and you’ll not find a beef burger this dense in many places.  A quick pint of another quality local session ale (name forgotten) at the Cross Foxes near Dolgellau and then it was back for an evening of great home cooked food and equally good Yorkshire ales.

The following weekend I was up in the Lake District staying at the top of Lake Windermere for 3 days with another good friend, my eldest daughter and his daughter.  This will be the 5th year we have done the annual summer camping trip along with the winter camping barn trip each year.  Over the last couple of years since we started coming to the Lakes, we have been popping into Booths County Supermarket in Bowness to stock up on local beers.  This consisted of as many Hardknott beers as we had a choice of plus a couple of other local brews.

Hardknott beers are not that common in the pubs I visit, so when I can get them I do rather gorge on them.    The comment by my friend that the beer selection was “overkill for 2 nights” was proved slightly wrong when we ran out on night one.   Queboid is a really interesting beer, with flavours from all directions.  Code Black is a cracking example of one of my favourite styles of beer, the Black IPA (we also tried their own excellent Black IPA brewed by nearby Hawkshead Brewery).  Katalyst and Continuum are two session strength ales, the latter being more traditional bitter with some great fruity flavours coming through, whilst the former is a lighter ale, with a crisper flavour.  A return visit to Booths in Keswick the following day topped us up on several of these Hardknott beers.

During the day, we stopped at the Fish Inn at Buttermere after a very warm walk around the neighbouring lake, us adults not having benefit of swimming in the lake twice unlike the kids.  With 8 real ales on tap with some of the bigger regional brewers as well as Keswick and Hesket Newmarket from the smaller local brewery pot, a couple of which went down very quickly after a few hours in the humid heat.

Sitting by Lake Windermere, watching the kids mess about in the water, enjoying a good beer as the sun sets over the Lake District hills and mountains is really rather nice place to be in summer, and is hard to beat, much like the beers we were drinking.

The government is a bit of a chocolate fireguard when it comes to the pub sector, it puts up sensible policies initially which then melts away when any heat comes its way from big business.  So lets start this week by having a look at our new community pubs minister, Kris Hopkins.  His voting record does not inspire those in the beer and pub trade, he generally votes for higher taxes on beer, increasing the rate of VAT (which impacts beer prices post duty) and against forcing pub companies to offer rent only leases.   He is the MP for Keighley and Ilkley, home of several major regional brewing operations, so you would have assumed he wanted to support companies like Timothy Taylor, Ilkley Brewery and Naylors.

He is also a member of the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group and has won the Parliamentary Beer Champion award, which is presented by the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA).   His register of interests for the last 2 years is blank, which is suspicious, given the BBPA and its members support of the “honorable member”.  The award from the BBPA simply seals the fact that the already inked deal that is the “The Statutory Code governing the PubCo / Tenant relationship” will be a stitch up between the pub companies and their friends in Westminister.   Luckily for us, he will also have to make time to mess up local government, adult social care and planning of wind farms, so the damage will be spread thinly over a wide area.

I don’t have a high opinion of politicians generally and think most of them are a waste of the carbon molecules that make them up.   But looking at the records from the Houses of Parliament, it shows exactly why the big beer and pub companies get their own way and why the members of the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group are merely patsies for their private paymasters.

Lets take a sample year and see who pays for the attention of these 20 MP’s.  In 2012-13, the following companies gave more than £5,000 to this group, Anheuser Busch In-Bev (AB InBev), Diageo, SAB Miller, Molson Coors (who are based in its chairmans constituency), Carlsberg (via two donations), Heineken and Punch Taverns.  Spot the missing influence, the small to medium operators from both the brewing and pub side of the business.  In 2013-14, there was a donation from the Society of Independent Brewers of £5,000, but other donations from the above list still weighed up to be much more.

The 2003 annual dinner must have caused a few hangovers the following morning as it was supported by 12 breweries and 9 pub companies.  The group has 20 members, so assuming each has 4 guests, that is 1 company for every 5 guests, not a bad ratio for influencing decisions over more than a few free beers, and I’m sure that the 12 breweries didn’t just turn up with 3 slabs of beer and dump it on the beer table for people to help themselves to.

Now lets move onto the BBPA.  This week they launched their vision for 2020.  On the surface it seems a good agenda, lowering of taxes to breweries and pubs, increasing the number of jobs in the sector and continued support of health and welfare initiatives.  However if you read between the lines and look at the language they use, the PubCo and big brewery agenda more than pokes it head out.

  • Campaign for lower rates of VAT on pub and restaurant food sales – but who owns most pubs who sell food, the big pub companies!
  • Reduction in beer duty?  The PubCo’s will pass on only part of this cut to tenants and make more money.
  • “Acceleration of the deregulation agenda” and “better enforcement of existing regulation” reads as can we have the status quo or better please.
  • Continued support for the tied, low-cost entry business model – they rather enjoy being the pimp for the thousands of pub tenants which are forced to pay their pound of flesh.
  • Self-regulation to be the default position ahead of legislation, they point to all the social and health awareness campaigns, but what they want is no statutory code, even the Tesco Value Orange Cordial of a code of conduct is too much for them.

The BBPA board is made up of representatives from Shepherd Neame, Enterprise Inns, Molson Coors, Charles Wells and Fullers, the latter two smaller names having no formal position.  The chairman Brigid Simmonds is a mouthpiece for the larger interests who support the organisation, the big brewing and pub operations.  They may have dozens of members, but who gets to sit at the top table at the annual dinner, its not a cider operation from Herefordshire but AB InBev, Diageo and Enterprise Inns.

As I have brought up many times before, Craft Beer is hard to define, however I saw this week a perfect definition which no one can argue about.  Put quite simply craft beer “is like pornography — you know it when you see it.”  These are the words from the head brewer of a Californian craft brewery.  To some a bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Samuel Adams in your supermarket will be out of the ordinary, something interesting, to others it is a just another regular day to day beer.

The American craft beer market is more mature than the equivalent UK scene, it is bigger due to the wide geographical area and population factors that the USA brings to the party.  Small producers in the UK only have to ship products 350 miles at most to hit most populated areas in the UK.  In the US, you might do that to reach the neighbouring state capital and in places like Texas to reach the next major city.  To hit the US centres of population on the east and west coasts you are looking at up to 3000 miles a time if you are located on one of them.  So each major city has developed its own healthy craft brewing scene, when you have 1 million to 4 million people living in a city, it can support it.

In the UK we are closer to each other, generally living in far smaller cities and towns where there is no need for each urban conurbation to have its own brewery, with the right production capacity and a chain of distribution partners across the country you can be nationwide without need of investing in major infrastructure.    If you took a map showing the distribution of UK craft brewers it would show a fairly evenly distribution of dots up from the south coast to the M8 corridor between Glasgow and Edinburgh, with a series of dots running up the east coast to the biggest of them all, Brewdog and a smattering across the rest of Scotland.

I bring up Brewdog and the debate on when they will be too big to be craft, they currently produce 7.2 million litres of beer a year (based on 600,000l production figures from October 2013).  The same debate is brewing at the moment in the USA regarding the Boston Beer Company whose most famous beer in the UK is the aforementioned Samuel Adams.   Last year they were worth $2.9 billion and made $759 million in revenue (£1.7 billion and £443 million).  Their profit was about £40 million.  Brewdogs revenue in the 2013 financial year was £18.9, with a profit of £2.3 million.   You can see that that their margin vs revenue ratio is about the same and both are investing in production and expanding their brands.

In the UK, The Boston Beer Company would be considered a major brewer with production capacity rivalling the British operations of some of the major international brewing companies.  In the US, it is still small fry compared to the likes of Anheuser Busch InBev and Miller Coors who generate £7.24 billion and £5.32 billion in revenue respectively, the former brewing 40 million barrels a year.  These figures include the massive international nature of both these companies and the worldwide distribution of their products, but it shows the disparity in the US market, as we have a similar disparity regarding the money made by small brewers and major brewers in this country.

Samuel Adams and the Boston Beer Company is in the middle ground of being craft in nature and corporate in practice.  The owner Jim Koch’s description of them being the “tallest pygmy” in the craft beer field is spot on.  They are the first and only “craft brewer” in the US to launch a nationwide TV campaign, but if you are the “biggest pygmy” by a factor of 10 , then you are going to get shot at by the smaller villagers saying you are no longer one of them, and this is happening now to the Boston Beer Company.  Their line that “craft beer is the current big thing, but the Boston Beer Company has been doing this for 30 years and will do so into the future” is probably not the most diplomatic move they have made.  If Brewdog continue their growth at the current rate they will reach a similar position, it is inevitable for those on the border of a market sector.

The move from a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in the sea is never the easiest one.

(original story – http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/is-sam-adams-too-big-to-be-craft-beer)

 

This week saw the release of the Governments response to the consultation into “The Statutory Code governing the PubCo / Tenant relationship”.   There will be two levels of statutory code, the core code which will apply to all pub companies and the enhanced code which will apply to pub companies with more than 500 tied pubs.  This second group includes Enterprise Inns, Punch Taverns, Greene King and Admiral Taverns among others.

The final revision of the code has dropped the option to force the large pub companies who qualified for the enhanced code to offer a free of tie option to tenants which many in the pub industry were pushing for.  Instead they will have to offer a parallel tied and free of tie rent review if requested.  However this can only be requested if negotiations have been ongoing for 3 weeks between the PubCo and the tenant with no agreement.  There is no guarantee of a rent adjustment if the pub company can show that “the tenant will be no worse off under the tied system than if they were free of tie”.

There is requirement that these tied + free of tie reviews are done in accordance with guidelines issued by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and is based on relevant market information.  The tenant also has to pay £200 if the want to request such an assessment from the adjudicator.  An independent adjudicator is being set up which will cost about £1.8m per year to commission these reviews and also to solve unresolved disputes following rent reviews. All tied pubs will have the right to a full and open rent review every five year under the core code.

If a tenant wishes to raise a dispute then an additional fee of £200 is chargeable, refunded if the complaint is upheld.  The government has warned that this new body will have “finite resources” and “will have to prioritise cases to fit the budget”.   The government also dropped the requirement that tied publicans were allowed to buy in a guest beer citing that “most tenants would just buy their most popular beer outside of the tie”.  They estimate that about 52 pubs will close due to these changes.

Let look at this from the eyes of somebody outside of the Westminster bubble.   Not surprisingly the main pub companies and their trade body the BBPA (British Beer and Pub Association) are disappointed that any legislation has been introduced, preferring self regulation, but say they will comply with the new code.  They all seem relieved that the compulsory guest beer and free of tie option has been dropped, but moan about the cost to them of the independent adjudicator paid for via levies.   CAMRA and bodies representing the tenants are disappointed that it did not go far enough, but seem relieved that there is a code being introduced.

From my point of view, the government has not had the balls to go through with the measures it seemed to promise at the start of the year.    Greg Mulholland, one of the main campaigners at the Houses of Parliament regarding beer and pub issues, requested details regarding meetings between pub company officials and civil servants / ministers of state, as well as disclosure of documents and emails which flowed between government departments and pub company trade bodies.  All these requests were refused by the departments approached under the Freedom of Information Act.

If there is nothing to hide, then this information would have been released.  But these refusal actions and the soft options introduced into the core and enhanced code regulating the pub companies are surely linked.  They could not get away with introducing no code at all, it would have not have been tolerated by the trade.  The independent adjudicator is a body that can be controlled indirectly by government budget regarding how many cases it handles.  If PubCo’s campaign hard enough to reduce the levy paid by them, less cased can be heard against them.

The onus is on the tenant to pay for reviews and complaints, but if you are struggling to make a living under a tied tenancy then finding a possible two lots of £200 could be hard when balancing the budget of a quiet pub with high rent and beer costs.   The publican is still being screwed by the pub company, but at least they are using protection while screwing them now.   It just shows big business gets what it wants from those in power, money brings influence, influence gets you to meet the right people.  The little guy doesn’t even get in the front door.

 

It’s that time of year again where I get to promote the Ramfest music festival at Southowram Cricket Club. This year we have moved to Saturday 5th July as a one off due to all cricket being cancelled for the weekend, so you have a chance to have a day to recover from 9 hours of great music from 8 fantastic bands and 1 cracking DJ, good BBQ food (plus a vegan van for the non meat eaters) and the best value beer you find at any local music festival this summer. Entry is just £5 per adult and children come along free.

This year sees us reach our fifth birthday and to mark this not only do we have many of our fantastic artists who have entertained the crowds over the last few years returning in the form of While the Cats Away, Oblivion, Rox Off, My Brother Jake and Fork Handles, but we have added some amazing groups to the line up, with Three and a Half Men making their debut with the well known Psychoslinkys opening the festival at 1.15pm. However we have managed to get one of the best party bands in the area to close the festival this year with the International Party Doctors starting the final set at 7.30pm until they want to stop! Along with DJ Ben Bottomley, a regular on the Halifax club scene, who is providing interval and post event music, this year is our best lineup ever.

There is plenty for the kids to do as well with Hook and Duck, Bouncy Castle, Face Painting, Coconut Shy and the Stocks (only soft fruit please). With free car parking, the best sound system you will hear outside of a major music venue and a brand new stage, there is no better way to support our two deserving charities who both support young people and their families when they are diagnosed with cancer. Laura Crane Youth Cancer Trust and Candlelighters will both be on site on the day, raising funds in various ways including a club member Ian Gledhill getting his head shaved for Candlelighters as well as various other players getting their legs waxed for the same cause.

You can find out more at www.facebook.com/ramfest2014, but I promise if you come along I’ll shut up about it for another 12 months!

Now onto regular business, last month I was over in Majorca for 10 days. Plenty of nice beers were partaken including more than one chance to drink Estrella Gallicia both in its dark and light forms. Of all the main Spanish brands, it is that little bit deeper in flavour than the likes of Cruzcampo, San Miguel and Mahou. All of the latter brands are now available in at least one pub on draft in the Calderdale area as well as in most major supermarkets, so it makes the annual sampling of it a rare treat. In the UK it would certainly not be in my search out beers given the amount of good ale and beer both in draft and bottle form. However only a handful of countries are even in the same league as the UK when it comes to range and quality of beer (arguably USA, Germany, Czech Republic and Belgium make up the top tier).

But you have to put some perspective on things, the Spanish beer market is dominated by the companies listed above with tourist areas importing in the big German brands, Guinness and the worst of English brands in Fosters, John Smith, Carling for the visitors. Something which gives that little extra satisfaction is what you are looking for in this case.

Finally I’m going to have a little moan about the Tour De France. In the host country, the route is lined with cars, camper vans, tents and trailers leaving just enough room with spectators for a bike to pass when out in the countryside. Roads are painted by locals all along the route and the french are just allowed to have fun and show off their village / town. But not here in Britain, in Kirklees every external display has to be approved by the council, the Holme Moss Demilitarized Zone is littered with large stones on the edge of laybys to stop people parking as well as signs every 5 metres telling you what you can’t do. And don’t even mention the Tour De France, Le Tour or Le Grand Departe in advertising, or anything remotely similar. How are local authorities so good at taking what should be a joyous once in a lifetime event for Yorkshire and making it so prescriptive, they must practice it! Until next week.

Pubpaper 763 – The Joy of Beer

Posted: 15th June 2014 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

On a Saturday afternoon our usual family routine is we take both my daughters to dancing lessons and then whilst the eldest does her lessons later, we go for a couple of drinks.  It is more a question of which pub do we want to go to rather than which pub can we go to, rotating around Cross Keys, Sportsman Ploughcroft, Travellers, Cock and Bottle, Jeremy’s and the local cricket club.  There are many more we could use as well if we wanted.

Moving 200 miles south, my work sometimes takes me to Beckenham, a suburb of London residing in Kent, about 10 miles south of Central London.  The hotel is a few miles away in Bromley.  When travelling I like to take a wander around the area to get a sense of it, there is no point in just seeing the inside of a hotel.    The plan was to go for a pint before meeting up with colleagues for dinner, supposing that I would find a decent pub in the 2 mile walk to the nearby town of Downham.

Walking down the main road, the area moves from large detached houses to the slightly more run down town centre, which has a certain honesty about it.  What it did lack was pubs however, with several buildings showing recent conversion from licensed premises to supermarkets and fast food restaurants.  The one pub I did find had tinted windows so it was hard to see in, but the dark interior and dubious looking clientele marked this out as a pub which you’d “walk in with 4 limbs, a wallet and a phone and be thrown of the back with only 2 limbs left out of that list”.

With no ale on the bar at the hotel, the supply of Bombardier from the beer fridge was reduced quickly by a number of us who were down there on business.  All this made me appreciate a number of things.   How can you get away with nearly a fiver for a bottle of mainstream beer or pint of drinkable lager, even in a hotel.   I went to a wedding last year at Holdsworth House, an upmarket hotel and wedding venue, lovely place and a lot of money spent on it, but the beer was only £3.20 for a pint of Little Valley beer, brewed locally above the Calder Valley.  So there is no need to charge that much.

As a note, this is from a person who happily paid £4.20 for a pint of italian craft beer a few weeks ago, so its not as if I don’t mind paying good money for good beer.  I know that a decent beer would require more than blue note if I went 10 miles north to central London, and you would not get much change out of £10 if you went to the right areas or hotels to drink in our capital.  Maybe I’m too used to good pubs selling good beer and getting change out of £3 and Halifax and the Calder Valley is full on them.

If you put me most places in Calderdale I’m pretty sure I could construct a pretty good real ale pub crawl within 3 to 4 miles of that point.   Even if they only did mainstream ales, there would be a good chance that good beer would be served.   I’ve said before there are areas of this borough that it would be harder not to stagger into a decent pub.  If someone came down for the weekend and wanted to experience the best in pubs in the area, I’d struggle to fit in a fair representation of the area in that time.

From the craft beer, real ale and cider in Hebden Bridge from The Old Gate, Stubbing Wharf and Fox and Goose, to the ale street that is Hollins Mill Lane in Sowerby Bridge with great music at the Puzzle Hall Inn and the surrounding of the Works.  The Big Six on the moors running down to the real ale triangle which is now comprised of Dirty Dicks, Three Pigeons and Ring of Bells, not forgetting the compulsory detour to the Cross Keys at Siddal.  This is before we even consider Hipperholme, Ploughcroft or Brighouse and many other outlying villages.

With our local breweries, great pubs and people running them who know and love their beer, we are lucky to have all this at our door step, those southerners can keep the big city, I’ll take the great beer.