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.

As you read this, it will be the 190th article which has appeared in this slot just after the CalderAle News.  That is approximately 142,000 words, over twice the length of my favourite book, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.  I’ve only got another 3 volumes this size and I’ve written War and Peace.   Yes, thats right you guessed it, this is the piece to fill this page while I am on holiday.

Looking back at nearly the last 4 years of columns its been a good fun writing these every week.  The beer world is always changing and yet some things don’t change at all.  Enterprise Inns and Punch Taverns continue to hover just above administration, Greene King still can’t make good beer and we still can’t define exactly what craft beer is.  The first two things will stop eventually in a messy pile of debt and assets and the last two, well they will go on until the sun becomes a red giants and swallows up the earths orbit.

Since 2009, I’m glad to say that beer drinking tastes seem to have become more refined, Four years ago saw you having to search hard for craft beers and quality cider in specialist shops and the right pubs.  Now the bigger brand craft beer is available in Wetherspoons and Punch Taverns owned premises.    Boxed ciders and quality tap brands such as Westons, Thatchers and Aspalls are in many pubs you visit and wide ranges from these producers are stocked in most large supermarkets as are the aforementioned larger craft beer brands.

There is almost 2 streams to the craft beer market now, you have nationally successful brands who have really good coverage in the region they reside in, but also are available in most other areas of the country in a significant number of craft and mainstream bars.  Then you have the smaller businesses who can easily service their local county or regional pubs, but are limited by capacity to supplying to a small number of pubs outside of this area, mainly in the big cities.  You could argue there is a third stream of those which ship a significant amount of beer abroad like Brewdog and Magic Rock.  In fact it will only be a matter of time before Brewdog are big enough to be mainstream in size, but hopefully never in culture.

Back 4 years ago the pub market was on its arse. After 2 years of recession, a lot of pub landlords had got tired of fighting the bills and a virtually empty pub a lot of the week.  The Calder Valley was littered with closed pubs.  A few of these are still closed awaiting eventual demolition or conversion to apartments, the Black Lion, The White Lion, The Woodman to name some.   However a significant percentage have reopened, no mean feat given the number of floods over the last few years.

Pubs like the Fox and Goose in Hebden Bridge are now community owned pubs securing its future after the retirement of its long term owner and Todmorden now has a couple of really good ale pubs in it centre, plus a Wetherspoons (who for their sins are a safe haven for real ale).   Hebden Bridge has gained 1 and a half new pubs (The Old Gate and the pop up cider bar at the Railway Station) whilst in Sowerby Bridge, which frankly needed no more pubs, several have gone under substantial refurbishment inc. the Willam and Firehouse to bring them up to date.  Lets not forget Tim Martin now also has a footprint in the town as well with the Commercial.

I look at the local Calderdale pub scene now and I am very positive about it, I only see it getting better and better.   There is an appetite for good beer and our pubs are delivering more and more on this front.  Just look at the Cross Keys, Siddal to see what can be done in just 18 months, double pub of the year (CAMRA, SPBW), a mean reputation for their beer and now a fixture on the local real ale scene as well as for music fans over a weekend.   The Puzzle Hall Inn is arguably leading the music scene in the area, you have places like the Works doing regular comedy nights upstairs.  Brighouse now has a thriving pub music scene with 3 pubs putting on music regularly.  This shows confidence and if pub owners and landlords have that and are getting our pint money, the good ones will only give back to us.

This week saw a day trip to our capital city to visit my employers head office. Situated about 10 miles south of the heart of london, it is a 4 hour trip each way.  Part of the trip takes me from Kings Cross to London Bridge, normally done in a 10 minute ride on the Northern Line tube, however with some time on my hands before my train to Leeds was due on the return leg I decided walk the 3 miles from the riverside station.

Before 4 weeks ago, I’d not visited London in over 16 years and I only saw Earls Court and Tottenham Court Road on those occasions as I went to the Motor and Consumer Electronics shows that used to be held there before its closure.   My first trip in May I only saw the insides of various railway and tube stations, so this was the first time I’d actually explored central London.

My journey took me over London Bridge, via St Pauls, the Strand and Camden.  Camden and the Grays Inn Road was a deliberate route choice so I could visit Bottledog, new retail shop from the people who brought you Brewdog, but more of that later.  You notice as you walk through the main streets that there are a nice amount of pubs and what really made me pleased me is that most of them have kept their original exterior, complete with the interesting old signage, acres of wood and glazed tiling (a personal favourite of mine on a pub).  I managed to spot only 2 chain pubs (to my knowledge judging by signage etc), Wetherspoons who kept the original features as they alway do on existing premises and Greene King who homogenised the exterior to look like every other establishment in the chain, uniform blandness just like their beers.   But lets not get into a Greene King kicking session, much as I would love to.

The visit to Bottledog was both out of interest and to get some beers in for the train trip home.   A small shop, but packed with beers from Flying Dog, Mikkeler, Kernel as well as the obvious focus on their own beers from the Brewdog brewery.   I’m considering myself lucky that my beer bill came in at under 20 quid when I left, less self control and a bigger bag would have seen it much higher than the actual bill for my 6 choices!  The fact that most of the beers were over 7% in strength meant I wasn’t going for session beers either (unless you inhabit the world of Hugh and the Cross Keys Siddal)

The staff were spot on in there, knowledgeable without being pushy and more of my hard earned money will be going their way on each trip, not the only place I had that experience that evening.  The beers were cracking as well, with all six being new to me.  The Brewdog Cocoa Psycho, a chocolate and coffee infused 10% Imperial Russian Stout was the perfect follow up to the bottle of German lager consumed before the train even left the station.  Although after the Kernel Indian Pale Ale which balanced off the heaviness of the stout perfectly with its fresh hoppy taste, I had the first world problem of chosing between a 7.4% Brewdog Libertine, the 7.2% Dogma from the same brewery or Jackhammer at the same strength.  I took the Jackhammer option and the highly bittered goodness accompanied my journey from Peterborough to Leeds.  The other two bottles are sitting in my fridge awaiting Saturday night as I write this.

After I got to Leeds I had 40 minutes to kill before my last leg home to Halifax, so I popped into Friends of Ham on the station approach, I’ve meant to visit this pub before, but it has always been too busy, this time however I got the chance to sit at the bar.  Like the Bottledog shop, the staff knew their beer very well, were friendly and willing to chat about beer between serving, and most importantly served some cracking beers.  A pub always endears itself to me when after chatting about a beer, a small sample is proffered without asking, a sign of genuine quality in a bar.  After the strong beer fest on the train I toned it down with a lovely 3.4% Red Willow beer, before ramping it up with a schooner of Hardknott Quebold at 7.4% from one of my favourite breweries when I get the chance to buy it.  A complex beer with nice hop flavours with more than a few hints of fruit and citrus is typical of the quality of their brews.  The food looked spot on if you like good cheese and continental meats as well, something normally I would have partaken in.

If only all trips home were this interesting!

We have all heard the stories of city dwellers who move out to one of the nearby villages and complain that the church bells which have been ringing every morning at 6am for the last 150 years are too loud and too early and try to get them stopped through official channels, or complains the road to their new residence suffers from cow dung when it has been a route between two grazing fields owned by the same farmer for the last 50 years.

So when you go to buy a flat above a pub which is well established for it’s live music, you’d probably go down a couple of evenings to see what you are letting yourself in for.   The pub in question is the Blind Tiger Club in Brighton and between this and its former guises of Hectors House and the Norfolk Arms, it has been a regular music venue for 160 years.   Until now that is, after a complaint from the new occupant of the flat above the pub, a noise abatement order has been issued effectively stopping live music at the venue.   This was off the back of this complaint and several others from around the area.

The venue relies of live music to bring in the customers needed for them to remain viable and are struggling like so many pubs across the country to cover all their costs at times and count on the support of local people and the artists who play there.  To meet the terms of the order, they would have to install soundproofing (which they cannot afford) or risk up to a £20,000 fine for breaching the order.  They have chosen a third way, after the 2 months period of grace to come into compliance with the order ended on 14th May they shut up shop.  Over 5,500 people have already signed a petition opposing the order, a handful of complaints or 5,500 people in support, judge for yourself what the area thinks.

I wrote that live music is and always has been a big part of the British pub scene and you must realise that moving above a renowned live music pub is not for you if you don’t want to hear live music two or three nights a week downstairs.   It is like hating football and then complaining about Saturday afternoons when you moved next to the Emirates Stadium at Arsenal, you should have known what you were getting into.   Don’t be a NIMBY, its not a good trait, especially when hundreds or thousands of people have happily lived with the cause of your offence for years.

Britain has many what would be called strange traditions when it comes to festivals and day to day life.  We are better for it, people may sneer, but ignore them.  Look at the famous Cooper Hill Cheese Rolling Event which has ran in some form for 500 years.  An official event event started in 1997 finished in 2009, but enthusiasts have run an unofficial events ever since.  The council tried to stop it last year by “strongly warning” the supplier of the 9lb round of cheese not send it as “she could be held responsible for injuries”, instead they used a plastic substitute.  This year the council are setting up an exclusion zone around the famous slope to try and stop the “unofficial event”

Surely people know that if you chase a 9lb cheese down a 40% slope which can get up to 70mph, you have a good chance of hurting yourself in some way, that is common sense. You know what you are getting into.  5000 people turn up to watch and it takes 4 races to accommodate all the people who are happy to risk their limbs chasing the “cheese”.

If we give in to everyone who doesn’t like something, we eventually lose our soul as a culture.  How would we feel in Halifax if the Puzzle Hall Inn was stopped from playing music because someone who had moved into a theoretical future housing development on the land next to the pub didn’t like the live music ringing out 3 days a week or tried to get the Sowerby Bridge Rushbearing Festival stopped because the were inconvenienced by the rushcart parade or offended by the morris dancing teams.   We’d not be happy, as the cheese rollers or the former gig goers at the Blind Tiger Club are not now.

And as a final aside I drove past the now boarded up Pump Room in Halifax town centre, two words came to mind “f*cking shame”, a nice pub being sacrificed for a shopping complex we don’t need and will struggle to fill.

The style of most drinks you can recognise by the category they fall into, ale, lager, cider, wheat beer etc.  But I came across one which takes some working out, the “spider” market sector.  Not immediately obvious is it, but it means “spirit cider” or for those of us are not so gullible “alcopop”.  I do wish drinks manufacturers would just admit what these drinks are instead of coming up with terms like this and my personal bane, the “fruit ciders” which have never seen a apple press in their life.

From the same people that brought you WKD we now have Orwells Amaretto Cider with “a hint of cherry, with a taste reminiscent of Bakewell Tart”.   I’m trying to imagine what this would be like and I’m afraid it’s coming across overly sweet cider with the slightest hint of the spirit if you have the imagination of JK Rowling.  They came up with this wonderful marketing line This demonstrates that there is still plenty of stretch within the cider category to accommodate this new spirit cider sector, which brings together two categories which are both credible and highly motivating for consumers”.  I think there is a bull needing a shit in the field next door and would like it back.

Mentioned in the same article on the Morning Advertiser is that flavoured cider makes up 47% of the on trade premium packaged cider.  A nice twist on statistics there.  The fact is that 90% of “on trade premium packaged cider” sold across the country will be Bulmers, Magners, Kopparberg or Rekorderlig, all of which have a significant product range in this category.  It tries to make it sound like apple cider and perry is being caught up, not mentioning the fact that most cider of this type is served via pump on the bar or via box in the fridge, hence not even counting towards the other 53%.  Look around and many pubs will have an Old Rosie, Rosie Pig, Thatchers or Aspalls among others on tap.  Even the most tied down pubs will have a Strongbow or a Somersby on.

Many will also have at least a box of Westons or Thatchers still cider in the fridge.  Hell, I walked into a music shop in Holmfirth during the folk festival last weekend and they had a real ale beer pump and real cider box in there for sale.  Over the bank holiday my local pub got in 6 boxes of still cider and perry over for the first time and they sold out over the weekend.  Not bad for an audience who have been mainly weaned on the commercial fizzy cider.    You can see the steady evolution in the general populations tastes over the last 7-8 years from sweeter big brand fizzy cider to the higher quality carbonated products from genuine Hereford, Somerset and Devon apple presses to the still ciders from the same producers.  Amen to that!

A few weeks old, but when I read that Greene King had been caught out doing a Take That and avoiding huge amounts of tax to the HMRC and the final appeal had failed, a very happy cheer went up for my least favourite “beer” producer and personal top 3 ranked worst pub company.  They now face paying twice as much they originally tried to avoid.  The scheme involved a circle of companies making loans to each other to get tax relief on interest paid to another group company without that other company paying tax on the income it received.  Crap beer that even the pub managers at their own pubs don’t want to drink and crap professional advice to match, they deserve it.

Greene King tried to wriggle out of its bad judgement, in a scheme a Ernst and Young whistleblower said was rated internally as having a 25% chance of getting past the tax man, quoting “We understand, as many people do, the difference between tax evasion and tax efficiency…..the opportunism that is being displayed by both HMRC and parts of the government in this area is a little unfortunate”.   The greed and opportunism is all from Greene King and when you get caught with your fingers in the pie, you get burnt.  In a strange coincidence 25% is the same chance of passing something off produced at the Greene King brewery as a drinkable beer if the drinker had been on a diet of Special Brew all his life.

The great thing about a night out with a few beers is that sometimes anything can happen.  In Leeds I’ve ended up at a party wandering between various artist studios which made up two floors of a mill just outside Leeds.  Last weekend was just one of those nights, starting off over a few beers at the Works in Sowerby, we headed down to the Puzzle Hall Inn see some of the bands who were taking part in their early May music festival.   The band in question was called the Devil’s Jukebox who describe themselves as a 1920’s ragtime burlesque band, that didn’t tell half the story.  Made of clarinet, bass banjo, table accordion and strings, they put the best show I’ve seen in a local pub for a long time.  Trying to work out the burlesque element, it turns out part of the show is that the lead singer strips himself down to the nether garments, which was no fair sight to say the least.

At which moment the power is lost to not only the stage, but the Puzzle Hall Inn and most establishments down to the Firehouse on Hollins Mill Lane.   You couldn’t time it better if you tried.  Not that anybody there was bothered about the dark, the band chatted to the crowd as they packed up after it became clear they were not going to finish their set.  The photographer even with the best of cameras could not do much in almost pitch darkness.  Beers were drank and conversation flowed.  I can’t deny that I’d liked to see the set to the end, but that random madness almost made up for it in the aftermath.  As we walked back into town the unusual sight of the Works empty at 11pm at night on a Saturday went past and life kicked in as light and power was present on the main road through the town.

Power was eventually restored and the final act of the night took place indoors after I had left, but I must come back to the Puzzle Hall Inn, it is a pub I really do like for music.  The place is set up for it with the large covered outside area and dedicated stage space.  Whilst not too large it creates a cozy area where a substantial crowd can build up and really pack the space when needed, whilst not looking half empty for afternoon performances when fewer people are just sitting around having a few beers at the tables watching the artist.   Add to this the indoor performance space, away from the bar and in a large open room as you walk into the pub and it shows someone has really thought how to best show the numerous musical acts which come through the Puzzle Hall Inn.

The pub has a history of being a music venue going back over 50 years and this reputation and heritage certainly does it no harm when drawing in music fans, this continues with 3-4 nights of live music or performances each week.  Some pubs build up a musical reputation quicker, among others the Cross Keys, Siddal is known for having an act on each Sunday afternoon (occasionally moved to a Saturday night).   The Commercial / Railway (Brighouse) is beginning to build up its gig list nicely, driven in no small way by ex-Ship Inn barman Jason Fieldhouse who now works there and his dedication to music generally.  Jeremy’s and the Barge in the same town are also known for their regular music.

Just look at the adverts in PubPaper and you will see that music is one of the main “occassions” pubs use to draw people into their premises and if you are a good musician you can earn a decent side living going round the pubs of Halifax, Huddersfield and Bradford (chose your own local triumvirate of local towns) on a weekend.   Add to this regular quizzes, karaoke nights, sports teams and you soon realise the amount of work a landlord or landlady does to keep you coming in.  All of this has to be paid for, promoted so the event is well attended and covers its costs.   Go back 50 years and beyond and you had a steady trade all week just from drinkers coming in for a beer, now you have to pull customers in outside of your core weekend drinking hours.  Some pubs can still do this with the beer, but many can’t, pubs work hard for your beer dollar, so enjoy the pint once handed over.