blokefromhullMany of you who drink around the Calderdale area and surrounding areas will be familiar with Bloke From Hull.  You’ll have seen the doodles pinned up similar to the one show on this page unusually with some unique modifications.   Certain pubs like the Cross Keys in Siddal has quite a collection of the drawings.  In fact you’ll find these all over West Yorkshire and wide afield.   The guy’s real name is David Litten and he is a beer blogger and writer based, not surprisingly in Hull.  I’ve met the guy a few times and he’s a really nice bloke who really knows his beer and seems to spend a good deal of his time visiting pubs, breweries and other beer related establishments (no tinge of jealousy here then).

042e8932-05e8-4c1f-9e29-426f0390c808A few month ago David approached me regarding a book he was writing, but my current illness blocked me helping him out.  A couple of weeks ago he sent me a final draft version of the book and it really is an interesting read.  The book is called “From Junk to Junction” and tells the story of a pub being brought back from the dead in the past 5 years, in this case the Junction in Castleford.   But reading it, 75% of the story could apply to any pub which has gone to nothing to being a healthy business.   One of the more unique things about this pub is that 99.9% all the real ale served there is kept in wooden casks, with the pub having a collection of traditional casks which breweries across the county are happy to fill with their beer.

It is interesting to reading the struggle to get operations setup, and coping in the early days, moving into finding it’s niche as the business stabilises, and how unexpected emergencies are dealt with.  The story is told from the point of view of the staff, owners and customers, the three key components of any pub.  There is even a foreword by one of the biggest UK beer writers Roger Protz.  All profits from the book are being donated to the Alzheimer’s Society and it costs £10 (more details on on how you can get this).

And now to rant, one day last week I after visiting the hospital, I drove out towards Ilkley from Leeds.   Stopping at one of the many chain pubs you find along most major routes, the car park looked fairly busy for a lunch time.   Given I’m not drinking alcohol or eating solids at the moment, there is no point searching out a CAMRA Good Beer Guide and as long as there is a decent cider or Bacardi behind the bar for my wife our drink needs are satisfied.  The first thing I noticed is that it was rather more quiet than the car park indicated, with maybe 6-7 tables out of 80 in use.  We’d ordered our food and initial drinks already, so going up for a second tonic water for me, no one was on the bar to serve, a couple of minutes later, I knocked loudly on the bar to get attention, soon after that more customers arrived and resorted to shouting “Service at the Bar” as loud as my damaged throat allowed.  It was only at this point that I was acknowledged, still taking another minute until I finally got service.  It appeared for a lunchtime they had 2-3 front of house staff for a 300 seat venue, obviously too low.   This is from someone who has got some experience of rota-ing from my time working for a large restaurant chain (and I have for my sins, designed a system to minimise staff numbers based on turnover and customer numbers).  

It is hard to achieve customer service when there is no one to give the service.  One local pub landlord in Calderdale expects one of his staff to acknowledge a customer within 5-10 seconds, even if they are doing other parts of their job.  It makes you feel welcome and even if you have to legitimately wait a few minutes to be served, it doesn’t matter.   There is an art to being a good bar person, it’s not just pulling a pint, but one of my big bugbears are bar staff who can’t manage a mental queue of customers, being repeatedly passed over for someone who has just walked into the bar and having to be quite forceful to simply get an alcoholic drink.  If you are in a nightclub style venue then having to be a bit pushy at the bar is par for the course, but anywhere else there is no excuse.   Nothing puts people off a pub quicker than poor customer service and those that do offer such level of service soon find less customers frequenting.

Last week SABMiller finally agreed to accept the AB InBev offer of $107 billion to take over the company.   However as part of the deal and to reduce the merged company’s domination in North America, SABMiller will sell their stake in MillerCoors, who produces and distributes Miller Lite, Blue Moon and Coors Lite.   The buyer is Molson Coors Brewing, their partner in the venture since it was founded 7 years ago.  Molson Coors will get the worldwide rights to sell the three brands in exchange for $12 billion.   

Without this disposal, the new AB InBev / SABMiller entity would control 70% of the US beer market, with the MillerCoors sales volume worth 25% of that.  The sale will keep AB InBev below 50% market share in the US and will help avoid the US Justice Department blocking the deal.   The deal is expected to be completed in Spring 2016.  In other industry news, the fourth largest brewer in the world Carlsberg, is cutting 2000 jobs after losing £1 billion in the last 3 months.   Most of this loss was related to the costs of writing down the value of their operations in Russia, China and the UK.

In combination, this news is not good for the global beer market.   Taking AB InBev / SABMiller as a single company,  you have one major player who are three times bigger than their biggest competitor (Heineken) and the company in third place (now Carlsberg) is struggling and cutting 15% of its workforce.   There is no chance that Heineken will be able to gain volume sales to catch the market leader, if Heineken can grow their sales that much, you can pretty much guarantee that AB InBev / SABMiller will also be able to, effective keeping the status quo.  You can’t see them buying market share either as they could buy the remainder of the top 10 global brewers and still not make it to number one.

This puts these large or very large multinational brewers (such as the aforementioned Carlsberg / Heineken) who make up the market in the middle of AB InBev / SABMiller and the craft / independent brewing sector in each country in an interesting position.  The new merged company will be able to grow their markets through the geographic domination and channels this deal buy AB InBev.   This will make it even harder for the companies below them to get into those same markets, whilst having to defend existing market share from AB InBev / SABMiller and their ability to take a short term loss leader to get a long term deal from a chain of bars.  

At the same time, the craft, small and medium brewers within each country are all nibbling away at these “middle companies” market share on a bar by bar, chain by chain level.  Of course the new merged company will suffer from this as well, but can absorb it more easily.  These “middle companies” are having to fight on three fronts, appealing to mass market drinkers and craft beer drinkers at the same time, whilst trying to convince customers that their mass market beer is better than a competing mega brewers.  They are fighting on three fronts and inevitably, the eye will be taken off one.

Looking at the post buyout world, AB InBev would be the number one player in North America, Australasia, Latin America, Middle East and Africa.  They would hold second place in both Eastern and Western Europe.   Given the worldwide effect of the deal, as I mentioned in a previous column, China, South Africa and USA (even after the MillerCoors disposal) will all closely inspect the deal to ensure they it doesn’t break their competition regulations.  

We are entering a world where world beer market sits on a badly balanced see saw with AB InBev / SABMiller being the fat bully who doesn’t let the skinny kids down off it.  Their control of the market will ultimately reduce choice and increase cost as well as costing many people their jobs as back office operations are merged, with a good number being lost in the UK as SABMiller’s stock exchange listing is being transferred to South Africa, and along with it probably most of the Head Office, leaving a small European area office in its place.

Who will this be good for, the small to medium national brewers and the craft brewing market.  These companies are far too small to be on AB InBev / SABMiller’s immediate radar and I think that the see saw bully will be too busy trying to take the Heineken and Carlsberg lunch, leaving the kindergarten full of national and craft brewers alone to use their imagination and opening more markets for themselves quietly.


Last week, it was announced that the lease of the Puzzle Hall Inn in Sowerby Bridge would not be renewed by the current management team and would be available for a new tenant in January 2015.  The incumbent, Simon, has ran the Puzzle Hall for 5 years now and during that time it has gained a reputation for being one of the best live music venues in the area with an eclectic range of bands.  Simon now operates the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe in Halifax, one of the best beer houses in Halifax for both craft and cask.   I’d spoken to Simon a couple of months ago and he’d mentioned to me that he was considering the future of the Puzzle Hall, so it appears that nothing changed his mind in that period.  The pub was under the ownership of Punch Taverns, which like all PubCo controlled pubs comes with the disadvantages of not having full control of your drink choices and higher than wholesales prices.  It is now operating under a specialist company who manage the “head office” functions pertaining to the day to day running of a pub.  

On a personal note, it is sad to see the venue will probably not be operating in its current form post January.   The pub has a cracking set up for live music with dedicated areas both outside and inside for bands, as well as a decent range of beers.  The venue generates a fantastic live atmosphere in both areas and has a dedicated set of regulars lapping up every note.  In recent years it was the pub we’d pop into as a family if visiting the town.  I’d hope that the next management team keeps some live music going, but I can’t see them committing to 2-3 live bands a week as well as the three full weekend festivals as bands do not come cheap.   My question is how many customers are loyal to Simon and the live music scene and how many to the pub itself as an business and building.   Like I’ve said before, it is people who attract you to a pub and this was true with me and the Puzzle Hall Inn, I could get a wider range of beers 100 metres up the road, but I’d rather support the businesses of people I get on with personally and try to do something different.   If the new team revert the pub to putting on a cover band on a Saturday night and a range of mainstream real ales with a rotating guest, it is no different to many other pubs in the area and old customers will drift elsewhere.   There are big shoes to be stepped into with this pub.   

And now more adventures in non drinking.    As you read this in Pubpaper, I’ll only have 2 radiotherapy treatments left and will be entering the recovery stage.   The radiotherapy is actively working for 2 weeks after the physical treatment finishes, so the recovery really starts at the end of November.   It’s been a hard last 3 weeks physically, the combination of five different painkillers sapping you of all energy some days.   The worse bit is that food feels like a sheet of sandpaper going down your throat rough side out unless you numb your mouth just before meals.  The weight loss can be staggering as well and the supplements you take pure calories (the most dense are 600 calories in 125ml), apparently at its peak my body will expend 5500 – 7500 calories a day keeping my body operating and fighting the cancer cells.  As you can guess this combination puts a stopper on a lot of your social life and you have to stock up rest to make the effort to go out.

But I do make the effort to see people I like and have been around for me.    When in good health and with a spare afternoon, there was nothing better than a few hours in the pub, and it was the same last week.   Last week I had a chilled few hours up at the Commercial Brighouse, even though I’m now nursing a single bottle of Erdinger Alcohol Free over a whole afternoon.   Even without the beer, it was just really nice to sit at the bar, chatting to friends and other pub locals, normality restored to my life for a few hours.  I’ve always said that the place feels like someone’s home, and that is what you really look for in a regular haunt, somewhere warm and welcoming.  All my favourite pubs have this core element.  You can get beer for £1 per pint at your local supermarket. but you don’t get the extras a pub offers you.

Pubpaper 831 – Pubs from a non-drinkers eyes

Posted: 29th October 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

It takes time to adjust to being a non drinker in a pub world.  To be honest it took me a few weeks after my treatment started to start going back to pubs, but there was the social element I missed and of course when guests are up visiting it is only fair they can enjoy a good beer.   The relatively good news is that despite being 5 weeks into my treatment I can still enjoy the non alcoholic beers out there, giving me at least a sense of normality in the surrounding of a pub.  The Germans seem to do the best examples with Erdinger Alcohol Free and Warsteiner Fresh which have that beer like taste coming through even with the decimated state of my taste buds.

What the period of non drinking has made me appreciate is that beer is only part of the reason I go to pubs, of course it is important and my choice of pubs is still driven by a good beer choice from my 17 years of drinking around Calderdale.   At the Cross Keys, Siddal, I usually visited on Friday or Saturday, but over the last few weeks I’ve made an effort to go and see the live band there on a Sunday afternoon.  Good music, a chilled out friendly atmosphere and people I know and like there.  In fact it was a member of staff there who suggested I try non alcoholic beer, the idea having totally slipped my mind.   The only downside is that what most people would call a short afternoon visit to the pub of a couple of hours can take all my energy out of me for the rest of the day, but for me it is a price worth paying for that period of normality.

It is nearly 3 years since Hugh and Ruth opened the Cross Keys and is still a favourite of mine after all this time, most pubs having drifted into second tier choices by that point from.  The pub has never deviated from what it was meant to be “a real ale house serving a rotating range of well kept top class ales”.  The beers have been consistently good over that period with not a single complaint from me.  The only addition in those 3 years is a TV in the back room for those who want to watch sport.  It looks like a real ale pub should look, polished wood, stone tiling, bench seating and stools.  Food is limited still to a range of pies, pasties and scotch eggs as well as the usual crisps and nuts.  You know exactly what you are going to get when you go in and that is how I like it.  Numerous awards back this up from CAMRA and SPBW.  Don’t forget to ask for the landlords favourites music when you go in, Elvis and Beatles always going down well with him :^)

A couple of Saturdays ago my parents were visiting, so we popped into Halifax on Saturday afternoon, did some shopping and went for a few drinks.  There is a benefit for my wife now I am not drinking, it means she can have as much as she wants while out, the opposite situation to most days out before my treatment started.   Usually it is me running down the real ale pumps trying as many beers as possible, but during my visit to the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe, my dad had the honor of doing that five times with styles from pale ales to stouts all getting the seal of approval whilst 3 bottles of Erdinger Alcohol Free kept me satisfied.  

This is a venue which I visit again and again, in fact my first choice when in town.   A nice chilled out atmosphere in an genuinely interesting pub interior.   Good ciders, a range of 8 pumps and 10 keg choices as well decent coffee and hot drinks.  It sounds strange to add the last 2 items, but it means 3 generations of my family all had a good drink choice and thus as a family we will spend longer and thus more money there.  Being a town centre pub, it is important to offer a choice for any passing potential customer, even those not interest in alcohol, the outside of the venue selling itself doing half the job.  The fact that it is well behaved family friendly during the day as is my other pub discussed is a bonus for when we are all out.

Pubs are not a uniform design, it is horses for courses.  An estate local has different needs to a dining based venue, as it does to a real ale house, as that does to a town centre venue targeting the 18-30 crowd.   As we age we drift from one kind of drinking establishment to another, it is part of life.   As a friend in the industry said to me drinks like Fosters, Carling, Carlsberg and Strongbow are the gateway drinks 18-24 years old consume before developing more sophisticated palettes and discovering beers which have taste.


Pubpaper 830 – AB InBev – SABMiller takeover

Posted: 22nd October 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

For the last month AB InBev, the largest brewing operation in the world has been trying to woo the owners of SABMiller, its nearest competitor and after a number of offers the board of SABMiller has accepted an offer of £44 per share and will recommend the takeover to its shareholders. This merger will create a company worth a combined £150 billion and brewing capacity of 542 million hectolitres (or 95,378,666,062 pints). Both companies were established by a series of mergers and takeovers, and this is the latest and ultimate of these. The new company will control 30% of world beer production facilities and over 50% of world profit in the brewing sector globally as well as owning or producing over 350 brands.

The nearest rivals to this combined company are Heineken and the Carlsberg Group and they only account for 8.7% and 5.5% of the world market respectively, less than half of the proposed post merger AB InBev SABMiller. The size of the new company and its dominating position in the market means it will have to sell off some operations to satisfy the UK and US regulatory bodies who ensure there are no monopolies formed as a result of the transaction.
In the USA the combined company will have a 70% market share, so there will be major disposal of distribution rights and brands to satisfy the authorities. They also have a significant presence in China and could be asked to exit from some of SABMiller’s joint ventures there to keep their regulator happy.

There is precedent for this, when AB InBev took over the Mexican brewer Grupo Modelo in 2013, it was forced to sell the US rights to a number of major brands owned by Modelo to a rival operator. So as you can see there are a number of major hurdles to clear before the takeover completes. If the takeover fails it will cost AB InBev a £3 billion breakup fee to be paid to SABMiller, which sounds big, but is a drop in the ocean for the market leader. The big target for AB InBev is access to the emerging African beer market in which they have virtually no share and SABMiller are the dominant player, having started as South African Breweries (hence the SAB) and now having operations in 31 countries on that continent.

When you look at the core brands of each company you spot large areas of overlap. The top brands for AB InBev are Budweiser, Corona, Stella Artois, Becks, Hoegaarden and Leffe. For SABMiller it is Fosters, Pilsner Urquell, Peroni, Miller Genuine Draft and Grolsh. There are a number of brands there which would be virtually interchangeable on your local bar without too much resistance from the customer. The overlap is also in brewing facilities across the USA, Latin America, Europe and Asia. AB InBev employee 150,000 people whilst SABMiller have 70,000. How many mega breweries do you need in any geographical area when the beer market in many countries is shrinking due to reduced consumption or people moving to so called “craft brands”. If the trend continues, there will be a cull of facilities in the medium term and with it the loss of a significant amount of jobs, as well as the expect cutting of head office costs after operation have been merged in the various economic zones across the globe.

The inevitable future for a number of brands from either portfolio is that the brewing will be moved to one of these mega brewing plants and the local brewery is shut down or the brand is shelved with the rights to the name kept within the new company. On a smaller scale you can compare this to when the bix six (Whitbread, Scottish and Newcastle, Bass Charrington, Allied Breweries, Courage Imperial and Watneys) were buying out every local brewery they could in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Hundreds of breweries were closed (including Webster’s in Halifax) and the brands mothballed to be replaced by the big company brand of choice in the pubs or brewing moved to a larger regional plant. Not even a big name like Tetleys was safe from this in the end, but managed to hang on until 2011 when the big site on the outskirts of Leeds city centre was closed and turned into a cultural centre and (mainly) car parking for commuters, a fate suffered by by many of the Carlsberg brands as it moved its brewing to the massive Northampton 6.8m hectolitre production plant.

You see the same actions at different scales of the brewing market, consolidation generally is not good for the choice of beer on the market or at your local pub and unlike many countries the UK has a plethora of small to medium brewers, this keeps out market healthy and there brewers on their toes. Let be thankful for that.

A couple of weeks ago the Bull’s Head pub in Sowerby Bridge started it’s new life with the first phase of development completed to allow the cellar bar to open as the Sowerby Taps.  Due to my current non drinking status I’ve not had a chance to visit, but looking at the pictures it has been fitted out nicely, looking like what it is, a proper pub.  Plenty of exposed wood, bench seating and stained glass windows all add to what how I think a proper pub should be designed.  Demand for it seems to be good with the initial Thursday – Sunday opening hours being extended to earlier evenings in the week and live music being added to the attractions.

However some people want to be sharing in their success from outside the business.  In their first week they had a burglary with two people helping themselves to what they wanted.   It is such a shame that not everyone wants to support new local businesses and with the second phase of work completing at the end of next month allowing the Bull on the Bridge Hotel to open upstairs, the combined venues will add some new choices into the town which has not  seen much change in the pub market since Wetherspoons opened in the town.   

Sowerby Bridge is a town which boomed as a leisure destination, then plateaued as the number of venues reached critical point before Wetherspoons merely accelerated the closure of the underperforming venues.  The town has currently got a solid, varied range of pubs whatever your taste, backed up by a good range of restaurants and a new venue always helps to put the spotlight back on the town, even for a short while.

There is a certain frustration about being in a pub with 4 beers you’d love to try on cask as well as a handful I’d want to try on keg and not being able to drink one of them, spending the night of pots of tea and pints of cordial.    Even if I could my taste buds are so mixed up now that even the best beer in the world would taste totally weird and off.  Three weeks into treatment and I’ll admit radiotherapy is pretty brutal on your mouth and throat, only a cocktail of painkillers keeping life relatively normal.  All credit must go out to the Radiotherapy department at St James, Leeds.  They can’t do enough for you from medication to advice to access to specialists when you need them.  I’d rather not have cancer, but if I am to have it, I’d not want to be going anywhere else to be treated.

What forced abstinence does not make you miss is average mass produced beer, whereas in Victorian Craft Beer Cafe each visit to the bar was mentally teasing me.  I visited a bowling alley in Bury and as normal their beer choice is limited to a mega brewers core brands, in this case Molson Coors (I’ll be covering the ongoing Ab InBev – Molson Coors merger once the dust has settled by the way).   A choice of Guinness, Coors Lite, Worthington and Kronenborg 1664 did not tempt me one bit even if I could drink, happy with my Iced Water and cups of tea.  What you also realise is not drinking saves you a ton of cash in places like this, when you can be paying £3 plus for a Coors Light.

What you do come to appreciate more however is the customer service over beer choice.  I was out in Manchester last weekend while my girls went to see Disney on Ice, I met with an old friend at a pub in Salford who is professionally involved in the beer trade and it was good to chat with someone with that depth of knowledge again.  After the show had finished the family went up to the Northern Quarter of the city for a drink.  Being post 6pm it was that fine line between daytime drinkers and nights out starting.   Extra busy from 30,000 visitors to the same show as my family had been to, everywhere was busy, but we found a heated outside seat at a bar called Home Sweet Home.   For once a bar wasn’t about the beer, but the customer service couldn’t be faulted, couldn’t do enough for my two girls, the service was quick and attentive and was made to feel really welcome, in fact we’d have stayed for dinner there if tables were available.  Ice cream is become a very good friend of mine now and all I can say about their ice cream milkshakes (which cost as much as a beer) is encapsulated in a quote from Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction “I don’t know if it’s worth five dollars, but it’s pretty f**kin’ good.”


Pubpaper 828 – The “Non Pissup” in a Brewery

Posted: 10th October 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

Every year Munich runs Oktoberfest, a 16 to 18 day beer festival which hosts 5.9 million visitors, drinking 7.7 millon litres of beers collectively in 2015.   The public festival has been in existence for just over 200 years.  Over these two centuries it has transformed from an event to promote local Bavarian Agriculture into a celebration of Bavarian food and beer.  The beer halls were introduced in the late 19th century taking over from the 400 booths which used to serve food, beer and entertain the crowds.  In that same period it has only missed 24 years, mainly due to war and outbreak of disease.  The german name for the festival is Volksfest, translated as Beer Festival and Travelling Funfair, and today both elements are integral parts of the annual celebration.

The event is full of tradition from the 12 gun salute and tapping of the first keg by the Mayor of Munich, the parades which precede the opening of the beer halls as well as the traditional male and female costumes donned by both those working and visiting at the beer halls.  But the modern festival is a very modern affairs logistics wise.  18 purpose run electric transformer stations and 43km of cabling power the event, 4km of gas lines are laid to heat the beer halls and cook the food.  The Munich tube system scales up services to ensure people can get to the event easily.  The size of the tents is amazing with the biggest tent hosted by Paulander holding 11,000 people, all being served at the table by the famous waitresses with over 30 tents hosting approximately 100,000 drinkers at any time.  The expert beer pourers take only 1.5 seconds to pour a litre of beer and security in 2015 stopped 110,000 people from taking their beer glasses out of the halls.

So running a similar event in London for 4000 people a night should be easy shouldn’t it?  Hosted at Tobacco Dock to the east of central London and featuring Paulander and Hacker-Pschorr beers, it is the biggest of a number of event in the capital.  The session tickets cost £10 for general admission, £60 to guarantee a seat and £1000 for a VIP table of 10 people.  The beer wasn’t even reasonable by London standards, with a litre of beer costing £15.  So they have got all the plans in place to cope with the crowds with all that income.  As you guessed, the organisers couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery.   The majority of the weekend from Friday to Sunday was cancelled 30 minutes before the first session of the second day was to open.  

On the opening session on Thursday, two security staff were employed to allow 4000 people into the hall, leading to massive queues and delays of up to 1.5 hours to get in.  Barmaids were scared to return to the hall because of frustrated drinkers or were that busy you couldn’t get their attention to get served.  The venue was that crowded security could not access many areas of the room and empty glasses were not collected leading to breakages and areas of floor covered in glass.   The food and drink that people has pre-paid for never arrived and for those that did get food it was poor quality.  The promised range of beers was reduced to a single choice at times.   As many people pointed out for the money you’d have spend on tickets, beer, travel and accommodation you could have flown to Munich for the real thing.

How can Britain get a beer festival so wrong, thousands of pubs and dozens of CAMRA branches operate these every events every year without major problems.  Not to mention the independent beer festivals which are increasing in number each year such as Independent Manchester Beer Convention (IndyManBeerCon) which was running this weekend.   The biggest beer festival of the year, the Great British Beer Festival generally operates with relatively few issues and gets good feedback from its visitors.  The issue with this event was greed.   From understaffing of bartenders, cooks, security, stewards and waitresses to contracting out this work to agencies on minimum to living wage rates, ensuring those working there really have no stake to care about in the event.  The whole thing was done on lowest cost possible basis to ensure maximum profits.   A separate second event in Millwall, London was going ahead as planned presumably with organisers not packing the venue to the rafters to maximise profits and employing a suitable number of staff for those attending.

Sometimes people forget that when you put the word “festival” after a word, you really should deliver on that word, if you can’t get beer at a beer festival then you call that an epic fail and such greed as above deserves to fail on a massive scale.    

Pubpaper 827 – Cask Report 2015-2016

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

This week, I’ll be covering the 2015-2016 Cask Report, the year report written by Pete Brown on the state of health of the cask beer market published a couple of weeks ago.   In summary the demand for cask ale is growing, albeit slowly at 0.2% per year, but this compares to a fall of 1.1% per year across the whole on trade market.   Cask is now accounting for 17% of all on trade sales, with 57% of ales being sold in pubs dispensed from cask rather than keg.  The value of the market has risen from £1.4 billion in 2010 to £1.8 billion in 2015, expected to reach £2.3 billion in 2020.

But let’s dive into the details of report.  Why is the cask ale market growing when the sector as a whole is shrinking.   The report cites the following trends Flavour, Less but Better (Quality not Quantity), Localness and Authenticity and what they call the Experience Economy (offering more than just the product).   The last point I disagree with, the pubs I visit for the best real ale don’t have to wrap it up in shiny paper, they just serve great real ale and that is all they need to do consistently to keep people returning.  But the other three points I broadly agree with.  When drinking I am looking for great new beers, different flavours and good quality.  I’m at an age where I can’t do ten pints any more, I’d rather drink 4 or 5 really good beers in a session than more average ones.  I’m 40 years old and have had 22 years of drinking beer, the taste buds need something stimulating.   The locality thing is certainly something I look for as well, just look at the success of the Vocation Brewery in Cragg Vale at the moment and their amazing beers (I must admit writing about beer while not being able to drink it is immensely annoying).  I always try to drink local beer wherever I visit, it is part of the experience.

The range of beers and brewers helps to grow the market through diversification, we now have over 1700 brewers registered in the UK, making 11,000 different beers each year. Of course the quality of the beer coming out of brewery will not be consistent across the market, but from a purely statistical point of view, the more people who are brewing beer, the more great brewers and beers which are out there and choice of good beer is never a bad thing.  People are bored of big brand beers and that is one of the reasons that small breweries can survive and grow.  I rarely touch mainstream brands now unless the only choice is such as Timothy Taylor, Black Sheep or Copper Dragon nestled into a bar stocked with AB InBev or Molson Coors core products, where it is the least worse option.

Now let’s look at why cask ale drinkers choose the pubs they visit.  In order the report lists these as Atmosphere, Price, Range of Beers, Range of Cask Ales, Decor, Food and Entertainment.   I think the order is pretty much right here, if a pub relies on food and entertainment to drive it’s wet trade then they haven’t got the beer right.  If the pub puts you off as soon as you walk in with its atmosphere then never mind how good the beers are, you are not going to buy them.  Price is important, but not critical and I will pay what I think a good beer is worth at the bar even if other might think it over the odds.   Personally I’d maybe swap Range of Beers and Range of Cask Ales, as that is one of the primary reasons I go to a pub regularly.   Some people put a lot of stock in decor, but as long as it is clean that is what matters.  I’ve been to some proper old school spit and sawdust boozers in my time and have great beer and a great time and not end of paint, fixtures or new furniture would have improved that experience.

To round off this week’s article, an update, I’ve been through my first week of radiotherapy and chemotherapy as I write this at the weekend.  The chemotherapy really takes a toll on your body and the drugs to counter the side effects of it don’t help much either.  Thankfully this has cleared and I’m only on mild irritation internally in my throat from the radiotherapy, but I am assured by the end of the week things won’t be quite as rosy. However the worse thing about the treatment is the mouthwash mix you are given, it would make Carlsberg taste like the best beer in the world and I’m not exaggerating.  It takes the taste of salt water and removes all the pleasant elements leaving one of the rankest flavours I have ever encountered.  The other thing I have learnt is that you are not the first to go through this, and will not be the last.  You know who you are, good luck for everything.

Pubpaper 826 – Pubs and Community

Posted: 28th September 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

There are sometimes moments which absolutely define what a local pub is about, those little things which may seem significant in the overall flow of life, but links people over the communal pint.   I was sitting in my local pub, The Cock and Bottle early evening on Friday, relaxing over beer.  There is a great old guy I’ve known for the 16 years I’ve lived in the village called Postie Paul (although now retired, the name has stuck).   We got chatting as usual and ended up working on the crossword together, five minutes late we are both stumped, a couple of other people come over and as the beer flows a few more clues are solved, leaving 2 or 3 stubborn clues left.  Giving up on it for a while, another local pops over for a chat and finishes off the crossword.  The age range of those who solved it is 40 to 75, all of which entered the pub in separate parties.

Now the crossword may be at the centre of this story, but it is the least important element of it.  The crucial thing is how the ebb and flow between people from different circles develops over time so there becomes this loose community within the four walls which extends outside into the wider world.  At the Cock and Bottle, like many local pubs, there are people who have been going there for fifteen, twenty, maybe thirty years or longer, having had their first “legal” pint there when they turned 18.   Through landlord changes, refurbishments, periods of closure, they are as much part of the pub as the bench seats and the bar, and have probably outlived a number of both.   

Mix in the interlopers like me who have moved into the village and have lived here long enough to be considered a “local” now as well as the new generation of drinkers, some of which I can remember from them being 6 or 7 year olds playing at the top of my street, and now more commonly seen walking up the road at 2 or 3 in the morning, you knowing they aren’t getting up anytime before lunch realistically.   Add all these groups (and others) together and you get a wonderful mixing bowl for society to be created.   The strings of community strengthen over time and in this era where work and family pressures seem to use up all the time some people have, the sense of community like this has been lost in many places.

You go to most local pubs on a Friday tea time, you probably see a good number of work vans in the the car park.   If you have ever wondered where the plumber knows a good gas engineer or builder from, it is probably one of these Friday teatimes and subsequent social and professional interactions leading from that.  It is where people find other people with skills they need and don’t have.  I can’t plumb, build a wall or fix a boiler to save my life, but I can build a decent website, write copy, design a poster or logo and create business stationery, all of which I have done in exchange for jobs around the house.  These same links help me raise money in sponsorship for the charities the Ramfest Music Festival supports each year.

But the benefits from the local pub helping to forge the local community is not just for economic gain.   It is just common decency that if I see Paul at the bus stop and I am going his way, I’ll offer him a lift even if it is a few minutes out of my way (although when I drove a few people out to a pub about 13 years ago, he came within a gnat’s whisker of being left there, but that is another story).   My local pub was brought by a local family about 5 years ago after laying closed for a substantial few months, a lot of sweat and effort went into making the building safe and creating a really nice local.   That the pub is owned by a family, many of which as adults and children were regulars in its previous incarnation for many years and is not just a money making machine for Enterprise Inns (who previously owned the property) has certainly helped this sense of community and is something I’d like to see happen in more villages.  

Even in towns this can happen at individual pub level.  The Commercial / Railway Inn, Brighouse for example, Trevor and Sue own the place outright after being there for many years and it is well and truly their place, they feel themselves part of the community. They and the customers keep an eye out for other more vulnerable customers making sure that people get home or they are checked on if not seen as often as expected.  

The local pub should be heart of the community and it is through connections built that we get back that sense of cohesion which has been lost to lesser and greater extents across this country.

Beer 52 Beer Box Review

Posted: 21st September 2015 by santobugtio in Writing

P1180825In the second of my Beer Club box reviews this month, I’m revisiting Beer 52 who sent me a box to review previously.  Lets see how they get on second time.  The box contains 6 bottles, 2 cans, a pack of chili popcorn chips and a copy of Ferment magazine.  Not quite as good presentation as Flavourly lacking the glass, bottle opener and beer mats, but the box is well packaged and protected and the beers look interesting at first glance, with only one beer I’ve drank before.   Lack of any mainstream brands is good and it is good to see that one of my current favourite brewers has been included in the package.  As a note I was offered a complimentary box to review by the company.

First, the beers on offer.

  • Brewfist (Italy) and Brewhere (Denmark) – Caterpillar Pale Ale – 5.8%
  • Cloudwater – Grissette (Summer Range) – 3.5%
  • Beer Project Brussels – Dark Sister Black IPA – 6.66%
  • Bronher (Spain) – The Drunk Hop – Large Lager – 4.7%
  • Six Degrees North – HopClassic Belgian IPA – 6.6%
  • Gosnells – London Mead – 5.5%
  • Lucky Jack (Norway) – American Pale Ale – 4.7%
  • Vocation – Heart and Soul – Session IPA – 4.4%

Concentrating more on the IPA’s and pale ales, the box has a nice range of geographic sources as well as Vocation which was brewed 10 miles from my house.  The initial impression is certainly better than the previous box I got from them.

I’ll start with Vocation Heart and Soul.  I’m a massive fan of their beers, having tried all 6 currently on offer, so this beer is a bit like a bus mans holiday.  The can says this is a fruity beer with tropical aroma, and it’s right, filling the glass with a lovely sweet pineapple like aroma.  A good stable head lasts a nice amount of time.   The citrus fruit notes rush over the tongue, the bitter and more sweet tastes balanced wonderfully, leaving an aftertaste of both on the tongue at the same time.   After a brief rest the sharper notes of the citrus family begin to come through more, later more bitterness coming out.  The beer is absolutely packed with interesting flavour, the well blended hops shining through.  It’s good to see that Vocation Brewery can keep the quality up in cans and on pump. (9.5/10)

Next up is Six Degrees North Hop Classic Belgian IPA.    Forming a nice head on the pour, which fades after a few minutes.  The nose is a bit indistinct.   The taste is quite earthy, but with a decent mix of flavours, some citrus notes emerge and the beer is generally well balanced with a bitter edge.   The impression is of a refreshing well brewed beer at 6.66%.   When the sediment is mixed in prior to pouring as I did, the appearance is of a cloudy amber-ish color, and you can taste it in the beer, the strength of flavour commensurate with the ABV.  Overall a very nice beer I could drink a number of happily. (8/10)

Next up is the Brewfist and Brewhere colab Caterpillar Pale Ale.  Orange / Red in colour, the odour is of the more citrus hops.  A nice solid head forms, settling down in a few minutes.   A nice blend of bitter and lighter hop tastes is the first impression.   The strength tastes about right for its 5.8%.   Aftertaste goes quickly from bitter to sweet, but maybe lasts a little shorter than I would like.   After a rest it settles down to quite an earthy flavour which is tinged with lighter citrus notes.  Overall a thoroughly pleasant beer to drink, but it doesn’t stand out against the beers sampled previously. (7/10)

Fourth is Lucky Jack American Pale Ale at 4.7%.   Pale as expected in colour, nose is a bit indistinct, some sweeter odours emerging.  Initial tasting show both bitter and citrus hops but not a lot of either really.  Aftertaste much the same, but disappearing off the tongue too quickly.  After a while the citrus hops start to come through more, but it is still lacking something flavour wise.  There is nothing wrong with beer per-se, it just isn’t particularly good in any aspect and distinctly average overall. (6/10)

As we enter the second half of th box we open Cloudwater from Grissette (Summer Range) at 3.5%.  A pale slightly yellow body holding a loose head which disappears quickly.  Odour is more citrus, but a little weak.  The initial taste is quite lemony, with citrus tastes definitely to the fore.   It settles slighty from the citrus high, but the same tastes still dominate.  This uses a saison yeast so is naturally cloudy.   I found this beer really refreshing and light on the palette.  As the “summer range” label suggests would be great for an afternoons drinking in the warm sun.  This beer could be a bit of marmite beer, if you don’t like lemon, it won’t be for you, if you do, then this would probably suit you down to the ground.  I do like lemon hence the score. (8/10)

Overall score is 38.5 / 50 so far.  The rival box I tested the other week was at 38/50 by the same stage, so there is really nothing in it so far.  The last three beers will decide the winner.

Beer Project Brussels Dark Sister Black IPA at 6.66% leads out these beers.  A good creamy long lasting head. Deep brown in colour with nicely balanced odour.  Intial flavours are a good mix of maltiness, citrus and bitter hops, tasting its 6.66%.  The beer is quite light to drink making it quite refreshing.  On second taste the beer still gives a good impression, citrus followed by bitter hop followed by malty taste, aftertaste following a similar pattern lasting a decent period.  The beer is a bit lively out of the bottle, so make sure you have the glass at hand when you open it.  Overall this is a very decent beer, but not an all day beer which the strength reflects. (7.5/10)

Our penultimate beer is Bronhers The Drunk Hop, a “large lager” with a 4.7% ABV.  A classic lager look in the glass, pale golden in colour and tall gassy head with sustains itself.  The nose is like most continental lagers as well, refreshing but with nothing in particular coming through.  However on the taste, this comes across as stronger than it’s 4.7%, more like a 5.5% beer.   A nice range of hops with citrus and bitter balanced well dominating the overall taste of the beer, it is not overpowering, keeping the beer light and refreshing.  As a “lager” style beer they have done a good job on this and if we ever had a summer then a few pints of this would go down nicely in the beer garden.   The aftertaste goes from slightly bitter to citrus on the tongue and hangs around a while on it. (7.5/10)

The final beer is Gosnells London Mead at 5.5%.   A sort of cloudy apple juice colour, the fizzy head disappears quickly.   Nose is mix of apple and lemon.  The taste is sweet from the honey, but not overpoweringly so, almost a good sweet cider like balance.  A nice sharp bite on the taste compliments the sweetness well.   A nice little bit of natural gas keeps the drink light and refreshing and it lines your mouth quite nicely.   Some nice citrus notes, with undertones of the rich honey taste coming more to the fore as the drink rests and starts to warm to ambient temperature.  My first mead I’ve tasted and I enjoyed it.   It’s probably not something I could do a session on, but happy to have one or two (7.5/10)

So an average score of 7.6/10, with a good set of beers, only one disappointing, I’d say this was a well selected box by Beer 52 and wouldn’t be disappointed if I have paid for it.  The Chili Popcorn Chips were decent enough and the Ferment magazine had some good articles by the likes of Melissa Code and Mark Dredge and was an interesting read.

If you want to order a box from, then please use promo code “LIQUORISH10” which will give you £10 towards your first purchase, the usual cost being between £24 and £21 per months according on how long you take the subscription for.  I’ll repeat my comment on beer box clubs from the other review.   24 quid is what it would be for 8 beers, or £3 per bottle.   You could pay more or pay less according to where you shop and how close you buy to the brewer in the distribution chain.  If you want something different each month without having to source from multiple places, this is where this model works well, it is also a ideal for a gift.  For me personally, it isn’t something I’d do regularly, but as an occasional purchase certainly would be in my basket.