Pubpaper 858 – An East Coast Explore

Posted: 30th May 2016 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

1000766This weekend saw a departure from Calderdale to the east coast of Yorkshire with a trip to Scarborough.    A day out out in Whitby Bay and Robin Hoods Bay was sandwiched with time split between the north and south shore of the resort, finishing with drive back across some of the best driving roads between the coast and the M62 at Goole, finding a hidden gem of a pub half way literally in the middle of nowhere.

Whitby Bay is one of my favourite resorts on that coast, the right mix of pubs, scenic views, good shops, good fish and plenty of things to do.  Robin Hoods Bay was a place I’d never visited before, been recommended and it seemed rude not to pop into on the way back to my base resort.   The break didn’t really bring any beer gems or classic pubs, but it was never likely to.  My mouth, as a side effect of one of my drugs I am taking, was more sensitive than a Daily Mail reader who’s house price had dropped because of the BBC showing a program about illegal immigrants.  

Relatively bland beers alongside rum and cokes were the order of the day.  I have slagged off chilled Guinness in the past, but super cooled blandness was a blessing at times.   Don’t ask me why rum and coke, which some would say is sharper than a lot of regular ales suits me currently.    We finished both nights over the bank holiday at Blue Crush in Scarborough, located where the main road joins the coastal road in the North Bay, a nice chilled place during the day or night.  A couple of decent local session ales mounted in cooling bags sit above the bar, the one I tasted being in perfectly acceptable condition, there being far worse places to have a beer around this end of the resort.  Otherwise the only other beer I had in town was with dinner at the Golden Grid and that was a bottle of Golden Pippin which to be honest was acceptable, maybe a place to have wine with dinner, although the Fish Chowder I had was very nice.

1000840The Sunday saw the aforementioned trip north.  Firstly I can recommend the A171 between Scarborough and Whitby Bay if you’ve got a powerful car or simply want a casual drive.  Having recently took delivery of such a toy, wide open roads, tight curves, and stunning scenery make the trip worth it for this alone.  We parked the near the abbey and walked down the 199 steps into the resort.  After some shopping we stopped for a beer at the Jolly Sailors Inn, a Samuel Smiths establishment on the harbour front, the breweries beers usually being fairly solid without standing out, my best bitter wetting the lips nicely.  Followed by a boat trip, I  had some rather nice haddock fishcakes from the Magpie Cafes harbour front stall and an explore of the western headland, we popped into Resolution Hotel bar at the back of town, again a nice relaxed venue with a lovely looking roast dinner.  A couple of mainstream real ales were on the bar, although it was time for a coke here due to driving duties.  

1000895We then headed back to past the Abbey and drove the 7 miles to Robin Hoods Bay.  The walk down to the beach see’s a beautifully conserved town with the vast majority of the original buildings still present.  We had a beer at the Bay Hotel, famous for being the end of the Coast to Coast walk from St Bees, Cumbria.  A Theakstons pub, the Wainwright slipped down nicely and was all you expected of the beer, although the wind coming in from the North Sea conspired to chill it to lager temperature whilst we watched the kids trying to catch crabs in the rock pools.  It is a resort I should go and spend a night and couple of days exploring as there were a few nice looking pubs on the way back up the hill.

We stopped for dinner at the Three Jolly Sailors on the Coastal Road junction north of Scarborough,  the half of Black Sheep went well with the massive bowl of Mussels in Garlic Butter sauce I had.   Well worth stopping off for the food, but probably not worth adding to a real ale trail, the pub like most pubs I’ve mentioned are a good place to stop at and chill out whilst away on your break.  

20160530_16000620160530_151704On the way back home I “accidentally” took a few roads which are a drivers dream, wide open, lots of visibility and one which was a couple of miles of blind humps.    Looking for a break halfway we stopped off at the Gait Inn, Millington, near Pocklington.  A lovely pub, great decor inside, 3 non mainstream real ales (at the time from Titanic, Wold Top and Haworth Steam)  Great customer service, whilst sitting in the centre of a really pretty village.  My Wold Top was in top form and a lovely pint.  What more can you want from a pub, one I’d seek out again when in the area.

So all in all a great break even if wasn’t for beer reasons, that sometimes isn’t the be all and end all.

Pubpaper 857 – Is the pub your lives vocation?

Posted: 21st May 2016 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

I’ll start this week with a last reminder that Calans Too pop up tenancy ends this weekend (26-28th May).  Over the last couple of months this secondary venture by Alan and Alyson has been received warmly by locals and visitors further afield.   I popped in with a friend on Friday night for a pint after local walk and enjoyed a couple of nice beers in the form of Vocation’s Bread and Butter and Half Moon F’Hops Sake.   The second beer was courtesy of a lovely couple we ended up sharing the table with, Claire and Patrick.  We sat for about an hour and had a great chat about pubs, breweries, PubPaper and life generally.    This illustrates last week’s article perfectly regarding random pub chats.  We didn’t know each other from Adam, but that didn’t matter.   The exchange of information, some local knowledge swapped on both sides, you spend your life learning new things, it’s what keeps it interesting.

I also got to have a good chat with Debs at the Market Tavern this week, due to walking into the pub on a day it was closed, selective dementia being added to my list of medical issues.   There are little details you don’t notice until they are not done in other pubs you visit and thankfully such establishments I don’t come across very often.  But you don’t realise how much work goes into making sure the pub looks just right each day.   The polishing down of the brass tables and pump clips, the mopping down of the stone floor, the wiping down and maintenance of the wooden surfaces.  You think you have a lot of surfaces to clean in your house, even your small pub has many more, not counting the fact your house doesn’t host 200 people a day, all of which will cause at least a minor spillage.  But what I picked up during our conversation is that Debs and Snap genuinely enjoy running a pub, essential to being successful given the long days, even when the venue is closed.   There is also a genuine interest in their customers, this attitude has made it one of community pubs in the town alongside the Commercial / Railway.  Hopefully we will be seeing more of Snap soon behind the bar at the Market Tavern as well.   

Being the public face of the pub comes naturally to both of them, as it does to Trevor and Sue at the Railway.  The same can be said about Jason Fieldhouse who is the most natural bar man I know, it being hard to imagine him not behind a bar or guitar.   You can tell pretty quickly people who don’t enjoy it, it exudes across the bar every second they are serving.    You either love or hate working in a pub, for some people the job is way of making money through your education whilst allowing you to study or to pay the rent / life’s expenses until your career takes off, for others it is their calling and will be behind a bar from the age of 18 until they retire.   Wetherspoons at Barum Top seems to be a production line of people I know working there for a mix of the reasons above.   Ultimately some people will open and own their own pub if circumstances allow, look at Simon and the team at the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe with years behind them at the Puzzle Hall Inn, Sowerby Bridge.  Working in the trade also leads to being involved in the coal face of the beer industry, just look at Hugh at the Cross Keys, Siddal.     From pub landlord at a young age, to working in the printing industry before coming back to running his own pub (with Ruth) via working in the brewing trade, he is another person who loves being behind the bar and being the front face of the business, whilst others in the business are happier to be behind the scenes.

I love my pubs, but I’m one of those people who would rather be behind the scenes, hats off to those who are the public face, they are what make our pubs and makes my life more enjoyable.    Having someone who knows their beer makes a huge difference, I can walk into a number of pubs and ask with complete trust “what do you recommend” and know I won’t be disappointed with their choice and they know who they are.

 

Pubpaper 856 – Random Pub Conversations

Posted: 14th May 2016 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

The random wandering pub conversation.  We’ve all been there, where chat starts between a couple of people talking about one topic and several hours later it’s still going, participants have come and gone with only the bar staff being a constant, the topic of conversation has gone through 6 degrees of separation to get to it’s current theme with a few tangential turns on the way, usually including one avenue you didn’t want to go down.   The people involved during it’s lifetime are not all friends, many just pub acquaintances, but that does not matter.

Think of other public social spaces where this would happen, if you want a friend are in a coffee shop, would you be as accepting of a relative stranger pulling up a chair and joining in? Probably not.  This is why the pub is special when compared to other places where we socially interact outside of our friends and family.  Alcohol no doubt plays a part in breaking down need for our “personal bubble”, that is no bad thing, anything which helps us bond as a society is good.  

If you are sitting at a table then your privacy is respected unless invited in, but if you are propping up the bar then the consensus seems to be that it is an open forum for anyone to join in, be they based there or just coming to order a pint.  If the conversation involves any member of staff, then it definitely falls into public domain.    This is a great thing, you find out things about people you’d never find out otherwise, other people will have more interesting experiences than you and you them in different aspects of life.   

Sometimes this leads to you helping people out, both from an informational and practical point of view.  There was a case of this a few months ago at the Cross Keys, where through the pub’s social network someone found out I had the same medical condition as their father who was about to start treatment, leading to me spending an hour talking to them one to one answering questions and telling them what to expect.  This is nothing special, this happens everyday in some form in our pubs.  This also shows the community side of our pubs, people’s willingness to give (sometimes) complete strangers their time.

Most of the time it is lighter topics, from recommendations of pubs in Weymouth that sell a wide range of rums to discussing our experiences at a new bar in town (it comes as no surprise that a lot of pub chat is about pubs and drinking).   If I am at a familiar pub I’ll generally try and sit at the bar, the buzz around the serving area is what makes a good pub for me, the more banter the better and it is an accepted rule that the better known you get at the pub the more friendly abuse you can come to expect especially from certain landlords.

We are all social animals and crave interaction with other human beings.   You look at people in long term isolation in prison and you find after a while they start to impress a human personality on inanimate objects or insects which fly into their cell as a substitute.  That is how intrinsic this is to the human psyche.   Of course we all crave our privacy at times and often you can find me with a pint and paper in the back room wanting to just chill out.

The pub is even more important now for facilitating these “community links”.  In an era where the local row of shops with the butchers, the baker, the post office, the corner shop is pretty non existent outside of towns and bigger. Where we drive our cars to the local supermarket or shop online.   Where people know a handful of people well on their street.  In the pub there is always someone who knows someone and introductions can be made in a more chilled out and casual environment, especially after a few beers.

If you become friends with the landlord, this is facilitated even more.  I’ve been introduced to a number of people by Landlords, people who are genuinely interesting people and are involved in the pub and beer scene in some way.  You don’t have to be in the pub every day drinking 5 pints a night, just being a regular visitor brings you into the pubs social circle as long as you are open to being involved in it.    This may happen at coffee shops, but how many times do you hear “Oh, I know this man at Caffe Latte who does that”, not many.

The pub has been the centre of the British social scene for hundreds of years and I can see it being supplanted anytime soon.

As the famous George Gershwin song from Porgy and Bess starts “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy”.  The aforementioned season finally made its first showing this weekend and beer gardens ‘cross hill and valley were full of pale legged drinkers.   The tourists were out in force on Sunday in Hebden Bridge and the pubs were making hay while the sun shined.  It is really good to see the town relatively full again despite the number of shops and pubs which haven’t re-opened yet, although drying out should be complete on many premises now and an early summer re-opening should hopefully be on the cards.

1000693I popped into Calan’s Too for a pint after a rather warm walk in from the far end of Mytholmroyd.   Having only just opened for the day, the beer garden was already filled and we retreated to the shade of the empty bar.   Alan and Alyson were delightful as usual and the Fell Brewery Yolo I had was on top form.  Chatting to the two owners, the good news is that they are now allowed to start work on rebuilding their permanent base back in the town centre.   The new bar is being designed to be more flood resistant so when the next one occurs repair turnaround time will be in terms of weeks not months.   The pair have only two weeks left on their temporary licence at Machpelah Mill, those being the last two in May as this coming weekend (13th-15th) the venue is being taken up by the annual folk and roots festival.  The plan is to hopefully open in early June even if it temporarily has to run using a similar setup to their pop up bar for a few weeks.  Like other drinkers who have enjoyed Calans Too there will not be many who complain if that is that case.  My dad who visited with me noted “that normally he’d send a flat beer back but both beers he had were spot on” there.

We did aim to visit the Libertine in Mytholmroyd on the walk back to the car, but we found it at the start of its refurbishment (well, to be honest, the staff firing up the BBQ next to the venue). This is for what I believe is its transition from a pop up bar to a fully licensed micropub.  I look forward to seeing the finished project in a couple of weeks when it should be complete.  We stepped into the Dusty Miller instead, my first time since the December floods.  Still in a state of mid repair, but no worse a venue for it, the pub is running on a drinks only basis.   Four handpumps served a range of decent beers including an Elland and the shade in the side room was more than welcome as well as a good cool beer before we finished off the day’s ramble.   

20160508_200939Later that evening I popped into town for a bite to eat and a few beers with my parents and wife.   As we walked up to Wetherspoons I spotted the statutory notices have gone up at the proposed venue of the new micro pub opposite the bus station.   The application is on behalf of The Pumproom Micropub Ltd to open the AH Micropub.  As I previously mentioned I was chatting to the guy who is behind this venture and the idea sounds interesting.  He is planning to sell a number of his own brewed beers, alongside a range of ciders, spirits and coffee sourced from small independent suppliers.  His aim seems to be to give the customer products you can’t find in many other places.   Just round the corner the Grayson Unity is now being fitted out according to updates on their facebook page and should be open sometime in early summer although no dates have been mentioned yet.    It appears they are going to offer a range of local and regional ales alongside the expected coffee offerings which will be popular during the day given its location opposite the town hall.

Lets look at the new and existing out and out real ale outlets in the town centre.  AH Micropub and Grayson Unity joins Victorian Craft Beer Cafe and Dirty Dicks among  others (I’m only talking pubs in the town centre and not those on the road at the bottom of Halifax town centre).  All of them are offering different things to the ale drinker in small ways.  Of course all offer the mandatory handful of well kept real ales, some of these offering many more.    One is looking to offer small production run products, one is offering a wide range of both keg and cask ales (over 20 taps in total if you count the cider), one is a pure real ale joint with a range of small brewers and bigger ale brands, whilst one is looking to offer local and regional ales alongside a daytime focused offering.  Small differences, but those which make each pub very different to each other.

If variety is the spice of life, then it’s fun to taste it all!

c/o Chris Dyson at http://chrisdyson55.blogspot.co.uk/

c/o Chris Dyson at http://chrisdyson55.blogspot.co.uk/

There’s not been much pub action this week for me, so a bit of a catch up on all the pub news from Calderdale.  Calans Too is still going well from reports and a June date for their re-opening at their original premises is looking likely now it has received its “dried out” certificate from the inspectors.   I hope to visit again this coming weekend to catch up with Alan and Alyson, so hopefully more news once I’ve spoken to them.   On Thursday I popped into the Market Tavern and chatted to Debs and Snap.   The 1960’s weekend was their best weekend ever with standing room being a pipe dream over the duration of event, getting into the building being a challenge for long periods.  With only two on the bar, they worked relentlessly to make sure the thirsty punters were kept refreshed, a great effort from a great team and the best pub in the town centre of Brighouse.   The beer quality is still being kept high at the Market Tavern and this in turn is making other venues in the area raise their game and that can only be a good thing.  If you have a good real ale tour in an area it will only attract more drinkers and benefits all businesses in the area, be they pubs, shops, food outlets or restaurants.  Of course, some venues don’t follow this ethos and they deserve all they don’t get, even resorting to going into other pubs and deliberately self promoting their own venue in groups.

13096020_221921341521375_5996482523005416561_nIn Halifax, the new micro pub venture has finally got a name, The Grayson Unity will open in the next couple of months, although exact dates are yet to be announced.  The venue is located opposite the town hall (in the old County Court building), looking out onto the Broadway Plaza complex.   Being ran and owned by Spike from the long running Doghouse music events, “the bar itself is small but friendly place where you can get a lovely drink in a unique setting. Local and the wider Yorkshire producers and suppliers will be used with odd Lancashire curveball” (sic).  With this and the expected new venue opposite the bus station, the Halifax Real Ale pub scene could really take off again.   Take these, Victorian Craft Beer Cafe, the two Wetherspoon pubs (I know they are mainstream, but real ale tours always seem to take them in, especially if they arrive in the vicinity of breakfast or brunch), plus Dirty Dicks, Three Pigeons and finishing off at the Cross Keys, Siddal and you have a weekend of drinking, never mind an afternoon.  As I said about Brighouse, these people will eat and shop as well as drink, so the town of Halifax will benefit as a whole.

I hosted a party this past weekend, purely for the sake of it given the lack of good news recently. Close friends and family invited up, whilst making sure I had enough beer for all the guests and cooking way too much food.  I now have enough beer in reserve for my next party, and have a respectable cocktail bar in development!   The point of this is that as a culture, alcohol is still our social glue, it wouldn’t be a party without it.  Most people had met at least some of the other parties present at some point in the past, but by the end everyone knew pretty much everyone else, even though geographically spread by 200 miles. Beer, wine, spirits all lubricating this process.   The call to “lets meet over a coffee” does not appeal to me, even though I love the stuff, I’d rather have a pint if the good stuff is available nearby.  The pub is an even better proponent of this theory, I popped down to the Cross Keys, Siddal so my dad could check into his room for the night, one of my best friends staying in the other room.  We stopped for a couple of beers as it would be rude not to before returning home.   After the party, they both shared a taxi back, my dad retiring after a beer, my mate retiring much later after possibly one too many beers.  The best mate lives in mid Wales, but has visited a number of times and always stays there.  He is accepted as much as any regular by staff and punters alike, would you get the same after a few visits to a coffee shop over a period of a year, I doubt it.

And finally, Darren Carney from the Sportsman, Ploughcroft is being laid to rest on Friday and there is no more fitting place to celebrate his life than the place he loved and worked for many years.  I’ll be there to raise a couple of glasses of beer to him on the day, please do the same wherever you are drinking this weekend.

Pubpaper 853 – A Sad Loss and Happy Gains

Posted: 26th April 2016 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

13043239_10153954937373780_6284912195645074424_nThis week starts with some sad news.  Over the weekend, Darren Carney who managed the Sportsman at Ploughcroft for many years until last Autumn, passed away after a brave battle with cancer.  If you met Darren, you’d not forget him, always a smile and happy welcome whatever was going on, even till the very end.  I only became friends with Darren last year after years of knowing him and chatting to him as just a drinker in the pub he ran.   After I went public about my cancer, he got in touch as he had been diagnosed with cancer in the same location, giving support to each other over the past 8 months, sadly his cancer was far more aggressive than mine.  Once you got to know him, he was a very funny and caring man, who will be missed by many people, including myself.  So this weekend, please raise a glass on his behalf.

I’ve said in the past that there are some pubs you visit as much for the people as you do for the beer, in some cases the people count more than the beer.  This was the case at the Sportsman, the beer selection was always solid and reliable, well kept and good for a session.   The staff made the place, led by Darren until last year, always friendly, welcoming and cheerful, hopefully the legacy of his ethos will last well into the future.  It is where I held my 40th birthday party and they couldn’t do enough for us.

bar_upThe pub is a core element of my life and I am lucky to have so many good ones on my doorstep.   This weekend we went out for a meal, which didn’t impress so I’ll not mention the place.   In town we visited Cookies, a place which used to be a regular haunt for me, it’s not changed in 16 years and that is a good thing.   A range of german beers, decent spirits and a few real ales, add decent music and it is nice place to start the night.   After the meal we popped into the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe, busy as always on a Saturday night with Simon and Co keeping the beer flowing and the welcome warm.  There is always something new to try here which keeps me and my family coming back repeatedly.  The two beers I had here did not disappoint and I would have had the lovely mango cider (which tastes like it was freshly juiced) if we didn’t run out of time.

We finished the night at the Cross Keys where my dad was staying for a couple of beers, with a warm welcome as always from Hugh and Ruth.  Being the back end of the night Hugh joined us for a chat as we enjoyed our nightcap beers.  I write about this place a lot, but it deserves all the plaudits it gets.  Great beer, warm welcome and lovely original interior, what more could you want.  If you look at the pubs I mention the most, namely Victorian Craft Beer Cafe, Market Tavern and Cross Keys, you notice they are very different beasts, but all have common elements of good beer, nice welcome and pleasant interior.

DA_POSTCARD_HOLMFIRTH 46On Saturday I visited Holmfirth with my dad for the afternoon, popping into the newly refurbished Postcard Inn for a beer before heading into the town centre with some book shopping (inc a signed Brian Blessed book for £3.50).  We then visited the Nook and had some of their own brewed beers.  The berry flavoured ale was really nice and the onion rings impressed in size and taste.  The music taste of the customers here should be complemented judging by what was put on the jukebox.  The place lives up to its name with little rooms at every turn.  Before heading home we returned to the Postcard Inn.  A few of you might remember Kevin at Lewins about 3 to 4 years ago, who now runs the Postcard.   Four well kept real ales, good bottle range and some nice continental beers, it’s well worth visiting if you are in the town, located next to the main car park by the CO-OP.

I really am looking forward to this summer from a beer perspective, Calans both in its pop up location and at its permanent home, two new real ale micro pubs in Halifax town centre and the Calder Valley finally lifting from the lows of the Christmas floods.  Libertine to visit still among many others means my weekend will be full visiting pubs both old and new, and what a way to spend a weekend.

 

Pubpaper 852 – The Calderdale Micropub Scene

Posted: 18th April 2016 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

I know I said this weeks piece was going to be about my Manchester trip, but that is for another week now.


1000588This week is dedicated to the local Micropub sceneand firstly to Alan and Alyson at
Calans, which opened its pop up venue this weekend just outside Hebden Bridge in the basement of Macpelah Mill, on the junction with Station Road.  They are open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 2pm, closing at 10pm apart from Sunday at 8pm, scheduled until late May / early June when they hope to move back into their original courtyard premises.   The bar is a basic as it comes, a couple of tables, a rack of auto tilts, fridges with bottles out back and a cash register.  But they are keeping up great range of beers, with 10 ales on when I visited on opening night Friday, down to a mere 8 when I visited again on Sunday afternoon.   Craft ciders and wine are also served, but things are kept simple here and is the better for it!  Served straight from the cask, the beers are served in great condition and don’t suffer from lack of pump!   The beers are what you came to expect before their courtyard premises became a truly “liquid led” venue just after christmas with Vocation, Elland, Bridestones supporting local brewers, and regional brewers such as Abbeydale, Great Heck and Mallinson a solid back up to these beers.

1000591The fixtures do not maketh a pub and this pub proves that perfectly.   The original venue was always warm and friendly, although the former could be attributed to the “human” central heating system once it got busy.   It’s an oddity that a pub’s pop up venue is actually three times bigger than it’s permanent venue, but they were easily filling the larger venue and a bit more on Friday night, with Sunday showing a still healthy footfall.   The two owners garnered a lot of good will in the town and this has been repaid by the customers now.   The best of luck to them both in the next few months and if word of mouth continues to spread then it bodes a fine future for the bar in both its venues.   

the_libertine_night_market_700The micro pub scene is booming in the Calderdale region at the moment and just down the road is Libertine in Mythomlroyd, which has been on scene for a bit longer, and is establishing itself as a bit of a magnet for drinkers local and further afield.  Although I’ve not had a chance to visit yet, it looked more than full as I drove past on Friday tea time.  Based opposite Sainsburys it serves 4 real ales, a nice range of spirits and real ciders.  Adjoining the building is an outside cocktail bar and guest street food vendors each weekend.  Taking a very different approach to Calans, the benefit being that the building is theirs 24/7 so can be fitted out as they need, whereas Calans are renting an existing commercial space and need to be able to ship out certain weekends, such a the Folk Festival where it is already pre booked.  I’m looking forward to visiting Libertine in the next few weeks and giving a review right here, especially if the quality of the bar takeovers continues with Vocation and Northern Monk visiting in recent weeks.

It’s good to see the Calder Valley starting to pick up from the Christmas 2015 floods.  Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd now have a Co-op supermarket back and the Mytholmroyd petrol station is re-open, cashpoints are becoming the norm than a rarity in the area.  Hebden Bridge is still suffering from a glut of shops being dried out, halogen heaters being ubiquitous in the town, but more and more premises are being opened.   Moyles has opened again as a bed and breakfast and although the bar is not open, it’s positive it is running some level of business.  Lets hope this summer sees the area restored to it’s previous glory.   

I also got talking to a guy who is planning to open another micropub in Halifax town centre later this year on Friday night. I can’t go into too many details as paperwork is still being dealt with but the location will be convenient for public transport users and it will operate as a brew pub for their own beers.  Listening to him this should be a really good bar once up and running!

Now for some personal news and this is the last you will hear of this. My cancer is incurable, I’m not going to get any better.  I was offered an operation with 20% chance of cure, but would mean me losing the ability to eat, drink or talk.  The risk / benefit was not worth it.  I’m having palliative treatment to extend my life.  As long as I can drink and type I’ll be doing this column.  I can’t do any more damage to my body now, so will enjoying my beer even more, happy supping until next week.

 

This week’s article was planned to be a two legged affair.   Of course unlike Leicester City’s closing down on the Premier League title, which seems to be all one way at the moment with their rivals shooting themselves in the food and the awesome Jamie Vardy providing or scoring week after week.   As a very long term Leicester City fan and Halifax resident, it’s a double pride to see him doing so well week after week and look forward to seeing him kick European ass over the summer if Roy Hodgson sees any sense at all.

The home leg is always the one you want second, but here we want to go first, I’m not going to go on about my situation apart from things are not going to plan at all and some major life defining decisions are to be made before next week’s article.  Back to the beer, I had some really good visits to all of my favourite pubs over the last week.  The Cross Keys at Siddal, Market Tavern in Brighouse and Victorian Craft Beer Cafe in Halifax.   Starting with the newest venue, the Market Tavern is still not disappointing after 6 weeks, gaining all the right clientele from the town whilst dissuading those who should be drinking not too far away to stay there!  

12605344_513063148855467_676815325668198535_oA great range of beer is being well kept on every visit to the Market Tavern I make, a trip I try to make at least once a week.  My youngest daughter made her debut there this weekend and we could not have been made more welcome by Deb’s, something which keeps me coming back again and again.  Her and Snap have really opened up the Brighouse Real Ale scene again and become a fixture in very short time, if you have not visited then please do and support this small business.   If the demise of the “old” pub nearby even helped in their decision in opening the Market Tavern in the slightest, then it is no bad thing at all and has done the town a whole world of good.  A steady trade from mid afternoon to evening is testament to that.

12594_454082087988269_2110884420_nMoving onto the Cross Keys, this place has become a constant in my life through thick and thin.  I’ve known Hugh and Ruth for over three years now and you exactly what to get from them and that is honesty, something critical if you write in print.  However this extends to their attitude to the beer, which is as good as you will find in any pub in the country, if you are happy with a beer, but they sense it is going off, it is pulled off the bar and the pint quite literally pulled out of your hand!   For their regulars they are friends and that is how a pub should should be as a town or area local, these are model pubs in their field, as is the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe in a different way.

bar-areaThe Victorian Craft Beer Cafe caters to a very different crowd (although there is audience undoubted cross over between here and the other two pubs) and has to balance the need of the cask drinkers to that of their keg counterparts and numbers are king in this.  8 cask pumps and 10 keg pumps give plenty of choice, the bottle bar is hard to beat locally and it is good to see the return of Simon from his extended trip to Thailand and his extensive sampling of their craft beer scene.  I was chilling here on a Sunday afternoon with some nice live music over a couple of nice pale beers I’d not tried before with good friends and there are few other places I’d rather have been, the others mentioned being among that list.

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Illustration by Tom Scotcher

Now for a minor rant! The common element between all of these places is the acceptance of well behaved families. I’m one of those people who do not support access to pubs for all children at all times, but as a parent I do support access to families who know how to behave in a pub and teach their children the same, at the right times of day.  A pub is an adult environment and if your child can’t behave then don’t bring them along, just get a babysitter and enjoy it yourselves as adults.  I was at a “family chain” the other week and on the table next to me was a child playing with one of the large balloons on an elastic string, it came onto our table full of drinks and subsequently food twice, the child got told in no uncertain terms to keep his balloon under control else it might not survive a third visit, much to the disapproval of the parents.

I was going to detail my trip to Manchester, but as I’ve ran out of space, that’s for next week!  Happy supping to you all.

Ember Inns and the Black Sheep Brewed Ember Pale Ale

Posted: 3rd April 2016 by santobugtio in Writing

I’ll be up front as usual on these matters, I was invited by Ember Inns PR agency to visit one of their pubs to taste their new house ale, brewed by Black Sheep.  They provided me with a very well presented tankard and a number of pints of the beer itself and travel expenses.

12891603_10154196342050466_4456164795081597105_oEmber Inns are a chain of pubs across the UK with 166 food led pubs in total.   They have 5 pubs around the West Yorkshire area, clustered around West and North Leeds area.  I was invited to visit the Brown Cow on the Selby Road running out of Leeds.  Normally I’d not give these places a second look as pubs which are attached to a hotel are more there to feed the residents than serve a decent range of ales, and by their admission Amber Inns are a food led chain.    The pubs is of fairly typical chain decor, neutral colours, a variety of seating, with distinct adult only and family areas, something I appreciate even as a parent myself from both sides of the fence.   First impressions were good of the place, not too busy on a wet Saturday lunch, but a range of customers from families eating, to groups having a few pints before heading into town, to diners.  There were a good number of staff on duty, all of which were keeping up with day to day duties when not serving customers.  It’s good to see.

My contact was Kevin, the Cask Ambassador at the pub.   I was surprised on inspection that the pub had 10 real ale pumps with 3 regular and 7 guest.   The long bar holds these pumps in three banks.  You should note here that beers the pub can select are from Ember Inns “Seasonal Range”, a curated list from head office of 30 beers update quarterly.  There were at least 6 ales on the bar I’ve not tried, and the ones I’d had before were choices I’d have easily picked if not here to taste a certain beer.  The range of beers, brewers and styles was well balanced and wasn’t dominated with household names.   My concern was, as a food led pub, freshness of beer over 10 pumps would be a problem, but the pub runs 80/20 wet to dry meaning that the majority of its turnover is derived from drinkers.  They typically aim to turnaround a cask in 4-5 days tops, and those that don’t shift don’t get ordered again, of which there had been a few.

You’d have thought with 10 pumps, all generally selling whilst fresh, Ember Inns would give the pub SIBA access, where they can order any beer which they distribute, but knowing large pub chains, the criteria for getting onto that list can be tough with financial targets and ordering levels usually being the thing which uplifts a pub, but I’d ask Ember Inns to look again at the Brown Cow as giving them SIBA access which would benefit both parties.

12524415_10154202892885466_1131954609818889523_nI rarely drink big brand ales such as Copper Dragon and Black Sheep now, saving for when there is a limited ale selection at a pub I visit and I revert to a known brand over lager or a now over cooled Guinness.  It was these beers which got me into real ale in the first place, so I know they are solid dependable sessions ales which aren’t going to give you any surprises.

Now lets get onto the nub of the article, the Ember Pale Ale,  they display the Black Sheep sourcing prominently, but they don’t need to, this could come from no other brewery than Black Sheep.    Be it Black Sheep Ale, Riggwelter or Golden Sheep, their beers have the same under note, best described as earthy and solid.   Looking at the tasting notes, this has Maris Otter malted barley, Fuggles and WGV (Whitbread Goldings Variety) hops.  Interesting to note that the British Hop Association has this to say about WGV “has a distinctive and robust flavour and although Goldings features in its name, it is more likely to have Fuggle pedigree, based on its Farnesene content”.

Flavours in the beer they note include a “biscuity flavour from the barley…..with a herbal edge….with peppery and minty taste”.    The beers I had settled well and were clear and had obviously been kept well.  Looking at the tasting notes Black Sheep put for their Best Bitter, there is a number of points of commonality, so it is no surprise that it tastes much like its more famous brother.   It is a decent session ale, easy to drink, with good solid base flavours and pleasant on the tongue, but the herbal, peppery and mint notes don’t quite fight enough to get out, it needs a touch more “pop”, especially when competing with 9 other ales on the bar. However this beer will sell well across the 144 pubs it is being put in, of that their is no doubt, it’s got the Black Sheep badge and a taste that will appeal across the board, and for Ember Inns that is job done.

I also eat here (at my own cost) and the food was spot on, I had the ultimate burger, chips swapped out for mash and no bun.   The burgers with egg, bacon and cheese was well presented on a wooden board, the meat was well cooked, moist and of a good size to the point where I only managed under a half of the second burger which comes with this.  The mash was good as well, something many pubs fall over on.   The customer service was spot on from all the staff, and from my advantage point near the bar, this seemed to be the standard.  As I’ve always said give people a good beer and good service and you are more than halfway to having a good pub.

Pubpaper 850 – CAMRA Revitalisation

Posted: 2nd April 2016 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

Last week CAMRA launched its revitalisation consultation inviting both members and non members to have their say on the future of the organisation.   The problem CAMRA now has is that they have won the war, real ale is thriving all over the UK, there are now over 1000 breweries in the UK, the battle again the Big Six brewers from the 1970’s and 1980’s is one sitting in the past.   It has gained such a momentum that it doesn’t need CAMRA to keep the momentum up, it can do that all by itself.   You’ve seen this doubt of their own purpose over recent years when they have repeatly debated regarding the inclusion of “keg craft beer” and ended up looking like something which belongs in the past.

Their key question is how inclusive should CAMRA be.  The options are 1) Drinkers of Real Ale 2) Drinkers of Real Ale, Cider and Perry 3) All Beer Drinkers 4) All Beer, Cider and Perry Drinkers 5) All Pubgoers 6) All Drinkers.  In my opinion it should be none of the above, but let me explain why these are wrong first.  Option 1 is their position from the 70’s, is too closed for todays need for such an organisation and would render them as effectively a national beer festival organiser.   Option 2 draws similar arguments as Option 1, Real Cider and Perry are standing on their own two feet nicely at the moment and are a major growth market within pubs and in off sales. Option 3 is too wide,  frankly CAMRA representing craft beer, the best cask ale and Fosters would kill the organisation totally as it would ruin any credibility they had, the same arguments counting against Option 4 also as who want a body that supports Strongbow.  Option 5 and 6 are just plain silly, imagine if you asked CAMRA what they stand for and the answer came back “Everyone at the pub including the Bloke at Yates drinking a pint of Rekorderling ‘Cider’”, you’d laugh them out of the room.

CAMRA needs to totally re-align itself.   It doesn’t need to campaign any more, there is nothing to campaign for.  My analogy is D-Day, CAMRA is the fleet of boats, the real ale trade are the allied soldiers, the big brewers are the Germans.  Except now the Germans are sitting back in Berlin no longer a threat and the allied soldiers have made their own boats, rowed to Blighty and are sitting in front of the fire back home safe.  There is no one to rescue and no enemy to rescue them from, it was just a waste of diesel.  If a producer or sector of the drinks market is creating great tasting products they will get picked up and talked about.  

The internet has become a game changer, all you need is a few hundred quid to set up a website, a few hundred more to get the right branding which will grab peoples attention and to invest a lot of time promoting your presence whilst making sure the right people get samples they’ll talk about.   It isn’t like the 1980’s or even 1990’s where the way to get your products known to the trade was slow, expensive and was hindered by the number of pubs that the PubCo’s had locked down. If you wanted to market your products you had to spend money on trade advertising and hit the road meeting people just to get known.  That first step of getting known is so much more accessible now, you can market to the whole world for the same price as marketing to a single pub landlord.  Of course the follow up face to face skills are still crucial, but getting that face to face is so much easier.  Also there are so many more freehouses out there now who’ll buy a couple of boxes, kegs or cask to see how it sells.  If it is good, you’ll get repeat orders and word of mouth will spread, if it isn’t I’d get back to the brewing plant before coming back. Just look at Brewdog as an example, founded less than 10 years ago, adopting a low budget marketing campaign (compared to other nationally aware brands) and now close to raising £25 million through direct investment from beer drinkers.  The internet was key in this.

What should CAMRA become, the first thing that should be done is to change the political nature of the regional branches pub of the year / season, it shouldn’t be “it’s their turn”, it should be “they deserve it”.  Just look at our local CAMRA branch list of winners and you’ll see no-one holds on to an award for a second season or year or even gets repeat awards.  There are a number of pubs that should have won more than one seasonal or annual awards in the last few years.   Local branches still have their place though.  Nationally it should do the things they do well, national campaigning on politically relevant issues and organising their successful large beer festivals.  But the fight is done, they need to sit back and enjoy the spoils.