663x414xRain-or-Shine1.jpg.pagespeed.ic.LD5_vA8s7j 200px-San_Miguel_Beermen_logo.svgI was searching for beer related news this week when up popped the headline “Balanced San Miguel Beer opens with win over Rain or Shine”, a slightly surreal combination of words. On further investigation it appears in the Phillipine Basketball League there are two teams, one called “San Miguel Beermen”, the other “Rain or Shine Elasto Painters”.   It shows that outside of countries and sports where there is a healthy flow of TV rights money, that you can pretty much name the team if you give them enough money, to the point that in the same league there is also a team just called “Kia Sorrento”, with every team having a company name in their title at some point.

Here in the UK, there have only been a couple of cases of sports clubs being named after the sponsor, eg : Total Network Solutions in the Welsh League.   The sponsorship of our big sports teams used to have some of the biggest beer brands in the UK on show, Liverpool had Carlsberg for many many years, Carling and Tennants did their stint on the Rangers and Celtic shirts.  Now only one team in the Premier League is sponsored by a beer brand, Everton with Chang.   Most of the money from beer companies which goes into football is done by being the “official beer supplier of” or “in association with” a team or competition.

For major international competitions it is the way to become the exclusive supplier of alcoholic beverages to event venues, look at Budweiser for the World Cup.  The beer world has changed over the last 50 years and you can see that in the advertising.  So many brands are owned by the international brewers such as AB-InBev, MillerCoors and Heineken that when they spend money trying to get your attention they want to make the advert usable in as many countries (with titles translated and voice overs re-recorded) as possible.


Beer Mats at Cross Keys, Siddal (click image for bigger photo)

If you go into places like the Sportsman in Huddersfield you can see the old 1960’s and 1970’s Bass promotional artist drawn posters in the back room, still showing the “traditional side” of English life hooked into a pun or tagline promoting the beer.  Take a visit to the Cross Keys in Siddal and you can see a collection of beer mats on the back wall  with some dating back to the same period. Half of those would not be allowed now, examples being ones extolling you to smoke an Embassy Filter with your pint of Double Diamond, Hobsons Black Beer “Nutritious and Refreshing” and Ansells Mild and Bitter “Stronger, more satisfaction”.

Back in that era there were still many local breweries serving the immediate town or county, some of these growing to be regional brands.  They didn’t need big campaigns to get peoples attention, the local pub was a “Websters” pub, a “Tetleys” pub, a “Boddingtons” pub.  When I lived in Leicester, you had 2 choices in that era, you typically either drank in an “Everards” pub or a “Banks’s” pub, your ale came from one brewery with lagers and ciders brought in from a number of the big brand names, with the ubiquitous Guinness and national offerings such as Carling, Skol and Harp all being typical lager choices.

As the 1970’s progressed into the 1980s brands and breweries were brought up and amalgamated into the “Big Six”, these were Whitbread, Scottish and Newcastle, Bass Charrington, Allied Breweries, Courage Imperial and Watneys, the last being particularly reviled by beer drinkers for the famously awful “Red Barrel”.  These big six companies also controlled the pubs and therefore choice of supply, this monopoly eventually leading to the 1989 Beer Orders separating estate and brewing operations, which was then circumnavigated by clever company restructures to ensure that the supply between brewery and pubs continued as per the status quo.

This investment meant that the chosen brands out of the amalgamated companies had to compete on a national level (as well as closing down the local breweries and merging the brewing operations to regional hubs, essentially replacing the local brand with the chosen ones after a few years when the local brand was shelved).   In the 1980’s, setting the pattern you would see going into the 1990’s, national brands were advertised heavily in press and on TV whilst local brands were left to slowly disappear off the radar excepting Point of Sales and Signage advertising.

55698Brands developed their own distinctive long running campaigns, Boddingtons “Mancunian” Campaign, Hofmeisters “Follow the Bear”, Carlsberg “If Carlsberg made…best in the world”, the Skol “Viking” campaign and Carling “British v Germans” all caught the publics imagination.   This continues until this day with almost every big beer subject to ongoing multi year campaigns.

Even now small to medium breweries don’t advertise on print or visual media on any scale any more, but with the internet, word of mouth does as good a job.


Pubpaper 780 – The Trouble with Punch

Posted: 19th October 2014 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

clients-12-punch_taverns-100When we talk about the large pub companies, one of two always get mentioned, Enterprise Inns or Punch Taverns.   The latter has just its it debt restructuring proposals approved this week, so this week I shall discuss them further, following on from last weeks mention.

Punch Taverns, which deals with leased and tenanted pubs was formed in 2002 after number of acquisitions and mergers over the preceding years.   The group has 3,800 pubs as well as a 50% stake in a leading drinks distributor Matthew Clark.   The managed pub division was spun off from Punch in 2011 and Spirit Pub Company now manages or leases 1200 pubs separate to the larger company (you will recognise their brands such as Chef and Brewer, Fayre and Square and Wacky Warehouse play gyms).

Punch Taverns make their money in 3 ways, sales of beer to the pubs, rent on the property and profit sharing on leisure machines aka fruit machines.  The pubs within Punch are split into 2 divisions, core and non core, the core getting investment “to make each pub the best of its type in its marketplace” with non core being helped to make enough money to make them interesting to other potential buyers in the medium term.  Not that the core pubs were safe from sale, in the year to June 2014, 257 pubs were sold for £91m of which 51 were classed as core.

The company is not one entity however, with 10 sub companies existing within the shell of Punch Taverns, and its shareholders are in the majority hedge funds with one alone owning nearly 20% of the company (pre restructure).  The company has really gone nowhere in the last 4 years, with turnover stagnant and the debt as likely to move as frenchman living next to a brothel (courtesy E. Blackadder).   Overall the company is worth £300m with liabilities of over £3bn.   Revenue is on the decline, as is the operating profit, but if you sell 5% of your pubs, then this is expected.

debt-collection2If the restructuring had fell through, to quote their own documents “The failure of the Restructuring…would be expected to result in…default…which would be likely to result in….the appointment of administrative receivers“.  They were in deep financial trouble. The debt notes by which they raise funds are generally taken out for a set period and interest rate, payable by a certain date.  Imagine a mortgage but with minimum payments every 3 months which won’t cover the full amount and facing a lump sum at the end equal to 70% of the houses value, similar to interest only mortgages which used to be offered by banks.

However if you were in trouble, couldn’t pay the mortgage and asked your banks to hold off any payments for 6 months, you would be evicted and the house sold.  It’s not as easy with a business, if it goes under you are not only losing the value of your holding in the business, but the recoverable assets will only be worth fractions of the value.  That is why when you have £1.6bn of debt notes, your investors give you a bit more flexibility.   Their various debts are due up to 2028, but even then they would owe £716m on these notes still.  The new plan actually involves them paying more off (only leaving £516m), but having longer to pay on the shorter term debt with a payment window at the end of 2014.

But they still list a great number of risks to the business going forward.  Beer sales are declining due to home drinking, health concerns and legal restrictions imposed in 2006 (are they still not factoring in the smoking ban after 8 years of it being in place).   Gambling spending on fruit machines is reducing, people can now bet on sports via their phone apps for a cheaper, longer lasting gambling buzz.  They state the pub trade is seasonal, and this affects money coming in from pubs in wet sales, but this is a known fact across time immemorial.   Competition is cited in the trade, again nothing new since the Roman times.

They also state a potential shortcoming that they may not be able to adjust to customers tastes over time, they have shown slow responses to peoples choices in drink in the past, so there is no reason why it won’t happen again (think about them introducing a “mainstream craft” beer choice for tenanted pubs about a year ago, only 6 years behind the curve).  Finally they warm that they might not be able to execute the plan correctly…well there’s confidence for you.   They recognise that they need to keep their “talented employees”, the same ones who they doubt can pull off the plan.

IMG_9391 blogThey also mention the inability to attract the right quality of tenant, when other companies in the competing sectors may be offering a better deal on rent and drink prices / freedom to buy at best price.   If it is a choice of being shafted on multiple fronts or being treated fairly and allowed to make a living, why go for the shafting unless you are a masochist.  Linked to this is the “risk” of the need to make capital investment in pubs to make them attractive to potential “partners” as they call them.   People don’t pay good money for rubbish, so again is a known part of the business, why can certain pubs charge more for the same product, the perceived quality of the premises and surroundings.

Lastly one of the risks lower down the list is non payment by “pub partners” aka tenants, but this is a rod they have been making for their own back, they charge too much for beer, too much for rent and these two things in combination can drive a pub out of business in double quick time, but only after most struggling landlords have put thousands of private savings into the business to prop it up.   Reasonable rents and beer prices could mean cheaper beer at the retail end and more footfall making up for the lower gross profit.  Just look at Wetherspoons, cheaper food, cheap beer, busy pubs with all sectors of society in attendance.

If Punch don’t have confidence in themselves, why would the tenants, the worry for them has not gone away, but been merely postponed.




Pubpaper 779 – Label Perfection and Punch Troubles

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

15671-c1I’ll open this weeks column with some news from the World Beer Awards 2014.   Every year over 1000 beers are entered for consideration from over 60 countries in 9 categories, with 7 for distinct beer styles, an overall winner and best beer label.   I’m delighted that one of my favourite beers, Great Heck Black Jesus, a fantastic 6.5% Black IPA has won the best label award this year.  Judges said “Good use of green shades giving the feeling of coal mines. Excellent technical illustration using simple shapes to further create even more detailed shapes. The use of symmetric and consistency of design over the entire label make this a worthy winner.”.  Congratulations to the team over in Selby whose range of beers including Yamika IPA, Shankar IPA and Amish Mash are all worthy of an extended session.   The other regional winners from America and Asia (Black Jesus won the European Award) provided strong competition and were excellent designs, so it shows how strong their branding is, something repeated across the range.

Looking at the winners in the beer style categories, awards were spread between America, Germany and Belgium and Australia, with no other British winners.  However we did pick a number of Gold Awards in the European section of the competition.  Brew Dog Libertine Black Ale won a Best Black IPA award, Thwaites Nutty Black won a Best Mild award, whilst Brew Dog won a second award with a Best Chocolate and Coffee Award with their Cocoa Psycho, a cracker of a 10% beer I’d recommend you to try, rounding off the hat trick for them was their 5am Saint in the Best Amber category.

When it comes to what we would call more traditional beer styles in this country we also got an impressive haul, with Gold Awards for Hook Norton (x2), Jennings, Thwaites (x3), Harviestoun, St Austell (x2).  Thornbridge also won a brace of gold medals   What this shows is that our breweries, whether they are defined as craft, real ale or volume producers, can compete with the best in Europe.  Of course the Germans and Czechs are dominating the Lager Category Gold Awards as that style of beer is their speciality, and if the Belgians didn’t win the Belgian Style Gold Awards, something has gone seriously wrong with their brewers.

Now onto what on the surface is positive news for Punch Taverns pub tenants after the company’s proposals for restructuring their debt was accepted by the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Bank.  This process has been rumbling on for very nearly a year now.   Other shareholders including Hedge Funds had accepted the deal offered prior to the banks giving the thumbs up.  However there are doubts if any benefits will reach those on the front line behind the bars of the pubs they lease out.

The company finances are still not healthy, using a medical analogy, the patient is out of intensive care, but is being kept in for observation.   Hedge funds returns and debt servicing are taking the majority of the money out of the business and both costs will not be reduced to aid the tenants.  In fact interest rates will only realistically go up and hedge funds will demand more dividends or move the investment on someone else who will do the same.   Punch Taverns recognise that a good chunk of their value derives from their property portfolio, so are reluctant to sell to tenants at a reasonable market price, knowing that they can sell to supermarket or takeaway chain at a premium for conversion to retail or catering without planning permission.  Even if they don’t sell the pub they can lease for far more than a sitting pub tenants would be able to be charged, per square foot a Tesco Express which has all day demand can make far more per year than a pub where its services are in demand to wildly different degrees across the day and week.

All the major pub companies who aren’t tied to breweries are in the same position, highly leveraged with debt, serviced at the cost of the pub tenants.   Enterprise Inn’s stock market shareholders demand their pound of flesh as much as any hedge fund.   You see a happy landlord, you can pretty much guarantee that they are freehold and keeping all the money they make and buying the beer they want at reasonable prices.  Freedom brings happiness in most walks of life, pub management included.


Pubpaper 778 – Open All Hours?

Posted: 8th October 2014 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

It has been 100 years since the opening hours of pubs were brought into line from what we would recognise as modern operating times.   The first act controlling hours came about at the start of World War One in 1914, when naval and military authorities got the powers to control opening around harbours, barracks and other premises related to the war effort.  A year later this was power was extended to civilian authorities.  Under these powers opening times were limited to the hours between 8am and 10pm, down on the previous limits of 6am – 12.30am (except sundays which were still limited to the old times of 1 – 2.30pm and 6 – 10pm).

However this would not last long, when the 1915 act came in, it limited pub opening hours to a mere five and half hours a day, allowing 12 – 2.30pm and 6 – 9pm trade.    For anybody who is near or over 40 years old, you’ll remember going to the pub with your dad on a Sunday and having to drink up for the 3pm bell before going back after 6pm when the pub re-opened.  This is the legacy of a previous 18th century act, but drinkers now had this all week as the war waged on.

Drinking was considered an evil by the government of the time with Lloyd George outlining how a minority were refusing to work a full week, because quoting “let us be perfectly candid. It is mostly the lure of drink. … Drink is doing us more damage in the war than all the German submarines put together“.   The original intention for this was to align opening hours with meal times and to restrict drinking outside of these core times, hopefully meaning that people would be less likely to get drunk with enforced breaks.

The popular reason for this was that it was to stop ammunition workers blowing themselves up whilst still affected from the previous late night, this is the extreme end of the line, but it was true that it was to make people fit of a long day of work.  However once the war ended, any hopes for a quick reversal of these laws was optimistic.   Some concessions were given regarding closing at night with an extra hour granted after the declaration of peace in 1919, and landlords were given more freedom to choose their opening hours in 1921 when pubs outside of London were allowed to open 8 hours a day Monday – Saturday and 5 hours on Sunday between 9am and 10pm.

This allowance still effectively enforced an afternoon break in opening hours as your 8 hours were needed to offer beer at core hours namely Lunch (12 – 3) and Evening (6 – 11), and Sunday drinking effectively was held at the status quo.  Since 1881, most areas of Wales had been dry on Sunday with no pubs opening, however in 1961, law came in to allow areas to vote on whether they would be “dry” or “wet” area on a Sunday.  Most areas went “wet” over the next 37 years with only the county of Dwyfor left by 1989 (who went wet in 1996).

The pub hours we take advantage of today didn’t really come into being until the late 1980’s.  In 1988, the 8 hours restrictions were removed and pubs were allowed to open through the day with no afternoon break.  However it would take another 7 years before we could enjoy an afternoon session on a Sunday.   In 2003, the biggest change in 90 years took place when open licensing hours came into force   This allowed pubs to open later into the evening, with the possibility of 24 hour trading.  This meant that instead of having to go to an overpriced nightclub to drink past 11pm, you could carry on your current place of drinking or extend you crawl into the night.   Town centres suddenly became far more competitive for the local monopoly that ran the local clubs, although in reality there was always a number of impromptu “private parties” which started after drinking up time.   In most local pubs outside of town and city centres, these “private parties” were happening at least once a weekend if not twice,  otherwise known as the Lock In.

So look at your local pub now, closing at 12.30 or 1am is the normal now on a weekend, and if you look at a Wetherspoons, the original times of 6am – 12.30am are pretty much identical when you include their early breakfast hours and its only took 100 years to get here.



Pubpaper 777 – Brewdog moves, Pump Room blues

Posted: 25th September 2014 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

A catch up with the news from the beer world this week, and I’ll start with Brewdog, our favourite anarchic Scottish craft brewer.   If you like their beers and live in West Yorkshire there is good news for you, they have secured a bigger site in Leeds further to the north which will open in March, with the existing unit at the Corn Exchange being converted into BottleDog, their retail operation.   They have also secured the Blind Tiger in Brighton, the pub I wrote about 4 months ago when it was forced to close down when it had issues with its music license after complaints from newly moved in residents above the pub..  The pub had a 160 year history of live music, more of this later.

The Bottledog concept is already in place near Kings Cross Station in London and I visited the shop when I was down there with work a while ago, taking a very pleasant walk from London Bridge station via St Paul’s Cathedral, Camden and the Grays Inn Road just to visit this shop before catching my train back.  Personally it was hog heaven for me in there, a very good choice of beer from all over the world, good knowledgeable staff, with prices from about £2.00 a bottle all the way up to collectors money.  The only thing limiting how much beer I purchased was how much weight my bag could carry.

One recommendation though, don’t get to Peterborough on the London to Leeds express service and find the weakest beer in you bag is 7%, you’ve drank half your purchases (inc. a 10% porter), then go for a few pints at the craft beer bar in Leeds and just about catch the last train home from Leeds.   I sobered up about 10am the following day after that trip back from the big smoke.

Having one more locally is even better and lets be honest, if there is more high quality beer shops of the likes of this and Beer Ritz, also in Leeds, then the world is a better place to live in.  We all love our beer, this is why you are currently reading this in Pubpaper over a pint at some Calderdale pub (or on the internet, either way you are most welcome), and if it means we can get more of the better beers in the world, that does me nicely.

Soon there will be even more Brewdog beer to fill these shelves and many others as they plan to increase production capacity by 80% with 12 new fermentation tanks, it seems the world can’t get enough of their beer with 21 bars currently open and another 6 planned at least.   They may not be everyones cup of tea, but plenty of people seems to like this particular brand of tea.

Wrapping up the Brewdog news we have the Blind Tiger in Brighton. After the complaint they were given a deadline to sound proof the pub to comply with the noise abatement order which was issued by the council.  The cost of this was too much for the pub and they chose to close the pub despite the bands bringing in a lot of customers, it wasn’t enough profit to afford the £20,000 costs of the work.  It’s good to see the pub re-opening again, and hope Brewdog make a success of it, hopefully annoying the original complainant at the same time by its success and the noisy crowds under his patio windows next summer.

Last week one on my fellow writers in Pubpaper mentioned the Pump Room in Halifax closing in December last year to make way for parking access to the newly planned shopping centre which is to be built on the site, the adjoining properties and the car park currently behind Argos.  I wrote about this two and a half years ago when the plans were going through the council process.   So 9 months after it closed, nothing has started on the complex, which Halifax needs like a hole in the head, given the council owned Northgate House complex is due to be replaced by shopping facilities.  There is simply not that much disposable income in the area to support all these shops.

The Pump Room was a viable pub economically, so why did it not stay open up to just before the work was to impact that particular part of the development, I can’t think of a valid reason why not.   It wasn’t as if it was a pub company copy cat venue, it had its own place in the psyche of the towns drinkers, especially for the football crowd on the way to the Shay.  Sadly I don’t see it opening again even if the shopping development doesn’t go ahead in its current guise, something very possible knowing the people who plan these structures, just see Bradford for a prime example.

The summer has now started to slip into the past and the beer gardens are starting to empty into the warm pub on an evening.   The wave of summer drinks and summer fruit cider variations has passed and the winter versions will soon be entering our pubs fridges with cranberry versions of anything possible being aggressively marketed.   The real ale pumps go slightly more the darker side and you get the more comforting beers replacing some of the lighter summer brews that the accompanied the long warm evenings.

Autumn brings in, to me the best season of the year, the landscapes become a full palette of colours rather than the blanket of green, and we start to get the sunrises and sunsets as you go to and from work.  To me it just seems more natural to go to the pub when it is dark on an evening, the draw is different to summer, where we go to enjoy the outdoors over a pint, come autumn we want the comforts of a warm pub, cosy fires and a hearty pint.  Fast forward a couple of months and nothing beats entering the pub from a cold winters evening and shedding the outside garb.

The pub at best is a home from home and never is this more important when the choice of evening activities is restricted by light or weather conditions. It is where the troubles of life are temporarily left outside like a dog tied to the pub garden fence.  Whatever has happened that day can be allowed to escape as the beer goes down or at least give you time to put it into some sort of perspective before dealing with it later.   A chat with a fellow drinker my illicit a solution not previously considered.   The fact you are making yourself step back and possibly sharing it with others opens up your viewpoint.

Alcohol as with all drugs, legal or illegal, are designed to do just this, take the rough edge off day to day life, remove you from the hustle and bustle short term.   Frankly there is no point in humans inventing a narcotic if it just leaves you where you were before.  Look at the musicians who wrote some of their best stuff when they were pretty far removed via their drug of choice.  I’ll not try to sum this up better, so I’ll leave it one of my heroes, the late great comedian Bill Hicks, who unbelievably has been now dead for over half of my lifetime, having died in 1994.

hicks-3“You see, I think drugs have done some good things for us. I really do. And if you don’t believe drugs have done good things for us, do me a favor. Go home tonight. Take all your albums, all your tapes and all your CDs and burn them. ‘Cause you know what, the musicians that made all that great music that’s enhanced your lives throughout the years were rrreal f[e]cking high on drugs. The Beatles were so f[e]cking high they let Ringo sing a few tunes.”

Down time in life is important, the pub or bar is probably one of the main ways we in the UK and Europe do that, and just because we are apparently doing nothing over a beer, just think how many relationships, friendships or business connections are forged at the bar of the local pub.   When a village loses it last pub, people say that it has lost the heart of the community and they are not far wrong, even if it was underutilised by the local community.  I’ve found numerous trades people through word of mouth from fellow drinkers, got work myself, made friends I’ve had for many years.  I even met my wife at a drinking establishment.  It may not be true for all people, but certainly since I was 17 years old, the pub, whether it was in Leicester, Coventry, Aberdeen or Halifax, has been the pivot point for activities outside of the home.  It probably hasn’t been for best health wise, but its certainly kept me sane at times.

The phrase “You know what I fancy a beer” is the brains fire escape to just chill out for a bit, and I’ll be honest and say if I have an hours window where the family is busy with other things, I’ll quite happily pop out for a couple of pints.   Beer may have its problems, but remember it can also find you a solution.

Pubpaper 775 – Good Beer Guide 2015

Posted: 14th September 2014 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

Last week the Good Beer Guide 2015 was published by CAMRA and the picture it paints is broadly a good one.  We lead the world when it comes to the number of breweries per head of population with 1 brewery per 50,000 people, and in the last year 170 more breweries have added to the books list.   Our brewing trade is back up to the levels last seen in the 1930’s and 1940’s before the mass consolidations which took place in the 4 decades which followed that era.

Looking at Yorkshire, we have 141 breweries listed in the guide, 18 of them new since last year, whilst 99 news pubs from the region are also listed taking it up to a total of 393 pubs.  Among the new brewery listings are some very worth entries, Bad Seed from Malton made some fantastic beers, whilst Stud Fold, local to Halifax, is producing some very nice session ales.  Whilst I’ve not tried their beers yet, but both Atom and Small World have also been garnering some very good feedback on their products.

When broken down, West Yorkshire is shown to be a hot bed of brewing activity in such a relatively small area, with 60 breweries in that area of the county.  Compare that to 46 in North Yorkshire, 25 in the south of the county and 10 to the east.  We only have a population of 2.2 million, which means we have a brewery for every 36,000 people, way above the national average.  However it must be noted that for their 46 breweries, North Yorkshire only has an official population of 601,000, so their 1 brewery per 13000 people beat us in West Yorkshire into a cocked hat, abhet in an area four times bigger than us.

When you compare Yorkshire to the combined forces of the Greater Manchester and the West Pennines (an area stretching from the M60 to Carlisle via Lancashire), a geographic region with similar areas of built up population and wide open countryside we come out very well indeed.  Greater Manchester has 42 breweries (7 new) and West Pennines has 70 (10 new), so still shy by 31 breweries.   We have some cracking beer cities and towns in gods own county, Leeds, Huddersfield, York and Sheffield among others, more locally there is Sowerby Bridge and Hebden Bridge, with numerous small towns following their lead across the county.

The fact is the number of breweries (a number we have no reason to expect to stop growing) and range of brewery types we have gives us a really healthy mix, from the relative heavyweights like Theakstons, Black Sheep, Copper Dragon, Ossett to the small one or two man operations brewing small batches of speciality craft beer with small to medium traditional brewers sitting in between.  We have enough bars interested in new breweries to support growth of the part time single person operation into a commercial business which can provide them a full time living.  Breweries are always moving up the pyramid in regard to scale of production, leaving room for those below to fill the gap.

Just look at the example of Mallinsons in Huddersfield, starting off as a two woman operation, expanding to employ a couple more people to help with the non brewing operations, then finding out the premises couldn’t support demand and moving to a brand new location with a brand new higher capacity brewing setup.  The old building? Sold with the full brewing plant to the recently formed Hand Drawn Monkey Brewery, linked to the beer shop of the same name in Huddersfield town centre, who are now getting their beer served across the country.  Hopefully they will too suffer the same fate on outgrowing the building and another small brewery will have the chance to go commercial off the back of their success.

For years, the beer industry consolidated and standardised into a handful of core breweries, with similar offerings across the brands.  We are now in the middle of a relative explosion of breweries, craft and traditional, we have more beer to try and most of it is at least good solid drinkable session ales.   If variety is the spice of life, then long may it continue.

Pubpaper 774 – Low alcohol beers and no decent ale bars.

Posted: 3rd September 2014 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

Alcohol free beer has been with us as a mainstream product in the UK since the early 1990’s from my memory, when the main choice was Kaliber from Guinness.  This frankly was a terrible “beer” in most ways, it tasted chemically, had no fizz, left a rather bad aftertaste and after one you never wanted to try it again.  These days the most common brand you will see in pubs is Becks Blue, from the makers of its namesake full strength brother and despite being a much improved beer over Kaliber, it still suffers from being bland and lacking the fizz you expect from a beer.

Non alcoholic beer is produced by taking the full strength beer just before carbonation and bottling then boiling it to 78.3 centigrade, the boiling point of alcohol enabling it to evaporate leaving you with 95-96% of the original volume virtually alcohol free (<0.05%).  Water is then added to make up the volume leaving the flavour unaffected.  This liquid is then bottled and carbonated as per a normal beer.

So why are we discussing this?  A few weeks ago a survey came out stating that almost half of British adults believe “alcohol-free beer is more socially acceptable than it was five years ago”.  When was it ever not socially acceptable, did people fear they would get ostracized from their social circles because they bought a 0.05% ABV beer instead of a coke.   A good alcohol free beer can be a decent alternative to soft drinks if you are driving, especially when the police are much keener on drink driving now.   Becks Blue is drinkable, but German products such as Erdinger Alcohol Frei are much more balanced flavour wise when it comes to mimicking full strength beer.

The survey doesn’t reveal how the question was phrased, but the fact that this was commissioned by the makers of aforementioned Becks Blue should give some indication that the wording leaned towards positive sentiments towards non alcoholic beer.  I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised when a survey comes out with the result the paying client wants, thats what survey / public opinion companies exist for.   The figures they produced didn’t surprise me, 43% of adults and 59% of men have tried one of these beers and the most common reasons for trying was that people were driving (59%) or were simply curious (39%).  In fact Yorkshire and the Humber had a higher than average 52% when it came to adults trying a non alcoholic beer.

However what it did reveal is that 1 in 4 people “would not feel comfortable ordering alcohol-free beer in front of their friends in a pub, bar or restaurant”.  You have to ask why not, either there is a glut of people who don’t have backbone enough to simply order what they want without the wrath of their peers or there are some very judgemental friends out there.  I can think of no other reasons for people not to order this if they want to.  It’s like being scared of ordering the jacket potato at dinner instead of chips for fear of being thought a wimp.  Utterly baffling.

Moving back to the full strength stuff now with more venues who can’t see past the core Carlsberg, Tetley and Somersby Cider (also masquerading as Fosters, John Smiths, Strongbow combo)  as their draught beer offering.  I went to Fake Fest music festival in Filey for my birthday on Saturday after an afternoon on the beach drinking nice Czech beers mixed with the occasional G+T and a pub visit on the way with family and friends.   With no choice of where you got your drink from (having been searched on entry), they could have got at least one keg ale on draught, even on a short run if they did not want to risk waste.  Over the afternoon I ended up drinking Somersby, the only one I can stomach, and watched a few good bands, but come the return visit to the pub later in the evening it was a relief to get a decent beer again.   One thing I did notice is that Filey seemed to lacking a decent seafront pub, a few hotel bars, a licensed restaurant, but no pub for its length, all of them being back up the hill in the town centre.  You’d have thought there would be a demand for it!


I’ve been to a lot of pubs in Calderdale and the surrounding areas, but even now I can still be pleasantly surprised by discovery on a rainy day drive out.  The pub in question this time is The Cat I th’ Well Inn located somewhere in the middle of nowhere just above Mount Tabor.  Driving up looking for a pub for a couple of pints, I spotted the sign and recognised the name, passing 2 pubs which turning back round to get there (although the Delvers and Crossroads at Mount Tabor both look good pubs and are on my tick list to visit for the first time).

The pub is set on a single track road at points and located next to a stream at the head of the valley with fantastic views down.  A couple of miles up the road is ruins of Carr Castle.  However back to the pub, its what I call a proper pub inside, fireplaces, acres of wood, a bar room and lots of smaller areas to occupy.    A two tier beer garden with views down the hill rounds off the location nicely and the sound of running water is always a bonus anywhere.  Although we didn’t eat, the food and smelt very good and seemed reasonable priced.

Beer wise, I had a couple of Yorkshire beers and both were in very good condition.  4 pumps adorn the bar and mainstream drinkers are well catered for too, my only criticism is that they could offer a wider selection of cider on tap or bottled as not everyone wants a choice of Strongbow or Magners.   However the staff were friendly, service quick and a good attitude to family visits certainly helped to endear me to the place.

Another pub I really do like now is the Beck just outside Brighouse.  I’ll admit it took me a few visits to warm to the place, however it is one of the best pubs in the area in my opinion now.  A good ale selection with 7 pumps, 1 cider pump and 3 boxes ciders keeps both me and my wife happy on our visits.  The beer has always been in good condition on visits and it is carving itself a mean reputation in the local music scene with Jake Smallbones, Dave MacPherson and many other bands doing regular turns there.   Friendly and knowledgeable staff don’t do any harm here either.

Brighouse is becoming a real hotbed for music again now with Jeremys, The Beck and Commercial all contributing to this.  The Canal and Music festival just gone (as it will be when this is printed) can only cement this and when you have such a passionate core of musicians and organisers such as Jason Fieldhouse, you will find it hard to fail.  The town may not have the best music venue in the area, this honor goes to the Puzzle Hall Inn in Sowerby Bridge with its dedicated stages and sheer number of artists, but as a whole the town is possibly becoming the best place to see live music in the area.

I’m hitting 200 columns for this paper now, and it is still refreshing that the pub scene in the area keeps bringing up things to write about.  Old favourites still stay in my thoughts when choosing where to visit, with more joining that list.  A few have dropped out of favour and at least one of them is falling out of favour with others with its customer service based on a conversation I had at the bar at the Beck last Sunday.  It is not as if you are short of alternatives to a pub which has failings in one or more areas within Calderdale.

You name it there is a pub which caters for your taste. Craft beer, beers from small breweries, cider, live music or a penchant for stronger beers, there is a pub for you in the area.  You want a good local pub, we have dozens of the buggers.   We have number of towns which will provide a very respectable pub crawl with good beer all the way round.  Hell, we are the only place in the county where you can go dry slope skiing next to the pub.  Variety is the spice of life and we have a bag full of it here, enjoy it.

Pubpaper 772 – Bland Cold Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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