Last weekend I visited the Cloudspotting Music Festival in the Forest of Bowland.  Four days in the middle of nowhere listening to good music, the kids being kept busy with activities with good beer and food.   The festival is small, 5 minutes walk end to end with 2 stages, a food area and a large covered beer tent with DJ playing all day, bands play alternately at each stage, whilst after hours venues in the woods host acoustic or jam sessions.  But lets get back to the beer.  The beer came from a range of local breweries, selections coming from the likes of Bowland, Dent, Settle, Three Bees and Hopstar and Ribble Valley, with 5 ciders on offer accompanying the 6 ale pumps.

The beer was regularly rotated with a range of 10-12 beers appearing and reappearing over the weekend.  I’d not say there were any spectacular beers, but what they offered was a good range of tasty session ales which were kept well and served well.   I didn’t have a beer or cider I didn’t like over the weekend and I tried virtually all of them whilst on site.  Pricing wasn’t over the top either with £3.50 for beers and £4.00 for ciders, when you consider they had a captive audience, 10 miles from the nearest decent shop.  It is comparable with some town centre prices and when compared to events I have been to where beer is closer to £5 and is normally limited to the mainstream selections of a large brewer, I was happy to pay for a good freshly poured ale throughout the day.  Of course, exceptional beers are a bonus, but when you have to cater for all tastes across thousands of people, good solid session ales are the way to go.

There is something about just being able to spend the day or three chilling out with a slowly supped pint in your hand, with no jobs to do and good live music within earshot.    It is one of the joys of camping for me that everything slows down, breakfast takes 30 minutes to cook as you juggle pans and burners, at night you have ample time for a beer waiting for dinner to cook.   Even on the Sunday when it rained most of the day, a golf umbrella and hiding in the beer tent got rid of that problem.   It is an event I’d thoroughly recommend for both music fans, and as somewhere to chill out for a weekend, and plan to return next year if holiday plans allow.   I’ve not been around a more friendly crowd of strangers in a long time with no sign of trouble all weekend, and that with several thousand people is saying something.

Now back to more local news.  It appears the rumours I spoke of regarding the Ship Inn, Brighouse have come to fruition.  As I looked inside last Thursday night, not actually going in, all mentions of real ale are gone.  Replacing them are signs offering cheap Carling all day every day, special offers on Strongbow during the week, Bud at £1.50 per bottle.  Add to this the emphasis on wall to wall music from the free jukebox, karaoke, DJ and live acts, suddenly it has become the new choice of low cost drinking in town, even competing with Wetherspoons on some beers.   The Barge and the Commercial will definitely gain customers who don’t like this new Ship Inn for the lack of real ale, Wetherspoons mopping up some of those customers as well.  Whilst the Black Bull and Ship Inn will now compete for a similar crowd, the pricing structure at the Ship will attract the less desirables and the Bull will get those customers who want a similar style of pub, but less “in your face”. The old format for the Ship Inn had found a good unique niche being a good real ale town centre pub, whilst not being Wetherspoons.  The new one just doesn’t stand out, or rather it does for the wrong reasons.

Substantiated information from two trusted sources say that a new manager was insisted on by the business partner when Marsha took up her role at Oates Brewery.   The initial choice of manager, who was keeping the existing business model, was soon replaced by the current one who is responsible for its conversion into a “Carling and Karaoke” joint.   A sad end for a good period for the Ship Inn, it seems to alternate between being a pub you want to visit and a pub making you want to avoid it.   I don’t want to see a business fail, but I’d like to see that dropping the real ale pub format was the wrong decision nevertheless.

Pubpaper 817 – Fox and Goose 1 Ship Inn 0

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

For the first time since it became a community owned pub last year I visited the Fox and Goose in Hebden Bridge.   The pub is as honest as you will get, there is no hiding that work is still taking place on the interior with boards sitting against walls, building materials piled neatly in corners and paint splatter sheets covering tools.   On the Sunday afternoon I popped in, the pub was nicely busy with a mix of walkers, locals and couples, the noise from each of the three rooms drifting and merging to create a nice relaxed atmosphere.   I visited with my two children and they were more than accommodating with them, both from a staff and customer aspect, an attitude which endears me to an adult led pub immediately.

The pub is split into bar, lounge and games room hosting the darts board.  It still has the great range of local small brewery beers as well as a wide range of European bottled beers.  On the day I had one of the best pints I’ve had in a while.  Vocation Brewery are based in Cragg Vale, has only been operation for the last 6 months.  Hugh at the Cross Keys is a fan of the brewery, having tried all of the beers on offer so far.  I got to try their Chop and Change single hop pale ale, the batch being Amarillo based at the Fox and Goose, the result being a 4% beer which tastes more like a 6%+ beer.  Full of flavour and plenty of aftertaste, it is an absolute cracker of an ale and makes me want to try more of their range.

The second beer I tried was the collaboration between the Fox and Goose and First Chop Brewing Arm, a 3.7% hoppy pale ale.  Simply named “F&G”, it is again full of flavour, with Citra and Sorachi Ace hops filling out the taste.   The beer was not quite to my palette, but there is no denying that it is a well made beer.   The pub had a number of stronger beers on offer which driving excluded me trying, but I was told this is not the norm, with normal strength beers normally dominating the pumps.  But the choice on the pumps on the day would certainly make for a very good session with a good range of styles on offer.

The Fox and Goose certainly deserves a visit if you are anywhere near the area, and once the work is complete it should be even better.    The beer prices are also very good with £2.50 for lower percentage beers during the day on weekdays, even at the weekend my round of a pint, a coke and an orange juice only came to £5.50 which is very reasonable in my eyes.  The pub is also the CAMRA Winter Pub of the Season for 2015.  Hebden Bridge is becoming a really nice beer town, the Stubbing Wharf for Cider, the Old Gate for Craft and Real Ale as well as a number of other very good traditional pubs.

You can add to that the recent opening of Calans micropub which offers 5 real ales and a selection of continental bottles.   Looking at their beer offerings so far, it certainly would be worth visiting if you have any interest in real ale, something I have yet to do, but intend to soon.  Their offerings at the time of writing includes Vocation Bread and Butter and Great Heck Shankar IPA, with a couple of boxed real ciders for those who live on the apple side.   With previous beers including those from Small World, Oakham and Purple Moose beer, it certainly ticks all the boxes for me.

But as one pub takes it’s place on my list to visit, another might be disappearing off the list.  A source has told me that the Ship Inn Brighouse is having all its real ale pumps removed and will revert to being a “Carling and Karaoke” joint that I have been told it was previously, before I first starting drinking there, prior to the Mark Feasey days.  If true, this is a real pity as the town was gaining momentum as a pub town.   The town already has the pubs to deal with that audience and the Ship Inn filled a gap in the real ale market in the centre of the town.   I don’t see the sense in this decision, but it does not surprise me in the scheme of things, with Marsha leaving to work for Oates Brewery, the change has taken the wind out of the sails which was building up with the pub having developed a good atmosphere and nice reputation locally for their ale range.  If you are after a real ale and traditional pub nearby I recommend a short walk up to the Commercial / Railway near the station where Trevor, Sue, Jason and the rest of the team offer a warm welcome and good beer.

Pubpaper 816 – Beer around the World Tonight

Posted: 18th July 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

I’ll start with a story from down under this week about an Aussie drinker who has been caught dumping empty beer cans every day on the same street.  You may think so what, but when I say he had deposited an estimated 11,700 cans onto the pavement in 18 months or an average of 21 cans per day, it puts a different complexion on the story.  He was eventually caught dropping bags of the cans out of his car window as he passed through the area, indicating that he had something else to do in his life.  At least he wasn’t drinking Fosters, with Carlton Draft being his beverage of choice.  21 cans a day, every day, is an unhealthy beer habit (this from a confirmed member of the beer club) even if spread through the day, the equivalent of about 11 pints.  I’d hate to see the state of his liver right now if they were not shared and even then his taste buds must be numb to the taste of the beer by now.  For me the variety of beer is the reason I drink it and enjoy it so much.  Being stuck with 18 months on the same beer, even an excellent one. would be pure hell, but some peoples hell is another’s heaven.

Keeping on the topic of our Aussie friends, it appears their love of a beer doesn’t extend to Cricket Test Matches which they lose heavily.  After the 1st Ashes Test in Cardiff, Alastair Cook invited his opposite captain Michael Clarke for a post match beer, an offer which was rebuffed by the visiting skipper.  The two teams sharing a beer after the match has finished is ingrained in most sports, especially in amateur ranks, the social aspect being as much of a reason for taking part as the sporting aspect, just look at the number of social or members clubs attached to sports grounds.  The New Zealand test captain was happy have a jar after matches regardless of the result, but the Aussies always want to get one over on us (and at the time of writing they were 566-8 declared and we were 85/4 with good chance of a follow on in the third day of the second test match at Lords, so it appears to be working).

At least we have a good supply of beer, back in the middle of July, the Polar Empresas brewery which produces 80% of Venezuela’s beer was suffering a strike by its workers who were demanding higher wages.  Workers at number of sites at the country’s biggest distributor also joined the strike with the same demands.  The lack of supply routes out to some parts of the country meant that a national beer shortage was on the horizon.  Luckily a government official was on hand to help mediate the labour issue.  Not the trade, commerce or industry minister as you would expect, but its Human Rights ombudsman called Tarek Willian Saab who gained an agreement which ensured beer shelves would not run dry.   Other sources say that the Labour department of the government ordered them to go back to work, but that’d ruin the idea of “Beer as a human right?”. An interesting question, and as long Greene King beer is not protected and in fact is tried for crimes against humanity, I’d be happy to go along with this

What all these stories show is how ingrained beer is into our lives, you are sitting in a pub reading this aren’t you!   It gets into every pore of our society, from the people at the top of the pile down in Westminster and our complaints we are paying for their subsidised beer.  Right down to the homeless alcoholics and the arguments about the sale of high strength turbo lager like Tennants Super, Skol Special Brew and Kestrel Super.   Every social strata in between will have a beer related agenda, whether it is the argument between cask and craft, the post pub / club trouble in our town centres or the country village risking losing its last pub.    The stories above go from the people at the top of their sporting game, to low paid workers in second world countries, to a fairly average aussie.  It knows few boundaries and not many products can say that

 

Pubpaper 815 – Second Chances and 5 Years On

Posted: 12th July 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

The Cock of the North in Hipperholme was one of the original pubs I used to visit a lot when I started to write for PubPaper back in 2010.  It had always had a wide range of beers on and enough variety of styles for a session to be kept interesting.  It was (and still is) the brewery tap of the Halifax Steam Brewery with the brewing vessels being visible as you entered the bar and only their beers being sold on draught.  My visits became less regular as more real ale places opened closer to home, but it was still on our list.

However a couple of years ago, I boycotted the place after an experience where the then bar manager put on a display Basil Fawlty would be proud of.  Coming to the end of a night out about 11pm, the manager started to hoover around the remaining customers whilst they were drinking up, and whilst I was on the phone to the taxi company, he interrupted the call as me and my wife discussed what time to book it for, effectively telling us to book it for ASAP.  His performance was frankly disgusting and we vowed to never return.

However this weekend we decided to give the Cock of the North another chance, and the intervening years have certainly seen improvements.  The original portacabin was half brewery half bar, so could get cramped at busy times and was always a bit cosy on an evening, but it had a good atmosphere (most of the time).  The brewery operation has now been moved out of the portacabin and as a result it is nearly double the size and it really improves the place as a venue, the mix of sofas, bar tables, benches and high stool tables have plenty of room around them now and looks immediately more relaxing.

They have also tweaked how they operate the bar, they used to serve 10 of their beers at any time previously, now there are 6 pumps on the bar serving a selection on the day from pale to ginger to dark.  The range of cider has also improved with boxed ciders now on offer, the previous limited cider range not being the best at that time.   The smaller range works for me, as when you had the 10 beers on at once, there was a lot of beers which overlapped in style and strength, whereas the 6 pumps now provide a gradual range across the beer spectrum.

The bar is definitely back on my list again now, but it does show the point that poor customer service over-rules beer and venue in the customers eye.   On my visit, the service was good and was attended to quickly.  That is half the customer battle won, the beer is the easier sell as you are preaching to the converted.

Another thing than it brings to the fore is how the scene has changed beer and pub wise in the last 5 years in Calderdale.  It has definitely changed for the better,  we have more choice of real ale pubs and a bigger range of interesting beers.  Most towns in the area now have seen an upturn in their pub and bar scene and more choice is out there for the real ale (and craft beer) drinker.  Back in 2009, my regularly visited pubs could be counted on a hand at times.  Hebden Bridge, Brighouse, Luddenden Foot, Todmorden, Ripponden, all have gained venues which provide the beer people want and more importantly the pub numbers are sustainable given the local population and visitors to the town.  This means that I now sometimes have a difficult decision when choosing where to drink, and the favourites list is now 5 of many more.  The Calder Valley pub scene was of course decimated for a while by the floods around the turn of the decade.

Sowerby Bridge I didn’t mention as it had already had its boom well in progress by 2009-10.  Halifax has gained a decent real ale scene again with more established pubs serving a good range of these beers as well as the opening of the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe in 2014 and much earlier in this period, the Cross Keys on the border between Halifax and Siddal, providing a top quality end to the real ale mile at the bottom of the town, the Old Post Office at its start now.  Of course we have lost the Pump Room, sadly physically as well by the time you read this, but overall things are better.

However certain towns have been overtaken by their neighbours as they stand still.  Elland is now overshadowed by Brighouse regarding its pub scene, and could fall behind West Vale and its immediate surrounding hills as the leisure development at the Thornton Mills comes to fruition.  The town centre now only has 2-3 pubs in it’s heart, supported a number on the outskirts.  The town has the transport links and population to make it destination again, but investment will be needed to do so.

Pubpaper 814 – Losing Pubs and Beer Prices

Posted: 4th July 2015 by santobugtio in Writing

I mentioned a few months ago the story of the illegal demolition of the Carlton Tavern in London by its owners who wanted to build apartments on the site, but had been denied permission and knocked the building down the day before it was due to get its Asset of Community Value status ensuring its use could not changed without the local community having a chance to buy the building.   Westminster Council have subsequently ordered the owner of the property to rebuild the Carlton Tavern brick by brick to its original design.

Another case has come to light in St John’s Wood, again in London.  This time it was a pub of Victorian origin called the Alchemist (originally called the Fishmongers Arms) about a month ago.  The now former pub building is inside the areas conservation zone and is considered one of the landmark buildings in the area.   The pub falls under the jurisdiction of Wandsworth Council who are soon to give 121 pubs in their area of control added protection, which means demolition or change of use to retail (currently not needing planning permission) would now need council permission.  I don’t usually give local authorities praise, but hats off to this decision.

This may have hastened the owners “need” to remove the building from the land he owns before protection kicks in, very much like the Carlton Tavern incident.  The pub was not currently trading, but if a landowner wants an empty building, he can easily make it not attractive for anyone to take on the site and to make the existing tenant leave by simply pricing the rent out of the market.  Wandsworth Council say they could order the pub to rebuild brick by brick in the original style, I hope they do, because otherwise we will get more pubs being knocked down without permission knowing the fine will be more than covered by the profits on the apartments or the sale of the land as a development site.

This happened in the past of course, but usually there was a “mysterious fire” which gutted the building and made it structurally unsafe, owners are just more brazen about it now.

Now onto beer prices, there is a worldwide survey each year on the average cost of a beer across 75 different cities, looking at Europe, Eastern Europe takes the top three cheapest slots with Krakow (Poland), Kiev (Ukraine) and Bratislava (Slovakia).  The Scandinavian and Swiss cities are the most expensive.  No real surprises there, both ends of the scale already have a reputation regarding their beer prices.  Considering the UK and Ireland, as you’d expect London and Dublin are fairly close to the expensive end of the scale.  The other UK cities listed (Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool) were all sitting in the cheaper half of the table, surrounded by other European capitals.

The survey only cover hotels in the these cities it should be noted.  So if we take the example of Leeds, they quote £2.99 per 330ml or £5 per pint.  In reality I’d put Leeds about £3.50 to £3.80 per pint on average across normal pubs both real ale and craft.  Oslo works out at £8 per pint, and Helsinki at £9 per pint and from people I know who have stayed in hotels over there that’s about right, with bars charging at least £6 per pint (similar for Iceland, which isn’t on list) which about the same percentage difference as Leeds between hotels and bars.

Take Slovakia and Poland, who’s hotels charge £2.50 and £3 per pint, the beer is known to be cheap over there, assuming the same difference as Leeds it would be about £1.80 and £2 respectively in bars, a price you’d not be surprised to be paying judging from people who have been over there.  In all these places of course you can find cheaper places to drink.  But it shows we can moan about beer prices, and they are high compared to a lot of places in Europe that we typically visit on holiday or business.  But compared to other continents and certain European countries in this survey, we get a veritable bargain.

Remember when we used to consider paying £3 per pint something we’d never do, we’ll most of us do now, and probably nearer to £4 if you drink premium lager.  Our psychological barriers for what we’ll pay will continue to increase, we are not going to give up the pub or beer, it is too ingrained in us.

 

During the industrial revolution, the term “boom town” applied to a lot of Yorkshire towns at one point or another when a major employer came to town and built the new mill or factory, causing an influx of new workers to move into and expand the town into the surrounding area.  This in turn bought in other factories and mills, bringing even more people and jobs into the area.   But the downside of being a “boom town” was when these major employers closed or trimmed jobs due to automation or machines, just look at the developments in textile technology in the later 1800’s which cost countless people their jobs.  The side effect of this is either a lot of unemployed poor people living in the town or people moving away leaving vacant properties and building.  Either way the money is sucked out of the town.

The point of this short history lesson is that towns go through cycles of prosperity, stability and consolidation like everything else in this world.   I’d like to talk about Sowerby Bridge this week and it having its moment in the sun.   Sowerby Bridge experienced a big expansion in its pub market about ten years ago, the Puzzle Hall had been rescued from the thieves literally stripping its materials and was starting to become the de-facto small music venue in the area, The Works had opened and was getting rave reviews and becoming a destination for real ale drinkers.  The Jubilee Refreshment Rooms had opened catering for the same crowd, Bar Franchesca catered for the cocktail crowd and slightly later the Roxy re-invented itself as a late venue.

People flocked to the town including myself, and was widely acknowledged to be the best night out in Calderdale, with packed bars every weekend.   The existing local pubs changed as well, the William IV smartened up and became just Williams, the Turks Head made improvements to appeal to this new crowd.  All this success attracted one of the big pub operators in 2014 when Wetherspoons who took over the Wharf site and expanded the premises beyond all recognition.  Before Wetherspoons came into town, Sowerby Bridge had found its level regarding the number of pubs it could support, probably back in 2012, with enough passing trade during the day, steady weekday evenings and the big nights at the weekend being the big money earners.  The numerous restaurants also attracted a big crowd.

There is something people call the “Wetherspoons Effect”, that says that the other pubs in the town suffer a loss of trade as people move some or all of their drinking to a venue which can beat most other venues in town on price, food offerings, beer choice and pure value for money.  I’m not the worlds biggest fan of Wetherspoons, but even I can’t deny any of those four claims.   I didn’t see it that much initially with Sowerby Bridge, on my visits to the town, trade in the other pubs seems slightly down, but not the big drop people said would happen.  However talking to people involved in the pub trade in the town, this has now happened with footfall and takings slowly on a downward descent, one venue has closed already since they opened, The Engineers (the Bulls Head / Vaults was closed before they came to town I believe).

However the picture is not that simple, just down the road, Ripponden has been quietly building up its reputation for a good night out.  The Beehive and Old Bridge Inn have been servicing the area for years, but the other pubs nearby were in a bit of a state of flux for a while, changing names, switching from bars to bistros to restaurants trying to see what worked in the town.   There now seems to a stable core of pubs, bars and restaurants all within walking distance which is the key for a “night out town”.  Just outside of town, the Fleece Inn has expanded with a huge terraced area and is getting the punters visiting, on the main junction you now have the Millstone, just down the road you have the Silk Mill.  Slightly further on you have one of the original restaurants in the town, Cinnamon Lounge, a fixture in the area, and just on from there towards Rishworth, the Malthouse.   All of these offer a similar mix of craft beer, real ale, good wines and food to varying degrees, meaning most people can have a pleasant pub crawl and find something to drink in most bars.

None of these bars are groundbreaking, but they give the majority of people what they want from a night out. A nice environment, good drinks selection, food if they want it.  Success attracts success and more places will open until it hits a plateau and then it will see select closures as trade moves onto the next place and consolidation of the pub market in the area.  It is as Simba from the Lion King says “Its the Circle of Life”.

Last weekend, I popped over to Huddersfield for the afternoon, and it would’ve been rude not to visit a couple of its excellent hostelries.  The last time I was at the Kings Head within the Railway Station building it was in the middle of a major rebuilding project with the roof being held up by jacked supports and the entire pub sporting a rather unfetching black protective plastic sheeting look.   What a difference 6 months makes!  The place now sports its newly restored decoration with the original look of the room as it was in its time as the ticket office before the days of the Kings Head and its predecessors.  There is some work still to do above the bar and snug, but the high ceilings, blue panels and white coving along with the extra space released from the works has really transformed the place and judging by the band setting up when I was there, the acoustics are not too shabby either.

The pub always had a great range of beers from the real ale world and Purple Moose Madog certainly whet the whistle on the day.  But you weren’t short of choice with range of regular beers from the likes of Farmers, Magic Rock and Timmy Taylor on offer supplemented with a range of local guest beers from Golcar, Slaithwaite and Elland as well as some cracking guest beers from further afield at Oakham (Citra) and the aforementioned Purple Moose from North Wales.  I would have stayed on, but had to meet up with the rest of the family, but another longer visit is certainly in order.  Happily the meet up point was another great pub in the town, Hand Drawn Monkey, located on Wood Street (one down from the main road at the top of town).  This was where the real beer highlight of the day was for me (and it takes a lot to beat a Purple Moose beer).

Along side their own brews, they had a range of beers from the Black Iris takeover the previous week.  The brewer is Nottingham based and has established itself regionally, now spreading its tentacles across the UK.  It’s a brewery I’ve not come across before, but if the three beers I tried are indication of what they can brew, it’s one I want to try more often.  The three beers I enjoyed were all very different.  In no particular order, Homeward Bound Double IPA (7.2%), Drop the Anchor Black IPA (6.5%) and Rise and Shine Coffee Milk Stout (5.2%).  It didn’t do any harm that these are some of my favourite varieties of beer.  First up Drop the Anchor is everything a good Black IPA should be, deep black in colour, a good creamy head, dark malts and good bitterness throughout the beer, with a fresh taste and lightness on the palate with a good long aftertaste lingering in your mouth.

The second beer is Homeward Bound, a copper / amber coloured double IPA with a quickly settling head, the taste is strong without being overbearing and certainly doesn’t hide its strength, with a mix of top end flavours from the citrus family combined with more earth flavours for depth, it drinks nicely and the rich flavours graduate though as the beer level lowers in the glass.  The last beer was Rise and Shine, I’ve always been a fan of coffee stouts, as a lover of both coffee and beer.  This beer had all the coffee taste you’d look for in beer of its kind, with a nice hit from the beans balanced with a cream taste which is slightly sweeter than most (apparently from the lactose added, which also adds to the smooth rich body).  Three very different, but equally good beers. It should be noted that these three beers were all on keg, with some of their offerings also coming on cask.

Before I wrap up this week, I am going to mention something that I really do appreciate in pubs, tasters.  With the wide range of beers and brewers out there, there can be a lot of variation within a beer style.   At Hand Drawn Monkey I was offered a sample of each, as well a small taster of a couple of other beers on the bar as I was talking to the barman and when you can go to a bar and genuinely ask what they recommend, it is a very good sign they know their beer and how to look after it.  I can do the same at the Cross Keys, Siddal with the same trust.  Another pub who has been good at this in the last couple of weeks was the Ship Inn, Brighouse when choosing a cider from their festival range at the 1940’s festival, with samples of 3 or 4 before making a choice.  It shows you have nothing to hide and in the beer world, that can’t be a bad thing.

poster_v2smallThose who want to read about beer, please skip to column 2, because it is that time of year again when I promote the Ramfest Music Festival at Southowram Cricket Club on Sunday July 5th from 1pm, now in its sixth year, raising more money for our two nominated charities and bringing you some of the best bands from the local area. Returning to our traditional Sunday slot, we’ve got 6 great bands for you to enjoy all the way through till 8pm.  Entry is only £5 per adult and £1 per child, car parking is free on site.

Our first charity this year are Ravenscliffe School who are raising money for Ravenscliffe@SpringHall.  This project aims to build a trackside 6th Form and Community Centre at Spring Hall and since 2014, have raised the £2.4 million needed to develop the building, over £1 million of which was donated by local people.  What we want to help to fund is fitting out the building so the kids at the school have some fantastic facilities.

Our second charity is the Young Carers Service, who work with children and young people aged 8-18 who help care for a family member with an enduring illness, physical or mental health problems, learning difficulties or dependency issues.  The provide support via activity sessions, project work, residential weekends and one to one support.

We’ve got some of last years favourites returning to Ramfest this year, with last years headliners International Party Doctors leading the way.  The ever popular and widely acclaimed Psychoslinkys and Jake Smallbones return to the Ramfest stage, Jake becoming one of the rising stars on the Brighouse music scene over the last year.  We are also delighted to announced the return of While the Cat’s Away, a long term supporter of the event who sadly had to pull out of last years event.

This year we add Lewrey, a Huddersfield based band who were part of the BBC Introducing program, before going onto further success.   Also performing are the talented staff and students from Ravenscliffe School who will kick off the event at 1pm.  Supporting all of the bands we have DJ Ben Bottomley keeping the music going all day.  With beer at £10 for 4 pints, some of the cheapest festival beer you will find and four great food stalls keeping you filled all day along with kids entertainment throughout the event, it’s a great day out for everyone.  Please come along and support our great charities and have a great day.

Now back to the beer.  The summer is apparently upon us now, not that the weather tells you that.  Rather every “fruit cider” manufacturer has brought out a new flavour to tempt drinkers into consuming a chemically flavoured poor excuse for a base cider.

P1160030-50pc JPG UploadI was at the Brighouse 1940’s weekend and what was great was to see all the pubs doing good trade and getting in the spirit of the event, although some pub owners are probably glad it is not every weekend for the sake of their health and sanity.  Over 100,000 people are estimated to have visited over the weekend, excusing the pun, practically an invasion of the town.  Also what is nice at weekends like this is being able to walk around town with a beer in hand as you take in the event.

The outside bar was also a pleasant surprise, rather than be the usual 3 mainstream brands and a couple of big brand ales, there was a good range of 4-5 real ales and more cider choice than just Strongbow as well as the expected core lager choice.  Most of the beer sourced relatively locally, they had some good session beers on tap and the weather helped trade, although the stiffer breezier on the Saturday drew more people into the pubs that day I was told.  The Sunday brought out the best sight of the day however, with some bloke in 1940’s dress, pitching a deck chair on the pedestrian crossing outside the Ship Inn, supping a beer, a picture as English as you can get.

It is these sort of festivals which can make or break a pub.  In a pub I am involved in, in Kirklees, there are 5-6 weekends or festivals a year in the town which can define how well you do across the year.   You either are a destination town or you have to drive visitors.  Sowerby Bridge is now a destination for nights out and is well known for its pubs,  Hebden Bridge is a tourist trap (in the nicest way) and thus can support a good number of pubs, but market towns like Brighouse need to bring people in and with this, the music weekend and the other events they bring crucial trade to its shops and pubs.

 

Pubpaper 810 – Big city bars and trend following

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

Last week saw me in Manchester for a couple of days, giving me a chance to explore the city I still class as my favourite.  Having worked there, I got to explore the city, its bars and pubs and most, if not all, of its streets.  The city has always had a thriving bar and pub scene, but one which follows the trends of the times, as things do in cosmopolitan areas.  Most of the bars I visited 10 years ago are still around, despite the city being dotted with building sites, established buildings being knocked down for yet another glass and concrete tower, and half its roads dug up for the new Tram extension.

It was sad to see the Cornerhouse (next to Oxford Road station) shut, now moved to its recent replacement Home, just down the road.  The Cornerhouse was a regular haunt and its compact 3 floors of cafe and bar, shop, restaurant and event space created really good atmosphere as the noise permeated floor to floor.  The new bar in Home lacks all that, it could just as easily be in a shopping centre if you clad its bare concrete structure.  However it is still good to see that the Northern Quarter is still keeping it’s rough edges.  A mixed of bars, restaurants, independent shops as well as establishments serving the less salubrious needs of the people, it has still got character.

My favourite bar in the Northern Quarter is Odd.  A two floor establishment which sells a handful of real ales, a selection of craft beer on tap and does pretty good food as well.  The atmosphere is chilled and the service good, not leaving much more you can ask from a pub.  This is a bar I visit most occasions when in the city, however as a last stop before heading back to the hotel, we popped into NQ Terrace in the same area.  An interesting cask beer selection, of which I had Magic Rock Salty Kiss, a favourite of mine, along with a good range of world and European craft and keg beers, with typical stripped back brickwork you see in a good number of the bars of this type.

We were in the city to go and see Foo Fighters at the Emirates Old Trafford, home of Lancashire County Cricket Club.  The promoters decided that a reasonable price for the beer was £4.80 for Fosters or Strongbow.  Nearly a fiver for Fosters! It’s the only beer which would be improved by the heavy rain falling at the time filling the glass back up, lets be honest it’d probably be improved by the other use of a pint glass at a 50,000 capacity stadium where you can’t move from your current location.   It is the same at any gig you go to these days, generic beer at premium prices.

But looking at and visiting bars over a couple of days gives you the bigger picture.   Every other bar in the city is now marketing itself as a craft beer bar just because they have a few pumps serving the stuff.  One of the bars I went into was Joshua Brooks just off the main university drag.  A nice bar serving good cheap food, with 4 good beers on pump and a nice range of session ales as well as more interesting beers, which is matched with a similar amount of craft keg.   But they don’t sell themselves as a real ale pub, but a craft ale pub.  Prior to the Craft boom, they might have marketed the real ale element of its offerings, but the trend is to push the craft beer message, the same way that you pushed your wine range as a bar in the 1990s.

Five years down the line, they’ll be selling themselves as offering the next big thing.  You see the same with food, everywhere you go you saw pulled pork and slow cooked meats being offered and promoted heavily.  Pulled Pork is the food equivalent of Craft Beer at the moment, many places offering it, but a lot not coming up to standard.  I like both of these things and make a mean 72 hour pulled pork, doing so well before it became trendy and when they stop being trendy I’ll still keep eating and drinking them both.

The world feels like everything has to be labelled, categorised, filed into its slot.  Bars feel the need to fit into a niche, it is not good enough to just be, and sell yourself on simply on what you are.  The use of the term Real Ale was just as misused 10 years ago.  Another one is just around the corner ready to be abused accordingly.

 

I’ll start this weeks column with a quick note regarding the forthcoming takeover of the London based Meantime Brewery by SABMiller.  Announced a couple of weeks ago, the move is symptomatic of what is happening in the trade on the other side of the Atlantic.  Large brewing concerns want their piece of the Craft Beer sector and as I said a few weeks ago, it is moves like this and the formation of “in house” craft brewers that will dilute the craft beer label over time until it becomes worthless.  Just as Molson Coors brought Sharps Brewery to give it a real ale brand which real ale drinkers recognised, Meantime brewery, incidentally part owned currently by a former Miller Brands director, will become the public face of the SABMillers new premium craft beer range.

Some might say that we have lost a leading independent brewer, but others have been saying it has been going more mainstream for a while now, concentrating on its higher volume core brands than innovating new beers.  Wherever the line lies, the truth is that some Meantime drinkers will move on from the brand due to the takeover, at least as many will be blissfully unaware of the news and keep drinking as before and an equal or more amount will not be bothered.   Whatever it loses will however be more than compensated for on the sales line by the additional bar space it gets from the SABMiller distribution network.  As a business deal there are no losers, however what this could be is the thin end of the wedge regarding the mainstream penetration of the craft beer sector.

But now to the main topic this week, I’ve been writing a lot about the craft beer sector over the last few weeks, so this week I turn back to the world of real ale.   Real Ale is what got me into good beer, so will always be the core of my drinking consumption.   I paid a visit to the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe in Halifax the other weekend, a business owned by the same team who operate and lease the Puzzle Hall Inn, Sowerby Bridge.  They started off with 4 real ale pumps and 10 keg lines, they have now doubled their real ale range to 8 pumps, on the day ranging from 3.8% to 7%.  I sampled one from each end of that range, as well as one of their keg beers.  All were good beers, of that there is no doubt however the real ales gave me more satisfaction and in a mixed session do 99% of the time.

The following day I was at the Beck, Brighouse for a couple of pints whilst my daughter was otherwise engaged in town.  I ordered a pint of real ale, the landlord offering me a taster (I say a taster, it wasn’t far off a half in reality) as others had said it was a bit too citrusy.  I like a citrusy beer so had no problem with it.  However the great thing about real ale is that it is a living breathing animal that changes over time as it sits in the cellar.  The beer was labelled as a hoppy beer, and I have no doubt that a few days down the line towards the last quarter of the barrel that it will be a subtlety different beer and fit the beer pump description a lot more accurately.  I’ve had real ale before where I’ve virtually had the first and last glass out of a barrel and you’d swear they were not the same beer.  This variety of taste is something you don’t get with craft keg.

The downside of this living, breathing animal is that it needs more care to keep it in condition, a small movement of the barrel can unsettle a real ale and make it cloudy for a while (although normally to no detriment to the taste if it was good before).  It needs time to settle before serving and has a more limited shelf life in the majority of cases.   But in my opinion the product is worth the effort from the people the other side of the bar.  It also leads to a good rotation of real ales in our pubs, giving us far more range than we would get if the equivalent lines were connected to a keg.

A good real ale is as good as a drink can get and there are thousands of them out there.  Whatever your taste, there will be a “wow” ale out there somewhere and with the quality of many of our brewers, it is something I experience quite often at the pubs who know how to select and keep good beer.  When the worse case scenario usually is “that’s a decent beer”, real ale can’t be doing that bad.