Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Cost


A few years ago, there was a blended whisky on the market called Bailie Nicol Jarvie.  While not the highest seller in the "Premium Blended" sector,  it was highly regarded by it's buyers and regularly got good reviews from the whisky pundits. Unusually, it was made with 65% malt whisky, as opposed to the 30% you find in Bell's, Grouse etc.

There were regular mutterings about how LVMH (the company who owned the brand) could knock the stuff out at £18 a bottle. Some even said things such as "I hope BNJ never becomes popular,  they'll never be able to make it viable." 

And so it came to pass in 2014. LVMH discontinued it. The 65% malt they put in it was worth more than they could sell it for as BNJ. Being a maker known for the "Luxury Goods" sector, they decided to withdraw from the blended whisky market. Had the brand been as strong as say, Johnnie Walker (a bottle of JW Black has increased in price by 50% since 2009), they possibly could have increased the price commensurately, but the average BNJ punter was reckoned to have been unwilling to stump up the extra £7.

Events like this are starting to happen in the beer world. Cask beer is reckoned to be, as the experts put it, "a faff".  The sheer effort of brewing it, casting it, delivering it and getting the empties back is a pain, and even after all that,  there's no guarantee the pub they've sold it too will look after it or serve it properly.

What most sectors in the food and drink sector do when faced with such things is simply reduce package size or increase prices. The former is out, as beer is sold by the pint and drinkers would take a dim view of having a Toblerone done on them.

The latter is just as difficult for many reasons. Cask drinkers invariably have some kind of formula in their heads about what a pint "should" cost, and God help any pub that goes over this. This varies from place to place. In Preston,  a 4% cask bitter is usually priced at £3, but in Lancaster (20 miles away) it's generally at least 50p more. As most people, even now, rarely travel to drink, it's not often noticed.

With the (frankly ridiculous) every-growing number of breweries and (sadly) decreasing numbers of pubs, this price is being pincered.  Pubs and punters want it cheap, and there are always breweries willing to cut corners to offer their beer as cheaply as possible.

The main loser in this is the"premium craft cask" producer. They simply can't compete with someone brewing two barrels at a time in their (hopefully clean) garage with their lower duty rate and overheads.  And a lot of pubs simply want cheap, new beer and will gravitate away from the premium brewers towards the shed merchants.

My fear, and indeed my prediction, is that brewers of Premium Cask will do a Buxton/Cloudwater and simply abandon the cask market with all it's vagaries for the keg market with it's better margins. The cask market will be left to National and Large Regional brewers with their economies of scale, and the garage and 2bbl people with their clapped-out Transit van and their well-thumbed local order network.

I pondered this yesterday in my local micropub while drinking a £2.90 pint of Hawkshead Lakeland Gold. The days of this sort of thing are numbered, I thought.

I hope I'll be proved wrong, but I fear I won't be.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Signing Off For 2016


We're entering the last few hours of a somewhat eventful year.  What your opinions are on this will vary according to your political outlook and personal tastes.  Unlike some bloggers, I don't use this as a forum for saying how wonderful/awful things are, and chastising those who disagree with me.  But, nonetheless, I've made a few decisions in the last day or so, and the evening of 31st December is a good a time as any to say them

I'll be taking a break from this blog.  Things have got rather heated in the blog/twittersphere in the last month or so, and I think it would be best for me personally not to be involved in them anymore.  Like any fandom, the problem is a perennial one - people taking something that should be fun with a degree of seriousness out of all proportion to it's relative importance.  Anyone who's read this blog for a while will know this is one of my pet topics, and for the moment it has me entirely beaten.  You may see me on Twitter, you may not.  But it's unlikely I'll be contributing to any debates about beer or related topics.

I won't be going to the The Manchester Beer & Cider Festival in 3 weeks.  Said online unpleasantness has dampened my enthusiasm for such things.  I would find it too awkward and stressful to have to deal with any arguments, either overt or covert, that are likely to occur when certain people meet.  As I've said before, despite appearances to the contrary, I don't thrive on vicious backbiting, poorly thought-out insults and general controversy,  Sometimes discretion really is the better part of valour, and as such I withdraw gracefully to the sidelines.

I'll be back.  I don't know when.  Enthusiasm is a deep well, but once it's completely drains, it takes a long while to refill itself

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Being a Dick

Average complete knob-end, today

They say the end of the year is a time for reflection,  of taking stock of what you've done and who you've become over the last 12 months. Me, I introspect all the time but infrequently write it down.

Today, I was reading one of those "Beer Communicator" blogs. Probably unwise, I know, unless I want to know how great the world of Beer or is, or how popular and successful said Communicator is. But one thing that was said struck me - that anyone who thinks they "may be on the take" is "a bit of a dick", in said person's opinion anyway.

Now, I've made fun of this person (as I have with many others) on this blog a few times. Leaving aside for a moment that if someone does paid PR for a megabrewer, people may not imagine their writings are entirely objective sometimes,  it made me think - what if I actually AM a dick?

It's true, I'm not someone who cultivates popular opinion by being socially skilled and nice and stuff. As being rude and taking the piss is the only skill I have in dealing with the world, such things are unlikely to happen. My comedy hero is Victor Lewis-Smith and, as such, anyone who thinks I've offended them has been let off lightly.

Perhaps being positive, upbeat, and telling nice stories about people you like is the path to popularity. In fact, I'm certain it is. But I'm not built that way. A combination of brain architecture and experience has made me cynical. In a way it would be surprising if it hadn't. I lack the privileged early life of most "Beer Communicators".

I'll admit on being rude and inappropriate in the past. If you were upset, then I'm sorry. It's nothing personal. I could, say, have got photos of Rick Parfitt or Sue Perkins and captioned your names underneath. I like to think I play the ball, not the man.

I'm not a dick. I may seem that way, but I'm not. Sadly, people nowadays take criticism personally, and imagine you're saying all kinds of things with very little evidence to support such a view.

As always, I say - beer should be fun. Stop being so damned serious.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

News in Brief #58

Compulsory.  Or something

Pub Not Serving Plum Porter


Last week, while pictures of bar top pumpclip lineups were being disseminated on Twitter, a pub was shown as not having Titanic Plum Porter available.

Barry Shortmeasure, clich├ęd proprietor of the Weasel & Bucket, Pocklington, admitted "I forgot to put it on my SIBA order last week despite it being in letters twice as big as all the others in the booklet, for some reason. Anyway, it's coming tomorrow. Look, here's a copy of the invoice. Don't report me. PLEASE don't report me."

Luckily, Titanic owner and SIBA chief Keith Bott was an indulgent mood however "Oh, ha ha. We noticed the lack of an order from Mr. Shortmeasure. But as we're selling so much Plum Porter, we'll overlook his mistake. This time."

"Actually, we're making so much of it that Plum Porter is the only growth industry in Stoke now. Three-quarters of the people here are engaged in the making of it. In fact, I'm proposing we change the name of the area to 'The Porteries'!"

"Wait, don't leave...."
But it's all so boring, dude

Communicator Blames Beer For Lack Of Inspiration


A recurring problem in the freebie-laden world of Beer Communication is that of palate fatigue. Earlier this month, awesomation producer and journalist Curt Mattis admitted he had fallen prey to this phenomenon.

"I keep getting sent all this stuff and it's, like, really dull." complained Curty  "It's the same old stuff all the time, man. IPAs, Imperial stouts, barrel-aged kumquat goses.  I'm fed up with it all."

"It can't be me who's wrong, as I do this for a living and drink so many beers. Beer needs to raise its game if it's going to appeal to my awesome sense of taste. If things don't improve,  I may have to start paying for beer again."

"People say I'm lucky, man." he whinged "But obviously not lucky enough."

"THE FUTURE IS NOW"

CAMRA Moving Forward With Revitalisation


This week, anachronism-riddled consumer organisation The Campaign for Real Ale announced the publication of it's report into it's future. "After 18 months of proposals, discussions and surveys, we've finally come to some conclusions." proclaimed CAMRA founder Michael Hardman.

"We've found we should be protecting pubs more. It doesn't matter that a lot of unviable because people now prefer solitude, Pinot and Netflix. Because History and Heritage. Obviously."

"Also, keg doesn't appear to be as evil as our active membership seems to think. If nothing else, this'll get rid of a few old codgers who clutter up the letter column of What's Brewing.

"And in the interests of brevity and easy consumption of information," burbled Hardman "we've put it all down in 6-point lettering in this 100 page report. Both sides. So, CAMRA,  members - get reading. "

"There will be a test at your next monthly meeting."

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Sensible Times in Castle (Part 2)

(link to Part 1 here)

Having had enough "Awesoming" for today (my new term for travelling around a town's Craft bars), I decided next on a more traditionalist outlet.  I left the patrons of Ten Green Bottles to their Index Card Drawers display of artisan coffee beans and, noting the demolished Sainsbury's behind me (still with folorn looking trolley park signs) turned right down Bridge Street.

Bridge St. Ale House in happier and more populated times

3. Bridge St. Ale House
Music : none - deathly silence.

It's only a short walk there, thankfully (who would have thought that Newcastle Under Lyme would have a microbar quarter?).  I looked inside from across the road and saw the Ale House was empty.  I'd looked up the opening times beforehand, and these insisted the doors opened at 1pm.  Investigating further showed the lights on, so I turned the door handle more in hope than expectation. It opened.  The look on the woman behind the bar's face indicated I was the first customer of the day.  It was 3:30pm by this stage.

There was a choice of 4 beers.  I went for the Heavy Industry Freak Chick which, despite expectations engendered by the name, turned out to be a malty best bitter.  A decent enough palate-reset after an IPA.  I sat there drinking in silence while the bar woman got on with necessary/unnecessary but helping to fill time (delete as applicable) cleaning jobs.  The signal down this end of town is poor, so I was reduced to pointing my phone out of the window to do anything with it.  I now dub this practice "The Newcastle Salute".  Bar woman sighed, sat down with what looked like a kale smoothie and said she was going down into the cellar.  Proabably to cry.

I had thought of telling her my own suggestion to drum up custom.  Simply get a bloke to stand outside asking passers-by to "Come into my Pumpclip Cave!",  But I thought better of it and left.

Would you come down here after dark?

#4. Lymestone Vaults.
Music : 80s indie

It was nearly dark about this point.  Thankfully, I know the layout of the town well, having collapsed and fallen asleep drunk in many places here.  So, back up the hill towards the Lymstone Vaults, a local outlet for a local brewer serving local beer to local people.  It's local, anyway.

This place was also empty, though the barstaff were more talkative than in the previous place.  I ordered a pint of the Ein Stein (a German-hopped beer with scientist motif), and asked what was going on in this town, and how I recalled it being much busier in 2000.  The barman admitted some days can be pretty dead now, but it was usually busier than this.  I then regaled him of what Castle was like all those years ago, when the building the Vaults part-occupies was an O'Neills (the other half is an estate agent's, much needed in an area where half the buildings are either To Let or For Sale).

Despite one wall being plastered with CAMRA 'POTS' and 'POTY' awards, he didn't think much of the organisation itself. "Your lot come in here, have a half and bugger off to the next place." he said. I've never heard of me being lumped in with the CAMRA crawl crowd, I thought, even if it is broadly true. He also said I'd walked straight past Castle's Latest Latest Awesome Craft Place on Hartshill Road earlier. "Doesn't look like a bar, so you probably missed it."

 It was at this point another customer arrived, dragging in a 13-week old black labrador with him,  He proceeded to open his back, and take out a small black polythene back tied up at the top. Now, all of you who have experience with dog-walkers will be thinking "Oh dear, what's going to happen now".  Fortunately it turned out to be dried food for his undoubtedly hungry growing pup.  I took note of this near miss and left.

Get connected in Newcastle. If you can.

5. Wellers

Music : Reggae

On Twitter I'm followed by a journo from The Stoke Sentinel, and last week he put up a link to an article about yet another new micropub opening in Newcastle.  I looked up the location, and I used to know it as clothes boutique next to a closed public lavatory in a narrow alley.  Also close to Lymestone Vaults, so during my somewhat haphazard planning on the train down, I put this down as the one after that.

Run by the local Weal Ales Brewery in Chesterton, it naturally has 5 of their own beers on, plus some craft keg behind it.  One of these was Buxton Axe Edge, which I was sadly now to far gone to sample.  Oh well, I ordered a pint of something weaker that I've forgotten the name of.  The barmaid was talkative here too, which proves how dire things must be in Castle on a Thursday if people are willing to converse with random paisley-shirted drunks.

Unsuprisingly, give the name of the bar, the decor was Paul Weller-themed, the owners being big fans or something.  I asked if Weller himself had come down to the opening three weeks earlier. "We did ask him, but his managment said he hasn't drunk for two years." Which of course must be the reason.  Why would you not want to come to a small bar in a dark alley opposite a disused NHS adminstration building and a former video shop?  I did think of asking "You should have asked Jonathan Ross.  He's not busy and will happily endorse 'Weal Ales'.", but even I think better of such things these days.

After much "Newcastle Saluting", I managed to get 1 bar of signal on the phone, where I found my sister had sent me a message.  "So, you're in Newcastle, eh?" she wrote "Is it still shit?".  The barmaid asked what it said, but I told her such things controvened the 'No Swearing' policy promulgated by the helpful poster next to me.

After another pint, I announced my intention to go to the Hop Inn.  "Oh, that's ok." said the barmaid.

Is it very rude?  Oh dear.


6. Hop Inn
Music : Couldn't hear.

I staggered out of town, down the subway and up the hill to King Street.  Such things are no small feat given Newcastle's lumpy geography.  I got to the Hop Inn by 8pm and it was the first place I'd been in that was actually busy.  I ordered the Bass, as is traditional here and stood at the bar as all the seating had been taken.

My bladder being full at this point, I went to the gents.  As any man who's been here knows, these are decked out in vintage saucy postcards, either to bait Melissa Cole or just to give easy laughs to working class punters.  Who knows?  Anyway, by the time I got back to the bar. My sister-in-law (who lives nearby) had sent me a message requesting my presence at the Victoria in May Bank.  Never disobey a woman, especially after saucy postcard viewing laughter guilt.  I polished off my Bass and headed down the road.

Embering. Photography depiction actual state of vision at the time of taking

7. Victoria, May Bank
Music : Memory fuzzy at this point

This pub I remember, when I lived here, as a bog standard carvery type place.  But when I got there I was in for a surprise.  It's been Embered, and the beer choice was exactly the same as the three Embers down the road from my house in Preston.  I looked at them one by one and, resigned to my fate, ordered an Ember Ale.  As I always say, when in Rome...you may as well be sold into slavery and killed by lions.

I can't remember much of the conversation with my brother and sister-in-law.  No doubt they were talking about selling fabric over the phone as that's what they work in.  I was too drunk at this point to pretend to take notice and after I finished my pint I was driven back to Stoke station and shoved on the train back to Piccadilly.

I got home.  Eventually.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Sensible Times in Castle (Part 1)

I'm on holiday this week, and whilst The Moorbrook would LOVE to see both my Paisley-based fashion and miserable face every single day this week, I thought I'd give them a break yesterday.  Also, it was quiz night and too crowded for the likes of me.

Newcastle-under-Lyme is as good as anywhere else, I figured. It has a good selection of micropubs in a reasonably small area. Plus I have plenty of anecdotes about what a dump it was in the 1990s to tell disbelieving youthful pub staff.

Due a bridge collapse at Wigan, I had a bit of a wait for the train. I arrived at Manchester Piccadilly at 1250. I avoided the notice of the 8 Xmas jumper wearing women, animatedly discussing their forthcoming dubious activities in the City Centre while swigging Strongbow Dark Fruits. Fortunately, they departed the train at Oxford Road. I made a note to check if Manchester was still standing on the way back.

I arrived at Manchester Piccadilly at 1250. Plenty of trains to Stoke from there, I told myself, so plenty of time for Traditional Train Activities.
#awesome #dudes


1. Piccadilly Tap, Manchester
Music Choice : George Harrison

I needed change, so I braved the station exterior with it's speeding coffee cup carriers and Jehovah's Witness stands to Mancs premier sparsely furnished Evil Keg den. Setting the tone for the day, there were few customers. Possibly they were put off by the recent rumours of closure. Still, plenty of beers on. I had the Wild Beer Co thing called "Trendy Juice". Unsurprisingly it was completely opaque. My guess it was named and formulated to annoy certain traditionalist elements in the beer world. No matter, I polished it off in 20 minutes and headed for Platform 4 (in the station, not some hipster bar that probably opened 20 minutes ago).

Welcome home, Mr. Lawrenson

The journey to  Stoke was less eventful, and arrived in one piece following my sole ticket check of the day.  The weather was OK when I arrived, so I walked the 2.5 miles to Newcastle, reminiscing all the way up Hartshill Road. There was the A&E I nearly bled to death at in 2002; there was the Newsagents where the owner was killed in an armed robbery; and THAT'S the now-closed nightclub where certain girls in my class at school performed "favours" for the door staff in order to gain entry. Ah, memories. If only the local psych hospital had offered me ECT at the time.

Gin makes a man mean

2. 10 Green Bottles, Newcastle-under-Lyme 
Music : Tears For Fears

Entering the town's foremost (and only) place for Awesome Craft, I found I was observing the relentless march of Craft Gin. Gins. Gin cocktails. Empty gin bottles as candleholders . Even a big bowl of Mulled Gin on the bar. As it was only 3pm, I forsook such juniper-infused delights for a 2/3rds of Crate IPA.  I was however disappointed that the barman who served me in July, a bearded Transylvanian with a man-bunch,  was not on that day My stay was uneventful ,  save for the current barman's mates coming in to try stuff. The Mulled Gin was proffered. "It smells awful but it tastes OK." was the sales pitch. Though perhaps the sole taster's coughing and gagging reaction was a truer measure of it's qualities.

Still, plenty of places for me to go. So no need to resort to overheated and stewed mixtures of spirits ,  spices and fruits. On to the next place round the corner...

(to be continued ...)