Thursday, 26 September 2013

Solving the Pub Crisis

Average Preston student pub, yesterday

Reading the latest issue of the local CAMRA magazine this week, it seems they have a new columnist.  Well, I thought, at least it'll mean less words devoted to the evils of "Zombeers".  When I actually read it, though, it was by a "Former Leisure Industry Consultant" giving his views on how to turn the ever-declining pub industry around.  One pub in Warrington, apparently, has opened its doors as a drop-in centre for young mothers and their children.  I imagined one well-known blogger choking on his pint of Unicorn if that ever happened in Stockport.

My own personal plan, as is ever the case with me, is idiosyncratic.  I came up with it after reading about the tribulations of Freshers' Week, an event where millions of young people leave their homes and move to another part of the country to live with strangers and gain a degree.

But I say, bollocks to all that.  If we want to save the pubs, I recommend a different course.  Instead of loaning 18-year-olds £5000 a year for course fees and accommodation just so they can "study" to get a lower second in Klingon Studies or Applied Playground Management, I say give them a bedsit and £5000 in state-issued pub vouchers, redeemable at any building with a premises license for on-site consumption.

Imagine - the pubs would be full of young people enjoying themselves during the day, rather than empty but for a couple of miserable old codgers quoting the Daily Mail.  Not only that, but the kids themselves would be socialising freely instead of pretending to read and underline passages in textbooks about the literary history of Faerie.  Which would at least be honest.

I say get rid of the pretence of education, and have more drinking and socialising.  It really would be the "best time of your life" then.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

The Plebs Cannot Be Trusted

An average working class house yesterday
Alcohol brands pervade football broadcasts, apparently, according to a new study.  Booze companies, sponsor tournaments, put signs up by the pitch, even get the commentators to mention their brands.  This increases acceptability of alcohol and creates costly problems as people buy lager and get drunk on it.  Children will even be tempted to try it.  The horror.  So researchers have revealed at the British Science Festival, anyway.

Notwithstanding the picture on the website with children messing with tomato ketchup - surely that would make such a high-sugar, high-salt food acceptable to kiddy palates- you only have to look at the list of sponsors to doubt their motives.  General Electric - a major polluter and designer of the infamous reactors involves in the Fukashima Disaster; AzkoNobel, just your average toxic chemical manufacturer; and Saudi Aramco, a state-owned oil company. Nothing untoward, of course, being made normal and acceptable here.

The attack on Beer Sponsorship by these researchers is, as always, the result of middle class snobbery.  The working man will see Man United or Chelsea in an FA Cup game on TV, and will go out and buy cases of the promoted product (in this case Budweiser), proceed to get hammered and beat up his wife and kids.  This is because he is stupid, and does not know any better.   Nice middle class people do not drink lager.  They have a single glass of wine with their dinner and of course never have any problems with alcohol whatsoever.  There is always the assumption that the uneducated will see a single beer advert, and become alcoholics as a result.

(Advertisers see it much the same way.  Macrolager sponsors Football, the most watched sport in the country.  More middle class sports are given cash by financial companies offering esoteric services to the rich.  Had you heard of Investec before the 2013 Ashes series? I hadn't.)

The Portman Group were actually quoted in the BBC article as saying "National trends around alcohol consumption are encouraging. Government figures show that fewer and fewer children are even trying alcohol and the number of adults that drink to harmful levels is also falling."  The evidence suggests this is, in fact, true.  But the paper's authors insist "We believe a similar restriction to that imposed on tobacco products may be justified."

I will be blunt here.  Even taking away the whole personal responsibility angle, there is a difference between alcohol and tobacco.  Tobacco, when used typically, shortens life and impacts health.  Alcohol, when used typically, does not.   So, why treat them the same?  Simply because the upper and middle classes do not like the workers enjoying themselves when they could be being more productive - ie. serving the economic interests of their betters.  All that time and money spent in the pub or on Carling slabs could be spent working or saving.

I can't see Prohibition coming (history shows it doesn't really work), but I can see an awful lot of people's pleasures being curtailed

Thursday, 5 September 2013

What No Evil Keg Bitter?

A thought occurred to me while engaging in my latest heavy drinking session at The Tap House.  It's the age of Craft Beer, right?  That much we know.  We have it all, it seems.  Craft keg IPAs, craft keg pale ales, craft keg stouts etc. etc.

But there's one thing we don't seem to have.  Craft keg session bitter.

There does seem to be a few reasons for this.  A big one is the defeated spectre of Watney's Red Barrel, the infamous keg bitter from the 60s and 70s.  A drink so vile, that the legendary Jimmy Anstruther put it on the same level as crypto-Trotskyists, papist rapists and Chinese restaurants.

There is also the antipathy of the Crafties towards the "boring brown bitter" that the Beards drink.  Seen as having no discernable flavour, the Kernels and Partizans of this world would be extremely wary in making a beer that their hipster clientele is unlikely to even try, never mind consume in any quantity.

So, since the two major tribes of BeerWorld will never try a keg bitter, that must be the reason one has never been made.  Or, at least, not one that I have ever seen.

But I say - Why not?  Surely if these innovative, cutting-edge Craft Beer brewers are as skilled as they claim, then could they not make a palatable keg bitter?  Would this not be the supreme test of beer making skill, since apparently any idiot can chuck in kilos of hops and chill it down to 4 degrees Celsius?

Come on you Crafties - take up my challenge.  I will be first person at the font to try it should you do so...

Monday, 2 September 2013

Everything Ends Eventually

"Oh, you haven't heard? Mick's died."

To be honest, it wasn't a great surprise. Mick was 30 stone and could barely walk from the bus stops next to his two favoured pubs.  He heaved himself in, drank 2 pints of Bomber, hauled himself to the pub up the road, then came back, had another two pints of Bomber, paid off his tab and went home. Mick did this every night. If he was ever later than expected, his fellow regulars wondered aloud if he'd died.

Then one day it happened. Found in his bed, apparently. Nobody inquired about the cause of death.


There are many things people believe about pubs that, if they were ever true, are no longer. One of the major myths is that of the local pub, where a man has his first ever drink bought by his dad or grandad, where he spends his beer career, and where they eventually toast him over his coffin at his funeral wake.

It probably persists due to the depiction of pubs in soap operas. Walford and Weatherfield seem only to have one real pub, to which everyone goes. This isn't a reflection of reality, just a device to get certain characters into a place together that the narrative wouldn't generally have them. In reality, a twenty something would never drink in the same place as Emily Bishop or Norris Cole.

Nothing is forever these days. Pubs close, get revamped, licences and policies change. Pub companies change a pub to a new 'format' to attract the 'more affluent customer'. A few places will have the same landlord and decor for decades (I'm looking at one of those across the road from me as I type), but they are few and far between.

I myself have had several 'locals', none of which I stayed at for over a year.


I looked at my pint of Kirkby Lonsdale Ruskin's. It looked right. But I'd had it before and knew it didn't taste like balsamic vinegar previously. I returned it, and the barman agreed with me and gave me a free pint of York Guzzler. He didn't turn the pumpclip around. Orders of the management. Had to get rid of the previous regime's beer, you see. I thought, if that's your policy, I don't need to come here again. Miles out of my way anyway, even if the pool table was really cheap.

My sister was barred after expressing her views about the place within the landlady's earshot. She was a fat cow anyway and her husband was a knob. Apparently.


I tried the local where I lived. Newcastle Under Lyme had plenty of pubs. There were five within five minutes walk of my house, but this was the nearest. It was a Bass pub, though I can't remember if they served Bass.

I had a day off. I went in and ordered a Stella. I had about 5 in the end. Followed with a double JD which I downed in one. Hell, if pubs had more customers like me, they wouldn't close. Not that my dubious alcohol consumption did this place any good.

I moved from Newcastle Under Lyme in 2007. I went back to visit my brother 4 years later. "Ah," I thought as I approached the area on the bus "I wonder how that old pub is doing?".

The bus passed, and I couldn't see it. For good reason, as it had been demolished. Punch Taverns reckoned it didn't pay it's way. I went by it recently, and nothing had been built upon the vacant land. Such is the way of pub companies.


We have a listed pub in Preston. Apparently unchanged since it opened as a hotel in the 1890s, it has one of only 17 original semicircular ceramic bar counters in the country. As someone once said, there are good pubs and there is good beer, but they very rarely coexist in the same place. This pub was a Robinson's.

I drank 1892 Mild and Unicorn until it poured from my ears. I even tried the Old Tom. The barman told me the record was eight pints before the drinker stopped being served. Me, I tried a pint of it and felt ill about two-thirds of the way down.

I tried my best with them. I even removed a dead rat from their storeroom when all the staff were to squeamish to do so. In retrospect, I never really fitted in there.

It came to a head one night when I went on Preston pub crawl with them all. It all ended in a misunderstanding and hurt feelings all round.
I see no reason to go back.


The thing is about pubs, and indeed life in general, is that nothing lasts forever. Death, of course, is the real finality. A pub may not be just for Christmas but it's generally not for long. Things change, as do people.  My present haunt, I suspect, is about to go through one of these changes. But, sad and disappointing it will no doubt be, I will carry on and find somewhere to drink and blow my money.

Until the day they ban alcohol and close all the pubs, that is.