Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Cry for Help

Though I rarely admit it in public, I am a member of CAMRA. There, I said it. I feel cleansed now. Or maybe it's the Windy Pale I've just bought with my discount. Whatever.

I am not an active member, along with 98% of the membership. The reasons why are numerous. Lack of time, lack of interest in the activities available and preference to spend my free time drinking beer as opposed to politicking about it. But mostly, it's because of this.

Sadly, the above, though described as a cruel parody, is not far off what the Central Lancs branch of CAMRA actually think. Those that have in the recent past who have read their quarterly magazine Ale Cry will know what I mean. "Strident, ranty tone" and "antediluvian" are just two of the sobriquets used, by CAMRA members both.

So, today, I went into the Old Black Bull in Preston, ordered a pint of bitter and picked up this :
Yes, I was confused too. Where, for example, was the Masthead? Has Ale Cry's notoriety increased to such a degree that they have to furtively publish under an anonymous banner? I looked inside seeking reassurance, but no luck. Where were the mentions of "Zombeers"? Where was the stinging denunciations of " Craft Keg" as being the "thin end of the wedge"? There was promos in the Editorial, which denounced Punch and Enterprise as a bunch of bastards, but even this was disappointingly sane.  No, it was all bloody reports about local pubs, and drunken wanderings about various nearby places.

Then I got to page 9 and saw this :
Yes, Ale Cry has published an advert announcing the local availability of Craft Keg. I looked around nervously for other signs of impending apocalypse. But none were there. I had to conclude, that after recent incidents, CAMRA HQ in St. Albans have leant upon Central Lancs and told them to tone down the rhetoric or something.

It's most disappointing. Ale Cry is far less entertaining as a result. I know many people who only read it for it's comedy value. In fact, someone I know insists I bring a copy of every issue to Lancaster for this very purpose.

It's a sad day when we can no longer rely on our local provincial CAMRA branch to protect us from the depredations of vile keg. I hope for a return to form for the summer issue.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Big in Norway

As I will no doubt be out getting thoroughly pissed for the next few days, I've decided to do this post a few days early (links and pics are tricky to do on Blogger's Android app).

Yes, it's that day.  This blog has now been around 1 whole year.  My 12,000 hits in 362 days has not set the world alight, apart from a couple of instances.  As I've often said, I'm not a chronicler like Mudgie, a journalist like Boak & Bailey, an activist like Tandleman or a historian like Ron Pattinson.  I just point at stuff and laugh.  But such things have their place in the world, surely?

So, in the spirit of this undoubtedly significant anniversary, I've decided to do a beloved beer blogger trick and self-mine my year's worth of posts for the highlights :
Twinned with Stockport
Roaming Through Mudgie Land : Prompted by The Pub Curmudgeon extolling the virtues of Dumpy Old Men's Pubs (© Cooking Lager 2011) and having a bus ticket giving me unlimited travel for a week, I decided to have a wander round the local family-owned brewery houses.  For some reason, this post was very popular in Norway.  I like to imagine there being a Mudgie Fan Club in Oslo, where the members sit drinking bitter in a replica Sam Smith's house while complaining about Smoking Bans and encroaching modernization.

Not the author of this blog
The Future Of CAMRA and The Point Of CAMRA : By far my most popular posts.  By number of pageviews, if not for the views expressed therein.  This got me referred to by a CAMRA Branch Chairman on another blog as "I have to say I have found Mark Lawrenson (solely from his blog so I may be doing him an injustice) to be a slightly odd individual whose rather hackneyed and at times clicheed views of CAMRA are largely influenced by his local branch". Slightly odd I will admit to, but never being called 'Mark'.

Any resemblance to the activities of other Craft Breweries is entirely coincidental
BrewCat Meets a Journalist and BrewCat Gets a Customer : Being a longtime reader of Cyanide & Happiness, I thought "Those bastards must be making millions out of stick figure comics.  Where's my share?".  So I decided to create my own.  How wrong I was.  It typically took me 4-6 hours to do each one, and they're the least visited posts on the blog.  After doing six of them, I decided that for the forseeable future, it would be wiser to spend 20 minutes bashing out some nonsense in the pub over a pint.

As used by local bloggers
Guest Post - Johnny Whitepebble of Beer Traveler : As it happens, the writer of a well-known (at the time) local blog made an official complaint about one of my barman friends.  Never met the bloke myself, despite being in the same pubs at roughly the same time.  Parody was my only weapon it appeared.  And it was good.  So good, that said local blogger ended his blog a week later.  I'm a harsh man.

Sensible times ahead!
And that's the alleged highlights of a year's worth of blogging.  I hope to still be around this time next year to do this all again, providing I still have some liver function left.  And to all my Norwegian friends, I'll be raising a bottle or two of Nøgne Ø to you tomorrow. Skål!

Friday, 25 April 2014

The Female-Friendly Pub

Tea light, yesterday. Hordes of females not pictured

What with the obvious declining nature of the pub trade, those in charge of these things are either trying to appeal to as many people as possible, or attempting to wedge themselves into an otherwise-unoccupied niche.

One pub of my acquaintance, hitherto a crafty beer place, has been earmarked by the pubco for certain changes, on the somewhat peculiar grounds that there's not enough money to be made in selling decent beer.

This particular pub company has a female executive in charge of marketing and "customer engagement" and her Big Idea is to make this pub more "female friendly". A nebulous term if ever there was one.

Without wanting to come over all Misogynist Dave, there aren't, in my experience, many things that 
the majority of women like. The aforementioned female executive's idea of this consists of (a) tea lights on every table (b) a soft rock playlist and (c) removing all stools from the bar. I suggested to the manager that he should stop selling alcoholic beverages altogether, and concentrate on Cat Memorabilia, cupcakes and chocolate. I'm not sure he realised it wasn't a serious suggestion.
In my opinion, such theming of pubs is doomed, as it has the whole thing the wrong way round. The clientele should be the majority of the pub atmosphere and raison d'etre, rather than inventing a " concept" and hoping the "right" people appear.

Would people like a town centre fully of nichey theme places? And how long would it all last if it was? Remember the Eighties, yes, the Eighties...

Sunday, 20 April 2014


Half a cheap pub, half a JobCentre. And why not?
Wetherspoons.  Possibly one of the most divisive topics of the age.  Are they a force for good or evil?

My local Spoons, The Grey Friar, is pictured above.  The place is my favourite pub anecdote.  It always gets a laugh when I tell people that my local Spoons occupies a building that is also occupied by the local JobCentre Plus.  Personally, I cannot believe it wasn't planned that way, though surely the stories of benefits being electronically sent to a bar tab system are untrue.  It's also the only pub that has ever refused to serve me.  Ironically, I was ordering a can of Monster at the time.

Preston will be getting another Wetherspoons in the near future, thankfully located at the other end of town.  And, sad to say, this is probably one of the few instances that a pub from this august company would improve an area - Church Street being a dismal hole of takeaways and near-derelict vacant shops (it does contain one of Mudgie's beloved Sam Smith's, though).

A town's Wetherspoons, I think, it somewhere that has it's place.  Yes, they tend to attract people who really shouldn't be drinking John Smith's at 8am, and they are usually cavernous and unconducive to prolonged visits.  But if you happen to be in an unknown town for a short time, you are pretty much guaranteed at least a half decent pint and something reasonably edible.  For the local pubgoer too, it's probably one of the few pubs you'll find an atypical-to-the-region beer.  Where else in Preston, for example, would I ever find Darkstar Hophead or Titanic White Star?  In fact, it could be said that, along with Progressive Beer Duty, Wetherspoons is the main reason behind Britain's ever-increasing microbrewery numbers.  They have to be selling the stuff somewhere, and even if the shed/railway arch dwellers don't make a lot on a pint, it's getting their name out there.

Wetherspoons is neither good nor evil.  It is just there.  Cheap beer, free wifi, clean toilets and all the ping food you can eat for a tenner.  Timbo Martin's business model will outlast all the country's leatherette-bench codger pubs and reclaimed-brick crafty bars.  It would be a tragedy if all pubs were Spoons or faux/ersatz-Spoons, but the ones that are there perform their designated service role.  Even if, as in my town, that particular role is keeping a certain type of person away from the town centre streets.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Weather or Not

It seems summer has arrived early in the North West. After 6 months of wet weather that made the Pacific seem like the Sahara by comparison, the previously unseen round yellow thing in the sky has made an appearance. No doubt it will be pissing it down tomorrow, but people seem to be enjoying it while it's there. If you live in Lancashire, I suppose you have to.

What this mean for the drinking establishments will vary. The problem will be for places that don't have outside seating (or "Beer Gardens" as they are often euphemistically called). I know of one such place who's manager left after being confronted by the pub company for "under par" sales in the hot summer of 2013. "But we don't have a beer garden!" he told them "Everyone went to those bloody places by the canal!" To no avail.

At the time I suggested a 10% discount for goths (no way would they be outside, with that black clothing), but that foundered when the barman said, with characteristic open-mindedness "I'm not fucking serving goths". Some people don't like logical suggestions, it appears.

The crunch time for the place will be this summer. Being a bar of the Crafty persuasion, it has no TVs, so the World Cup (a long-standing booster of the pub trade) will be a no-go. So I will offer them another idea. "Look," I shall say "not everyone likes football. Simply put on Facebook, Twitter, the website etc. this this place is a 'World Cup Free Zone' You can even put a burst ball on the A-board outside and write on it 'Want to see the big game? Well, fuck off to Spoons, then.' Turn a negative into a positive, man."

I await to see the reaction when I suggest this.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Lone Drinker

I'll admit it here - I'm 38 and single. While this gives me certain advantages as far as freedom goes, I do the vast majority of my drinking alone.

This does restrict me a bit. Either I go to a crowded pub and look like a lemon, or go to a deserted pub and be served and ignored. Thankfully, I have the regular haunt where the other regulars know me by sight (and, by god, what a sight) if not by name. But it can make other pubs a somewhat alienating experience.

On the way home on a Sunday night, I tend to call into the last pub on the way home. This is a multi-room Mitchell & Butler job. Averagely priced drinks for average people. Occasionally there's something good on, but not often. Mostly, it's frequented by groups of of people having their last drink before the week calls them away from sociability. I go in on my own, and feel slightly uncomfortable, especially if my personal hidey corner is taken.

As the housing statistics will say, there's been an enormous growth in single people over the last 20 years - what with ever increasing divorce rates and lack of pressure to cohabit. So, could the solution to the declining pub trade be making the places more comfortable for the lone drinker?

Imagine - a pub made of single-table hidey-holes, with free Wi-Fi and soundproof isolation from the rest of the world. Where the single man or woman could drink in peace without the hassle of other fucking people.

Some people would say the pub should be social. But why not try the Misanthropic Approach? It could work, and has as good a chance as any in 2014's climate.

Who needs people to drink with anyway?

Friday, 4 April 2014

The Session #86 - Beer Journalism, or The Inward Debate

Heather Vandenengel of Beer Hobo posits the question :

What role do beer writers play in the culture and growth of craft beer? Are we advocates, critics, or storytellers? What stories are not getting told and what ones would you like to never hear about again? What’s your beer media diet? i.e. what publications/blogs/sites do you read to learn about industry? Are all beer journalists subhumans? Is beer journalism a tepid affair and/or a moribund endeavor? And if so, what can be done about it?
I will never be a "serious" journalist.  Basically, I lack both persistence and the ability to cultivate people, which are essential characteristics of the breed.  People often say to me "It's easy to take the piss."  Yes.  Yes it is.  And that is why I do it.

I've often remarked that Beer as a subject is taken to be far too important by a lot of people.  Indeed, it is Serious Business, as TV Tropes would no doubt say.  My guess is that the few who make their living from Beer Journalism have what is called 'previous' in such things, whether running focus groups to help flog washing powder or plotting the Socialist Revolution.

Beer Writing, and it's assorted debates and controversies are the proverbial storm in a teacup.  Read any blog on the subject.  You will see the same names commenting on the posts and linking to their own blogs on the subject, where the same names you saw on the original will be doing the same.  Magic wheel keep on turning round, round, round, round.

I'm not dissing this kind of thing.  It's fun to read about things that interest you and talk about them with the like-minded.  But does any of it really matter?  Occasionally, some brewery or it's workers will get the shaft, some pub will close, some drinker will be served a murky pint at the local Spoons.  But as far as the regular drinker and the industry that serves him/her, nobody writing about it really matters.  Shit happens, and will continue to do so.

I like to keep informed.  I read the Morning Advertiser's website, plus the blogs listed to the left of here.  And like reading proper news sites, I find much of the information I read risible or faintly ridiculous.  Is there anything more ridiculous than a person who takes themselves seriously?  If people such as Martin Dickie, Ted Tuppen or Tim Martin didn't exist, you would have to invent them.  Well, I would, anyway.

All-in-all, this a poorly thought out and somewhat facetious plea for less seriousness in the Beer Writing World.  I guess to some people Beer is Important because it's so Trivial.  But it doesn't have to be that way.

Anyway, as per the request in the original article, I'm sharing a link to a piece of beer writing like what I think it should be.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you The Guide To Craft Beer At Your Local Bar.  I'm not saying it all should be like this, but it makes some important points in a witty and engaging way in between all the jokes.  And isn't that what "leisure activity" journalism should be about?