Tuesday 15 October 2013

Roaming Through Mudgie Land

No, I've not been to Stockport, amazing tourist-haven it no doubt is.  But prompted by the Pub Curmudgeon's post on The Beer Bubble, I made a decision last week.  "Well, I suppose I could," I thought "sit here in my usual seat at the local Crafty bar, begging Jeremy the Manager to order that Rhubarb Porter or Limoncello-cask IPA I've read about on Twitter.  But no, I will go and visit these family brewery owned pubs Mudgie likes so much.  Yes, Surely Mudgie would approve".

And so I left my pint of Great Heck Black Jesus and headed off to the bus stop, where the Number 41 to Preston was boarded and soon (well, later - all things are relative in Wyresdale) dropped me off at Garstang.
Royal Oak, Garstang
Somewhat surprisingly (to me, anyway) the Royal Oak was packed, despite the fact the only cask on was Robinsons.  I ordered a pint of Unicorn and pondered why there were so many people in here when Garstang has eight other pubs. Then I remembered that this is indeed Garstang, and the 4000 people who live there have precious little else to do.   Everyone must have been fairly well oiled, as my paisley shirt attracted no comment, and judging by the average age of the clientele, I doubt the brewery considered this as one of their sites to launch Trooper a few months back. Though I am probably related to most of them as half my family are buried in a nearby churchyard.

I woke up the following day, still with the taste of Robbie's yeast in my mouth.  I decided to forget about Lancashire for day and travel to Southport.
Imperial Hotel, Southport
Amusingly, the bus passed a few pubs to save me looking.  I spied the Imperial Hotel and decided to have to look.  Now, this is a Holt's pub, from the makers of the cheapest beer outside Tadcaster, so I was expecting a dubious, time-forgotten dump like many Northern Sam Smith's houses.  Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be bright, airy and spacious.  The staff were identically turned out in half-done-up red ties.  I guessed this was one of those "food-led" places.  I ordered a pint of Holt's IPA, which may have even seen a hop sometime during its brewing, but of that I'm uncertain.   Despite Joey's tightwad reputation, this was a place that Peter Kershaw's old rackets partner Colin Cowdrey would not be ashamed to be seen in.  Shame about the beer, but you can't have everything.  I consoled myself with some silly craft beer bought at The Inn Beer Shop.

After waking up tired and thirsty from the unwisely-purchased Delirium Tremens, I decided to console myself with familiarity.  Lancaster it was.  So, off again up the A6 to the city of the one-way road.  I ignored all the Thwaites pubs, as watching Wainwright dominate the world is getting depressing.  Thankfully, there's a Hydes pub towards the railway station.
Robert Gillow, Lancaster
I went into the Robert Gillow, and when my pupils had opened wide enough for me to be able to see, I discerned the pump for Hydes Original and ordered one.  Hydes beer always makes me think there's only one strain of yeast in Manchester that all the breweries use to make sure all the bitter tastes the same so as not to scare people.  I somewhat doubted that the Hydes was the reason people came here, as the fridges were full of the beers the Crafties love.  I had also arrived smack in the middle of a music festival for which it had acquired a 24-hour licence.  Someone was trying to set up a theremin in the corner.  Well, full marks for novelty at least, I thought.  Though whether the players sense of pitch would have been good after the Laphroaig I saw them drinking was another thing.  I ordered a Quarter Cask in sympathy, and downed it and left before they finally got the bloody thing working.

So, in the end, I ended up back at the local craft bar, drinking again Black Jesus.  And as the comforting darkness of both the beer and rapidly impending intoxication seeped into my brain, I cogitated on what I learned from my adventures.  For one thing, just because a pub is owned by a family brewery, it does not mean that it's necessarily a traditional pub.   And a lot of Manchester regional brewed beer is not really to my taste.  But the journey is always more important than the destination.

And Jeremy, when are you getting that Rhubarb Porter?

Thursday 3 October 2013

Session #80 - Is Craft Beer A Bubble?

The hit-garnering antics of the The Session continue with the latest entry - Is Craft Beer A Bubble?

While this does conjure up some amusing images, I presume they mean the possibility that 'craft beer' is, at the moment, fashionable but may not be so forever.

At the moment, it seems that every man and his ironically-bearded dog are starting their own craft brewery, while pubs are disappearing from the UK like Rolf Harris's future career.  The question is, at what point in the future will these events meet in the middle?  Will there one day even be more breweries than actual pubs?

Craft beer is, of course, a growing industry.  To whom it is growing to is another thing. A look at the list of BrewDog's bars is a good indicator as any where it's most popular at the moment.  In the main, these are urban enclaves with a reasonably large amount of fashion-conscious and wealthy young people. And Nottingham.  I went to BrewDog Camden myself a couple of months back, and it was certainly busy for a Sunday evening.  I was probably also one of the oldest people there.  I am 37.
The Craft Beer Bubble claims another victim
Craft Beer, at the moment, is aimed and priced at a certain type of consumer.  Presumably the rest prefer or are seen to prefer swigging their Boring Brown Beer or CorporoCarbonated lager-type beverages.  You will struggle to find Craft in any town that isn't fashionable.  I doubt there will ever be a BrewDog Stoke or a BrewDog Barnsley.  Even Lancaster, a city with a major university, only has two places that can reasonably be described as "Craft Beer Bars".

What happens to Craft Beer after this is anyone's guess.  Apparently, Wetherspoon's are starting to stock Craft.  This is an interesting move, and we'll have to wait and see if it expands.  It could be that regular drinkers are desperate for something better than John Smith's or Becks.  Or, on the other hand, they could be quite content with their regular drinks and see Craft Beer as poncy and pretentious.

As Zhou Enlai said about the consequences of The French Revolution, it is too early to tell.  I can't see a major brewery elimination disaster, as surely the crappy economy of the UK would have finished a lot off already had things been that bad.  Beer volumes are of course declining, but perhaps the profitability of what beer is sold is increasing?  Who knows.

The Crafties will always have their Craft.  It remains to be seen if anyone else wants it.