Posts Tagged ‘pubs’

Let’s Get Quizzical for Lent

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Apologies for the blog being quiet — this is mainly due to a few deadlines coming up in the past few weeks, particularly the submission of my MSc dissertation last Monday.

This gave me just the rest of Monday and Shrove Tuesday to celebrate in the traditional way before I tried to continue my own personal tradition of the last couple of years and attempted to give up alcohol for Lent. It’s now nearing the end of day 6 and I’m going strong — the only problem is that I keep eating all the time.

On Monday, to mark finishing the MSc, I was quizmaster at my local pub’s quiz night. I did 20 picture questions, 20 normal questions and 20 music ones. If anyone who wasn’t at the pub is interested I’ll post them below and then post up the answers in a few days.

First the picture rounds.

Name the painter (click on image to expand):

Name the Painter

Name the Painter

Name the famous British tall building (unless otherwise stated):

Name the Building

Name the Building

Now the 20 general knowledge questions:

  1. Professor Brian Cox presents the science programme ‘Wonders of the Universe’ but what was the name of the pop group he played keyboards for?
  2. Who was the referee of Tuesday’s Chelsea v Man Utd game – criticism of whom has earned Sir Alex Ferguson an FA charge?
  3. The world’s most expensive painting will shortly go on show at the Tate Modern. Who painted it?
  4. Who was runner-up in last year’s ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’?
  5. What was the name of the female referee’s assistant who Andy Gray and Richard Keys were sacked for criticising?
  6. Next week CAMRA celebrates its birthday. How old is it?
  7. Which fashion house recently sacked the notorious designer John Galliano?
  8. The rock group Beady Eye released their first album recently. They were created after which famous other rock group’s break up?
  9. Which nation of cricketing minnows beat England on Saturday in the world cup last week?
  10. Who won best actor in this year’s Oscars?
  11. The M25 is London’s orbital motorway but what is the name of Manchester’s equivalent?
  12. What is the web browser developed by Google called?
  13. Which prime-minister lived at Hughenden Manor?
  14. Which brewery produces Tinner’s and Proper Job ales?
  15. A cottage pie is traditionally made out of which meat?
  16. What was the route number of the London bus that was bombed in the 7th July 2005 terrorist attacks?
  17. How old is the Queen?
  18. In which country is the wine growing region the Maipo Valley?
  19. What were the names of the two female dolls on BBC’s Play School?
  20. Who wrote the Angel series of novels, the titles of which include Angel, (2006), Crystal (2007), Angel Uncovered (2008), Sapphire (2009) and Paradise (2010)

The music round — this should play in Windows media player (if not other devices). Name the artist: Quiz Mar 11 3

Innovation and Tradition

Saturday, December 4th, 2010

Here’s a photo taken in the Belle Vue in High Wycombe this week. The left shows an exhibition of photographs in the pub’s new art gallery, the right shows the more traditional image of ale drinking.

Belle Vue: Tattoo Culture and Pub Culture

Belle Vue: Tattoo Culture and Pub Culture

Bull

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

In the Aylesbury and Wycombe area we thought we’d suffer a lot more pub closures post-smoking ban and post-credit crunch than we actually did. However, it seems like the bad news may have been postponed. The Rising Sun at Little Hampden closed over the summer — and it was a smart country dining pub in an idyllic Chiltern hamlet. Sadly it had been granted permission for conversion to a private house in 2006 — so the battle had been lost already.

In the summer a pub in Aylesbury, the Duck in Bedgrove, was demolished after being sold to new owners without any change of use permission being sought. (See the local LibDems blog for a good photo.) This was a type of pub that is fast disappearing — an estate community pub. It certainly wasn’t the sort of pub that lured real ale drinkers. However, huge areas of towns like Aylesbury are now without pubs.

In a couple of years the Southcourt and Walton Court estates have lost the Steeplechase (boarded up) and the Skinny Dog (now a Muslim community centre) and the Huntsman is due to disappear in a redevelopment of the local shopping centre. The first pub that’s on the road between Southcourt and Aylesbury town centre, the Old Plough and Harrow, has recently undergone one of the most common conversions for dead pubs (and one that doesn’t need any planning permission) — into an Indian restaurant.

Twenty or thirty years ago these sort of estate community pubs would be packed with drinkers, especially on a Friday or Saturday night. It’s not hard to think of reasons why they’re now in trouble — the smoking ban has hit these pubs harder than most (many customers no doubt went there specifically to smoke as well as drink) and the idiocies of modern marketers have also done their damage — targeting drinks like lager and alcopops at young people with relatively large disposable incomes but also very disposable common sense once they’d had a few wife-beaters down their throats. Pool tables and noisy machines would also target this particular demographic — and many pubs weakened their community links as a result.

But the main factor is surely economic. The typical price of a pint is now fairly close to £3, if not more, and is set to rise a lot further when VAT rises in the New Year as well any beer duty rises in the pipeline. Even using the government’s recommended 21 units of alcohol, this would work out at £31.50 per week (based on a session bitter)…and that would realistically only have a person in for 3 or 4 pints three times a week — far less than the traditional customers of such pubs would tend to do. The likes of Professor David Nutt would no doubt find this cause for celebration, except that the previous customers of community pubs are not likely to have moderated their consumption — they will be down the town centre supermarkets where, on a good day, £31.50 could buy them about 36 cans of Stella (more than four times the units of alcohol) and probably enough to keep most people stocked up with a tin to hand while watching TV for the whole week.

Beer in pubs is too expensive — simple as that. The social act of going down to the pub as an end in itself has been priced out of many people’s reach — and those who can afford it are too busy making more money for themselves or are eating in poncey restaurants or swilling their bonuses away in pubs in the City.

Town centre pubs will still do OK as people go to a destination for a night out. Also some pubs, particularly in the country, will keep their heads above water by concentrating on food — although the example of the Rising Sun shows that even serving up upmarket pub grub is less lucrative than turning the place into a country retreat for the kind of person who’s too posh to go to pubs.

And this also underlines another reason why supermarket beer has become far cheaper than beer in pubs — because pubs, like houses, have had their property values massively inflated and most pubs are now owned by companies who’ve foolishly raised money on the financial markets against these notional values — and the servicing of this debt has been passed on to landlords and customers.

Whereas a generation ago pubs only had to open their doors to get customers coming in, the above factors mean that pubs now have to differentiate themselves to generate custom — and offering interesting and well-kept real ale is a way to do this. The Whip in Lacey Green is an example of a pub that has a bar that’s still packed out most nights — offering five real ales that turn over, on average, every two days. The pub did about 800 different ales last year — that’s well over two a day. And the pub steadily built a reputation on quality — only adding a fourth and fifth beer when demand allowed, unlike the many pubs who offer more real ales than they can turn over before they spoil.

The Bull, Stoke Mandeville

The Bull, Stoke Mandeville in Sunnier Times (Summer 2006 -- there's now a smokers' shelter at the front).

There’s now cause for concern about one pub, which has been a Good Beer Guide stalwart for several years. The Bull in Stoke Mandeville is an old-fashioned, two-bar community local which has bucked the downward economic trend in large part by serving three well-kept real ales. Due to various complicated reasons not entirely unrelated to those above, Stuart, the long-standing landlord has left the pub. His last day was Wednesday this week when I went along to watch the Manchester derby on Sky. It’s a particular shame as the Bull, under Stuart’s management, was a quiet gem of a pub and embodied many of the attributes that many would reel off as intrinsic to the British pub.

When Is A Pub Not A Pub

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

…when it’s the Shoulder of Mutton in Wendover and it mysteriously decides that the whole pub is to become a private function room for a night. Last night two of us cycled to this picturesque small town at the foot of the Chilterns (now blighted by the prospect of the HS2 line ripping through the hills right at the end of the High Street).

We enjoyed a very nice pint of ‘London Pride’ in the White Swan then walked up the hill to the Shoulder of Mutton and breezed in, slightly underwhelmed by the choice of Old Hooky, Adnams Broadside and Courage Best. The barmaid told us ‘guys’ that sadly we couldn’t have any beer (not even if we sat in the garden to drink it) due to a private function — of which there had been no mention on the outside. Maybe she didn’t like the sight of my sweat soaked body — having underestimated the effort required to cycle up the hills on the way to Wendover. The pub is a massive Chef and Brewer with many rambling low-beamed rooms so it must have been some function.

There’s something deeply wrong about this to my mind — it’s bad enough when a part of a pub is sectioned off but a pub that excludes the public isn’t really a public house at all.

We then went on the King and Queen where we had the extraordinary experience on leaving of being described as ‘two gorgeous men’ by a lady of a certain age.

Buoyed by the compliment we sampled the wares at the Red Lion, George and Dragon and finished with a nice pint of Okells at the Pack Horse. Shame about the Shoulder of Mutton or we’d have done all the pubs in Wendover — although perhaps, on that night anyway, maybe we did visit all the genuinely public houses.

Wetherspoons in Aylesbury Are Like Buses…

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

…you wait twenty years (well, seven in my case) for one to turn up, then two arrive at once.

For about ten years now Aylesbury has probably been the biggest town (pop nearly 80,000 in the 2001 census) without a branch of J.D.Wetherspoon. In June the company opened two pubs — both conversions. The Bell Hotel in the Market Square became The Bell and Chicago’s Rock Cafe (or whatever it was) on Exchange Street was converted into the White Hart, which is the more Lloyd’s No 1 of the two.

The White Hart is in a clever location it currently sits apparently forlornly looking out over what passes for an inner ring-road with just a closed-down furniture shop for company (at least the last time I remembered that’s what it was). But come November the new Aylesbury Waterside theatre is opening over the road and when all the barricades come down then hordes of intellectuals will come flocking down to the new cultural quarter down by the canal. Perhaps. But the White Hart shares the same development as the Odeon multi-screen and there’s going to be, eventually, a new shopping centre in the area and, we’re told, Waitrose is definitely on its way. So Wetherspoons might have been pretty shrewd in getting into this particular piece of real estate.

Inside the White Hart, Aylesbury

Inside the White Hart, Aylesbury

Wetherspoons gets a hell of a lot of flack from the bloody-minded, anal retentive wing of CAMRA types — almost all of it unjustified. The only thing they do that gets my back up is their policy of pretending there are more real ales available at any one time than there really are — the notoriously tiny ‘Coming Soon’ sign that perches on the pump clips of what are inevitably the most interesting beers.

I also admit that they can be chronically understaffed and if you’re unlucky you’ll have an infuriating delay in being served — something I’ve found at the Falcon in High Wycombe. But this is a corollary of their pricing — a bit like how Aldi and Lidl might trade off queueing time against discount pricing. It would be pretty churlish to complain about less than instant service if you get a good pint of real ale for £1.89 — or 5op less if you use one of your £20 of CAMRA members’ discount vouchers.

Wetherspoons do vary — the Falcon in Wycombe is now looking very shabby and in need of serious refurbishment — but they do put something of an objective quality reference point in an area’s pub stock. Put simply, if the best pubs in your area are Wetherspoons then the other pubs aren’t really up to much.

To take Aylesbury as an example. A few years ago there were no Aylesbury town centre pubs in the Good Beer Guide. Then Chiltern Brewery took over the King’s Head and Vale Brewery transformed the Hop Pole. Suddenly there were two destination pubs for ale drinkers and many of the other pubs raised their game.

Yet both the King’s Head and the Hop Pole aren’t cheap and so aren’t particularly threatening the trade of their rivals. The same can’t be said of Wetherspoon’s arrival. With really cheap real ale now consistently available it would be a shame if established pubs were undercut. The Queen’s Head is currently closed but this pre-dates the Wetherspoon arrival.

But it could be argued that, like the Hop Pole and King’s Head, Wetherspoons is also expanding the market, rather than cannibalising it. For example, I was in Aylesbury on Friday lunchtime and had a quick drink in the White Hart (surprisingly, it was non-alcoholic). I’d anticipated probably buying a sandwich from M&S for lunch, or similar, but at £3.10 the Wetherspoon ham, (free range) egg and chips (not many of them though!) was much better value for money.

Prices for beer are so high in pubs that people tend to binge on cheap supermarket beer before going on a night out to save money. If Wetherspoons, with cheap real ale, gets people into the pub rather than boozing on bland stuff at home then what’s not to like?

Why Do They Do It?

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

It’s like the traditional spot the first cuckoo in spring competition but a lot more irritating — coming across the first ‘Book Early for Christmas’ outside a pub or restaurant.

Driving up to the Bucks County Show on Friday I spotted the first offending banner of the season hung outside the Horse and Jockey in Aylesbury. This was 26th August — fully four months before Boxing Day — that’s what I calculate to be a mere 131 days before the event itself.

I thought it was bad enough that I saw Trick or Treat pieces of junk on sale at John Lewis in Oxford Street on Monday — though that may be worse in some ways as those imported American Hallowe’en ‘customs’ are just a consumerist abomination — what’s wrong with Guy Fawkes night.

If I were a pub or restuarant owner I’d calculate that hanging prominent ‘reminders’ (does anyone need reminding about Christmas) outside the establishment before the August Bank Holiday is out would lose more customer by annoying people rather than generating bookings — surely only those organising large work celebrations book so early and they’d either have done it months beforehand, not in the middle of the school holidays.

Even though the likes of B&Q and Homebase seem to start hawking their Christmas decorations in September (to the extent they’ve usually sold out by December) I prefer to try and banish all thoughts of Christmas until after 5th November — despite being an unashamed enthusiast for all things seasonal.

Mind you, the weather last week, particularly the deluges on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, were more fitting for November (the thermometer outside my house read 12C yesterday afternoon). Perhaps someone at the Horse and Jockey woke up, took a look out of the window and hung the banner out in panic that they’d overslept by three months?

A Summer ‘Tradition’ We Can Do Without

Monday, July 12th, 2010

I’m sure John Major in his rather risible but memorable speech about warm beer, long shadows on cricket grounds and so on from the early 90s would have included Morris dancing in his wistful list of unchanging Englishness (see the photo below of the Towersey Morris and Aldbury Morris Men performing outside the Swan, Great Kimble on 7th July).

Towersey and Aldbury Morris Outside the Swan, Great Kimble

Towersey and Aldbury Morris Outside the Swan, Great Kimble

That speech is a particular bug bear as beer should NEVER be warm — the belief that real ale is best drunk tepid has allowed bad landlords to get away with serving undrinkable crap. It should be cellar temperature (about 10-12 C) and it’s sometimes so difficult to keep it that way in unrefrigerated cellars that even usually reliable pubs might be wisely avoided in temperatures of the upper 20s and even 30s C of the sort we experienced at the end of last week and this weekend.

In fact, on our trip on Saturday to the Black Country, I had more than one pint in usually exemplary pubs that, while by no means bad, that certainly weren’t on top form. It’s not a problem we’ve really had to worry about over the last couple of summers but, in hot weather, if the beer comes out as anything like ambient temperature you know you’re likely to be in trouble — whatever rubbish John Major came out with years ago.

Haggis and Kangaroo Crisps for Tickers?

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Seems like Walker’s Crisps have learned something from many microbreweries — give the same old product a new, gimmicky name and people will queue up to buy it for the novelty value.

For the World Cup Walker’s has introduced a national range of crisps based on World Cup qualifying nations (mostly!). They are listen on Wikipedia but also listed below:

  • England-Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding
  • America-Cheeseburger
  • Argentinean-Flame Grilled Streak
  • Australia-BBQ Kangaroo
  • Brazil-Salsa
  • Dutch-Edam Cheese
  • France-Garlic Bread
  • Germany-Bratwurst Sausage
  • Ireland-Stew
  • Italy-Spaghetti Bolognese
  • Japan-Teriyaki Chicken
  • Scotland-Haggis
  • South Africa-Sweet Chutney
  • Spain-Chicken Paella
  • Wales-Rarebit
  • While these flavours may be completely honed to resemble their inspiration dishes, there’s a certain similarity between various ingredients — a few cheese (Rarebit, Edam, the cheeseburger, etc,). Also the meaty flavours: English Roast beef, Flame-Grilled Steak, Spaghetti Bolognese, Haggis, Kangaroo and so on aren’t probably very different from each other.

    It reminds me of the microbreweries that produce a differently named brew every month which are so beloved of the CAMRA ticker tendency. Surely their beers are not that radically different from each other once around half a dozen styles have been covered. I’ve never understood why the novelty seekers are so easily taken in by a gimmicky name or pump clip design. If I drink a decent beer I’d like to be able to go out and find it again — not for it to disappear into the oblivion of a few tickers’ notebooks.

    It might be a good business opportunity for Walker’s to get the kind of multiple hand pump pubs beloved of tickers to stock the full range of these crisps — perhaps rotating them through the run up to the World Cup — and see if the beer lovers start ticking them off too.

    Talking of beer that’s worth seeking out again, ‘Trashy Blonde’ from Brewdog was on at ‘The Angel’ — a Wetherspoons opposite the eponymous tube station in Islington. I would have had a pint but I’d already ordered a ‘Dark Rider’ from Kelham Island — which was strong and rather nice so I had another pint.

    The Fleet

    Thursday, December 10th, 2009

    Walking between two interesting pubs in Clerkenwell/Farringdon in London, the Jerusalem Tavern and the Gunmakers (they have up to date information on their beers on their website which is sadly incredibly unusual for most pub websites), I was quite struck by the topography around Farringdon Road. It was quite unusual for London and more like a city like Paris or Amsterdam as there were two roads that were only built up on one side with a large void between them of about 50 yards or so. Moreover, the ground gently rose on each side of the gap. The void was spanned by bridges that spans the Metropolitan line and the Thameslink railway line beneath but the geography looked very like a river valley. 

    Interestingly, a bit of research on the web shows that the tube and railway lines were actually built through the valley of the biggest of London’s hidden rivers — the Fleet. The river is contained in a storm drainage sewer that runs alongside the railway tracks. The Fleet itself is a fascinating subject — it rises in Hampstead and Highgate and passes into the Thames at Blackfriars via Kentish Town, Camden, St.Pancras, Farringdon, Clerkenwell, Smithfield, Holborn and (of course) Fleet Street. It is almost entirely covered over but water can be heard rushing down manhole covers at the time.

    There’s a really excellent and comprehensive guide to the course of the hidden river on someone called London Geezer’s blog. It might make a good theme for a pub crawl?

    Charlie’s Artwork

    Sunday, November 15th, 2009

    Here’s a sneak preview of a fictional pub sign that might accompany something in the next Swan Supping — nifty use of my limited Photoshopping skills.

    Beware All Who Set Foot Inside

    Beware All Who Set Foot Inside

    Good Old Fashioned Customer Service

    Monday, October 26th, 2009

    A tube worker has resigned because he was being exceptionally rude and offensive to a passenger. I wonder if the fact he was caught doing this on video has anything to do with it. Now the chap needs a new job he should consider that there is a still a career option open to people with the talent to insult the public and who hold the public in general contempt — pub landlord of course. Liberalisation of the licensing laws and a tougher economic climate have made the obnoxious, bigoted landlord a less common inhabitant of the country’s pubs (many will go out of business rather than make an effort to cater for any customer who’s not ‘a local’). However, many still hang on. The local CAMRA branch recently had a meeting in a fairly rural pub and presented the landlord with a pack celebrating his pub’s inclusion (for the first time) in the Good Beer Guide (2010). His response was to refuse to serve one member a coffee and generally complain that we didn’t drink enough beer (several people had to drive). He also kept on insulting one person about the length of his hair.

    Wednesdays Will Never Be the Same Again At the Red Lion, Caerleon

    Saturday, October 17th, 2009

    I had dismal hopes for the Channel Four programme — the Red Lion – on Thursday. Another instalment of government promoted doom and gloom about the evils of drinking seemed on the cards.

    The programme visited 10 of the 600 Red Lion pubs in the country (the most popular pub name) and the first one featured unashamed, wanton binge drinking, the only objective of which was ‘to get hammered’ — but this was by a group of women. It was a student netball team from Newport University (no, I never realised there was a university there either) who religiously went out on a Wednesday to get completely plastered playing ‘pub golf’ (a close relative of drinking golf that I’ve played myself) at 9 local pubs. So the programme started with a dozen or so girls downing a pint of Guinness in one at the Red Lion. Rather than be apologetic, the students they interviewed were refreshingly honest about their motives — drinking to get pissed (although they have to be able to stand up or else that would be a bad night) and ‘feeling like shit’ the next morning was a big part of it. These women were not violent or sad or ill — they were all pretty athletic as they played netball for the university. I remained in awe as they went on to other pubs in Caerleon to down other drinks in one. I expect that, after this programme, Caerleon will never be the same again on a Wednesday night as hundreds of male binge drinkers will no doubt want to make a favourable impression on the netball players by consuming even larger amounts of alcohol. Where is it again?

    After that classic opening, the programme went to a reasonable cross section of other Red Lions. It seemed that even when they found the inevitable solitary drinkers whose whole lives revolved around the pub that even these characters came out of the programme with a lot of dignity. My favourite Red Lion was one in Whitworth, north of Rochdale, which was pretty typical of the pubs I learned to drink in (in Tim Martin approved fashion) myself just over the hills from there. There was one Rugby League player who cheerfully admitted to spending £100 on beer a week — as he didn’t have much else to do. He also gave one of the most eloquent descriptions of the pleasure of being mildly inebriated.  As with the netball players, even the BMA might have problems correlating the large volume of alcohol consumed with the physical fitness required of the players. (It brings to mind the conclusion that Jancis Robinson came to in The Demon Drink when she reviewed the scientific literature that the people who drink most do so because they can — i.e. fit young people in their 20s can outdrink almost anyone with no ill effects.)

    What the programme managed to convey quite effectively was the sense of camaraderie and community that can be found in all good pubs. It showed the pub is a leveller of society and class — with the regulars being incredibly brutal in their comments towards each other but all done so in the safe knowledge that they’ll be back there the next night. The pub pricks pretension and is an amazing social leveller. Many of these issues have been examined by social anthropologist, Kate Fox, who devotes a whole section of her book ‘Watching the English’ to the etiquette of round buying. The last Red Lion was closed — bought up by an owner who has no intention of re-opening it but, by the look of the boarded up windows, can’t get planning permission to do anything else with the building. Speculating and profiteering were ripping the heart out of a community — odd that after 12 years of New Labour.

    There was plenty of potential for ridiculing the pubgoers, who were remarkably candid, but what came across was an amazing feeling of common humanity bonding the pubgoers. After all, the pub is basically an institution where ‘the public’ are invited into a ‘house’.  The programme generated a very favourable review in The Guardian. I can’t put the conclusion better myself:  ‘a lovely portrait of a peculiarly British institution’. The Times review says ‘Drinking in moderation, the contributors suggested, was a dreary waste of time.’ I couldn’t possibly comment.

    £2.50 For a Half-Decent Pint in Mayfair?

    Sunday, October 11th, 2009

    Credit to the Coach and Horses, Bruton Street, W1 for doing a cheap pint of real ale at peak time on a Friday evening (on BITE Bedfont points out that it is NOT the Shepherd Neame house — that’s the other side of Berkeley Square). Of course, cheap is a relative term in the area with the most expensive rental on the Monopoly board. However, one might save enough by buying Fuller’s London Pride at £2.50 to make a slight dent in the amount needed to buy one of the Rolls Royces or Bentleys in the showroom just around the corner. It wasn’t a bad pint of Pride either.  At the more typical price of about £3.20 they also did Timothy Taylor Landlord, one of my favourites normally but it had a good whiff of diacetyl, which I’ve never come across in its Yorkshire heartland. Warwickshire Darling Buds, which I tried a few weeks ago at the King’s Arms in Tring, was also on.

    The pub itself was packed with suits. Apparently this is hedge fund HQ territory and the fridge in the pub had more champagne in it than anything else — which goes to show that not a great deal seems to have changed around here since the credit crunch unless it’s the hedge fund managers who are on the £2.50 Pride.

    Pubs — The Preserve of the Middle-Class?

    Tuesday, October 6th, 2009
    King William IV Speen

    King William IV Speen

    Today I drove through Southcourt in Aylesbury: a large, 1930s-60s housing estate which was originally almost all council housing. Such estates used to be bastions of working-class ale drinking but the smoking ban and the credit crunch have finished off two of the three pubs and the closest pub in the direction of the two centre is also shut. A pub that tried valiantly to keep going in the face of cheap supermarket beer and home-based entertainment like videos and Sky TV was the Steeplechase, which did some decent real ale at times. It has been boarded up for a year now and is a sad sight.

    However, on the bright side, a report partly supported by CAMRA and publicised on the BBC website reported that cask ale was the only type of beer now with growing sales and partly because twice as many women enjoyed drinking it in the past couple of years. There was also a very interesting report on the Radio Four Food Programme about hops and their use in real ale — which gave an opportunity for Roger Protz to yet again claim that beer is far more interesting than wine. The brewer at Brewdog commented on his Punk IPA, which the female presenter found very tasty. (I love this beer and its weaker sister — Trashy Blonde — Brewdog are so non-pc they even make an 18% beer.)  The programme noted that the trend towards using more (and more assertive) hops started by US craft breweries and is now being adopted by ale brewers here. Such beers have to either have a high alcohol content to balance the bitterness or need to be drunk in much smaller quantities (such as thirds of pints) to be palatable.

    The two themes above suggest that there’s a trend for both beer and pubs to lose their long-time association with the working man and instead to become the preserve of the middle-classes. A valid criticism of CAMRA is that while it has spectacularly succeeded in preserving real ale and increased the variety available, it has done so mainly for the benefit of a minority of beer snobs and tickers. Real ale is not the drink of the working man any more — that accolade was lost to lager a long time ago — the fact that real ale quality is dire in a large number of workaday, non-CAMRA-Good-Beer-Guide pubs might have a lot to do with this. However, it seems that these sort of workaday, average, unremarkable pubs are the ones that are suffering most at the moment and, as the cask report says, it’s the affluent real ale drinkers who are able to afford £3 a pint in the pub and don’t go for the £10 24 can Stella pack at Tesco as an alternative.

    So perhaps the saviours of the English pub as we know it are the middle-classes, much as that might be an anathema to some of the more revolutionary founders of the real ale movement. The middle-class seem to have saved real ale and pubcos should perhaps target these high-spending, but demanding customers more. Another factor in the pub’s favour is brought to mind by having forty-something politicians paraded at the party conferences over the past couple of weeks: it seems the annoying, social-skills free nerds that inhabited student politics in the 80s are now making their bids to be the annoying, power-crazed nerds that run the country. But if that’s reflected in other walks of life there may be a silver lining in that the middle-class, especially Generation X who are entering middle-age, have very fond memories of the pub from their student days (mostly rose-tinted in terms of the amount they drank and time the spent there). Yet this almost sentimental attachment to the pub as a hub of student life might yet save the great British institution. The middle-classes might not be propping the bars up swilling ten pints of mild a night but they might be pretty solid campaigners to ensure that pubs are still there for people that do.

    Crown, Sydenham, Oxfordshire

    Crown, Sydenham, Oxfordshire

    To illustrate the point there are a number of examples of local pubs being saved from closure by being bought by (presumably relatively wealthy) members of the local community and re-opened and run on a community basis. The Unicorn at Cublington and Crown at Sydenham, Oxon are good examples. I went tonight to a pub, the King William IV at Speen, that’s not owned by the community but run in a way that is designed to be community minded — to the extent of having a small room of a perfect sized for committee meetings. It also has an ice-cream parlour selling locally sourced ice-cream. A group of local charity volunteers were also enjoying the evening in the pub. These pubs aren’t, of course, exclusively full of middle-class people but they’ve benefited from the sort of activism that the middle-classes (and, dare I say it, CAMRA) have shown to be very successful.

    Ferguson Doesn’t Grow Old Gracefully

    Sunday, October 4th, 2009

    Oxford might have wonderfully historic pubs with great ale and lots of atmosphere but what about the needs of drinkers whose teams are playing at 5.30pm on ESPN? No big plasma screens at the Turf Tavern or the King’s Arms or White Horse so I ended up missing the Man Utd v Sunderland match live and followed the less than comforting scoreline on my phone. After a self-stranding toilet incident involving the 280 bus I had to catch the train back from Haddenham and then valiantly tried to stay awake when I eventually got home through the end of Strictly Come Dancing so I could watch the highlights on MOTD.

    Of course, I fell asleep just a few minutes before it started and missed the highlights. Fortunately I was able to remember to record the repeat of the programme at 8am this morning and so enjoyed two remarkable spectacles. Berbatov’s goal was superbly taken — an amazing overhead kick. However, the terrible decision that Wiley made about the Anderson penalty interview brought on the most amazing rant by SAF against the fourth official. Whatever his other failings, Ferguson will certainly get stuck in and fight ‘the enemy’ for his team.