Labouring with love through the Bass mirror

In early 2018 a plan was hatched by a motley but happy crew to create a list of pubs serving Draught Bass on a permanent basis. It’s been described as a labour of love for me, perhaps appropriate as my maternal grandfather was a brewery labourer in Burton. I do sometimes question why I started this madcap enterprise. My best guess is that I just didn’t want to see Draught Bass to die without a fight. I had a stupid idea that the common man could help reverse the corporate neglect of one of the world’s finest ales. You can read my original post here.

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Social media often gets criticised for creating division and worse. However I think it’s worth thinking of the positives. In this case the listing seems to have gained followers and, more importantly, many who have been prepared to share their knowledge. Good people who just want to do their bit. To some extent it merely follows in the fine tradition of the merry band of the Honourable Order of Bass Drinkers who’ve sought to keep the Bass flag flying over many years.

The Bass Directory will only be updated in this post in the future, rather than the original post. Please click on the link below for the listing.

Bass October 2019

To the many who have joyfully shared their knowledge, my thanks for making it possible. To those who’ve developed the idea – the start of a top 100 Bass pubs; the mapping of the pubs; and adding ‘occasional but regular’ Bass pubs, my thanks. And most importantly, to the pubs that serve Bass and to those of you who’ve downloaded the Bass Directory to get a pint or two of Bass, my heartfelt thanks. Please keep sharing.

What could we do next? I would like to promote a National Bass Day in 2020. I have a date in mind to coincide with William Bass’ purchase of his brewhouse in Burton. More later, but in the meantime I would like to hear from any pubs, CAMRA branches, and individuals who would be willing to support the National Draught Bass Day. As ever we’re all doing this for free.

Thank you

Whilst I lay claim to all the errors and omissions (BTW, comments and additions welcome below or by PM to my twitter account), the listing couldn’t have been put together without others’ sterling efforts. The CAMRA volunteers who produce the GBG and WhatPub entries for a start. My fellow Bass obsessives – RetiredMartin, PubCurmudgeon and Britainbeermat who were willing to sit next to the strange bloke on the Bass social media bus. And everyone else amongst the twitterati who contributed their favourite Draught Bass haunts. And of course, thanks to Mrs TWM who accepts that a lunchtime stop on a long journey might surprisingly be selling Bass.

The listing belongs to us all but I acknowledge the copyright of CAMRA to GBG and WhatPub entries. (I’m happy to relinquish the copyright of the Directory to CAMRA if they’re interested.) Whilst I’m about it I acknowledge the trade mark, the world’s most famous trade mark – the Red Triangle of Bass held by AB InBev.

Commercial use of this post and the Bass Directory is not permitted.

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Beer, pubs and footpaths in a Terry Pratchett world: thoughts on walking to the pub

Following the turn of the century I’ve exhausted time, boot tread and body whilst walking the hills, dales and coast of England, with occasional excursions over the borders. Inevitably the need for rehydration and rest has opened many a door of pubs and b&bs. The walks have focused on the beauty of the national parks and AONBs at a time of increasingly bleak national austerity and division.

So what’s my experience of our top grade countryside and its pubs & beers? Are there common issues that have affected this bloke and his mates grinding out the miles? Has the experience changed the mindset of someone who’s gone from 35 years of working in London (and living thereabouts) to move to the Peak District?

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Luxury

Our serious walks initially followed the excellent InnWay trails of Mark Reid. The clue’s in the name, extended pub crawls that appealed to me and the boys. We’ve done many of the ‘organised’ routes and moved on to design our own routes across the country often returning to the strollers’ land of milk and honey, the Yorkshire Dales. Beautiful countryside, lovely pubs and beer.

Whilst we still expect to knock out 80 miles or more in a week, we admit to days getting shorter, accommodation getting better and our evening beer consumption shrinking. Quality not quantity.

Where are we?

Our walks seem to be getting more difficult to follow despite mapping apps. Austerity seems to have taken its toll on our rights of way network. We’ve learnt that footpaths and bridleways outside the national parks and national trails are often nowhere to be seen on the ground. Even in the national parks we’ve noticed, in recent years, that the quality of path maintenance and signage declines quickly when you’re away from the road. In gloomy conditions on high moorland a post is usually missing in action, or at best upended and rotting.

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Give us a sign

One of our number is now a national park volunteer warden and he explained why it happens.

“Well you see, we’re audited on the quality of our work and for footpaths that is done by looking at the signage at the roadside. So, we check those places and replace the signs if needed. That way our performance is rated as good.”

“Yes but we know that 100 yards in, the footpath is hopeless”, we argue.

“But we’re not judged on that”, comes the response.

Over the years we’ve noticed increasing numbers of named walks dreamed up by public bodies, obscuring the detail on Ordnance Survey maps. It seems that the powers that be imagine that coming up with a named route will massively increase tourism… a grandiose but flawed gesture. Often initial capital spending is followed by a lack of basic maintenance.

There are footpaths on OS maps that were washed away years ago, or require a mad dash across a dual carriageway, and of course the symbol for pubs has become pointless, as closures mount up. I suspect cutbacks have left the OS struggling to cope with the most basic updating.

Too many routes, not enough quality.

I’ll have a pint of Bass, please

On the beer front, I remember a time when we were excited by a couple of local beers like Black Sheep and Timothy Taylor’s Landlord on a bar. We’ve moved on to expect three or four cask ales in even the smallest village pub. Often beers we’ve never heard of, dreamed up by a brewery we don’t know.

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Explains to a Yorkshireman why Geoffrey shouldn’t be knighted

On the other hand we’re thrilled  when we see quality beers from microbreweries such as Yorkshire Dales and Allendale on the bar.

Sadly in recent years we’ve taken more beers back to the bar to staff who aren’t sure what it should taste like. I’ve even been asked to taste beer the staff aren’t sure about.

Too many beers, not enough quality.

What you having, Ian?

Pubs seem to us to have become more homogenous but at the same time less ‘open to all’. Even in rural areas, the pastel shades and swirly fonts of gastro pubs have appeared with bars lined with multiple hand pumps and menus aiming to outdo War and Peace. Many of them unable to serve a pint of reasonable quality and a sandwich where the filling tastes of more than cardboard with dressing.

We’ve thought and argued about our top 10 pubs of our walks over the years. For me, I mourn the passing of landlords such as the chap from the Falcon at Arncliffe who told a visitor enquiring about the temperature of a bottle of cider…”chilled, I can’t even tell you if it’s got any bloody apples in it”. Those idiosyncratic pubs in secret corners offering an insight into a secret world.

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If it was good enough for JB it’ll do for me

However, I celebrate the excellence of the likes of The George at Hubberholme, the Black Swan at Ravenstonedale and the Early Doors micropub in Skipton. Very different pubs but all places where you’re welcomed as an old friend no matter how infrequently you stop by. In a world of hospitality, it seems strange that there are only a few who enjoy dealing with people and are capable of looking beyond the sweaty grubby exterior of a walker to someone who might well have some cash to spend.

Too many landlords, not enough quality.

It’s a Terry Pratchett story

My perception is that we seem to have developed a national psyche obsessed by a simplistic numbers game to solve a desperate need for performance measures. A sort of bizarre aping of the private sector at a time when good businesses think carefully about softer measures.

In this brave new world of measuring everything but nothing, more beers on the bar is good. Shiny new footpath signs at the roadside are good. Quotes on pub walls are good. But none of it really makes any sense in describing quality.

I’m reminded of how the education sector has headed towards a ‘sausage factory’ approach without much thought to the real quality of the product beyond the superficial numbers. An industry of ‘measurers’ has developed for whom there is a belief system reminiscent of the creatures who live in ‘The Store’ in Terry Pratchett’s Truckers. Are we so afraid of letting people exercise their own well-honed qualitative judgement over what’s good and bad?

Minding my own mind and yours

What else have I learned from this walking ,scenery and pub lark? Of course people are what count. Strangely it’s those creatures who make a remote rural area and its pubs so special. And of course my mates who’ve walked the miles with me. Weary from our walking, but happier in mind and body. Talking bollocks, interspersed with mindful stuff.

In the majority of pubs on my walks I’ve been able to join in the conversation or not as the mood has taken me. Of course I could have stayed in London and been the bloke on the tube who talks to people. I’m now normal for the Peak District.

I leave the last words to a retired London fireman I met in the Tan Hill Inn. He explained his theory from years of dealing with the public, “80% of the population are good people and have interesting tales, 10% are decent folk but don’t have much to say, and the rest don’t have anything to recommend them. Do you really want to miss out on so many interesting people by avoiding the unpleasant and boring folk?”.

 

When premium means quality

I’m in Yorkshire steadying myself for a week of walking and beer drinking in the Dales and Westmoreland. And so a couple of Yorkshire tales of quality.

First, a few weeks ago I praised the quality of TT Landlord in a local pub that I name checked. I also mentioned that I’d had Landlord the night before in another local (unnamed) that really didn’t compare well.

To their credit TT contacted me privately to say they would like details of the unnamed pub in order to arrange some training with their BDM. They also asked for my thoughts on why the beer wasn’t up to their normal standard. A substantial effort to deal with a punter I thought.

Of course fine words are cheap, but true to their word they have spent time and effort on a pub owned by another brewer. The result is that when I went back to the pub on Friday night I had the best pint of Boltmaker outside of The Boltmakers at Keighley. The cellarman proudly told me it would be even better a day later. The Landlord was excellent as well I was told by my drinking companions.

It justs goes to show that when some brewers suggest they have a premium product they really are able to justify a premium price by their efforts throughout the process from brewery to glass.

Secondly, it’s a good time to reflect on one who seemed to appreciate quality in everything he did. I never met the late Richard Coldwell but it struck me from his beautiful photos and ‘to the point’ writing that quality mattered to Richard. He expected brewers to try hard and was always willing to bring the slackers to account.

Whilst he perhaps favoured a more modern style of beer compared to me, it never felt like he manned the barricades of beer Twitter in anything but a light-hearted manner. I regret that I never told him that I appreciated his craft.

My thoughts are with his family and friends. I will raise a glass of a hoppy Yorkshire brew in his memory.

 

 

People like us…is pub and beer culture holding up a mirror to a divided society?

I had the pleasure of listening to the wisdom and knowledge of a bloke in the village local last night. That he’s nearly 25 years older than me seemed to be irrelevant. I felt lucky, reflecting on our conversation this morning. I’d learnt stuff over a couple of pints. However, a couple of this week’s social media comments made me think about the tribes in our wider world of beer and pub culture.

My local, like many of the best pubs, is a place to find mutual subjects for conversation but also to accept that others have different views and backgrounds.  A few years ago,  I was talking in the Tan Hill Inn to a retired London fireman. He was saying, that in his experience, it’s worth chatting to people you don’t know because 80% of folks have something worth hearing. In many ways, we seem to have lost that willingness to seek knowledge from others, search for common ground and accept others’ heartfelt views.

I wonder if our beer and pub culture is increasingly reflecting the political and social attitudes in our society. A world where John McDonnell tells us he could never be friends with a Conservative. Was it ever thus, or these days do many of us only want to be in pubs and bars with ‘people like us’ and therefore exclude others? We seem to have a social media world where real ale/craft beer and big beer/microbeer divides seem to move too easily from gentle teasing into personal vitriol.

On Twitter, Pete Brown expressed the exclusion he perceived in the Goose Island brewpub in Shoreditch.

“Absolutely love the beers at Goose Island brewpub in Shoreditch but on the basis of several visits, the braying clientele, pounding music in the middle of the afternoon and snotty, hostile attitude of the staff all make it clear that people like me are not welcome here.” (My highlighting)

Have such bars become the opposite end of the spectrum to those seemingly tough pubs where only the late great pubman Alan Winfield (and his latter day disciple BBM) would swing the doors open? These days are we all sticking to our personal pub exclusion zones?

And as I muttered about Brewhouse and Kitchen in the comments on a recent RetiredMartin blogpost, Stafford Mudgie quite rightly highlighted the similarities with the Firkin pubs of old.

“David Bruce had a similar idea with his Firkin pubs over thirty years ago – except that his beer was a sensible price and he didn’t bother with the Kitchens or smoking sheds.”

Surely not, would I have gone to Firkin pubs all that time ago on the basis of being with only people like me and my mates? Me elitist, a shocking thought. In the modern era, is my aversion to many micropubs and microbrewery taps to do with feeling excluded by endless focus by closed groups on obscure beers, or an illustration of my unwillingness to move on from my definition of a proper pub and a pint of Bass?

There are many tribes in the beer world. Perhaps it’s time for us all to dismantle the barricades and find common ground. Well, until my mate Clive tells me to put down my Ruby Mild and try a Sherbet Saison.

Are pubs in our National Parks missing out?

It’s difficult selling beer in a pub in the UK’s National Parks – a lack of residents, a reliance on seasonal tourists and the issues of drink driving for day visitors, particularly in Scotland, make it a tough job with limited rewards.

Of my top ‘local’ pubs for beer quality, two have changed hands in 2019 and one is up for sale. Many landlords are now in their 60s and beyond. The tough life of a rural publican means that many are calling time on their pub career and others are restricting their opening hours. Will we miss them when they’re gone? We’re already missing them.

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In addition, I wonder if these pubs face an inherent bias that means they struggle to gain their due recognition? I have no doubt that CAMRA branch volunteers and beer & pub guide compilers don’t seek to discriminate against remote pubs. However, these pubs are difficult to get to (particularly by public transport) compared to the average urban local and there are few people to provide feedback even in these days of internet tools.  The somewhat historic survey dates on WhatPub illustrate the issues, even for some current GBG pubs.

With regard to being recognised in the GBG, the pubs in the National Parks have the issue of remoteness together with a struggle to sell enough real ale to have a wide choice. The oft-reported perception that you really need to have at least three real ales or more to get in the GBG may or may not be true.  It’s certainly true that new landlords feel the pressure to ring the changes and increase the choice whatever their volumes. Pleasing beer tickers and setting up micropubs isn’t possible in my patch, without risking beer quality.

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In addition (certainly in my area of the Peak District) the pubs in the National Parks are allocated across a multitude of CAMRA branches/sub-branches, often meaning that they are on the fringe of areas dominated by a large town or city with masses of beer choices. In my relatively small patch (in terms of pub numbers) of the White Peak we’re split between Chesterfield, Ashbourne, Matlock, Sheffield, High Peak and Staffordshire Moorlands branches. The split must make it difficult to achieve consistency in selecting the best pubs in the area never mind the remoteness.

With the best will in the world it’s unlikely that these pubs in the ‘difficult to get to’ fringes will be in the forefront of CAMRA volunteers’ minds. I realise that many branches have a rural award category but in many ways that feels like ‘the exception that proves the rule’. Does creating a rural category acknowledge a problem of recognition? I think so.

In financial terms, life can be very difficult for a pub in the National Parks. It becomes even more difficult if you struggle for recognition. Perhaps it’s time for our National Park authorities to get together with CAMRA and recognise the special qualities of these pub gems before they disappear? A National Parks’ pub of the year anyone?

 

 

 

 

Waiting for The Stokies

At its best the pub, particularly a new tick, should offer uncertainty and release its tales slowly. Seemingly nothing is happening, but everything is happening. The human condition to be gently observed.

The TV series (and now a top notch play for any pub lovers) Early Doors had a similar quality in its beautifully scripted tales of a back street Manchester boozer. Simple characters revealing complexity in an existential whole. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to visit a pub with similar qualities.

We strolled from Longnor in the Staffordshire/Derbyshire borderlands and over the other worldliness of Chrome Hill, descending towards Earl Sterndale and the Quiet Woman pub. A pub I’d walked past before but always at the wrong times. Now was our chance to let it reveal its secrets. It looked nothing special from the outside apart from an open door.

We wandered in, no-one behind the bar and three young folk chatting by the fire. Are you alright, we were asked. We slowly realised that this was the pub code for a further question or statement. A bit like the House of Commons at Prime Minister’s Questions but more polite.

Little changed over the years, unspoilt wouldn’t do it justice. GBG stickers all the way back to the 1970s adorned the bar, local pork pies sat invitingly, in a nostalgic sort of way,  under a plastic lid with mini Bakewell Tarts alongside. On the beer front, it was Wainwright, Burton Bridge Mild and Marston’s Burton Bitter (none of that Saddle Tank nonsense) on offer. A Marston’s Low-C bottle opener and a Pedigree Bitter ashtray harked back to an earlier time. The sort of pub that CAMRA was formed to protect.

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A photo to gladden the heart of the regiment.

The lad in the corner offered to get us a pint. We accepted a Mild in perfect condition and a Bitter that was suppable. A couple of pork pies and we were set up for a perfect pub lunchtime.

Act 1, Scene 2…the kids left, a couple came in silently and Ken the landlord appeared from out the back to serve them. How he knew they had come in was beyond us. Are you alright, he says to us. I’m just going to move this table as The Stokies come in every Wednesday. We were puzzled by these mythical creatures who were about to appear and why they needed a table at a right angle to ours, but no chairs.

Ken walked to the front of the bar and picked up a small children’s snooker table top. Like a slow-moving magic trick…he flipped it over, placed it over the existing table to reveal the table skittles top. The fixing of the pole was a work of scientific intrigue. He explained it had to be bolted into place with a high degree of accuracy. The ball must just touch the metal pin on the board. A few thou’ out wouldn’t do as my dad would have said.

And then The Stokies arrived. A happy miscellany of travellers ready for serious business albeit in a well-established routine. The Canterbury Tales sprang to mind as we watched Stanley the Tool Man (it was the graphic images on his yellow braces) play Hank Marvin’s younger brother (the glasses always give the family link away). To our excitement they told us that the pole needed re-adjusting..it needed to be highly accurate. Oh and could we move to the next table as they liked a bit of space around the skittle table.

Let gentle battle commence. I can’t recall a time when a pub game has been so carefully played…backs bent to line up the ball and release points calculated by these masters of pub physics.

As the game moved on a couple in clean walking gear arrived but made no move towards the bar. Instead they held out a mobile and asked if anyone could help. Obviously they wanted a photo taking in a traditional pub so I offered to help. No, they wanted help with the walking route on their phone. The route started at this pub they insisted and was near Owler Bar and Burbage Rocks and the A5127.

Ken and I agreed their walk was in the moors near Sheffield and showed them the places on the OS map. No, they insisted the postcode for the start of the walk SK something or other placed them at the pub. We all agreed that was the postcode but not for their walk. Advice from us on proper maps didnt seem to be greeted with applause. They turned tail and exited pub stage left.

Gently disturbed by the exciting goings on, we needed more mild and then headed back to Longnor via unnecessary diversions up High Wheeldon and the hill out of Crowdecote. What do we know about finding the correct route? Two pints of beer and pork pies do that to a couple of old blokes. At least we can find a proper pub.

 

Have we become obsessed about choice?

A wonderful stroll in the western end of the Peak District had us wondering why choice is so important these days, particularly when it comes to beer.

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Hi ho Trig point

Starting at Tegg’s Nose we looked towards Macclesfield and South Manchester and headed up through the woods towards Shutlingsloe. Up and down the Cheshire Matterhorn we were now ready for a pint.

Descending we arrive at Wildboarclough to search out the Crag Inn. Three hand pumps and only one in use. Kodiak Gold from Beartown in Congleton it has to be. Bit golden and over-hoppy but why should beggars for a pint be choosers.

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Informative and accurate

We ponder why we feel a bit disappointed with the lack of choice given that all we wanted was a beer, any beer, halfway down the hillside. We slap ourselves about for being ungrateful and tuck in to a Mycocks’ meat pie and chips washed down with another pint of cellar cool perfection.

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We’ll get it down

A bloke wanders in and asks for Peroni from under the tea towel. There was another lager, but clearly not enough choice.

Soon after a mum and son ask about food..are there any specials as well as the menu, err no. OK, I’d like the chicken salad but with tuna, goes the conversation. Everyone wants choices. The days of a single beer with cheese and onion on Mother’s Pride (and be grateful for it) are over.

We chat with the friendly owner who admits that a pub this remote has to be something of a hobby. It can’t offer a wide range of cask and a long menu. It’s not worth opening on a weekday evening. They’re now bottling water from their borehole to add a further income stream (sorry). It’ll be available with milk deliveries soon.

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How many shires do people want these days?

It’s too comfortable but we force ourselves onwards. Up the hill and then to Three Shires Head before more uphills to the closed Cat & Fiddle pub and on to the busy tea shop further down the road.

Robinsons are looking to lease the Cat & Fiddle but admit its pub days are numbered. Bizzarely they seem to think a tea room might work here. Prospective tenant thinks…remote location with a large tea shop less than half a mile away. Oh yes, a tea shop in a former pub is a brilliant idea. I could attract the punters with more choices than the one down the road.

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Old-fashioned SatNav

Do we really feel any better from the offer of ever-expanding choices. Endless TV channels and nothing you fancy watching? Will our demands for beer and food choices lead to the same problem?