Time to dispense with the dispense?

I was in a country pub in the Midlands at the weekend (I’ll not name the pub as it’s not awful and merely typical of many in rural areas), it was a local CAMRA most improved winner in 2014 and is shortlisted for the CAMRA branch pub of the year. It had 3 beers on handpump including the inevitable Doom Bar. The Timothy Taylor’s Landlord wasn’t the worst I’ve tasted but it was well past its best.

The owner was complaining about the prices she has to pay for real ale, compared to the short-date prices paid by Wetherspoons (some would say this is a beer myth). She mentioned that there isn’t the volume to enable her to buy short-date beer and she’s struggling to get enough winter trade to keep three real ales on the bar. My drinking experience would seem to concur.

I’m of the view that the local CAMRA folk are pleased to see someone reviving a moribund pub and they like to see handpumps and so reward accordingly. I’m not a natural supporter of craft keg, my eyes will always tend to look out for a handpump rather than a something along the traditionally fizzy and tasteless section of the bar. However if a pub is struggling with volume and wants to offer a selection of beer in good condition then surely local craft keg should be a good option to replace a hand pump? Or is there a fear in some parts of the country that such an approach would upset the local CAMRA committee and lose the chance of a GBG listing?

As I’ve been around the country recently I’ve been in the habit of picking up the local CAMRA newsletters. The response to craft keg seems to range from the ‘we’ll let a guest writer say something positive’ to a more fundamentalist approach on the evils of keg personified by many of the strident letters to ‘What’s Brewing’.

The ‘Derby Drinker’ for Jan/Feb 2015 carries an article written by an anonymous local brewer arguing that “craft keg should be seen as an extension of cask beer rather than in direct competition…Anyone choosing to blindly ignore the amazing variety and enhanced beer experience that craft keg beer has to offer, risk alienating themselves from such an exciting progressive beer scene”. It’s a well-argued piece and I’m intrigued as to why the brewer didn’t want to use his or her own name.

In CAMRA ‘Pints of View’ for Hertfordshire (Dec/Jan) there was a generally positive review by Ian Boyd of Britain’s Beer Revolution (published by CAMRA) by Protz and Tierney-Jones. The review and the editor’s response illustrate the difficulties of CAMRA in coming to terms with the beer revolution in all its glory.

The reviewer reports that “since this is a CAMRA production, the choice of brewers highlighted has understandably more to do with real ale production than the overall taste explosion.” He goes on to mention, “a notable exclusion from the map of Scotland is Brewdog, arguably one of the most pioneering revolutionaries of them all”. Whilst the reviewer acknowledges the two pages covering Brewdog, he reflects that “this stilted recognition of Brewdog’s undoubted influences…surely has nothing to do with CAMRA’s past contretemps with the brewery?”. (I should say I’m no fan of Brewdog but I see where he’s coming from.)

The Pints of View editor, Steve Bury, responded with ..”a lot of very poor beer is being marketed as Craft Beer including Fosters Lager…” He went on, “Yes CAMRA has had disagreements with Brewdog who pride themselves on being confrontational and outspoken (me – wasn’t that CAMRA once upon a time), but the truth is they don’t produce real ale and therefore should not expect a large amount of coverage in a CAMRA publication.” That seems to suggest that Britain’s Beer Revolution is really a one-eyed view of the world. I’m strangely reminded of declining communist regimes and Private Eye’s trade union leader, Comrade Dave Spart.

I’m heading off to New Zealand in a couple of weeks and I admire the simplicity of their Society of Beer Advocates (SOBA) whose “main aim is promoting a wider availability of better quality beer”. Is it time for CAMRA to have their own ‘Clause IV Moment’ and recognise better quality beer rather than just a means of dispense? I suspect many of their ‘rank & file’ members have already crossed to the dark side (or perhaps keg pale).

Advertisements

All the gear and ready for a beer

It was pointed out to me recently that my blog was supposed to be about walking as well as beer and it was about time I removed myself from the bar. Loins girded we started off from our friends’ place at Clough Mill in Little Hayfield to go round Kinder Reservoir (and then Lantern Pike on the following day). I still have a touch of the puritan attitude and feel that a beer should be earned and a decent stroll obviously qualifies. (The pint of Landlord at The Lantern Pike on Thursday evening was weakly justified by a long drive northwards. As the pub where the first Corrie scripts were written by Tony Warren it had to be worth a visit.)

It’s impossible to describe Kinder Scout without heading into the word box for ‘brooding presence’. It just suits a day with a touch of mist, drizzle and a breeze to chill you down. Whilst I’m all for a sunny day in the hills (usually in thewickingman shirt and shorts) it felt good to be wrapped in multiple layers following in the footsteps of the mass trespass folk from Manchester way.

We started off through the grounds of Park Hall where we came across the sadly decayed elegance of the hall’s heated outdoor pool. Even in the 1960s it seems to have been in use by the locals – I’m sure it made an interesting alternative to the municipal baths.  Out of the hall grounds and we soon had Kinder looming above us as we joined the Snake Path. The white-painted shooting cabin on Leygatehead Moor always reminds me of a cricket pavilion for what I imagine would be a game involving ‘hit a grouse and it’s 6 and out’.

kinder

Good on you, Benny Rothman

At the bottom of William Clough (named after the son of the Blades manager I wondered) we paused to let the pure damp air fill our nostrils. It was a good moment to think about my 250 miles of the Strathmore Stroll in 2015 as I knew I’d be walking down the said Clough in early September. Note to self – it’s time to plan the route in detail.

We headed round the eastern side of the reservoir and met the Kinder Road and sped up to reach the The Sportsman. It’s at such times that I think most walkers use sports’ visualisation techniques – imagine a full pint (straight or jug) and you’ll be in the pub at double quick time. The Sportsman was like most pubs we visited in our trip to the Peak – solid, reliable and short of customers.

I noticed in Monday’s Morning Advertiser alert that Roger Protz is telling us that, “The country deserves better than just leaving our dwindling pub stock to market forces.” I’m just not sure who is supposed to run ailing pubs at a loss. As alternatives should we frogmarch young folk to grubby back street boozers, arrest people who leave supermarkets with a bag of beer or operate a massive state subsidy. Perhaps not.

Anyway rant over and back to The Sportsman, a Thwaites’ pub – a fine pint of their Original Bitter and a very substantial sandwich & chips, but we were the only customers on a Friday lunchtime. They have bedrooms so it’s not a bad choice for a Kinder walking weekend. (I was amused recently to read in the London Standard that Thwaites’ Wainwrights was named after the Lake District walking books. AW would not have been amused.)

Next morning it was a stride up Lantern Pike through pasture fields with millstone grit walls. Very much a traditional Dark Peak walk and none the worse for that. The Little Mill Inn  at Rowarth was a welcome sight – feeling very much in the middle of nowhere but only about 8 miles from Stockport as the crow flies. As a man for tradition (boring says son) I’m not keen on supposedly amusing names for beers – I prefer the beer to do the talking. However in a wild thirst induced moment I went for the Jennings World’s Biggest Liar – a 4.3% bitter that veered nicely into roasted malt territory, honest. Brewed to celebrate their hosting of the recent competition it’ll be a shame if it disappears. Another pub with good fresh-cooked food and well-kept beer but we were the only customers for a while.

A short walk to Hayfield in the evening and it looks like The Village TV drama has given Hayfield a lift. The Royal Hotel has had a polish but it’s kept its three-sided bar to deliver a pint of Thwaites and also a pint of Kinder Falldown, nothing special – must remember to stick to beers with sensible names. The Royal refurbishment seems to have done the job. It was a packed Saturday night and its function room was in full swing with an 80s fancy dress night. I imagine a summer walk over Kinder, a pint or two outside and the tail end of a cricket match on the adjacent ground would be a fine day.

We wandered over the road to The George for a final pint – a surprisingly decent Adnam’s Old Ale given its long journey from Southwold and the Marstons’ EPA was also doing well. As we headed back to our beds we passed The Packhorse – a sad scribbled notice reporting its last day on Sunday. Much as I love a pint in a Peak District pub I realise they can’t all survive just for my occasional pleasure. Some will thrive, some will struggle and some will be lost forever. It’s illuminating to note that a vacant freehold pub in the Peak now sells for less than the equivalent residential property. Please explain that one CAMRA.