Thursday, 28 January 2010

Group Think, Port of Man

I'm sure most of my readers will be aware of a little cultural tour of Sheffield at the weekend. Several bloggers had the idea of meeting up for a few drinks and to visit a few nice pubs and bars around the area. The idea formed organically on Twitter and before long the number of Twissheads grew to 30. There is little point in me writing a detailed account of the proceedings as no doubt others will, Mark Dredge for one has written his account already, but suffice to say much great beer was drunk and many great pubs visited. Sheffield is indeed a great city for beer.

I learnt a few things during this session of drunken debauchery. First is that late at night in Sheffield it is nearly impossible to find decent food. At 1am the takeaway food was frankly terrible. I threw half of my kebab away and that is not like me.

Still, it was warming to be taken to one side on several occasions during the day and told how much people like reading this blog and could I please post a little more often? OK, I have been busy, did I not tell everyone that I have a secret project on the go....

Well, here I am, writing again. As it so happens, whilst enjoying my Hillsborough Hotel breakfast the next day I remembered an interesting debate I had with Kristy McCready regarding the Portman group. Despite the intensity of the discussion we really were a long way off a punch up, honest. If you follow this blog you would probably already know that I'm not really a big fan of the organisation. I'm one of the few that actually found the BrewDog stunts amusing and got their point. Kristy has the view that its better to have The Portman Group than have government legislation, which would be a blunt instrument used to prevent all sorts of advertising of alcohol.

Kristy works for that nasty big beer making company Moulston-Coors, lucky girl, bet she gets a regular pay cheque and paid holidays, there are days I could forgo my principles in exchange for employees rights. No, wait, what am I saying? get thee behind me.....Although, there is the White Shield brewery......

On Sunday morning I felt I understood, after Kristy had gently put across her point of view the night before, that I could see both sides of the Portman issue. I would like here to develop a balanced appraisal based on our discussion.

Firstly, we have to accept that mass produced and marketed products are a feature of our modern society, culture and economy. Yes, that goes against my opinion of multi-national conglomerates, but it is true. Mass markets require mass advertising through mass media; it's simple really. It might be baked beans, cars, bread, oven chips or beer, it doesn't matter, if we live in a thriving developed world we will have mass markets.

Beer, along with all other alcoholic beverages, causes intoxication which can lead to health problems and antisocial behaviour. Responsible consumption is a good idea and keeping any detrimental effects of its consumption on society at an acceptable level is no bad thing. Irresponsible advertising and promotion of alcoholic beverages probably does cause some problems. Linking the possibility of getting laid to drinking a certain beverage, for instance, I would have to consider a problem. Anything that suggests that antisocial behaviour whilst drunk is glamorous could also be considered a problem.

What the Portman group sets out to do is prevent such dubious promotion of alcoholic beverages. We have to also remember that their remit covers the whole spectrum of drinks, not just beer. It includes, what I believe to be, the biggest single change to our drinking culture that has been created by new product innovation; Ready To Drink products - Alcopops. It also covers spirits such as rum, vodka and gin. Accusations of bias from me for the following statement would be justified but; these are drinks that really do fuel some of our alcohol related problems.

The Portman group take a rational view of advertising and work with the companies to create marketing campaigns that are responsible. Asking questions like "would I be happy if my child saw that?" for instance. Actually, if I were honest I'd have to agree with that and even I would say that the marketing of drinks has become a little more respectable recently. Is this better than government legislation? OK, go on then, I'll agree with that, the Portman group can stay.

I would like to see them change a little bit, please?

Of course I'm not completely convinced with all their decisions. The Tokyo* issue being the most important example but Skullsplitter also raised inappropriate attention. I've been selling Tokyo* now for a few months, not in any great volume and always drunk in a responsible way. The banning of the current label seems a shame to me. I'd like to explain exactly why. First, the reader needs to know the exact wording of the offending bit.

"It is all about moderation. Everything in moderation, including moderation itself. What logically follows is that you must, from time, have excess. This beer is for those times."

At first glance you could see why a neo-prohibitionist might get upset at that. It is actually suggesting that excess is a good thing. I believe that is the basis of the Portman group's decision and on face value could be perfectly reasonable.

Things have to be taken in context. This little bit of text is a joke. Very simply it is taking the piss out of the neo-prohibitionists and the Portman group at the same time. If the text was aimed at 18 year old revellers in the city centre bars and clubs I could agree, but it's not, it's aimed at making people like me chuckle. Every single person who actually gets to read it in my pub are responsible people, they read the text and get the irony and then proceed to sip the beverage with, I think the word is, nonchalance.

Moreover, the text is at the end of a boring bit of writing that drivels on about computer games and French Oak chips. Most antisocial behaviour orientated ruffians would have got lost after the first sentence and gone away to terrorise some innocent bystander. If the product was a mass produced RTD and the writing was in big letters on the side of the bottle then I'd have to agree with the Portman Group, but that is not how it is.

It is possible that BrewDog got everything they wanted out of the publicity surrounding the banning of the words. Their righteous indignation might be covering up glee at the increased publicity. Was that publicity bad? I doubt it. Perhaps BrewDog got everything it deserved after all, the product has not been band, just the label. Also, the group has no weight in law. If as a retailer I choose to ignore the legally unenforceable ban then I am not going to get prosecuted for it. The worse that will happen is that should anybody become dangerously drunk in my place and there is any sort of investigation, then I could lose my licence due to it providing evidence that I am an irresponsible retailer. I run a respectable establishment and lewd activity involving Tokyo* would never be permitted, so I should be safe.

The point for me is that there is a significant difference between this beer and any product that is designed for the mass market. Only 1000 bottles of the 2009 batch was available for consumption in this country, hardly a big threat to alcohol fueled crime or health issues. Couple this with the nature of the target audience, for me, makes the Portman's group decision dubious.

In conclusion, I agree with the need for the Portman group as a useful industry regulator. Finding a way of ensuring we minimise promotions of drinks that risk increases of any alcohol problems has to be a good thing. If we are to keep the neo-prohibitionists at bay we must work as an industry to combat that. Equally, we should look at how the irrelevant tiff between Mr Portman and BrewDog can be subdued. That might have to involve some talking and I wonder if anybody is prepared to do that? I am, but are James Watt and David Poley?

I would like the Portman group to look at the output from specialist breweries with a little bit more of a relaxed approach. Where there is a huge dose sarcasm and cynicism in the advertising and where the target market is clearly not volume then I would like the Portman group to take this into consideration. I think it would be unreasonable for them to expect every microbrewery to communicate, but I'd like to see some representation from this segment of the market engage in dialogue. Perhaps this way we can avoid the potentially messy press that Tokyo* caused.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Size and provenance

Cooking Lager is a great guy. He makes lots of interesting and corrective comments on this blog, and many others, helping to keep a balance of reality going. It was an important lesson learnt the day he flawed me with "everything is made of chemicals" and indeed he is right, every single thing consists of chemical compounds. The beer that you drink consists of water, alcohol, sugars and some flavour and aroma compounds all of which have chemical compositions. Indeed, with sufficient technology it is theoretically possible to produce these compounds completely without the use of hops, malt and yeast. It is probably possible to do it without most of us being able to tell that it wasn't made in a shed rather than a large chemical plant.

Recently, when I was trying to explain why I only sold my beer over my bar, there was the suggestion from Cookie that I should contract out my brewing to enable me to benefit from economies of scale. That way I'd get rich. The discussion was getting a bit off topic but was non the less interesting. At the moment I am not interested in significant expansion of brewing capacity to the extent that the economies of scale of contract brewing become viable, but I do understand the principles and I want to explore the drawbacks of such methods of production.


I am in the beer geek market and the tourist market. My best customers are tourists who are also beer fans of some description. People who travel to the Lake District and are interested in where the beer is produced. If I started to make my beer elsewhere and sell it to people as if it were made here I would be dishonest and so I will not do that. It is possible, like with Coniston Blue Bird for instance, to make sufficient a name out of the product to be able to sell off the reputation and the brand is what sells rather than the geographic location. Increasingly the specialist beer market is getting concerned about where the beer is made and will snub Brewed Under Licence beers (beware of BUL).

If my products gain sufficient reverence in the market so that I think I could gain enough market share, without the necessary attached provenance, then I would consider contract brewing for my beers, but it's not in my business plan at the moment.


It's just a chemical. It's H2O, that's all. There are trace elements in it, but they can be replicated anywhere. Even at Burton-upon-Trent, where there is allegedly the best water for making beer, Coors de-ionise the water to remove the trace elements and then add back in the exact amounts required for the particular brew. Doing this improves consistency and optimises for particular recipe. So really it doesn't matter where beer is brewed from the point of view of the water. After all, beer is really over 90% water so why hump large amounts of water about, just brew near your market, contract brewing if required.

However, I'm going to be slightly contrary here. The analysis of water that is done by the big brewers focuses on a few elements that are important to brewing beer and a few that are very detrimental. Obviously the correct amount of good elements are aimed at and a minimum of the detrimental ones. Now, there are also many other compounds that have a lesser effect on the beer process, but which seem to be neglected by the big brewers, but might still be important to taste. Specifically peat which, through various organic compounds, impart a flavour in the beer. It might be subtle and it might even be detrimental, but it is still going to be there. My beer is brewed from peaty water. Interestingly, my second favourite brewery in Cumbria, after mine that is, Barngates, also uses peaty water. So make of that what you will.


Size doesn't matter eh? Well, in my humble opinion it does. Many other brewing professionals also think so. Also geometry matters to; short and fat or long and thin, I'm talking about vessels before your mind starts wandering. Square or cylindrical, vertical or horizontal all have an effect on the way beer reacts.

Square fermenters are rarely used these days. A very well respected brewer installed cylindrical vessels some years ago with the idea of brewing lager. They already had square vessels for the ale products. The lager didn't work out, presumably because Coors can make it cheaper, so they started making ale in the cylindrical fermenters. CAMRA started giving them more awards for the stuff made in the new tanks so they replaced all the old square fermenters with cylindrical ones.

There, that at least should please Cookie. I can already hear him with his reply. "If it's better to use cylindrical then just get all your beer contract brewed with a brewer who uses them." Well, actually, mine are cylindrical, actually. But my point is that the shape of the plant effects the end result. Better or worse may well be subjective anyway, the point is it is different.

If you take an elephant up in a Hercules to 10,000 feet and drop it out, you would find that the elephant would make a significant mess on the ground. A large crater perhaps but certainly massive amounts of elephant meat would be spread about for some distance. If you did the same thing with a mouse it would very likely survive and run off to find some cheese. It might however get distracted by the prospect of a feast of elephant meat and die some time later of chronic obesity. It did however survive the fall due to it's significantly larger surface area compared to it's mass.

Brewing vessels are the same and by that I don't mean small ones don't die if you drop them out of an aeroplane, how could they? they are not alive. What I am indicating is that the fluid in a vessel behaves differently depending on the size of the vessel as a result of different surface areas to volume ratios. The very same brewer mentioned above also commented to me regarding aroma hops that in his big copper they respond differently. If I remember rightly he actually seemed to suggest that microbreweries manage to keep the volatiles better due to the way the boil turbulence works. In any case, hops contain many different compounds and they all behave in very different ways. Transferring a recipe from one brewery to another does not produce the same end product, necessarily.


Lets suppose all of the above is complete rubbish. Suppose we can duplicate a craft beer on a big industrial plant and it will be exactly the same and so benefit from economies of scale. Great, it can happen and I do hope to some extent this is true. I seem to now be confirmed as a BrewDog share holder so Punk IPA is likely to be made on a bigger plant. So, we'll see. My foolhardy actions of allowing James and Martin to rob me of my money will only see some return for me if they can indeed scale up their beer and manage greater throughput so managing economies of scale, making lots of dosh and making me flush with cash.

That is all well and good but the market for that product will have to increase. More capacity to manufacture has to be mirrored with demand for the product. With BrewDog and for that matter any other expanding brewery, will they compromise flavour to make something more appealing to the masses? How long till somebody says? "Punk IPA, it's OK, but too harsh, couldn't drink a gallon" a few tasting panels later and then we're on the slippery slope to blandness so as to appeal to the masses. The beer will then have dropped out of the beer geek market and be no better then something that Morissy Fox might have once upon a time had a hand in. Of course, it'll never happen to BrewDog, not while I'm a share holder.

Contract brewers will brew with whole cone hops if you insist, I expect. Many prefer to use pellets. Hop pellets are where the hop flower is ground and extruded into hard resinous lumps. In the boil they release flavours and aromas similar to whole cone hops. They are however not the same. During the pelletisation process the lupin glands, which is where the best flavours are stored, are damaged. The amount of damage is dependant on the type of pellet. The more damage that occurs the more the flavours are changed. As you would expect the more processed the pellet the more economic benefit there is. The bigger the brewery, the more likely there is to be economies driving the production and therefore more processing done.

Very often limitation in the hopping used by big breweries are corrected with "hop products" which can very nearly replicate the real thing. Only real nerdy beer geeks would be able to tell the difference. Nerdy beer geeks are a very small part of the beer market so who cares?


Once economies of scale are being considered some form of customer satisfaction verses cost analysis will be engaged. Does method A produce as good a result for the majority of the customer base as method B? If so then the least costly method is used. Is the least costly method fit for purpose? If so then use the least cost method. If not then work up until the cheapest fit for purpose method is found.


We now have millions of gallons of some amber liquid being produced. Let's, for the sake of argument, call this liquid C4R1IN6; 6 million barrels a year can't be wrong.

No, they can't, but it isn't Hardknott beer. But then I very much doubt my beer would ever have a market as big as 6 million barrels a year. I'll try not to lose any sleep over it.

I'm not suggesting that mass produced beer is somehow inferior to mine. Indeed, my beer does have its consistency issues from time to time, but then so does Nuits St Georges 1er Crus, every batch has its special attributes and I love it for that. I hate French wine because I can't demand £42 for not much more than a pint, so I'm currently drinking my own idiosyncratic beverage as I try to finish this post.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Going gooey for the kids

We have got a problem really. The news is a little full of stuff about alcohol and it's supposed threat to the health and moral well-being of the country. Pete Brown is continuing to dispel the myths on his blog and the level of deceit contained in The Parliamentary Health Select Committee Report on Alcohol is incredible. Bearing in mind that government legislation is likely to be influenced by such scaremongery, I'm increasingly thinking that some form of action is required which consists of more than just sitting at a keyboard writing great essays on the subject, as good as those writings might be.

Today on the news we see that comedian Bill Bailey, a guy with a great name, is fronting a campaign to educate kids on the dangers of alcohol. Yet more negative exposure for alcohol. How do we deal with this?

But wait! Is this really so bad? I have always said that the solution to alcohol problems is not legislation but education. Although I might not quite agree with all the points Bill makes in the interview I've linked to above, there is some sense being talked I feel.

My partner Ann used to be a Paediatric Nurse. A regular occurrence on her ward was the treatment of drunken young people between the ages of  11-16 years. Brought into the hospital incapable, semiconscious or unconscious and probably suffering from hypothermia. They were perhaps found by the police in the park having consumed a large quantity of Diamond White cider that had been bought by an older sibling or friend who might or might not be over the age of 18.

Invariably these individuals were dripped with dextrose-saline solution to combat the critical levels of alcohol in their blood and the effects on the physiology of the patient. Without this treatment severe health risks occur including possible death. The unfortunate by-product of this treatment is that much of the symptoms of excess drinking that most of us are aware of in the morning after a good night, have been reduced by the re-hydrating effect of the drip. The patient does not have a significant hangover. However, as the levels of alcohol measured in the patients blood are potentially fatal, lack of treatment is not an option.

Now this is not the norm for young people. Very few end up in hospital, so I'm not suggesting it is endemic in the young population, but it is there and is a problem that the health experts know about. I broadly support the educating initiative as a parent, and hope that it helps young people to respect alcohol.

I'm not siding with the neo-prohibitionists; they are indeed a problem. However, as a licensee I can cite plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest a proportion of the population, not, I hasten to add, the majority, have an unhealthy attitude to alcohol. We cannot ignore this.

I've said before that part of the problem with the negative press surrounding alcohol is that the perceived problem does exist to some extent. OK, the way it is reported and the suggested remedies are way out of proportion and additionally there is significant evidence to suggest that the problem is diminishing. However, if we are to tackle negative press then we also have to have one eye on how we would deal with the perceived problems of alcohol abuse. Much of the electorate are parents or grandparents, suggesting that alcohol is a problem to their own offspring instigates gooey knee-jerk compliance. Any noises from us about inaccuracies in reports will largely be ignored.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Pre-election tension

In case you hadn't noticed, we will have an election this year. Actually, it will be sometime before the beginning of May; it has to be because the current bunch of idiots will have been in power for 5 years by then and thankfully they will be forced to ask us if we would like them to stay on a little longer. My temptation would be to say no, except for the fact that the most likely alternative is absolutely no better in any way shape or form. As I saw one person has written; it's like choosing what colour stick to be beaten by.

I wake up this morning and have a quick look at the news. Snow, earthquake and more alcohol related election promises. It seems that the opposition cannot come up with any new and original policies so they are hitting us with the good old "alcohol is bad" stick just the same as the government.

The last few days have seen the political parties retracting promises they realise can't be afforded, at least not without tax increases, which would be deeply unpopular. We probably have a country that more or less works quite well. Commerce works reasonably smoothly, employees are pretty much protected with robust employment laws, education, crime and healthcare are under control and most of the time the bins get emptied. This gives the political parties something of a problem; the electorate aren't fired up about much really and politics are not finding the big issue to fight for that will make the difference.

Unfortunately, alcohol abuse stories finds resonance with the general electorate. This, by my anecdotal experience, is even true with general responsible drinkers, the type that indeed do fall into the ever tightening definitions of hazardous or harmful drinkers. The general public do indeed believe we have a problem in this country.

Pete Brown is working hard in his efforts to debunk some of the propaganda that is coming from the government. The opposition is working hard to ensure it doesn't lose out on this popular scaremonger tactic. Today the Conservatives are saying that the established system of alcohol units should be replaced by centilitres pure alcohol. The fact that they are exactly the same thing, that is one unit of alcohol is a cl of pure alcohol, isn't putting them off. Their suggestion to change labelling is just a way of making news and will solve nothing.

I think we can look forward to more policies that attack alcohol from the political parties. They can't offer us more services, they daren't, the country can't afford it, we have a deficit to pay off for goodness sake. Alcohol scare stories and phoney alcohol harm prevention policies will dominate over the next few months during the run up to the election.

The problem is, despite Pete Browns excellent work, I'm not convinced we can do a great deal about it, other than perhaps whinge about it on our blogs.

Monday, 11 January 2010

The BrewPub concept

I've been spending a bit of time resting and recuperating ready for a new season. Getting to spend weekends away when one runs a pub is not easy. During our winter close-down we spend quite a lot of time working on the property and a little bit of time doing what normal people do - having a life.

I probably need to start thinking about brewing some beer ready for us opening. I also have some very nice beers I need to bottle; a 10%+ barley wine and a 7%+ whisky cask aged stout. Time, as always, is getting limited and there is insufficient winter left in which to complete all the jobs I have to do. In a pub beer matters more than anything else, we know that, so I need to get my finger out.

In pubs the difference between what beer is bought in for and what it is sold for is what helps to pay the staff wages, the electric bills, insurance, maintenance bills and all manor of things. Hopefully there will be a little bit left over for the publican, although most people would probably be surprised to know that this amount is often less than 10p per pint. Yes. Really.

As with most things, beer gains some economies of scale as the brewery gets bigger. Small breweries have the advantage of a reduced duty rate to counter this. The smaller the brewery the more expensive per pint the beer is to produce. It is generally considered that for a stand alone brewery to make money for a single owner/brewer, with no additional staff costs, it needs to produce around 10 brewery barrels1 per week, minimum.

Below this volume then the economies of the BrewPub take over. In this situation the elimination of transport costs, amalgamated overheads, shared administration and other factors help to further benefit the economics of this dubious business model. But there is again a limit to how viable this can be. At a brew length of 2 barrels, the size of my brewery, I would say that the economics are right at the limit of viability. Making beer for the pub, without any external sales, is just about viable because I can sell the beer over the bar at £2.50 or so a pint. At this price my efforts as the brewer pay off. Selling the same product at wholesale prices makes no sense to me whatsoever.

I regularly get requests to supply my beer to beer festivals all over the place. My answer is almost always that I can't. 2 days of my time makes about 600 pints of beer. At wholesale prices it doesn't pay for my time. If I sell beer to other pubs my pub loses out either because I lose a day off or because my pub has less Hardknott beer. Or perhaps I get less time to finish the tiling in the gents loo or tidy up the cables that hang unsightly in the bar, or 1001 other jobs that really need to be done.

So, if you ring me up and ask for beer please understand "no" does actually mean "no" not "maybe if you keep pestering me I'll give in and say yes". My beer is worth at least £2.50 a pint whether it's in a glass or a cask, end of.


1A brewery barrel is 288 imperial pints or about 160 litres. 10 barrels is, obviously, about 1600 litres or 16 hectalitres.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Café or Pub?

There was talk the other night in the pub about onomatopoeiae. Strictly, of course, such a thing is one or more words that imitate or suggest the source of the sound they are describing. Now a pub isn't a sound, well they can be quite noisy, but it's a building. Think about it though, if you had never heard of a pub the sound makes you think of some smelly, damp, squelchy thing you'd avoid if you found one by the side of the road. Of course, unfortunately, sometimes this is actually the case when it comes to pubs.

Now there are plenty of bloggers out there telling us how bad pubs are. It's no wonder nobody goes in them, they should just jolly well tidy themselves up, oh and also at the same time provide cheap booze and nosh into the bargain. I run a pub and therefore I understand all too well how difficult it is for a publican to balance price against customer expectation of quality. The problem is where exactly to pitch their product; at the cost conscious customer or the quality conscious customer?

One of the things that the publican can do very little about is the building. OK, a lick of paint here and a few nice comfortable chairs there, a big plasma screen telly, if that's what will work and maybe, if he's flush with cash, knock a wall down between two rooms to make a nice open plan type of affair. But, bottom line, he's stuck with the bricks and mortar he has. For many pubs that is not a problem, once the inside is good and there is a customer base that grows things can be great.

One busy week last summer, on our day off, we managed to get to a town late afternoon. It's nice when we are out to get some food made by somebody else. We spend all our time trying to make other people happy we might as well enjoy some TLC ourselves. Because I like pubs and beer and like to help to support our industry we search out pubs to eat in. However, because we always seem to get away late, due to this supplier needing to be phoned for an urgent delivery, or some other administrative humdrum necessity, we quite often get to town after lunch is finished. The rural pubs that we do enjoy visiting for lunch would already have stopped serving and so we decided to explore a town that is well known for good food.

On this occasion it was approaching 4pm. We walked past several new build café type places, which I thought looked nice, but decided on a traditional pub. This particular town is a little unfamiliar to us so pot luck was required. We chose a nice traditional Victorian facade pub, it was difficult to see inside but I'm normally happy to take pot luck.

Once inside a pub I feel uncomfortable turning around and walking out just because the pub turns out not to have the facilities I like - it seems a little rude. On this occasion I should have realised as soon as I saw the very obvious and slightly overbearing plasma screen TVs showing dart games. However, I do know that every pub has to play to its clientele so we stayed and ordered a pint of the one hand-pulled beer. Sadly, it would seem, that was off and the suggestion by the landlady was that the cask had failed to sell quickly enough. I found this interesting as the pub clearly was not a quiet one.  The fall back position of nitro-keg Guinness, which I have not had to suffer for some time, was accepted with reluctance.

After all we were only looking for lunch. A quick look at the lunch menu confirmed the usual suspects of Cumberland Sausage, Cottage Pie, ubiquitous curry and other similar traditional rubbish. No doubt the darts fans would be right at home with this along with their pint of bland mass produced lager or nitro-keg John Smiths. One thing was for sure the prices were extremely reasonable and three lunches plus three drinks came to less than £20.

Conversely, I could have chosen one of the nice cafés with their big windows letting in bags of natural light giving an airy and less stuffy environment altogether. The lack of distracting and frankly offensive in-your-face sports channel and an increasing number of interesting bottled beer selections make my recent eating experiences in licenced cafés much more pleasurable than the traditional town centre pub. Indeed, it is my experience that pubs generally don't do wonderful food, its beer soaking stodge prepared to a budget. Equally, the buildings of traditional pubs can often be constraining and creating a situation where the style organically drifts towards my onomatopoetic description I began with, as much due to the desires of the regular drinkers as to anything else.

Regular followers of my views will rightly wonder why I write this negative view of pubs. I regularly get upset at writers who simply state that pubs, generally, need to try harder. My point here is that the general view of the pub is that it has to provide a traditional environment that fits the desires of the established customer base. New build cafés and modern refurbished bars often provide a better, more modern style but then get accused of being overpriced and snobby.

I'd finally like the reader to consider the constraints the building that is the pub puts on the operator. Many traditional pubs which "should try harder" have an uphill struggle against such things as accessibility, food hygiene, fire safety and other reasonable legislated conditions of operation. Many pub operators are doing a great deal of work just to keep up with these and are having a hard time competing with more modern new builds and refurbishments.

Equally, it can be difficult for a pub to portray the style to the passer-by. Many traditional pubs are in Victorian buildings which might well portray a romantic notion but high window ledges and narrow windows can make it difficult for the passer by to get any sort of glimpse into the interior. This is a problem that concerns me about my own place, short of propping our door open, which makes the bar cold, we find it difficult to portray an open "feel" from the outside. We've tried placing an A-board by the road, several times, but the number we have lost due to them being blown over or run over is depressing.

If a pub is delivering a service that is satisfactory for the bulk of its customer base then where is the problem? Despite the example pub above not being to my taste it is an operating pub that provided a service that was popular with some. Further more, it goes to make me wonder whether we would in fact be better off ceasing to worry about the pubs that close, perhaps some buildings are better off being put to alternative uses.

Monday, 4 January 2010

A New Year

We've had a few days relaxation since the New Year came in, it's been nice. We opened the bar for a couple of days for New Year itself, I'm still wondering if it was financially useful but we had nice people in for drinks and New Year's Eve was busy during the day with walkers coming off the fells thirsty for ale. Sadly, it seems the icy roads put people off paying us a visit in the evenings and the snow was not sufficient to get anybody snowed in here. Once we closed again at the end of a very quiet New Year's Day we scurried off for a little break taking advantage of post holiday hotel cheapness. Now we're back into it, like I suspect everyone else is, and I need to think about the year ahead in many ways. In a month's time we'll be opening up again at weekends and the winter sojourn will be over. I started on my jobs today by plumbing in a new WC - it's only been sitting in the shed for about a year, I must be improving at getting jobs done.

Turning towards this blog I should think about subject matter. Tandleman has made me feel slightly guilty with his recent post; there are a few interesting points made about beer bloggers not getting out much and concentrating on beer drinking at home. I realise that the last year has seen my beer horizons shift from pub orientated cask beer to a more eclectic outlook on this blog and consequently I have had little to say about cask beer and pubs recently. I decided that the only course of action was to take myself to one side and have a quiet but firm word. I now believe we both understand me and as the subject of beer has to be inclusive I'm going to make an attempt to ensure I don't leave cask or pubs behind. I did agree with myself however, that forays into the world of interesting beer could be permitted, but warned myself to avoid overdoing it. 

Mark has also written a thought provoking piece about the year to come, which in someways provides a parallel counterpoise for my thought process above. To me Mark is an example of a growing number of young beer enthusiasts that will shape the beer world in the next decade and probably beyond. Forward thinking, receptive and enthusiastic about all types of beer and keen to write about it for no other reason than a love of beer and writing.

Tandleman particularly noted a need for CAMRA to have a long look at itself. I don't know if it will be all that easy as there are many opinions as to what the organisation should do. However, as Tandleman says, the fact that it'll never please everyone is not a reason to avoid an overdue review of its purpose. My fear would be that without engaging with a young, forward thinking, receptive and enthusiastic future we may see a decline in CAMRA in a few years time, which would be a shame.

I think the beer future will be multifaceted and I hope that the various factions will get along just fine. I think pubs in particular are evolving beasts but sometimes I wonder if they evolve fast enough. I hope that the traditional will be maintained in a way that also allows progress where it is appropriate and furthermore can permit a broad and inclusive beer culture.