Support your local club

Dave Wade has an alternative kind of local….

Cricket at Sale Sports Club ©Dave Wade

Yes, that’s right “Club”, so although much of CAMRAs focus is on the “Pub” for me for many, years, when I wanted a pint, I made a trip to the local “Club”.  This was not a late-night entertainment centre but our village cricket club. It was owned and run by the villagers and offered a wide range of facilities in addition well cricket.

Similar establishments owned and operated by and for their members are dotted around the country.  Some date back to 1800’s but many were formed in the 20th century. They were founded with the aim of bringing together like-minded people with common interest such as a sport, a political party or a simply as a social space for workers in a local industry.

Bowling Green – Sale United Services Club ©Dave Wade

As they were and still are owned by their members, the clubs could buy alcohol “on behalf” of the members, who could then consume it on the club premises, in the same way as they could at home, under a “club licence” thus side-stepping some of the strict licencing laws in the 20th century . Being managed by volunteers they often offered beer at very attractive prices.

The bar at Flixton Conservative Club ©Dave Wade

In the current alcohol laws a similar his distinction continues, and many clubs operate under a “clubs premises certificate” which only permits them to serve alcohol to members and guests. However whilst a few, especially political clubs, still limit membership most clubs are open and welcome new members. Even the sports clubs welcome associate or social members who just want to use the facilities and contribute to the club funds by using the bar.

What can I expect if I visit?

In most clubs, if you wish to apply for membership you can expect a warm welcome, although as they are run by the members who are normally unpaid volunteers, actually joining may be a challenge.

Flixton Conservative Club ©Dave Wade

Clubs vary widely in the facilities they offer. Many have real ale on offer, sometimes just a single pump with a national beer, but in others it may be one or two local beers. In exceptional cases, such as in Flixton Conservative club, the National CAMRA club of the year for 2018 you will typically find up to six changing beers on offer the focus is on local and regional breweries such as Dunham Massey, Pictish and Elland.  Like several local clubs Camra members are admitted.

The clubs are owned by their members so as well as beer most clubs will have a range of social facilities.  They usually own their own premises many have space for facilities which the PubCos have removed from their pubs so they can downsize and sell the land for housing or offices.

Of course the Sports Clubs usually own a sports ground, but outside you will also find bowling greens, a feature which continues to disappear from many pubs at an alarming rate. Inside many have full sized snooker tables again a luxury that most pubs have dispensed with. Those I have visited with such a feature include Flixton Con Club as mentioned above, along with Sale United Services Club, Woodheyes Club, Sale but many more have this facility.

Snooker tables at Sale United Services Club ©Dave Wade

At the more mundane level the Sports Clubs may show some of the less popular sports on TV  so when football and Rugby, clash if you are a member Trafford Metrovicks Rugby Club in Sale will of course have the rugby match on their projection TV and you can enjoy the game whilst supping a pint of their own labelled beer from Dunham Massy.

The Future

Today CAMRA recognises that members clubs provide a valuable community resource and also offer a range of quality beer so actively encourages our members to support them. Like our Pubs many of clubs are facing financial pressures from dwindling membership or the closure of their supporting businesses, and over the years many have closed.  

So if you fancy taking up Snooker, Cricket or Rugby or just want to watch others participate, consider checking out your local members club.

Dave Wade

The ladies go out and about – in Bolton

Our intrepid group of ladies set out on their travels again, with a trip to to the wet and windy town of Bolton. Ann Ward tells us what they found….

The first of our stops was in the Lifestyle Hall inside Bolton Market, a lovely little bar and aptly named One For The Road.

©Ann Ward

With three cask ales and plentiful food on offer, we suitably fed and watered ourselves.

Next it was on to the Hen & Chickens, Deansgate, a welcoming bar with multi-rooms, and five cask ales. A nice touch was when the beer barrel ran out before our order was completed the first half pint from the next was given free. As explained, this was the custom of the pub and it was unexpected, as we had already ordered an alternative.

A short walk then led us to Great Ale At The Vaults, Market Place, a very interesting underground bar, four cask ales offered here, with the owners previously having a bar in the market.

Ladies in The Vaults
Ladies in The Vaults ©Ann Ward

Now it was out again and into daylight and back on to Deansgate with rain, we called upon a Theakston’s pub, the Olde Three Crowns at the lower end. A basic old fashioned boozer, and interesting windows. Only the brewery’s Old Peculiar, which went down well at 5.6% ABV and ) Lancaster brewery’s Blonde ale (4.0% ABV were available. Whilst we were there a workman who had come in out of the rain asked one of our ladies if there was a dryer in the ladies toilets – and then asked if she could dry his socks! Not a regular occurrence that happens often one would suspect. She of course obliged and he was thus very grateful.

Historic Old Man & Scythe ©Ann Ward

Further along on the opposite side where it becomes Churchgate, was Ye Olde Man & Scythe, fronted in a mock-Tudor style, a building which goes way back to when there was a pub on this site in 1251. This is Bolton Camra’s Cider pub of the year with friendly locals, up to four cask ales and four cask ciders available too – what more could anyone want – perhaps the resident ghost might join you and imbibe!

Barristers Bar is also on Churchgate, but the entrance is just around the corner on Bradshawgate. Using a door to the right, we encountered another old world pub which boasted six cask ales available.

©Ann Ward
©Ann Ward

Our seventh pub, the Northern Monkey Brewery Co Pack Horse  bar on Nelson Square has friendly staff and was totally different to the previous pubs, with the addition of a small glass of popcorn to accompany their Film Club Popcorn Stout, and a delicious drop at 6.0% ABV. Three of their beers in total were available,

Lastly we couldn’t do a pub crawl without at least one Wetherspoons. The Spinning Mule, also on Nelson Square was extremely busy but provided a fitting end to our day.

©Ann Ward

Only one charity shop visited this time, but all the pubs were good, many giving CAMRA discount and kept us dry on a wet and windy day.  


SIBA Judging at Bolton Beer Festival

Tony Mitchell recounts his experience judging champion beers

Bolton Beer festival held at the University of Bolton Stadium, (or U-Bolt for short), opened on Thursday 10 October, at 6pm for customers but for a chosen few the day began at 10.30 with registration for judges of the best beers competition. For not only was it a beer fest, but it was the SIBA (Small Independent Brewers Association) North West championship for which I was one of these chosen few.

There are many types of people able to judge a beer, not just aficionados; – a trained palate is not a prerequisite as these beers are on sale to the general public and not specifically to any one class of drinker.

I arrived by bus and train in plenty of time and was presented with my name badge and a lanyard, and was offered tea or coffee and biscuits, which I duly did before having a look around. There were a few faces I recognised from similar events in the past and after a short while I was approached by Ian Addleston of Belmont Labels who had asked me to represent his company at last year’s event. This was typical of the companies associated with the beer trade as I also found representatives from maltsters, hop farms, brewery equipment, even a sales rep who sold cardboard boxes, plus of course from the breweries themselves. This latter group however were not allowed to take part in the judging, they could possibly recognise their own beers and thus give them better marks, so were asked to act as runners, bringing the beer to our tables when the time came to judge.

There was a free bar set up for us with five localish beers available, Peerless Skyline, 4.2% Blackedge U.S.Ale 4%, Bank Top Bad to the Bone 4%, Northern Monkey Last Drop 3.6%, and from Ulverston Stringers Copper 3.9%. These were racked bright though as I noticed early on that they hadn’t been spiled or tapped.

©Tony Mitchell

We received our call to arms at 11am, and there were 12 tables of judges, all containing between 4 and 6 people on each and each trying different categories – Pales, Best Bitters, Speciality, Bottle and Cans, IPAs etc. My first table was dark beers of up to 4.4% and included stouts, porters, milds, browns and dark bitters. Guy Sheppard from Exe Valley Brewery in Devon was our MC (despite his badge proclaiming him as ‘Head of long speeches’) and explained the task ahead. We each had a printed sheet on which we would write the beer number and our marks for appearance, aroma, taste, aftertaste and saleability. marks out of 10 for most, though 20 for taste, of course it was all blind tasting. We had Mark from Lancaster brewery to take our questions, pour our drinks and remove our finished glasses while our runner was Claire from Bank Top who would bring us jugs of our beers and tell us what the beer was, mild, porter or whatever, and whether it was fined or unfined. We also took water and crackers to clear our palates (I was told of one instance at a previous event where the first drink was a chilli beer which left a lingering taste in those judges’ mouths and affected the taste of the subsequent beers). Of the last two of the eight we tested on this run, one of them was unfined, yet it was the other which was cloudy. We all thought that there might have been a mix up in the delivery, but this wasn’t so. Needless to say the cloudy one was marked down by all of us.

©Tony Mitchell

There was nothing however which jumped out at me as being a really good ale and all in all my marks tended to be in the top 30’s and 40’s out of a maximum of 60 points.

Round one was finished and we left the tables to be cleared for the next round, which was soon to follow and this time I was on table two, which was Cask Bitters 4.5%-6.4% which we were told included Bests, Blondes, Goldens, Pales and Premiums. However we were told in advance that all but one were premiums, the other being a pale, and that all had been fined. The first one looked good and was marked high for appearance but the taste was disappointing. Drink with your mouth and not your eyes aye! The rest would be either darker or a light almost Boddingtons colour, with the last being an enigma as it was the best conditioned, but poor in all other aspects. So it received the fewest points from me.

Once again it was time to let the tables be readied for the next round and by now the aforementioned free bar was open.

Now I bumped into an old friend of mine, Eric Cruise, who has been helping to organise this event for years; the festival itself is to raise money for Bolton Lads Club which is in turn supported by Bolton Rugby Club, where the event used to take place and Eric is a retired player but is still a committee member. I also bumped into a familiar face who until recently was Chairman of Greater Manchester CAMRA. Graham Donning was propping up the free bar. It was also lunch time. as drinking judges we all need that blotting paper to soak up our intake and the choice was Irish stew, Meat pie or Cheese and Onion pie, with mushy peas.

We were called back for the third round and everyone slowly drifted back to the tables, many with their free drink in hand. I was back onto table one with Claire and Mark in attendance, and back on the dark beers up to 4.4%. It transpired that these were the best of earlier tables’ choices in that category and so we expected better things than round one had produced. Yet one of them came along which quite obviously was not a dark beer. It was good but had been put into the wrong group. One member of our table had had bitters in a previous round and said it would have done well in that category. We consulted Guy over this and he agreed with us but said we should make our own decisions and as it was a good beer, I gave it appropriate marks as such but had to mark it down on appearance as it was definitely not a dark beer. On all these tables we had taken a sip or two and done our scoring. Obviously with so many beers to taste it wasn’t advisable to drink too much and like wine tasters, we spat a lot out. However some people kept hold of theirs to enjoy more leisurely once everything else had been finished

Judging was over for me and most of the others with just twenty people over two tables to work on the finalists. But before this could happen the scores had to be totalled up to see which beers had made it that far. As for the rest of us, well there was still the free bar.

Sometime not long after 4pm the results were made known and the presentations were made. There were certificates for 1st, 2nd and 3rd, with a plaque for each of the winners. When each was announced it was assumed that somebody from the winning brewery would go on up to receive their prize and have their photos taken, but not every brewery had sent a representative. I had found myself sitting near the people from Bollington brewery, who would also go up to collect on behalf of Red Willow. Unfortunately for them Red Willow won more prizes than they did, and as they sent up a different representative to collect each time they were running out of recipients. (I honestly thought they might send me up for one.) There were a lot of categories, consequently it took a lot of time. Finally the SIBA North West Champion Beer for 2019 was announced and of all the breweries throughout the region it was the one from two miles away which won: Blackedge’s ‘West Coast’ (4.1%).

The Winners (©Tony Mitchell)

Now the festival beers became available to us an hour before the general public were allowed in. which was good as the free bar had been emptied and was now dismantled. But to us judges this was free too. And with looser tongues, more networking was done among the tradesmen, more friends made all round, and generally more things discovered about our fellow tasters. While many did have that trained palate, or a hearty interest in all things ale, even to the point of knowing what hops are in that particular beer, there was one chap who confided in me that his regular tipple was a pseudo Australian lager. It just shows you, it takes all sorts to judge a beer competition.

Post judging socialising (©Tony Mitchell)

Who’s Crafting Your Beer?

Whatever your opinions on the numbers of small brewers producing KeyKeg and keg beers, few can deny that the drinker has never had more choice of quality beers on both cask and keg formats. But there is one group who don’t like it – the big brewers who used to have a monopoly on the fonts at your local pubs.

The big national and international producers have found that drinkers are turning away from their heavily promoted brands. Like many other sections of society, beer lovers are increasingly looking at the provenance of what they buy, preferring to give their money to smaller artisan producers over what are perceived as ‘corporations’. 

The response from ‘big beer’ has been putting beers on the bars that have the appearance of ‘craft’ brands but are brewed alongside the macro-brands. They’ve also been buying up successful smaller brewers to add flavoursome beers to their ranges.

Hop House 13 from Diageo, Lagunitas IPA from Heineken & Open Gate Citra IPA , also from Diageo)

Drinkers seeking new flavours often look to imported beers on draught and in bottles/cans – but what they are buying is often just a subsidiary of the corporations they are seeking to avoid.

In the United States, a ‘craft brewery’ has a clear definition set by the US Brewers Association. Sadly, the UK has no equivalent definition, and this has left the door open for marketeers at some of the UK’s largest brewers to attempt to hijack the term.

So who is behind the ‘craft’ beers at your local? 

The world’s biggest brewer AB InBev, maker of Budweiser and Stella Artois, owns over 140 breweries around the world including Camden Town in the UK, the USA’s Goose Island and Belgium’s Leffe (alongside the once iconic British brands Bass and Boddingtons).

Europe’s largest player Heineken hit the headlines when it purchased a 49% stake in Beavertown in late 2018 but already has a portfolio which includes own label Maltsmiths, Lagunitas IPA, Amstel, Birra Moretti, Zywiec and Irish stouts Beamish and Murphy’s, plus minority stakes in Brixton Brewery and Paulaner.

Japan’s Asahi added Fullers and Dark Star to their portfolio in January, joining their existing brands including Meantime, Pilsner Urquell, Grolsch, Peroni and Polish brand Tyskie.

Another Japanese company is behind many more brands – tech giant Mitsubishi’s finance arm owns the Kirin group which in turn owns Lion – the Australian based company which purchased Huddersfield’s Magic Rock earlier this year. Lion also owns London’s Fourpure and a host of Australian and New Zealand breweries include Little Creatures and Castlemaine XXXX.

Burton based Marston’s are behind Revisionist, Shipyard and Devils Backbone beers in the UK – the latter two under licence from their US originators (Devils Backbone in the US being a subsidiary of AB InBev). They also own a host of cask ale brands including Wainwright, Ringwood, Wychwood, Banks’s, Young’s and Jennings.

Despite boasting a range of 682 beers worldwide, Danish giant Carlsberg has been relatively quiet in the UK ‘craft’ segment. They recently relaunched London Fields brewery which they and Brooklyn Brewery purchased in 2017 so you can expect to see these beers on more bars. Shed Head from Sweden’s Backyard Brew is another common Carlsberg ‘craft’ offering in the UK (the ‘backyard’ in the brewery’s name being that of Carlsberg’s massive plant in Falkenberg, Sweden).

Molson Coors is behind the UK’s most common cask ale brand Sharp’s Doom Bar, but their most significant move into the ‘craft’ segment in Europe was the purchase of Cork’s Franciscan Well Brewery. They are also behind curry house stable Cobra. Guinness is another staple brand in thousands of pubs but seeing its sales fall, parent company Diageo launched Hophouse 13 lager in 2015 and has pushed it out to a wide variety of pubs who also stock its stout.

Even our local family brewers are seeking to appeal to new markets with ‘craft’ brands. Joseph Holt acquired the four-barrel Bootleg Brewery when they bought Chorlton’s Horse & Jockey pub in 2012. Since then ‘Bootleg’ beers brewed at Holt’s Cheetham Hill site have appeared in cask and keg across the Holt’s estate and the free trade. Meanwhile Salford’s Hydes markets beers under brands including The Beer Studio, Kansas Avenue Brewing Co and Provenance.

Roll out the barrels

Beer festival organisers herald another successful festival

An extended version of the review from our April – June 2019 issue…..

There was a treat in store for visitors to the preview session of January’s Manchester Beer and Cider Festival when the UK’s only independent Master Cooper gave a demonstration of his craft.

Organisers invited Alastair Simms from Yorkshire Cooperage to complement one of the new attractions, the Beers from the Wood bar. Arranged with support from the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood, both Alastair and the bar proved big hits with festival goers at Manchester Central’s great hall. The bar was so popular, it had been drunk dry three hours before Saturday’s closing time, as drinkers sampled both traditional and new beers put into oak and chestnut barrels.

Photo: James Darcey
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