Brewers behaving badly?

By Steve Green on Oct 28, 08 08:10 PM

NeilMorrissey.jpgFormer Men Behaving Badly star Neil Morrissey and his celebrity chef mate Richard Fox launch their new careers as tv brewers tonight.

Neil Morrissey's Risky Business follows the pair as they purchase a rural pub and set up a microbrewery to produce their own range of real ales.

The first episode airs on Channel 4 at 10pm.

Credit crunch crashes beer sales

By Steve Green on Oct 27, 08 07:00 PM

Figures released today by the British Beer and Pub Association make for grim reading, with beer sales in pubs, restaurants and clubs down a staggering 8.1% against the third quarter of 2007 - a fall of more than 160 million pints.

Nor were UK supermarkets immune: their sales fell by 6%.

BBPA chief executive Rob Hayward said: "The downturn has now broadened to affect sales through both pubs and supermarkets.

"This sales trend is symptomatic of the problems infecting the broader economy. But any prudent diagnosis would also identify the specific impact of the Budget's 9% beer tax increase."

Meanwhile, an average of five British pubs are closing every week.

A pioneering Somerset cider-maker has scooped the Campaign for Real Ale's 2008 Pomona Award.

Named for the Roman goddess of apples, the Pomona honours outstanding achievement in the promotion of real cider or perry.

Roger Wilkins, who runs Wilkins Cider from his farm near Wedmore, Somerset, was praised by CAMRA for his lifelong devotion to producing some of the most renowned cider in the county. Some customers have been regulars for more than thirty years.

Roger took over the family business after the death of his grandfather in 1969, and currently produces up to 20,000 gallons of cider per year. The brand was named 'Cider of the Year' at both the 1988 and 1989 Great British Beer Festival.

Afterwards, Roger said: "I am delighted to receive this recognition for doing something that I love and for carrying on the tradition of farmhouse cider-making that my grandfather taught me.

"I must also thank all the people who have supported my work over the years, and I hope they have enjoyed my cider."

Sarah Newson, vice-chair of CAMRA's Cider & Perry Committee, added: "This phenomenal contributor to the industry thoroughly deserves this award for his sheer enthusiasm and commitment to producing the best real cider.

"With his farm overlooking Westhay Moor Valley, Roger could not produce cider in a more stunning location. Maybe these surroundings have been the inspiration for his continued success!"

Not so grim up north

By Steve Green on Oct 2, 08 05:15 PM

Tonight sees the launch of three separate real ale events up north:

  • The 12th Louth & District Beer Festival, at the Mason's Arms, Louth (live music on Friday and Saturday evening)
  • The 34th Steel City Beer & Cider Festival, at Cemetery Park, Sheffield (live music Thurday and Friday evening, entertainment all day Saturday)
  • The Huddersfield Oktoberfest Beer & Cider Festival, at the Irish Centre, 86 Fitzwilliam Street, Huddersfield (free entry for CAMRA members on all three days)

  • Beware the Beast

    By Steve Green on Sep 28, 08 12:25 AM

    Solihull-Festival.jpgJust five days to go until the launch of the 10th annual Solihull Beer Festival.

    This year's choice brews range from such "session ales" as Church End's Gravediggers and Malvern Hills' Feelgood (both 3.8% ABV) to stronger beers such as Acorn's Willamette IPA (5%) and Bob's Chardonnayle (5.1%).

    The more adventurous can even tempt fate with a pint of Exmoor's dark ale Beast (a formidable 6.6%), which I know from experience needs to be supped with some caution.

    You can read the full details at Solihull CAMRA's award-winning website.

    Sadly, I'm unable to join them next weekend, but I'd like to offer my sincere thanks to the festival's organisers for choosing Diabetes UK as their official charity, in memory of my wife Ann. It's a terrific gesture.

    The Who's Who of brew

    By Steve Green on Sep 15, 08 05:45 PM

    BLOG Toby Jugg2.jpgRather like the minor celebrities and second-rank aristocrats who scurry to pick up each year's edition of Who's Who to see if they've merited a mention, arguably the major publishing event on the beerhunter's calendar is the release of the Campaign for Real Ale's Good Beer Guide.

    The 2009 edition is just out, and editor Roger Protz has once again compiled an indispensible guide to more than 4,500 of the best pubs in Britain.

    In the West Midlands, for instance, we have listings for the the Vaults in Knowle (Solihull CAMRA's Pub of the Year 2008), the Waggon & Horses in Oldbury, the Old Joint Stock in Central Birmingham and the Port 'n' Ale in Tipton. Plus, of course, the famous Bernie's Real Ale Off-Licence in Shirley, Solihull.

    Nor is the GBG devoted entirely to pubs, also finding room for extensive entries on the UK 's many independent breweries, including regional brands such as Tunnel and Church End (both Nuneaton), Purity (Great Alne), Enville (Stourbridge), and Titanic (Stoke-on-Trent).

    Copies cost £14.99, but CAMRA members pay just £11.00. Why not come along to next month's Solihull Beer Festival and pick up your own map to this country's brewing treasures?

    Reports that the number of British pub closures has escalated to a staggering 36 per week -- more than five each day -- has prompted calls for immediate intervention by Downing Street to save the industry.

    Mike Benner, Chief Executive of the Campaign for Real Ale, said: ""It is clear that the Government must take urgent action to save pubs from closure.

    "Pubs are essential local services and the Government has a moral duty to protect them."

    The first move should be a complete u-turn on new beer taxes, he added.

    "It should start by announcing immediately that it will reverse its decision to increase beer duty in the next four budgets and that a review of alcohol taxes will be undertaken without delay."

    Atomium.jpgFine as the history of British brewing is, there has always been much to savour from beyond these shores.

    100 Belgian Beers To Try Before You Die! by Tim Webb and Joris Pattyn, published this week by the Campaign for Real Ale, is intended both as a reference tool for the experienced connoisseur and a guidebook for the newcomer.

    Says Tim: "I want people who do not normally try these unusual beer styles to read this book and take them seriously.

    "In Britain we have got used to beer as a dull, low alcohol, vaguely bitter drink that comes in pints, yet in Belgium, for reasons that go back hundreds of years, they make beers in dozens of hugely differing styles, suitable for all occasions, some rivalling the finest wines on quality."

    The pair have also compiled a list of British outlets for the cream of Belgian ales, including Den Engel at 23-25 St Edward Street, Leek, and the Swan and Rushes, 19 Infirmary Square, Leicester.

    Tim continues: "From reading our compilation of unmissable Belgium beers, it is hoped people will be encouraged to store their own collection, as we have concluded the 100 beers with 10 top tips for restaurateurs to create the perfect beer cellar.

    "With the aid of a glossary of beer styles and tasting terms as an introduction to the book, even a complete newcomer to Belgium's famous produce will not be baffled."

    Copies can be ordered from CAMRA at £12.99 each (discounted to £10.99 for CAMRA members).

    BLOG Toby Jugg2.jpgI wrote recently of the massive slump in beer sales in pubs across the UK.

    Unsurprisingly, share prices are already being hit. Following downbeat reports by two leading investment analysts, Credit Suisse and Landbanki, Enterprise Inns dropped 3.6% in value on Friday.

    That would be bad enough, but this is just the latest nail in the group's coffin - it's now worth less than half what it was a year ago and is poised to drop out of the FTSE 100 next month.

    Other brewers downgraded by Landbanki include Marstons, Mitchells & Butlers and Greene King. Only J D Wetherspoon - one of the few highstreet pub chains to enthusiastically promote real ales - was recommended to investors, and that's simply because Landbanki believes the market's low expectations have actually left the stock underpriced.

    Nor is cider faring any better. Sales of the much-promoted Mangers have certainly lost their fizz, and are expected to have plummeted by 15% in the six months ending 31 August. Its Irish owner, C&C, reportedly anticipates little upturn before January 2009.

    The Unlevel Playing Field

    By Steve Green on Sep 2, 08 07:00 AM

    GMTV this morning reported on the enormous gap between the prices charged for alcohol in supermarkets and in pubs.

    The idiot reporter sloshed the contents of a 440ml can of Stella Artois into a pint glass so quickly it was mostly froth, then stated a pint was equivalent to one and a half cans.

    Presumably, she's not aware Stella is available in 500ml cans, but I have to say I was mildly surprised when she priced this at a little over a quid. Just how has it been since when a can of Stella cost just 70p?

    To make matters even more surreal, she performed this stunt in the Stanley Arms, a pub in Norfolk which charges an astounding £3.20 per pint. Pardon?

    Whilst I applaud GMTV for realising there is life in the wastelands beyond the M25, this comparison was absurd: warehouse-priced cans versus a pub which seems to have based its bar tariff on a city centre nightclub.

    One interesting factoid emerged in all this waffle, though: during the European Cup, the major supermarkets apparently ran a "loss leader" campaign on lager which cost them £90 million.

    Can they really have made all that money back on barbecues, burgers and cream for the inevitable drunken burns?


    Toby Jugg

    Toby Jugg - A former newspaper reporter, Steve Green now works as a freelance journalist and technical writer. He first joined the Campaign for Real Ale in the mid-1980s and currentlyproduces a regular column for Solihull CAMRA in the Solihull Times, under the pseudonym "Toby Jugg".

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