Monthly Archives: June 2013

Folk ‘n’ ale

The relationship between pubs and singarounds is surprisingly complex; getting a good match is harder than it might seem.

My main, fortnightly, singaround is based at a pub in Chorlton which has had quite a chequered history. When we started going there it was in a bad way; they served Landlord, Taylor’s Best Bitter and Golden Best, and if you were lucky two of them would be on at the same time. I remember a time when the beer ran out altogether, and by way of compensation the barman came round with the last few pints from the barrel in a jug; nice gesture, but it tasted about as good as you’d expect. The relative emptiness – well, let’s not mince words, the very nearly absolute emptiness – of the rest of the pub didn’t bother us; in fact it was all to the good, as it made the pub nice and quiet for us.

What did bother us after a while were the effects of the lack of custom; as well as pumps running dry, this led to the management being very reluctant to bar anyone, which in turn led to some, er, lively scenes in the rest of the pub. But we kept going, feeling vaguely that we were helping keep the place open. Unfortunately it didn’t work, and we spent several evenings parked rather uncomfortably in the corner of lounge bars in other pubs in the area. (The great pre-requisite for a singaround is a room: an upstairs room, a back room or ideally a snug.)

Fortunately, the Beech (this being the pub I’m talking about) reopened under new and, frankly, much better management; on an average night there’s a choice of about six decent beers, some of them very decent indeed. It’s not a craft beer joint, but it covers the range – from Hobgoblin to Oakham via Summer Lightning and Landlord; the beer’s always good and it’s not over-priced. (“Not over-priced” is a phrase which here means “somewhere in the range from £2.80 to £3.60”.) Unfortunately (for us), on an average night the place is rammed: as the MC of our singaround said the other night, “Around this time of the evening we enact a traditional ceremony, in which men come into the public bar and shout at each other.” The second half of the evening tends to be rather heavy on big songs with rousing choruses.

The room, the beer, the noise; getting them all right is harder than you’d think. For a while, when the Beech was being redecorated, we decamped to Dulcimer, where we occupied half of a rather large upstairs room. The landlord rather sportingly supplied a stack of beer tokens for participating singers and musicians; essentially, anyone getting there in the first half hour could count on a free pint. Since the beer was good, Dulcimer scored very high indeed on the beer front; less so on the room and the noise (it was big shouty numbers most of the way).

Another, monthly singaround has recently been launched, although it hasn’t got a permanent home yet. It started in an upstairs room at the Briton’s Protection. It was a great afternoon; the acoustics of the room were a bit soft (big room, lots of soft furnishings) but we got an excellent crowd. Also, the beer was good and Not Over-Priced.

Emboldened, we had a singaround in the snug at Peveril of the Peak. The room was great acoustically – if a bit small – and the pub was quiet; too quiet, in fact: the bar called last orders at 9.15 (!!!). The beer was Not Over-Priced (see above) but it was very dull – Jennings’ Cumberland, Deuchar’s quote IPA unquote, that kind of thing. Also, 9.15!

So we had a singaround in a side room at the Crown and Kettle. The beer was rather fine (Allgates!) and N. O.-P. Finding myself short of a drink at the end of the evening I went for a bottle of Ticketybrew’s Dubbel, which was very nice and… well, not very over-priced. Sadly the room wasn’t great – rather a lot of noise from the main bar.

(Not easy, this. Not especially interesting, maybe, but you have to agree it’s not easy.)

So then we had a singaround in a back room at the King’s Arms (Salford). There was quite a wide and interesting variety of beer, which wasn’t over-priced.The room was very pleasantly full of singers and had a door which closed – a rare and welcome feature. Unfortunately it also had a constant trickle of low-volume muzak from a defective PA which the bar staff were unable to turn off(!). Cursed, we are, cursed I tell you.

Our latest singaround to date was in a back room at the Gas Lamp. The room was amazing – tiled walls making for maximum reflection, which would be awful for a band playing different parts but is just what you want with unaccompanied singing, whether you’re dealing with big harmonies or quiet solos. The pub wasn’t particularly quiet, but our voices bouncing off the walls made so much noise I didn’t much care. As for the beer, there were two hand pumps on the bar, only one of which was working; it was serving a >5% black IPA from the Six O’Clock brewery, which (although very palatable) was over-priced, viz. £4. (This is less than Port Street Beer House are charging for it, admittedly.) Almost everything else was even dearer. I wound up having three pints (to be precise, a pint of the Six O’Clock, a pint of Jever and a 500 ml bottle of Franziskaner dunkel) and paying £12.80 – which would buy you four pints at most if not all of the pubs listed above, and would have covered two full evenings at Dulcimer. Really not good. Lovely room, though, and a great evening.

So bring me a back room (door optional) with tiled walls; bring me a pub (or bar) that’s solvent but not too busy; and please, bring me beer that’s Not Over-Priced. Alternatively, bring me a barrel and set it upright

A ticker is born

Around the 27th Stockport Beer and Cider Festival in 20 beers, give or take a few:

1. Marble Barley Wine
2. Marble Emancipation
3. Red Willow Witless II
4. Fyne Ales Jarl
5. Marble Decadence
6. Red Willow Shameless
7. Bollington Goldenthal
8. Quantum SK2
9. Blackjack King of Clubs
10. Fyne Ales Sublime Stout
11. Marble Bennington
12. Worthington White Shield
13. Fuller’s London Porter
14. Happy Valley Dangerously Dark
15. Fuller’s ESB
16. Fyne Ales Bell Rock & Hop IPA
17. Ilkley Lotus IPA
18. Liverpool Organic Shipwreck IPA
19. Buxton Dark Knights
20. Okell Maclir
JW Lees Manchester Pale Ale
Worth Coppice
St Feuillien Grand Cru (bottle)

1-20: beers I picked out on the programme, in descending order of desirability
In bold: beers I ended up having
In italics: beers that weren’t on

You’ll notice a rather high level of italics, particularly towards the top of the list. I wasn’t entirely expecting all three of the strong Marble beers advertised to be available, but I didn’t expect that none of them would be. I’m gutted to have missed Witless on cask, too, and the Bollington and Quantum beers both sounded rather fine. Looking on the bright side, the top five beers I did have were all excellent; it was particularly good to make the acquaintance of Jarl after all this time, especially as it didn’t disappoint.

Not sure why I didn’t get to the Buxton or Okell beers. Worth Coppice used up a Mild Magic token, as did Marble Bennington. Those are the only two milds on the list, despite my having gone armed with four MM tokens; when you’ve seen 24 milds, you’ve pretty much seen them all. (Except Bennington, which was distinctive – as you’d expect from Marble – and rather fine.) I left my other two tokens lying around for a passing mildophile to snaffle. Lees’ MPA was on the festival charity stall, and it just spoke to me. As for the St Feuillien Grand Cru – which, at 9.5% over a 330ml bottle, was approximately four times as strong as the thirds I’d been drinking upstairs – it was excellent; one of only a handful of beers at the festival whose taste I can still bring to mind. I have to confess, I’d only turned up at the bottle bar in the first place because of a rumour going round that they were accepting MM tokens in exchange for British bottled beer. Not the case, sadly – somebody had got MM tokens confused with volunteers’ tokens. But I was feeling flush, and my tick-list was looking rather sparse – particularly in the skull-splitter department – so paying money for some Wallonian loopy juice seemed like a good idea. As, indeed, it turned out to be.

I’m not moaning about the lack of beers. (Well, maybe just a bit about the Marbles.) I’ve come to the conclusion – if I may address the Festival collectively for a moment – that it’s not you, it’s me. There was some terrific stuff on – as well as the beers I’ve mentioned already, there was Marble Pint, Red Willow Wreckless and Endless, Magic Rock High Wire and Curious, a Dark Star, a couple of Buxtons… I wasn’t tempted by any of it, though. This is partly because of where I live, and partly – I’m afraid to say – because I’m a ticker. And I’d never even realised. The evidence is there, though – the disregard for mild, the thirst for novelty, the disdain for established beers, even the St Feuillien Grand Cru. The shame of it.

What’s to become of me now? What shall I do? Where shall I go? Here, I suppose.