Drinking beer is cool
It’s a while since I wrote a piece for the web site and a lot has happened in the branch. We still see more pubs closing than we’d all like but this is being countered by bars & pubs opening or re-launching. This concept of bar versus pub is worthy of a bit more consideration. It appears to be traditional pubs that are under threat and the new venues are typically called bars but this isn’t a black & white rule. Pubs (or public houses to give them their full name) are definitely a British institution and the word “Pub” isn’t found very often outside of the UK. Maybe those opening new bars are trying to distance themselves them from doom & gloom in the pub sector as the pubco model continues to struggle. Maybe they are trying to appeal to a more youthful market and in many cases succeeding. It’s very encouraging to look around a bar or beer festival to see a wide age range of both genders. CAMRA recently carried out a survey of younger members and one of the underlying themes is that beer drinking is now seen as “cool”. This is a great achievement and is due to everyone working together: CAMRA fighting for real ale, the breweries taking up the baton to produce tasty high quality beers and the licensees for creating exciting, interesting and appealing places to drink.
CAMRA itself faces a bit of a challenge though as it’s not just real ale that’s seen as cool. High quality keg beers are now cropping up – Redwillow in Macclesfield been the most recent example with 20 keg pumps but just a handful of cask. These are nothing like the awful beers that caused the founders to start CAMRA back in the 1970s. At the time, cask beers were obviously a much tastier product plus they were often produced by smaller breweries and not the big five. In addition, we’ve all but lost the fight on bottle-conditioned beers (which some say CAMRA actually invented) with most, if not all, of our local Cheshire breweries switching to non-BCA beer primarily for quality reasons. It seems a little trite for an organisation that came into existence to fight for loss of choice and quality to insist that the only way to enjoy real ale is bottle-conditioned which often has poor quality and because it’s not as popular, reduces choice. It also means we can’t support initiatives like Redwillow’s Tilting Ale which is now available on Virgin Trains. I know which I’d prefer to drink if the choice was Tilting Ale or Carling…
CAMRA needs to decide if it’s a preservation society or a progressive consumer organisation. That’s going to be an interesting on-going debate! We certainly need more younger members actively involved in the campaign.
Anyway back to some of that good news from the branch. Macclesfield continues to grow as a great beer drinking destination. The Redwillow bar already mentioned, Mash Guru taking over the old Mexican restaurant on Back Wall Gate, the whole Castle Quarter re-inventing itself with trendy wine bars, Brewtique bottle shop and Salt Bar offering Swedish food. Also in this area is the Castle where we presented Bill Ramage a new CAMRA heritage plaque - a lovely unspoilt pub to compliment the more modern bars. One can’t mention the Castle Quarter without also mentioning Brewtique, a new bottle shop opened officially by yours truly in October and run by Chris Stairmond of Wharf fame. Definitely on the Christmas shopping list and the staff are more than willing to offer advice on the huge range of bottles. This segue ways me neatly into congratulating Chris & the team for winning Cheshire Pub of the Year. So a busy year in Macclesfield.
Not quite our branch but still in Cheshire, Bollington Brewery have opened their 3rd pub in Poynton with the re-opening of the Cask Tavern on Park Lane which has been welcomed by local residents as they struggled a little for real ale venues but now have the Kingfisher, Poynton Legion (and Worth Brewery), Cask Tavern as well as the well-established Farmers Arms and recent free house, the Bulls Head in Higher Poynton.
Congleton has stabilised a little after a rash of closures with the recent welcome news that the Antelope has been taken over by the Cock In Treacle company.
Congratulations also go to Happy Valley (Bollington), Redwillow (Macclesfield) and Merlins (Arclid) for winning 1st, 2nd and 3rd places in the Championship Beer of Cheshire competition with Blackout Rum Porter, Directionless and The Wizard. The awards are provisionally booked for lunchtime on 7th December at the Poachers in Bollington. Space doesn’t permit mentioning the stream of awards that the other Cheshire breweries continue to win.
Finally CAMRA has launched WhatPub.com and you’ll hopefully see posters and beer mats spreading throughout the branch. This is an initiative very close to my heart so please use it. It works well on smartphones and is a great way to submit beer scores whilst you are drinking the beer. Beer scores form the heart of the Good Beer Guide selection (latest edition in all good book stores) but we need more especially as we’ve had our allocation reduced by nearly 25%. Also, if you spot anything that’s out of date, please submit an update. If the entry needs totally updating, email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for a survey form.
All that's left for me to say now is to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year for 2014.