Thursday, 7 November 2019

Prime in Korea

I've just used a voucher which came with CAMRA's quarterly magazine Beer to order a box of eight South Korean beers in cans and bottles (free apart from just under a fiver for p&p).

The beer market in South Korea is dominated by light, rice-based lagers, a result no doubt of the US military presence there since World War II, and even the ones now being produced by microbreweries there - hazy IPAs, hoppy brown ales and funky saisons - have been inspired by the American craft beer revolution.

The company running the promotion have just come back from the Korean peninsula, visiting breweries both north and south of the demarcation line dividing it since the end of the war there in 1953.

In North Korea, as well as the large, state-run Taedonggang brewery - bizarrely brewing since 2000 on the imported kit of defunct English brewery Ushers of Trowbridge in Wiltshire - the lack of petrol for national distribution means that there are apparently now lots of brewpubs, in the hotels and restaurants serving foreign visitors and the roadside stands where locals drink their monthly Government ration of five free litres, and anything above that at about 30p a pint.

PS. Hats off to anyone who can identify the musical pun in the title without clicking here.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Warming up for another Winter Wander

With chill winds beginning to blow as we approach the back end of 2019, it's now only a fortnight until the start of the Winter Warmer Wander, Stockport and South Manchester CAMRA's annual celebration of strong ales and stouts. And with even more pubs and bars signed up for this year's event, including a few new places which have opened in the last twelve months, it's easier than ever to take part.

On a pub crawl around Stockport town centre last Saturday with fellow blogger BRAPA, it was noticeable that nearly all the ones we went to had a dark and/or strong cask beer on the bar, as befits the season, although to be honest I'm happy to drink these kinds of ales and stouts at any time of the year. 

I'm yet to drink a half or two of this year's Old Tom, the strong ale from Stockport brewery Robinson's which only appears on draught in their pubs in the winter, but I'm sure that I'll put that right in the next few weeks.

Monday, 30 September 2019

Blue(s) Wor(l)d

Impulse Records has just issued Blue World, an album of material from a rediscovered and until now unreleased John Coltrane session in 1964, for the score of an experimental Canadian film about a young couple in Montreal, Le Chat Dans Le Sac.

The session opens with the laid-back and lyrical Naima, first heard on his debut album for Atlantic Records in 1959, Giant Steps, with the rhythm section of the Miles Davis Quintet which he would leave the next year - pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb - replaced by that of his own "Classic Quartet", pianist McCoy Tuner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones.

Most of the tracks are shorter and blusier than the ballad which both the session and the film begins with, in contrast to the longer and freer compositions on his next Impulse album, the religiously inspired A Love Supreme.

With Thelonious Monk's score for the 1959 French film Les Liasions Dangereuses being rediscovered a few years ago, it makes you wonder what other jazz gems are yet to be unearthed in the archives.

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Oh Manchester, so much that Pevsner saw

I was reading a blogpost last week by an American visitor to the Marble Arch, the classic pub on the Ancoats/Collyhurst border a few hundred yards up Rochdale Road from Manchester city centre, and noticed a reference to a description of it in the Pevsner Guide to the Architecture of Manchester ("unusual jack-arch ceiling with exposed cast-iron beams supported by tile-clad brackets. Walls and ceiling of the main bar are lined with glazed bricks and tiles and a lettered frieze advertises types of drink") published in 2001.

I've got the South Lancashire volume of Pevsner's The Buildings of England that covers Manchester, which he wrote after a visit here in 1967 and published in 1969, but didn't realise that the series had continued after his death in 1983. I've just picked up a cheap second hand copy of the Manchester guide online.

There are a few other pubs in the book, including the Britons Protection ("early C19 revamped in the 1930s, with much interior decoration"), Circus ("an almost miraculous survival considering the tiny scale of it") and Hare and Hounds ("late C18 origins with a remarkably complete interwar interior"), but the main interest is in how the city is described in that period, between the opening of what is now the Manchester Central conference centre in 1986, the 1990 Strangeways prison riot which destroyed much of the Victorian gaol just north of the city centre (next to the tower of Boddingtons Brewery that survived until 2007), the coming of the Metrolink tram system in 1992 and the 1996 IRA bomb, which triggered much of the redevelopment of the centre, and the rampant skyscraper building which has transformed it in the last decade, including an artist's impression of what the new Piccadilly Gardens with its now much criticised wall would eventually look like.

Monday, 16 September 2019

The Missing Page

I've been watching, and unexpectedly enjoying, Sanditon, ITV's adaptation of Jane Austen's final and unfinished novel about a town on the south coast of England being transformed into a Regency seaside resort, which she was writing until shortly before her untimely death at the age of 41 in 1817.

Although sequels are almost always inferior to the original classics whose success they seek to cash in on (Lewis after Inspector Morse, the awful Blues Brother 2000), finishing uncompleted novels either on the page or screen tends to work better (I'm also a fan of prequels which establish the background and motivations of well-known characters - as Endeavour does with Inspector Morse, or, in one of my favourite novels, that of Jane Eyre's Mr. Rochester in Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea).

The text of Sanditon is only about sixty pages long, so most of the TV series is the work of screenwriter Andrew Davies who, rather than messing around too much with the plot and characters, has managed to extend some of the novel's themes - slavery, racism, financial speculation - that are only hinted at by Austen.

The pre-eminent example of an unfinished work of literature is of course Lady Don't Fall Backwards by Darcy Sarto, as brought to life by East Cheam's inimitable man of letters Anthony Aloysius Hancock.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Not to Bury Them

One of England's oldest clubs, Bury FC, was expelled from the Football League yesterday for failing to meet their financial requirements, and Bolton Wanderers given a fortnight's stay of execution as they continue to search for a buyer to save the club.

I've been to watch Bury a few times over the years, often when the Premier League was on an international break, and until the late 90s paid on the turnstile to stand in the appropriately named Cemetery End at their home ground, Gigg Lane (still homeless Swinton rugby league club and fan-owned breakaway FC United have also played there in the past). I always found it charming that, as well as their 1900 and 1903 FA Cup wins, the honours list printed in the matchday programme also included their highest League position, a fourth place finish in the First Division in 1926.

Of course, Bury's location just a few miles north of Manchester, which makes it a shortish bus or tram journey for a casual fan like me, is also one of its problems, given the proximity of the two big Manchester clubs, and, as in other nearby towns such as Oldham and Stockport, there are probably as many City and United fans there as there are those of the hometown team (Stockport, like Tranmere Rovers on Merseyside, got round that for a while by playing on Friday nights).

The other problem facing small clubs like Bury is the huge inequality of income within the football pyramid (you could argue that the start of that was the abolition of the maximum wage for players in the early 60s which saw the decline of other Lancashire mill and seaside town clubs Bolton, Burnley and Blackpool). A fan outside Gigg Lane on TV last night said that Premier League clubs would come to rue letting small town lower league clubs like Bury go to the wall as they produce young players for them, but I think the former can probably now rely on their own academy systems and scouting networks to identify and attract both local and international prospects.

For Bury fans wondering how to spend their Saturday afternoons after the club's liquidation - and for those of Bolton who seem set to follow them - the answer is surely to do what supporters of other "lost clubs" like Accrington and Wimbledon have done and re-form as a non-league side and begin the ascent up the divisions again.

In my first phone call to the club's ticket office twenty-odd years ago, I learnt as soon as the woman there picked up the phone that while to outsiders the town and club is "Berry", to locals it is definitely "Burry".

Monday, 19 August 2019

Auf Wiedersehen Yet?

I've just picked up online a cheap secondhand copy of the Good Beer Guide to Munich and Bavaria, published by CAMRA in 1994 and written by Graham Lees, one of the four founders of the organisation (I especially like his dedication of the book "to all who appreciate good beer, regardless of borders").

Although I went to pubs in Dublin and the West of Ireland in the late 90s and early 2000s, it was as much for their historical/political and literary associations (notably the Brazen Head and McDaid's) as the beer (invariably Guinness), and my first specifically beer trip was to Germany at the end of 2009, to Düsseldorf and Cologne, followed by one to Munich and southern Bavaria in the summer of 2010 (when I accidentally attended the wedding of footballer Philip Lahm in Aying). I've been back to Düsseldorf and Cologne numerous times since then, and to the nearby towns Aachen, Bonn, Ratingen and Wuppertal, and in 2012 travelled to Upper Franconia in northern Bavaria to sample the very special pubs and beers of Bamberg and Forchheim.

Apart from some brewery takeovers and reorganisations, not that much seems to have changed on the beer front in south-eastern Germany in the last twenty-five years, thanks no doubt to the Bavarians' well-known conservatism (in both brewing and politics). The beechwood-smoked malt lager Schlenkerla Rauchmärzen is described as "virually black as coal" rather than the dark brown that I remember it being on draught in the brewery tap, but I think that might just be a question of perception rather than any change in the grist, and the warning that train travel around the state is expensive unless you book tickets in advance has been superseded by the relatively inexpensive Bayern day ticket, which covers buses, trams and underground services too. The advice that "Bavaria, especially in country areas, is likely to be a little stomach-shrinking for vegetarians" is probably still true given the locals' propensity to wash down huge plates of pork and sausage dishes with their litre steins of lager, and the description of the Hofbräuhaus in Munich as "plagued by coachloads of gawping tourists" (not to mention the oompah band) certainly is.

The next beer trip I'm planning is to central Europe, travelling by train from Prague to Plzeñ, Regensburg, Freising, Munich and Salzburg, although it'll probably be in the winter rather than summer months given the punishingly hot weather that now seems to afflict that part of the continent almost annually, and that direct flights between Salzburg and Manchester only appear to depart during the skiing season (assuming that planes and visa-free travel are still operating then).