Saturday, 25 June 2016

Euro beer

Watching Euro 2016 in France this last fortnight got me thinking back twenty years to when England hosted the tournament, a summer in which Football's Coming Home became a temporary national anthem.

Looking at my diary for 1996, I spotted a mention of bottles of Boddington's Export, a beer I'd completely forgotten about. A bit of Googling, and the ever reliable Wikipedia, reveals that it was a bottled version of Boddington's Pub Ale, at 4.6% quite a bit stronger than Boddington's Bitter, and only available in the UK in 1995-96 (Boddington's Strangeways brewery closed in 2005 and was demolished in 2007, although cask Boddington's Bitter was contract-brewed by Hydes in Moss Side until they moved to Salford in 2012).

I know Boddington's Pub Ale is available as a draught and canned beer in North America, but I wonder if you can get bottles of it too. I might just be tempted to give it a try.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Raising a glass to Manchester's brewing past

I went to the Smithfield Market Tavern last night for the launch of four historic beers from the Manchester area, recreated for Manchester Beer Week by local microbreweries Beer Nouveau, Blackjack, Squawk and Tickety Brew. Beer historian Ron Pattinson, who blogs at Shut Up About Barclay Perkins, also spoke knowledgeably and entertainingly about the beers we were privileged to get to drink.

The wooden pin of Beer Nouveau's Lees 1903 XXX on the bar ran out before I got to it, but I drank the other three, two of them from the brewing records of J.W. Lees in Middleton and one from the long gone Heginbothams in Stalybridge.

I was especially keen to try Blackjack's Lees 1951 "C" Ale, a type of strong ale brewed in the Manchester area in the twentieth century, mostly it seems as a bottled beer, whose name no one appears to know the origin of. A dryish, malt-accented beer which is amber in colour, as Ron said in his talk, it's in the same family as the Burton ales brewed elsewhere in Britain. I also had the two stouts, Squawk's Lees 1952 Stout and Tickety Brew's Heginbothams Invalid Stout, which some people reckoned had a lactose taste, although I couldn't particularly pick one up myself.

Hearteningly, the Smithfield was packed for the event, and hopefully other brewers, including the bigger ones in the Manchester area, will be inspired to delve into the archives and produce historic beers of their own.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

From Humble Petition to Militant Action

Like fellow beer bloggers and CAMRA members Red Nev and Tandleman, I'm a former civil service trade union activist, in my case between 1997, when I joined the Department of Social Security as a casual Admin Assistant, and 2007, when I was made redundant after the local office I worked in closed.

A dozen or so mergers of sectional and grade-based associations in the last century led at the end of it to a single union, PCS, which represents civil servants across Government departments and agencies. I'm reading a history of one of its predecessor unions, the Civil and Public Services Association (CPSA), which I was a member of for just over a year before the final merger which created PCS. From Humble Petition to Militant Action was published in 1978 after the union commissioned the industrial correspondent of The Times Eric Wigham to write a book to mark the 75th anniversary of its formation.

The introduction to the book is a hoot.

"The abrasive character of Association life is probably in part a reaction to the humdrum routine of many of its members' jobs...many of the more energetic young members seek to develop in union work a freedom of expression they cannot find in their daily tasks....Youth is impatient. Association work offers an escape from the restraints and inhibitions of Civil Service life. Conferences and meetings give members an opportunity to let their hair down. Certainly on these occasions they bear little resemblance to the image of tea-drinking, rubber-stamping, buck-passing plodders which seems to be imprinted on the public mind."

Many of the things described in the book, disputed and cancelled elections, General Secretaries refusing to stand down at the end of their terms of office, court cases (the union's HQ in south-west London was famously dubbed "Clapham Injunction"), and arguments about affiliation to the Labour Party, will be familiar to younger union activists, as will the internecine conflicts between Catholic Action and the Communist Party in the 50's and the National Moderate Group, Broad Left, Militant and Redder Tape in the 70's: not for nothing was CPSA known as the Beirut of the labour movement.

I knew that women civil servants had to leave their jobs upon marriage up to 1946, but not that in the 20's the payment they received when they did made them attractive to the few young men who had survived World War I, nor that in the 60's the CPSA magazine Red Tape ran beauty competitions, printing photographs of young women members in its pages ("A motion submitted to the conference expressed disapproval, but got little support"). I also hadn't realised that the head of the Committee on Standards in Public Life between 2004 and 2007, Alistair Graham, is a former CPSA General Secretary.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Boycott Spoons?

Tim Martin, the founder and chairman of pub chain Wetherspoons who is campaigning for Britain to leave the European Union ahead of this month's referendum, has placed beer mats in his pubs urging customers to vote Leave.

Unlike other businesses which are campaigning for Britain to stop in the EU, Wetherspoons doesn't trade with continental Europe and is less reliant on migrant labour than those in agriculture and construction. His opposition to the EU is probably based, at least in part, on the rights it gives his workers to reasonable working hours, breaks, holidays and maternity leave which the right wing of the Tory party want to rip up, one of the main reasons why I'll be voting Remain on 23 June.

Having said that, I'm not going to boycott Wetherspoons as some have said they will, for a number of reasons.

1. They sell cheap food and cask beer which is generally well-kept. In a town you don't know, and at airports and railway stations, they can be a reliable fallback. Although many are large and impersonal, having been converted from former banks, shops, cinemas or snooker halls, some are neither, including the one I go to most often in South Manchester which was built as a pub in the 1930's and still feels like one.

2. I don't expect the owners of the businesses I frequent to share my politics. Tim Martin is somewhat unusual in speaking publicly about his, and there are no doubt many others who share his views without saying so. If we boycott all the businesses whose owners' politics we disagree with, we might find ourselves with a very short list of shopping and entertainment options. I also think the call for a boycott smacks of intolerance of others' opinions.

3. For a boycott to be effective, it would have to be on a very large scale. I don't think many of Wetherspoons customers are that bothered about it to make a real difference, and quite a few will agree with Martin. Equally, I doubt the beer mats will sway anyone who is still undecided.