Sunday, 25 September 2016

Going underground

I went on a tour of two pub cellars yesterday afternoon as part of Stockport Beer Week.

The Boar's Head and Baker's Vaults are early nineteenth century buildings, remodelled somewhat in the second half of it, which stand facing each other on opposite sides of Stockport market place. Although only thirty or so feet apart, it would be hard to imagine two more different pubs.

The Boar's Head is a Sam Smith's pub and has all the things you'd expect from Yorkshire's most traditional brewery: a Victorian interior,  an older, mainly male, working-class clientele, no TV or music, a single, cheap  cask beer, the malty, brown Old Brewery Bitter at £1.90 a pint, drawn from 36-gallon wooden barrels stillaged in the cellar, and their own brand keg and bottled beers. On Saturday dinnertime, despite not serving food it was busy, with people constantly coming in and and going out, some of them for a smoke before returning to their drinks on the bar,

The Baker's Vaults is a Robinson's pub which is operated by the same people who run The Castle in Manchester city centre. It's airy and modern with filament bulbs suspended on long cords, high stools at tables with ornamental bottles and candle holders on them, an extensive food menu, a more mixed, upmarket, and considerably sparser clientele on a Saturday afternoon, with young families dining and older couples drinking coffees at the bar. It sells half a dozen of Robinson's cask beers, as well as guest ales and "craft keg" and lagers from tall founts, rather than the boxy ones at the Boar's Head, The cask beer is a bit dearer, but still pretty reasonable at £3-3.60, depending on abv, and equally well-kept.

As on brewery tours, you always see or learn something new when you go down into a pub cellar. On a busy day, the Boar's Head can shift the contents of an entire 36-gallon barrel  (that's 288 pints for the mathematically-challenged like me), which must rank as the most cask beer sold by a pub in Stockport. The Baker's Vaults foundations are even older than the pub itself, with still unexplored tunnels which may connect it to watercourses or other buildings, outcrops of the sandstone on which the nearby Roman fort and later the mediaeval castle were built, and beneath the cellar the high brick bins which once held wine and gin barrels and give the pub its name.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Inter-city cricket

It looks like the England and Wales Cricket Board is going ahead with an inter-city Twenty20 competition, provisionally starting in 2018. The plan is to have teams in eight cities, playing at Test cricket grounds.

I'm not a fan of shorter forms of cricket like Twenty20, and not sure about inter-city sport either. In the mid-fifties, the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, the predecessor of the UEFA Cup and Europa League, began as a tournament between representative XI's from different cities (London, Frankfurt, Milan), although some (Birmingham, Barcelona) were effectively just the clubs of that name, before switching to club sides by the end of the decade, and in the mid-nineties, when rugby league switched to a summer season, the new European Super League narrowly avoided the monstrosity of merged clubs, with the owners eventually voting down the proposal that, amongst others, Warrington should join up with Widnes as Cheshire (!) and Salford with Oldham as Manchester (!!).

I can't see the teams which play in the new competition at Old Trafford or Headingley being any different to the Lancashire and Yorkshire county sides who currently play Twenty20 cricket there, or attracting more fans under their new names.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

RIP Prince Buster

I've just heard of the death at 78 of the Jamaican ska pioneer Prince Buster.

Ska began in Jamaica in the early 1960's as a combination of musical styles: mento, the form of calypso native to the island, jazz, influenced by the Americans who played the hotels before sitting in with local musicians in after-hours jam sessions, and the rhythm and blues records beamed across the Caribbean by radio stations in New Orleans and other southern cities or imported by U.S. servicemen stationed there in World War II and just after.

In the late 1970's, there was a ska revival in Britain in the form of Two-Tone. Here's one of the bands associated with that movement, Madness, riding the Tube in London (in the days when you could still drink on it) as their musical inspiration Prince Buster performs the song they got their name from.

Friday, 2 September 2016

In the footsteps of the Beer Hunter

Tonight in Leeds, three episodes of The Beer Hunter, the TV series presented by the late beer writer and journalist Michael Jackson, are being shown as part of a Beer Week in the city.

I was 18 when Channel 4 broadcast The Beer Hunter in 1989. I'd never heard of Bamberg, let alone the Rauchbier brewed there with smoked malt, nor what Jackson called in one of the episodes being shown tonight "The Burgundies of Belgium", the strong ales produced by its Trappist monasteries. Later, I picked up a couple of his books - The World Guide to Beer and Great Beer Guide - and later still made it myself to Franconia and to Brussels, drinking the beers he had drunk in the same pubs and bars he had spoken and written about. I'm sure I'm not the only beer drinker to have followed his footsteps to the brewing towns of Germany and Belgium whose specialities he was the one of the first to explore.

Until a few years ago, all the episodes of The Beer Hunter were available on YouTube, but Channel 4, who hold the rights, has since blocked them on copyright grounds (in Britain at least: they might still be viewable elsewhere in the world). I've not got a problem with them doing that, but why don't they make them commercially available on DVD so that beer lovers can once again enjoy them?