Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Stout and about with a trailblazer

Manchester brewery Joseph Holt's has just launched a new draught nitrokeg stout called Trailblazer in its tied estate.

There seems to be a bit of trend amongst both national and local family brewers to have their own draught stout, with Robinsons, Lees and now Holt's introducing one, as have Marston's and Tadcaster's idiosyncratic dynasty Samuel Smith's, who allegedly did so after a falling out between owner Humphrey Smith and the Guinness rep for the North of England over the price they were being charged for its product (some accounts place their confrontation on a golf course), the resulting Extra Stout being a decent beer which I've sometimes drunk at the end of the night in a couple of their pubs in Stockport and south Manchester after few pints of cask Old Brewery Bitter.

Twenty or thirty years ago, the only draught stout you really saw in either tied pubs or free houses was Guinness, the main exception being others from multinational brewers like Murphy's or Beamish. As a teenager, I drank all of them at one time or another, and occasionally followed a few pints of Holt's cask bitter with a bottle of Guinness Extra Stout shipped in from Dublin, which before the 2005 closure of the Park Royal brewery in west London only supplied the North of England while the latter distributed what was then still a bottle-conditioned beer to pubs in the South and Midlands.

Looking back at beer books from the seventies - such as Frank Baillie's Beer Drinker's Companion and some of the early Good Beer Guides - pretty much all the regional family breweries produced a bottled, usually sweet, stout, something that has disappeared almost entirely in the years since, but happily the boom in microbreweries in the last few decades has seen the appearance of plenty of cask stouts, whose widespread absence from London pubs George Orwell lamented in his seminal essay The Moon Under Water, in different styles including dry, imperial and oatmeal.

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Manchester, so much (for the council) to answer for

 A new series on BBC2 last night looked at the property boom in Manchester city centre.

Manctopia's main theme is how property development in the city is pushing locals out as overseas investors buy up sites and erect skyscrapers of flats for rent (the latest trend is small flats with communal kitchens and bathrooms which, if not warehouses for the poor, as an American poet once described high-rise public housing, will no doubt end up as overcrowded containers for the precariously employed), contrasting a wealthy divorcée from out of town with a million to spend on a city centre penthouse and a single mother from Winton evicted and facing homelessness before being rehoused in Engels House in Eccles.

The roots of this development can be traced back to the early eighties when the city took a double hit with deindustrialisation, as the docks and engineering factories shut, and central government cuts combined with rate-capping restricting the amount of revenue that could be raised locally. The right to buy scheme introduced then also saw a sharp decline in the council's housing stock.

At first, the solution seemed to lie in the election of a Labour government, but as that prospect receded through the decade - and the party moved to the right both in the city and nationally - a new strategy for funding projects emerged, finding private investors to pay for infrastructure improvements (at a profit to themselves of course), hence the failed bids for the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, the successful one for the 2002 Commonwealth Games which saw the construction of the City of Manchester Stadium and other sporting facilities to regenerate Bradford, a deprived and deindustrialised district of east Manchester, latterly in conjunction with the autocratic rulers of Abu Dhabi who bought the stadium's tenants Manchester City in 2008, an abortive attempt to open a "supercasino" next to it, partnerships with Chinese investors to build a new economic hub at the airport and to gentrify the so-called Northern Gateway along the River Irk through Collyhurst, as well as expanding the council tax base by increasing the number of people living in the city centre from a couple of hundred before the Provisional IRA bomb remodelled most of the new Northern Quarter in 1996 to tens of thousands now.

There are of course counter-arguments to those who criticise any of this, including the absence of alternative funding for these projects which probably wouldn't have been built without private investment (although in some cases that would have been no bad thing) and that outside the city centre rents and house prices are still far lower than in London and the south-east, but it is undoubtedly the case that the planning process for construction in the city centre and its adjoining districts is extremely opaque and unresponsive to local needs, with councillors complaining about a lack of consultation or oversight of decisions affecting their wards and power seemingly being in the hands of the Leader of the Council, his Cabinet and Chief Executive and other unelected officers who routinely allow developers to evade legal requirements to include "affordable" housing below market rates, or pay for it elsewhere in the city. Allegations of "backhanders"  of course abound, but I think the truth is more prosaic: the council's desire to generate revenue, and the movement of senior staff between local government and the private sector, so that those in charge of making decisions come to see things solely through the eyes of the developers.

A sign of how bad things have become in the city centre is the announcement that one of its oldest pubs, the Jolly Angler near Piccadilly station, has been sold off for redevelopment by its owners Hydes Brewery, along with, apparently, the Albert in Rusholme, a proper Irish pub which I used to drink in and blogged about here.

Monday, 3 August 2020

Trying times for transatlantic sports

Super League, the top division of rugby league in the northern hemisphere, kicked off again yesterday, albeit without fans in the stands and one fewer team than when play was suspended back in March at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Toronto Wolfpack having withdrawn from the competition because of financial and logistical problems, and their results before the break expunged from the records.

The NFL and MLB have also cancelled events in London to showcase their sports, and ones that involve flying between or across continents, including the Olympics, European football's Champions League and Euro 2020 and rugby union's Six Nations, have all been postponed (although the West Indies cricket team were able to travel from the Caribbean to play a biosecure Test series against England at Southampton and Old Trafford last month, and Pakistan are about to contest another beginning this week).

Super League will now complete a shortened season without relegation at the end of it, or the Magic Weekend where an entire round of matches is played at a ground in a city outside the game's heartlands like Cardiff, Manchester, Liverpool or latterly Newcastle, although the Catalan Dragons from southwest France have re-entered the competition after being forced to cancel fixtures because of travel restrictions before the suspension of play in March.

I suppose that with most rugby league grounds still having standing terraces, getting at least a few socially distanced fans back into them before the end of the season might be a bit easier than with the all-seated stadia of top-flight football, but there must surely now be some doubt as to the Rugby League World Cup due to be played in England next autumn.