Posts tagged ‘Penkridge’

November 7, 2013

Counting down the hours

It’s really quite nerve-wracking. There’s less than 100 hours to go before people can pay good hard-earned cash (I am assuming it is hard earned, anyway!) for a beer of my making. There is nothing I can do to influence the end product. Short of delivering it (tomorrow I believe, if not already) there’s nothing much the guys at Blackjack can do either. And then it is in the safe hands of Chris at the Craven Arms in Birmingham until the big day on Monday.

So, for those of you don’t already know, clear your diary for Monday evening at 7pm. You’ll need to get yourself into Birmingham but fingers crossed the results will be worth it. At the very least there’ll be a host of other great Blackjack beers to enjoy and you’ll get to meet the guys too. Plus me. Still, you can’t have it all…

And if you can’t make it into Birmingham on Monday then there will be a few other opportunities to try Phoneticus. It’s coming home to Penkridge, and it will be making its way to a few as yet unspecified venues. Let me know where you see it, and what you think if you do get to try it.

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January 9, 2013

Another one bites the dust

Given the rate at which pubs up and down the country continue to close, it doesn’t come as a surprise to see the final demise of The Railway Tavern in Penkridge in the past few weeks, or to hear the news that apparently it is to be converted to become a dentist’s surgery. After all there are still 7 more pubs in what is a moderately-sized village.

I can’t lay claim to it as a regular, or even irregular drinking spot, although I have used it in the past on occasions. In recent years it has gone steadily downhill, and some short-lived tenancies in recent years have each added to the woe with issues of environmental health and licence revocations due to breaches. Beer selection was not to my tastes, and nor as I recall was it in great condition on the more recent occasions I visited. But it st some history, apparently gaining its name from the railway navvies of some 175 years ago who were not welcomed at other pubs in the area, and as a local village pub some amount of charm, despite its run-down appearance. Sad then, but clearly not viable. Or was it?

It’s been niggling me for a while now, particularly since finding out about its supposed fate. It’s recent history has certainly been one of decline, but has this been a natural process? Or a planned outcome to enable the sale of the building for other uses. Why would anyone even want to do that?

Let’s look a bit deeper. A quick check of the local licensing database confirmed my understanding that the Railway was owned by Punch. And wait, because a few hundreds yards down the road there are two more pubs also owned by Punch. So I could envisage a desire to offload one of those three, and I can see the business sense in it, especially for a company as debt-laden as Punch. Now the value is really in the building, and if it is sold to another pub operator (whether a group or individual) there is a chance they will make a success of it, increasing competition on the two other pubs still retained in an area where there are a further three pubs within a very short distance. So if you were thinking purely about your own profit, I guess you’d want to make sure no-one else wants to take it on as a pub, just in case. A few problems with licensing wouldn’t hurt that plan, along with a lack of investment and unsuitable tenants with little or no support. I’m being very cynical here, and I’m not saying this did happen, but it seems plausible.

Now, as has already been noted, Penkridge is still well-populated with pubs, although there’s little to get hugely excited about (the recent introduction of some interesting bottled beers at one of them being an exception to that). So the loss of one is perhaps inevitable. But what does that mean to the consumer? It certainly hasn’t provided an opportunity for someone to open up the local beer market to a bit more variety. Maybe it has maintained the viability of the remaining pubs, which isn’t bad in itself, but does it instead limit competition?

So a cynical viewpoint perhaps, and we’ll never truly know. in this case the impact is relatively low, but if this is the behaviour in other locations it could have a much more significant impact in communities with less choice to start with.

What do you think? Is this an unfortunate effect of market forces or a active mismanagement to force a fire sale and remove another pub from the market altogether? Another failure of the lax planning situation that allows this to happen so easily, or a welcome reprieve for other pubs in the area that will presumably pick up a little extra trade?

June 12, 2012

Penkridge Jubilee Beer Festival – a review

It’s a week now since the beer festival here in Penkridge officially came to an end, although some of the festival beers were still kicking around later in the week – i should point out that not all had been brought on at the start of the festival so this wasn’t a case of beer hanging around too long, just the ones that didn’t make it onto the taps earlier getting their chance. So, this was something of a first for the village. Was it a success? Will it be repeated?

Three pubs all got involved and all had a different approach. One brought more handpulls into use than they normally would, and had about six ales and ciders on at a time. With a quiet word to the right people the beers waiting in the wings were coming up direct from the cellar too, in absolutely stunning form. The place was quite rightly heaving and it is all a good sign for the future here when proposed brewing activities start on site. Smiles all round from the landlord and a buzzing atmosphere reinforced how well the weekend’s events were going.

The next venue was not known for being a beer destination, much more as a (good) restaurant, but this was a preconception they wanted to change. To demonstrate how much more they can do they set up an outside bar alongside the BBQ with six ales, and although the weather didn’t really help, early on the third day the first of these had already run out. Had the weather improved this would have been a runaway success, and despite that I think they achieved what they set out to do and proved they can cater very well indeed for the ale lover as well as their restaurant side. I look forward to seeing more from them in the future.

Finally the third venue was, sadly, a bit more disappointing – logistical issues meant that their input wasn’t ever going to be as strong as originally intended, and with just three handpulls available it was a case of cycling the festival beers through as quickly as possible. Subject to them being consumed of course. Unfortunately the beers on the Friday night had been on all week and weren’t at their best, and two days later were still on – a catch 22 situation because there was little temptation to drink them with so much other good beer available elsewhere.  As a result most of the other very tempting beers on the list didn’t even make it on over the course of the event. However the Oakham Citra which came on on Monday was replaced again by Friday which shows that a good beer in good condition will sell, and so it is just a shame that the first impression of the festival here was marred by the beers available for the first few days.

So, was it a success? Yes, definitely, overall and for at least two of the pubs involved it seems to have been a great weekend. I’ve yet to get full feedback from the landlords but conversations over the weekend suggest they’re were more than happy.

Will it happen again? That remains to be seen. Even if the combined event doesn’t take off I’m certain there will be more beer-focussed events at pubs in the village on the back of this. But it would be great to repeat this in even bigger and better style next year, and with the parish council also considering an annual event to build on this year’s jubilee weekend there may be a place for a Penkridge Festival in future.

In the meantime the Penkridge Round Table are planning a beer festival for later in the year and so an exciting range of beer will return to the village in just a few months’ time. Knowing the RT guys they will be putting a lot of effort in and aiming to raise plenty of money for some very good causes, so best of luck to them and please support if you can.

Maybe Penkridge will now be starting to earn its place on the beer map…

June 1, 2012

Penkridge Beer Fest is upon us!

It’s the Jubilee weekend, and from this evening three pubs in Penkridge are holding a beer festival.  You may already have heard me banging on about it, for which I make no apologies.  This is a big thing for me – if it goes well it will be the start of something.  Hopefully an annual event will come out of it which can only get bigger and better in future years.  With nine pubs in total in the village, there’s plenty of room for it to expand, and the interest in beer that it generates could be the catalyst for a growth in the variety and quality of beer available in our area, and that has got to be a good thing.

Of course, if it doesn’t do so well, then it’s likely that it won’t be repeated, not for some time anyway, so we have to hope that attendance is good, the beers all get polished off and everyone has a good time.  If you’re local, or passing though, why not pop down and give us your support.

Until I get there myself I can’t confirm all the final arrangements, or the beer lists (trying to get a list of beers from a landlord makes herding cats look like One Man And His Dog!).  The Littleton Arms will have about 10 beers available over the weekend – these will be served through the three handpulls on the bar so will rotate just as quickly as they can be finished.  The range includes a couple from Titanic, several from Slaters, and some other guests.  The Horse & Jockey is also serving about 10 beers plus 2 ciders, and there should be at least 5 on at a time, possibly more – plans to serve from a marquee were dependent on the weather and I’ll know later which way that decision went!  Finally the Bridgehouse are providing a selection from Thwaites and Holdens in particular.  As soon as I can establish the beer lists I’ll make them available via this blog and / or Twitter.

There’s lots more planned over the weekend in these pubs and elsewhere in the village (see www.penkridgebeerfestival.org.uk for details of events in the pubs and a link to details of other village events). If you’re about drop by, say hi, have a beer (or three) and whatever you’re doing for the next few days, enjoy the weekend!

March 19, 2012

A brewing dilemma… or a no-brainer opportunity?

I’m in a little bit of a quandary.  I guess I’m being given the opportunity to put my money where my mouth is on the one hand, and being asked to sell my soul on the other.  But before I tell you about that I need to go over the background…

Just (I suspect, anyway) like many other people who write blogs about beer, and about the countless other subjects that drive people to share their thoughts in this way, I have a full time day job that pays the bills.  Once upon a time, if memory serves correctly, it represented the career in Engineering that I at least once wanted, and I was maybe even lucky in that I genuinely enjoyed what I had chosen to do for five days a week, fifty or so weeks a year, and have been doing now for some 15 years – sadly that is less the case now though.  I do still realise how lucky I am in that it pays me well enough to allow me to indulge my interests outside of work though.  If circumstances were different I might be happy to jack it all in to pursue something much more rewarding to me personally, but I’m not quite in that position just yet.

When I’m not working (and assuming my boss isn’t reading this, then sometimes when I am too!), however, my thoughts turn to those other interests.  Mostly to beer (my 3-year-old daughter frequently asks me if I’m “thinking about beer again” which is a running joke in our family, but is also usually pretty close to the mark!).  And what a wonderful thing it is to be interested in, to be passionate about.  But when I started this blog it wasn’t actually with the primary intention to be writing about drinking beer in the way that I have so far – that’s just what my thoughts and beer-related activities have led to recently.  The real purpose behind this blog was to try and document a journey into a different aspect of enjoying beer – brewing it, firstly as an amateur, and then, hopefully, eventually, as a professional.

So what of that journey?  Well progress is slow.  I expected that, but even so, it is slower than I thought.  The opposing claims of full time work, and a full time family, leave precious little spare capacity for getting out there and brewing, and in the time that can be set aside to brewing I have to make a further choice – get on with making beer, or spend the time building up the newer, larger, more reliable brewery that I’ve been working on for the past 6 months or more.  The latter doesn’t directly help develop my brewing skills (though it is starting to improve various aspects of my brews), it doesn’t help me work on the recipes that I want to try and refine, and it doesn’t provide me with my own stock of beer that I can enjoy drinking.  On the other hand, if I spend all my time making beer as best I can with the hotchpotch of equipment that I currently have to use, constantly trying to work around the debris of the new build, the longer term aim remains a distant dream.

I didn’t entirely help myself by coming up with a smart idea for our local pubs to put on a beer festival as part of the village Jubilee celebrations in June.  Not because it isn’t (at least in my opinion, anyway) a great idea, but because it means a lot of things for me to organise in order to make it happen that I’d naively expected to get some support in.  In hindsight that was a predictable outcome!  For the next ten weeks or so I have to pull out all the stops in order to make that thing actually happen – rallying the landlords who have agreed to take part (herding cats now seems trivial by comparison!), finding advertisers / sponsors, producing copy for the booklet, getting the word out.

But that will all be over in a few weeks, and I can concentrate again on my own beery pursuits.  And there’s been an unexpected side-benefit of all this, which is where my issue, the real subject of this post, lies.  Through getting involved with local pubs, I’ve met a few local publicans.  One of these has his own aspirations to turn his pub into a brewpub, and having got wind of my own plans, has proposed a collaboration.  This is, of course, very exciting, especially as a taster of my recent beers hasn’t seemed to put him off.  Instead of just cobbling together a 0.5 BBL brewery in my spare time, brewing up my own recipes in fairly short volumes and selling the odd barrel here and there in order to cover my costs, I could instead be looking at operating on anything between 2.5 BBL and 10 BBL, with a guaranteed outlet for a reasonable quantity of beer and enough capacity to supply other pubs and beer festivals in the local area.  For the time being this would have to be a part-time venture – I can’t afford to throw in the well-paid job just yet and put my house, my family’s wellbeing all on the line, just to pursue a passion. I have to give up a lot of free time at weekends, and evenings, but it will result in more time brewing than I get now.  As part of a longer-term plan it probably isn’t too bad a sacrifice as long as I can still balance it up with sufficient family time.

However, to do all this the focus shifts from being a one-man operation with no real ties, to being the partner in an enterprise that has different priorities.  To keep a pub stocked with its core beers means brewing primarily those same two or three beers on a regular basis.  Yes, there’s scope for seasonals, festival specials, trial brews, but only brewing part time keeps this quite limited.  I can no doubt set up a small pilot plant alongside the main kit, so every time I’m brewing I can also churn out a new recipe before risking the full brewery capacity on an experiment.  But I certainly won’t have the freedom to brew whatever I want, whenever I want, every time I fire the equipment up.

It seems to me too that the target audience probably changes a little with the increase in output – the odd barrel of something different and unique usually goes down well at festivals and in the odd pub with an appetite for interesting beers, but when “one-offs” are produced in batches of the order of 10, 20, or even 40 firkins at a time then a good portion of these will clearly need to be sold through the parent pub, and others that may be prepared to take on the beer.  That means it has to be acceptable to the landlord (and major partner in the brewery) and of course to the regular clients on whom he depends to keep his pub business afloat.  And for all the excitement and passion for big hoppy flavours, high-strength artisan beers, obscure, exciting and challenging beer styles, and so on, amongst a proportion of the beer drinkers in this country (I know that many readers of this blog will identify themselves with this group) there is also a probably much larger range of drinkers who are, to be fair, still the lifeblood of many pubs up and down the country.  People to whom that pub is their local.  People whose tastes might be (perhaps unfairly) criticised by some as conservative, but yet they are still often absolutely essential to a pub’s survival, especially in a village location where there is otherwise relatively little incentive for beer tourism footfall.  If the locals who turn up every day aren’t interested in what lies outside the core range, then there will only be a limited market for the specials that represent, to me as a brewer, the more interesting things to produce.  Obviously that core range doesn’t have to be bland and uninteresting, but it has to appeal to those to whom the pub is relying on for its existence.  Over time a successful venture will see changes – success with the basics provides a great platform to experiment more, and a successful brewpub would hopefully start drawing in more custom that will provide an outlet for a greater range of more adventurous beers over time.  There’s a bit of a catch-22 though – if you don’t have the exciting beers to offer then the new customers aren’t drawn in, but if you don’t look after the core clientele, then there is no business left to draw new customers into.

Of course, I could choose to stick to the solo approach, and eventually jump through all the hoops I need to in order to continue making what I believe is great beer on a very small scale, and to sell the odd cask here and there.  It is quite likely that it wouldn’t ever be more than some sort of personal “vanity” brewery, and realistically it will take me a lot of time to get to that stage on my own, but I would remain my own master and no-one would need to tell me what to brew.  Even then though, there is only so much I can drink myself and if the surplus can’t be sold then there is no point in brewing it.

On the other hand I could accept that an opportunity exists to do so much more, but I would need to be able to compromise for a while and focus in the first instance on what satisfies that core range of drinkers, while doing so with enough commitment to good beer that I avoid being labelled as a brewer of bland and uninteresting beers.  Maybe that is actually the whole challenge of brewing.  Bland and uninteresting certainly isn’t what I set out to brew for myself and it isn’t what will keep my passion for brewing alive and healthy.  And there are enough great small (and not so small) brewers out there that are producing exciting beers that appeal to an increasingly wide range of drinkers to see that it can be done.

There’s a balance to be had, its just a question of finding the right way to reach that balance.  It seems to me that taking the opportunity by the scruff of the neck ought to be a no-brainer, but then again, is it really that simple?

February 7, 2012

Small beginnings…

I thought it would make a nice change to have a positive slant for my next post and fortunately I think I can do just that.  Just a few weeks ago I was bemoaning the lack of decent drinking opportunities in a village with more than its fair share of pubs, and the difficulties in getting more than a passing interest from most of the landlords in doing something about it.

This week I can turn that all around and announce with some confidence the 1st Penkridge Beer Festival.  Taking place from the 2nd to the 5th June 2012, it is part of the celebrations associated with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, in conjunction with a number of other events around the village over the course of the weekend.  Each participating pub will have an extended range of beers available over the weekend, and while there are no listings available yet I am hopeful that at least some of those beers will be slightly more unusual than the normal offerings.

At present three pubs are confirmed as taking part, and several more are interested in joining in.  So 6-8 pubs in total, all being well, and all within short walking distance of each other.  Of course, this doesn’t mean Penkridge is suddenly going to become the beer capital of the midlands by any means, but a concerted effort to get some different beers on the bars and attract beer lovers from far and wide has got to be a positive start.  A successful event has every chance of becoming a regular one, and success will almost certainly build the confidence to expand the beer repertoire in the future. 

In my travels around the village pubs trying to get this off the ground over the last couple of weeks I have noticed some other improvements in prospects for good beer, which will no doubt be the subject of a future post or two.  New tenants at one pub have plans to reintroduce guest ales alongside the two current staples which are, admittedly, popular with the regulars and so will remain for the foreseeable future, but at least they are making moves to branch out with new handpulls due to be fitted in the near future.  At another the exciting new developments are still fairly well under wraps, but I can promise that as soon as details are available I’ll be passing on the information sharpish!

All small beginnings… but promising ones, and a marked improvement from my post only a few weeks ago.

Maybe I can look forward to seeing some of you at the Penkridge Beer Festival in June!!