Posts tagged ‘Staffordshire’

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…

April 10, 2012

Missing the obvious?

Last week I was lucky enough to have a family holiday on the Isle of Wight. While it was snowing back home in Staffordshire I was a mere 200 miles away, in the same country, paddling in the sea. While there I enjoyed plenty of local produce, not least a stunning meal at the pub in the village where I stayed and locally caught fish bought and cooked within hours. But it was a visit to a supermarket that made one of the most thought-provoking moments for me.  I’d already had ample opportunity to sample the local ales from bottle and cask and while none of it set the world alight it was all perfectly fine, and I continued to seek out different brews from the island’s three brewers. But an enforced trip to one of the larger supermarkets yielded nothing new in the local beers. Actually there was nothing local at all, from a major store on an island of 150 square miles that is home to three breweries. In fact the most appealing bottled ale was from, of all places, back home in Staffordshire!  Beer that, if at home, I’d have shunned in favour of something (arguably) more interesting from further afield.
And that is exactly the point that made me think again about my whole approach to buying beer. I go out seeking new and interesting beer from around the country and the world, and sometimes bemoan the lack of adventurous retailers in my own vicinity. But I go a relatively short way across the country and it is the local beer I’m seeking out. And enjoying for what it is. Even more bizarrely I’m all for my locally-grown vegetables and locally-reared meat at home, but don’t apply the same logic to my beer-buying.
I clearly need to apply the “holiday mentality” even when at home and make sure I am fully familiar with what my local breweries have to offer. Does it mean I’m going to stop buying exciting beer from around the world? No, of course not. But it does mean I’m going to be a bit more careful about overlooking the beers that are quite literally on my doorstep.