Tuesday 24 February 2009

Called to the bar indeed

To the Lamb in Axbridge a neat old coaching inn to be found in the middle of an old town of beautiful looking Georgian houses in the shadow of the Mendip Hills (the hell of Cheddar is nearby but this is a better and quieter bet). Butcombe Country I am told, which is why the Lamb is one of the brewery’s 15 pubs — I’m a fan of their Blonde and Brunel IPA and did you know they once had a beer called Wilmot’s, named after an old head brewer. I recall nearly choking on my beer when being told what the long-awaited successor to Butcombe Bitter was called and everyone around me wondering why.

Have been invited to give a 20 minute talk on the pub business from a consumer and beer-writing aspect by the Wessex Branch of the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII). Bit nervous cause the tenor of the talk is that things might be bad but there are plenty of success stories out there and — by the way — here are some other things you should do to make your pub successful (of course I’ve never served behind the bar but given that my journalistic career has often called on me to sound like an instant expert that should be no problem).

Very friendly people, though am even more nervous after a largish chap growls ‘I’ve only been 30 years in the trade’ when I joke that I will be telling them how to do their job. I enjoy talking in front of audiences, always have. It’s about getting a point across, showing off and demonstrating that those of us who care about beer can be articulate and also have a decent suit. Seems to go down well, get a couple of laughs, especially on the Prince-William-in-my-local gag and am pleased to have several questions rather than the harangues I expected. I realise that the folk here have to deal with all sorts of red tape, government demonisation, price increases and general crap, but I’m adamant that good pubs will last out this recession. Am followed by Butcombe’s MD Guy Newell who says what I didn’t have courage to say: that there are some crap pubs out there that deserve to close, but that the rest of them are essential to well-being of the country. Then there’s a lively presentation by BII chap on a scheme that seems to promise even more red tape.

At last the chance for several pints and then a visit to Butcombe brewery and the chance to try their cold-filtered Blonde, which is fruity and full of flavour; a decent ‘gateway’ beer and whatever happened to Spindrift I muse. Didn’t get paid for today but got a lift (thanks Nigel), several pints and the chance to talk with those who are selling beer and doing their best to keep the pub afloat. This I do recommend to all those who communicate about beer — it’s not all extreme beers, sometimes you have to deal with the nitty gritty.

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