Monday, 28 December 2009

Aren't you that bird off the telly.........

......sadly no, but for a moment this morning I very nearly became famous with an invite to appear on The Big Questions, a series of moral, ethical and religious debates hosted by Nicky Campbell. It turns out it wasn't a mistake, they really did want me (I was shocked too) to debate whether the pub is more important to the local community than the church alongside a Vicar, an ex-alcoholic and someone from  Pub is the Hub*

Unfortunately I can't make the show on Sunday but it did get me thinking about what my point of view might be and I can't help thinking that pubs and churches are suffering similar problems at the moment - falling visitor numbers and mass closures - both as a result of the lack of community spirit that exists today.

What sets them apart though is that the pub trade is upping its game to do something about this whilst the church is still sitting on the old Field of Dreams myth "build it and they will come". The wet led community pub is fast becoming a thing of the past and pubs that have a reputation for great service and a strong food offer (with beer menus.....a girl can dream) will be the majority in the very near future. A welcoming pub with a wide range of services has a much bigger opportunity to be the hub of a community than the church in my book. This isn't an argument for drinking versus praying, it's about being in a warm environment with like minded people, that welcomes all comers and can provide a range of great food and drinks - doesn't sound much like any church I've ever been in.

I don't have a local pub. There was one The Walnut Tree which is currently being turned into a Tesco Metro. There was a petition to save it which I didn't sign because in my view it was one of the old school of pubs that didn't feel worth saving and actually a Tesco on my doorstep makes my life a whole lot easier.

Might sound cold and I know there were plenty of people that fought hard to save it but the message for pubs and churches from me is this - the world is a changing and if you want more people in your doors you need to work hard to get them and make it worth their while for being there.

The Pub Curmudgeon has posed the question about a potential revival in the pub trade in 2010 and I think there could be, not from new openings but from pubs upping their game to set themselves ahead of the rest of the pack and that could see more people, like me get back down their local. Here's a few simple changes that I'd love to see..................

1. Good service: I do find that most people behind the bar are friendly and professional – just how it should be. But, we’ve all encountered service that’s surly, uninterested, and intimidating: not really appealing for women, particularly if you’re the first one there out of your friends. And why is table service not the norm here, it's great as a customer and great as a retailer as it increases spend and dwell time - I'd love to see this everywhere.

2. Free Wifi: As I mentioned, being the first one to arrive when you’re meeting up can be intimidating, that’s why you always see people alone playing on their mobiles – so why not make the waiting experience better by enabling those with smartphones to check their emails why they wait? (You can always switch it off on quiz night!)

3. Clean tables: If we’ve made an effort to look nice, we don’t want to ruin our outfit by getting a drink stain on it.

4. Better bar snacks: If you were to play a game of alcohol & food word association with most people, it might go: wine = gourmet dinners, beer = crisps. This does the vast majority of beers a huge disservice – every beer fan will agree that great beer has more subtle flavours than wine so pair it with junk food?

5. Clean, nice toilets: There are many pubs where the toilets have wet floors, don’t smell great and never have any loo roll. I don’t need to explain why this is bad!

6. A safe journey home: pubs with the foresight to carry details of reputable taxi firms and a payphone (in case we find ourselves without our mobiles), get a big stamp of approval from me.

*I had never heard of Pub is The Hub until today (obviously didn't admit that to the TV researcher) but it seems like a very interesting initiative that supports local pubs in providing shared community services (post offices, meat counter etc) to keep the pub going and the services that small communities need.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

My Golden Pint Awards, some may be more popular than others..........

So everyone's been busy doing their reviews of the year so I thought I'd have a go............................

Best UK Draught Beer: Why Carling of course. Not just because I'm a corporate kiss ass but because if you're in a pub and you want a pint that you know will taste great time after time Carling is where it's at. I know I'll get abuse for it but still I think it's true!

Best UK Bottled Beer: Worthington White Shield followed closely by Thornbridge Halycon

Best Overseas Draught Beer: Sierra Nevada Harvest

Best Overseas Bottled Beer: Zatec (and my favourite beer)

Best Overall Beer: Has to be Zatec, underrated but to me the best

Best UK Brewery: hmmmmm, a tough one for incredibly proud to work for Molson Coors and think we do an amazing job but in terms of independents for me the vote goes to the Purity Brewing Co for producing some immensely drinkable beers.

Best Overseas Brewery: Goose Island. The IPA alone would've done it for me but they do some great seasonals as well.

Pub/Bar of the Year: Blimey, I go to so many I wouldn't know where to start. The Rake obviously gets a mention for its wealth of choice, Smiths of Smithfields for it's Zatec links but probably The North Bar in Leeds comes up No 1 for me.

Beer Festival of the Year: GBBF but I didn't visit nearly enough festivals this year

Supermarket of the Year: Sainsburys, for really embracing and supporting a wide range of beer styles

Independent Retailer of the Year: Does the staff shop in Burton count?? They have an endless supply of White Shield

Online Retailer of the Year: Beermerchants of course ( @beermerchants)

Best Beer Book: Pete Brown’s Hops & Glory (after finishing him off in the bath it had to be)

Best Beer Blog: It has to be Woolpack Dave. Not just for the quality of his writing but for being the first to pick up on BitterSweet and lure me into the world of beer blogging, a place where I'm very glad to be.

Best Beer Twitterer: @beerreviewsandy

Best Online Interactive Brewery: @purityale

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: Blue Moon and Steamed orange pudding courtesy of the lovely Rupert.
Open Category: Best Beer-Related Thing about 2009 is...: learning that bloggers aren't all short sighted, cardigan wearing, nerds called Nigel

Next Year I’d Most Like To... : Meet in the flesh some of the great people I've met online in 2009 and go to more  beer festivals.

Om nom nom, a very nice tea

I have been very poor at blogging of late - not that I haven't tried any new beers worth blogging about, have just been a bit lazy I think,  but it's Christmas, I'm on my jolliebobs so suddenly I have some time!

Tonight's blog is inspired by nothing more than a nice tea ( I think that's often the case) that made me want to make the point that beer and food matching doesn't have to be complicated. All too often it's made out to be some kind of dark art when really it's just about finding a food you like and a beer you like that go well together.

Having read Mark Dredge over at Pencil and Spoon talk about his Fab Pow's, those food and beer matches that come as a complete surpise, I was inspired to take his lead and try a Rochefort 8 with my Spaghetti Bolognese. And he was right, it is an amazing pairing. Rochefort 8 is a cracking beer, one of the most drinkable beers over 9% I think I've tasted. It is sweet but with enough spice to stop that being overpowering and with a malty, bread taste that makes it a great match for the spag bol (think drinking this instead of having garlic bread).

Inspired by the main course I moved onto desert. Duvel and Bounty Celebrations, for no other reason than that's the beer I had in the fridge and my Jorge thinks coconut is the devil's food.

But she is missing out on a treat (not that I'd actually let her at the Duvel though), this combination is to the mouth what being rubbed with warmed coconut oil on a dessert island is to the tummy and is just delicious. The beer accentuates the richness and creaminess of the coconut, while the coconut highlights the striking flavours of beer. It's like sticking your head in an old-fashioned sweet shop in summertime.Like the Rochefort 8 and Spag Bol, completely unexpected but a divine match.

Just goes to show the best beer matches come when you least expect them