Pub visits this week 5
Locations Grimsby, Sheffield
Now then. This week’s big buzz among pub industry types came from the British Beer and Pub Association’s claim that 30,000 new jobs would be created if the government were to tax beer in the same way as other drinks. “A fair deal for beer would create a win-win situation for all,” said the BBPA’s Brigid Simmonds, making a helpful differentiation from those win-win situations that are only for some.
Good luck to the BBPA in their efforts to influence the government’s review of alcohol taxation. As we saw last week, the governing party includes figures like Grant Shapps MP, who claimed that under Labour, “yobs… benefited from 24-hour licensing laws which fuelled a surge in alcohol-fuelled violence in our high streets”. Whether that’s a calculated distortion of the truth or just plain ignorance, it doesn’t inspire confidence that, in conducting the review, the Conservatives will put pub lovers’ interests before their own.
For another thing, the official bias against beer dates back decades, if not centuries. Every year at Budget time for ages now, we’ve watched chancellors push up the taxes on beer while largely sparing the contents of their own crystal decanters. And that’s only the most recent battle of the ruling classes’ war on working people’s drinking pleasures. Does anyone really think it’s the party of Land Rovers and foxhunting that’ll put this right?
Monday is funny. It’s my first chance to get to the football this season, so I’m over in my home town of Grimsby. On the way to the pub we drop into a second-hand shop which has a few bits of furniture and records and hundreds and hundreds of books. I find a couple of books I want to buy and ask the shop owner how much. His expression changes from calm to one of profound shock at the unprecedented spectacle of someone wanting to buy books from his bookshop. After a moment an explanation occurs to him, and his face returns to calm. “You’re not from Grimsby, are you,” he concludes.
My pre-football pub in Grimsby, the Rutland Arms (featured here), is held by the Old Mill brewery of East Yorkshire. The Old Mill bitter is always fine here, just a little bland. But every time there’s a second ale on here, it tastes horrific. Nevertheless, it’s my first visit of the season, and there are new people running the place since the last time I tried the second ale, so what the hell, let’s give it a try. Clean slate and all that.
I order a lemonade for my girlfriend and a pint of Bullion for me. “A pint?” asks the bar person. Yes please. She comes back with a pint of Fosters, presumably having misheard me, so I ask her to change it for Bullion. She’s quite happy to do this. So I sit down with my pint of Bullion.
It looks like sewage. It smells like vinegar. It takes ten minutes to clear. It tastes horrific.
I’d be fully justified in taking it back, just as I was the Fosters. I don’t, though, because I’d feel guilty. I neck it as quickly as I can and get a Newcastle Brown to take the taste away. You’ll be pleased to know I escape without a stomach upset. But you can’t get away with these things forever. And I will never dice with death again by trying the second ale at the Rutland Arms in Grimsby.
That’s it until Friday afternoon, when Marianthi travels up from London to visit us in Sheffield. She travels by train. Regular readers of this blog will have divined by now that this paragraph is darting headlong towards the Sheffield Tap (featured here), the superb boozer that opened at our city’s railway station last December. And, oooh, look, they’ve got three guest beers on from the St Peter’s Brewery of Suffolk, famed for nice organic ales and bottles shaped like the ones used to store cough medicine in the 1940s. And, oooh, what do you know, I’ve just finished a fortnight of 12-hour working days.
If there’s another, equally good excuse to spend most of the afternoon in the pub, I’d like to hear it. Oh, here’s one: the Golden Ale from St Peter’s is fabulous. Rich, cool and well-balanced, it’s everything I’m not. So it’s a job and a half not to just write off the evening altogether and stay in here to drink Golden Ale ’til I can’t drink no more.
But we’re entertaining guests at home tonight. Or at least we are until about half past ten, and then the Princess Royal is entertaining them. Any time I become envious of folks who live in lovely big houses out in the country, I should just remind myself that they don’t live five minutes’ walk from the Princess Royal. It’s not just a champion pub: it’s a champion pub that stays open as long as you need it to. In this case, that means a pub we can go to at half past ten and still shake off enough inhibition to go and put ELO on the jukebox.
On Saturday night I’m in the West End (the pub in Sheffield, rather than the prestigious shopping and entertainment district of London) to hear Dan DJ-ing. He’s as good a DJ as he is a friend, so it’s worth the trip. Sadly, I falter before the end, though. Partly it’s the knowledge that childcare duties will call at 6am the next day. And partly it’s because this day has been a long one too. The Mariners were at home again earlier, so I was back in Grimsby’s Rutland Arms before the game. For some reason, the first two pints of Old Mill bitter were fantastic.