Monday, October 25, 2010

In The Club Style

Now it can be told. I'm a member of a club where men go to meet other men, and women are not allowed.

There used to be dozens of these social clubs throughout the North. They were set up during the inter-war period by what were once patronisingly termed the 'progressive working-class' as a more respectable alternative to town pubs of the time. There are very few men-only clubs left, but two or three linger on in the Keighley area. I joined through tradition and because my dad and my uncle have been members for decades, and you really can't beat having a pint with your dad and your uncle. In our club there's a TV room, a small library and the click of dominoes. You get frowned at by older members until you remove your hat. The two full-sized slate snooker tables are immaculately maintained by the same local firm that installed them in the 50s. There are three handpumps, one for Timothy Taylor's Best Bitter and two for Golden Best, the stealth mild that is Taylor's biggest seller in their home market. Guinness is by the bottle, and Tetley Cask has recently been usurped by its ugly cousin, Smooth. I'm pretty sure that on my first visit a few days after I turned 18 they still weren't selling lager (no ladies, see), but these days there's a Carling tap.

When my dad, uncle and their mates joined there was a two-year waiting list and it would be three deep at the bar on a friday. Prospective members had to attend at least twice a month for those two years, and then present themselves to the committee to prove that you were of good character and had no criminal record (and presumably, not a woman). When I joined some eight years ago, there was no waiting list, and my exile Down South gave me special dispensation not to have to prove my worth in person. Fridays are very much quieter and the club no longer opens during the day. Times change. There's still an annual club trip - usually to Scarborough - though these days it's limited to veteran members and a crate of Landlord is no longer hoisted onto the coach.

The only female permitted on the premises is the Steward's wife - and she's not allowed out from behind the bar, even to collect empties. Some may consider the place a sexist anachronism, but it's a well-loved sexist anachronism, and one that nobody really minds too much about. The club's constitution doesn't actually bar women, but none have shown the slightest interest in joining (as my mum has pointed out) what amounts to two rooms of middle-aged and elderly Yorkshiremen complaining about the state of Rugby League and (in summer) cricket, and at all other times, the government.

Members still talk about the only time a woman got over the club's front threshold. One night an unknown elderly bloke pulled up in a Bentley and doddered in with a fur-coated peroxide blonde half his age, before being frantically but gently ushered out.

"I'm surprised they didn't rebuild the place after that" noted my mum at the time.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Darkness

Autumn. Season of clich├ęs and mellow fruitfulness. We've got a handsome cherry tree outside our house, which at this time of year sneezes about a ton of leaves into the front yard every couple of days. On saturday, sweeping that lot up put me in the mood for a dark beer, and it doesn't get much darker than Harveys Imperial Extra Stout. It's the Aleister Crowley of ales.

Why is it so hard to find a shop with a good selection of interesting beers in London? I can only think of two specialists now that the Beer Shop in Shoreditch has turned up its toes. Utobeer at Borough Market is a five-minute Boriscycle from my desk, though the fact that they hardly ever put a price label on their bottles puts me off. Well, that and their prices. Did I really see them selling Duvel at four quid a go? The other place is Nelson wines, way down yonder in South Wimbledon, a place that claims to be in zone three but feels like you've gone far enough to drop off the edge of the south coast. Nelson's is much cheaper than Utobeer and arguably has a bigger selection - there are bottles from floor to almost the ceiling, and stuck in every nook and corner. It's well worth the trip, even if the shop itself looks like it sells dirty magazines rather than dusty bottles.

Nelson's is where I picked up this Imperial Extra. It comes in a nice cork-stopped bottle and pours a viscous and total black, like the sump oil of a 1985 Lada Niva. Very thin espresso-coloured head and very little carbonation. Get your nose in the glass and there's spice, almost curry, coming up. First swig is a big treacly mouthful. It tastes a lot like what we in Yorkshire call 'Spanish' and everyone else calls liquorice, with distinct hints of port, and that 9% certainly makes its presence felt pretty quickly. All this ends with a bittersweet, tickly finish that goes on and on and on. I've never drunk anything quite like it - in fact, to me it had more in common with a digestive liqueur like Unicum than beer. That or something dug up on Time Team. Can't imagine having this more than once or twice a year - but it'd do very nicely for hallowe'en. Cackle.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Yesterday I was in Brighton, "covering" - as we photographers say - the Brightona motorbike show. I was there for the scooters, specifically to photograph as many of them as possible in front of a certain gallery. These events being what they are, it was an exercise in rumour ("500 scooters on their way right now from Aldershot") and herding cats. Photographing scooters inevitably involves lots of crawling around on the floor, and I'm walking like i've got wooden legs today. Anyway, once the Money Shot was in the bag (or in the memory card, anyway) I was free to roam. Never seen so many Harleys. Nice bikes. If you're a girl.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

You Probably Didn't See It Here First.

I'm not normally one who spends time reading the planning applications in provincial newspapers. But in this week's Keighley News was a submission from the best brewery in the world (Timothy Taylor, obviously). It was informing the Environment Agency of their plans to drill on their new site, over the road from the famous Knowle Spring brewery. This is the old WASK foundry and currently Taylor's storage facility and parking for their racing green drays. The drilling is for a water source for 'cask washing', 'bus cleaning' (some local buses are parked there) and a new brewery. Hmmm.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Spot The Difference

The Tadcaster brewer Samuel Smith seems to embody many of the attributes of the music hall version of the professional Yorkshireman. Stubborn, self-reliant, shrewd and reticent to the point of only getting a website in August 2010. They're certainly eccentric and somewhat secretive - they never seem give interviews. Their London pubs are a bit love-or-hate, but they certainly care for the fabric of their buildings. A few years back, they closed their famous gin palace The Princess Louise for several months while they restored its 1891 interior. Given the quality of the work, literally no expense was spared. As far as I can tell, they didn't even bother with a press release saying what they'd been up to. There's something nicely old fashioned about their flagship ale, Old Brewery Bitter. It's not to everyone's taste, but I like it - it's a decent standby for a swift quencher, and one of the few beers still drawn from the wood. They have a cooperage at the brewery. Local deliveries are by drays pulled by shire horses. Traditional isn't the word.

Just one bit of folklore about Smith's claims that the reason OBB is so cheap is that tax and duty apart, the brewery hasn't raised prices since they first started brewing it. Ah, yes. Folklore. And Rumours. For fear of getting my wheels sued off I won't go into any here, but speculation about one or other members of Smith's senior staff on this site might somehow help explain why they're taking the Cropton Brewery to court.

In 2008, Cropton launched Yorkshire Warrior, a 4.4% ruby ale. Profits from sales go the Yorkshire Regiment Benevolent Fund. More than £10,000 has so far been raised. The bottle displays the regiments' badge, which of course features the Yorkshire Rose. Samuel Smith, in their wisdom, say that having the rose on the Warrior bottles is 'confusingly similar' to their own labelling. A writ has been served for 'copyright infringment'. You now have the absurd situation of seeing Warrior bottles and pump clips with the county symbol on it blacked out.

Cropton, y'see, are a Yorkshire brewer. Go to Leeds on a match day and half the men (and I dare say a few women) in the city centre will have a white rose tattoo on their arm. How many businesses in the county incorporate it into their own logo? It's everywhere. It belongs to Yorkshire. It does not belong to Samuel Smith, who in any case use the symbol upside down. They may have been around for 252 years but Sam Smiths shouldn't take their great age as a guarantee of brand loyalty, especially when it comes to something like this. It's so petty and wrong-headed it defies logic.

The case will reach the High Court next July. Cropton have said they will fight the claim all the way, but if they lose they are likely to face bankruptcy. I don't know about anyone else, but I won't be darkening the doors of any Smith pubs for a while.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Camra Case

Spotted in our local Waitrose yesterday. Yes, that is three 500ml bottles of ale for 12 (TWELVE) quid . You do get a CAMRA-branded cardboard box with a posh plastic handle, mind.

Friday, October 1, 2010

In The Red

Just recently there have been all sorts of rumours about Leytonstone's two most prominent dead pubs. Lincoln's, which dominates the middle section of the HIgh Road has been sold. Or it hasn't. Planning to convert it to flats has been rejected. Or it's been accepted. It's going to become a restaurant. Or it isn't. Whatever the case, the premises remain closed and increasingly tatty.

However, more substantial gossip concerns Zulus up the road. This was the Red Lion until 2002, when it became a theme pub aimed at E11's large population of young South Africans. It wasn't popular with local residents, some of whom grew familiar with splats of puke decorating their front gardens, pavements and cars. Zulus was part of a chain that seems to have gone belly-up early this year, when it suddenly closed. It briefly reopened as some sort of Eastern European night club before remaining tinned-up with the usual ALL ITEMS OF VALUE HAVE BEEN REMOVED signs. The Red Lion has a bit of an iconic status locally. During the late sixties and early seventies it hosted gigs by Yes, Genesis, Iron Maiden and was even the scene of an early outing by a youthful Led Zepellin. Since those glory days it's had a few incarnations - including a brief flirtation as a 'Salsa bar' named Cuba Bella. However, the pub was known as the Red Lion from at least 1754, and before that it was the Robin Hood. There has been a pub on the site since the 1600s, and the present building dates from 1891. It's a prime site in an area that's improving. Indeed, some even say that Leytonstone is (re)gentrifying.

Step forward, then, Antic Ltd who, it has been confirmed have bought the site and will be adding it to their brace of other London premises. Antic are chiefly famous for running the Dogstar in Brixton and the well-regarded White Hart in Stoke Newington. I'm not familiar with their other pubs, but a poke around their website seems to indicate that they're all about creating places with a bit of organic character, rather than the cut-and-paste refurbs of some other chains. No indication as to what the place will be called yet - but let's hope it's a welcome back for the Red Lion.