Monthly Archives: October 2016

The end of a great tradition.

img_4847One of the great traditions of the Star on the Paragon in Bath is no more – thanks to a high-handed and abrupt decision by ABInBev, the brewers of Bass. For many years now, it has been the habit to bring Bass up from the cellar on a lift which raises the kilderkins – 18 gallons – to the bar area. Ask for Bass, and the bar staff will tap off the beer into a jug, ready to pour it into your glass. So popular is this that Paul Waters, the landlord, was a regular purchaser of kilderkins. It has to be admitted that this was slightly unusual – many pubs simply do not get through the same quantities of beer which means the beer would go off before they could sell it all. But this did not apply at the Star.

When he bought his most recent consignment, there was no indication of any trouble. So Paul had no inkling, when he received a phone call from InBev, of the bad news he was about to receive. ‘Make the most of those barrels,’ the spokesperson said ‘That’s the last you’re getting. We’re not going to do 18s any longer.  We’re reducing them to 10s.’

Paul Waters is usually happy serving beer - but here he sadly fills a jug from the barrel for almost the last time.
Paul Waters is usually happy serving beer – but here he sadly fills a jug from the barrel for almost the last time.

There’s a lot that’s wrong with that decision. Firstly, as a matter of courtesy, those landlords, like Paul, who were buying them should have had longer notice. Secondly, for busy pubs, 18s are more efficient. And finally, 10s are not a usual European size. It’s American.

Anheuser, the A part of AB InBev is an American company. Although they claim to be proud of their European heritage and of being a global brewery, it is a very big player in the USA. So despite all their claims of respecting heritage it is only their American heritage the company seems interested in. The grand old English measure of a kilderkin will be swept away. And if they are going to use 10s, one can guess that it won’t be long before the firkin – or 9 – will also go. Is this, perhaps, a result of Brexit? Are AB-InBev  getting ready to pull out supplying the UK market? It looks ominously like it. British pubs are geared up to the old sizes. A change like this will have far-reaching implications for many. The Bell in Walcot Street, Bath, for instance, has racks in its cellar designed specifically to take 9s.

For Paul Waters, it means some rapid rethinking. For the present, Bass will now take up one of the valuable hand pumps – the cradles are too big to take 10s. So that means one less guest ale. On busy evenings, such as after a Bath Rugby home match, you may find yourself waiting while Paul has to change the barrel.

Regulars at the Star, who have availed themselves of its tradtional approach for many years, are unhappy at the decision.
Regulars at the Star, who have availed themselves of its traditional approach for many years, are unhappy at the decision.

Like Paul, most regulars at the Star thinks it’s a ridiculous and ill-conceived plan by AB-InBev, forcing changes on the Star without even the courtesy of an apology.  AB-InBev should at least let the drinkers of Britain – who, despite qualms about changes in the company, have gone on drinking Bass with its historic trademark and putting money in the company’s pocket – just what their future intentions are. So come on, AB-InBev  – just what game are you playing?

I should add that the good news for regulars is that Abbey Ales’ Bellringer is still very much available!

 

 

Welcome to Eli’s

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One of the reasons this blog went into abeyance was that one of your bloggers was suffering mysterious and somewhat drastic symptoms. With the problems finally sorted out one of the joys of recuperation has been revisiting old haunts. High on our list has been the Rose and Crown at Huish Episcopi – better known to all its aficionados as Eli’s.

Pub enthusiasts come with many different requirements. It might be good beer – to others the food is more important. History lovers enjoy old buildings – preferably picturesque – and finding a freehouse which has been in the same family for generations is a bonus. Eli’s ticks all these boxes. If there were a competition for the perfect English country pub, Eli’s would be a strong contender.

We first visited this pub several years ago, so when we were putting together our book Somerset Pubs we were delighted to discover an old postcard from around 1907. We received much useful family information from the then landlady, the much-loved Eileen Pittard.

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The photo shows that the landlord in 1907 was William Slade, and a young lad we believe to be one of his sons stands outside the door. Presumably the plan was that one of these boys would have become landlord, but the First World War put paid to that. Both sons were killed, and the pub passed instead to William’s daughter and her husband Eli, Eileen’s father, from whom the pub acquired its popular name.

The pub looks now much as it looked over a century ago. There is no bar counter – you get your beer from the tap room, served from an old beer engine and occasionally straight from the barrel. They only acquired an electronic till in 2007.

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The menu is short and rarely changes, but the home cooked (and homely) food is excellent. It’s not gastro but it’s not the usual pub grub with chips/jacket/new potatoes/salad that turns up at so many hostelries either. It’s genuinely home cooking. The pork and cider cobbler is a particular favourite of ours, and the desserts are well worth investigating too.

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Dining in the room off the bar is a bit like sitting in the family home, with cherished pictures on the wall, an upright piano, and an old clock gently measuring away the hours. Faded photographs of the Slade brothers in their army uniforms gaze down on customers who now enjoy food and drink where the brothers once lived and worked for most of their all too brief lives.

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Sadly, Eileen was taken ill and passed away not long after our book came out but the next generation has taken over. Steve Pittard is often found behind the bar, while his sisters Maureen Pittard and Patricia O’Malley are usually in the kitchen or serving. Maureen has also taken on the role of family historian, and has arranged a series of three photographs showing the pub through the ages.

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The pub is popular with families – it has a large beer garden much enjoyed by parents and children in summer. Classic car enthusiasts are regular visitors and you will often see some interesting motors in the car park. A bridge leads over the stream from the car park to the pub – a stream that caused problems in December 2009 when it burst its banks in a flash flood. The pub had to close for a few months but the loyal regulars soon came back. It is, after all, a real community pub, with quizzes, bands, and other events.

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Teignworthy Reel Ale is always on and there is a changing choice of other, usually West Country, beers as well as cider. All the usual drinks are available but with such well kept beer on tap, why bother? Dogs are welcome and healthy treats can be bought for them in the tap room.

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Opening hours are lunchtimes and evenings Mondays to Thursdays and all day from 11.30 over the weekend, closing at 23.30 on Friday and Saturday, and 22.30 on Sunday. The pub is on the main Wincanton road from Langport – the A372 – and is a few hundred yards from Huish Episcopi church – look out for the impressive church tower.

Somerset Pubs is available from www.akemanpress.com at £8.50.

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Bill Smarme’s Piss Up in a Brewery

It had to happen – the wonder is that it took so long. If there were ever any doubts that Bill Smarme, international entertainer, ladies’ man and founder of Twerton-based building company, Smarmerection (slogan ‘No Erection too Small – or too Large’), could run a piss-up in a brewery, they were laid to rest last Thursday (13 October). Mind you, while a well-oiled time was had by all, it soon became apparent that Bill’s idea of the perfect brewery was Watney’s circa 1966 rather than Electric Bear in 2016.the-band

The bar at Electric Bear
The bar at Electric Bear

Electric Bear Brewery was established in August 2015 on the Maltings Trading Estate at Locksbrook in Bath. It stands on the site of the old Bath Brewery, which closed in 1923 after being acquired by George’s in Bristol and was converted to maltings. The old building has long gone, but the return of a brewery with a 15-barrel plant on this historic site marks a significant milestone in the revival of brewing in the city. Set up by local entrepreneur Chris Lewis, the head brewer is Guillermo Alvarez, previously of St Austell Brewery and Rebel Brewing Company. The brewery shop is open from Monday to Saturday, and the tap room is open from noon to 9pm on Fridays and from 2pm to 6pm on Saturdays. There is also enough space, once barrels and equipment have been moved out of the way, to stage events, and Bill Smarme’s takeover of the venue was the latest in a series of popular events.

Bring back Watney's Red Barrel
Bring back Watney’s Red Barrel
Cocktails for One
Cocktails for One
The attempt to get Bill to switch to soft drinks was a dismal failure
The attempt to get Bill to try a soft drink was a dismal failure
The man in the gold lame cape
The man in the gold lame cape

Proceedings got underway in grand style with the legend that is Bill Smarme making a dramatic entrance from the gents, adjusting his dress and launching into his iconic Space Cowboy routine. Pausing for breath before launching into a more intimate number, and sipping on a pint of Electric Bear, ‘bring back Red Barrel’ he was heard to mutter. There followed a paean to the aphrodisiac qualities of keg beer, harking back to the heady days of Younger’s Tartan, Double Diamond, Party Sevens, and, of course, Red Barrel.

And so it went on. At one point, a waitress appeared, offering Bill a tray on which several of Electric Bear’s brews were displayed – but, mistaking her for a cocktail waitress, he proceeded to mix them up, with predictable results. But, as the beer continued to flow, he seemed to mellow somewhat – and, making a dramatic entrance clad in a gold lamé cloak down a long staircase to kick off the second half of the show, he chose to take it gently – backwards and clutching the handrail.

By any reckoning, a memorable evening – proof that you can run a piss-up in a brewery if you get the right man to organise it.

A Bright New Chapter for the old Piccadilly Alehouse

The London Road in Bath has lost more than its fair share of pubs over the last decade. Some of them, to be fair, seemed well past their sell-by date. Having said that, even pubs that seems to have reached the point of no return can still make a spectacular comeback. Take the King William at the bottom of Thomas Street, for instance – the first pub on the London Road you come to as you head out of town. Opened as a beerhouse in the 1830s, this was the sort of tiny street-corner boozer that – according to industry analysts – should have disappeared years ago, and when it closed in 2002 few people thought it would ever reopen. It was an archetypal local’s pubs, with card players, a thick fug of tobacco smoke and curtains drawn against the outside world even on the sunniest day.

But instead of being snapped up by a developer and converted to flats, it was acquired by Charlie and Amanda Digney who cleaned it up, preserving as many of the original features as they could, and reopened it as a combination of local boozer and gastropub that hit the mark from day one – and continues to do so well over a decade later. Superb food, superb beer, and a place where a loyal band of regulars are joined by a constant stream of newcomers who almost invariably vow to return. It’s got no parking, still has its old two-room layout, and is well out of the city centre – yet with all that it is one of the most inspiring  success stories of the Bath pub trade in the 21st century.

Carry on along the London Road, though, and the story is less cheerful. A little further on was the Long Acre Tavern, a 1960s rebuild of another nineteenth-century pub which now houses Domino’s Pizzas. Across the road was the Porter Butt, which had a hall at the back – known as the Walcot Palais – which was one of the best small music venues in the city. It was – or at any rate had been – a very well-appointed pub, some 200 years old, but with lots of fittings dating from an extensive refit in the 1920s or 1930s, and was crying out for some serious investment to realise its potential. In this case, unfortunately, however, its decline led to its conversion to a branch of Richer Sounds.

And so we come to what was the Piccadilly Ale House on the corner of Hanover Street. Built around 1805, this was originally an upmarket hostelry called the Britannia. Masonic lodges and the local militia held their meetings here, and it was a focal point for local political groups. In the mid-twentieth century it was renamed the Piccadilly after the terrace it stood in, but, as the world moved on, it stayed just as it was – which would have been OK, if there had been sufficient investment to keep it up to scratch. But there wasn’t, and its slow spiral of decline ended with closure, followed by a short-lived reopening as the Hive – part family-friendly cafe, part music venue, part-pub. When that closed and the building was placed, on the market its conversion to flats, offices or a retail unit seemed unavoidable.

Step forward Michael and Emma Heap, with a new spin on what a pub should be, and the determination to make it work. In the case of the Piccadilly, that meant an enormous amount of hard graft, reversing the effect of years of neglect and creating a venue that looked to the future with confidence rather than muddling along in a time-worn timewarp. Dingy old fittings and decades of encrustation were stripped away – to reveal a light and airy space which, while harking back to its origins as a Georgian tavern, could accommodate the cutting edge of interior design.

Michael and Emma behind the bar at Chapter One
Michael and Emma behind the bar of Chapter One

After months of hard graft, Chapter One finally opened its doors in May this year, a new and very welcome addition to Bath’s pub scene. The emphasis is very much on beer, with up to five craft ales on tap at any one time. Cask ales are not offer at the moment, because of the logistics of serving them in a pub which is currently only open four days a week. Plans are in hand, however, to open on other days, and lines for cask ale (the pipes that will bring it up from the cellar) have already been installed. So, as soon as opening hours are extended, pumps will appear on the bar and cask ale will flow.

Michael and Emma are passionate about beer, and eager to introduce locals to as many small independent brewers as possible. So far, the list has included Kernel, Cloudwater, Ilkley, Siren, 5 Points, Arbor, Burning Sky, Bristol Beer Factory, Wylam, Beavertown, Saltaire, Wild Beer, Dark

The team from Kettlesmith Brewery at the tap takeover on 8 October
The team from Kettlesmith Brewery at the tap takeover on 8 October

Star, Wiper & True, Moor, Tiny Rebel, Thornbridge, Left Handed Giant – and many others. There have already been two tap takeovers – Good Chemistry from Bristol on 23 July and, more recently, Kettlesmith from Bradford on Avon on 8 October.

In line with their policy of supporting small independent producers, especially from the local area, Michael and Emma also serve Handmade Cider and Somerset Cider Brandy, as well as a carefully chosen range of wines and spirits. A range of Scotch eggs – made in Bath – are also available should you feel peckish.

The bar in Chapter One
The bar in Chapter One

Chapter One has already attracted a loyal band of regular customers, who come to enjoy its laid-back atmosphere, relax over a beer or two and maybe play one of the many board and card games on offer. And, although it is a fair step from the town centre, word is getting around that, for those keen on trying craft beers from an ever-changing range of cutting-edge brewers, it is well worth the effort of getting to know.

Chapter One is open from 5pm on Thursdays and Fridays, and from 2pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

... and dogs are very welcome.
… and dogs are very welcome.