13/ JUN / 18 - A 24th Birthday at a Bexley CAMRA AGM filled with disappointment...
From 2014, CAMRA has been part of my life. CAMRA is the reason I became involved with the Micropub movement, and its the reason I've found such fantastic brewers. But, and there comes a significant but, plenty of the Bexley Branch are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the entire mechanism and organisation as it continues to create a wider and wider valley between "us", the beer drinker, and "them", the behemoth that hands out vouchers to major pub chains.
I went to the Bexley Branch of CAMRA's AGM tonight and there was a very clear 'strategy' in place with the Area Organiser of West Kent for how to proceed if no Chairman could be found. Unfortunately, the CAMRA Regional Director of Kent then appeared having not responded to say she would attend and then, to put it simply, rammed her thoughts and feelings and rode rough-shod across the entire Branch. Given the way that she conducted herself, and even in the face of the incumbent Chairman stating he wanted to stand down for personal reasons, she found as many loopholes as possible to create a Branch Committee enough to avoid the Special General Meeting that had basically been made ready to wind up the branch (or at least threaten it). It felt like this was a complication she couldn't deal with and she would do anything to avoid it.
The Landlord has previously had a very good relationship with the Regional Director in Kent; but the entire 'dead wood' feel to the Kent Region has made the Landlord very vocal and vehement in the past for moving the branch into London. This didn't happen, not least because legitimate reasons for the membership to decide upon were watered down by a previous Chairman and it's just been a love-hate relationship from the start.
The Bexley Branch is barely treading water and for the Regional Director to make it possible for yet more stagnation seemed to be everything that is wrong with CAMRA (apart from the other stuff, but that's overly political for a birthday); and therefore I am very pleased to be able to stand back and let the Branch either stagnate further, destroy itself, or try to build itself up again. I want to take this time to give thanks to Roland Amos as the current Chairman for stepping into the breach again: he is a fantastic bloke, I appreciate him massively and I felt as though he could have done more if he hadn't been subjected to a tonne of c**p in the last 12 months; but he should be commended for doing the Chairman's job for 3 months and I hope now the Branch can actually pull itself together and do more than just bi-monthly meetings of nothingness.
And a stark admission, I'm now going to sign off and look forward to no CAMRA meetings anymore and equally resigning 3 posts in Bexley Branch as well as another in the Kent Region as it would be wrong to even consider doing anything for an organisation which has been totally impotent in doing anything about the many problems we have in the Borough. The National Executive Directors have censored and, worse still, proactively ignored legitimate concerns to keep a 'tidy desk'. And as such, the CAMRA discount remains very much 'gone' as we don't want anything to do with the organisation. Still, we had already been told we wouldn't win their 'Pub of the Year' for next year as we weren't part of an 'in crowd'...
05 / JUN / 18 - we aren't too worried about CAMRA anymore.
When we opened our humble Micropub in March 2018, it was a day of great fanfare. We have, quite incredibly, hit our 'big target' of 1,000 pints sold per week which is something that we are extremely proud of. We are also continuing to buy cask ales that are more expensive than 'average' as part of our commitment to the fair price for cask ales and also supporting breweries that produce the very best beer.
Our key problem, however, has been CAMRA's complete lack of desire to fight against one of their key stakeholders (?), Wetherspoon. It is hardly right that CAMRA should try to court a relationship with Drinkers' Voice to fight against the anti-alcohol lobby and promote responsible drinking when they also 'promote' pints at £1.79 instead of the already cheap £2.29, as an example. This doesn't seem at all a promotion of responsible drinking to us.
We have therefore decided that whilst we will consider continuing to advertise in CAMRA London Region's 'London Drinker' magazine, as well as other CAMRA publications and beer festival materials locally, this is not going to be out of duty to CAMRA. We're also going to withdraw the CAMRA discount scheme we operate at the Kentish Belle as we don't feel it right to offer a discount to people who rarely come when our regular customers are paying full price. Moreover, we would hope CAMRA members would come for the fantastic beer we offer instead of for discounts - and they have vouchers to aid them in this regard.
The Landlord has also resolved not to be on the Branch Committee in Bexley at the upcoming AGM which all Bexley members are encouraged to take part in. The Landlord supports the current Chairman, Roland, and hope he runs again despite not having received the best of support. In Medway, for example, their Chairman has also stood down because of bitter in-fighting and we feel more comfortable as a small business representing itself and knowing it serves fantastic beer without needing the validation of CAMRA which, locally and nationally, is looking weaker by the day.
We hope CAMRA members will understand what it is that we have done, and we aren't ruling out bringing the discount scheme back in future if positive and real change is made to CAMRA with better diversity and with real local support.
25 / MAY / 18
Well we thought we'd been neglecting the blog so here we go - a round up (almost) of the Month's antics!
We started the month with a Bank Holiday which was sorely needed for most as they quaffed various fantastic beers, ciders, wines and gins; and here I am looking at our ever-growing wall of pump clips which one could only attribute to a fantastic group of good people who pop in and drink with us often or for the first time!
We totalled up our charity donations to date since we opened and we're now north of £700 which we think is fantastic. Dita's off doing her run this weekend which we raised some £303 for and we're also looking to support a new railway charity given the Landlord's loves and passions, the 4-SUB Association (well, actually it's called something else but that's a bit complex!). It looks like the Boss will be up at 5am next Wednesday to go and get the first vehicles into their new home - they're more than 60 years old!
See you this Bank Holiday weekend!
07 / MAY / 18
It is now Monday morning, and we've had a remarkably popular Bank Holiday weekend. It's been a fabulous time for us and our regular and new customers with a dozen beers on from Thursday from Old Dairy and Iron Pier breweries where almost all have now sold out. Moving through Friday we opened our Summer Gin Palace, an ever-changing selection of gins and garnishes perfect for those long, hot evenings under the air conditioning. Copperhead Black, for example, sold out entirely and was perfect with cucumber! Saturday's 'Wines and Cheeses' went well, the kilogram of Brie happily eaten by our customers along with the finished bottles of Chapel Down, for example.
And now I'm ready to go to sleep after Sunday's 'Craft Beer Club': new bottles and cans each week. Breweries such as Buxton, Cloudwater, London Beer Lab proved very popular and incidentally made up just over one third of sales for the entire session! The can and bottle list is clearly proving very popular along with our cask lines.
Ready for the Games Day now - who wants to come and play Twister?!
02 / APR / 18
Well hasn't it been an adventure! By the end of the Bank Holiday weekend, we can safely say that more than 55 casks of real ale will have been sold during our initial 17 days of trading. This is no mean feat - and we can't thank our customers enough who are enjoying our beer so massively that in many cases they are popping in, going off to do their shopping or lunching, and coming back!
It is no secret that we are prepared at the Kentish Belle to pay as much as £120+VAT for a cask of the highest quality from what are arguably the finest breweries in the industry at present. Many would not but we are heartened that our customers are sharing in our vision of 'more than the norm' and supping these incredible beers. The Landlord has been wondering what his favourite have been and, whilst it would be rude to exclude so many breweries (where every beer has been fantastic), personal highlights have included Arbor's 'Shangri La' Pale, Thornbridge's 'Peverel' Mosaic Pale, the Tankleys Russian Imperial Stout, Gadds' Best Bitter and Mad Cat's WIPA Snapa Wheat Beer.
For the Landlord's ratings, check out the Kentish Belle's Untappd page and also subscribe. You'll receive event notifications and even notifications on the beers as they come on so you don't miss a beat. If you subscribe to a particular beer and we put it on, you'll get a push notification for that added 'buzz' so as not to lose out on your chance to sup it one more time!
On our Facebook page, Untappd is also integrated. In short, whether on Untappd itself, Facebook or the website the beer list stays live and updated daily!
Finally, we are working on a couple of events. Of course, you shouldn't forget this week's Stratford upon Avon Brewery Tap Takeover which promises some mighty fine cask beers but we could be looking to do some very big and exciting things at the Belle during the Summer so watch out!
The musings of a new Publican, a CAMRA National Executive Committee and a beer and cider lover...
It has been a long, hard and emotional 9 days at the Kentish Belle. We have sold a huge amount of real ale, cider, perry, gin, wines, soft drinks, snacks and even made a huge number of new friends. Our core band of regulars is coming back on a daily basis and we are hopeful that the exciting range of beers, friendly atmosphere and emphasis on inclusion is key.
I have spent a lot of time this week thinking about my candidacy to the CAMRA National Executive Committee. I originally said I would be standing on an increased CAMRA political lobbying wing to combat and finally shut down the beer ties that cripple so many community pubs; with an increased desire to get cask beer back on the national stage and make it more youthful and appealing; and with a desire to get rid of bureaucracy and make CAMRA accessible.
So far, none of those things have proven impossible to achieve so I continue to stand by them. That said, I feel I have some new things to add to the list because of the experience I have had ordering from some 20 different breweries and wholesalers each of who are cogs in the system for me as the retailer. I have had a bit of stick from some people who sit idly by and say that my prices are too high. There's a couple of reasons for the prices I charge being what they are (and interestingly nobody has complained in the pub, only on social media and they've never visited!):
- Cask beer, if you want to get the very best, is not cheap. Some of the stuff I have been buying is £120 or so + VAT which is way over the average in my 'cellar'. The average seems to be about £90 unless you want to go really downhill to the point where the beer you're stocking is on every corner; and I have had no qualms about paying said £120 + VAT for a cask if the quality is there. Interestingly, my fellow running mate who I disagree with on most things has produced a number of those most expensive casks and the beer has been fantastic which I think shows me and him will agree that to make cask viable, we have to be part of the solution. CAMRA is a consumer champion and accordingly we are the ones who will have relationships with our local publicans from which they can discern the value people feel beer is worth and I cannot and will not apologise for charging an appropriate amount as a VAT-registered business to retail some of the best, most exciting and highest quality beers in the land. I will not be one of the people who asks for discounts or says a beer costs too much: I will pay the rate and send it back if it is out of condition which is fair.
- The experience. I can't speak for other pubs but I have been told that my prices reflect the venue I run which is small, community-minded, suitable for couples and groups and which people enjoy whether day or night. I am not using the price of beer to recoup my investment because that is my burden to bear. I am charging what I charge because of the economies of scale and experience that my business affords its valued customers.
I for one now can see that some brewers, in my humble opinion, are actively engaging in a price war which is totally unhelpful to cask which I fear is the scapegoat! Worse still I think some of the beer I am buying is criminally cheap and I wish some brewers would have the gumption to stand up and say "My beer is worth at least £100" and sell it for same. I will buy that beer whether its £80 or £120 but, of course, at the top end of the scale I expect it to be something magnificent. I was engaged in a wonderful conversation with a young brewery and the people in charge who were able to say, with absolute confidence and honesty, that CAMRA is relevant and cask ale will always need a champion. The problem is not what it stands for, it's how it goes about it. I said in my manifesto we need a new website template for all branches to use, social media channels in every branch, more money for promotions and events locally and a general gearing of advertising materials to a lower age group including proactive recruitment where appropriate and possible. We don't need to change everything we have believed in just to try to appeal to these younger people: They won't want to join a Campaign that accepts key kegs to then sit in the same stuffy branch meetings. Come on people, get with the programme!
CAMRA needs to stop trying to be a strange mish mash of things and focus on one thing: the continued guardianship of cask ale and the community establishments (pubs and clubs) that they are drunk in. Lager does not need to be saved. Key kegs, even as this brewer said, do not need to be given a platform when they are the new thing and are the 'flavour of the month' in the industry. Sambuca drinkers are, to be honest, not our concern. We are worried about excellent cask ale, a fair price for each cask that leaves the breweries to the pubs, publicans serving it in the best condition and at a fair price that people understand, stopping short measures, getting more pub protection in law and national frameworks, stopping the beer tie and trying to get a reduction in VAT for the sales of products in pubs so that they can be more viable. It's not difficult.
I am taking the decision to vote against every one of the special resolutions (except the first three in respect of accounts and auditors) because expert advice has said they are so very interlinked that you basically accept all or none. Given the sheer stupidity of the incumbent National Executive Committee proposing we support all pub-goers and also cask ale which could lead to internal conflict if cask ale is effectively dropped from pubs (as we now have lager drinkers in the midst of the organisation because we want to include them), I can't vote for one so I have to vote against them all. With me on the National Executive Committee, Dundee will see vastly better wordings and, assuming the special resolutions don't get even 50% approval from the membership, I will do everything in my power to steer the National Executive Committee towards ideas that are actually going to heal the wounds of bitter infighting and make us a more strong, orientated organisation that works for all.
We will, together, get the beer ties finished once and for all. We will do everything we can to push for the Government to give our pubs the fair treatment they finally deserve. We will get cask ale on the lips of the under-30s who can enjoy the different styles. We will not be afraid to pay the fair amount for cask beers and we will chuck away the bad imagery that dogs the Campaign and be a new, fresh, friendly bunch that outsiders want to join.
If you haven't voted yet for your National Executive Committee candidates, I'm your man. I want us to modernise and we will. I just won't let our traditions, ways and values be trodden on.
25 / MAR / 18
To round off a very good week for us, we muse for the Sunday morning with a few facts and stats. We've sold out of some 35 casks already which means, give or take, 2400 pints of fantastic ales have flown out of the doors. Cider, wines, gins and even posh soft drinks are equally popular.
We're very heartened to have had 9 teams come for the inaugural Quiz Night and, better still, to have already found what seems like a bloody lovely group of regulars who are back time and again and keeping a track of social media so as to be able to get the best beers.
Equally, it's been incredible that so many casks are able to sell in a single day. I wouldn't really have thought it possible but there you go - that's the Belle for you! A surprise around every corner (and hopefully not a third leak).
Pop in during Wednesday night for a few slabs of complimentary cheese with the three experimental Westerham Finchcocks beers - we will have a voting box to ask which was your favourite.
Very little to say here except that we had an absolutely fantastic opening night on Saturday, March 17th (St Patricks Day) as well as enjoying our preview night with the Mayor and Mayoress of Bexley.
The best of it was probably selling out 7 casks in one hit; and then continuing to sell out a further 3 by today (Tuesday). We are now preparing for the World's Biggest Pub Quiz (in aid of Prostate Cancer UK) on Thursday and also our Wantsum Brewery Tap Takeover on Friday.
Thank you to everyone who came!
Nicholas Hair stands for National Executive Committee of CAMRA
I have to be honest, I didn't expect to do this. That said, I had a lot of encouragement from some fantastic people and I couldn't say no.
I received all 10 nominations within the space of two days and can only thank the people from various branches who have put me forward. It is no secret that I am a vehement CAMRA campaigner and love a challenge; and I am fully intending to take this one on with great passion.
I have now sent the paperwork to St Albans and can formally announce, therefore, that I am standing for one of three vacant positions. Whilst other candidates may have a higher profile at this stage, I am fighting on the basis that I am, almost always, at branch meetings and other events. I am Bexley Branch's Social Secretary, Young Members Rep and Cider Representative; and was also recently made Kent Regional Young Member's Coordinator.
The National Executive Committee, I feel, can use some new energy and I hope to be elected.
03 / MAR / 2018
A wonderful Saturday evening in front of the television after a vast amount of cleaning and I'm happy to be updating the website with opening night of Saturday, March 17th 2018!
01 / MAR / 2018
The great news from site today included:
- We have a fully-finished, working kitchen with hot water
- We have a beautifully painted and varnished staircase including restoration of the staircase to 'as built' condition
- We have a stunning walnut and black granite bar
- Bench seating is well underway on the build including the use of solid walnut
- Fridges, glass washers and ice makers being delivered Friday and Monday
- Beer deliveries from Wantsum, Three Piers, Dukeries, Lytham, Navigation, Poynton, Titanic and Raw with deliveries scheduled from Reunion, Brew Buddies, Tankleys and No Frills Joe in the next few days
- Bathrooms finished and tested
- Other elements also completed
CAMRA’s Revitalisation Project: Beware the Wolf in Sheep’s clothing.
The first thing I must do as I open my piece is to make a few things very clear. I am 23 years old and part of the 6% of under-30s in the Bexley Branch. If that is a national picture, we are obviously in a lot of trouble as a Campaign. That said, being 23 years old means that I am one of the people that the Revitalisation Project, I think, should be actively seeking and I also take umbridge with those who believe they know what my age group wants.
So that those who may find my ramblings boring are aware from the get go, I can say for sure that I will be voting against the project and hoping the CAMRA holds it current position pending a much better set of proposals from people who truly understand the history of the Campaign and the future. I would ask that others do the same.
I joined CAMRA having visited the Bromley Cider Festival back in 2015. Or was it 2014? Either way. I am still very new to all of this and I have definitely caused a few sighs and groans in my branch with the various schemes and plots I have been hatching to try to increase engagement amongst my age group. One of the things I asked for, and which my good friend Alan Boakes, (now former) Beer Festival Organiser for Bexley Branch, was able to provide was free entry and a free beer glass for under-25s with ID at the annual festival at Old Dartfordians. It seems like such a small gesture but for CAMRA to have lost the equivalent of about £225 in entry fees and the glasses going home with the under-25s as a constant reminder of CAMRA with their pints of water after a night in a club is no real loss. The big goal there is to physically get this age group through the door, trying new things, not drinking big-brand lagers in the pub and having fun.
Another thing I was able to do was to run the Bexley Cider Trail in 2016. Some 250 people took part in a route encompassing four of our branch Micropubs (we are, after all, the capital of London for the Micropub) and each enjoyed at least one pint of the ‘real stuff’ (cloudy, full of flavour and nothing like a Strongbow or a Magners) before moving on. At one point, a bus load of people from each end conspired on the Broken Drum and some 40 people were queueing out of the door as chairs and tables were hastily erected and Andy drove full-speed back to the pub to help out Matthew. It’s things like this that CAMRA really needs to do more of: give branches the power and money to try new things, engage with people at community level and to involve publicans. It is publicans, the campaign and, most importantly, the general public that make the triangle that we must live by every day. Without the public, we cannot educate. Without CAMRA, the public are sitting in a pub with boring beer.
And so, to the Revitalisation Project at hand. It is such a shame that the first thing that happened at my Revitalisation Project meeting at the Aeronaut in Acton (pre-fire, and thankfully now re-opened as it is a fantastic pub) is that someone from Hop Stuff Brewery comes out and tells seasoned or non-seasoned CAMRA members alike that the Campaign has to allow craft beers and, at the very least, key keg dispense. To be honest the bloke was onto a loser from the start and he had no chance of winning people round; especially as he crowed about how he was asked to be on the panel.
I shall say here and now that when someone who stands to gain and who continues to gain profit off the back of key keg dispense as it is invariably more profitable in both his trade sales and pub sites is trying to convince people, they can see straight through it. I was all too happy to stand up and be counted and say that only cask would do in my eyes; something that seemed to gain rapturous reception.
I also noted with interest that someone from Tiny Rebel in Wales is standing for the National Executive. I think that’s fantastic news but also, again, have to caution against people who stand to profit being in charge of our direction. Whilst it is no secret that I now own a Micropub (expected to open at the end of the month), it should also be no secret that I have proactively refused repeated calls for keg dispense and the reason I say this is that I don’t gain from CAMRA changing its views one way or the other. I don’t mind CAMRA being in favour of real ale in a key keg as such but I would sooner it be done because of a natural change in drinking habits of the membership than in reaction to a minority within CAMRA stamping their feet or people from the outside trying to make it change.
Another thing I am not enamoured with is the way that CAMRA has so heavily involved ‘big business’ in the consultations. Of course a PubCo or a big brewery will want to see the introduction of things like cask breathers: extend the life of a cask which is probably not selling well because the pub doesn’t promote the product or because their choice is a big-name brand like Doom Bar. The Craft Beer revolution has caused people to try new and exciting local or small breweries – PubCos should be adapting to allow their publicans the freedom to try new things and get more people in our pubs.
Another thing is the way that PubCos or publicans have talked about CAMRA members as being ‘beards’ or ‘crusty’ and that they never win the Pub of the Year competition because people don’t like them. I find, these days, that people will not go somewhere because of a perception of unexciting or just that the Landlord is a bit rude; so knowing how a Pub of the Year is decided (such as service and welcome, or quality of beer), why would a branch nominate a pub that they probably avoid because of a rude or generally dull Landlord with rubbish beer? It’s a vicious cycle for the Landlord who feels victimised and that CAMRA needs to adapt to suit them when in reality they should be trying to win hearts and minds and serving their community better.
I’m all for a more transparent process to come up with a Pub of the Year winner and also for the Good Beer Guide that runs countrywide and which uses things like beer scores as part of the basis; but I’m not in favour of having to go to every single branch pub to have a pint of the only beer they have on (probably Courage Best or Doom Bar) to know it isn’t going to win. The knowledge of CAMRA members is something that should be embraced.
I have to re-visit key keg and understand the motivations behind brewers and publicans in this respect. To demonstrate the point, I am going to use a pricing set for some beer from Tenby Brewing Co as I can buy from a wholesaler. Black Flag Porter is £88.22 for a 72 pint cask (although you’d probably only get 70 pints out) whilst also being £92.00 for a 30 litre key keg. Said keg is only 52 pints. That means the unit cost is £1.26 for cask, £1.76 for keg. We are constantly told that key keg is good because the beer is the same and is real ale and that therefore we are only making a minor change; but then the price of a pint to add a 140% mark up (as an example) is £3.02 for cask and a whopping £4.22 for keg. Of course brewers, PubCos and the like will want us to embrace key keg and bow down to them: they’ll make a fortune in the process and also not have to worry about the art of keeping cask. This isn’t one-sided with irrational ‘crusty’ CAMRA members on one side living in the 70s with cask ales: this is intelligent, knowledgeable consumers who know what they want and who, as part of an organisation based on cask ale, want to continue to enjoy and promote a fantastic product. What big business doesn’t like is CAMRA acting as a disruptor and people not buying their vastly more expensive beer in the process. CAMRA needs to be a disruptor within reason: work with pubs on a local level but fight the ties and dirty tactics at the highest levels to give publicans and communities the service and support they deserve and need.
So with my foil hat still very much off as I am not a conspiracy theorist, I come to summarise what we truly have to do as an organisation to ‘Make CAMRA great again’:
Make the art of traditional brewing of real, living ale in a cask and real, living ciders and perries the very heart of everything we seek to promote.
Empower branches to use CAMRA funds, or even to keep an amount of the profits they make from beer festivals (say 50%) to produce newsletters, leaflets, other local events, campaigning evenings and more to actively recruit and retain members.
Get CAMRA to spend good amounts of money promoting the virtues of cask ale and real ciders and perries through festivals and other local or national events to the under 30 age group. Cask can be cool – the pump clips are usually the key. I’ve managed to get a lot of my friends circle drinking real ale or cider and the campaign can do even more so with their campaigning and marketing tools.
Do everything in our power to treasure our older members. To some they are ‘crusty’. To others, including myself, they are the people who founded this organisation, saved real ale, and in their retirement years they usually do all of the leg work updating WhatPub, organising festivals and saving pubs with ACV applications.
Make saving pubs a massive priority. Keep supporting branches in their fights against developers and, for the love of God, lobby MPs and Parliament to get national laws that give community groups up to 12 months by default (no ACV required) to save a pub from conversion or demolition. They could even sort out a pot of money like the small business loans scheme to help – especially as pubs are often at the heart of communities.
GET RID OF BEER TIES ALTOGETHER. All this talk of Paul Newby who sounds as bent as a nine-bob note and his seemingly toothless PubCo regulator is making me nauseous these days. Every PubCo and brewery that owns pubs should be forced, by law, to remove the tie. They take their share of the profit of beer sales and they don't need to sell barrels to pubs for £120 to line their pockets yet further.
Stop handing out Wetherspoon vouchers. It is true to say that I enjoy a good relationship with an Area Manager and some Pub managers for Wetherspoon where we are but it doesn't make it any less of the case that beer is bought from small brewers too cheaply, and sold too cheaply. Traditional pubs can't compete on price and it's just not right that when we should encourage choice as a Campaign we cause 40 pints of said choice to be in one pub. The true members of this Campaign will stay whether they get these vouchers or not.
Make cutting beer duty to responsible drinkers in pubs and clubs another priority. It goes hand in hand with No. 5 and will get people into pubs and stop them buying cut-price beer in supermarkets.
This one could be controversial but embrace cider and perry! A lot of the under-30s category and a lot of women aren’t so big on cask ale but membership subs are membership subs and let us continue the entirety of the Campaign’s work. Cider and perry is just as under threat from big business and EU-wide rules on cider duty so let’s support them too!
Represent drinkers, but don’t just bend over backwards and start campaigning for all ‘quality’ (how very open to interpretation…) beers. We are the Campaign for Real Ale. We have moulded to suit in saving pubs and being the drinker’s voice on sensible matters but we can arrest our decline without wholesale change which will alienate a majority of our membership to try and entice an unknown number of new members.
And so I also offer some final conclusions. I think CAMRA still has a lot of potential based mostly on its current aims and such but it needs more to engage with the younger age group and to get them ‘hooked’ on real ale and cider as it is these people who will continue its work and legacy in years to come. Diluting CAMRA with talk of all beers, keg beers and whatever else is simply trying to find new ways of being relevant and showing a complete lack of creativity in the modern landscape. The other thing is talk of the ‘Craft Beer Revolution’ – and like any ‘fad’ or ‘trend’ it will die. If we adapt to suit something that will probably be a burst bubble in the next 5 years, we will have alienated people with many years left of service to this Campaign and then we will lose the people we have changed to accommodate.
I for one think we have to step up our game. Some branches don’t have Facebook or Twitter; and we need to have a relatively standard yet enticing template for branch websites across the land so that people want to be taken in by them. We also need to promote ourselves far more: get into more newspapers, do some charity work at our beer festivals to support our communities and even get into universities and colleges on Fresher’s week to recruit people to CAMRA and, hopefully, university beer societies.
I really hope that CAMRA won’t change on the whim of the few. We can weather this storm and excel with what and who we currently have.
I was told recently by the Managing Director of a major UK brewery that "Cask ale has been saved, you don't need to campaign for it any more!" It is when things like that are said by people in those sorts of positions that I fear for cask ale more than ever.
05 / FEB / 2018
And so we open the new week with yet more hard work underway. The entire place has been hoovered in preparation for the carpet then being gingerly rolled up and thrown away for some flooring to be placed; and we are also adding events to the calendar all the time! For example, our Tap Takeover nights now include Leigh on Sea Brewery from Essex and Dhillons Brewery of Coventry; but the first honours go to Wantsum Brewery near Canterbury. We are also working to have events with Tankleys Brewery and No Frills Joe Brewing.
We also took a chance to read over the Bexley CAMRA branch newsletter and volunteering form for the Beer Festival. Whilst it is hard for me to perhaps be totally impartial as Committee members get to vote; I have cast my vote for Pub of the Year based on what is really important: community focus, quality of beer, welcome, service and atmosphere. It was always doubtless that this year I would be voting for Andy and The Broken Drum in Blackfen because I cannot fault it at all. The other thing we really ought to do this year is to mix it up - as a Branch we send the winner up to the London region and then to the national finals. For the past three years we haven't been able to get a regional winner but following the recent win of 'The Drum' at the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood (SPBW) as London winner it is clear that Andy has the chance to win for Bexley on the regional and even national stage.
I hope other branch members in Bexley can make sure to vote and make their vote count. That said, everyone at 'The Belle' is rooting for you, Andy!
26 / JAN / 2018
Well it's been an incredible week at 'The Belle'. So far we have managed to get the following key tasks sorted:
- Stripped the stairs down ready to be restored
- Began work on the downstairs (Ladies') bathroom
- Stripped the flooring upstairs in the Gents' toilet ready for the new flooring
- Ordered and received our new Art Deco tiling for the two bathrooms
- Ordered our stunning flooring for the bathrooms and the 'Saloon'
- Ordered and got our installation date for our new glass shopfront with grille
- Sorted out our paint and wallpaper
- Sorted out our bench seating, bar and other items to be furnished in real hardwood
- Completed our cellar room and prepare for our racking system
- Installed the kitchen worktops, plumbing and two kitchen sinks
- Wired in our smoke detectors, CCTV and intruder alarms
- Got our install date for our new back door
- Prepared our ceiling for the soundproofing and smooth finish
- Washed the walls ready for painting
And of course a couple of other bits so we're looking pretty good!
We are also very pleased to announce our first event on Thursday March 8th. It will be our first (of many!) Pub Quiz events and will be part of the World's Biggest Pub Quiz event for Prostate Cancer UK. We hope to see as many of you there as possible!
25 / JAN / 2018
We are very pleased to say that on Day 4 of our mass effort to get 'The Belle' open sharpish we have made significant progress. Things we have completed include running all of the wiring for our CCTV, smoke alarm and intruder systems; ordering our shop front; buying our stunning Art Deco tiling; finishing our 'Cold Room' and now with a loft hatch and storage above the kitchen; sorting out our kitchen worktops etc; cutting out and laying a new floor upstairs ready for our flooring; surveying parts of the original staircase and a fantastic door we found ready for some love to be put back in pride of place and a bit more.
20 / JAN / 2018
We certainly are guilty of neglecting the Blog in the past couple of weeks but its all for the right reasons! We've got a huge quantity of work ongoing and on Monday 22nd January the project really gets rocket boosters. We've ordered the most incredible flooring; gone for the whole glass shop front and even sorted out a bespoke bar which will tie it all together!
So what else have we been doing? We've been talking with our friends at Tankleys Brewery about some collaboration on an intriguing midweek themed event and the words "Nelson" and "Sauvin" were mentioned (*Goosebumps*) as well as speaking to some breweries about Tap Takeover rights in the first few months of opening. We've also got our outline plans for the "Cider Week" in May but, most importantly, I've also sorted out my holiday to Worcester on a narrowboat!
We also asked people if they'd rather we go 'radio silence' on the social media front or keep them in the loop with regular updates and it appears people don't want to be surprised so we'll keep including some photos of the build as we go.
It's been a marathon and not a sprint but as I sit on this remarkably warm Virgin Pendolino zipping at 125mph back to Euston and the Bree Louise I am very pleased. Not about anything special, just about being able to thaw out having lifted a couple of tonnes of railway track panelling on a hand crane in the snow at the now closed Electric Railway Museum.
I must be bloody mad...
12 / DEC / 2017 (2)
We've had a great evening setting up the chalet. So what do we have? Check out our Beers on Now page which will temporarily have our selection of beers for the 13-23 December.
12 / DEC / 2017
We headed to the chalets in Bexleyheath this morning to grab ourselves a look at our home for the next 11 days. We've also decided to have a charity night for Age UK and see how many people want to indulge in the Christmas spirit with us and have a drink in the market on Thursday 21st. We can't wait to see you all!
11 / DEC / 2017
We're back to blogging this week with some great news - our online store is now OPEN! You can order fantastic local beers for pick up in our Christmas Market chalet in Bexleyheath from the 13th to 23rd December. Perfect for Christmas and New Year and as gifts we have a plentiful supply of bottles to suit every palate - including American Pale Ale, Amber Ale, Stout, Porter, Hefeweizen and more!
We will also be working with No Frills Joe Brewing Co selling draft beers as well as selling the fantastic Hawkes 'Elephants on Ice' Mulled Cider! Get yourselves down to Bexleyheath and say hello!
02 / DEC / 2017
Shortest possible blog post just to say we are in possession of the better terms from the Bexley Council planning department which makes our offering even better! We've had it confirmed we can stock and sell amazing locally-produced cheeses, pork pies, scotch eggs and such in platters and can open until later on weekdays and weekends including on Sundays. We're also being allowed outdoor seating!
Time to hit London for a celebratory pint...
01 / DEC / 2017
Not a huge blog post from me today as I feel I got a huge amount of information out with a lengthy Facebook post. You can find it on our Facebook page!
I did, however, take some time off last night to go and visit our friends at The Hopper's Hut and then The Hackney Carriage with my good friend Jacob. I almost called an ambulance as he crow-bared open his wallet to buy me a pint - long may it continue! In a complete coincidence, it just so happened that our 'loaned' cask of Station Porter was on in 'The Hut' and it tasted fantastic. Brew Buddies have done a grand job really packing it full of chocolate, coffee, dark caramel and vanilla and it will surely be a customer favourite as we plan to stock it all year round!
Down at 'The Hackney', I was able to take a good 15 minutes to talk with Mark (Liz was having a well-deserved night off) over a pint of Arbor's Nelson Sauvin Pale Ale at a hefty 7%. It's tradition to have a pint of their nominated 'Strong Beer Thursday' special and it didn't disappoint as the Nelson Sauvin hops really shone through - hence why we chose to use it in a big way in the No Frills Joe / Kentish Belle collaboration Belgian Ale. A case of 12 bottles will set you back less than £30 for Christmas in the online shop so get ready to buy!
I'm not sure how much I can say on the other piece of good news I had today which relates to the potential starting of a Campaign for Real Ale dedicated Cider festival in London which is being led by some fantastic people with cider-making pedigree and real passion for the product. It's being held at a fantastic venue which will be easy to reach from our part of the world and I will keep everyone updated.
And now time for a cup of Yorkshire Gold tea...
28 / NOV / 2017
A quick trip down to No Frills Joe Brewing Company in Greenhithe this morning to see Jack and check on progress of the Belgian Ale which, despite being a bit unorthodox, pays beautiful homage to the malty and rich amber colour of a real Belgian beer.
Jack and I passed about 50 text messages between us in the process of sorting out the recipe. Using Munich Malt for that creamy note and a frothy head, a good hit of Special B malt (caramel and raisin flavours and a dark colour) and some wheat; the malt liquor (wort) was separated with a little bit held back (that is then used to prime the bottles with fresh 'sugar' instead of just using refined white sugar) but most used to boil. Summit hops were liberally applied for a good bitterness with some spicy, peppery and citrusy characteristics before being allowed to cool at which point the holy grail of New World hops was added: Nelson Sauvin. This hop is known mostly for its unbelievable white wine and grape notes which have really come out in the aroma and flavour of this beer. The flavour as a whole is difficult to describe but it was very drinkable at 9am, then 11am and even just after midday as we went through the stages of lovingly bottling this nectar for you all!
Jack seemed to make a joke about my doing manual labour in sanitising and drying the bottles, stacking them ready for the bottling process and then putting on the lids with a 'lidding' contraption. What on earth was he implying, I wonder?
I then sampled his keg 'Not another Lager' which, amazingly, was like a lager but also a departure from a lager. It was remarkably crisp, beautifully chilled and just hit the spot. I had to leave before 1pm and I was then notified that my favourite food at the Tap Room, his wife's cream puffs (a bit like a profiterole but with some really good Creme Anglais), had arrived. Blast!
Now to enjoy some Nigella Lawson...
27 / NOV / 2017
We're sitting here just musing over all of what we've achieved so far and what is to come as we build this website. We've gone for minimal and hope you can enjoy it as a quick and easy source of information!
So where is the pub as of today? Well, a lot has happened in the last couple of weeks which has made this joint venture into a one-man operation and I wish Martin all the best for the future. Together we built a cool room, a ladies' toilet, got the gents' toilet pretty much sorted and took a rather standard shop and made it into a stunning open plan Micropub.
We've sponsored and run a beer festival to celebrate the closure of the Electric Railway Museum in Coventry and built new relationships and strengthened existing ones. We've had our own beer made (Station Porter) and can't wait to tuck into the Tankleys Imperial Stout. There's even a few hundred bottles of Belgian Ale from No Frills Joe just waiting to slide across your taste buds and we cannot wait to open our Christmas Market chalet in Bexleyheath Town Centre to whet your appetites with stunning bottled craft beers from local breweries for Christmas. Make sure you stock up!
And so to bed...
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