Monday, 9 January 2012

Nip this prohibitionist nonsense in the bud

Right, this is important. We are facing a potential alcohol ban on trains in Scotland. It is only a bit of flag-waving at the moment, but it needs a good hard kick in the goolies to put it off the agenda.

There has always been a streak of repressive puritanism in the Scottish Labour Party with regard to alcohol, and I’ve been in public meetings where sitting councillors have said things along the lines of “Why does anyone need to be out drinking at two o’clock in the morning anyway?”

It’s thanks to this small-mindedness that we’re not allowed to have a refreshing bottle of beer on the street in Glasgow, or to crack open a bottle of wine with a picnic in one of the city’s verdant parks.

Unfortunately, in this respect the SNP is even worse than Labour.

The SNP-controlled West Dunbartonshire Council, for instance, has a policy of granting no new licenses, the effect of which, of course, is not so much to inhibit the proliferation of squalid drinking dens, but to prevent any good new places from opening.

Now the prohibitionist hysteria has spilt over into the public transport sector. It was only to be expected, since over the last couple of decades one local authority after another has imposed a blanket ban on drinking in public. That one can still have a drink on a train has come to seem like an anomaly, rather than quite natural and ordinary as it once was.

Rail 2014, the discussion paper that Transport Scotland has put forward as a basic for renegotiating rail franchises, is a document which is going to be controversial for all sorts of other reasons, but the article pertinent to this blog reads:

“10.18 One of the most distressing ways to spend a rail journey is to be subject to the bad behaviour of other passengers. This can be fuelled by excessive drinking of alcohol. Currently BPT and ScotRail implement alcohol bans on specific services during events (such as services to/from rugby and football matches). However consideration is being given to whether there should be a ban on the consumption of alcohol on all trains in Scotland and we welcome views.”

Now a proposed ban of this kind is, as far as I know, unprecedented anywhere in Europe.

It would prevent hillwalkers having a dram from their hip flasks on the journey along the West Highland Line. It would prevent couples sharing a bottle of wine on a train. Absurdly, it would mean hen parties going to Newcastle for the weekend would have to wait to open their bottle of cava until Berwick-upon-Tweed. It would prevent thousands of completely innocent passengers legitimately enjoying a beverage in a responsible manner.

The purported benefit of a ban is extremely dubious. I’d wager that most drunk people causing trouble on trains are drunk before they get on. A ban on the train won’t affect them.

Has any research been done? Or is it just the result of prejudice on the part of people who, like the Labour councillor of old, can’t imagine why any respectable person would want to have a drink on a train?

Tourists from other countries who come to Scotland to visit the hills and glens will have no comprehension of this policy at all. It does not exist in their home countries, and can only convince them that Scotland is an odd, miserable, grey wee statelet ruled by fanatics, where you can't even have a beer on a train.

I urge all my readers to write to Transport Scotland and their MSPs opposing this proposal. You can download a response form at and read the document in its entirety here.

If you’d like to make your opinions known in person, there are a few more meet-the-managers sessions to go: 10 January at Glasgow Central railway station, 12 January at Edinburgh Waverley, 17 January at Inverness, 20 January at Perth, 24 January at Kirkcaldy, 31 January at Ayr, 2 February at Stranraer.

Sunday, 8 January 2012


Excellent way to get the message out to punters that you are a crappy pub run by sleazy people.

Is this even legal?

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Bonnie beers of Loch Lomond

As I have been saying for quite some time, you can’t move in Scotland at the moment without a new microbrewery popping up while you’re looking the other way.

One of the newest is Loch Lomond Brewery in Alexandria just south of Balloch. Fiona and Euan  have been homebrewing for a few years before setting up the brewery, which made its first beer in October. I took the train up on a drizzly Sunday in December to have a look (I wasn’t the first blogger to visit – Adam got there before me).

The beers are currently being sold in the Village Inn in Arrochar and have been sighted in the Bon Accord and Pot Still in Glasgow too. The brewery is also in talks with a well-known department store about stocking bottled beer. I think bottling is a smart move – what tourist at Loch Lomond wouldn’t want a bottle or two of local beer?

Of the beers made so far, Ale of Leven is a sweetish heavy-type ale while Bonnie ’n’ Bitter is a hoppier beer somewhere between Deuchars and Bitter & Twisted. A darker ale called Kessog was being brewed when I visited.

To be honest, I was expecting an amateurish little brewery making dull beers. I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. No awards for innovation (yet), but the beers are good and polished with none of the dodgy notes that sometimes plague start-up breweries. It’s difficult to believe they’ve only been brewing commercially for three months. I look forward to tasting more of their products in the coming year.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Greene King Strong Suffolk

The less popular beers from big breweries, to me, often make better drinking. I’ve long suspected that this is because they don’t sell enough for it to be worthwhile reformulating the recipes to save cash.

It’s not often that I have anything good to say about Greene King, but credit where credit is due.

Old people like me who grew up on Michael Jackson’s books will have heard the story of Strong Suffolk. Greene King brew a massively strong barley wine, Old 5X, in Bury St Edmunds, age it for years in oak and blend it with a younger beer to make a strong ale they call Strong Suffolk. None of their surviving contemporaries do that any more. It’s a unique relic in British brewing.

Imagine my surprise when a local pub tweeted that they had it on draught!

This is a real slice of brewing history in a glass, worth trying for that reason alone.

What I like about these old-school strong ales is that the hopping hasn’t been dumbed down to suit the timid palate of neophytes. Rich, winey and treacley though they may be, there is a decent tongue-sucking bitterness on the finish.

I may be imagining things but I think you can taste the aged beer.

The only quibble I have is that the strength has been reduced — down to 5.0% from the old strength of 6.0% in bottle. I suppose this is excessive caution on the part of the pub company, who don’t want people downing six pints of it and throwing up behind the Christmas tree, but it does mean that it is rather more watery than the unctuous bottled version.

Nonetheless it’s a delight to see this on the bar in a pub. There may be microbreweries who are aging beer in wood now, but Greene King – albeit marketing-led blandmongers most of the time — are the only ones in England still doing it continuously since the old days. I’ll salute that.

(Listen to me Greene King. Promote this stuff. You are good at this.)

(Listen to me readers. There may still be some of this beer about in M&B pubs. Drink it if you see it.)