Ok, so this isn’t a real pub quiz but it’s the next best thing: a German current affairs-themed online quiz with news magazine Der Spiegel! It’s called “News you may have missed 2011” and if, like me, you’re not German, then you’ve probably missed quite a bit. Never fear though as the questions are pretty lighthearted and when you get one wrong you’ll just be lightly admonished in a self-deprecatingly German kind of way.
Look out for tales of Yvonne, Germany’s famous runaway cow, a deadly Brazilian wandering spider let loose in a supermarket and my personal favourite, question 21: “In November, an armed burglar in Schwanewede, a town in northern Germany, was thwarted when he tried to rob a house. What prevented the masked gunman from carrying out his crime?” My guess: “He drank a bottle of vodka and fell asleep on the couch” was met with: “That is a surprisingly common occurrence here in Germany, but it is incorrect in this case.” Rats. Have a go to find out what really happened.
One last last thing before new year. Apparently, it’s a German national tradition to watch this come December 31st which is fair enough as a bit of slapstick surely beats a drunken rendition of Auld Lang Syne any day. Prosit Neujahr!
Cardiff is the most sociable city in Britain according to social network citysocialising.com. The site looked at the social habits of 160,000 people and found Cardiffians attend 28% more social events than the national average. People from Glasgow apparently prefer to keep themselves to themselves however, joining in with less then half the number of events compared with your standard city-dweller. Still, if you take a social event to be a “see you down the pub” to your mates rather than an “I wonder how many other web designers there are in Shoreditch who want to go to a wine bar tonight” pre-arranged, networked happening then the results might be a bit different. As was asked on Walesonline, “So who makes up all this drivel?”
Away from cozy PR fluff, 2012 doesn’t look so good for the UK’s pubs according to James Hall in the Daily Telegraph. The British Beer and Pub Association has said up to 1,500 establishments may close in the next two years as a five per cent increase in beer duty kicks in – on top of a 35 per cent rise since March 2008 – and new taxes are threatened including a “late night levy”. The measure is part of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, passed in September, which allows local licensing authorities to charge premises open beyond midnight up to £4,440 a year towards the cost of dealing with alcohol related disorder. Whether this will be applied fairly or contribute to more closures is a big question for pubs in 2012. Happy new year everyone?!
P.S. Dicmortimer’s pubocalypse post on Cardiff’s pub closures may be a bit rambling, but it’s well worth a read.
The big red dragon may be all over the City Arms on Quay Street, but a visit gets you much more than a watery pint of SA for your troubles. Brains have let one of their flagship city-centre pubs off the leash since landlord Chris Partridge took over in September last year and it now stocks a range of guest ales alongside the standard Rev James and Brains Dark. It’s also one of the most inviting watering holes in Cardiff with a permanent ruddy glow drawing-in regulars and passers-by alike from the capital cold.
Go inside. Now.
Brains have allowed Chris a free reign on which guest ales he gets in and these are rotated every two or three days. Combined with a range of ciders and continental lagers, this has made the City Arms a proper drinkers pub.
Here’s Mr Partridge on beer, Brains, and the new direction the City Arms has taken since he poured his first pint here more than a year ago:
The range of craft beers Brains will be bringing out in the new year has Chris excited. The company is responding to the rise in the number of small brewers in the last decade and to pub-goers who want more to choose from now their pints cost so much more than they do in the supermarket
The best use for a TV in a pub
Brew Wales blogger Arfur Daley is positive about what this means for the City Arms. The organiser of the Great Welsh Beer and Cider Festival also contests the charge that Cardiff has always been dominated by Brains pubs. “Ten years ago there was choice in Cardiff. I was running a freehouse in the city at the time and we did not have the competition from superpubs such as Wetherspoon, or the smoking ban. Brains have lost a lot of their Cardiff pubs since the 1980s due to the city centre being rebuilt and have expanded their estate outside of the city and even into England,” he says.
Mike is 24 – “born 35!” – and a Pembrokeshire-born City Arms regular. He also recognises that Brains have broadened their horizons and thinks this is a good thing for his pub of choice:
Derek, 55, and from Cardiff has also become a fixture at the City Arms since Chris took over, even though he lives outside the city. Alongside his partner Sarah, he chats amiably to Mike who is less than half his age and their group exemplifies the mix of customers the pub attracts from older drinkers to students and young professionals. He doesn’t think pub-goers lack for choice in Cardiff:
But this isn’t the view of the clutch of CAMRA members I came across on an earlier visit to the City Arms. Steve Avery tells me: “The landlord keeps his beer very well which is good for Cardiff – because there is sod all around.” Fellow drinker Norman Jenkins chimes in: “Brains is alright, it’s just the fact it’s so dominant. We would drink Brains if there was nothing else. A well kept pint of Brains Dark is fine.”
It seems that either as a manager, tenant or patron you’ve got to meet Brains in the middle in Cardiff. Rhys Gwn Lewis, landlord of the Royal Oak in Adamstown, knows the clout they have.
“You can strike deals with them, you can meet halfway in the middle really. They are a good company to work for; it’s give and take on both sides. They do put money back in. Some landlords will tell you they are a waste of space but me personally I have a good relationship,” he says.
Is it good for Rhys that Brains have so many pubs in Cardiff? “For Brains yes, for me no. There are two other Brains pubs within walking distance. Some people will only drink in Brains pubs,” he says. Still, Rhys has signed a ten-year contract with the company where the normal length is three. “We get on, we click. You have to click with Brains and if you don’t that’s it,” he adds.
Arfur Daley argues: “Brains remain a family-owned brewery and the pubs have changed, for the better over the years, with food becoming an important part of the business.” For beer enthusiasts like Arfur, it is always preferable for a pub to be owned by a brewery rather than a pub company.
So whatever you think of how Brains run things in Cardiff, at least they know about beer and have given Chris Partridge the chance to put his passion to work in a thriving pub with a viable business model. As CAMRA member Jim Conway puts it as he sups a pint in the City Arms: “There are bigger brewers than Brains but for this area they are huge. It just happens to be Brains here; they are just part of the game.”
Straying a little further from Cardiff pubs but still on the seasonal binge-drinking path, here’s Kim Willsher in The Observer today on London’s “booze bus”: an ambulance which heads out at weekends solely to deal with the capital’s most ‘tired and emotional’ residents. This takes pressure off 999 teams and helps protect vulnerable women in particular from being robbed or assaulted while they’re comatose.
Typing ‘booze bus Cardiff’ into Google gets you a very different type of vehicle, namely the stretch limos which take rowdy hen parties round the block a bit before dropping them off at Flares. You can even rent an old red Routemaster for the purpose, like the one I spotted off-duty on Corbett Road earlier. Next stop Marble Arch (or the Heath).
I went out at 2am this morning after Will Humphries somehow persuaded me to help him film a capital night out. Apart from feeling like we were in Shaun of the Dead (or worse, like Daily Mail reporters) it wasn’t too bad and most of the ‘loons’ police warned us about seemed to be stumbling home without causing trouble.
Plenty of revelers were under-dressed for the chilly temperatures though with guys hugging their torsos, leaving empty t-shirt sleeves flapping, and women going barefoot to doubtless save themselves from more blisters.
I’m sure Black Friday will be a whole other proposition if snow doesn’t affect things as it did last year so perhaps we’ll give that one a miss, eh Will?! Not to mention you owe me a burger, sunshine. Check-out Will’s blog for some footage and a full report soon.
The Cricketers in Pontcanna is one of a number of non-Brains-owned pubs on Cathedral Road which have been getting capital drinkers excited recently. Coming in from the cold on a wet night makes you feel like a country squire after a grouse hunt, complete with a dozy brown labrador slumped by the hottest mock-coal fire this side of Hades.
The huge bay window of this grand Victorian semi further opens out a vast drinking/eating/sitting/snoozing area filled mostly with smart diners: check shirts, v-necks and hush puppies are the order of the evening. So, too, is food. The Cricketers is definitely a gastropub and visiting just for the beer is clearly a bad choice given its grub was a regional winner at the Great British Pub Awards 2011.
This is as close as it is physically safe to go
Still the Evans Evans festival, running until December 14 with the pub’s sister company in Llandeilo, puts five brand new brews on tap to distract from all that lovely hake and pork belly you’re not eating. The Archers Strong Ale is certainly that at 5.5% and is described, in a way only ales can be, as “deceivingly quaffable”. It’s a bit sweet for my taste but is nice and rich as well as good value at £2.70.
Evans Evans are certainly asserting themselves lately having bought Swindon-based Archers in 2009, which they re-opened this year. They’ve also gone on a heavy publicity drive to celebrate 245 years of the Buckley family’s brewing in West Wales.
Tapping into the festival spirit
Cricketers manager Michelle Francis hasn’t had the pub for quite that long having taken it over almost a year-and-a-half ago. Regular John Griffiths (who we can forgive his pint of lager), says she “runs a tight ship”. “It’s very friendly and they let dogs in” he adds. This fact is clearly very important to Cricketers patrons, though it’s hard to imagine too many rottweilers get brought in. A picture of Mr Griffiths’s black labrador Thomas, sadly absent tonight, sits proudly behind the bar.
Mr Griffiths has another reason for his loyalty: after he was unlucky enough to be mugged in Bute Park recently, the staff kept things sweet with the guests whom he was meant to be wining and dining. “From the police station I phoned up and they made sure my clients were looked after while I was giving statements which was nice. I don’t go anywhere else,” he says. Now that’s service.