This is a guest post by Neil Bowness, fellow #cbag (Cumbria Beer Appreciation Group) founder and partner in Plain Creative of Kendal.
I'll start by saying that it isn't my sort of thing: I'm not at my most comfortable in a suit, so a black tie dinner doesn't sit too well with me. The 'entertainment' for the evening wasn't perhaps something that I would have chosen either – amateur boxing – but my fellow diners seemed to approve and the pugilists went about their sport with great gusto.
But I've already digressed. The event in question was “An Evening of Boxing” held at Kendal Town Hall last Thursday. Reception at 7:00, dinner at 7:30 prompt. Forty of your English pounds, thank you very much.
It was arranged and hosted by the Kendal & South Lakeland Licensed Victuallers Association (LVA) and, as you would expect, the landlords of the district were out in numbers along with a liberal helping of local businessmen, presided over by the town's mayor and other dignitaries.
So far, so good – nothing to write home (or on Jeff's blog) about. Well, not so good, actually, and the reason is beer.
The beer served was, to be quite honest, uninspiring: Tetley Smooth and Carlsberg. Granted, these may be staples of bars the length and breadth of the country, but one would have expected that for an event which is the highlight of the LVA's year that someone could have made at least a little effort.
I say 'a little effort' because that is all it would have taken to have some very good local beer on offer as there are, within roughly a 20 mile radius, eight very good breweries to choose from: Hawkshead, Barngates, Coniston, Cumbrian Legendary, Watermill, Dent, Winster Valley and Kirkby Lonsdale.
So would it be stretching things too far to enquire if any of these breweries would care to supply the beer for this event? I really can't imagine that any of them would pass up on the opportunity to have a couple of casks or kegs on offer for what was, essentially, a room full of landlords, so I have to assume that no-one from the LVA could be bothered trying.
Kendal is not unique in that it has seen a fair number of pubs close down, something which only last year the Chairman of the LVA commented as being a “sign of a crumbling industry”. Fair comment. But there are pubs that are doing well in my town, but they are the ones that are making an effort, especially when it comes to their wet sales.
I know the argument stands about tied pubs and what they can stock, but my argument also stands that a lot of pubs in my town have simply given up, as long as it keeps the wolf from the door. Does it come down to pure economics or do they simply not care? They would say the former, I would argue for the latter.
My companion for the evening - who had invited me to the event - suggested we left early (just after the cheese board was passed round) and it was just a short stroll to Burgundy's Wine Bar. Yes. I said “wine bar”.
Burgundy's is something of an institution, with a well-deserved reputation for its beer, both local real ale and world and specialist beers. On the bar that evening were beers from Yates and Coniston brewing alongside Fruli and Liefmans Fruit, with Goose Island, Orval and Rochefort amongst the bottled offerings. A merciful ending to the evening.
Yes, I know Burgundy's is very much a free house, but there are also tied pubs in Kendal who have negotiated some degree of flexibility when it comes to guest beers and they are the ones which are doing well. They haven't given up, they do care and their customers appreciate this.
Maybe Kendal is a snapshot of parochial market towns around the country, but as long as there are a few pubs and bars that do keep on trying then I shall continue to give them my support and, unfortunately, stay away from the others.
I must also pass comment on the food served at the event in question: it was fabulous, quite superb, the best meal I've had in Kendal for some time. It was also prepared and served by the students of Kendal College. If this is testament to their abilities then we have nothing to fear on that front, just a shame their skills could not have been paired alongside some worthy beverages.