Category Archives: Drink

Save our pubs – use ’em or lose ’em


Nearly 900 pubs closed down in rural Britain last year. It’s a clear indication that traditional village life is under threat of extinction in many parts of the country – including ours.

The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) has revealed that 893 pubs closed in rural areas last year, with 195 new boozers opening – leading to a net loss of 698 in 2009. The previous year, an estimated 650 country pubs called last orders on their businesses.

This is despite ICM polling commissioned by the Federation showing 82% of country dwellers say a pub is an important part of a village, including 46% who say it is ‘very important’.

Village shops are also in rapid decline with around 400 closing in 2008, while schools closed at the rate of one a month in rural England between 1997 and 2008.

The Federation said the mass closures reflected a declining demand for services in villages where local families – the core customer base – had been priced out of the area by wealthy commuters, pensioners and second home owners.

Federation chief executive David Orr said: “The cornerstones of traditional village life, such as the local school, the shop and the pub, are disappearing from the rural landscape at an alarming rate. 

“Rural towns and villages need to have mixed, working communities, otherwise there is a very real danger our countryside will become little more than a theme park for weekenders.

Brigid Simmonds, BBPA chief executive, added: “Along with local shops, post offices and schools, village pubs are pivotal to the life of local communities across Britain. Pubs act as much more than a social venue. They are a focal point for sports teams, local groups and meetings. In addition they provide a range of community services like post offices and shops.  We need a climate that allows these community businesses to thrive.” 

Mike Benner, CAMRA chief executive, said: “There is a pressing need for the Government to support community pubs and other local services, which is why CAMRA has praised moves by Nigel Adams MP to bring forward a new Parliamentary Bill with the potential to empower local communities threatened with the loss of local landmarks such as the pub. 

“Such potentially groundbreaking legislation could help to redress the current crippling UK pub closures, but there is still a huge amount of work to be done to prevent rural communities from losing their irreplaceable social hubs.”

Part of the problem is the ‘Tesco-isation’ of every aspect of our lives. Cheap booze, cheap tellies, microwave curries. Many people now prefer to sit indoors sipping a chardonnay and munching their microwave dinners, watching strictly or updating Facebook – rather than spend a couple of hours in the pub actually talking to people. Pubs are under threat because they can’t compete on price with the supermarkets. But they can compete as a social hub – and we don’t really want to bring about the redundancy of face to face human interaction.

Over the years many pubs have gone; The Wheatsheaf (house), The Barley Mow (flats), The Dragon (house), The Fitzwilliam Arms (now Fratellis). The by-pass has reduced passing trade but the population of the village can still sustain two pubs.

I have it on good authority that one of our two remaining pubs could close if the lack of use continues. And the first to complain when it goes will be those that live locally but never involve themselves in village life and visit the pub once a year for a Christmas pint.

So – use it or lose it.


Slow sloe quick quick sloe gin

It’s almost sloe gin time again.

Sloes, the fruit of the blackthorn (Prunus Spinosa) can be steeped in good quality gin to create a strong winter warmer…sloe gin.

The bitter blue-black fruit makes an excellent flavour for gin. Its blood coloured flesh darkens the clear spirit to a rich dark pink.

Traditionally, it’s better to wait until the first autumn frost before picking sloes. The frost splits the skin and breaks up the flesh of the fruit, enhancing the flavour it imparts to the spirit. Nowadays, a frost can mean waiting until late October or early November. The fruit is ripe and at it’s best before then so if you want to find that the best fruit pick in late September/early October and freeze it. The fruit is ripe when it has a bloom on it.

If you start now you will have a smooth, rich liqueur ready for Christmas. Traditionally a winter drink, sloe gin will mature into the base of long ice cold cocktails you can enjoy in the summer too. So make plenty.

So, how do you make it. Use a quality gin. Plymouth is good but it depends on your taste. Prick the sloes. Take a sealable parfait (preserve) jar and start filling it with sloes. For each layer of sloes add a layer of caster sugar and alternate the layers of sloes and sugar until you reach the top of the jar. Then add gin until the jar is full, add a few drops of vanilla essence and then seal the jar.

Put it in a dark cupboard and give it a light shake every day for a few weeks. Then as the sugar dissolves shake it once a week. After about eight weeks strain the gin through muslin into bottles. Enjoy some at Christmas but remember that the longer you leave it the better it will taste.

Don’t forget to keep some of the fruit that has been steeped in the gin. remove the stones, stir into a bowl full of melted dark chocolate, pour the mixture out onto crease proof paper lined tins and then allow to cool.

A delicious chocolate liqueur treat for Christmas…or any other time for that matter.