Dom Morris, former licensee of the Devonshire Arms, pays tribute to Rob Wain, co-licensee of the Elm Tree, who passed away in early September. Our thoughts are with Rob’s wife Jess, his family and his many friends.
I was at Rob’s funeral on Thursday last week at the woodland burial ground. Having lowered the coffin into the ground, I stepped back and heard the celebrant start the ceremony. He opened with how kind Rob was, and how he collected waifs and strays.
I am one of those waifs and strays. I was in Reading in 2003, drinking to excess and not paying enough attention to my studies. One afternoon I was in the fabled Hobgoblin, a tiny little bare-bones pub which at that point boasted having served over 3,500 different real ales. I was chewing the fat with one of the regulars at the bar, and “hopped” off the bar stool to go and pay a visit to what constituted the toilets at that time. My legs failed and I ended up lying on the floor, feeling a little daft. At that point Rob walked in.
Having collected myself (and paid the visit) I then in my slightly inebriated and confident state asked “Hey, Rob! Got a job?!” He replied with a slightly gruff “Yeah. Thursday night. Just don’t do that again!”
What followed was honestly the best decade or so of my life. Rob employed a lovely young lady having seen her CV, which was definitely not his normal way of doing things. That lady is now my wife of 11 years and mother to our fantastic kids. Rob nurtured me, in a way I definitely did not deserve most of the time. At one point he invited me and my (now) wife to come up to Cambridge and run a pub with him, that at the time had a reputation as “the pub with no beer”.
I jumped at the chance. And never looked back. Making the Elm Tree a mecca of sorts for Belgian beers, Rob continued on his “quest” to collect the freaks and miscreants that he considered to be worthy of some love and to give them a home. Along the way, he collected Kyle (current chief of the Devonshire Arms) and Steve (current chief of the Panton Arms). Teaching us all not necessarily the best way of running all pubs, but definitely the best way of being ourselves, and getting the best out of the situations we find ourselves in.
Rob was a beautiful if stubborn SOAB, who saw the best in the people that he met. He loved without (many) conditions, but didn’t suffer fools gladly. His knowledge of beer, especially Belgian beer, was incredible but more amazing was his heart. He very kindly asked for me (along with Alice) to be his best man at his wedding to Jess back in 2016. I was his best man. He was the best man. I miss you mate. Rest now. We will keep the candle burning bright.
October Strolling Social
Although we can’t yet return to running our minibus mystery tours around rural pubs we can hold our Strolling Socials. In early September we were in the South of the city. Our next one will be on Saturday 23 October. The plan at the moment is to start at 1pm in the Red Bull in Newnham, walk through Grantchester Meadows to enjoy two of the pubs in Grantchester before moving on to Trumpington to visit two more pubs there. For up to date details of our October Stroll check on our website. In December we will probably take the train to Bury St Edmunds and stroll around some of the best pubs there.
Further disruption to beer and pub supplies
Last month I reported on how the shortage of delivery drivers at some of the larger beer distributers has meant that publicans have been getting in locally brewed beers to keep their pubs open. This week’s panic buying of fuel was also (initially) triggered by distribution problems. Recently there was another problem facing brewers and publicans : a shortage of carbon dioxide. Although CO2 isn’t needed to produce cask ales, it is often used when canning beer and also when serving many keg beers, including the mass-produced lagers which contribute significantly to pub turnover. Some pubs also use CO2 to drive pumps to get cask beer from cellars a long way from the bar. We also mustn’t forget the ongoing staff shortages that many pubs are facing. Is there no end to the challenges facing our publicans?
Sober for October and Quit for a Bit
The Macmillan Cancer Support charity is currently urging people to raise money for it by going Sober for October. The Alzheimer’s Society is doing likewise by urging people to Quit for a Bit by going “booze-free this November”. These are both splendid charities. Indeed they are just two of the many hundreds of charities that pubs across the country raise money for each year. A 2013 CGA survey showed pubs raise over £100 million for charity annually. Charities have suffered badly during the pandemic as they weren’t able to hold many of their fund-raising events and need help to recover. But it’s not just charities that need our support, our pubs do too as they have also suffered during the pandemic. So if you are fund-raising for either of these two charities by going Sober for October or Quitting for a Bit in November please do so without damaging our pubs. All our pubs serve soft drinks, tea, coffee and alcohol-free beers. Most of them also serve food. So if you are raising funds for charities by abstaining from alcohol over the next two months why not do it over a pie and an alcohol-free pint in your local.
On 27 October the Chancellor will be presenting the budget to Parliament. CAMRA nationally have been lobbying on behalf of drinkers and pub users. We would like to see: A new rate of duty on draught beer to help pubs to compete with supermarkets. Lower duty on beers below 3.5%. Positive reform of Small Brewers’ Relief with the 5,000 HL threshold retained. A new progressive duty system for cider. Fairer business rates for pubs. Lobbying in the run up to the budget is just part of the campaigning that CAMRA and its members carry out 52 weeks a year.
In September I have enjoyed beer and cider festivals at pubs in Shepreth, Dullingham and Stapleford as well as North Hertfordshire CAMRA’s beer festival in Hitchin. Although it’s now the autumn, festivals will continue, both pub festivals and CAMRA branch festivals. Those that we already know of are listed at the end of this email. We keep an up to date list of local events on our website’s events page. Please let us know of any that aren’t listed.
Many thanks to all our members who have been scoring their beers recently. In the five weeks to 27 September, of the pubs with multiple scores, the Maypole on Portugal Place and the Hare and Hounds in Harlton are the city and rural pubs with the highest averages. Beer scoring is easy to do via the pub’s WhatPub entry. If you have a smart phone and internet access you can score while you drink. If not you can do it from home later. Your beer scores help us to discover which pubs are serving the best beer and also helps in selecting candidates for the Good Beer Guide.
Thursday 23 September – Sunday 3 October. Cask Ale Week.
Friday 1 – Saturday 2 October. Fox-toberfest at the Fox, Burwell.
Wednesday 6 – Saturday 9 October. North Bedfordshire CAMRA’s Bedford Beer and Cider Festival.
Thursday 7 October. Tap Takeover by Wild Card brewery at the Blue Moon, Norfolk Street.
Thursday 7 – Saturday 9 October. Booze in the Pews at All Saints Parish Church, St Ives.
Tuesday 12 October from 8pm. Open branch meeting at the Three Horseshoes, Stapleford.
Saturday 23 October. Strolling Social. Newnham, Grantchester and Trumpington.
Monday 25 – Saturday 30 October. Norwich and District CAMRA’s Norwich Beer and Cider Festival.
Tuesday 30 October – Saturday 4 December. East London and City CAMRA’s Pig’s Ear Beer Festival.
Tuesday 9 November from 8pm. Open branch meeting at Calverley’s Brewery Taproom, Hooper Street.