‘We don’t give a XXXX for blue movies or the amber nectar’

It could have been one of Somerset’s best-kept secrets – the little cinema at the rear of an ancient watering hole, showing soft porn films. And when the Griffin Inn re-opened as a real ale pub, some previous customers arrived expecting spicy entertainment with their pints – but were quickly shown the door.

“Some old boys asked me when the film show was starting,” said owner Rik Lyall, and when I asked them what sort of films, they replied, ‘You know – the mucky ‘uns! Apparently, the blue films were a feature, after-hours.”

The Griffin, is listed in the record books as being one of the first pubs to be established in Frome, and could date back to the middle of the 16th century. It is in one of the oldest parts of Mendip’s biggest town and is one of the few inns there which have seen a rapid increase in clients, at a time when other public houses have been calling last orders – blaming Government legislation and the credit crunch for their demise.

Rik believes the success is due to his private brewery, which produces enough real ale to satisfy his own regulars, and offer supplies to other enthusiasts in the area. He also runs the bar at the popular Cheese and Grain Centre, which attracts top bands and acts from around the country, and much of Frome’s home-grown talent – “of which there is plenty,” says Rik.

Compared to the big boys, not much ale actually comes out of the fermenting vessels, but the 9,000 pints a week which do are acclaimed by the Campaign for Real Ale as some of the best nectar in Britain, and quickly quaffed by locals and visitors. Rik already has plans to expand the brewery, which will mean a move to bigger premises to satisfy demand.

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Live music, quizzes, traditional pub games, theme nights and a heated smoking area are also provided for customers, and when the inn celebrates the 10th anniversary of its new lease of life next year, a kitchen will provide traditional pub grub, while firmly sticking to its tradition of being a drinking inn.

“We will always be a wet-led pub, concentrating on the beer,” promises Rik. “That has what has brought the customers back, and that is what they want. The food and things like the pool table upstairs are just extras.”

No draught lagers or ciders will be found in this pub, now or in the future. Any bottles or substances of a dubious nature brought into the pub by hopeful salesmen used to find a place on the “shelf of shame” – established to show everyone what they are glad to be missing.

The Griffin re-opened in May 1999 after being closed down with an uncertain future for more than 18 months – a previous landlord’s wheeze to increase trade, by supplying regulars with T-shirts inscribed with the pub’s name, and sending them off to spread the word to rival establishments, blew up in his face. They took his money, spent it elsewhere, and never returned.

One regular at the old pub is a resident ghost, which has never been seen, although is prone to playing pranks. Efforts to find the spook’s lair were abandoned after one investigator, exploring the entrance to an old cellar tunnel with a suitable beverage in his hand, fled when the half-pint glass exploded.

Rik had been at the Cotleigh Brewery on the Somerset/Devon border in Wiveliscombe until January 1999, and was responsible for developing its range of beers using American, Australian and New Zealand hops.

“I was living in Frome,” says Rik, whose CV also includes Bunces (now Stonehenge) and Hop Back, “and found the travelling to Wiveliscombe at the other end of the county too much. When the opportunity at the Griffin presented itself, I jumped at it.”

His passion for home-brewing began when he was a pupil at a Guildford school. He then went on to take a course on beer production, got his qualifications and became a professional brewer.

“One of the first beers that I perfected,” recalls Rik, “was the golden beer of Guildford. Using only pale ale malt from the home-brew shop and flavoured with Goldings, I created one of the first summer time beers. This was in 1983, and several years before Exmoor Gold kicked off the whole golden ales boom.

“I was very influenced by what I was drinking from Oddbins at the time, beers such as Pilsner Urquell and the French bière de garde Jenlain. I took these influences and combined them with my knowledge of Gales HSB and bottles of the same brewery’s Prize Old Ale.”

Inspired by the fact that ancient Britons had been brewing concoctions down the ages, he decided to study books on ancient recipes, and also acquired some ideas from local brewing enthusiasts. “I made a green- tinged nettle beer and also a spruce beer using spruce essence. I would love to recreate this. It was more of an old-fashioned ale with quite a low hopping rate and a delicious resinous note to it,” he said.

Like most home-brewers, he found that some things didn’t turn out quite as expected.

Rik recalls: “While still at school, one day I was awoken with the most terrific explosion. The day before I had started making a gallon of rice and raisin wine. During the night, a raisin had swelled, due to the carbon dioxide from the yeast working, risen up and become lodged in the airlock, thus preventing the gas escaping.

“The explosion saw all of the raisins deposited all over the ceiling of my bedroom.

“After this my father, who was always quite supportive of my efforts, despite coming home from work to find the floor sticky with malt and the bath full of bottles being sterilised, became more hesitant over my wine-making.”

As well as being responsible for the golden ale of Guildford, Rik claims to be the originator of a black beer specific to the town.

“In 1985, I developed a recipe for a stout that literally came out pitch black. At the time it weighed in at six per cent and tasted delicious. My father recently moved and reminded me that I still had some bottles of wine up in the loft. Among the bottles of elderflower wine was one last bottle of my black beer, Chateau Artington Walk 1985.

“After settling it for a few days back in Frome, I chilled it, knocked off the top and was amazed that, even 22 years later, it was still magnificent. The bottle had been in the loft, where the temperature had been going up and down throughout the year, but there was no spoilage or off-flavours present.

“There was just a lovely smooth well- conditioned stout with the flavour of the roasted malt coming through, as well as hints of licorice and burnt chocolate.

“I really thought it was going to be a bottle of vinegar. Shame there was only the one, but it shows that I was doing something right even then.”

The eight-barrel brewery is a showpiece for Milk Street’s carefully crafted beers such as Beer, Funky Monkey and Zigzag Stout.

“I called the locals’ favourite Beer because I wanted it to stand on its own merit without a fancy name,” says Rik. “I like to experiment, – that is something that comes from working at Bunces, Hop Back and Cotleigh, as well as my past history as a home-brewer.’

He is proud of another brew, Elderbeer, an unfiltered and unpasteurised wheat beer that contains elderflower. Only Rik, as head brewer, and his assistant James, produce the beer, using malt from nearby Warminster, hops from Charles Faram and their own yeast. “A very versatile one and a similar strain to Young’s,” says Rik.

He also employs a woman in the office to deal with orders, and a bar manager, Charlie Thomas – a pretty blonde who also organises the entertainment. His wife Cathy is a teacher at Frome Community College.

“We are still developing the Griffin and always looking for new ideas,” said Rik, proudly showing off a new stained-glass window he has installed in the bar, with a griffin emblem.

“A nice fire, a warm welcome, good beer, and plenty of good music and entertainment really is a recipe for success.”

The Griffin, 25 Milk Street, Frome, Somerset BA11 3DB. Tel: 01373 467766 or 07879 423424. Email: sales@milkstreetbrewery.co.uk

Factfile

Frome can be proud of is its long-established brewing tradition that was cemented with the foundation of the Lamb Brewery in 1853 by brothers John and Thomas Baily.

The Lamb was a thriving company, which owned more than 70 pubs at one stage, including Victoria Inn and Lamb Hotel at Christchurch Street East and the Angel & Crown Inn at Vallis Way. Newspaper adverts proclaimed the fame of their XX Burton, Invalid Porter (Double Stout) and Pale Ale, the latter a beer that was promoted as a “family beer”.

This was the time when beer was the universal drink of both working and middle classes, with the latter showing a love for sparkling pale ales and turning their backs on what they perceived were the murky, muddy waters of the worker’s porters and strong milds. The age of the so-called running beers, or bitter, was about to dawn.

The late 19th century also saw the amalgamation of Bath Arms Brewery, Castle Brewery, and Badcox Brewery to form Frome United Breweries, with brewing taking place at the now demolished Badcox site. In 1955, the company merged with the Lamb Brewery to form Frome & Lamb. Sadly, Ushers and the Stroud Brewery gobbled it up and the premises were demolished in 1959. Brewing stopped in the town until 1999 when the Milk Street Brewery set up its mash tun at the Griffin Inn (built 1590 and once an Ushers pub), just off the historic St Catherine Hill. Now, there is locally brewed beer once more.

Western Daily Press article here

Great gigs coming to the Griffin

Frome’s Griffin has lined up a sensational week of gigs to tempt people outside for some live entertainment during the final week before Christmas.

Tonight the venue presents Iain Ballamy’s Cool Jazz Christmas Party. Iain is known internationally as “the fantastic Englishman” and is a major player on the international contemporary jazz scene.  Yet living just a stone’s throw from the Griffin, he will be appearing with the Jazz Glitterati of Frome and further afield in what promises to be an evening to remember.  Expect to hear cool jazz sounds with a sophisticated twist as The Griffin is turned into Ronnie Scott’s for the night.

You know when The UK Stiffs are in town, they’ll create a riot . . . a White Riot of their own (or The Clash’s at least).  As witnessed as the Cheese and Grain last Friday, The Stiffs play favourites by the Clash, Pistols, Buzzcocks, Ramones and more.  Catch them when they play the Griffin tomorrow, with support from Magic Tractor.

On Saturday, The Bad Detectives, featuring Ivan, Henry, Paul Tozer, Chris Woodland, and Andy Stradling, will be performing, mixing the sound of early ’60s r ‘n’ b with a hint of rockabilly.  Earlier this year The Bad Detectives released the album B-Movie Beat, through Western Star Records, and it features 17 new tracks.  It has gained airplay on BBC Radio 2 and has had some great reviews.

The popular Sausage Sunday at the Griffin will feature the Emma Harris Quartet.  The quartet features some of the South West’s most talented jazz musicians who are noted for their fresh, soulful renditions of jazz standards.  With a style that is both funky and smooth, it’s a perfect way to while away the last Sunday before Christmas, far from the maddening crowds.  From 1pm, bring the family.

On Tuesday, The Operation, a young power trio in the true sense of the phrase, will be performing.  These talented artists have carved themselves a very distinct niche in the ever-changing UK music scene.  They have played 100s of shows throughout the UK, not only headliners but as support to some of Britain’s top name artists. Get there early to avoid disappointment.

For Christmas Eve, Al O’Kane and Tessa Bickers will be performing a number of seasonal treats.  With bags of talent and some shiver-down-the- spine moments, Al and Tessa are the perfect accompaniment to see in Christmas.

Somerset Standard article here

‘Government should support rural pubs’

Rik Lyall owns the Griffin, in Milk Street, Frome.  The Griffin is both a brewery and a pub, which he says gives him the added advantage of being able to see the state of the industry from both sides of the coin.  He says there is no doubt that the industry as a whole is going through a drastic adjustment and that the blame for the pub crisis should sit squarely at the door of the Government.

“I put the blame with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling,” he said.  “The latest duty increase was an eight per cent rise in the tax, meaning duty has now risen 17 per cent this year and the chancellor has already pledged to increase duty by two per cent more than inflation next March. Click here!

“In 12 months, it will mean duty will have risen by 10 per cent. Although he has been widely reported as helping small businesses, this increase in duty will more than swallow up any reduction in VAT.”

Mr Lyall added that with this increase and the massive increases in malt and hops due to poor harvests, costs from the brewers’ perspective have increased dramatically.

“From the publicans’ point of view, trade post the smoking ban has taken a hit.  In addition, two poor summers have meant that publicans have not been able to build up cash reserves during what should be peak trade time.  Rising costs and falling trade have been the final nail for many pubs.

“The Griffin is very unusual in that it doesn’t sell any lager and hasn’t done for nine years, but it does sell good beer and has live music.”

Mr Lyall would like to thank his loyal customers and welcome any new ones to come and take a look at somewhere a bit different.

Somserset Standard article here

Budget blow to struggling pubs

THE Chancellor’s pre-Budget report has been described as a “kick in the teeth” for pubs and breweries across Somerset and Wiltshire.

According to the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), Alistair Darling has done nothing to help an important local industry that is struggling to survive.  The organisation says pub-goers are unlikely to see any benefit from the 2.5 per cent VAT cut because of an eight per cent increase in alcohol duty. On top of the 10 per cent increase added in last March’s budget, the news comes as a bitter blow to struggling pubs, which are already closing at a rate of around 36 per week across the country.

A CAMRA spokesman said: “The situation is being made worse by the impact of the wider economic slowdown, and the Chancellor’s announcement of yet another increase in duty this week – on top of plans to increase the tax on beer above inflation next year and for the next three years. With tax already taking up a third of the price of a pint of beer, further hikes can only accelerate the decline of the pub.”

Frome pub The Griffin is run in conjunction with on-site brewery Milk Street Brewery. Head brewer Rik Lyall described Mr Darling’s move as “a complete disaster for community pubs”. He explained that most pub owners are already struggling to make ends meets, as the blow follows setbacks including the smoking ban, unregulated competition from supermarkets and the spiralling cost of hops and malt after two dismal harvests.

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“It is very unfair of the Chancellor to get publicans to pay for the decrease in VAT. Our beer duty is already the highest in Europe. Some places will soon have to charge around £3 per pint just to make ends meet. The Griffin is doing all right but we have to work harder than ever to survive in this industry. The Chancellor has put the last nail in the coffin for a lot of people. He obviously doesn’t want there to be any character pubs left, and there won’t be.”

Wiltshire brewery Wadworth is based in Devizes and has around 260 pubs from Somerset to Berkshire.  Paul Sullivan of Wadworth described the pre budget report as “very disappointing.  All industries thought they would benefit from the cut in VAT but the chancellor has taken that away from pubs,” he said. “Things look dismal for our trade. Factors like the economic downturn, increasing red tape for pubs, the smoking ban, and the cost of food and energy are taking their toll – you could describe it as a perfect storm – and it will get worse when VAT goes up again.”

Mathew Manning

Fosse Way article here

Bulldozers mean old-world part of town becomes a memory

Soon an ‘old world’ part of Frome will be only a memory, for the area of Frome bounded by Milk Street, Selwood Road and Trinity Street, together with areas beyond Duke Street, are rapidly developing all the aspects of a ‘battlefield’.

They are part of the Trinity redevelopment scheme. The whole area is being razed to the ground by demolition workers with the aid of bulldozers.  Huge piles of beams and other wood from the already bulldozed houses lie burning in heaps, while those short of firewood take away what is not wanted.

On Tuesday, the bulldozer was eating its way slowly up one side of the lower part of Selwood Road, and Smart’s lodging houses – which have been a feature of the street for generations – were yielding under the hammer blows. Stone was being loaded in lorries to be taken away and huge timbers were being torn out.  Soon one side of the middle of Trinity Street will also be disappearing. One or two people are still hanging on before the final move out, notably the Martins, who are moving to Broadway.

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The present demolition is a continuation of that begun in Milk Street many months ago and now the Milk Street School takes on a new dimension as a wide open space is opening in front of it, with the notable exception of the Griffin Inn, which is being preserved in one corner of the area.  Rosemary Lane has been obliterated; Duke Street Place is now barely distinguishable; The Mint is fast falling into decay, and will soon be laid low; and in Peter Street, Mr and Mrs O Davis alone remain occupants of a house which they are vacating tomorrow.

Soon this part of Frome will be only a memory.  Part of it is to be developed as a play area for the Milk Street School, and the remainder is to be redeveloped with houses, flats and new roads.

Somerset Standard article here

Guitarist brings back the blues with workshops

CONCERTS by Frome’s Eddie Martin have long been rave-reviewed by the world’s music press. Now the public can see what it’s all about when his debut DVD Eddie Martin: Live At The Wharf is released on Monday, November 24.  It captures for the first time a set from his unique one-man-band act as well as his rocking blues trio.  The DVD shows his virtuosity as a guitarist and harmonica player, and features many of his most popular original songs.

Your Time spoke to the bluesman to get the lowdown.

Your Time: What did you hope to achieve when you first started out on your musical journey? Click here!

Eddie: I was always musical at school and was chosen to sing lead roles in school performances.  I was too late for the over-subscribed guitar tuition and ended up with violin lessons which caused me a bit of grief from the lads at my tough comprehensive.  I got my first guitar at 15 and with two chords and my Mum’s poetry for lyrics, I did my first concert with my mate Trev on bongos.  I wrote and wrote from the earliest and was only really interested in performing in a band from the age of about 17.

Which musicians do you admire and have they influenced your style and approach to music?

I grew up in the era of progressive rock and blues rock and hoovered up any guitar music I came across.  As well as electric guitar I was really into singer songwriters such as Dylan and Guthrie.  The self-indulgence of concept-rock started to annoy me after I heard my first blues recordings.  Then vocalists and guitarists such as Freddy King, B B King and Muddy Waters really inspired me with their exciting, powerful but stripped-down sound and lyrics about the basic universal experiences of humanity.

How would you describe your music?

At the heart of it is song writing. I don’t write songs for strong guitar solos I work it the other way around. And the styles show my blues roots influences, whether in my electric trio or as an acoustic performer.  If you think Clapton and Dylan you are approaching the soundscape, but you have to hear it and get to know my music for yourself.

Can you tell us a little about your album Contrary Mary, and do you enjoy the recording process?

Contrary Mary has been applauded for the guitar workouts on it by the press, but it is essentially a bunch of songs about real life experiences in roots-rock clothes.  The topics range from characters I have met in bars (including Contrary Mary herself) to the thrill of fatherhood and tales from the road.  It is a rocking party album which you can dance through like an idiot and then sit down and listen to again with brain engaged.  I love the studio process, though it is like trying to wrap a dream in a parcel.  I have two new albums to record this year if I can sort out the right studios within budget.

You are about to release a DVD. What can people expect to see on it?

The DVD is the only record I have been relatively happy with of my two live shows, solo and band.  You can see my band’s rocking electric blues set (lots of guitar!) and my roots acoustic one-man-band act.  It’s the next best thing if you have not seen my live performances and a nice souvenir if you have.

How would you describe an Eddie Martin gig?

I love touring as long as I am not away too long from my family. But the recession has hit the blues and roots circuit hard and I don’t do as much as a few years ago.  I’m sure it will come back around.

You have achieved so much within the blues genre. What have been the highlights?

I am very lucky to have had this career and to have visited so many places and met so many great people.  Being so well-received in America has been really rewarding and Contrary Mary is charting high in the US blues charts right now, which is great.  But my proudest review has been in the Penguin Guide to Blues Recordings, where my album catalogue has received the highest rating of any Brit blues guy after John Mayall.

Can you tell us a bit about your Frome connection, how you came to end up here?

My wife and I decided Frome was a great place to bring up our little boy Xavier and have found it a real joy to live in on so many fronts.  It has so much beauty, in and around, and punches above its weight culturally for a small town.

Can you tell us about your Griffin Inn workshops?

I have been running blues workshops for years round the world and from my former home base of Bristol.  I really wanted to find a suitable base locally and a happening, down-to-earth, music-friendly pub, and the Griffin is it!  I will teach the basic techniques and sounds of blues guitar on Saturday and harmonica on Sunday, and it will be fun.

What’s next for Eddie Martin?

I want to set up a studio in Frome and record my new solo album early in the new year.  If anybody can play a bit of guitar and really wants to get to grips with slide guitar and some cool blues sounds come along to the workshop this Saturday.  If anyone wants to learn the blues harmonica from scratch come along on Sunday.  Just turn up at the Griffin at 10.30am or email me for details at eddie@eddiemaritn.com.

For a taste of the excitement of a roots-rock gig in your own front room, Eddie Martin: Live at the Wharf is available to order from www.bluebloodrecords.com and in shops from Monday, November 24.

Somerset Standard article here

Support group thank pub regulars for their generosity

Customers at The Griffin public house, in Frome, have again raised more than £1,00 for Bath Cancer Unit Support Group (BCUSG).

To recognise their generosity, the group has presented the Milk Street pub with a certificate to mark their achievement, the second in recent years.  To raise money the pub organises a weekly quiz as well as a series of other fundraisers.

Pub owner Rik Lyall said: “The certificate represents the ongoing generosity of our customers who feel very strongly abdout the charity and the good that it does.”

The certificate was presented by the representatives of the support group including Martin Bax, who has raised money for the unit in the past and supports other fundraising efforts in Frome for the charity, and vice-chairman of the BCUSG, Tino Polledri.

Since the charity’s launch in 1985, more than £2.6 million has been raised with the aim of improving the care, comfort and treatment facilities for the patiets attending the cancer unit at the Royal United Hospital, in Bath.

As a result of funds raised by the group, two linear accelerators, used in the treatment of cancer, have been bought, as well as finacial support provided for a number of other major projects.

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Photo courtesy of the Somerset Standard