And what about the beer?

by Steve Renshaw

It’s quite a hike down the High Street to the Golden Eagle. If it was just real ale I was after, I could easily bail out at the Treaty of Commerce or the Ritz. But I’m on a mission. I want to find out how a pub that doesn’t serve food survives in the current economic climate. Across the country, two pubs are closing every day, and most of the ones that stay in business do so on the back of food sales. The industry continues to battle such issues as high beer taxes, unfair competition from supermarkets, and problems with the way large pub companies are treating their tenants.

Eventually, I make out the distinctive signage of the Tynemill pub company. This is my first clue to its survival – the Eagle is owned by Nottingham’s award-winning Castle Rock Brewery. Most of their pubs are in the Nottingham/Derby area, so we are lucky to have one in Lincoln.

The building is an old coaching house and has been a pub since the 1780s. A quick look round the interior reveals a traditional, two-roomed boozer. Not quite ‘spit and sawdust’, but the well-worn furnishings have the distressed feel that trendy pubcos are trying to replicate. The main bar has a TV and dartboard, while old Lincoln City programmes are displayed on the walls of the cosy snug. Being so close to Sincil Bank, the pub gets plenty of trade when there’s a match on – even these days!

The Eagle is very much a community pub, with lots going on. There are regular music sessions and quiz nights. Crib, dominoes and darts teams are based at the pub, as well as two Sunday league football teams. A number of groups hold regular meetings there, including a classic motorcycle club, a wargaming society, an orienteering club and even a mountaineering club. Landlady Tracy Harris says, “We’re lucky to have such a strong local following. Because we don’t do food, we have to work hard to put on events that attract a wide range of customers. Having a reputation for serving a good range of real ales does help to bring people in.”

According to the recently-published Cask Report 2011-12, ale drinkers are twice as likely to visit the pub as non-cask drinkers, spend more when they’re there and, most importantly, can’t switch to the supermarket to purchase their favourite drink. The Eagle has nine handpumps, so they must be shifting plenty of ale. Real ale is a living product and, once a cask has been tapped, it must be consumed within five days at most. Keg beers and lagers, on the other hand, are pasteurised before they leave the brewery. This means that they last longer but do not develop the complex flavours of real ale.

And what about the beer? On my visit, the Eagle had eight ales on, all from different brewers. This included rugby-themed Allgates All Black, which is made with New Zealand hops. However, since I had a full ‘One Over the Eight’ loyalty card, I went for Castle Rock Harvest Pale. This blonde beer was CAMRA’s Supreme Champion Beer of Britain in 2010. As I’d expect from a pub that features regularly in the Good Beer Guide, my pint was at perfect cellar temperature and crystal clear. The flavour of beer is always a balance between the sweetness from the malts and the dry, bitter flavours from the hops. American hops give Harvest Pale a refreshingly crisp, citrus finish. Perfect for an unseasonably warm October afternoon.

To find out more about the Campaign for Real Ale in Lincoln, visit www.lincolncamra.org.uk