Classic Ale at the Centurion

by Steve Renshaw

It was exactly two weeks since the start of the Beer Festival and I had just about recovered – from my exertions, not the drinking. But I was beginning to panic because I couldn’t think of what to write about for this column.

And then I picked up the Echo (June 7, 2012) and I found my inspiration. It was only a small piece but it struck a number of chords. The Centurion in North Hykeham was serving an ale that is based on a recipe more than a hundred years old.

Firstly, it confirmed what we saw at the Festival – that today’s brewers are producing a fantastic variety of beers. Not only are they experimenting with different malts and hops to produce new brews, but they are also reviving old beer styles and long-forgotten recipes.

Mild is one of the traditional beer styles that is enjoying a revival in today’s real ale market. Usually dark brown in colour, it is less hopped than bitters and often has a chocolatey character with nutty and burnt flavours. Once sold in every pub, Mild experienced a catastrophic fall in popularity after the 1960s and was in danger of completely disappearing. However, in recent years the explosion of microbreweries has led to a renaissance, and an increasing number of Milds are now being brewed.

Porter was a London style that turned the brewing industry upside down early in the 18th century. It was a dark brown beer that was originally a blend of brown ale, pale ale and ‘stale’ or well-matured ale. The strongest versions of Porter were known as Stout Porter, reduced over the years to simply Stout. Restrictions on making roasted malts in Britain during World War One led to the demise of Porter and Stout. In recent years, smaller craft brewers in Britain have rekindled an interest in the style.

But it’s not just beer styles being revived, but also individual beers. The one in question is Archer’s Old Glory, which is based on a recently-discovered recipe dating back to 1895. Archers Brewery was a familiar landmark in Swindon but the company went into administration in 2009. The Archers brands were bought by Welsh brewery, Evan-Evans, which has produced Old Glory.

The other thing that struck me about this story is that it’s further evidence that real ale is now part of the mainstream within the pub trade. The Centurion isn’t what many would consider to be a typical real ale pub. It’s fairly modern, with contemporary furniture and a broad clientele. But one of the first things that strikes you when you walk in is the eight handpumps on the bar.

The Centurion is part of the Ember Inns group of family-friendly pub/restaurants. A quick look at their website reveals their commitment to real ale, with prominence given to their seasonal cask collections. Under their ‘Sip before you Sup’ scheme, they will let you try a beer before you buy it, to make sure you’ll enjoy it. And all their pubs are Cask Marque certified, so you can be confident about the quality of the beers.

The businessmen who run national chains such as Ember Inns wouldn’t put so much effort into promoting real ale if it wasn’t profitable. In fact, according to industry reports, it is the only part of the trade that isn’t currently in decline.

And what about the beer? Archer’s Old Glory (4.5% ABV) is marketed as a classic, premium English ale. It was a lovely chestnut colour and I found it quite sweet and spicy, with some bitterness. I have to say that I prefer the hoppiness of many of the modern-day recipes.

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