Going for Gold

by Wendy Margetts

At the same time as Olympic medals were being awarded, Britain’s best brewers were receiving gold, silver and bronze at another London venue. The Great British Beer Festival in Olympia saw the culmination of CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Britain competition for 2012.

Coniston Brewery’s ‘No.9 Barley Wine’ was crowned the Supreme Champion

Having previously been judged Champion Winter Beer of Britain, No.9 Barley Wine was placed ahead of the gold medal winners from the Bitters, Best Bitters, Strong Bitters, Golden Ales, Milds and Speciality categories. The 8.5% ABV ale was described by the judges as ‘having fantastic finesse, reminiscent of a fine cognac.’

Being a democratic organisation, CAMRA’s search for the best beers starts with a vote by individual members. From the ales produced in their region, they nominate their favourite in each category. These nominations are ranked and the top selections go forward to the regional competitions.

Regional winners in each category are selected by tasting panels at local CAMRA beer festivals. Category winners from each region go forward to the judging rounds at the Great British Beer Festival. Gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded in each category, and the winners go forward to the final round to decide the Supreme Champion.

At this year’s Lincoln Beer Festival, I was invited to join the panel of CAMRA members, local business owners and brewers who judged the beers entered in the East Midlands’ Mild category. The panel chairman briefed us on what we should be looking for, and we gathered round a table, pens and paper at the ready and jugs of water and wafer biscuits nearby to cleanse our palates between beers.

The beers were brought in one by one in unmarked jugs and we assessed the aroma, appearance and, most importantly, taste. As each jug was brought in, we filled our glasses, swirled the beer around and took a breath. Does the smell make us want to take a sip? Does it have an unfortunate chemical smell (One did!)? We made our notes and moved on.

Then we held our glasses to the light to check the clarity of our beer. Is it hazy? Does the beer meet our expectations as to how a mild should look? We scribbled more notes. Then came the most important part, as we savoured the flavour of the beer. Human taste is decided on the tongue, different areas deciding whether the taste is sweet or sour, salty or bitter. We needed a good taste of this beer! Again, notes were made and scores noted for each element we were judging the beers on.

The process was repeated for each mild, until we had a line of glasses in front of us all sampled and marked. Discussion followed to reach a decision. We all agreed on the beers we didn’t like and these were eliminated. Now the process got tricky. We tasted the three remaining beers again and compared them side by side. Finally, we came to a unanimous decision.

And what about the beer? The winning East Midlands’ Mild was Castle Rock Black Gold (3.8% ABV). This beer is attractive in the glass, dark and almost stout-like. It is a perfect example of a Dark Mild, with a lovely sweet caramel smell and taste which is soft and smooth, not too sweet and not too bitter. It was a clear favourite with the entire judging panel who kept coming back for more!

If you want to see the full list of gold medal winners in the 2012 Champion Beer of Britain competition, look out for the next edition of ImpAle, due out in September.

Don’t lose your local

by Steve Renshaw

In the current edition of our magazine, ImpAle, the chairman of the Louth CAMRA branch reports that the Heneage Arms – you’ll have seen the imposing building on the sharp double bend at Hainton, on the road between Wragby and Louth – has been saved from closure by the locals. The pub currently opens on Friday and Saturday evenings, and is run entirely by volunteers from the Heanage Arms Community Group.

With the pub trade under greater pressure than ever before, more and more communities are realising how important their local is to village life, and are taking action to keep it open. This reminded me that we have a pub in our area that has been taken over by the local community.

The Cherry Tree, in the village of Cherry Willingham, is owned by Punch Taverns. In common with many pubs, it went through a period where different landlords failed to make a go of the business. Locals became frustrated by the lack of consistency so decided to do something about it.

In 2010, the community were given an opportunity to take over the running of The Tree as a village concern. There were two conditions that needed to be met: someone was needed to run the pub, and funds were required in order to take over the lease.

The community had to raise approximately £15,000 for the initial set up. A total of 43 people put their hands in their pockets to become “shareholders” in The Tree.

Two years on and I decided it was time to pay the pub another visit to see how the venture was progressing. The Tree is an archetypal 1960s estate pub which backs on to the village sports ground. There are two large rooms, one the main bar and the other a dining and function room.

Landlady, Barbara Mawer, worked behind the bar for over twenty years before agreeing to take on the role of licensee. She was keen to show me round the pub and it soon became clear that the shareholders had played a masterstroke when they asked her to take charge. She knows her customers and what they want – and she works hard to provide it.

The Tree has everything you’d expect from a community local. There are dominoes, darts and pools teams, support for sports clubs, meetings of various local groups, bingo nights, functions and private parties. Fund-raising events provide support for the local school and sports teams.

And it’s clear from the enthusiasm of Barbara and the locals I met that the pub is doing well. Profits are being ploughed back into the business, with new furniture and decoration. An indicator of the success is the Sunday carvery. When the cooperative took over, they had twenty to thirty customers but now they regularly cater for over fifty, and have had as many as ninety.

The Cherry Tree is a good example of how a standard pub leasing arrangement can provide a flexible and affordable solution for a community group to run a successful pub business. But the two factors that make it work are the locals who support the pub and a great landlady who is passionate about serving the community.

And what about the beer? Charles Wells Bombardier, a top-ten national cask ale brand, is the regular at The Tree. Last year, the ABV was reduced from 4.3% to 4.1%, making it a better prospect for a lunchtime. It’s burnished copper colour and has sultana fruit character with a gentle hop bitterness. Barbara clearly knows how to look after her beer as well as her customers.

Case studies of community-operated pubs can be found on the Pub is the Hub website.

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.

Pick up a free copy of the latest edition of our branch magazine, ImpAle, in your local pub.

Sixty Years of Brewing in Lincolnshire

by Steve Renshaw

As we’ve approached the Diamond Jubilee, the newspapers have been full of articles celebrating the sixty years of Her Majesty’s reign. So I thought it might be interesting to take a look at brewing in Lincolnshire since 1952.

At the time of the Queens’ accession, there were seven breweries left in Lincolnshire. Located in Alford, Brigg, Grantham, Grimsby, Stamford (two) and Wainfleet, they had all been established in the 19th century. As well as brewing, they each owned a string of pubs to sell their beer. Mowbrays of Grantham, for example, had 200 tied houses.

These small-town operations were being swallowed up by larger breweries. Mowbrays was acquired by J. W. Green, a Bedfordshire brewer, in March 1952. Two years later, J. W. Green merged with Flowers Breweries. In 1962, Flowers was taken over by the huge national brewer, Whitbread. The Grantham brewery closed in 1964.

Another example of the acquisition and closure cycle is Hewitt’s of Grimsby. In 1962, Hewitt’s was taken over by Charrington United Breweries. The latter company merged with Bass in 1967 to create Bass Charrington and, only a year later, Hewitt’s Tower Brewery was closed.

In 1974, when Melbourn’s All Saints Brewery in Stamford closed, Batemans was the sole remaining Lincolnshire brewer. During the 70s, traditional brewers were hit by the market saturation of pasteurised keg bitter and lager produced by the large, national brewers. However, cask beer managed to survive and, gradually, began to claw back market share. Some of the credit for this revival must go to four journalists who, in 1971, formed the Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale (later to become CAMRA).

From the late 1970s, we saw the birth of a new generation of small breweries, which became known as microbreweries. In the 80s and early 90s a handful of micros opened in Lincolnshire, although only Willy’s in Cleethorpes has survived from that era.

The turning point came in 2002 when, after years of campaigning by CAMRA and the Society of Independent Brewers, the Government introduced a reduced rate of excise duty for small brewers. This measure was a major boost to hundreds of microbreweries which had been established in the late 90s.

Between 1995 and 2012, twenty-nine microbreweries were established in Lincolnshire. Of those, eighteen are still in business. A number have remained as small-scale operations but a few, such as Brewsters, Newby Wyke, Oldershaws and Fulstow, have moved into larger premises in order to increase production. So from seven breweries in 1952, we now have twenty, nineteen of which are micros.

And has cask ale changed during that time? Back in 1952, some breweries would have produced just a mild and a bitter. I’m guessing that they would not have tasted very different from some of the ales available today. However, the microbrewery revolution has sparked experimentation and innovation in the brewing industry.

The result is a much wider range of beer styles and flavours than would have been available sixty years ago. I’m sure this variety will be evident in the many beers being produced to mark the Diamond Jubilee. But for my taste test, I’m sticking with the one Lincolnshire brewery that has operated throughout the Queen’s reign. Batemans have produced Jewel in the Crown, and I managed to find it in The Cross Roads at East Barkwith.

And what about the beer? I’m guessing many of the Jubilee specials will be light, summer ales, but Jewel in the Crown is a lovely ruby colour. It’s fruity, and the roasted malts give it a hint of toffee. Cheers, Your Majesty.

For information about the Campaign for Real Ale, check our website www.lincolncamra.org.uk

Festival Fringe

by Steve Renshaw

It’s May and, for local CAMRA members, that means only one thing – the Lincoln Beer Festival. We’ve been planning the annual celebration of traditional British drinks for six months, and in just a couple of weeks’ time we’ll transform the Drill Hall into the biggest pub in the county.

The aim of the Festival is to increase the appreciation of real ale, cider and perry. We’re particularly keen to encourage people who don’t usually drink beer to explore the different styles and flavours of real ales.

Planning and running the Festival involves a huge amount of work by lots of volunteers. But there is a selfish motive behind it. If people enjoy themselves at the Festival, they’re likely to go into pubs looking for good real ale. Which means that the pubs that CAMRA members frequent have a better chance of surviving in these difficult times.

The Festival attracts thousands of local drinkers, plus many CAMRA members from across the UK. Lots of visitors stay in Lincoln for the weekend and also visit the CAMRA festival in Newark. In the last couple of years, a few of our city-centre pubs have taken the opportunity to put on events around the time of the Festival in order to tap into the raised awareness.

This year we’re encouraging our local pubs to get involved in what we’re calling the Festival Fringe by putting on events during May to attract more customers and encourage them to drink real ale, cider and perry. In the city, the usual suspects – the Strugglers, the Jolly Brewer and the Wig and Mitre – were quick to sign up, but I’m off to Scampton to find out what’s planned at the Dambusters Inn.

Now here’s an interesting pub. The building is over 200 years old and you can imagine wartime bomber crews driving down from the base to relax between sorties. Prepare for a surprise – it turns out that it’s only been a pub since 1999.

The conversion is impressive, with the interior having all the trappings of a traditional village pub, including bar billiards and Northamptonshire table skittles. And there’s a fascinating collection of memorabilia and information about the famous bombing raid.

Landlord, Greg Algar, has been in charge since 2009. During that time, he has increased the number of handpumps from two to five, dispensing a changing selection of ales from breweries in the local area and further afield. Greg explains, “When I took over, real ale was only 40% of the beer sales but now it’s over 70%. My customers like to try beers from different breweries across the country.”

Over the weekend of 18th-20th May, Greg is holding a Dambusters Raid anniversary beer festival. With the help of George Batterbee of Poachers Brewery, he’s putting in extra handpumps so that twelve ales can be served from the bar. So whatever the weather, you’re guaranteed a good time.

And what about the beer? Once a month, Greg gets a cask of the multi-award-winning Thornbridge Jaipur. Thornbridge beers were first brewed in early 2005 in the grounds of Thornbridge Hall in Derbyshire. A new, state-of-the-art brewery and bottling line was built at Bakewell in 2009. At 5.9% ABV, Jaipur is a bit stronger than I usually drink but, as we don’t see it round here very often, I had to try it. It’s a flavoursome India Pale Ale packed with citrus hoppiness nicely balanced by malty sweetness. I’ll be checking with Greg to find out when he has it on again.

For information about the Lincoln Beer Festival and the Festival Fringe, check our website www.lincolncamra.org.uk

Subbuteo

by Steve Renshaw

It’s years since I last played Subbuteo. You know – that table football game where you flick plastic men at an oversized ball on a rolled-out felt pitch. When I was a boy, my parents couldn’t afford to buy me the proper version. So I had to make do with a down-market copy with flat men instead of Subboteo’s 3-D players in club colours. Despite this, I played with it for hours.

When my son was old enough, I got him the proper version and we both made good use of it. But over the years, it came out less and less and, eventually, he sold it at a car-boot sale.

In these days of Xboxes and PlayStations, I’d imagined that the game had disappeared. So I was delighted to receive an e-mail recently from the Lincoln Flickers, a group of Subbuteo enthusiasts who meet regularly in the Morning Star. They suggested that we hold a joint Flickers/CAMRA Subbuteo evening.

Of course, there’s a synergy between the two groups. CAMRA promotes real ale and supports well-run, community pubs, and it’s these pubs that provide a base for groups such as the Flickers. It’s not just the standard activities such as pool, darts, dominoes and Sunday league football that are based in pubs. In addition to the Flickers in the Morning Star, lots of other groups meet in local pubs. Mountaineers meet in the Golden Eagle, the Dog & Bone hosts a classical music listening group and the Jolly Brewer has its own theatre company, to name just three.

Well-run pubs are not just a controlled environment in which to drink – they are invaluable community assets. Where else can groups meet for no charge? Unfortunately, CAMRA’s latest figures show that twelve pubs close across Britain every week, and half of these are in suburban areas. And despite words of support from politicians, pubs were hit again in the Budget when beer duty was increased by 5.4%. In order to highlight the importance of local pubs, CAMRA has designated April as Community Pubs Month.

The aim of this national initiative is to encourage licensees to organise and promote events to increase footfall in local pubs. It’s all about giving community pubs as much publicity as possible during these tough times. A Subbuteo evening seemed an ideal event for Community Pubs Month, so off I went to the Morning Star to meet one of the Flickers and agree the format.

Tucked away on Greetwell Gate, the Morning Star is reputed to have been an inn since the 18th century. It’s a traditional, no-nonsense pub with tiled floors and an open fire in the winter. There’s a really good mix of drinkers and you’re guaranteed some lively and stimulating conversation. It’s a regular in the Good Beer Guide and has six real ales on offer. Unusually, they are all regulars – no guest beers here.

And what about the beer? Keighley’s Timothy Taylor Brewery is most famous for brewing Landlord, Madonna’s favourite beer. Less well known is Golden Best (3.5% ABV), described as the last of the true Pennine light milds. Most milds are dark, and I’m sure many drinkers will be unaware that this amber-coloured beer falls into this category. As usual in the Morning Star, my pint was in tip-top condition. The aroma was fruity and the taste malty, with light hoppiness characteristic of milds.

The inaugural competition for the Lincoln Flickers/CAMRA Subbuteo Beer Tankard takes place in the Morning Star on Wednesday, 25th April. It promises to be a fun evening. For details of events during Community Pubs Month, visit www.lincolncamra.org.uk