Local Ale for Local people (& visitors)

by Steve Renshaw

As a native-born yellowbelly, it’s been a real delight to be an increasingly frequent visitor to Lincoln. In London, where I live, we’ve had an explosion of interest in craft brewing and local beers. A joy for me is the wonderful diversity of beers we can now find all around the UK, especially in and around Lincolnshire.

There are 20 breweries within 25 miles of Lincoln. Some cracking beers they brew too. The likes of Grafters – Darker Side of the Moon (4.2% ABV) dark, with a smokey, chocolate after-taste; Poachers – Shy Talk (3.7% ABV) golden and refreshing; Brewsters – Stilton Porter (5% ABV) dark, rich and hoppy, to name just three favourites. The sad thing is only a small number of pubs in Lincoln regularly stock local beers.

CAMRA “LocAle” accreditation comes if a pub agrees to set aside one hand-pump for locally-brewed beers. This reduces beer miles and supports local brewing and related jobs. It’s like the Echo’s Love Local campaign, but for beer. The Lincoln LocAle scheme was launched in 2009 but, to date, we have just a dozen accredited pubs, with only five in the city.

So why is it that we have so few pubs selling local beer? It’s complicated but I’ll try to keep it brief.

Back in 1900, the UK had over 2,000 commercial breweries plus around 4,000 pubs brewing their own beer. When I joined CAMRA in 1977, we were down to 160 breweries, 50 of which were owned by the infamous “Big 6”.

The expanding closed shop of the big brewers’ tied-house system, and aggressive mergers, were throttling the life out of local brewing well into the 1980’s. In 1989, the Government passed Beer Order legislation that was intended to break up the big brewers’ monopolies. The modest aim was to release some pubs from the tie, and allow others to stock a guest beer. The impact was dramatic, but not as intended.

Rather than let other brewers’ beer into their tied pubs, the big breweries sold them off. Most were snapped up by what became known as pubcos (pub companies). The big, national pubcos had no connection with local brewers. Their focus was making profits and they were able to use their buying power to negotiate substantial discounts from large brewers. The landlords who leased or managed these pubs had no option but to buy their beer from their parent company, at a significant mark-up.

CAMRA has long campaigned for a competitive and diverse brewing industry, responsive to the needs of the consumer. We don’t want to scrap the tied-house system but believe that the large pubcos should provide their landlords with free-of-tie and guest beer options. Recently MP’s overwhelmingly supported calls to reverse the Government’s decision to let pubcos continue to regulate themselves.

So, if your regular pub doesn’t serve a local ale, ask them why not. The big pubcos are beginning to get the message that beer drinkers want choice. In the end, it’s down to us as consumers.

The Jolly Brewer is one of Lincoln’s LocAle pubs, and a freehouse. When I was in recently, landlady Emma Chapman told me, “Our regular LocAle, Black Abbot from the Idle Brewery in West Stockwith, Nottinghamshire, is very popular with customers.” Emma is now planning to dedicate a second handpump to local brews.

And what about the beer? Black Abbot is a 4.5% ABV stout. As the name suggests, it’s very black, with a creamy head. Full-bodied, fruity, with a malty edge. My kind of beer.

Don’t forget to make a date in your diary for the Lincoln Beer Festival (May 24th to 26th, the Drill Hall).

Cornhill Vaults

by Steve Renshaw

The Cornhill Vaults – a name that still sends shivers down the spine of Lincoln drinkers, even though it’s now ten years since it closed. When I moved to Lincoln in 2007, people talked about the Vaults so much that it took some time for me to realise that it no longer existed.

A quick web search reveals the depth of feeling for the old place. There are Facebook groups dedicated to the pub and plenty of comments on message boards, such as “a belter of a place”, “One of the best meeting places in Lincoln” and “The Vaults rocked!” Add to that, reports of occasional hauntings, and you begin to understand the iconic status.

The subterranean tunnels that made up the Vaults were constructed as a grain store beneath the Corn Exchange, which was opened in 1848. In 1976, they were converted into a pub by Ruddles Brewery. The tenants were Valerie and the late Michael Hope, who went on to own the Wig & Mitre on Steep Hill. In 1977, Ruddles decided to off-load their tied estate and sold the lease of the Vaults to Samuel Smith’s Brewery. In November 1979, Anna – now landlady at the Strugglers Inn – was installed as co-manager of the Vaults and stayed until it closed. In addition to the beers from Ruddles and, subsequently, Sam Smith’s, many ex-regulars will remember the Merrydown cider.

A major feature of the Vaults was the live music – in the ‘80s, there were bands playing every night. Cornhill Vaults Live 86 was an all-day charity event with bands playing in the pub and in City Square. Although it was a great success, it was never repeated. Anna explains, “Even though there was no trouble, the police were very edgy throughout the day and wouldn’t let us do it again.”

When the Lincolnshire Co-op, the freehold owner, decided to redevelop the Corn Exchange site and close the Vaults, regulars campaigned hard to reverse the decision. However, there was no going back, and the doors finally closed in January 2002.

Although I can’t have a drink in the Vaults, I can try one of the beers they served, as we do have a Sam Smith’s pub in the city. Sam Smith’s is Yorkshire’s oldest brewery – their Old Brewery in Tadcaster was established in 1758. The unique business model means that their pubs only stock Samuel Smith’s products – this and the absence of TV and music keeps prices very low.

Many of their pubs have historic architectural features or interiors, for example the gas-lit White Horse (Nellies) in Beverley, while others have been sympathetically renovated. Widow Cullen’s Well on Steep Hill falls into the latter category. Traditional structural and finishing materials were used in the excellent restoration of the 16th Century, in-filled timber-framed building.

And what about the beer? Old Brewery Bitter (4.0% ABV) is now Sam Smith’s only cask ale, and it is still distributed in traditional wooden casks. My pint had a thick, creamy head, typical of a traditional Yorkshire bitter. As soon as I picked it up, I could tell it was too cold and I wasn’t surprised that my first mouthful was disappointing. Very little flavour came through and it seemed rather watery. However, having left it for some time to warm up to a reasonable cellar temperature, I was pleasantly surprised. The initial taste is quite sweet with malt coming through and an edge of bitterness to finish. Not a classic but a perfectly quaffable, session ale.

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

Women and Beer

by Wendy Margetts

According to the most recent Cask Report 2011-2012, cask ale is appealing to a new audience of younger, affluent and sociable drinkers. Even more interesting, the number of women drinking cask ale has doubled since 2008, one in six cask drinkers are now female. This certainly turns that old notion that all real ale drinkers are old, bearded males on its head. Of the 600 plus CAMRA members in Lincoln branch, a quarter is female.

Certainly there is a bevy of females in the beer world, working to encourage and promote beer to women and men alike (lest we be accused of sexism!). There is Marverine Cole aka The Beer Beauty and Melissa Cole writing about beer on their blogs and in the national media. Then we have female brewers such as Sara Barton from Brewster’s in Grantham and Claire Monk at Welbeck Abbey Brewery near Worksop, amongst many others up and down the country.

Your local pub I’m sure will possibly have a landlady or female barmaid pulling your delicious pint and maybe helping you decide what to drink and giving advice on taste. Just like Anna at The Strugglers in Lincoln, who takes a real interest in her ales, nurturing them in the cellar, ensuring the beer is in perfect condition to be served to customers. She gets real job satisfaction from introducing customers to new tastes and flavours in beers.

Women traditionally have always brewed beer; in the Middle Ages all villages and towns had a Brewster (the traditional name for a female brewer). The brewster brewed most of the ale drunk in Britain, but with the introduction of new brewing ingredients and methods, she was gradually edged out by men determined to brew on a larger scale and make money.

The Brewsters reputation was then dragged through the mud, with accusations of short measures, high prices and tampering with the beer. In certain cases, Brewsters were compared to witches, and they were burned at the stake. With this history, is it any wonder that women feel ostracized from the world of beer?

There is a real tradition then of women and real ale, so why aren’t more of them drinking cask ale? Well I would agree that packaging and marketing has certainly turned many females off drinking real ale. Seedy pump clips with smutty double entendres and dodgy pictures are just the start, not many women are comfortable holding a pint glass either.

The newer and more modern breweries know this and have introduced special stemmed half and third pint glasses, similar to a wine glass, that are more appealing to the female drinker. Some of the larger brewing companies are realising there is a market for female beer drinkers, and are trying to brew special beers to appeal to them.

Personally I think beer drinking women are too intelligent to be swayed by a pink label on a bottle or pump clip in order to get them to drink. They just need to go to their local and see what there is to offer and give it a try’

There are no particular flavours of beers that appeal to the female drinker. In my experience working behind the bar at the Lincoln Beer Festival, women tend to enjoy all kinds of beers encompassing all types of flavours: hoppy, smoky, fruity, or malty. The key is to try as many types of beer as you can to find the ones you like – that is part of the fun!

And what about the beer? I purchased my bottle of Brewster’s Porter from Doddington Hall Farm Shop near Lincoln. Brewster’s is brewed by Sara Barton, a female brewer who is also the founder of the Project Venus, a group of female brewers from around the country who get together to brew special beers inspired by their many talents and strengths. The bottle is smaller than your average real ale in a bottle at 330ml, the perfect size for me. It is a lovely dark colour, with a lovely roasted smell and velvety texture, the aftertaste is chocolate – Delicious. A perfect beer for a cold winter’s night.

Look out for more about women and beer in the next issue of ‘ImpAle’, Lincoln CAMRA’s magazine.

Winter Warmers

by Steve Renshaw

It really is amazing how many different flavours brewers manage to produce just from the traditional ingredients of water, malted barley, hops and yeast. With ninety-nine new breweries opening in the last twelve months, there are now well over eight hundred across Britain. Did you know that there are twenty breweries within a 25-mile radius of the centre of Lincoln? Thousands of ales are produced and no two are exactly alike.

On a recent visit to The Strugglers, I had a pale ale – White Sea from the excellent Newby Wyke Brewery in Grantham – and you would swear that it had grapefruit juice in it. At the same time, my wife was drinking a sweeter beer from Lancashire’s Fuzzy Duck Brewery that had hints of chocolate and coffee.

And then, of course, to add to the spectrum of flavours, brewers will experiment with additional ingredients in their speciality or seasonal ales. These include honey, coriander, lemongrass, ginger, bananas, elderflowers and even oysters.

For many people, beer is associated with cooling off, thanks to the proliferation of mass-market lagers. Images of beaches and bikinis and slogans like “extra cold” emphasize beer’s role as a cooling refreshment. But what do we do when the weather turns frosty and the nights draw in? Warm up with a hearty winter brew, of course. For centuries, brewers have made seasonal beers for winter that are fuller in body and maltier than standard styles.

In order to banish winter’s chill, these beers should be served no colder than 12oC, which is ideal for showcasing their delicious flavours. Serving ice-cold suppresses flavour; a good strategy only if you’re not keen to really taste your beer.

So how am I going to find a winter ale to showcase? By definition, a seasonal beer is only going to be found in pubs that have guest ales. But these days, that doesn’t narrow things down too much, so even if I just stay in the city, I’ve got a lot of pubs to go at.

Rather than using leg power to track down my quarry, I decide to use new technology. A quick tweet to the followers of the Lincoln CAMRA Twitter account and the suggestions are soon coming in. The Golden Eagle has Castle Rock Snow White – The Strugglers has Oldershaw’s Yuletide. But wait, here’s the one I’ve been waiting for. Once you’ve seen the flashing red nose on the pump-clip of Bateman’s Rosey Nosey, you know that Christmas really is on its way.

So it’s off to The Victoria, just behind Lincoln Castle, to get into the festive mood. I have to say that the guest beers in Bateman’s houses can be fairly pricey, and The Victoria is one of the more expensive pubs in the city. It’s not so long ago that we were bemoaning the fact that the average price of a pint had reach £3, but that was the cheapest price in The Vic, when I visited. It’s hardly surprising that pub-going habits have changed.

And what about the beer? At 4.9%, ABV Rosey Nosey is a bit stronger than I usually drink, but the extra alcohol certainly brings a warm glow to my cheeks. It’s full of complex flavours, like a liquid Christmas pudding but with a lingering bitterness. There are also hints of bonfire toffee. Now shall I have another to see if my nose flashes like Santa’s.

If you develop a taste for warming ales and fancy a day out in Manchester, why not visit CAMRA’s National Winter Ales Festival which runs from 18th to 21st January 2012.

Thorold Arms, Harmston

by Steve Renshaw

According to HRH The Prince of Wales when he launched the Pub is the Hub project in 2001, “Rural communities, and this country’s rural way of life, face unprecedented challenges … the country pub, which has been at the heart of village life for centuries, is disappearing in many areas.” More recently, Prime Minister David Cameron promised that the coalition would be a “pub-friendly government” and, following pressure from CAMRA, appointed Bob Neill MP as Minister responsible for community pubs.

On taking up this new responsibility, Mr Neill said: “The local pub is a great British institution and the social heartbeat of life in our towns and villages, bringing people together and strengthening community relationships.” Fine words, but actions are what count.

The Department for Communities and Local Government recently published its draft National Planning Policy Framework for consultation. If implemented fully by local planning authorities and backed up by robust local plans, this framework could enhance the planning protection available for pubs and empower communities to protect the pubs which matter to them.

Yes, I know that’s all a bit heavy for a column about beer, but if we don’t have good pubs, we can’t drink good beer.

Take the Thorold Arms in the little village of Harmston for example. This building was originally two farm cottages and it is thought to have been a pub for over 200 years. And it’s most definitely at the heart of Harmston’s life.

Julie Haycraft and Alison Welch were regulars at the pub and helped behind the bar when, in 2003, it was put up for sale. After much deliberation and encouragement from the locals, they sold their house and bought the pub. Their reputation for providing a warm welcome, good home cooking and real ale quickly spread, and in 2006 the Thorold was voted CAMRA’s East Midlands Pub of the Year, an award that was repeated in 2007.

Their involvement with the community includes providing the bar for functions in the memorial hall, hosting the annual Harvest Auction on behalf of the church and organising Christmas carols around the village. Various themed events are held throughout the year covering a diverse range of festivals and saints days, including Diwali, Sonkram, Burns Night, Trafalgar Night and St George’s Night, for no other reason than it’s a good excuse for a special night with an exciting menu. But the highlight is Harmstock, the annual beer and music festival which, since it started in 2004, has raised thousands of pounds for the Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire air ambulance.

And what about the beer? As a free house, the Thorold is able to source its ales from across the UK, and often features at least one from Lincolnshire or Nottinghamshire. Unusually, none of the four handpumps is dedicated to a specific beer, as the choice is constantly changing. And, also unusually, there is no keg bitter. The beer list, including those coming next, can be found on the pub’s website.

On my visit, I plumped for Rupert’s War Dog, a 4.2% bitter from Ufford Ales, a microbrewery in the village of Ufford, south of Stamford. War Dog was created as the house beer for the excellent Prince Rupert pub in Newark, and is rarely found elsewhere. It’s a chestnut brown ale with a sweet bitter balance and a creamy head. My verdict? A very good beer in tip-top form.

To find out more about the Campaign for Real Ale in Lincoln, pick up a copy of our branch magazine ImpAle in your local pub or visit www.lincolncamra.org.uk

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