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