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


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

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.