Category Archives: real ale

RIP Draught Burton Ale

Roger Protz confirmed yesterday that Ind Coope Draught Burton Ale, launched by Allied Breweries in 1976, and for some time lately brewed under contract by J.W. Lees in Manchester, is no more.

This seems a fitting moment, then, to share an extract from our 09/04/2013 interview with Richard Harvey, who worked as a PR man at Allied when the beer was launched. Some nuggets of what he told us made it into chapter six of Brew Britannia, entitled ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, but here’s the section on DBA, unedited:

In the spring of 1976, the Marketing Director, Peter Bonham-Carter, came to me and said: ‘Richard, we’re going to be launching a new cask-conditioned beer. It’s going to be national, and we want to adopt the black cat approach.’ The black cat was the logo of Craven A cigarettes which they’d used in very subtle adverts – ‘black cats are coming’ and the logo. Similar to Silk Cut, with the famous slashed purple fabric. ‘Look,’ said Peter, ‘if we start taking big hoardings with “Draught Burton Ale” on them, CAMRA will say “Here’s a big brewery trying to force their latest product down people’s throats.”’ So, we used purely PR, no ads, emphasising the heritage of brewing in Burton-upon-Trent, initially targeting the south of England.

Continue reading RIP Draught Burton Ale

An Outpost of CAMRA-land

Trewellard Arms, Cornwall.

CAMRA-land is another country, overlaid upon and occasionally intersecting with the real world.

Like members of most minority nationalities, citizens of CAMRA-land have their cultural centres where they can mingle and speak of the old country in their native language.

These are pubs where games are still given space, open fires are prized, Good Beer Guide stickers cover window panes, and variety trumps ‘localness’ in the choice of beer on offer.

The Trewellard Arms, in the village of the same name beyond Penzance, near Land’s End, belongs to this world, if our fleeting visit on Saturday was anything to go by.

For one thing, the beer wasn’t the Cornish free-house holy trinity of St Austell Tribute/Skinner’s Betty Stogs/Sharp’s Doom Bar. In fact, all three breweries were rather pointedly absent.

Instead, there was Thwaites’ Pure Shores summer ale from Lancashire, alongside another ale particularly beloved of the people of Realalia — Wadworth 6X, from Wiltshire. There was one local ale on offer, but it was Penpont Cornish Arvor, which we’ve only ever seen on sale in Cornwall on a couple of occasions.

Black country pork scratchings, dartboards, CAMRA Kernow award certificates — all the signs were there. There was even a copy of Michael ‘Beer Hunter’ Jackson’s World Guide to Beer peeking out from a windowsill.

A CAMRA member who’d driven for hours to get to a holiday cottage might be dismayed to find a pub that would belong just as well in Sussex or Shropshire

But perhaps that’s not quite fair. Real ale isn’t the be-all-and-end-all — there’s also a long whisky-menu and a serviettes’n’tablecloths dining room — and it’s certainly a Cornish country pub: there are pilot gig racing mementoes on the wall, and so on. Locals come here to sit at the bar and watch the football, while tourists book tables for dinner.

For our part, even though it was in its mid-afternoon, change-over day lull, we loved this pub, and will certainly be back, especially as there’s a bus that runs from right outside more-or-less to our front door.

We’re not citizens of CAMRA-land, as such, but we do feel quite at home there.

Failure to be Outraged

timothy_taylor_474

Once again, we find ourselves struggling to summon what is apparently the appropriate level of outrage as the Champion Beer of Britain (CBOB) award is announced by the Campaign for Real Ale.

It’s an important competition which can tip a brewery over into the big time, sure, but it’s not the Word of God.

If you accept that, of the thousands in production, it’s legitimate to name a single beer The Best, then there’s no reason we can see to be angry that the award has gone to Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker, aka Best Bitter.

Now, we get as bored as anyone of entering pubs and finding three ubiquitous and underwhelming bitters on offer, and we have to admit that we did hope something a bit sexier might win for once — the pale’n’hoppy Oakham Citra, universally loved in the Blogoshire, which came in second place, for example.

But, like it or not, bitter is part of the landscape of British beer — should it be banned from the competition because its character derives from something other than prominent aroma hopping?

We’ve not had Boltmaker, as far as we can recall, but we suspect we’d probably enjoy it. Two of our most fondly-remembered pub sessions have been on Timothy Taylor beer — one in Haworth, and another at the Bricklayer’s Arms in Putney — and it can be transcendently wonderful, in that subtle, indescribable way that regional brewers sometimes achieve. (See also: the Batham’s.)

Perhaps that’s how Boltmaker tasted today? Enthusiasm on the part of the judges certainly seems a more likely than a sinister conspiracy aimed at the suppression of ‘craft’.

(Having said that, we’ll certainly be filing today’s result in the memory banks for next time someone claims traditional bitters are some kind of endangered species that don’t get enough attention…)

The Great British Beer Festival runs until Saturday 16 August.

Greene King Mild At Last

Greene King sign

“It’s taken us longer to find a pint of this than it did to get hold of bottles of Westvleteren 12,” Bailey said in anticipation of his first sip of Greene King XX Mild.

Those robots among you who are able to judge beer purely on its flavour won’t understand how several years of hunting and hype influenced our ability to assess this pint of humble mild with any objectivity.

It seems odd to use the word ‘hype’ in relation to mild from a little-loved regional brewer, but that’s what we’ve been subjected to, in a quiet, rather British way — “Even if you don’t like GK IPA, you must try their mild,” uttered in a tone usually reserved for “There are some rather interesting carvings in the nave…”

We got our chance in the wake of a Brew Britannia reading in Cambridge last week when Pintsandpubs and Beertalk kindly agreed to walk us to the Free Press, a cute, historic back-street pub with a reliable supply of XX, on the way back to the station.

It was a bit of an odd experience, to be frank. The pub had several interesting cask ales and a nice selection of ‘craft’ and ‘world’ beer in bottles, so turning up with two well-known beer geeks and ordering mild earned us some funny looks. Those looks got even funnier once the Westvleteren comment had slipped out.

You won’t be surprised to hear that GKXX is not as good as WV12, but then it has only 3% ABV compared to the latter’s 10.2%. It wouldn’t be unfair to call it watery, and cask-conditioning rendered it no more complex or exciting than the various kegged milds we enjoyed (we actually did!) in Manchester the other week.

But it is a drinking beer.

If you’re prone to tasting and thinking but want a night off, it’s just the thing: your notes will be done in two sips (dark brown to ruby, chocolatey, sweetish) leaving you free to sling it back in volume, with your brain free for chatting, reading a book or completing a crossword or two.

Forcing ourselves to find something else to say, we spotted a resemblance to a Wadworth mild we tried a couple of years ago, and to home brew we made using our own interpretation of a 1938 Starkey, Knight & Ford recipe. That makes us think that it (a) contains a proportion of flaked maize; (b) uses a good slug of brewing sugar; and (c) probably hasn’t changed much in the last 60-odd years.

The final verdict: if we lived in Cambridge, Bailey would probably drink it all the time, but Boak will be quite happy if she never tastes it again. (See — we don’t always agree!)

And that’s that itch scratched.

Tradition and Science in the Pub Cellar

We know next to nothing about the cellaring of cask ale which is why we’ve been so interested to read a couple of blog posts which have appeared this week.

First, pub manager Ed Razzall wrote this piece outlining his own approach:

I’ve drunk in pubs where I’ve seen on twitter that they proudly announce “Yay! [Insert beer name here] delivered this morning – on the bar tonight”. I defy anyone to tell me that it is physically possible to rack, condition, settle, and serve a beer in less than 24 hours (Marstons FastCask I hear you cry! That’s a different kettle of fish all together).

Now, we have reason to trust Mr Razzall’s opinion, because the pub he runs is owned by Mark Dorber, of whom he is something of a protégé.

Dorber was, for a time, the most famous cellarman in the world, having had a starring role in Michael Jackson’s 1990 television series The Beer Hunter. In the very first episode, he demonstrated to Mr Jackson how to care for Bass Pale Ale in the basement of the White Horse, Fulham. Dorber started working there as a student in 1981 and almost immediately took over management of the cellar, as he told us last year:

I hadn’t been there long when someone said, ‘The Everard’s has run out,’ and no-one knew what to do about it. I knew Everard’s beer from a pub in Salford, so I said, ‘I’ll go down and sort it out.’ I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I suppose I applied an academic approach. I spent an hour on the phone to the head brewer at Bass talking about cellaring and cask-conditioning…

With 30+ years experience under his belt, and an approach based on (a) meticulous care and (b) a frankly elitist view of beer appreciation which brooks no mediocrity, Dorber’s opinions are not to be dismissed lightly.

But beer distributor and blogger Yvan Seth has suggested that some practices of the Dorber-Razzall school of cellarmanship might owe more to tradition than to reason:

Myth (mostly): “secondary occurs at the pub”: It is perhaps a legacy of historic practices that people believe breweries ship beer to pubs before substantial secondary fermentation has occurred. I hear this still happens sometimes… but in almost all cases: no. Most breweries do their best to ensure secondary has progressed sufficiently before the beer leaves the brewery.

We’re very much in favour of questioning assumptions, and will continue to watch this conversation with interest.