As luck would have it, quite a few key sites in the story of ‘the strange rebirth of British beer’ happen to be clustered together in the Southwark area of London, making for a perfect history walk with added boozing.
UPDATE 20/09/2014: It hadn’t occured to us back in December last year, but undertaking this crawl while reading Brew Britannia would be a good way to spend an afternoon. We’ve added notes on which chapters in the book reference which pubs.
The walking route we have suggested below will take you past the following locations:
1. Ye Olde Watling — City of London headquarters of the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood, now a cosy Nicholson’s chain pub. (Chapter 1)
2. The Rake — the first really notable ‘craft beer’ bar in London, and still a great place to find good, or at least interesting, beer. (Chapter 12)
The cask ale we’ve enjoyed the most this year was probably Oakham Citra (4.2% ABV) at the Wellington in Birmingham, which we could still taste all the way back to Penzance. But the cask beers we’ve enjoyed most often have to be St Austell Proper Job, St Austell Tribute, Spingo Middle, Penzance Brewing Co. Potion 9 and — brace yourselves — Bass Pale Ale. Let’s warm up by making sense of that:
On his blog, he has tended to accentuate the positive rather than dishing out savage criticism (the Michael Jackson approach) and this small press book continues in the same manner, declaring itself as wholly celebratory — an expression of regional pride. Fortunately, with more than a hundred Yorkshire breweries to choose from, Linley has no trouble picking a handful which he can endorse with a clear conscience.
Let’s get one substantial ‘point for improvement’ out of the way: the book would have benefited from tighter editing. There are several instances of close repetition (the phrase ‘our fair county’ appears twice in as many pages); too many exclamation marks (screamers) for our taste; and a variation on the dreaded ‘cannot be underestimated’ makes an appearance in the foreword.
Those superficial points aside, what surprised us on this second, closer reading (the first time was on a long train journey without a notebook at hand) was that, though pitched as a lightweight local interest book, Great Yorkshire Beer also functions as something of a ‘microhistory’. By focusing so closely on one region and one particular generation of brewers — those who have entered the industry in the last decade or so — trends in the wider market are highlighted.
For example, an interview with Pete Roberts of Sheffield’s The Brew Company reveals a shift in tastes in the last few years: a beer released in 2008, Frontier IPA, was shelved because it was considered too bitter by local drinkers. In 2013, however, it has returned with exactly the same recipe to general acclaim, suggesting that drinkers’ palates have evolved in the post-Thornbridge, post-Brewdog era.
In allowing brewers to tell their stories in full, subtly different approaches between ostensibly similar businesses are illuminated. Mallinson’s refusal to have a ‘core range’ vs. Leeds Brewery’s reluctance to dabble in ‘one offs’, and Ilkley’s eye on the national market vs. Kirkstall’s determination to remain a Leeds speciality, act as useful case studies for anyone thinking of going into brewing.
A second small point for improvement, though: a couple of the interviews occasionally stray into ‘sales pitch’ territory, and it would be nice to see a little more challenge if next year should see the publication of More Great Yorkshire Beers.
With our interest in the development of ‘alternative beer’ from the 1960s onward, we were also fascinated to read that Sierra Nevada Pale Ale — named by one contemporary brewer after another as a key influence — found its way to British beer festivals, and on to supermarket shelves c.2003, thanks to the efforts of Leeds-based importer Steve Holt and his company Vertical Drinks. There are many other such interesting details throughout.
Though brewery profiles make up the bulk of the book, it also has recipes (Linley is a keen advocate of food and beer pairing), suggested pub crawls, and nuggets of Yorkshire beer trivia. Perfect, in short, for dipping in to on train journeys or solo pub visits. Any tourist visiting Yorkshire for the beer would be daft not to take a copy with them, and it would make a great Christmas gift for the Yorkophile in your life.
Disclosure: we paid for our copy of the book, but when we met Leigh for a pint in Leeds and he gave us three bottles of beer and some second-hand books as a gift. We’ve also known him (virtually, anyway) for quite a few years and think he’s a nice bloke, so can’t claim to be entirely objective.
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