So, I was just about to publish Great Paul’s blog all about how the mighty Brains Brewery were stealing a style of writing from the smaller, newer, hipper Tiny Rebel Brewery, when I realised that the Brains version was a reproduction of their own advertising from the launch of their SA beer from 60 years ago. It got me thinking about how the world changes in some ways but stays the same in others. We now have a world whereby every town has it’s own local beers brewed in small batches by small breweries and those beers are often hard to find outside of the local area. Haven’t we been here before?
As we count down to our 2018 annual trip, I reflect back to brewery tour #2 from our 2017 annual trip, acknowledging that we were fortunate enough to go on two brewery tours on one trip and you can read about our first tour, of Theakston’s Brewery here. Our second tour of the day was Black Sheep Brewery. You have to love a town with a population of about 1,200 that has two breweries, I love the fact that a town of that size has this sign:
The founding of Black Sheep Brewery is also a great story, with Theakson Brewery no longer under family control, Paul Theakston left them and eventually set up his own brewery. The original plan having set up in the former Lightfoot Brewery was to resurrect that name. Unfortunately for Paul, the name had already been trademarked and in fairness to Theakstons, Lightfoot is a nice pint. The next idea was to use something about sheep given their link to Masham and the Masham Sheep Brewery was considered as an option. It was Paul Theakston’s wife who suggested that since he’s the black sheep of the family, leaving the family brewery, that perhaps Black Sheep Brewery might work. It certainly did, the brewery is doing very well and producing some great beer!
What I enjoyed about the brewery tour (as well as the story of the founding of the brewery!) was the wonderful contrast between modern and traditional. Black Sheep is a modern brewery in the sense that it was only founded in 1992 but most of the equipment was bought up from breweries across the country and is traditional, set in an area with a history of brewing.
The tour starts in a modern room with a video of some of the history and information from a guide on the founding of the brewery and information about their wonderful range of beers. As you go around the brewery however, you see that the methods of brewing are traditional and use the local Yorkshire Square Method. The brewery shop and accompanying bar and restaurant and very modern and serve the range of Black Sheep Beer, which is largely traditional Yorkshire bitter. All in all, a great tour followed by an extensive sampling session!
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September sees us return to Woodforde’s Brewery, the site of our first annual trip back in 2009. We take it in turns each year to chose a pub to take the rest of the group to and as the group has grown year on year, no one has had a second choice. On trip number 10, we are however revisiting a pub- Great Paul choose the Fur and Feather, site of Woodforde’s Brewery for our first trip. What we didn’t manage to do on that occasion was a tour of the brewery as they weren’t done on Saturdays back then. This year, Paul of Norfolk has chosen the Fat Cat in Norwich as the feature pub, which allows us to make it back to Woodforde’s and finally do that tour!
Always a sad story when we write an RIPub, most of them are older pubs than this but as soon as I heard about this closure I knew I had to write this. The first reason is a personal one- the Barley and Rye was a regular haunt for our monthly works drinks and I found out about its closure literally a couple of hours before I was due to go there! I got an e-mail about a change of venue to another pub, which I assumed was because the other pub had a beer garden and it was a sunny day but as I read further I found out that it was because the pub had closed.
The second reason that I wanted to write this is because with the new craft beer revolution there seems to be an idea that a place can’t fail. One of the things about the pub industry is that there is no magic formula to running a successful pub. There are definitely things you can do wrong that will make a place more likely to fail but it is also possible to appear to do things well and still not succeed. I liked the Barley and Rye- it had a great range of beer- most of it keg but with three cask lines and also a wide variety of craft in cans and bottles. In an ideal world I’d have liked more cask than keg but they had a variety of really good keg beers- I used to enjoy a Coast to Coast or a Whitstable Bay Stout.
What sadly became clear though was that it wasn’t getting the trade. Something that stood out for me was that fairly early on they only had one cask line in use because they didn’t have the turnover, which was a shame because the one line was well kept and was generally a good beer- Atlantic was a frequent one. I didn’t think they did a lot wrong and had there been a better early trade and word spread and cask was viable, would it have taken off?
I’m starting to realise just how little research journalists seem to do. I keep reading about a possible beer shortage due to a lack of CO2 and people coming up with different drink options. The one they seem to forget is cask ale- there seems to be a perception that all beer has CO2 in it, while those of us that prefer our beer without fizz haven’t noticed a shortage at all. The one that particularly got to me was the BBC’s Dead Ringers topical comedy show that actually suggested Nigel Farage wouldn’t have been able to get a pint of London Pride because of a CO2 shortage…
Bit of a rant but as a beer website I feel we have a duty to educate the world about beer! There are some really great craft ales out there but for now at least, cask is king for us and we are glad it’s not affected by the CO2 shortage!
I’ve been inspired by the changeable UK weather to talk about whether there is a right time year to drink different beers. Conventional wisdom is that you drink darker maltier beers in the winter and lighter hoppier beer in the summer when it’s warmer. I do understand the logic that you might want something more refreshing and thirst quenching when it’s hot and you might want something maltier and warming when it’s colder.
Personally though, I like a good beer and I like the styles that I like regardless of the time of year. One of the challenges I find as beer drinker starts around this time of year- it’s June, so the start of the Northern Hemisphere summer- is that there does tend to be a prevalence of golden ales and blondes. I like to drink a variety of beer styles but I find I struggle more in the summer than I do in the winter. I think this comes from two things, partially that the styles I tend to favour are “winter” beers- I like red ales, traditional bitters, stouts and porters, all of which are harder to find in the summer. Part of it though is that I’m convinced that there are less “winter” beers in the summer than there are “summer” beers in the winter. It is anecdotal but in my experience you can usually find a hoppier beer like a golden ale or an IPA in the winter but you can’t always get a red ale or a cask stout in the summer.
The one concession that I will make to all of this is that is a temperature point where I will move across to something lighter and more refreshing- it has to be said that that point is quite high- somewhere in the region of high thirties Celsius or nineties Fahrenheit. At that point is it time for something thirst quenching and I’m likely to wanting a hells or a pilsner. Are there too few malty beers in the summer or am I just bitter?
Interesting times for CAMRA with the recent changes to it’s articles. I’m not sure what to make of it. CAMRA was founded when real ale was struggling because it was kept poorly and people were turning to more reliable but crap creamflow beers. Times have changed and keg beer is in a very different place now- craft breweries are brewing some really good keg stuff. I’ve spoken to a number of craft brewers and keep getting the same story about the shelf life of cask and the difficulties of transportation and the greater risk you have to take as business to make cask. I understand that and anecdotally I see more good beer on draft and less creamflow and less Fosters. I know now of a number of local bars and brewery shops where I can reliably get a wide range of really good keg beer that I’m happy to drink without being overly concerned that those places don’t have cask.
All of which being said, I still struggle to entirely back the changes made by CAMRA. It comes down to two things for me, where do you draw the line as to what is good beer and what is CAMRA for. I understand that we are now in times where there is a variety of good beer and not all of it is cask. I just don’t know how we define that- how do we now say that CAMRA will support a great craft beer but not Fosters, if we say it’s beer not lager that CAMRA stands for, where does that leave a craft pilsner. It then opens up questions of what CAMRA is all about, the line was drawn that it would be about cask and not keg. I find it hard to come to terms with the idea that the Campaign for Real Ale could campaign for other beer. I’m not saying that cask is the be all and end all and the there shouldn’t be other beer but that doesn’t mean that CAMRA has to be the voice of it.
Maybe there is room out there for another organisation that stands for all beers- I think there should be representation somewhere to promote quality Belgian beers, really crisps pilsners and the fantastic range of craft beer that exists now. Perhaps that organisation could represent all pub goers and drinkers regardless of what they drink but for me CAMRA needs to support the cask beer that it was founded to promote.