Romantic About Beer
Sommerset Newsletter, Autumn 1998
By Adrian Tierney-Jones
I am an unabashed romantic about beer. It's more than
a pint in a glass to me, as I suspect it is to many CAMRA
members. Certain beers have geographical and personal resonances
which linger long after they've been consigned to that great
taproom in the sky or been tampered with until they're something
completely different. I remember Greene King's Abbot in
the late 70s when it was a fearsome brew which I alternated
with IPA on a night out just to make sure I wasn't too bad
the next day. Some brave souls used to mix Abbot with Bury
St Edmund's - it was called Braindeath or some other such
delightful name. Nowadays it's ok but then it was a classic.
I was also fond of Tolly Cobbold which I used to sup at
a classic backstreet pub in Cambridge called the Dewdrop;
it's now the Cambridge Blue and sells Nethergate beers so
at least it's not become a Gown and Cucumber. Then there
was Ruddles County, Old Peculier, Paines, Directors and,
of course, Draught Bass. So what's the point about all this
maudlin reminiscing you may ask? The answer is Morrells'
probable dissolution, a situation I feel very personal about
and also very helpless.
It's not a local ale. Last year it turned up in a couple
of pubs in the area, sometimes in good nick other times
not so good. My feelings for this wonderful beer are mixed
in with the love I have for Oxford and the surrounding countryside.
I have fond memories of sipping Graduate or Varsity in a
cosy country pub and enjoying what Michael Jackson would
call the complexities of the beer. It's always going to
be a regret that I never tried College Ale, which apparently
was as good as port for that late night nightcap. Now, all
these ales will be consigned to history, or if they turn
up again they'll be like Directors or Ruddles - decent enough
pints if you get them in good nick but shades of their former
Our family-run regional breweries are part of the mosaic
of this country's history - town planning used to include
breweries; the smell of brewing would linger over an area
and is far more pleasant than the whiff from a cellophane
factory for instance. Take a walk around Wandsworth when
Youngs brew - not much else to visit there for I'll admit
but the smell of brewing is a link with a past where nitro-keg
was a future nightmare. Sadly, these town breweries seem
to be going the same way as the butcher, baker, fishmonger
and grocer as edge-of-town supermarkets produce quantity
but not always quality.
This is not to play down the micros whose beers by and
large are superb, and I hope they will be the regional breweries
of the future - the output of the likes of Ringwood or Woodforde
must surely be close to some of the smaller regionals now
- but breweries like Morrells and existing ones such as
Brakspears (how long will they continue - you have to wonder
as the predators gather) and Adnams are part of the community.
They provide jobs, sponsor local events and also make damn
sure that the beer is in good nick.
As I said there's a particular sadness about Morrells.
Even being a CAMRA member doesn't mean that the loss of
a favourite beer is something you ever get used to. The
roll-call of beers and breweries we have loved and lost
is endless: whether it's Boddingtons or Bridgwater Brewing
Company the loss of a favourite ale is a real shame and
one more step on the road to the corporate soullessness
that seems to figure more and more in our lives. So when
you sup your next pint rise a glass to the beers that have
gone and make a pledge to fight future closures; you don't
need to be Mystic Meg to predict that there will be many
more battles to be fought in the future.
o On a cheerier note welcome to new chairman Alan Walker
who replaces the shy and retiring Colin Heapy. Other changes
in the committee involve Tom Carrington as Social Secretary/Secretary
and Dave Williams swapping social sec for vice-chair. At
the July AGM a vote of thanks was proposed and seconded
to Colin for his sterling drinking, er, work in the last
few years. He's not going far: he will be setting up a tasting