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 glories.

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 panel.

Big Book


Adrian Tierney-Jones