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Never stumped for a good pint

Added: Tuesday, October 9th 2012

The following item appeared in the Independent newspaper on 3 October, written by the paper’s TV critic Tom Sutcliffe: “I’d never heard of Lumpy Stevens five days ago and now I can’t shake him off. The first mention came in the series Servants: the True Story of Life Below Stairs, which illustrated the unexpected closeness of some servant/master relationships. The Earl of Tankerville hired him  [Lumpy] as a gardener because of the quality of his cricket. Then last night he cropped up again in Ian Hislop’s Stiff Upper Lip. The Duke of Dorset, then Ambassador in Paris, and alarmed by republican stirrings, decided that the perfect antidote to Gallic over-excitability would be to get the country interested in cricket. So he arranged a tour with Lumpy Stevens as one of the star players.”

The tour was not a success, in part, I’m convinced, because there was no decent beer to drink in France at the time. Beer and cricket are inseparable. Lumpy Stevens was not only a star player but performed at Hambledon, where cricket was played alongside the Bat & Ball pub. Lumpy was such a brilliant under-arm fast bowler that he was responsible for the introduction of the third stump when he complained that he regularly beat the bat only for the ball to go between the existing two stumps.

The laws of modern cricket were devised and drawn up in the Bat & Ball, including not only the third stump but the height of the wicket and the shape and width of the bat: the device for measuring the bat is on view in the pub along with a vast amount of fascinating memorabilia. Meetings of the club naturally took place in the Bat & Ball and were meticulously minuted. And, of course, substantial amounts of ale were consumed on both match days and during meetings.

And it must have been quite remarkable ale. John Nyren was the son of Richard Nyren, landlord of the pub alongside Broadhalfpenny Down. In his memoirs, John Nyren first describes the splendour of the punch sold in the pub – so strong it would make a cat speak, he says – then turns his attention to the ale brewed on site by his father: “The ale – not the modern horror under the name that drives as many men melancholy as the hypocrites do – not the beastliness of these days that will make a fellow’s inside like a shaking bog – and as rotten; but barleycorn, such as would put the souls of three butchers into one weaver. Ale that would flare like turpentine – genuine Boniface! This immortal viand (for it was more than liquor) was vended at twopence per pint.”

I like the criticism of beer described as the “modern horror” and “beastly” – that’s 200 years before the arrival of Watney’s Red Barrel! I can’t promise that the beers tonight will “flare like turpentine” – and I’m not certain I would want them to – but I hope they please you as much as Richard Nyren’s home brew.

The connection between pubs and cricket continued long after Hambledon went into decline and the game moved to London. Two grounds that became important venues for the game, the Artillery Ground and White Conduit House, were attached to pubs, while the creation of the MCC was the result of meetings held at the Star & Garter Tavern in Pall Mall, a street named after a game called Pell Mell that involved a ball being hit with a stick. Thomas Lord was a groundsman at the White Conduit Club and was given funds by Lord Winchilsea and other nobles to build a new ground in St John’s Wood that would be enclosed to keep out such “undesirables as thieves, beggars and prostitutes”. But you can’t keep good beer down: Lord’s soon had its Tavern and nearby was the Crown, better known as Crocker’s Folly and a useful bolt-hole when rain stopped play – but now sadly closed.

So tonight we’re continuing the long and honourable tradition of matching beer and cricket. And there’s much to celebrate in the world of beer. Last month CAMRA launched the 40th edition of its annual Good Beer Guide and announced there are now more than 1,000 breweries operating in Britain. CAMRA was founded in 1971 with four members. Today membership stands at 143,000. The first Good Beer Guide, published in 1974, had 96 pages and listed just 100 breweries. The new edition runs to 944 pages, lists 4,500 pubs with a list of breweries covering 200 pages.

The biggest change is choice. In 1974, most of the breweries brewed just mild and bitter. Over the following four decades, beer choice has changed dramatically. Britain now has, arguably, the greatest choice and diversity of any country in the world. From the 1980s, we’ve been able to enjoy golden ales, followed by wheat beers, fruit beers, and beers matured in whisky barrels. Marston’s have a strong bottled version of Pedigree matured in cognac casks. Brewers have also dug deep into old recipe books to create beer styles from previous centuries, allowing to enjoy today true India Pale Ale, porter, stout, old ale, Burton Ale, and barley wine.

I’ve chosen beers from breweries either in towns with Test match grounds or close to those towns. Your aperitif beer was EPA (3.6%), or English Pale Ale, brewed by Marston’s in Burton-on-Trent. Burton, of course, doesn’t have a Test ground but it deserves mention here this evening as one of the world’s great brewing centres and also home to several excellent cricket grounds: I once played at the Allied Breweries ground, which was a splendid venue. Burton was once home to such famous breweries as Allsopps, Bass and Worthington and by the late 19th century was the most important brewing town in the world. Its success was based on pale ale and India Pale Ale, made possible by the remarkable spring waters of the Trent Valley, rich in sulphates that act as flavour enhancers, which bring out the full flavours of malt and hops.

Thanks to the new technologies of the industrial revolution, it was possible from the early 19th century to produce pale malt rather than brown malt. Pale malt, allied to Burton water, created pale ale, bursting with tart and aromatic hop character. The greatest version of pale ale was IPA or India Pale Ale, a style created for export to India to meet the demand from the Raj, civil servants and soldiers for a refreshing beer in that torrid climate. IPAs were strong, around 7 or 8% alcohol, and were heavily hopped to withstand the 3 or 4 month sea journey to India. We have a fine example of IPA this evening: Marston’s Old Empire (5.7%), brewed with just pale malt, English Fuggles and Goldings hops with American Cascade hops that add a note of citrus fruit to the beer.

Our beer from Cardiff, Brains Dark (3.5%) is an example of Mild Ale, a style from the 18th and 19th centuries that was radically different to pale ale. It was sweeter than pale ale because it was less heavily hopped and it was produced mainly for industrial and agricultural workers who needed to replace lost energy after 8 hours digging coal, smelting iron or bringing in the harvest. Mild went into sharp decline in step with the decline of heavy industry post World War Two but it enjoying a small and welcome revival today. The colour of Brains Dark comes from blending chocolate malt and caramel with pale malt. The hops are all English varieties: Challenger, Fuggles and Goldings.

Castle Rock Harvest Pale (3.8%) was named Champion Beer of Britain in 2011. It’s a fine example of a modern golden ale, brewed in Nottingham a short walk from Trent Bridge. It’s brewed with exceptionally pale malt and hopped with all American varieties that give a fine floral, grassy and citrus character to the beer.

Ringwood Best Bitter (3.8%) comes from Ringwood in Hampshire and is chosen to celebrate cricket at the Rose Bowl. Bitter was an early 20th century development of pale ale, slightly darker as a result of using a new type of malt known as crystal that gives a delicious nutty, caramel and butterscotch character to beer. Ringwood Best is brewed with pale and crystal malts and is hopped with 3 English varieties, Challenger, Goldings and Progress.

From Lancashire, we toast Old Trafford with Moorhouse’s Pendle Witches Brew from Burnley. At 5.1%, it’s a strong bitter or pale ale, named after the victims of religious persecution in the 16th century, women called witches because they followed the Catholic faith. Moorhouse’s is a remarkable success story, a small brewery that almost closed in the 1980s but has roared back to success to such an extent that a new brewery with a capacity of 40,000 barrels a year opened in 2011. Pendle Witches is brewed with pale and crystal malts and hopped with just English variety, the Fuggle.

From the other side of the Pennines, Timothy Taylor’s Landlord is one of the finest interpretations of pale ale. It’s brewed in Keighley and is chosen to represent Headingley, as Carlsberg, the owners of Tetley’s, closed the Leeds brewery last year. Tim Taylor is family-owned and uses pure Pennine water for its beers. Landlord (4.3%) has been named Champion Beer of Britain four times. It’s brewed with Scottish Golden Promise barley malt – a barley mainly used for whisky making – and is hopped with Fuggles, Goldings and Styrian Goldings. Prior to fermentation the liquid lies for several hours on a deep bed of Styrian Goldings for additional aroma and flavour.

Our Warwickshire representative is Pure Ubu (4.5%) from the Purity Brewing Co, on a farm at Great Alne. It’s a successful craft brewery with a great passion for helping the environment and it has developed reed beds that take away brewery waste. Ubu, named after the brewery dog, is a strong bitter brewed with Maris Otter barley malt and hopped with Challenger and Cascade.

Sambrook’s Powerhouse Porter (4.9%) comes from Battersea, and is our representative for the Oval. Sambrook’s is owned by Duncan Sambrook and he opened the brewery in 2008 to fill part of the enormous gap left by Young’s of Wandsworth. It’s been brilliantly successful and Duncan’s beers are widely available throughout London and the South-east.

It’s brewed with Maris Otter pale malt with brown and chocolate malts and is hopped with Boadicea, Challenger, Fuggles and Goldings.

Double Maxim (4.2%) represents the North-east and Durham CCC at the Riverside, Chester-le-Street. It’s a fine example of the so-called brown ales of the region that are radically different to brown or mild beers from the Midlands and the south. Newcastle Brown is the best-known example, originally from Newcastle but, for reasons best known to Heineken, now brewed in Yorkshire. This style has more in common with pale ale but with more colour in its cheeks due to the use of crystal malt. It was a style developed after World War One to mirror the pale ales of Burton but with more sweetness for the local taste. The beer is named after the Maxim gun and is brewed with pale and crystal malts, caramel and brewing sugar and is hopped with just the English Fuggle. It was brewed by Vaux in Sunderland and when that brewery closed in 1999 two directors and the head brewer set up their own company to continue to make the beer.

I finish with a toast to the memory of Lumpy Stevens and the Hambledon Club with words written by the Rev Reynell Cotton, president of the club in 1773:

Then fill up your glass,

He’s the man who drinks most.

Here’s the Hambledon Club –

Who refuses the toast?

Let’s join in the praise of the bat and wicket,

And sing in full chorus

The patrons of cricket.

bat & ball sign