No fuss: the joy of drinking draught beer
Added: Friday, April 14th 2023
One of the joys of pubs being fully open following the dread days of Covid and lockdown is the ability to enjoy fresh draught beer that’s a simple symphony of malt and hops.
I have drunk beer at home that’s sometimes too strong for comfort and made with the addition of ingredients usually found in a greengrocer’s rather than a brewery.
I sampled recently an imperial stout brewed with beetroot alongside the basic materials. I prefer to take my five-a-day in cooked rather than liquid form.
In North Hertfordshire I dropped into the Cricketers in the village of Weston near Baldock, greeted by a traditional red ball on the pub sign. As a devotee of the summer game and a long-retired wicket keeper, I prefer the traditional version to modern white ball off shoots.
The pub pays homage to the game with a collection of autographed bats, cartoons of local teams and a photo of Ian Botham in his pomp. And the wicket on the bar offered the choice of Tring Brewery’s Side Pocket and Woodforde’s Wherry.
I drink Side Pocket regularly in pubs further south in Hertfordshire but it’s some time since I sampled Wherry from Norfolk. Over the years, Woodforde’s has won many awards for its beers, including Supreme Champion Beer of Britain for Wherry in 1996.
As you would expect in the grain basket of England, Wherry (3.8%) is brewed with the finest Maris Otter malting barley and the hops are English and Styrian Goldings. A dab of crystal malt gives the beer its appealing bronze colour.
The beer has a fruity aroma balanced by grassy and spicy hops and a digestive biscuit note from the malt. The palate and finish are a superb blend of malt, hops and tart fruit and the end result is a beer that’s wonderfully refreshing.
I had a similar drinking experience in Swindon where I was visiting Arkell’s Brewery, which is celebrating its 180th anniversary this year. The brothers Alex and George Arkell, head brewer and pubs estate director respectively, took me to a new pub, the Strawberry Thief, which was built for the Royal Jubilee last year.
It takes its name from a fabric designed by William Morris in the 19th century and which is used in abundance in the spacious pub. I nuzzled a pint of Arkell’s leading beer, 3B (4%), first brewed in 1910 with a name meaning Best British Bitter.
In common with Woodforde’s Wherry, 3B is brewed with Maris Otter sourced from Warminster Maltings and Fuggles and Goldings whole hops. It has an amber/bronze colour and a rich freshly-baked bread and peppery hops aroma. A touch of fruit appears on the palate and finish, balancing juicy malt and spicy hops.
Once again, it’s an unfussy, quenching and harmonious pint of English bitter. And to add to the pleasure, there are plans to lay a full-size cricket pitch alongside the pub.
Back home in St Albans I was able to introduce a visiting American friend to the Robin Hood pub and another joy of the beer world, Harvey’s Sussex Best (4%), on sale in the Robin Hood. It’s brewed with Maris Otter and Pipkin malts and no fewer than four English hops: Bramling Cross, Fuggles, Goldings and Progress. Head brewer Miles Jenner says the blend of ingredients allows him to play “fine tunes” in his brew house. Miles, you are the Beethoven of beer.
IN FEBRUARY I asked whether the award-winning Bree Louise pub at London Euston had to die. It was closed and demolished in 2018 to make way for HS2, the grotesquely over-budget and absurdly delayed new train line to Birmingham and the north.
At the time, the government refused to put a year on when Euston would become the terminus for HS2. But now we’re told it might be ready in the 2040s while government minister Michael Gove says he can’t guarantee Euston will ever be the terminus.
This means the Bree Louise could have carried on serving a great range of cask beers and cider for several more years, if not in perpetuity. But Craig and Karen Douglas, the licensees, were driven out by the wrecker’s ball and lost not only their pub but also their home, as they lived on the premises.
They’re now living in Dorset and are understandably cynical about the future of HS2. Craig thinks the line will never start from Euston and the area where his pub stood will become expensive private housing.
Scandalously, five years following their eviction, Craig and Karen have still to receive any compensation for their loss. And those of us who love good pubs and fine ale are losers, too.
▪First published in What’s Brewing, April 2023.