Generations of sociologists have wrestled with the “nature v. nurture” debate, with its central perplexing question. What’s of most significance: things that are “natural” to us, or the experiences that feed us? In search of a definitive answer I paid a visit to the 6th Beer & Pie festival, which took place at three fine Lancaster venues, the White Cross, Penny Bank and Merchants 1688.
There were 36 beers and 20 pies on offer at the three pubs, and I had them all. Not really. We had to be satisfied with a visit to the White Cross, where we sampled six of their twenty beers, folowed by steak and Tirril ale pie.
The word “feast” springs to mind when contemplating both the beer and the food lists, yet it was a feast for the connoisseur rather then the glutton. The beers at the Cross ranged in strength from 3.4 (the delectable Oliver’s Light Ale from Coniston) to 5.6 (the ever-popular Theakston’s Old Peculier) and included best bitter, stout, mild, a cask lager, fruit beer and red ale.
I say “connoisseur” because the beer selection reflects three things: expert ale knowledge on the part of the organisers, a good relationship between the bar manager (Tom Wilkinson) and the pub company, and an awareness of what the discerning real ale enthusiast is looking for.
The man responsible for thinking up the festival format six years ago is Tim Tomlinson, proprietor of the three pubs, whose restless imagination is constantly devising different ways of bringing the cask ale message to new people. There are regularly 12 handpumps at the Cross (some festival beers were served straight from the cask on the bar top) and the aim is to have 14 on special occasions. The beer range includes popular, established nationals, while regional and local brewers are well-represented.
The recent festival was just the latest of many held in Tomlinson’s pubs, where anyone at the Cross joining CAMRA on direct debit gets a free pint, and members get a discount on real ales (Sundays — Thursdays). He sees the festival theme as a continuation of a tradition — “The idea of a pie and a pint goes back a long way” — but one that implies a challenge.
“During a regular week drinkers tend to go for what they know, but a festival encourages adventurousness, and it’s a challenge to the team to respond to it. It offers scope for creativity on our part.”
So it is that we find on the liquid menu offerings from the likes of Bath (Spa), Northumberland (Holy Island), Marston Moor (Mongrel) and Naylor’s (Pinnacle Blonde) which are hardly run of the mill; while on the fodder menu the home made pies include Sausage, black pudding & apricot, Pork and leek sausage and apple and cider, and Mussel, spinach and bacon.
Phrases like “feeding the whole man/woman” spring to mind. Which takes me back to the start of this piece. The festival provided the answer to the “nature or nurture?” question and I suspect it’s one we knew all along: both are necessary for our well being. There’s real ale with its wonderful natural ingredients, while a home made pie can nurture in a way few other things can. Case proven.
Those sociologists could have saved themselves a lot of work simply by coming to this festival.