A husband and wife team have broken new ground with a beer fest that showcases ales from within the old Lancashire boundaries. The festival, at Lancaster's Green Ayre pub, offers 24 cask conditioned ales from breweries as far apart as Hawkshead and St Helens, and is proving a hit with customers.
Licensees Nigel and Lizzie Druery, who used to run The Eric Bartholomew in Morecambe, wanted to put on a special event that had both historical and contemporary significance. Said Nigel, “It's a celebration of the old Lancashire, but involves a drink that is very much here today — real ale.”
Lizzie added, “We did our research and came up with a list of beers with a wide appeal. They've been particularly popular with university students, who have enjoyed sampling the different styles and strengths on offer.”
Beers available are from Hawkshead brewery (Staveley), Bank Top (Bolton), Moorhouse's (Burnley) and George Wright (St Helens), while the local scene is represented by five ales from Bryson's in Morecambe.
The Green Ayre festival has won the approval of the local Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) who welcomed the couple's initiative. Media and Publicity Officer Julian Holt, said: “At a time of doom and gloom in the pub trade they have shown what a bit of imagination can do. There's a real feast of local and regional brews on offer over the course of the festival, from session beers to strong ales. And all at £1.49 a pint! We wish Nigel and Lizzie every success.”
Beer festivals are regular occurrences for the Wetherspoon chain, but it is more unusual for individual pubs to organise events of their own. This one was due to finish on 28th January but owing to demand has been extended for a further week, until 3rd February.
Five CAMRA members visited the festival on the fourth day, Thursday 24th January. The beers list had 24 beers, five of which were available that evening. On enquiring, we were assured by licensees Nigel and Lizzie Druery that all the beers would make an appearance at some point in the festival. (As only three days of the advertised festival remained, it looked very likely that it would be extended, and this has now been confirmed.)
- Bryson's Lancashire Bitter (3.8% abv)
- Sulphurous nose. Burst of fruit on palate, then clean-tasting fruit giving way to hop bitterness, which lingers. Quenching, yet quite warming for a beer of this abv. Rating: 3.2
- Bank Top Fairies Fizz (3.6%)
- A very pale bitter. Slightly cloudy? Rather woody flavour. Tasted a tad stale. Disappointing. No one felt inclined to have another. Rating: 2
- George Wright's Lancashire Mill (4.4%)
- Very fruity at start, developing into a complex bitter-sweetness and a lingering bitter aftertaste. Described by one of the team as “a real bitter.” Rating: 3.5
- Moorhouse's Premier (3.7%)
- Well-kept beer in good condition. Smooth texture, quenching, with fruit notes. Three comments from team members: “A well-balanced session beer.” “Nothing wrong with it, but not outstanding.” “Neither challenging nor bland, but somewhere in between.” Rating: 3
- Bank Top Flat Cap (4%)
- Grapefruit nose, fruity, citrus yet restrained in the mouth. More-ish. Described by one of the team as having “a certain character.” Rating: 3
- Clark's (of Huddersfield) Ram's Revenge (4.6)
- Described by someone as “seductive”, we found this a very malty, rich (but not over-sweet) ale. Hops developed in the aftertaste, which was drying. “A very good beer but not an outstanding one.” Rating: 3.7
Also tried (not one of the festival beers)
We were made exceptionally welcome by Lizzie and Nigel, who gave up their free time to answer our questions and discuss a whole range of issues relating to real ale, Wetherspoon's and their plans for the future. We were impressed by their enthusiasm and the emphasis they put on serving well-kept real ale and raising its profile in their pub.
All the beers tasted were in good condition (though there was a slight question mark over Bank Top Fairies Fizz, as indicated above). However, while all the beers apart from Fairies Fizz were classed as “good beer in good form” (a 3 rating), none of the offerings impressed enough to get a 4 (“very good”) rating. Perhaps if the team were to return and try some of the ales yet to come?
We took the opportunity to complain about the music (which is on from 5 pm onwards) and the fruit machines, neither of which were a feature of JD's pubs in the early days.
And in fact CAMRA's 2008 Good Beer Guide, referring to the Wetherspoon's chain, misleadingly asserts: “No music is played in any of the pubs.”
But the team's feelings about the festival were very positive. We welcome this independent initiative from the Druery team, who went out of their way to ensure CAMRA was contacted about the event and to involve us in their future activities (which we feel need to be better publicised than the “Old Lancashire” festival).
We look forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship with all at The Green Ayre...Julian Holt Media & Publicity Officer Lunesdale CAMRA
CAMRA National Beer Scoring Scheme
- Undrinkable. No cask ale available or so poor you have to take it back or can't finish it.
- Poor. Beer that is anything from barely drinkable to drinkable with considerable resentment.
- Average. Competently kept, drinkable pint but doesn't inspire in any way. Not worth moving to another pub but you drink the beer without really noticing.
- Good. Good beer in good form. You may cancel plans to move to the next pub. You want to stay for another pint and may seek out the beer again.
- Very good. Excellent beer in excellent condition.
- Excellent. Probably the best you are ever likely to find. A seasoned drinker will award this score very rarely.