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Campaigning for good beer in good pubs in north Lancashire and the Ingleborough area

CAMRA Lunesdale

School's in...

Ian Walsh (owner), Garth Whittaker (brewer), Ren Wallbank (owner), Brian Peters (sales)

After a session on the blackboard I had an encounter with the headmaster, who gave me detention. “It’s either that or hopscotch,” he said sternly. “Please sir, can’t I have both?” Indeed I could. And I did!

Ever wanted to relive your schooldays? Well, last night you had the opportunity. Though this was for big boys and girls only. A new educational establishment has arrived on the scene: a quaffers’ college, a school of beer, an academy of ale. Yes, Old School Brewery is now accepting students. A typical conversation might go: “So, Principal, what is it you do here?” “We make beer.” “Crikey, in my day we did woodwork.”

Enough of the education theme... Or perhaps not, because the launch of OSB’s stunning portfolio of beers at Lancaster’s Waterwitch was, in the full sense of the term, an educational event. We learned about tradition, commitment and dedication, we had a taste tutorial where all the outcomes were achieved, and in the end of term test I awarded them ten out of ten.

For dentist Ian Walsh and builder Ren Wallbank (I’ll resist jokes about a shared interest in cavities), together with brewer Garth Whittaker all the months of planning and building (the brewery is housed in a converted barn in Warton) paid off in the reception their beers received. The Waterwitch was packed and buzzing — I don’t think I’ve seen such enthusiasm (and thirst) at a brewery launch.

It’s not difficult to see why. Ale making has its subtle complexities, but at its heart is a simple principle that nevertheless some brewers miss: the beer must taste of something. Old School’s beers are true individualists, all unashamedly bold in taste, but with distinctive luscious flavours that distinguish one from another. A common factor is full mouth feel — that glorious combination of texture and taste that gives a great beer its developing flavour and final body.

I used the word “stunning” earlier, and I’ll use it again. Try OSB’s 3.7% Blackboard mild and you’ll understand why. Grainy, oaty texture through a massive creamy richness, full roast notes, drying black chocolate finish. (It’s a mild that prompts favourable comparison with the best: Holt’s, Bank Top, Cains.) Or what looks like its polar opposite, the delicate, glowingly pale Hopscotch, a 3.7% thirst quencher, with a huge, juicy taste for its gravity and a massive hop presence. You could drink it till the cows come home. Or the bell goes for end of school.

But you must leave room for the other two. Don’t be deceived by the straw-coloured Detention (4.1%) — it’s different from Hopscotch: plenty of fruit at the start, not quite so big on the hops but a nicely drying and lengthy finish. But top of the form is undoubtedly Headmaster (4.5%) in my view set to win (together with Blackboard) a host of prizes at future beer festivals. At a time when most bitters seem to be blanching (the word anaemic springs to mind) thank God for a beefy beer that’s had half a ton of crystal malt thrown at it and come out smiling. Drink it and you get great wedges of flavour: sweet malt, dark fruit, and in the end biscuity and then hoppy.

This is a complex and mighty beer with an extraordinarily full mouth feel.

Thanks to all for a truly memorable occasion: to the OSB team for your dedication to the cause, to Emma Procter of Mitchell’s for the arrangements, and to Emma May and crew at the wonderful Waterwitch, whose warmth and efficiency put the finishing touches to the evening.

School’s in for Summer, and for all the seasons that lie ahead.

Julian Holt, Press Officer, Lunesdale CAMRA

Old School Brewery will be featured in the August 2012 issue of Lunesdale Drinker, the branch magazine.