A festival involving three pubs and offering more than 30 beers reinforces Lancaster’s claim to be the North West’s premier location for cask conditioned beer, according to the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).
The event, which took place over 24-26 April, was organised by landlord Tim Tomlinson and involved his three pubs, The Merchants, The Penny Bank and The White Cross. Real ale fans were able to choose from an impressive array of national beers, well-known locals and others that Tim described as “more exotic”.
And if all that hoppy fare stimulated the appetite, drinkers had a choice of 16 home made pies specially baked for the occasion. Cider drinkers weren’t forgotten either, with Weston’s powerful Old Rosy being available at two of the pubs.
Local CAMRA branch press officer Julian Holt said that for its size the city now offered a greater variety of cask conditioned ales than anywhere else in the region. “We congratulate Tim on organising this great festival. Many pubs in Lancaster now put on similar events, as well as offering a wide range of real ales as standard throughout the rest of the year. For discerning beer drinkers it’s definitely the place to be.”
CAMRA also praised the clientele. “The pubs were packed during this festival, but the atmosphere was always good-humoured and friendly,”said Mr Holt. “There was a good mix of ages, plenty of conversation and people sampled the beers widely but drank sensibly. This is what real ale is all about.”
Footnote: The additional hand pumps installed for the festival at The White Cross will become a permanent feature, enabling 12 real ales to be offered from now on.
The festival was held at The White Cross, Penny Bank and Merchants from April 24 to 26 and featured more than 30 real ales. There were one or two “ repeats ” but the three pubs largely had different beers. There were 6 CAMRA members in the tasting team on April 24, and we also had useful input from members of Lancaster University ’ s Real Ale & Cider Soc who we met for the first time at the festival. Many thanks to them! Twenty beers were tried. Though all pubs were visited, most time was spent in the White Cross and Penny Bank. The scoring method was that used by CAMRA ’ s national beer scoring scheme, which has a range of 0 — 5 (0 = undrinkable, 1 = poor, 2 = average, 3 = good, 4 = very good, 5 = excellent).
Best of the crop
- York Brewery ’ s 5.4 abv Centurion ’ s Ghost, described as “ fruity, with a very dry aftertaste, ” went down well and scored 4.5
- Wells ’ Bombadier (4.3 abv), no stranger to the White Cross, was on stunning form and described by one of the team as “ absolutely fantastic...very fresh...wakes up the taste buds...beer of the festival for me. ” 4.0
- Also scoring high (3.8/4.0) was Hobgoblin from Wychwood: “ Nice...rich... ...lovely...well-kept ” according to several drinkers.
- Patriot from nearby Clitheroe brewery Bowland was thought to have a hazelnut character, a sulphurous nose and astringency at the end, with a long bitterness. It has an abv of 4% and scored 3.8.
- Also from Bowland, the 4.5 abv Black Dragon Porter, served on tap from the cask, scored 3.9. Tasters found it to have a “ richly malty nose, a very full mouth feel and a bitter finish ” .
- The great Brakspear stable was represented by the 4% Oxford Gold Organic which scored 3.8 for its “ good fruity nose, ” a prelude to “ a balanced and complex ” taste.
- Hawkshead Red (4.2 abv), “ slightly spicy, very malty, with a pleasant dry aftertaste ” got 3.5, while Okell ’ s 4.5% Eastern Spice received 3.3 for its “ quite pleasant restrained spiciness. ”
Well received were Dent ’ s 4.5 abv Frolicking Good Beer (3.8/4.0), York ’ s Yorkshire Terrier, a fine 4.2 abv premium bitter, described as “ bitter with some fruit, smooth, a really big taste and a beautiful long finish ” (3.5), and the unusual Oliver ’ s Light Ale from Coniston, a mere 3.4 abv. It also scored 3.5 but judgements were mixed. “ Very well-kept, fresh, with a good body and length for its strength, ” thought one, “ light and inoffensive ” thought another.
Theakston Old Peculier (5.6) the once magnificent Old Ale, was thought to be “ not as heavy as it should be, ie it doesn ’ t drink its gravity ” but still scored 3, as did Tirril Red Barn, a 4.4 abv “ slightly sweet, very soft, malty and creamy ” ale, thought to be “ one of the better Tirril beers. ” Another Tirril ale, the amusingly named Timothy Tomlinson Landlord also got 3. The 4.2 abv malty brew was on tap and “ slightly on the warm side ” and, like most Tirril beers provoked a difference of opinion. “ A pleasantly warming effect, ” thought one, “ something and nothing ” retorted another. (It didn ’ t come to blows.)
Scoring a solid 3.2 was the 3.8% Brydge Bitter from Bank Top, which had “ a fairly harsh attack, a malty body and a nice crisp ending. ”
Taking up the rear
- There was some disappointment with Dent ’ s 3.7% Golden Fleece, “ light, crisper than most Dent beers, rather one-dimensional and lacking in finish ” : 2.5
- Allendale ’ s Wolf (5.5%) fared worse. For committing the sin of being “ not very beery ” this beer which had “ a lot of malty sweetness and a touch of “ old ale ” in the palate ” was given 2.
- Dud of the night was Cain ’ s 5% Culture Beer 2008, which was “ just like wort, sweet, gluey, like mead ” and which needed “ a lot more hops. ” It got an uncultured 1.7
Plenty of thought had gone into this festival, particularly on the matter of beer choice and range. The mix of nationally known beers, regionals and more unusual ales worked well. The obvious and unimaginative “ short cut ” of having the same beers in all three pubs was rejected and the result was a stimulating and balanced selection that had something for everyone. Another good idea was having the beers listed on the programme in order of strength rather than alphabetically.
A number of people commented favourably on the number of lowish abv beers available — a total of 11 at or below 4%, unlike the practice at many festivals.
The quality was consistent across the pubs in terms of condition and freshness, though once again (as at so many beer festivals) the issue of dispense raised its head. The beers on tap tended to be slightly warm. In addition it is a fact that some northern beers get much of their essential character from being dispensed by hand pump via a sparkler and have a completely different mouth feel and even flavour profile when drawn straight from the cask. This was particularly noticeable with Bowland Black Dragon where the rich, creamy texture and flavour was transformed into something rather less impressive. We don ’ t intend to underestimate the problems of presenting and serving so many beers in one place, but are raising it here as it warrants further discussion.
In conclusion, this was a well-organised, efficiently run festival (thanks to the friendly staff for all their hard work) with a satisfying array of fine beers. The punters certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves: drinking plenty of different ales (but not to excess) and discussing their merits. If further evidence was needed of the inherently civilised nature of the real ale “ world ” the atmosphere in the pubs provided it.
Julian Holt Media & Publicity Officer Lunesdale CAMRA