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CAMRA Lunesdale

Report on Wetherspoon’s Beer Festival

A tasting panel of Lunesdale CAMRA members visited Lancaster’s two Wetherspoon pubs at the start of the pub chain’s “Full Moon” (Dark & Light) Festival, which ran until the end of October. Up to 35 beers were available, all of which are described in the useful Tasting Notes on display in the pubs.

At the Green Ayre we were disappointed that only 3 Festival ales were on sale. We were also nonplussed to hear that the pub would be shut from Monday 23rd to Thursday 26th while a new pumping system is installed. However, the beers were all in good condition and served at just the right temperature. Banks’s Bostin Bitter (4.2), a malty beer with a dry finish was first on the list, followed by a fine stout from Everard’s Pitch Black, (4.3) and Herold Black Chalice (4.8), a rich and chocolatey beer from the Czech Republic.

Using the CAMRA National Beer Survey scoring system (top score:5) Black Chalice and Pitch Black got 4 each, with a 3 for Bostin Bitter. We congratulate the Green Ayre for its well-kept ales and Wetherspoon’s for making a quality continental beer available on draught. We should also mention the range of Festival bottled beers at The Green Ayre, which includes the 11% Thomas Hardy.

At the Richard Owen we encountered George Wright’s Drunken Duck (3.8) which was a surprise because, though billed as a Festival brew, it wasn’t on the official list. It was definitely past its best, with a stale, acidic flavour and a musty nose. We scored it 1 and informed the management. The 3 other beers (again we would have welcomed a bigger selection) were much better, all in good condition and two on stunning form.

We gave a 2 to Shepherd Neame’s Whitstable Bay (4.1). Nothing at all wrong with it either as a beer or the way it was kept, but the consensus was that it was somewhat disappointing for a Shep’s. The Richard Owen’s continental representative was the 5% Fruit Beer from the Belgian brewery Ecaussinnes, a raspberry creation which was rated 3. It could have scored higher but wasn’t served cold enough (surprising for Wetherspoon’s!) for a beer of this type and struck us as rather cloying. The two stars were Everard’s Pitch Black (once again) and the outstanding Tower (5%) from our own Lancaster Brewery. The latter wasn’t on the Festival list but was probably the beer of the evening for us - a richly warming ale with a full mouth feel, huge hop character and an alcoholic “punch” in the aftertaste.

The management at both institutions were friendly and helpful, particularly so at The Richard Owen, where interest was expressed in learning more about CAMRA and attending our meetings. We wish them a successful Festival and look forward to trying a fuller range of beers in the days ahead. Steve Dunkley, Julian Holt, Sue Holt, Cliff Laine, Steve Neale and Martin Sherlock were the tasting team.

Julian Holt

A smaller detachment (Martin Sherlock and Jenny Greenhalgh) visited the Eric Bartholomew in Morecambe on Tuesday 24. Here there was a choice of ales which justified the label “beer festival”. There was a fair degree of overlap with the Lancaster pubs. Beers we had seen before were Shepherd Neame’s Whitstable Bay, Ecaussinnes Fruit Beer, Everard’s Pitch Black, and Herold Black Chalice, which were much the same as in Lancaster, except that we gave the Whitstable Bay a 3.

There was one definite dud, Rosebridge Wild Rose (4%), which tasted of vinegar and cardboard and therefore scored a 0. This is another beer not on the festival list: the inference is that they are last week's leftovers. The beer was changed promptly and cheerfully, but it was not taken off sale while we were there.

The other beers were all in good condition. Robinsons Lighthouse (4.0%) scored a 2 because it was surprisingly thin and flavourless; Lees Ruddy Glow (4.5) is full-bodied and malty with a thick mouthfeel and scored 3; most of you will have encountered Cains Raisin Beer (5 %), an intensely fruity drink with a creamy/yeasty note, 2 because it is not very easy to drink; Marston's Wicked Witch is a 4.6% dark malty brew with a distinct grainy (wheat?) taste - another 3.

The ales were all sold colder than in Lancaster — a more typical Wetherspoon’s temperature in fact — this would favour the light beers over the dark, which may be reflected in our scoring.

Martin Sherlock

Another member attended the Eric Bartholomew festival on another date. His list follows. The discrepancies from the account above can be taken to show either how tastes differ, or how a living beer can evolve over time, or most likely both.

Blond (Smiles) Good condition, clean and hoppy. Rating: 3.

XPA (Caledonian) Good condition, conforms to tasting notes. 3.

Cambridge Bitter (Elgood’s) As above. 3.

Strawberry Fields (Bateman’s) Distinctive strawberry flavour (for those who want it). Good condition. 3.

Dark (Brains) A pleasant mild, which matched tasting notes. 3.

Lone Wolf (Highgate) Good blend of malt and fruit, with a satisfying bitter finish. Attractive foam collar head. Served at just the right temperature. 3.

Black Chalice (Herold) Almost like a porter in style. Looks like (and sticks to the glass like) Guinness, but with a less sharp taste. Pleasant subtle after taste. 4.

Marston’s Wicked Witch (Wolves & Dudley) Not inspiring. Flattish with little noticeable flavour. 2.

Centurion’s Ghost Ale (York) This prize-winning beer was kept and served well. Lived up to its reputation as CAMRA’s champion strong ale of Britain 2006. 3.

Lighthouse (Robinson’s) Good condition, hoppiness personified. Presentation and taste commendable. 3.

It was disappointing that during the first two days of the festival there was no promotional ale below 4.5 ABV to choose from.

Though Wetherspoon’s have been criticised for unreliability and inconsistency of quality in their real ale provision, that was not the case on this occasion. Another point is that, while some pubs see festivals as an opportunity to put prices up, Whetherspoon’s offered all these cask conditioned brews for £1.49 a pint!

Overall rating for festival

Enjoyment: 2

Promotion of quality beer: Overall 3

Alan Foxcroft