Now I like wine very much and you don’t exactly have to force malt whisky down my throat. But if I had to choose one drink, it would be beer. Good beer, properly made is one of the greatest glories on God’s earth.
As the actor Jack Nicholson said: “Beer, it’s the best damn drink in the world.” Jack was a bit of a hell-raiser in his day, and perhaps the beer was to blame, but not all consumption of beer leads to rabble-some behaviour. It would take more than a pint or two to turn this Julian into that Jack.
My beer consumption is moderate (to me, at any rate) and usually amounts to perhaps two bottles and a pint at the weekend, with pretty occasional beery forays in the week. No rabbles are raised by me, although I might wobble on my bike as I return home. Two pints is my personal limit when cycling, and when doing most other things, too, apart from driving.
In a York Brewery pub, I will often choose Guzzler or Minster Ale. My old newspaper reported this week that bottles of both beers are now being produced over the Pennines in Stockport, although the cask versions are still being brewed within the city walls at Toft Green.
Neil Arden, the brand manager for York Brewery, said contract brewing was a “necessary evil” that will help secure the brewery’s future. Now I know less about beer than Mr Arden, but this statement did worry me a little. Perhaps it is my imagination, but the bottles of Guzzler I have bought recently don’t seem as good as they once were.
Does moving the production of a beer 75 miles away affect the taste, or is it just a matter of romanticism – the idea that a real beer belongs to a real place?
In Cornwall, Sharps Brewery makes great play of its local Doom Bar ale, yet this now ubiquitous beer has been brewed at Burton-upon-Trent in Staffordshire for the past two years. A former Cornish publican told the BBC last year: “I assumed it was made from the local waters. I wouldn’t buy it anymore…”
Sharps Brewery is now owned by Molson Coors, a massive North American drinks company. Last time I looked, Cornwall was a long way from the United States.
Local beer is made from local water, so the beer bore – only sometimes, but I’m not ashamed – will tell you that the water matters. Is the water in Stockport different to the water in York?
Now the York beers are being understudied by Robinson’s Brewery. That brewery produced most of the beer I drank when a little underage – you know, a year or two. Along with Boddingtons in the days when it was good, Robinson’s was my beer of youthful choice. I haven’t had a pint of Robinson’s in ages, but the beer used to be fine – although you did have to take care with the Old Tom. Years ago my father bought in a barrel of this draft barley wine, the consumption of which caused a stairs-stumble incident (not me, by the way, but the culprit knows who they are).
I guess what we are talking about here is the crossing of lines, and the blurring of local distinction. Is a Cornish beer still Cornish if it’s brewed in the Midlands and owned by an American company; is a fine York beer still a York beer if it’s brewed in Stockport?
The danger lies in the companies becoming so big that they end up forgetting why they started making local beer in the first place.
Still on local beery matters, I’ll raise a glass to the efforts of villagers in Murton who are reportedly trying to turn their local, The Bay Horse, into a community pub along the lines of the Golden Ball, York’s first community co-operative pub.
The Golden Ball is a lovely pub, by the way, and well worth a look if you are visiting York. Locals know that already, of course, as locals usually do.