Tastings School - Far from Middling (East Midlands)

Tastings School

From basics to more advanced topics, the Beer School has all the info to expand your knowledge and enjoyment of your beers, ales and lagers.

Categories

Far from Middling (East Midlands)

Several regions of Britain could lay claim to be its most fertile beer producer. One of the least celebrated is the East Midlands. Dominic Roskrow grew up there

For most of us that queasy period when we travel from awkward teenager to young adult is fraught with insecurity and fear. Our first metaphorical fumblings with the bra strap of adult life are ungainly, uncouth and uncultured.

But the memory plays strange tricks on us as we grow older. Light-headed from the hoppy aroma of nostalgia we recall our formative years as some golden idyllic time. Perhaps on balance it was. And certainly if nothing else the journey from the moment we entered the public house nervous and sweaty to ask for ‘a pint of your best bitter, landlord,’ to the days where we would confidently prop up the bar and ask George for ‘a pint of the usual’ evoke warmth, happiness and excitement.

Rural Leicestershire in the late 70s was a million miles away from the gritty city life represented in the BBC television series Life On Mars, and it was – is – something of a rural playground. Unspectacular in the way that the Dales or the Peaks are, the south of the county is unspoilt too – endless fields of the verdant dairy grass enriched from the silt minerals of the Welland River; picturesque periodcottage villages; prim and proper cricket greens; wonderful, hoppy beer.

We’d head out to the east of the county, in an area marked by Market Harborough in the south to Leicester in the north. Our furthest points east were Oakham and Rutland Water as we set out in pursuit of Ruddles County, and whiled away the hours teasing Rutland folk about the fact they were from Leicestershire. There was no west for us – that was all motorway and places such as Coventry. No thanks.

So always north and east.

Occasionally we’d stumble across Greene King Abbot Ale – or was it Abbot Ale Greene King? We knew the beer – a Holy Grail for us back then – but not the brewery, so small and parochial was it in those days.

There was no life north of Leicester.

Just the enemy – the territory occupied by our football rivals, Forest and County. When we ventured there it was annually and we went not as rural ale drinkers but urban warriors, in packs, and almost certainly drinking lager or cider. Now that was the gritty city life of Life On Mars.

For the most part, though, we were easily pleased: small pretty villages with market squares and period pubs; quality real ale from Everards, Ruddles or Marston’s, hearty pub food – common even back then in the inns of the county.

Winters seemed long and severe, and we’d drive out in the ice, inching our way to a brightly-lit pub with an open fire; in summer we’d get intoxicated on the aromas of the crops growing in the fields and waste entire afternoons solving the world’s problems in pub gardens.

The East Midlands has always been great beer territory. If you count Burton in the region – and we always did because it’s on the Trent and that’s an East Midlands river – then the area must at least be on the nomination paper for the award of Britain’s best beer region.

And of course the fun part of growing up is that your boundaries get smaller and your prejudices give way to your curiosity. While training as a journalist in Sheffield (South Yorkshire but borderline nonetheless) I was able to explore the beer outlets of North Derbyshire and North Nottinghamshire. And more recently the region has played its part in the micro-revolution and can offer the drinker some fine choices.

The East Midlands should be celebrated as a beer region. So this time it’s personal. Here is my selection of the region’s best breweries.

A WOMAN’S TOUCH
Female brewers remain relatively rare even in these more enlightened times, but the East Midlands region boasts two of the very finest.

Brewster’s, at Stathern near Melton Mowbray, in Leicestershire, unfortunately shares its name with a national pub chain specialising in cheap and cheerful family meals and big ball pens, but it takes its name from the traditional English word for a female brewer.

In this case it refers to Sara Barton, a master brewer trained at Heriot Watt University in Scotland. Having worked for Courage she set up her own business in 1998. Since then it has doubled its capacity and Sara has won awards for brewing and business skills.

The brewery now serves some 250 outlets and wholesalers and the range includes bottle-conditioned beers and seasonal beers.

Beers include the enchantingly named Hop A Doodle Doo; Belly Dancer, which is a full-bodied ruby red ale; Rutterkin, made with American Mount Hood hops; and our pick – the awardwinning Marquis.

Meanwhile the Springhead Brewery at Sutton-On-Trent in North Nottinghamshire has Shirley Reynolds as its head brewer. She joined in 1999 and by working alongside assistant brewer Tom Rouse and sticking rigidly to the microbrewery’s core philosophy of constantly referring to the recipe book and keeping the number of beers down, she has helped Springhead achieve a string of awards.

Its best-known and most highlyrated beer is Roaring Meg, nicknamed the Big Blonde. It has an ABV of 5.5% and is a premium blonde beer that is distributed to more than 300 pubs. It will be launched in 500ml bottles this summer.

A TOUCH OF PEDIGREE
Burton on Trent has a huge historical significance to British beer production but in recent years its role has been diminished as pub retailing companies have dominated the scene rather than brewers.

Amalgamations and takeovers have meant that one of the town’s main companies is called Wolverhampton & Dudley – a company with obvious roots further west. But one of the company’s core brands is Marston’s and the news that the company would readopt the Marston’s name was greeted enthusiastically by those of us who see beers such as Pedigree as a core part of the Burton legacy.

Marston’s is now termed a ‘super regional’ or ‘national regional’ and its sponsorship of the England cricket team means that its profile is not just national but international.

But for tens of thousands of us it remains a great East Midlands product.

So there.

LANGTON BREWERY, THORPE LANGTON, LEICESTERSHIRE
Many of the Leicestershire microbreweries have been established in the last 10 years or so, after I left the region. But Langton struck a special chord. The Langtons are pretty villages just outside Market Harborough. Pubs such as The Bell were regular haunts.

One of the seasonal brews that this brewery makes is called Boxer Heavyweight Porter and is in tribute to former British heavyweight champion Jack Gardner, who lived and died in the Langtons.

Jack won his champion title in 1951 but in order to qualify for a shot at the belt he fought at Granby Hall in Leicester in a match that is regarded as one of the most brutal ever fought. He won a gruelling encounter on points but both contestants were hospitalised.

That fight and many other bruising encounters took their toll on Jack, who was eventually left in a poor state from his sport.

We’d often see him being led for a walk by a nurse and we’d shout greetings and words of encouragement. I don’t know if he ever heard us. But he died at a cruelly young age as an unsung Leicester hero. A hero nevertheless; so big respect to the folk at Langton for invoking his memory.

HOSKINS BROTHERS, LEICESTER
Originally known just as Hoskins, this brewery has had something of a chequered past since it was set up by brothers Philip and Stephen in 1984. It ceased trading in 2001 and the beers have been contract brewed ever since by various different companies.

The brothers own the Ale Wagon pub in Leicester and this is the base for a brewery that is brewing both Hoskins ales and ales from the former Oldfield Brewery.

The range includes a wheat beer called White Dolphin and a ginger ale, called Ginger Tom.

ALCAZAR BREWERY, OLD BASFORD, NOTTINGHAM
Alcazar, which takes its name from the Spanish word for ‘palace’ is a small brewery behind the Fox and Crown in Old Basford. Now eight years old, it produces a range of beers including seasonal releases and bottled products mainly for the pub but also for local freehouses and festivals. It has experimented with American hops and unusual malt and hop combinations.

BARROWDEN BREWING COMPANY, RUTLAND
Barrowden has been a success story ever since it was launched some eight years ago, with demand regularly outstripping supply. It was set up in a barn behind the Exeter Arms to provide the pub with its own beer. But it has expanded since and now provides beer to festivals and other events locally. Its core range includes a stout and a wheat beer.

THE BREWERIES
DERBYSHIRE
AMBER ALES, Ripley
Special beer: Amber Ales, ABV 4.4%
www.amberales.co.uk

BRUNSWICK BREWERY, Derby
Special beer: Railway Porter, ABV 4.3%
www.everards.co.uk/pubs/brunswick_inn_24

DERBY BREWING CO, Derby
Special beer: Business as Usual, ABV 4.4%
www.derbybrewing.co.uk

FALSTAFF, Normanton
Special beer: Phoenix, ABV 4.7%
www.falstaffbrewery.co.uk

FUNFAIR, Ilkeston
Special beer: Ghost Train, ABV 5%
www.funfairbrewingcompany.com

CALLOW TOP BAD RAM BREWERY, Ashbourne
Special beer: Dr Samuel Johnson, ABV 4.5%
www.callowtop.co.uk

HOWARD TOWN BREWERY, Glossop
Special beer: Wren’s Nest, ABV 4.2%
www.howardtownbrewery.co.uk

JOHN THOMPSON INN AND BREWERY, Ingelby
Special beer: Porter, ABV 4.5%
No website, tel: + 44 (0)1332 862 469

LEADMILL, Derby
Special beer: Charisma Bypass, ABV 4.7%
www.leadmillbrewery.co.uk

LEATHERBRITCHES BREWERY, Ashbourne
Special beer: Belter, ABV 4.4%
www.bentleybrookinn.co.uk

PEAK ALES, Bakewell, Derbyshire
Special beer: Bakewell Best Bitter, ABV 4.2%
www.peakales.co.uk

SHARDLOW BREWING CO, Shardlow, Derby
Special beer: Narrowboat, ABV 4.3%
No website, tel: +44 (0)1332 799 188

SPIRE BREWERY, Stavely, Chesterfield
Special beer: Encore, ABV 3.9%
www.spirebrewery.co.uk

THORNBRIDGE HALL COUNTRY HOUSE BREWING CO,
Ashford-in-the-Water
Special beer: Lord Marples, ABV 4.0%
www.thornbridgebrewery.co.uk

TOLL END BREWERY, Tipton
Special beer: Black Bridge, ABV 4.8%
No website, tel: + 44 (0)121 502 6453

TOWNES BREWERY, Chesterfield
Special beer: Staveley Cross, ABV 4.3%
No website, tel: +44 (0)1246 474 665

WHIM ALES, Whim Farm near Buxton
Special beer: Hartington IPA, ABV 4.5%
No website, tel: +44 (0)1298 849 91

LEICESTERSHIRE
BELLS BREWERY, Ullesthorpe
Special beer: Rainmaker, ABV 4.1%
www.bellsbrewery.co.uk

BELVOIR BREWERY, Woodhill, Old Dolby
Special beer: Gordon Bennett, ABV 4.1%
No website, tel: +44 (0)1664 823 455

BREWSTER’S, Stathern, near Melton Mowbray
Special beer: Rutterkin, ABV 4.6%
www.brewsters.co.uk

DOWBRIDGE BREWERY, Catthorpe
Special beer: Bonum Mild, ABV 3.5%
No website, tel: +44 (0)1788 869 121

EVERARDS, Enderby, Leicester
Special beer: Original, ABV 5.2%
www.everards.co.uk

HOSKINS BROTHERS, Leicester
Special beer: Ginger Tom, ABV 5.2%
www.alewagon.co.uk

LANGTON BREWERY, Burrough-on-the-Hill
Special beer: Baz’s Bonce Blower, ABV 11.5%
No website, tel: +44 (0)1664 454 801

STEAMIN’ BILLY, Oadby, Leicester
Special beer: Robert Catesby, ABV 4.2%
www.steaminbilly.co.uk

WICKED HATHERN, Hathern, Loughborough
Special beer: Soar Head, ABV 4.8%
Tel: +44 (0)1509 842 585

NOTTINGHAMSHIRE
ALCAZAR BREWERY, Old Basford, Nottingham
Special beer: Bombay Castle IPA, ABV 6.5%
www.alcazarbrewery.co.uk

CASTLE ROCK BREWERY, Nottingham
Special beer: Nottingham Gold, ABV 3.5%
www.castlerockbrewery.co.uk

FULL MASH BREWERY, Stapleford
Special beer: Apparition, ABV 4.5%
No website, tel: +44 (0)115 949 9262

HOLLAND BREWERY, Kimberley
Special beer: Cloghopper, ABV 4.2%
No website, tel: +44 (0)115 938 2685

MALLARD BREWERY, Carlton
Special beer: Spittin’ Feathers, ABV 4.4%
www.mallard-brewery.co.uk

MAYPOLE BREWERY, Eakring, Newark
Special beer: Wellow Gold/Mae West ABV 4.6%
www.maypolebrewery.co.uk

MILESTONE BREWERY, Newark
Special beer: Crusader ABV 4.4%
www.milestonebrewery.co.uk

NOTTINGHAM BREWING CO, Radford
Special beer: Extra Pale Ale, ABV 4.2%
www.nottinghambrewery.com

SPRINGHEAD, Sutton-on-Trent, Newark
Special beer: Roaring Meg, ABV 5.5%
www.springhead.co.uk

RUTLAND
BARROWDEN BREWING CO, Barrowden, Rutland
Special beer: Beach Boys, ABV 3.8%
www.exeterarms.com

GRAINSTORE, Oakham, Rutland
Special beer: Triple B, ABV 4.2%
No website, tel: +44 (0)1572 770 065