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Pride and prejudice
JULIE HAYES is surprised to discover some fine beers at a meet-the-brewer event with Fullers.
ON a ferocious Monday night, as floods lash North Yorkshire, there is refuge inside a village pub.
Warm and welcoming, the St Vincent Arms in Main Street, Sutton upon Derwent, is already half full, and soon packed with standing room only.
Not bad for a weeknight with the challenges facing the industry. Landlord Simon Hopwood said the family business has always had a good core of regular customers, and its food makes it a destination for diners.
The reason for the turnout was a visit from John Keeling, head brewer of West London’s Fullers brewery.
The pub, a freehouse that has been named York CAMRA pub of the year twice in the past ten years, has been owned by the family for 23 years, when Simon bought the pub along with his late mother Enid, father Philip and brother, Adrian, the chef.
The epitome of a family affair, it also employs Simon’s wife Christine, kids James and Rachel and Adrian’s wife Clare.
Simon said: “We have been a family business for 23 years and started dealing with Fullers about 20 years ago.
“It simply was good beer and we like it. We were introduced with London Pride and then started with Chiswick Bitter, ESB and have had all their guest beers over the years.”
While not a regular thing, the pub also welcomed Timothy Taylors to talk earlier this year, not to bring in trade, but to give something back.
“You see all these pubs that are struggling, but we have had a lot of regular customers and have built up loyal trade over the years, and we give it back with good service, good food and good beer so they keep coming back.”
Now, I have to admit I’m not a huge fan of London Pride, Fullers’ main beer which makes up 170,000 of the 220,000 barrels the brewery produces each year. Although quaffable, I find the malty beer lacking a bitter kick to suit my own tastes.
And with the great and growing range of locally produced beers available, I hadn’t gone out of my way to try many more.
However this event not only taught me about the history, heritage and process behind the business, but also the innovation still happening at the traditional Griffin brewery and introduced me to a number of new beers to look out for.
I was taken with the refreshing lingering bitterness of the Chiswick Bitter, and the more robust ESB with its 5.5 per cent ABV, and particularly enjoyed Wild River, an American-style double-hopped pale ale, released as a guest beer earlier this year.
Bengal Lancer, Fullers’ latest seasonal beer, is a pale hoppy 5 per cent ABV IPA brewed as it was in the 19th century, which has proved very popular, said Simon, and is probably by now, no more.
By the time John rolled out the specials, from the Vintage brew Fullers bottles each year with a blend of that year’s finest malt and hops to Organic Honey Dew, brewed with Brazilian honey, I was sold.
Of particular note was the 1845, first brewed in 1995 to celebrate the brewery’s 150th anniversary, and matured for at least 100 days. Its ten per cent of amber malt, which gives the rich fruity spicy flavour, had to be specially commissioned in 1995, and we owe this winning 6.3 per cent ABV brew for the comeback of amber malt after the beer’s popularity kept it in regular production.
Old Burton Extra is a strong ale with a rich malty nose that doesn’t disappoint. The beer is part of the Past Masters series started when John dug out the brewery’s old Brew Book, which contains every recipe brewed by the business since 1845. At 7.3 per cent ABV, it is based on a 1931 recipe featuring maize and a special brewing syrup.