Beer & pub column

EVERYONE is a beer judge these days, it seems.

At beer festivals and pub events, and repeatedly online, we are encouraged to have our say on beers, breweries and pubs. Let popular opinion reign supreme. Separate the wheat from the chaff, the wonderful from the woeful and all that.

Hundreds of years ago though, York was ahead of the times.

Long before websites and apps like Ratebeer, TripAdvisor and Untappd, York had its own army of beer and pub judges. But they were a lot more menacing than today's bloggers and enthusiasts. And there was a lot more at stake than mere reputation.

In the middle ages, the annual Assize of Ale was a serious business. Water was so polluted that beer was a safer drink, consumed widely across the land.

But there was Royal concern that the beer might not always be of good enough quality to keep the lowly subjects fit and well. Cue the Assize.

To test the quality, the Sheriff of York would assemble his serjeants. Anyone failing to answer the summons could be fined, and inn-keepers found to be selling sub-standard ale would be fined too, and (no doubt) publicly shamed, whatever form that took back then. A bitterstorm to compete with today's twitterstorms, perhaps.

The custom died out but, 25 years ago this year, it was resurrected.

York's Guild of Scriveners decided the Assize of Ale could be modernised and adapted, and boy have they done a good job!

The Sheriff still leads the event, starting with a solemn declaration on the steps of the Mansion House. But the fines have been replaced with charity donations. The Sheriff's serjeants nowadays consist of city councillors, friends and charitable supporters, and they go from pub to pub, in two groups, sampling the beers and collecting donations.

York Press:

FLASHBACK: Participants in the 2014 Assize of Ale

This year's event takes place this Saturday (August 13) and the Sheriff of York, Jonathan Tyler, is taking it seriously. Well, as seriously as he should, at least.

"The Lord Mayor, Dave Taylor, knows the pubs better than I do - if that doesn't reflect on the Lord Mayor," he says. "He leads one group and I lead the other, and we visit six pubs each.

"If we did find a beer that was a bit dodgy, we would not take any action on the spot. But we would perhaps raise an eyebrow about it."

Don't say you weren't warned, landlords!

"I will be trying to look as distinguished as possible, and it should all be fun," he adds.

If you want to support the assize, you can either follow the groups round on the day, join them at any point, or visit any of the participating pubs in advance, all of which have "lucky square" raffles, for £1 a ticket.

The procession begins outside the Mansion House in St Helen's Square at 1.50pm and the groups then split into two.

The blue route will take in The Three Cranes in St Helen's Square at 2.05pm, The Roman Bath next door (2.40pm), The White Horse in Bootham (3.20pm), Ye Olde Starre Inne at 3.55pm, The Golden Lion in Church Street (4.35pm) and The Golden Slipper in Goodramgate (5.10pm).

The green route will take in The Blue Bell in Fossgate (2.10pm), The Blue Boar in Castlegate (2.45pm), The Three Tuns in Coppergate (3.25pm), The Last Drop Inn (4pm), The Snickleway (4.40pm) and The Royal Oak in Goodramgate (5.10pm).

Both groups then head to an all-ticket medieval feast, sponsored this year by York Beer and Wine Shop in Sandringham Street.

All proceeds will be split between York Civic Trust, York Racial Equality Network, York LGBT Forum, Friends of St Nicholas Fields, St Leonard's Hospice and Door 64.