Blog: A real ale bonanza with Badger and friends...from the Jurassic larder
IT’s an odd fact that while public houses are closing all over the country, more and more micro-breweries are opening, often attached to a free house, and there is an apparently boundless thirst for good real ales.
Hall & Woodhouse, the independent family firm that produces the range of Badger beers, tapped into this enthusiasm with a first-ever beer festival at the brewery at Blandford St Mary last weekend.
The Dorset Beer Festival, with music from three excellent local bands, was held in the courtyard between the old Victorian brewery buildings and the state-of-the-art brewery which was opened last year, only the third new brewery in the 236 year history of Hall & Woodhouse.
Head brewer Toby Heasman, who originally had the idea of the festival, was delighted at the success of the day, which was raising money for the cancer care charity MacMillan.
What made the event special was not only the historic first but that Hall & Woodhouse had invited other local breweries to take part, ensuring that serious beer drinkers had a great selection to choose from.
And the range of 34 different beers, plus four ciders and two perries, also included some Badger beers which had never been available on cask before.
During the day there was a talk by Tom Hampson, chairman of the Guild of Beer Writers – who won envious applause when he said his job was to "travel the world drinking beer" – and a demonstration by mixologist Nick Strangeway of a range of beer cocktails he has devised using Badger beers and seasonal or local ingredients plus cocktail staples such as angostura bitters.
Outside in the courtyard, where drinkers relaxed in the autumn sunshine, there was music from Dorset-based contemporary folk band Brementown, Sylva, a Dorset four-piece playing covers of everything from Louis Armstrong to Lady Gaga, and Blandford’s Punk On Your Hits.
Hall & Woodhouse limited editions
Festivals should be about trying something new, so the dedicated Tanglefoot or Fursty Ferret drinker was encouraged to sample one or more of the limited edition cask ales brewed by Toby Heasman and his team.
These included the light and refreshing 1037 (ABV 3.7%), Winter’s Tale 1058 Strong Ale (ABV 5.8%), a full-bodied winter beer (the name’s a bit of a giveaway), 40 Shades of Pink (ABV 5.5%), a cherry beer with spicy undertones, Charles Hall Napoleonic Pale Ale (ABV 6%), a limited edition NPA “that takes no prisoners,” abounding with hops from the Nelson area of New Zealand, definitely one for those who like a robust beer, and Babies Birthdays & Celebrations (ABV 4.8%), a complex beer with multiple hop additions through the brewing process, which toasts the various celebrations of the brewing team in 2013!
Micro-breweries are popping up all over Dorset these days – one of the newest is Sunny Republic, based at Winterborne Kingston, and producing some interesting beers, including Huna Red (ABV 4.2%) a new age red ale brewed with five malts, citrus hops and hibiscus, and Shark Head (ABV 4.4%), a modern take on a rare Pils variant, that won nods of approval from drinkers on Saturday.
Dorset Piddle, based in the Piddle valley (and leaving no unappetising pun unturned in the beer names) is now well-established, has won many awards and has several pubs around Dorset. Piddle brews at the festival were Jimmy Riddle (BV 3.7%) a complex chestnut beer with a spicy finish and the full-bodied Piddle (ABV 4.1%).
Isle of Purbeck brewery, based at the Bankes Arms at Swanage, was represented by the premium bitter Studland Bay Wrecked (ABV 4.5%), a deep caramel colour ale with rich malt and caramel flavours, and Jurassic Joule (ABV 5%), an autumnal golden amber beer.
Another Purbeck brewer is Corfe Castle Brewery, whose festival offering was Raven (ABV 4.2%), a rich porter made with a blend of roasted malts and traditional English hops.
One of Dorset’s smallest breweries is the appropriately named Small Paul’s at Gillingham. Established in 2006, this half-barrel brewery is located in the owner's garage. There are usually two brews a month, a small number of local pubs and clubs are supplied direct and beers can be designed and brewed to order. Seasonal beers are also available. Beer festival visitors had a chance to try the Invicta (ABV 4.2%).
Dorset Brewing Company, represented by the zesty light amber Dorset Knob ale (ABV 3.9%), is a family business founded by Giles Smeath, who restored an 800-year-old brewing tradition to Weymouth in 1996. Since then, DBC has grown in size and stature, acquiring new premises in December 2010 to accommodate a larger plant and satisfy demand throughout the UK for its real ales.
Established by Scott Wayland in 2009 at Sixpenny Handley on Cranborne Chase, Sixpenny Brewery has made a big impression on the local brewing scene. As well as five regular beers and seasonal ales, Sixpenny Brewery makes house beers for some Wetherspoon pubs and an ale in association with 106 JACK fm radio. The festival beer was the American-style black IPA, Blackmore.
Dorset’s other “big” brewery is Palmers which, like Hall & Woodhouse, dates from the 18th century, and like the Blandford company, is still a family business. Palmers is based in historic buildings at Bridport, where head brewer Darren Batten oversees the production of an award-winning range of five fine ales. The choice at Blandford was Tally Ho! (ABV 5.5%), a complex strong beer with a rich fruit cake flavour, and Dorset Gold (ABV 4.5%), a thirst-quenching golden ale..
And the visitors ...
The beer which travelled furthest was Landlord (ABV 4.3%), the best-known beer from the Yorkshire-based Timothy Taylor brewery. Founded in 1858, Taylor's was created for miners, to compete against local rival Barnsley Bitter. Landlord has been Champion Beer of Britain at the Great British Beer Festival four times, but achieved unexpected national fame when pop star Madonna told Jonathan Ross that it was her favourite beer!
Keystone didn’t have to go far to cross the county boundary. Brewed by Alasdair Large at Berwick St Leonard near Hindon, Keystone produces three regular beers and a range of seasonal ales. The festival choice was Gold Hill (ABV 4%), a traditional artisan pint made from 100 per cent Wiltshire malted Marris Otter barley and 100 per cent English Cascade hops.
Another Wiltshire choice was Hop Back Brewery's famous Summer Lightning. The Hop Back story began in 1986 when John Gilbert began brewing beer at the Wyndham Arms on the outskirts of Salisbury. As demand grew, the Hop Back company was founded in 1991, operating from premises at Downton.
Yeovil Ales, founded in 2005 by Rob and Dave Sherwood, has seven regular beers and a selection of seasonal ales. At Blandford, the choices were Stout Hearted (ABV 4.3%), a smooth dark beer, and Summerset (ABV 4.1%), a blonde ale which was the Sherwoods’ first commercial brew and won the Champion Beer award at the 2006 Weymouth Oktoberfest.
Devon’s popular Otter Brewery produces a range of regular and seasonal and speciality beers. Otter Bitter (ABV 3.6%), the choice for the Blandford festival, is a pale brown beer with a hoppy, fruity aroma, described as an old-fashioned “session beer” produced for drinking with no frills.
Ale and hearty
Well there you have it, 34 interesting, tasty beers proving that there is plenty of life in the brewing business and an excellent choice available in local pubs, whether they are Hall & Woodhouse or Palmers inns, or free-houses offering a wide range of independent real ales.
Autumn is a great time to get out and enjoy the wonderful coastline and countryside of Dorset – and wherever you go, you're not far from a good pub, so dig out your walking shoes, pack your map (or turn on the satnav, if you must) and head out for a good healthy walk, with lunch and a beer as your reward!