Guy Fawkes Night 2016 – Burton-on-Trent

Every November 4th, the Burton Real Ale Society gathers at one of our (not so lucky) member’s home to roast, BBQ and fry Meat and drink copious amounts of Ale.

Even though there are hundreds of ales consumed, endless piles of food to consume – as well as live music – we have to stop short of calling it a Festival.

fawjesIt’s not officially ratified by CAMRA and, this year, it was held in my back garden. Guy Fawkes Night is fast becoming a culturally irrelevant event. The historical basis of it’s existence, although dramatic, are so far removed from the way that we appreciate Politics today – that it’s rare that anyone discusses it’s significance.

What it is, for us Real Ale drinkers in Burton, is a good excuse to light a fire, drink some fine English Ale and fill ourselves to burst with masses of roasted meat. It’s one of the events in our social calendars that I look forward to more than any other. Daylight savings have just kicked in, the Winter gloom has well and truly descended over the country and everyone is in dire need of a pick me up.

Preparations for the night began early in the week, as I was forced to assess the state of my living conditions with the clinical ideas of a house guest.

20111204-pork-shoulder - 07We’re not all bachelors in the Society (many of us are even married!) but I have been for a long time. For the most part, the state of house is pretty decent, but there are always certain items which are neglected. One of these was the oven.

Caked in the grease and detritus of a hundred roast dinners, it was in no fit state to prepare food for guests. Thankfully, I had the website of a certain Oven cleaning company (https://www.ovenu.co.uk/) to do all the hard work for me!

With the domestic chores out of the way, what remained was the fun part of organising such an event.

alesThe communal Society kitty would be covering the cost of the beer, but it was still up to me to buy in the selection that would be washing down the food for the 20 or so guests I was to expect on the 5th.

Knowing that we’d be eating predominantly beef and pork, I decided to opt for some strong stouts and dark brown beers – our recent trip to the Birmingham Beer Festival had, thankfully, given me some great ideas as to what to buy.

Along with the usual raft of crowd-pleasers, I perused the list of ales that we had sampled the other night and picked a couple of highlights from the boozy day in Brumtown. With the beer ordered and the meat roasting in my newly cleaned oven, all that was left to sort was the fire and the fireworks!

You can always rely on 20 or so Northerners to drink a house dry, finish all the food and nearly burn the house down.

My head ached something fierce the next day, but at least my home was still in one piece!

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Cooper’s Tavern – Northern Traditions Alive & Well

A cosy corner of Burton that is quintessentially Northern.

Mary Bagley has been the lady behind the taps of The Coopers Tavern for the last 10 years and she’s certainly not in the habit of letting her standards slip.

coopers-1Part of a long lineage of pubs that look like houses, The Coopers is emblematic of the ingrained nature of the Northern drinking culture. The gorgeously domestic pubs are settled deep within the suburban sectors of the city, allowing thirsty industrial workers of yore to nip in to the boozer on their way home from work.

The interior has been well looked after over the years. Unlike other boozers of it’s lineage, it’s resisted the allure of modern accoutrements such as glitzy advertising signs and flashing quiz machines. It’s staunchly loyal clientele have ensured that the decor has remained more or less the same for the last forty years – without any pretension.

coopers-2Landlady Mary has been serving pints for the entirety of her working life and managing Public Houses for nearly half that time.

Her experience shows in the cleanliness of her establishment and the variety of quality ales on offer. Her staff have also been well trained, treating each pint with the deference and respect that it deserves. As with any good drinking establishment, it’s the smaller details that make this place a real cut above the rest.

coopersFrom the immaculately kept paved beer garden, to the embroidered cushions dotted around the the booths and seating areas; every inch of The Cooper’s Tavern is given a personal touch that you simply wouldn’t be able to find in a chain-run establishment.

Unlike the brash eagerness of a newly opened bar, with it’s attempt at trying every little gimmick and fashionable trend, Mary has had the time and experience to simply know what works and what doesn’t. 

Slowly introducing weekly live events like Acoustic Sessions on the weekends has kept the house busy during quieter times. whilst the bar has also started selling locally made Pork Pies – a nod to the great Northern tradition of pie-making, whilst also a cheap and efficient way of keeping punters well fed between pints!

The Coopers has won several CAMRA awards over the year, quite deservedly.

It represents what is good and wholesome about English pubs – proving that, if done well, the traditional English Public House is far from a dying industry.

Birmingham Beer & Cider Festival – 29/10/16

New Bingley Hall was home this year to over 300 different Real Ales and Ciders

There’s a palpable sense of excitement in the bus, as we pulled into the car park in Birmingham. We’d only had to travel an hour to get there from Burton, but somehow the 20 or so likely lads in the bus with me had already managed to drain 4 cans each.

There’s a rich heritage of Brewing (and drinking) in the city of Birmingham, with Aston Manor Brewing Company calling the city home for over 30 years now. On top of budget cider manufacturers, a rash of microbreweries have also cropped up in the last year in the wake of the sudden popularity of craft beers and ales.

Where there are breweries you can always find beer lovers – so it makes sense that CAMRA chose one of England’s most central cities to host one of their largest annual Beer Festivals.

birmingham-skyline

The New Bingley Hall, despite it’s name, is not new at all. It’s been around for a good forty years or or so, the cracks are starting to show, but for the most part it made for a great venue. The entire building had a capacity of 2000 people, although it never felt crowded, even when it was as it’s most busiest.

Within the bustling corridors and cavernous halls, happy volunteers had been hurrying to and fro, racing to get preparations ready for the hundreds of thirsty drinkers that would be piling in for almost 12 hours of drinking over the course of the three days.

 With over a hundred British vendors of real ales and ciders, we were all spoilt for choice. After paying the meagerly £5 on the door, we grabbed our beer tokens and got to the drinking.

The wonderful thing about a good Beer Festival is that, even if you get split off from your pals, you’re surrounded by hundreds of like minded individuals who are always more than eager for a chat – especially if it’s about lovely beer!

beer-festival-2

A similar thing happened to me about 4 hours in to the day. Half the lads had run off to the loos and the other half had disappeared into the beery mass of people, in search of food. Whilst happily sipping on my my Kopek Stout, I bumped into a group of red-faced, rough looking types. I apologised, they laughed it off and we quickly began chatting.

On a normal Friday, this group of engineers would be working hard in a Sheffield warehouse, taking apart and fixing industrial fans and motors. However, their boss had felt charitable this week and sent them down on the train to drink their fill.

I joined them for a pint and then made my way back to my Society pals, many of whom were happily tucking in to some handsome meat pies. On top of the usual pub grub there were dozens of food options on offer, including locally made curries and kebabs. Once everyone had lined their stomachs, the drinking began once more in earnest – and it didn’t stop until the taps ran dry.

By the time the festival kicked out at half 10, we were all ready to sleep on the bus.

10 pints of Ale will tend to do that to you.

 

 

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Derby Inn – Real Cider & Real Food

An unexpected surprise – the re-opened Derby Inn is a joy.

Closed for about a year, as ownership of the traditional pub was shifted, it’s now the home of Wentwell Brewery – a local two-man microbrewery. 

derby-innIt’s the story of small, traditional pubs up and down the country. People stop coming to the pub to watch the game, they stop buying pints and, little by little, the pub starts bleeding money.This was certainly the case for The Derby Inn as they slowly died out of business in October – after the previous owners left for greener pastures. However, salvation was at hand for the humble pub as local Burton real ale brewers, George and Walter of Wentwell Brewery.

The purchase of The Derby Inn made Wentwell Brewery the proud owner of three establishments – informally known as micro-pubs. Upon taking on the place they did very little to revamp the interior design of the place. Even since opening in October, the rustic, home-made feel of The Derby Inn has been a joy to visit. Akin to a fledgling Cricket Club that is just finding it’s feet, the pub is refreshingly barren of the modern day distractions that serve to cheapen the pub going experience.

derb-innYou’ll find no garish jukebox here or obnoxiously branded slot machine. What was once simply a forced decision, based on a lack of funds, has now become a purposeful stylistic choice. It is, admittedly, refreshing to step into a bustling pub on a Saturday afternoon and not be instantly assaulted by the blast of manufactured pop music.

the-derby-innYou won’t find any television here, something die-hard pub goers may well object to, however the lack of football is also a pleasant distraction. It all adds to an heir of traditional sensibilities, which is not something that you come across very often without also being tarred with the ‘hipster’ brush.

The Derby is a pub that is lost in time. It’s charmingly basic bar is served with Wentwell’s fantastic selection of ales. whose traditional flavour notes and characteristics perfectly match the peaceful vibes that echo throughout the place. The publicans here serve guest ales from all around the country, so you can easily spend several hours here sipping gorgeous ale and enjoying some peaceful conversation.

I know, from the reception that it received from my fellow members, that the re-opened Derby Inn has definitely struck a chord with the town’s real ale drinkers.

All it needs to now, is convince the rest of the town of it’s authenticity – and we’ll have a regular drinking spot for years to come.

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