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Sampling Some French Beers: Lyon Biere Festival

As you might imagine, it takes quite a lot of convincing to persuade a group of 5 die-hard English ale drinkers from Burton to get into a car and drive all the way to Lyon, France for a beer festival.

“We’ve got all the beer we need here.”

“No Frenchie is going to make a better bitter than one of our brewers!” 

Despite these initial complaints, a brief look at the weather forecast for the south of France in late April was enough to change their minds and soon we were on the long road to Lyon for the fourth iteration of the city’s beer festival. Whilst us English have been gathering in tents, village halls and fields for decades, the French have only just started out and we thought it would be interesting to see how they do things across the water.

After renting a villa in the south of France, we set off on the road. The drive to Lyon was a long one, punctuated with numerous pit-stops and there were a handful of moments when we wondered whether it would have been more expedient to take a flight there, but after 15 hours we arrived at our villa, a little frazzled but much appreciative of the warmer weather. Although the complaints from the back of the minibus had been loud at first, as the journey had progressed and the weather grew fairer, these grumbles soon became mumbles of approval.

We had a day looking around the countryside near the villa, soaking up the warm Spring weather and sampling some local beers with our dinner in the evening. Thankfully, we were able to find a place that served a good steak, so spirits were high as we left the next morning for Lyon proper and our visit to the Lyon Biere Festival.

To our surprise the crowd at the Lyon Biere Festival were a little different to the usual crowd we’d see down at the Burton Beer Festival. Beer festivals in France were clearly a young man’s games at this point in time, and members of our party felt a little out of place being a good thirty or years older than the average attendee. Unsurprisingly, after a few fine French lagers these worries were quickly forgotten and we were soon chatting amiably with the locals who were curious about how a small group of senior Englishmen had found themselves in Lyon.

Having never visited France before the Burton Ale Drinker team left Lyon with nothing but good memories. Whilst all were agreed that there wasn’t much in the way competition between our British Ales and France’s lager, we had to admit that they certainly knew how to put on a large-scale event! This festival was smoothly operated, very affordable (just €6 per person!) and once we were inside the drinks didn’t cost us a fortune. Best of all we were able to buy a selection of bottles that we were particularly fond of, although not many of them lasted the long drive back to Burton……

Rochdale Beer Festival

There’s nothing quite like a beer festival to warm the cockles of your heart, especially when Winter is beginning to truly set in.

Somehow the sounds of laughter and drinking are more welcome during the Winter than the Summer.

In a lot of ways, Winter is truly the season for us ale drinkers. Whilst many will attest to the effectiveness of a quality ale during the height of our ‘English Summers’, I’ve always felt that they shine best during the dark, frosty days of Winter. Let the Summer be left for the young and the care-free; those kids willing to spend all night drinking and dancing the night away, with no care as to how they’ll get home or where they’ll sleep.

During the harsh Winters that we have to contend with here in Burton-on-Trent, the young people all but disappear in their homes.

They spend their evenings watching Netflix, surfing the internet and looking at videos of other young people enjoying the sun in far-flung lands. They either spend their time watching videos of other young people enjoying the sun in far-flung lands, or they save their money and head out to the far-flung lands themselves. More power to them we say – at least that’s what we used to say.

It’s rare that you’ll find a town council happy to open the doors of it’s Victorian Town Hall to hundreds of beer drinkers, clearly they’ve had no problems in the two years preceding it (this is only the 3rd incarnation of the festival) however, the ambience feels decidedly more rambunctious than we expected. The sun is close to setting when we arrive outside the Great Hall and the sound of merriment inside is decidedly more animate than we’re usually used to hearing. Perhaps we had the wrong venue?

We push through the grand wooden doors and are greeted by the familiar smell of hops, however the sight is a little different to what we’re used to.

There are young people here, dozens if not hundreds of them. We initially take a step back, shocked by the fresh faces and bright eyes – expecting to be greeted by the same kind of brash behaviour that we’re used to seeing during the height of Summer: this does not happen. These young people appear bookish, sipping their half pints of ale and conversing in hushed tones about their drinks. We breath a collective sigh of relief and make our way in, easing into our surroundings as we go.

Over 100 ales, ciders and perries are available to purchase in the Great Hall, we make it through about 8 or 9 of each of them before we have to take a break for some food. Whilst we’re queuing for our hog rolls, we’re asked if we can talk a little quieter – around a quarter of the people in our vicinity are in their early twenties and seem vaguely vexed that a small contingent of Burton old boys have decided to eat at the same time as them. We apologise and munch our food down in contented silence.

The youth might well enjoy the Summers more than us, but it’s still the older generations who have a claim over Winter!

Lymestone Brewery Tour – Bee-hind the Scenes of a Great Brewer

An evening spent in a brewery is never a wasted one.

This small team of passionate brewers have been pumping out some fantastic beers and ales for the past few years – with the brewery only 30 miles or so away – it was prime time we made a visit.

lymestone-brewery-tourLymestone Brewery stands on the hallowed grounds of, what used to be, Brent’s Brewery back in 2008. The site had been famous for pumping out ale at the very start of the 20th Century, however, after changing hands several times – the site eventually ended up in the ownership of Ian Bradford. Ian, known as ‘Brad’ by his colleagues and visitors on the tour, is a burly Northern man who has a clear enthusiasm and passion for brewing.

Brad had been working at the successful Titanic Brewery in Burslem for 10 years, before making the brave step into the world of independent business and setting up Lymestone Brewery with Ron Makin (who has since left the company). Relying heavily on his decade long experience in the industry, despite the £250,000 investment that the pair had accrued leading up to their first year in business – it was still essential that he perfectly formulate the first batch of ale (what would become their most popular dark-beer, “Stone the Crows”).

The first brew was a success – the beer successfully sold and Lymestone Breweries were able to continue to expand into their new premises.

lymestone-teamLymestone continually produce their two flagship beers, the chocolatey and robust ‘Stone the Crows’ as well as the complex Germanic ‘Ein Stein’. On top of this, they rotate production of three guest ales which are shipped out to pubs and a limited amount of retailers.

The small team of brewers and sellers have done very well over the past few years. So well, in fact, that they’ve decided to open up the doors of the factory and let interested visitors in, to see what hides behind the curtain.

I was accompanied on the two hour tour round the brewery by 5 of my fellow Society members, as well as an excitable group of American tourists.

They were marketers for a College based promotions company (, on a UK business trip and taking time out of their schedules to enjoy an evening learning about beer. They’d heard about English Ale, but never tried it before. Although us experienced Ale-drinkers could tell that the initial taste was a bit of a shock to the palate, the yanks were soon happily guzzling it down – a testament to the accessibility of Lymestone’s ales.

The tour began with a short introductory tour, accompanied with a couple of pints of Lymestone’s delicious beer. The Director himself took us through a short history of the company, recounting to us the highs and the lows of starting up a Brewery.

Brad made for a great host. He was clearly at ease talking to a large group of people and his passion for his job, as well as the people that he worked for, shone through with abundance. Excitably passing around pints of ‘Stone the Crows’, he talked us through how he brainstorms a concept for a beer and then slowly takes it from half-formed idea through to fully fledged beer.

I won’t go into full detail as to the nuts and bolts of the tour itself, as you’d be much better served by visiting the brewery yourself – something I wholeheartedly recommend.

With his passion for the industry at the forefront of the tour, supported by repeated returns to the brewery’s bar, this was a tour well worth taking.

Inaugral Uttoexeter Beer Festival – Country Charm Personified

The inaugral day of a Beer Festival is always one filled with excitement.

The Uttoxeter Lions Society has been running for a while now, they’re just a hop, skip and a jump away from us here in Burton – so, every now and again, we find our paths crossing at Festivals and Brewery Tours.

uttoexeterWhere we fundamentally differ in our approach to running a society is that, where we’re quite happy to tour the country drinking as much ale as we can muster, the guys over in Uttoxeter want to put together the events themselves.

A great deal of work and preparation goes into pulling off a successful festival, even one on a small scale. There’s venue hire, licensing, contacting brewers, selling tickets, marketing, food stalls, entertainment and so much more to think of – it’s even harder for first-time organisers.

Having fond memories of drinking with this particular group of ruffians, us here at Burton Real Ale Society had all our fingers crossed for these guys in the run up to the big day. If it went well then it would be a yearly fixture on our social calendar and, with Uttoxeter only being half an hour away, a great excuse to start socialising more with our Ale-loving compatriots.

When we arrived at around 3pm, the party was already in full swing.

There was a band set up in the main tent, where the majority of the brewers had set up shop and the lively sound of conversation made the whole ambience all too inviting.

A winter beer festival is a tricky event to pull off. I’ve been to all too many that have failed to take into account the frigid conditions of the November weather. Freezing cold beer tents, out of season ales and confusing food choices can often throw the party off whack and have guests wishing that they were somewhere else.


Luckily, the organisers clearly knew what they were doing.

Instead of the usual litany of fast food burger vans, which have the tendency of cheapening events, they invested in several meat roasts. Hog, Ox and Beef were all on offer and, as the meat had been sourced locally, the prices were kept relatively low. To pair with these offerings, they’d found some wonderful local providers of Ale and Cider, eschewing the more fashionable city-based start-ups in favour for traditional outfits that have earned their place as some of the best brewers in the county.

Live bands played continually on two different stages, alternating between lively traditional folk music and more upbeat rock’n’roll. The air of the event was more in line with a village fair than a modern beer festival, which made for a refreshing change.

When you visit as many Beer Festivals as we do over the years, they can tend to blur into one. Set in shapeless conference centres and halls, they risk losing their identity. 

The 1st Uttoxeter Beer Festival, however, was a riotous success – filled with country charm and packed with delicious ale and ciders.

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 ( 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!


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.


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!


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.




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.