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Taste Cumbria Beer Festival, Cockermouth and Pete Brown

September 30, 2012 3 comments

Having explored quite a lot of Cumbrian beers recently, it was good to cap it off with a visit to the Beer Festival at Taste Cumbria.  The CAMRA-run festival at the Jennings Brewery was part of a programme full of exciting food events in Cockermouth.

Because there was so much on, we only got to spend a few hours at the festival, but enjoyed a few of the range of Cumbrian beers and got to talk with some luminaries of the Cumbrian beer scene including Neil Bowness and his other half Sharon, Jeff Pickthall,  Hardknott Alex and Coniston’s Ian Bradley and Helen Bradley.  The beers were a good representation of the Cumbrian beer landscape and included some excellent examples from the progressive fringe, including Hawkshead NZPA, Hardknott Code Black, Coniston Infinity IPAConiston No 9 Barley Wine and Stringers Furness Abbey.

In addition I got to try a couple of beers from breweries that were less familiar to me.  Hesket Newmarket Scafell Blonde was a pleasant light blonde of which it would be easy to sink a few pints after a long summer walk.  Great Gable Yewbarrow from Egremont was a great beer hiding behind an unassuming pumpclip: a 5.5% strong dark mild that was packed with flavour.

We also got to chat with Pete Brown at the festival, and on the Sunday we went to his talk and tutored tasting.  We tried a perry, cider and five beers from the festival, which Pete talked us through in an engaging and informative manner.

He also did a couple of readings from his books, including his new one, Shakespeare’s Local, about the history of The George Inn in Southwark.  It sounded like it should be as fascinating and funny as the rest of his books, an exercise in studying the wood by looking very closely at a single tree. The book is released on 8 November and will be a Radio 4 Book Of The Week in December.  Pete also talked about his new project surveying international ciders and perries for a world cider guide, which sounds like it should be an interesting survey of an drink that isn’t usually considered in a global context.

Sadly, I missed a few of the other beer events, including Jeff Pickthall talking about the more esoteric beers of Cumbria (although Jeff very kindly gave us a bottle of his aged stock of No 9) and Pete and Jeff’s pub quiz on the Saturday night.  But it has been a fantastic weekend and everybody involved, especially including Neil and Sharon, deserve a lot of thanks for the work they put in to showcasing the best of Cumbria’s beers prominently alongside the best of its food.

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Cumbria Way Pubs: The Old Crown, Hesket Newmarket and Hesket Newmarket Brewery

September 26, 2012 5 comments

For our final night of the Cumbria Way we originally intended to stay in Caldbeck, the traditional stopping point before the final 14 or so miles to Carlisle via Dalston, through flatter countryside. Although we had decided not to do that section we thought we might spend a night in the area anyway. Ultimately though, the place we had booked was really quite tatty, so we didn’t, although the owners were at least good enough to give us our deposit back.

We therefore went back to Kendal after an afternoon of pootling about in the car, no harm done and otherwise having had a good day. However, the one shame about the experience is that we didn’t get to have a pint at The Old Crown in Hesket Newmarket. This pretty pub on a picturesque but very quiet village green looks like it might find it hard to survive commercially, and indeed that seems to have been the case, because the website states that it was the first pub to be taken over and rescued by a village cooperative.

The pub is also the brewery tap of Hesket Newmarket Brewery, whose bottled beers I recall trying with little excitement merely due to their conservative styles, but I was very happy to give the wider cask range a chance. It seems that a small brewery’s bottled beers are often the safe styles that sell well, whilst their more interesting experiments are played out on cask. The brewery is similarly owned by a cooperative, and mentions local climber Chris Bonnington and his wife on the website.

The reason we didn’t get to try the beers or the pub was that it doesn’t open until 5.30pm on a weekday outside of peak summertime, which seems sensible given how quiet the village was at 4pm. However having seen the idyllic pub covered in bunting and peered through the window at the wide range on the bar, I’d love to go back to give Hesket Newmarket beers a chance and to see a real community-run pub in action.

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