Brewing has taken place in the county for over 800 years, many breweries have prospered here producing some fine and well loved ales for the thirsty people of the town, today that tradition continues with many small artisan brewers recreating some of the beers from yesterday and also creating new takes on old idea's.
The water found deep underground in the centre of Northampton which incidentally once refreshed English Kings, is particularly well suited to brewing and has been used over the centuries and on to this day with Phipps NBC using it in its own brewing operations. Phipps was a major brewer in the town for many years its former site being where Carlsberg now stands, it disappeared due to various reasons, but today its beers are being brewed again on a smaller scale in the centre of the town.
Come with us and visit some of the breweries and meet the brewers whose passion is reflected in the quality of the beers produced, sample for yourself from the wide variety of beer types, my particular taste is for a nice porter, but there are pale ales, IPA's, bitters, stouts, and many others to try.
During the course of excavations for a new building currently being constructed in the centre of Northampton a 13th century malting oven was uncovered. This was dismantled and reassembled not too far from its original location and can be viewed today.
Below is the tap room of the new Phipps brewery and below that a picture of the original Phipps brewery during its demolition.
The 13th Century malting oven
Wooden Walls of old England
Public Houses linked to the war
Civil war ghosts in Northamptonshire
The World's End public house, Ecton Village, Northamptonshire.
The name is an interesting one for a public house, and one suggested reason for the name "The World's End" is that a temporary prison compound may have been located there for royalist prisoners taken at the 1645 Battle of Naseby. Because of the fairly primitive medicine available at that time many soldiers on both sides died of wounds suffered during the fighting or from a combination of that and the ill treatment they received from their captors, hence the name would be more than apt for some of the unfortunates that ended their days there.
The cellar supposedly was used as a mortuary and over the years many landlords have reported the sound of footfalls and shadowy figures in the basement.
As well as its connection to the war Ecton is best known as a place of pilgrimage for visitors from the United States, being home to the family of Benjamin Franklin for over 300 years, a blacksmith by trade, Franklin's father was born here in 1655 and is buried with many of his ancestors in the churchyard.
Renaissance in brewing in Northamptonshire.
In the dark days of my largely misspent youth the beer available was with a few notable exceptions uniformly bad, there were some shockers, beer that had no right to call itself beer by any definition of the word, which is why at that time I drank lager.
Since then in line with the rest of the country Northamptonshire has seen a rise in the number of small breweries from something like eight a few years ago to twenty two, all producing a variety of it has to be said mostly very good brews. The people that started these enterprises are passionate about beer, its quality and its availability to the widest spectrum of beer drinkers which from my point of view is a splendid state of affairs,
A few years ago I discovered a dark beer "Beijing Black" being served on draught in a pub which used to be one of my old haunts being one of the pubs I used to play skittles in back in the day, anyway dark beers such as Porters, Stouts, Milds, are what I will always try if I'm out and about, this particular beer is brewed by Potbelly Brewery based in Kettering.
I made a note of the breweries details and contacted them the next day and I asked if I could meet the owners and take a look around the brewery fully expecting to be told they were too busy, so imagine my delight when Ian one of the owners said "come over tomorrow and I'll show you round".
So on a Saturday morning I travelled over to meet Ian and chat with him about the business, he can be seen below removing the yeast from the top of the latest brews in the three fermentation tanks.
Conditioning vessels Pinky and Perky
I got chatting to Ian about the origins of the business, and about the building the brewery was located in which looked very much like an old factory, and an interesting story emerged of how three work colleagues had worked in the same building when it was a leather factory making belts and other leather items, sadly competition from abroad eventually caused the company to stop trading.
Before this happened Ian had with another of the lads Tony tried to keep the business going while another friend and work colleague Glen experimented with small scale brewing, with a view to seeing if they could brew a decent beer and if so could they go on to develop the brewing business into a viable way of the three earning a living doing something they all enjoyed.
Glen also touted round the local pubs to see if he could raise any interest in their fledgling beers, and their success was such that I'm told that now Potbelly supply hundreds of outlets with their products. Indeed you can find some of their beers not only in pubs but also in local supermarkets which is proof that locally produced drinks and foods are now taken a lot more seriously.
The Potbelly story I'm glad to say is only one of many tales of how enterprising individuals have revitalised brewing and provided to the great British drinker a wonderful variety of beers which beer drinkers 30 or 40 years ago would have died for.
At the weekend I went to one of my favourite country pubs and there are many to choose from, but this one stands out for me.
And above you can see all the local producers they use including Potbelly, if you are ever visiting Northamptonshire I would highly recommend this pub / restaurant, the food is excellent and very reasonably priced and the service is superb, I know a lot of places can talk the talk when it comes to customer service but here they can walk the walk, and they do it consistently.
Happy eating and drinking.
We all need a day out occasionally, a bit of light relief from work and other such inconveniences, so yesterday it was the annual pilgrimage to the Great British Beer Festival at Olympia in London, it’s something I do every year with some old school mates who I spent a lot of my youth in local hostelries with.
So after a nice little train journey from Northampton Castle Station to Milton Keynes and a change there to London Olympia takes us to our venue, but such is the popularity of this beer orgy that long queues form outside, so we bypass this by visiting a pub just up the road a few minutes walk away which is a Fullers house, namely The Hand and Flower. Here it is our tradition to have a few pints to while away the time until the queue had disappeared, and for me its usually a pint of Chiswick Bitter and whatever else I see which takes my fancy, disappointingly this year Chiswick Bitter was not on, life can be so disappointing.
Fullers it seems now have a joint venture with Dark Star
I'm going to be honest the Dark Star Pale Ale I tried was not a patch on Chiswick Bitter, and I was disappointed to see more Dark Star beers on offer than Fullers own brews, and this sentiment was echoed by my fellow drinkers, still change happens so I will have to live with it but hopefully Fullers will continue to brew Chiswick Bitter which is a great session beer.
Prior to arrival ( like a little boy eagerly anticipating Christmas) I usually have a look at the beers that will be available on the GBBF website which has a great facility to let you search for specific beer types and strengths and mark out a few for sampling, these are more often than not dark beers like Porters and Stouts which over the years I have acquired quite a taste for.
This year I had Arbor Ales "The Devil Made Me Brew IT" a Stout, a Porter by Brass Castle called "Bad Kitty" and a Dark Revolution Stout called "Velveteen", identified as candidates for sampling but for reasons I have forgotten in the event I only got to try the Arbor Ales beer which was good but at over a fiver for a pint I thought was well overpriced, the Bad Kitty wasn't on when I went to try it so a substitute was called onto my beer drinking pitch in the form of Stags Fell
Stags Fell, a worthy substitute, should play more regularly.
So this is me and my old mucker Martyn who I've spent over 45 years sampling beer with, when we first started drinking pubs were a fug of cigarette smoke, flares were worn with pride, shirt collars were bigger than the wings of an A380 and beer was uniformly bad with Breweries like Watney's churning out some crap beers with one I particularly remember "Starlight" which was akin to drinking your own urine only not as flavoursome.
In those days six major breweries dominated the scene and the quality of their products gave rise to CAMRA, the campaign for real ale, whose efforts over the years have led to wonderful things, to those brave men and women of that sterling organisation I raise a toast, "long live beer". As a consequence of their labours over the last twenty or more years we have seen a resurgence in brewing and the range and quality of beers is probably better than it's ever been with the ultimate irony being that more and more pubs are closing down, one of the reasons being the greed of the large Brew Co's who screw landlords and ladies with their largely one sided contracts, it is now a very difficult way to make a living, there are other factors at work here of course, a whole book could be written on the sad demise of the public house in the UK.
The passion for beer which is thankfully not confined to old geezers like me is great to witness as plenty of young men and for that matter young ladies attend the event and its probably these people who will keep the beer world alive and kicking in to the future.
One thing I love about Brewers apart from their end product is their general creativity, "Butchers Tears", I love that as a brewery name, the Brewery is Amsterdam based, and although I sometimes try the occasional beer from the Netherlands I find them mostly too strong for my liking, although that being said when I do occasionally drink lager a nice glass of Amstel in the Summer goes down well.
Food at the Festival is varied, you can get everything from a pastie to roast pork rolls, Indian street food, seafood, pies, pickled eggs, German sausage, burgers, so if you get the munchies (which you will) there is always something to nibble on.
Oh and the Burgers are quite exotic -
"Various exotic burgers from around the world made from kangaroo, ostrich and zebra or try our Aberdeen Angus beef burgers all served in a fresh brioche bun with mixed salad leaves a Cheddar cheese slice and a selection of relishes."
Hands up who remembers the bloke with the basket of seafood coming round the pub on Friday or Saturdays nights, I can't remember the name of the company but I'm sure some of you will put me right.
Here is the blurb form the Seafood stall at this years event -
"Seafood may sadly no longer be a feature of the British pub scene but we like a good tradition! We have a range of top-quality, fresh seafood from cockles, whelks and mussels to prawns, crayfish and smoked salmon. Cromer crabs are a speciality. Come and sample the (in)famous traditional jellied eels, wake up your tastebuds with rollmops, or just soak up some liquid with a tasty and substantial seafood baguette or sandwich. Whether you need to refuel, want a lighter option, or just try something new come along and see us at the seafood stall"
There is usually live music at the venue and some of the bands are really good, but the cavernous nature of the building doesn't lend itself to good accoustics which is a shame as it doesn't do justice to the musicians who are doing their best to entertain the people sitting having food or just a general rest.
I didn't get a chance to listen to Bad Touch unfortunately, hopefully at some point in the future I will.
Bad Touch have been an entity since late 2009. We draw our influences from artists such as, Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Black Crowes and Black Stone Cherry to name a few. As such, our sound is deeply rooted in Blues / Southern Rock, but we like to feel that we remain contemporary. We’ve recorded and self-released two studio albums, and have recently recorded a third, which is awaiting release as BT are newly-signed to Marshall Records. Our sound and ethos is all about having fun and if you want to know more you’ll have to come to a show! www.badtouchrocks.co.uk
Walking around the venue you could easily clock up a fair distance as it's huge, which helps burn off a few of the calories added by the beer, but maybe if that's your concern a gym would be a better venue than a beer festival :) apparently you can get fit in a gym, although looking at lycra clad arses is not my favoured way of spending time, "each to their own". as they say.
Hand Of Doom, (a track on that seminal album "Paranoid"), a great name for a beer from this part of the country.
Apart from boozing there are other things to try, Northamptonshire Skittles is a game which can still be seen in many pubs in the county, I used to spend many an evening tossing the cheeses, ooh ere missus.
While I was wandering around I came across a selection of bottles of beer brewed to mark special occasions, nice to own something like this,
There were Northamptonshire Brewers present at the festival and I wanted to try Phipps "Midsummer Meadow" but unfortunately that had sold out, so I had to make another substitution which was Panther's "Summer Daze".
Phipps Midsummer Meadow has won awards and was rated as one of the best beers in Britain by Roger Protz the editor of the Camra Good Beer Guide, so I was a little disappointed but I'll seek out that particular beer before the Summer ends.
On the way back from my trip out to Lyveden New Bield near Oundle I stopped of at the Vane Arms in the village of Sudborough for a quick pint,
If you are ever out that way the pub is cosy with a nice real fire and although there was not a massive choice of what I would term real ales the pint I had was good, not from a Northamptonshire brewer however, and there's a great selection of books if you want to while away some time with a pint in one hand and a book in another.
"The Vane Arms in Sudborough is a traditional pub steeped in history that has welcomed many a punter over the centuries. Part of its past is still visible today, for instance, the remaining copper coins that members of the American 8th Air Force put in the wooden mantelpieces over the inglenooks for good luck during WWII."
The food looked good as well so I'm hoping to sample some of the fare in the near future, and just over the road is Sudborough Church which is worth a look around.