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Brewery News

Wentworth Brewery recently introduced a new dark beer called Black Zac; named after the black Labrador belonging to Jim Whitehead, landlord of the George & Dragon at Wentworth. Jack describes Zac as probably the friendliest pub dog in the country. He certainly is very friendly! The beer is described as a special dark bitter, as smooth and as friendly as it’s namesake. I would say the taste is somewhere between that of a bitter and a stout/porter. It has been on sale at the Blue Coat and the Tut n Shive in the town centre, as well as at the George & Dragon. Why not try it?

On December 6th, the launch in this country of Wentworth bottled beers was held at the Gardeners Rest, Neepsend, Sheffield, attended by local branches of CAMRA, representatives of the brewery and the pub’s regulars. Eddie & Pat had the beers on draught and in bottles at competitive prices, which they continue to stock. All the beers are bottle conditioned, i.e. secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle to further improve the flavour. The three beers available are: WPA (Wentworth Pale Ale) at 4%, Oatmeal Stout at 4.8%, and Rampant Gryphon at 6.2%. The bottles are also on sale at the Village Shop in Wentworth (opposite the George & Dragon). They are selling well.

I was very impressed with the brewery and its performance in such a short time. I think it will be a good idea to have beer from such a small brewery as a guest beer in the House of Lords bars, in addition to those from big brewers. I’m sure members who enjoy a pint will appreciate some of the Wentworth beers. If the brewery could get it’s beer into the House of Lords they could justifiably claim, as their slogan states, to be “Best bar none.

Interbrew / Bass Brewing Trade Secretary, Stephen Byers, shocked the brewing industry by instructing Interbrew of Belgium to put the Bass Breweries it had bought for £2.3bn back on the market. He decreed that the merger would be against the public interest in view of Interbrew already having taken over Whitbread’s brewing interests. It would reduce competition and lead to higher prices and reduced customer choice.

CAMRA Head of Campaigns, Mike Benner, said the hard line decision sent a message to other global brewers that further consolidation in the UK market was off. If the takeover had been allowed it would have made Interbrew the largest brewer in the UK with 32% of the capacity. Their shares dipped sharply on European stock exchanges as a result of the refusal and Interbrew have mounted a legal challenge to the decision.

The problem though remains that finding a UK buyer is unlikely. Therefore, it is expected that another foreign giant will come in with a bid. Likely candidates include: Anheuser Busch (brewers of American Budweiser), Carlsberg-Tetley, South African Breweries, Heineken, and Miller. Most of these have no track record of selling real ale.

Therefore, the turning down of this deal could end up being a poisoned chalice, and a worse deal for the future of British real ale than Interbrew’s would have been. At least Interbrew had given a commitment to continuing with real ale, and advertising the fact, something Bass have been reluctant to do. CAMRA will be watching the situation closely, you can be sure of that.

Bass Leisure have announced their intention to sell 900 pubs from their recently enlarged estate. It is believed that they favour one buyer for the whole batch.

Scottish Courage are to sell 300-500 pubs from their estate of 2,700 in the next few months. They need to raise cash towards the £1.2 billion needed to buy the rest of French brewer Kronenbourg, and the recently agreed 49% stake in Portuguese brewer Centralcer. The company’s shares have been falling, and rumours of a hostile takeover bid from the likes of Anheuser Busch, Miller, or South African Breweries has not been ruled out in city circles.

Whitbread is planning on selling it’s 1,700 leased and 1,300 managed pubs to a single pub company or venture capital group for £1.5 - 2bn. Lake district publican Gary McClure is asking fellow Whitbread tenants to buy shares in the company in a bid to scupper it’s planned sale of it’s entire 3,000 pub estate to a single buyer.

Gary has started a right to buy campaign and claims he has the backing of 44 publicans in his area. If enough tenants and managers buy shares, and object to the sale at a special meeting, it is hoped that the publicans will be allowed to buy their own pub rather than be subject to the whims of a new corporate owner. A Whitbread spokesman said our duty is to obtain maximum value for shareholders. No mention was made of publicans or customers in the statement. Reading between the lines, Whitbread appear to be only interested in a quick sale to one large concern. Fifty landlords from across Britain gathered at a meeting held at the Coach & Horses, Chapeltown, Sheffield in January, This was called by the Federation of Pub Partners, under coordinator Gary McClure. Eddie Housley, landlord of the Coach & Horses said there are 1,700 pubs up for sale and 1,108 landlords want to buy them individually. I’ve invested £100,000 pounds in this pub over ten years, and I believe I should have first option to buy. Whitbread spokesman, Jeremy Proctor, said we shall be selling the pubs as a going concern, which will not involve them being sold on an individual basis. Whitbread shares had dropped to half their 1999 value by the end of 2000, which possibly best explains Whitbread’s desire to sell quickly.

Wolverhampton & Dudley (inc. Banks’s, Marstons & Mansfield) are apparently still under threat from a takeover bid by venture capitalist Robert Beare. If he is successful, It is expected that the group’s four breweries will be under threat, as Mr. Beare does not believe there is any future in brewing and was responsible for taking Ushers out of brewing.

Wards The historic clock brewing tower, brick & stone archway and Sheaf Brewery sign are to be saved from the bulldozers following a Sheffield Council decision to incorporate these in the Porter Brook Conservation Area. The latest plans for the former brewery site, submitted by local developer J.F. Finnigan, include proposals to convert the tower for residential use. The proposals also include 138 apartments in a seven storey block, shops, offices, restaurants and bars, plus a short riverside walk and car parking. Planners carried out a detailed assessment of the proposals early in the new year, and a council decision is expected by early spring. Sadly, this seems to spell the end for a rival bid from a consortium including Kelham Island Brewery’s Dave Wickett, which would have included a micro-brewery in the tower.

Wards’ former Head Brewer, Paul Simpson, is now at the Old Mill Brewery in Snaith, so expect some interesting new beers from there in the near future.

Fernandes, Wakefield.David James is now brewing a changing monthly special beer, all at 3.9%. They are being named after the month they are launched in.

Also in Wakefield, Clarks continue to brew monthly seasonal beers. The one for January was appropriately called Frostbite! The nearby Ossett Brewery, under ex-Tetley and Kelham Island brewer and now sole owner Bob Lawson, has launched a new 4.8% hoppy Pale Ale Fine Fettle.

Putting the con in cask conditioned? Disturbing news from Stockport centres around the introduction, by Robinsons brewery, of their Cellarstream Dual Pump. This enables beer from an un-pressurised Cask Conditioned cask to go to two separate pumps; one of which dispenses it as a normal real ale, the other is run through a wall mounted Nitrogenator which injects mixed Nitrogen and Carbon dioxide gas into the beer. This then leads to a pillar type font with the wording real smooth on it and cask conditioned around the base. Though this is perfectly true, the beer is not real in CAMRA terminology as it is turned into a Nitro-keg style smooth beer at the dispense.

Robinsons claim that the object of the system is to prevent real ale being removed from a pub where its sales are falling, and that the quicker turnover of the cask should help maintain its quality. It should also be pointed out that the smooth version has a price tag 10p greater than that of the true un-pressurised beer. Because of its larger, creamier head, the smooth beer is also more likely to be sold short of a full pint.

At best this smacks of a blurring of the distinction between proper cask conditioned beer and smooth nitro-keg. At worst, could it be the thin end of the wedge? Will you find when you walk in one of the pubs serving by this system that the “real” version is off, but the bar staff can serve you with the gassed version; at 10p per pint extra of course!

Though we have no Robinsons outlets in our area, there is a danger that if the system is a proven success other brewers and pub owners will latch on to it and introduce it universally. We view that prospect with some dismay.

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