Despite boasting some distinctly decent boozers, Hertfordshire doesn’t quite seem to have caught up with the real ale revolution. I find myself down this way two or three times a year, visiting in-laws, and the beer never quite hits the spot. What’s with that?
Don’t get me wrong: there’s plenty of real ale. But it’s largely the sort of real ale I used to get excited about (a) 15 years ago; and (b) when I lived in Birmingham, an utterly rubbish time and place to be looking for good beer. It’s Directors bitter. It’s Abbot ale. The sort of thing some aficionados have started to refer to disparagingly as “brown beer”.
I stand with them in finding this stuff dreary nowadays, and can only wonder what the good folk of Herts have done to be denied the tongue-tingling wonder of modern pale ales and bright, refreshing bitters. Maybe we ought to be talking about the Second Real Ale Revolution, just to make this clear.
Furthermore, I see a gap in the import market. Just as ancient Middle Eastern incense exporters grew rich on the Roman demand for aromatics, and imperial traders on the south Asian subcontinent made a mint shipping tea back to Britain, so their 2010s counterparts might make millions from taking Barnsley Bitter to Welwyn Garden City and Jaipur IPA to Watford.
It’s not as if the pubs of Hertfordshire even need to look as far afield as that. The Second Real Ale Revolution is by no means the exclusive province of northern or midland brewers. One of its greatest beers, to this Sheffield palate, is the American Pale Ale from the Dark Star Brewery of Sussex. Fill in your own favourite examples: there’ll be plenty.
Hertfordshire, of course, is the home of Camra. Within a mile of the organisation’s base in St Albans are a generous smattering of very fine pubs. In all of these pubs I’ve had some reasonably good beer. In none of them have I ever seen any of the dozens of really exciting modern beers I’ve enjoyed in other parts of the country. Some would say this dearth of top-notch bevvies is all the more surprising for its proximity to Camra HQ.
Others might say that makes it all the less surprising.