Hertfordshire: stuck in 1995?

Horse and Groom

The Horse and Groom, Hatfield

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.


About Pete Green

Poet and musician. Sheffield. Maps, coastlines, walking, whisky, and potentially dangerous levels of wist. Grimbarian. Pedestrian. King of the impossible. Big girl's blouse.


5 thoughts on “Hertfordshire: stuck in 1995?

  1. Now that tree-hugging friends have convinced me to get the train to London instead of flying, I don’t get to stop off in St Albans on the way to or from Luton Airport any more. When I did, I didn’t find the beer dreary. The Lower Red Lion was a top scoopers’ pub and the first place I ever drank Oakham JHB. The Verulanum Brewery used to make a splendidly mouth-puckering bitter that a lot of breweries would be proud to have as their IPA, and their IPA was, at the time, the hoppiest thing I’d ever tasted.

    Posted by Barm | 15 January 2012, 11:57 pm
  2. The sort of thing some aficionados have started to refer to disparagingly as “brown beer”.

    Anybody who refers to South of England traditional bitter as “boring brown beer” isn’t an aficionado. You seem to be mistaking “new” for “good” and “old-style” for “automatically bad”.

    Posted by Martyn Cornell | 11 April 2012, 11:27 am
  3. Hi Martyn, thanks for commenting. Fair enough really: I was being a bit flippant here, or caricaturing the argument a bit, or something. Which southern bitters (new or traditional) do you see as the best? It’d be good to find something new next time I’m down that way.

    Posted by Pete Green | 12 April 2012, 11:05 am
  4. I’ve been favourably impressed with Red Squirrel beers: but I have to say that, while it’s never been a higely popular brewery, I’ve always rated Wells: its Bombardier, when good, is very good indeed.

    Posted by Martyn Cornell | 16 April 2012, 11:43 am
  5. Thanks. Yeah, Bombardier can often come to the glass a tad flat, but it’s good when it’s well served. I do get a bit turned off by the nationalistic tone of the marketing, mind. Never come across Red Squirrel so will be sure to look out for those – cheers!

    Posted by Pete Green | 17 April 2012, 8:10 pm
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