Monday, 14 July 2008

A New Brewery and Not All Wetherspoons are the Same

It was raining yet again as we arrived in Richmond. We found a parking place on the very precipitous town square and had a wander. The inside market had a tourist map which revealed that the former station, now a tourist complex, had a new micro brewery. "That'll do" we thought. While deciding which way was what, we were accosted by the local nutter, this time the female of the species. She was hard to shake off and though she seemed harmless enough, someone had given her a fat lip. We beat a hasty retreat while she looked around for her next victim.

The Station was at the bottom of the hill in a valley and was a pleasant affair with a cafe and various craft stalls. A delicious smell of baking pervaded. Richmond Brewery was in a unit inside and we had a pleasant chat to the brewer, Andy. A Scot, he had done time with Tennents, Websters, John Smith's, Theakston, Newcastle and other breweries. He did one beer, Richmond Station Ale, which was on sale in the cafe and also in the local JDW, where a Yorkshire Ales Festival was going on. For those who like to know these sort of things, the brewery is a six barrel plant, commissioned on 2 June 2008. Continuing my theme of unhappy endings, the beer, a darkish, malty affair was bit hard to get down. Hopefully it will improve in time. We didn't go back and tell him. Should we have?

Returning up the hugely steep hill, we called in at the JDW, the Ralph Fitz Randal. The festival was in its dog days, but had all beer at £1.59 a pint, available in thirds. We set to. The chatty female manager was brilliant. She told us she had been there only a few weeks but has increased cask ale sales by several hundred percent. Her husband is an enthusiast. It showed. Superb beers from Outlaw, York Brewery, Hambleton, Clarks and Wentworth were supped. The Outlaw Yorkshire Pale Ale was stunningly good, with tropical fruit flavours, but was still pipped by York Pure Gold which was full bodied and grapefruity. I could have drunk a lot of either.

Our hostess happily discussed the usual Wetherspoon's issues with us. She firmly believes that Wetherspoons can be good pubs. She also believes in being "hands on", which she feels not enough JDW managers are. As she put it, "it's all down to the manager. Get a bad manager in any pub and the pub will be no good. Get a good one and the pub will be good." She has a free hand to get what beer she likes, though she must sell Pedigree and Directors. She gets a lot of micro stuff in as they attract interest and they sell well.

If all JDW managers were like her, the company would have a better reputation. She is a good 'un!


Stonch said...

My dad says the same thing about his local 'Spoons. I have some sympathy with what you're saying, but the combination of cheap booze (and the clientele that attracts) and wall-to-wall branding offends my senses even in a well run Wetherspoons.

Zak said...

It's difficult to tell brewers that you think their beer is shite. I had to tell someone recently that I thought he had a big infection problem with his bottled beers - oddly, he agreed with me, but said that people kept ordering the beers regardless.

The whole conversation made me feel as though I had balls of steel for confronting him about it, AND a connoisseurs palate for agreeing with the brewer's opinion of his beers.

Tandleman said...

Zak - if I was selling it, I'd have said so too. If he was any kind of decent brewer, he probably knew it needed work. So basically, I just took the easy way out!

Jeff Frane said...

Not surprising that a brewhouse that new would be pumping out beer that was less than optimal. It's got to be a huge learning experience going from those large commercial plants to a 6 bbl. brewery and he probably couldn't afford to dump his early failures. And a lot of beer drinkers can't tell the difference, frankly.

Anonymous said...

I tried a bottle of it the other day and I couldn't finish it. I really wanted to like it because the brewery is new and local but it just didn't float my boat.

Time will tell if it gets any better.