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    Monday, 28 May 2007

    Northamptonshire Breweries Past (From 1980)

    Although I was born in Surrey, I have spent all my adult, and thus my drinking, life in Northants. The Rose Of The Shires was a bit of a beer desert when I became interested in beer in the early 1990s. There were precious few free houses, and the Watney Mann takeover of pubs had taken a particular stranglehold. The best of the tied houses were Marstons houses. Marstons Pedigree was the first beer I fell in love with. It just tasted wonderfully balanced and the hop bite was lovely. The extra alcohol of a 4.5% beer against the weak keg beers was also particularly welcome. Sadly Pedigree is a total shadow now of its former self. A victim of its own success.

    The microbrewery revolution was very slow to come to Northants, although one of the founding members of the revolution was based in the county. Litchborough Brewery was set up by an ex head brewer of Watneys Bill Urquart. Litchborough is only a tiny village but brewing pioneers such as Peter Austin and Simon Whitmore beat a path to Bill's door to learn from the master. His Northamptonshire Bitter became a huge seller in the area. I only have a vague recollection of drinking the beer in The Falcon at Fotheringhay. By this time it was probably brewed over the county border in Rugby Warwickshire after a short spell in Daventry also. I seem to recall enjoying it but cannot provide any tasting notes from recollection. The brewery ceased to exist in 1984.

    1984 also saw the setting up of a pub brewery in Northampton. The Abington Park Brewery in The Abington Park Hotel was part of the Whitbread family and the beers were served from cellar tanks. The beers were far from interesting but sold well enough in a pub which was definitely "on the youth circuit". They were certainly better than the fizz available in most Northampton pubs at the time. The brewery had a few periods of inactivity before ceasing completely in 1997.

    Next up was Nene Valley Brewery which started life in Higham Ferrers in 1992. I was fond of their beers. They tended toward the malty and sweet but were very drinkable. The Medusa Ale at 8% and the thick syrupy Christmas Beer Santa's Tipple at 13% were certainly nothing like anything else from the county. In 1996 they merged with Nix Wincott Brewery from Turvey in Bedfordshire to form Leyland Breweries and they relocated to Wellingborough. I was also a fan of Nix Wincott beers and the new conglomerate's beers retained the best of each brewery's beers. They were fairly widely available in the better pubs in the area. Sadly they met with financial difficulties in 1999 and were bought out by a company who became Payn Brewery of Cambridgeshire.

    In January 1993 The Cannon pub in Wellingborough started brewing. Also known as Parker & Sons, they brewed core beers for the pub and some occassional beers which found their way to beer festivals. I had a number of their beers but was an especial fan of Cannon Fodder, the 5.5%, excellently named strong ale. Other core beers were Cannon Pride and Light Brigade. The pub always seemed popular and the majority of customers appeared to enjoy the real ales. Cannon brewed continuously until 1999. In 2000 they restarted, but the pub was sold the following year and the brewing ended with the sale.

    Our next brewery started life in 1994 in the tiny village after which it took its name. The Edgcote Brewery was a pretty small concern initially but expanded two years later moving to a larger village: Chipping Warden. The brewery changed its name to Merivales Ales. Sadly they only lasted two more years before being sold. It is a great regret that I never tried any of their beers. They were present at the 1994 Northampton Beer Festival but due to a crazy error of judgement I never tried them.

    The final brewery to start which is no longer with us is The Hop House Brewery. This was a strange affair as it was based in a pub, The Cock Hotel in Kingsthorpe Northampton, which didn't previously appeal to real ale drinkers, nor did it seem to make much of an effort while it was brewing. It only brewed for around eight months during 1995 and 1996, although it did recommence for a short time in 1997 when it was renamed The Cock Tavern Brewery, but it only lasted a couple of months. I did try their core beer but it was pretty unmemorable.

    So that's six breweries which have come and gone since the second coming of real ale. Three based in pubs and three elsewhere. Some very good, and some pretty poor. We currently have seven microbreweries and the massive Carlsberg factory. I'll be writing about them all individually in the future. There have been rumours of a new Phipps Brewery but that seems to have gone pretty quiet.

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