Landlord of The Salutation, Pete behind the bar with a typically varied and mainly local range of beers with his house beer Butcombe Bitter on the left.
Peter Tiley had never even pulled a pint when he decided to quit his job in London and follow his love of beer to take over The Salutation Inn, Ham, Gloucs with his wife Claire. Eleven months later the pub had won the CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) title of best pub in the local area, before going on to win the regional title and finally being named this February as the CAMRA pub of the year – the best pub in Britain!
The Plough at Congresbury, Bristol & District Pub of the Year 2015.
Perfect pints of Butcombe Bitter seen here in the suntrap garden at the Alma Vale Tavern, Clifton, Bristol.
The Salutation was commended for its simple pub characteristics, the quality of its food and its welcome and moreover for its ‘inspired selection of ales’. The Sally has the advantage of a strong, long-established drinking trade but that does not make their cask beer strategy any less relevant to pubs with fewer beer drinkers and pumps. Unlike many of the most obvious CAMRA favourites from among the 50,000 or so other pubs in the UK, Pete has resisted the temptation to sell the maximum number of ales possible. He has 6 hand pulls with 5 beers usually available and sells multiple firkins a week on each pump. Moreover, he has, it strikes me, walked the line of consistency versus rotation of cask ales perfectly. We are proud and delighted that Pete chose Butcombe Bitter as his permanent beer. He rotates all other pumps but with many breweries (Bristol Beer Factory, Oakham, Severn Vale) and indeed beers (Butcombe Haka, Oakham JHB, Cotswold Spring OSM) returning regularly. It is a policy in the middle ground between 5 pumps that never change and 5 pumps on which you never see the same beer twice whilst also avoiding the pitfalls of selling 1 firkin per week of 12 different beers on 12 pumps and all the quality and other issues that brings. At Butcombe we believe that this middle ground – if not this exact percentage and strategy – is where the very best beer experiences are to be found. Caveat: this is not to say great beer is not served in pubs with 2 permanent hand pulls as with only 2 pumps 2 perfectly kept permanent beers makes great sense; equally, great beer is also sold in pubs with 12 rotating beers. It is simply my preference and our opinion as a brewery that somewhere in between these 2 extremes, there exists a great opportunity for consistency of product, of opportunity to return for beers previously enjoyed and of experimentation.
The Salutation at Ham. CAMRA Pub of the Year 2015.
Any regular readers of our blog posts and especially Twitter feed will know that I/we am/are beer lovers that have favourite beers and who also discover new favourites every month from all over the South West and further afield. I will leave below a list of great beers I personally have tried this year and where I found them. All that being said, this is our website and I am proud to say I think we make the best beer in the West Country and some of the best in the UK so I don’t feel too bad in telling you we took great pleasure back in Feb upon The Sally’s announcement as Pub of the Year in being made aware that all 3 winners of the prize (that has been awarded since 1988) that fall within our delivery area – loosely termed the West Country – have chosen Butcombe beers as permanent beers on their bar (The Salutation, Ham – Bitter; The Old Spot, Dursley, Gloucs – Rare Breed; The Halfway House, Pitney, Somerset - Rare Breed). All 3 have spoken to us about the success they have in knowing that they have a go-to beer that the locals love and that if people try something and don’t like it, then there is a well-made, balanced, hoppy but sessionable permanent alternative. Sometimes I feel like we are fighting a losing battle when we talk to landlords about the benefits of a permanent (Butcombe) beer but these highly successful pubs, further examples to come and my own experiences in my local pubs show the benefits.
Butcombe BOHEMIA – Czech-style Pilsner 4.5% – on the taps at #1 Harbourside, Bristol on launch night, March 2015. Head there for a pint of it any time.
The desire to write this piece, as with our piece on Craft Beer back in 2013 and with many others since, is mostly the desire to write about beer and specifically whatever I am currently grappling with/discovering/enjoying in the world of beer; it was also to celebrate the great news at the Salutation and also partly to take stock of the fact that this news has not come in isolation and to take the time to be pleased at the place where we find ourselves as a brewery. In April, Garry Polledri picked up his award for the Plough, Congresbury as it was named Bristol & District Pub of the Year for the 3rd consecutive year. The Plough again has a great range of beers on including as a permanent fixture our Butcombe Bitter. I first drank Butcombe Bitter when I was 17 and I must say that I am yet to find a session beer I enjoy more nor a better 4% bitter. It is drinkable, perfectly balanced and deeply moreish (it’s rather a shameless strategy on the part of our brewers – sorry all!) and is consistently voted among the best beers in the UK. In a print interview, Garry at The Plough described it as a ‘must-stock’, which is rather nice to hear. There are many other examples of great pubs with the right mix of beer (lots with Butcombe and some without i will admit!) and more on some of them another time.
From a personal point of view, living in Bristol, it is equally gratifying to see our new keg beer, BOHEMIA – a UK-produced, US-hopped, Czech-style Pilsner – on the bar permanently in The Canteen and #1 Harbourside - very different venues to the Plough but with the same love of great beer at their heart – alongside our cask beers after a great launch at both venues last month. I have drunk a lot of Butcombe so far this year and am delighted to find our classics are better than ever and our new beers just keep delivering; I have drunk a lot of Rare Breed this year in fab venues The Greenbank and The Grace, Great Grey Owl APA all over Bristol, most recently in The Penny, Gold in the Prince of Wales Gloucester Road and sessions on Butcombe Bitter in the Alma Vale Tavern and Crofters Rights stand out.
A perfect pint of Butcombe Haka – beautifully fruity from the New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops, balanced, bitter at 4.5%. Seen here in the garden of the White Post at Rimpton courtesy of the camera of beer sommelier Melissa Cole who called it ‘an utter joy’.
As promised, away from Butcombe, 2015 started for me with one of the best pints of my life at The Bag of Nails, Hotwells, Bristol. The beer was Mama Knows Best by Franklins Brewery in Sussex and it is the best ‘best bitter’ I have had bar Butcombe in my life. Doctor Sunshine’s Special Friendly may not be a great name but boy is it a great beer, enjoyed at The Penny on Whiteladies Road along with York Brewery Mosaic (a great hop for single hop beers perfectly demonstrated here; think bubblegum in a good way(?) – no, I can’t imagine it either!) and Thornbridge’s devastatingly good but strong Kipling. February saw me return to Craft Beer Rising at the old Truman Brewery in London where I had, frankly the best selection of beer of any festival to date. I’m becoming a picky chooser I guess! Highlights were everything by Saltaire; their New World Red is sublime and defies categorization, which is even better – categories can be so restrictive and make people miss the point that great beer is great beer, regardless of whether or not it conforms to what you think an IPA should be like. BUT, then I had their Triple Chocoholic and my mind was blown. I didn’t even expect to like it but i loved its chocolate malts, chocolate syrup and real chocolate combo so much that I later stalked the beer all the way to Y Mochyn Du in Cardiff where I enjoyed 3 pints alongside another corking pale in the form of Grey Trees Chinookian VPA. Craft Beer Rising also featured Nene Valley’s epic 7.4% Fenland Saison, Ilkley’s Rhubarb Saison and an old favourite in the form of Dark Star’s American Pale Ale (oh okay and a couple of Hophead – it may no longer be ‘a find’ or cool but it’s a great beer.). My Cardiff trip also brought me a fantastic session at the Pen & Wig on Butcombe’s Crimson King and Gold and indeed a new find in the form of Loch Ness’s eponymous Loch Ness, a deep, complex but sessionable 80 -/ beer.
Oakham Ales in peterborough are one of the best in the UK in my opinion and their Limited Edition low ABV Forger, 3.5% packed a wonderfully bitter citric hop punch with a great finish, seen here outside The Penny, Whiteladies Road, Bristol.
In the interest of time I will rattle through the rest: I was also blown away by Red Willow’s Feckless when in Manchester and impressed by Marble’s Pint. Back in Bristol I discovered Cotswold Spring Old Sudbury Mild in the Beer Emporium (who knew I liked milds but this is epic!) and Arbor’s Saison des Faites (it’s taken me a while to find an Arbor beer I like – over-hopped Motueka and almost bacony Smokescreen Porter among many misses for me personally but this was the best saison I have tasted since our Belle Saison last year). I have had a lot of great beer in Canteen, #1 Harbourside, The Social, The Bell on Hillgrove Street, Colston Yard, The Gryphon, The Christmas Steps (Alechemy’s Citra Burst and some more Hophead the highlights), the Highbury Vaults, White Bear Cotham, Tobacco Factory and more but my 2 beers of 2015 so far have to be our own Haka, consumed everywhere I found it and which, as anyone who has tasted it and any landlord who has tried to secure permanent supply of it will know, always runs out way too fast (if only there were more of the New Zealand hops we needed!) and that Triple Chocoholic - Lord have mercy! I have also had a few absolute stinkers so far this year but I won’t name and shame as we are living at a time when there is more great beer to drink than ever (even if the corollary is that there is also more opportunity to drink bad beer). Many of the best beers named above have come through our guest beer programme, which I am lucky enough to co-ordinate and if you are a landlord who fancies discovering more about it, then give me a call or email (01934 863 963 working hours / email@example.com).
The ludicrously beautiful and surprisingly sessionable Saltaire Triple Chocoholic in the garden of the Y Mochyn Du, Cardiff.
With 3 great new seasonal beers coming over the Summer and Autumn and new Director of Brewing Stuart Howe having started work this week the future for us looks full of more stunning Butcombe beers than ever.
Anyway, feeling very lucky to work in such an interesting, inventive industry for such a great brewery and looking forward to sharing more with you in future. Follow us on Twitter if you like the above @ButcombeBrewery.
Happy beery times to you all.