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All Hail The South Herts Pub and Brewery Real Ale Heroes

Written by Les Middlewood

Picking up the baton from the Awards recently made by Herts Essex Borders branch to pubs in their region, South Herts Branch have followed suit making awards to pubs and breweries in their area – those that went the extra mile during lockdown, between March and July, when the pandemic was at its cruellest, cask ale drinkers were at their thirstiest and pubs were generally closed to the public. Each of the recipients of the South Herts award set up takeaway services during the lockdown for people to collect fresh cask ale.

In Hertford:

Left to right, Alfie Laurence and Clive Hocking with Darren.

Black Horse. Owner Darren Shanley offered a takeaway service for the duration of lockdown. He said “We immediately went into ‘Operation Lockdown’ furloughing some staff but knew we had to keep operating. I formed a ‘bubble’ with Clive and Alfie and we were up and running straight away with beers being delivered from Hadham, Oakham and Tring – and I collected from Farr Brew. The distributors, Dayla, were really helpful to us, supplying us with a further range of beers. Our outside pizza oven was popular and we offered a shortened daily takeaway menu of curries, burgers and fish and chips. I must thank our regulars and the people of West Street for their brilliant support. When we re-opened we decided to continue with the takeaway service and it is proving to be a success.”

Mark and Annie with their award.

White Horse. With Fuller’s suspending brewing during the lockdown, leaseholders Mark and Annie Griffin were permitted to obtain cask beers from other sources – Mighty Oak, Windsor and Eton, Mad Squirrel and Timothy Taylor – and Hertfordshire brewers Tring and Hadham. Mark said “There was such short notice of closure and we had to think on our feet. We re-opened two days later with a takeaway service, with 2-3 real ales and Annie’s Thai food and gained new customers many who have now become pub regulars. The day I knew the takeaway would work was when a barrel of Timothy Taylor Boltmaker flew out in just in 2 days!”

Mary flanked with bar chaps Will Butcher and Joe Leggett.
Some locals enjoying a pint

Old Cross Tavern. A month into lockdown, a weekend takeaway cask ale and traditional cider service commenced – with familiar pub favourite beers from the likes of Tring, Mighty Oak, Timothy Taylor, Saltaire, and Five Points and cider from Celtic Marches and Weston’s. Owner Mary Gianoli said “After the sudden closure we were all tickled pink to be able to work together again and taken aback by the support we received – it really kept us motivated for the day when we could fully re-open. I must thank our customers and Mighty Oak and Tring who helped us adapt our cellar for the new ways of working.”

Ray with the award.

Mind the Gap. At Hertford North Railway Station, Les and Ray Aggio, joint-owners of the newspaper, essential supplies shop and café, maintained (and increased) their beer offer of cask ale, mini-kegs and canned craft beers – people also calling in with containers filling them with beers from Redemption, Tring and Mad Squirrel. Ray said “It’s been tough, particularly with the fall in commuter numbers but our beer and drinks offer has really helped keep us afloat. We started a delivery service in the Hertford area for beer, newspapers and essential supplies – we’ve become a sort of, weird craft convenience store! I’d like to say a really big thank you to all the people who have supported us.”

In St Albans:

Byron Harris of The Beer Shop with the award.

The Beer Shop. Byron Harris of The Beer Shop said “Soon after the imposition of lockdown we set up a home delivery service operating on weekdays from Monday – Friday with an additional ‘Fresh Beer’ delivery on Saturdays. The Saturday service quickly took off and was a great success with over 90 litres of fresh cask beer being sold each Saturday.” Tring beers were often available and there was the rare appearance of a Cloudwater Pale in cask form.

Landlord Kevin Yelland with the Award.

Farmers Boy. Landlord Kevin Yelland said “When lockdown was imposed, we quickly switched to direct home deliveries taken from phone orders and set up a ‘new beers’ alert on social media. This service proved to be very popular and during lockdown we actually gained a lot of new customers!” During the pub closure there was a wide range of beers on offer to visitors seeking takeaway beer. In the latter stages of the lockdown these included Woodforde’s Wherry, Mad Squirrel’s Hopfest from the Abbeydale brewery in Sheffield.

South Herts Branch chairman Iain Loe, left, presenting Emma with the Award.

Great Northern. Publican Emma Parkhouse and her partner Sheri Edwards worked hard during lockdown supplying not only real ales to takeaway customers but also providing a provisions convenience store for food supplies. Post-lockdown they continue to offer takeaway beers with a 20% discount on real ales.

Iain Loe, Branch chairman, presenting John with the Award.

Mermaid. The pub launched an off-sales service just two days after the start of lockdown. Joint owner, John Cusworth said “Word got around very quickly and we soon had people coming from all over – not just St Albans – to pick up supplies of real ale.” The pub has continued their off-sales service since the easing of lockdown.

Jim Pratt, left, being presented the Award by CAMRA’s Phil Defriez.

Robin Hood. With the pub company tie temporarily released, landlord Jim Pratt was able to obtain beers from local breweries including Tring, 3 Brewers, Farr, Chiltern, Paradigm and Hornes from Milton Keynes – all offered at takeaway discount prices to thirsty City drinkers for the duration of the lockdown. Jim said “We were doing ok, selling around six firkins of cask ale a week plus traditional cider.”

Alan, left, with CAMRA’s Dave Wright enjoying the ‘new normal’ with a tap of the elbows!

Six Bells. Thanks to the efforts of landlord Alan Oliver and his team, St Michaels villagers and St Albans drinkers were never socially distanced from a cracking pint of real ale. From the onset of lockdown they were dispensing takeaway beers in 2 and 4 pint containers, enabling the business to keep ticking over and providing locals with their usual tipple. Apart from the ever-present Oakham JHB, beers from local brewers Tring and 3 Brewers were dispensed in tip top condition. Alan said “There were even some days where it was very nearly business as usual owing to the proximity of the pub to Verulamium Park and the prevailing ‘hot spell’. Alan reduced the price of his real ales and their excellent food offer diverted to takeaway Pizza Thursdays, Fish & Chip Fridays and takeaway Sunday Lunch. And a real positive aspect to the current predicament, was that on several balmy summer evenings, locals in the village took a chair and ventured out of their houses to enjoy a drink and a chat. The convenience of the Six Bells to villagers really came into its own, as their Community Pub (socially distanced at all times!).

Landlord Steve McConnell, left, with CAMRA’s Phil Defriez.

White Hart Tap. Landlord Steve McConnell said “Once the pub was back up and running, after staff illness with Covid, we were soon offering three takeaway real ales every day – at a discounted price. Tring’s Side Pocket for a Toad was almost always available plus two guests including some from Vibrant Forest brewery which I collected myself from Hardley in Hampshire. We also provided take away food at the weekends.”

Other South Herts pubs we got to hear of that offered real ale takeaways for shorter periods of time were the Rose and Crown and Green Man, both in Sandridge.

Congratulations to all of the above pubs for a job very well done. If you know of any other lockdown real ale heroes deserving deserve mention please let us know.

At the South Herts Cask Ale Breweries:

3 Brewers and Farr Brew expanded takeaway services for their beer – 3 Brewers even setting up a well-received home delivery service in their area.

3 Brewers’ Mark Fanner, left, with South Herts CAMRA’s John Bishop.

3 Brewers’ Mark Fanner said “During lockdown we put all of our energies into supporting local pubs and building a home delivery service. This has been a tremendous success and the loyalty and support of local people has been truly humbling. We’re delighted that CAMRA have recognised our efforts to keep the real ale flowing in the most challenging of times.”

CAMRA’s Rob Strachan (second left), with the Farr team of, left to right, Matt Elvidge, Izzy Foley, Nick Farr and Jason Moylan.

Farr Brew’s Nick Farr said “We are delighted to receive this CAMRA award as proof of our ongoing dedication to real ale and to providing a service for our customers.

Throughout lockdown we didn’t stop brewing – in fact our brewer, Jason Moylan, had to scale up the operation considerably as we sought to cope with the huge additional demand for bag in box and bottled beers. Every Saturday we had hundreds of folkqueuing around the farm in anticipation of some real ale. Jason came up with a whole host of new recipes during that time – some of which are now regular beers (Lock In and Farr Apart). Nick and Matt spent lockdown overseeing the huge refurbishment project in Farr Brew’s new pub – The Elephant & Castle in Amwell, Wheathampstead, a massive success thus far due to the extremely talented managers and chefs that were brought in. All other Farr Brew pubs reopened (the Rising Sun, Slip End; Eight Bells, Hatfield; Red Cow, Harpenden and the Reading Rooms, Wheathampstead) though we have since had to temporarily close the Reading Rooms, which we hope to open again very soon. We would like to thank CAMRA for their continued support during this time.”

At McMullen’s, cask ale production was suspended during lockdown but Mac’s continued brewing for their McMullen and Rivertown bottled beers. A drive-thru bottled beer shop was set up (and continues) at the brewery – and fresh food essentials were offered at cost price to local NHS staff. The beer shop was also taken out on the road to a number of pubs in the Mac’s tied estate including the Bulls Head at Turnford.

Beers from other Hertfordshire brewers could be found in many of the South Herts pubs that operated takeaways during lockdown – notably beers from Tring brewery who worked hard to maintain supplies and options.

Not Just Here For The Beer…

Let’s not forget the pubs that set up takeaway food or meal services. These included the Olde Fighting Cocks, Portland Arms, Hare and Hounds and Lower Red Lion in St Albans, the Millstream in Hertford, Baker Arms in Bayford, Farmers Boy in Brickendon, Old Guinea at Ridge, Grandison in Bramfield and Red Cow in Harpenden. And in the age-old tradition of the good British Local, many of our unheralded publicans and staff looked out for their older and more vulnerable regulars with a local lockdown network of goodwill and care.

It is evident that pubs are taking a very serious approach to re-opening with important sanitising and social distancing measures in place, yet the welcome at the door and in pub gardens has been brilliant. As the pandemic hopefully recedes, now it’s time for us to get behind our pubs and breweries – we need them to survive and prosper – and to continue to be at the heart of our communities. Nip in for a pint. Please support your Local.

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