Ale of Wight

By Darren Norbury

For me one of life’s great pleasures is great beer in a great pub. It is our public duty to support our community pubs lest they close and get converted into housing or offices.

Scaremongering? Well, according to the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) an average of 56 pubs close every month in the UK. They’re a cornerstone of British life, as is the great British pint (and thumbs up to the European Union for allowing us to keep the measure and not trying to convert us into 500ml drinkers).

This all came to mind the other night as I enjoyed a very fine pint of Yates’ Brewery’s Undercliff Experience, a 4.1% best bitter with an explosion of Goldings and Fuggles hops balancing bittersweet malt. This perfect pint was served up in the Prince of Wales, in Princes Road, Freshwater, the kind of friendly, community pub that drinkers like myself dream of. I walked through the door to a roomful of strangers, and said goodnight to a group of new friends.

I urge you to try the Yates’ beer if you have not, brewed by father and son team David Yates senior and junior. The brewery is in a converted cottage in the grounds of the Inn at St Lawrence where former Ushers and Burts brewer David senior was finally able to take control of his own beer portfolio, with hugely successful effect. Isle of Wight Special Ale took bronze in the Campaign for Real Ale’s champion bottled beer of Britain contest in 2004.

See their website – www.yates-brewery.co.uk – for details of pubs stocking the beers.

One of the major problems facing independent brewers, of course, is not the production process but how to get the beer into the market. Goddards Brewery, at Ryde, is taking the logical step of selling to more outlets on the mainland, which is proving increasingly successful according to Andrew Young, associate director (sales) at the brewery.

Island sales remain key to the business, though, and winning beer of the year this year in the contest staged by the local branch of the Campaign for Real Ale was a big vote of confidence. The award went to Goddards’ Fuggle-Dee-Dum. The 4.8% ABV strong ale delivers a good hit of maltiness tempered by a fantastic hop flavour and is widely available in bottled form, as well as in cask.

Andrew adds, enigmatically, that there’s a lot going on at Goddard’s at the moment, with new brews on the way, but they’re not quite ready to announce anything yet. Keep an eye on Island Life to find out more. And log on, too, to www.goddards-brewery.co.uk

At the Apple Day Festival, at Afton Park, Freshwater Bay, I was reminded of what a classic session bitter Ventnor Brewery’s Golden Bitter (4% ABV) is. But then head brewer Xavier Baker has learnt his trade from two of the great names in the industry – Fred Martin, former head brewer at the now sadly defunct King & Barnes brewery, and Tim O’Rourke, of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling.

He learnt well and is using that skill, coupled with good, natural ingredients – including the brewery’s own spring water – to create an ever-growing list of quality ales. Look out this year for the ultimate winter warmer. At 5.6% ABV you don’t knock back Sandrock Ale by the pint. Instead, Ventnor suggest enjoying this brew by the half or even in a wine glass, its warming, smokey, peated malt character being the perfect companion to a diner’s cheese course. Or try it seated by a roaring fire at the end of a chilly winter evening.

As their website – www.ventnorbrewery.co.uk – testifies, the Ventnor range continues to include new, quirky recipes alongside traditional favourites. Its brewery shop is also stocking a range of bottled European lagers, including the very exclusive Deus, an 11.5% ABV Belgian classic that needs treating with respect.

Now, I never did ask Airon Baker, on the brewery’s stand at the Afton event, why their other offering there was called Justin Cider. Hmm…