When you have a 40+ tap pub a four minute walk from your house, the chances are you’ve been a few times.
When Holmes Mill first opened, it wasn’t yet a complex of indoor market shops, ice cream parlours and wedding venues. It had claimed the status of the “longest bar in England” (or was it Britain? Or Europe? I forget) and as much as I loved the design of the place – still do – it never used to have much on. It’s owned by the same people as Bowland Brewery,( who also moved premises to Holmes Mil) which explained the predilection for Pheasant Plucker and Boxer, but for me it wasn’t the pub I wished it was.
Fortunately, over the past couple of years, the place has become a much more exciting place to drink, thanks in a big way, I believe, to the hiring of Jason Menzies as cellar manager. He’s as likely to order a smoked imperial stout for his bar as he is a quality session pale, and thanks to his input (and no-doubt near-constant rule bending), t’Mill has become an excellent place to drink. The list is always interesting, the team are much more knowledgeable about the beers on offer and people are much more likely to be holding stemmed half pint glasses than prosecco flutes these days.
One thing that’s happened to further improve the beer situation at the Mill is their Meet The Brewer events. Until recently I’d never been able to attend one – I try not to drink mid-week, and sometimes I’m away etc. etc. – but last week I last-minuted my way to their Torrside event. Because how often do Torrside come to your town? I couldn’t miss it.
Flanked by a bar packed with their own beers, Chris, Nick, Sarah, Angharad, Toshi and Kami presented an evening of insight and tasting for a very busy room of drinkers. That was the first great thing about this evening: a lot of people had come out for it.
In Clitheroe, we have a very strong membership in the local CAMRA group (East Lancs), and there are plenty of people here who love beer. However, the craft beer revolution, if that’s what people are still calling it, didn’t pour down onto our town, instead it seemed to trickle around it, seeping deep into the water table over time. Local pubs like The Ale House (full disclosure – I occasionally work here) and now The Mill brought craft beers into Clitheroe, but they’ve never overtaken real ale around here.
Instead, craft beers (we talk about craft beers here – it differentiates them) have augmented beer lists and slotted into place around classic bitters from local breweries. People chop and change between Lupuloid and Tiller Pin without batting an eye. The beer people around here like all beer, and you’re much more likely to talk about cask than keg. Beer is a given – we all drink it, and until recently it barely merited being talked about. It was good, or it was bad. If there’s one thing craft beer brought here, it was critique. Debate. I like that.
As the night went on, and the tasting made us warm and conversational, great questions were being asked and drinkers were showing genuine, earnest intrigue about the strange beers in their hands.
“What do you use to smoke the beer? How is it done?”
“Why do you serve some beers with keg and some on cask?”
“Why do you like keg beer?”
“What hops do you use for a black IPA?”
“How do you look after dried yeast?”
Genuine, thoughtful, insightful questions, about delicious, well-made beers I would have had sent back to me at the pub a couple of years ago because people didn’t like or “get” them, or that would have had folk wrinkling their noses up at the sound of them. A room full of people enjoying learning about deliciously odd beers dreamed up by a group of mad inventors. People whom I know for a fact wouldn’t touch keg with a bargepole were sipping and being open and accepting and making “this is acceptable” noises.
I’m not in the business of seeking to change people’s opinions about beer because they’re not the same as mine – I prefer to talk about our differences and see where they overlap. I’m not interested in pushing craft beer over real ale – I like both. What I love seeing is beer thriving in any way. I love seeing people conversing and debating and getting into the nitty gritty of beer and why they are enjoying it or hating it or indifferent to it. What I love most is beer as a conduit for conversation, and that’s what Torrside brought to Clitheroe.