Duff Hart-Davis column

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Indy Lifestyle Online
We all know about Star Wars, the Cold War, the Cod War. Now, in Gloucestershire, we have a beer war, brought on by the dastardly deeds of some desperadoes in Ipswich, way off in East Anglia.

About a month ago our local brewer, Chas Wright, was outraged to find a local pub serving "Cobbold's Cotswold's PA". Being an erudite fellow, he was irritated by the redundant apostrophe, and positively incensed by a claim that the pale ale had been "brewed specially" for a wholesaler in Cheltenham.

This, he suspected, was rubbish, for Tolly Cobbold of Ipswich is a large brewery, and he estimates that the smallest quantity of beer it would turn out in any one brew would be about 150 barrels. After some liquid research he concluded that the alleged Cotswold pale ale was nothing but Cobbold's "cooking bitter with a different label".

This, he decided, was "a bit bloody rich. Ipswich is 200 miles away. They can't spell effing Cotswolds. They're not a Cotswold brewery - and there are only three authentic Cotswold breweries left: Donnington, Hook Norton, and ourselves here in Uley."

He therefore complained to the Trading Standards Office in Gloucester, and as a result Tolly Cobbold's changed their labels to make it clear that the brew emanated from Ipswich.

Still Chas was not happy, and when a local newspaper picked up the story, he told the reporter - only half in jest - that he was preparing a riposte. Well aware that the highest points in Suffolk, to the south west of Bury St Edmunds, are all of 400ft above sea level, he threatened to call his secret weapon Suffolk Mountain Ale.

The next thing he knew, a report in the Gloucestershire Citizen had been reproduced in the East Anglian Daily Times, and suddenly publicans were telephoning from the depths of Suffolk to order supplies of the new elixir. Never one to miss an opening, Chas had Suffolk Mountain Ale labels printed, slapped them on to barrels of his regular Hogshead Cotswolds pale ale, and dispatched them via a wholesaler in an easterly direction.

Little did he realise that the King's Arms in the village of Bildeston is the base of the Suffolk Mountain Rescue team. He soon learnt that "members of the team don't do much climbing, but by God, do they drink!"

Described by the landlord, Ian Softley, as "a bit of a daft pub", the rambling 15th-century coaching inn has high ceilings and massive beams; whenever the spirit takes them, the mountain rescuers bring along a large climbing net, hang it from the beams, and amuse themselves, between pints, by going up the wall.

They rarely suffer oxygen starvation, since they cannot achieve any altitude greater than 12tt above the floor; but in a part of the country where people are glad to find a hillock, that seems high enough.

Now, of course, Chas is planning "a few guest appearances" in Suffolk, and in particular a visit to Bildeston. All I can say is that they had better arrange good anchor-points for the net, because he turns the scales at 18 stone.

No doubt he will find himself much at home, for Mr Softley and two colleagues recently started their own small brewery, and the staple beers at the King's Arms are their Brettvale Best Bitter and Brettvale First Gold.

All this long-range skirmishing is the result of one gloomy development: the decision taken by Whitbreads to stop producing West Country pale ale in their brewery at Cheltenham. For generations this lightweight bitter was the only draught beer generally available in the region, and its demise earlier this year was what led Tolly Cobbold to discern an opening in the west.

In a curious way history is repeating itself; for in the Seventies Chas distributed Theakston's Yorkshire beers in Gloucestershire, and his drinking partner Ric Sainty, now landlord of the Old Spot in Dursley, caused a stir in the Cotswolds by importing Greene King and Adnams ales from Suffolk - under their own names, of course.

Now the Old Spot has just won the Camra award for the best pub in Gloucestershire - so who is to say that Ric doesn't know what he is doing, or that the cross-country movement of specialist ales does not increase the jollity of nations?

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