Beards and beer bellies left in the past as real ale gurus come of age

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The Campaign for Real Ale, arguably one of the most successful consumer campaigns, celebrates its 25th anniversary today. Stephen Goodwin toasts the occasion at the All Nations in Shropshire.

Walter "Watty" Colley, dropping in to get two pints of home-brewed pale ale poured into a large old whisky bottle, was unimpressed by the accolades heaped on the pub and the golden liquid he was carrying off.

Watty has been drinking All Nations pale ale for 54 years and he does not need a fancy guide book to tell him it is a cracking pint. "I'm not happy with the price, mind thee," added the 79-year-old former kiln-worker. A pint at the All Nations costs 95p.

None of the regulars is about to go overboard about their pub's inclusion in Camra's Silver Selection - the select few who have featured in all 25 Good Beer Guides.

Once characterised as a sort of mutual support group for men with beards and beer bellies, Camra has proved itself a strikingly successful consumer campaigning organisation. Its object was to drive out "fizzy beer" - where carbon dioxide was used to force beer to the bar - and also "characterless keg" so that drinkers could once again enjoy traditionally brewed cask beer. Real ale was then the exception in pubs but by 1980 the epitomy of fizzy beer, Watneys Red, had been axed and hand pumps sprouted on bars across the country.

There are now around 2,500 real ales and new breweries are opening at a rate of almost one a week. But not everything is rosy in the beer garden; characterless keg, employing nitrogen in its dispensing and millions of pounds in its advertising, is still a Camra target. And then there is price. Today the average pint costs pounds 1.64 and can rise to pounds 2.15. In 1974 beer cost an average 15p a pint.

Madeley, in rural Shropshire, is a down-to-earth place. The All Nations and pubs close by once slaked the thirsts of those who stoked the furnaces and oiled the wheels of the first industrial revolution. The Blists Hill works where Watty once fired the kilns is now part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum.

Keith Hardman, the landlord, was as unfazed as his regulars by the fame. Each year Camra sends him a sticker hailing the pub's inclusion in the guide but he has not bothered to put any of them in the window of the unprepossessing building.

"It's a pub, it's not a restaurant that sells beer or anything like that," Mr Hardman said.

The All Nations was built in 1789 on a bank high above the River Severn and it has stayed within two families all that time - Baggulays and Lewises. Mr Hardman married Jean Lewis, whose father, Bill, took over the pub in 1934. However, its survival is credited to her mother, Eliza.

Twenty-five years ago there were just four home-brewed pubs left in the country, two of which were in Shropshire, the All Nations and the Three Tuns at Bishops Castle.

Eliza Lewis ladled the beer by hand - some 200 gallons per brew - from the coal-fired copper into the mash tun, back into the boiler and then into the fermenting vessel.

Pressed hard yesterday, Graham Wilson, a retired long-distance lorry driver, broke out of the undemonstrative cover and sang the praises of the pub, its pale ale and even its outside toilets. "It's what I was brought up with. You can get wet with a good pint inside, and you can get wet when you have to go outside."