Brewed on his birthday, the new beer was called Old Ric

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The Independent Travel
With his long grey beard and glittering eye, he puts one in mind of the Ancient Mariner. But appearances deceive. Ric Sainty is no haunted bore, buttonholing wedding guests with tales of shipwreck and catastrophe. He is the welcoming landlord of the Old Spot inn in the Gloucestershire town of Dursley, and his claim to fame is that the beer named after him, Old Ric, has been selected for national distribution by the Wetherspoon chain of pubs.

Although addicted to ale ever since he can remember, Ric was not always a publican. He spent his first 25 working years as a draughtsman-designer in the town planning department of Cambridgeshire County Council. Then, in the Seventies, when staff cuts were threatened, he decided he was through with local government, and manoeuvred to have himself made redundant.

His idea was to look for a pub in Devon, where he had been on diving holidays; but he was waylaid by a crafty newspaper advertisement, and in 1978 he landed at the New Inn in Waterley Bottom, a deep valley near the south-western limits of the Cotswolds.

There he created a stir by importing his favourite ales across country. A friend who worked in Cambridge came down once a fortnight in his Range Rover, towing a trailer specially designed to hold 11 kilderkins (18-gallon casks). These arrived full of Greene King Abbot and Adnams ales and, once emptied, were filled with the products of the Smiles brewery in Bristol for the return journey.

Soon Ric himself was putting away 20 pints a day, and his weight went up to 18 stone. His fortunes improved still farther when he fell in with another heavyweight imbiber, Chas Wright, who at that stage was distributing Theakston beers, from Yorkshire. When Ric, Chas and the late, lamented Jasper Eley - a third 18-stoner - went out drinking together, they were a formidable trio.

In 1985 Chas restarted an old brewery in the village of Uley, close by, and began producing traditional ales with porcine names: (in ascending order of strength) Hogshead bitter, Schweinenbrau, Pig's Ear, Old Spot, Pigor Mortis and Severn Boar. Then in 1992 Ric bought the Fox and Hounds, a run-down cider-house in Dursley with a reputation so rough that, when I mentioned it to Clare, the girl who cuts my hair, her only observation was "Phworrhh!"

With Chas's agreement, Ric changed its name to the Old Spot, and redesigned the inside of the 18th-century building to give it a traditional look. With canned music banished and Uley ales on tap, the place soon began to flourish - and in 1994 the reputation of its landlord was further consolidated by the appearance of a new beer named after him.

That summer Mel Griffiths, head brewer at Uley, was commissioned to produce a special ale for the Glastonbury music festival, and came up with a premium bitter, half-way in colour and strength between his normal bitter and the rich, dark Old Spot. The new ale went down well at the festival, but there was some left over. "I'll shift it for you," said Mr Sainty - and as it had been brewed on his birthday (6 June), a unanimous decision was taken to call it Old Ric.

Such was the demand that the new recruit became a fixture; and now, with Wetherspoon's backing, it will go nationwide. Its namesake, down to a modest 131/2 stone, has reined in his own consumption; some days he drinks no alcohol at all, but on "good" days he still gets through 10 or 12 pints.

As he says: "If you really do enjoy beer, and you're having a laugh, it's all too easy to keep tanking up."

When a stranger walks into the pub, the place does not go quiet: conversations carry on, and the newcomer is absorbed into the cordial atmosphere. The secret of Ric's success lies not just in the excellence of his beer, but in the aura he creates, in the way his enjoyment of ale rubs off on customers. "After all," he says, "I'd rather have a beer named after me than a block of flats."

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