The frequency of moans, such as ‘the beer’s crap’ and ‘it’s that keg rubbish’, hints at a collective interest in good ale. Committed to excellence in singing, it is only natural that members of New Mill Male Voice Choir pursue the highest standards of drinking and ‘the craic’, even to the point of exploring the brewer’s art. At numerous post-concert analyses in ‘The Star’ at Lockwood, many of us have become familiar with the quality of Eastwood and Sanders (Fine Ales) Ltd, a Halifax firm, and, discovering that they offer weekday evening visits, choir Biermeister Doug swung into action.
14th April, a skulking band of the usual suspects hung around New Mill Club entrance, waiting for a 6.30 coach to Halifax. Rumours that several desperate individuals had been seen there since lunchtime were greatly exaggerated. As we were about to set off it was noticed that the coach contained some non-choir members. All were seemingly owned as friends and neighbours, but I wasn’t convinced by one quiet chap at the back.
On to Halifax and, en route, a foretaste of what was to come, Ibbo and Rupert started singing there repertoire of rugby songs after just one pre event pint at the club.
At first glance, Eastwoods looks nothing like a brewery – two linked modern single story units on a new industrial estate. We were ushered into the warehouse by way of the brewing area. The products were lined up under a wall sign indicating names and ABV values. It’s an industry standard marketing ruse in the ‘real ale’ community to conjour names which invoke an image of rustic testosterone addled earthiness, like ‘Old Badger Fart’ and ‘Ploughmans Crotch’. Eastwoods have their share – ‘Baht ‘at’ and ‘Nettle thrasher’. But breweries also have a penchant for what I call the ‘hairdressing salon syndrome’, you know the sort of thing, ‘Curl up and Dye’ and ‘Just a Snip’. Eastwood’s was no exception. ‘Born to be Mild’, ‘Calderd Ale’ and ‘Beyond the Pale’ were their pithy take on this genre.
Our host, Martin Ogley, then disclosed the art of brewing. But not quite before we’d got started on a couple of hand-pumped ales set up for our visit. Excellent brews but with that something extra that delights beer drinkers – they were free! Eastwoods use no sugar in the process. Having been round large breweries such as Tetleys I mistakenly thought that this was an essential ingredient. According to Martin ‘real’ beer needs only the natural sugar found in the malt and other ingredients. Adding sugar is a bit of a fudge! (Oops!)
Throughout Martin’s talk we were encouraged to top up our glasses and it was here I encountered that weird phenomenon much seen in the sandwich queue after practice on Tuesdays. It doesn’t matter when you go to wait for food and beer, you will always find Terry at the front. Spooky!
After the lecture we strolled round the plant, nosing at the equipment and sampling more of the product. Nothing old fashioned here, all gleaming stainless steel with modern computer controlled systems. The welding on the large vessels was particularly impressive.
Then to the adjacent pub for more drinking and a pie and pea supper. Not at all like your normal real ale pub. No technical college lecturers sporting beards and chunky sweaters, cuddling sleeve glasses to their armpits, droning on and on about the beer instead of drinking it. The customers here were much more down to earth, like your typical small town pub locals. They warmed to us once supper’d been eaten and juke box’d been turned off, joining in those songs they knew from our informal repertoire.
By the time the coach arrived to take us back to “the shire” most were a little inebriated, but not too drunk to appreciate, and join in with, fine renditions of more rugby songs by Rupert and Ibbo during the journey home.
At New Mill I noticed the little man who nobody had owned sheepishly getting off the coach. He smiled, waved a copy of the local bus timetable at me and said, ‘Fantastic service’.