Doris’s 90th Birthday Ale

I don’t usually write about beer, but Doris’s 90th Birthday Ale is no ordinary tipple, and the Hesket Newmarket Brewery is probably one of the few things I find myself on the same side as unbonny Prince Charlie.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

The brewery is an old barn at the back of a pub – the pub – in Hesket Newmarket, a small Cumbrian village about 15 miles south of Carlisle on the northern edge of the English Lake District. One thing that makes the Old Crown remarkable is that it is thought to be Britain’s first co-operatively owned pub, bought by a group of locals in 2003 when it would otherwise had closed. The cooperative had already bought the brewery in 1999 when Jim and Liz Fearnley decided to retire. They has set up the brewery in 1988 when they were running the Old Crown, and it became so successful that they had sold the pub in 1995 to concentrate on brewing.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Doris was brewed in 1989 as their first expermental full malt beer, at the time of Jim’s mother-in-law’s 90th birthday, and he jokingly referred to it as ‘Doris’s 90th Birthday Ale’, although he had intended to name it (like most of the other brewery beers) after one of the local fells, Skiddaw. The name stuck and Doris became famous around the world among real ale drinkers. It was the beer that Prince Charles drank when he visited the village as patron of ‘The Pub is The Hub’ campaign. You can see more about the pub, the beers and the brewery on a video on the pub web site.

Unfortunately the pub doesn’t open at lunchtimes Monday to Thursday, so I was unable to try the pub food with a pint or two and had to make do with tea and a bacon roll at the nearby post office/shop/cafe, which was nice enough. But we did visit the brewery, and were treated to a glass of one of the ales, and could buy bottled beers.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Travelling as I do mainly on foot and by public transport it’s hard to carry a great deal. Fortunately I’d left my Nikon 16-35mm at home, and its space in my camera bag was around the right size for a bottle of Doris’s 90th. Just a shame I couldn’t also accomodate the other half dozen brews on offer.

After arriving home, I had to let the bottle stand for a few days for the yeast to settle before carefully decanting Doris into a pint glass. It’s a clear orangey-brown liquid with a slight sparkle and a beer I could happily drink and drink…  If I lived in Cumbria I could see myself having it rather often with a meal in place of wine. The brewery web site describes it as ABV c4.3% and a “full flavoured, fruity premium beer with hints of butterscotch, carefully balanced with bitterness from Fuggles, First Gold and Herzbrucker Haler hops.”

Although these beers are avaiable at a number of pubs across Cumbria, most of the pubs I visited or went past were Jennings houses, and Jennings Bitter, the original beer from their Cockermouth brewery is a very decent pint which won the CAMRA Award for the Champion Beer of the North West 2009.

© Peter Marshall 1979
Photographers in the dimly lit pub at Brassington

Jennings is now one of five traditional breweries in Marston’s Beer Company, and for me makes another rather tenous connection with photography. Although the series of photography workshops I attended in the 1970s were based at Paul Hill’s ‘Photographer’s Place’ in a converted barn at Bradbourne, their real centre of gravity was  a mile or two away at ‘The Gate’ in Brassington, where, as well as discovering much about photography I also came across for the first time, Marston’s Pedigree.

© 1979, Peter Marshall

More pictures from The Photographers Place and also some from Hesket Newmarket and the nearby village of Caldbeck, where you can see the gravestone of the famous huntsman John Peel on My London Diary.

One Response to “Doris’s 90th Birthday Ale”

  1. weepingash says:

    I have fond memories indeed of The Gate at Brassington. Much beer consumed on numerous occasions before retiring to The Photographers Place, usually with a bottle of Johnnie Walker as a shared nightcap.
    A shame that we never met up on one of those gatherings, but my time at ‘The Place’ started in 1980 with John Blakemore. Laying outside in bright sun one morning after a particularly festive evening before, I will always remember John saying “Now we all know how a sheet of film feels…”

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