EATING FOR BRITAIN: DRINKING BADGERS IN DORSET
Just to the East of Carnaby St, on Gaston Street is a small pub called The Shaston Arms. It is one of the best in London, not for its décor, which is a rather shabby attempt recreating a rural Dorset pub (the name is the local slang for Shaftesbury), not for it’s service, which can be, shall we say a little brusque, but for one reason alone, its beer.
The Shaston Arms is a tied pub, one of the 200+ owned by Dorset brewery, Hall & Woodhouse and, if you want a perfect pint in the capital, served at the correct temperature and in the full measure, then I suggest you head there and indulge yourself in a pint of Badger.
Beer is obviously going to be a huge part of the EATING FOR BRITAIN story. We are, unlike so many other things, damn good at making it and have in this country a growing number of brewers of excellent beers.
I had already taken the opportunity to visit one of my favourite small-scale breweries in the form of Thornbridge in Derbyshire and now wanted to visit one of the more sizable ones. So, when the invitation came to visit the brewery of Hall & Woodhouse in Blandford St Mary,Dorset, I leapt at the chance, not just because I was already such a fan of their beers, but also because, unlike so many other large scale companies, Hall & Woodhouse remain in the same family hands as the day they began in the late 1700’s and have managed to compete without the more vile elements of the corporate drinks giants.
I have visited many breweries in my time, but the Hall & Woodhouse site is easily one of the most memorable. A traditional Victorian brewery building on the same site for well over a hundred years, it was originally powered by a glorious steam engine, still in perfect working order, but now only fired up a couple of times a year.
The steam engine would life the malted barley to the top of the four-storey building and then gravity would be left to do the rest of the work. Nowadays, while their method of lifting to the top floor may be more modern, the rest is still very much as it was on the day the brewery was built.
Head Brewer, Toby Heasman gave me the tour, climbing flights of stone stairs to the top and following the beer down through its mashing and fermentation and finally to casking or bottling. It is all standard stuff, the same as just about any other brewery anywhere, but with beautiful old equipment still very much in use, it remains something that always gives me pleasure.
None of this would matter, of course, if the beer sucked and there was no way they were going to let me go without doing a full sampling. Alongside their well-known beers, Hall & Woodhouse produce a staggering number of bottled ales.
Not all of them worked for me and beers like “Blandford Fly” (with ginger and maple syrup) made me recoil in terror as did one made with nettles grown at The River Cottage and brewed in co-operation with St Hugh. Others, however, particularly the three times hopped “Hopping Hare” are simply a delight, with the hops added at different stages to give bitterness, aroma and of course, flavour. It is a stunning seasonal beer and one of the best I have tasted this year so far.
Best of all, however, it was good to see the attention to detail given to the brew that I already knew. Badger First Gold is an easy drinking 4% beer, the perfect session beer with a perfect balance of malt and hops. There are few beers I enjoy more when I get the chance and, if you have not yet had the pleasure. Pop across to The Shaston Arms, you wont regret it