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If you ever find yourself in the town of Hartlepool, you ought to visit the Cameron Brewery Heritage Centre located next door to the brewery. It offers a remarkable and educational insight into beer production, as well as a fascinating story of entrepreneurial activity, innovation, social history and political maneuvering. Interactive displays trace brewing through the ages and the rise of the present company from its origins in 1865 when John William Cameron first entered the Lion Brewery. You will also likely learn about the story of the Hartlepool monkey, a popular local story spawned during the Napoleonic wars, during which time there was a fear of a French invasion of Britain and much public concern about the possibility of French infiltrators and spies. The fishermen of Hartlepool, fearing an invasion, kept close watch on a French vessel in their waters as it struggled against a storm. When the vessel was severely battered and sunk, they turned their attention to the wreckage that washed ashore. Among the wreckage lay a lone survivor, the ship’s pet monkey, dressed to amuse the ship’s crew in a military-style uniform. The fishermen apparently ‘apprehended’ and questioned the monkey and held a beach-based trial. Unfamiliar with what a Frenchman looked like, they came to the conclusion that this monkey was a French spy and should be sentenced to death. The unfortunate creature was to die by hanging in a public execution. And you thought the Americans had a disdain for the French!OK, enough with the Monkey talk… The Lion Brewery’s famous Strongarm brand was established in 1955 to meet the growing demands for a stronger draught beer. Popularity would soon be established as word spread of its easy-drinking complexity. This classic northern English ale is characterized by complex layers of malt and subtle balancing hops. We found it to be a well-rounded, ruby red ale with a distinctive, tight creamy head. Loaded with flavorful nuances, look for notes of pear, apple, toffee and caramelized sugar. Strongarm was recently awarded a gold medal, with a score of 92 points, in the English brown ales category at the World Beer Championships, sponsored by Chicago’s Beverage Testing Institute. Enjoy with stuffing, pork with brown sauce, or a slice of apple pie.
The second beer featured this month is from another beer authority of the world—England. The beers that dominate the British ‘pubscape’ are distinguished by one characteristic—they are predominantly ales. Just to refresh the memory, all beers can be broken down in to two general categories: ales and lagers. For hundreds of years, breweries the world over specialized in ales of some sort or another, be they bitters, stouts, porters, wits, IPAs, etc. With the advent of the bottom-fermented Pilsner lager beer in the 1840s (first created in what is today known as the Czech Republic), the popularity of top-fermented ales waned as a ferocious popularity of lager beers spread rampantly. Today Pilsner beer, as a style, is the most commonly consumed beer on the planet. Its clean, crisp, often light-bodied nature makes it an apt thirst-quenching beer, and its bottom-fermenting lager yeast yield a flavor that is often less complex, and therefore more widely received upon the public palate, than ales (it should be noted however, that some “species” of lagers can in fact possess particularly robust characteristics, such as the Eisbock style featured above, a style that often surprises folks who are familiar with the general characteristics delineating ales from lagers).
In most nations of the world, it is lager beer that is king. The reverse is true in England, though it should be said that lagers have experienced a steady rise in popularity, in part kicked off by the warm summers of the 1970s. Admirably, the palate of the British beer drinker remained largely unsatisfied by the oft considered bland tastes of many a lager beer, and the ales prevailed. Incidentally, the craft brewing revolution of the U.S. shares this ale-savoring spirit, as the majority of microbreweries specialize in the brewing of a variety of ales rather than lagers.
The British brewery we are featuring this month is located along the northeastern coast of the country, in a portside town called Hartlepool, which holds the unfortunate distinction as the first British town to be bombed by the Germans in 1914 during WWI. The Lion Brewery has been established in Hartlepool for over 150 years and has been the home to the famous Cameron’s brews since 1865. Prior to 1865 it was owned by William Waldon, who purchased it in 1852 for its pure water, drawn from an artesian well. This same well supplies the modern brewery today, and has been integral to producing beer at the site since the first brewery, Nimmo’s, was established there way back in 1826. All told, we’re talking nearly 180 years of brewing at this site! The present Lion Brewery was constructed in 1892, and by 1894, Cameron’s became a limited company owning no less than 50 pubs. For the next 91 years, Cameron’s Lion Brewery roared amidst growing popularity. Sadly, in 1985, the economy of Hartlepool experienced a major decline, and the brewery changed hands between various corporate owners, ultimately ending up under the control of one of the UK’s largest brewing conglomerates (the craft brewery-swallowing beast known as Witbread—less affectionately referred to as Twitbread by some—which itself was ultimately cannibalized by the larger than life mega-conglomerate Interbrew).
In April 2002 The Lion Brewery was purchased by Castle Eden Brewery and a new company was formed—Cameron’s Brewery Limited. Castle Eden mustered the motivation for the purchase upon discovering that Witbread had plans to close and demolish the historic brewery. This prompted a move of self-sacrifice on the part of Castle Eden, as they brokered a deal to sell off one of their breweries to a housing development corporation, using the money from the sale to help fund the purchase of Hartlepool’s Cameron’s brewery, gallantly safeguarding the future of brewing at the site, and releasing the Lion Brewery from the death grip of corporate ownership. Proudly, the Lion roars again!
For more information about the Lion Brewery, check out the following web site: http://www.cameronsbrewery.com.
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