Having read The Brown Stuff in issue 326, I wonder exactly where in the North East Mr Brown spent his time to come to so many erroneous conclusions and reiterate such long outdated prejudices about real ale and CAMRA in the region?
Bishop Auckland is in fact very far removed from being a beer desert. It has three entries in the current Good Beer Guide, the same number as Ely incidentally, so is that one too? It also has a GBG listed brew pub, the Grand Hotel (home of Wear Valley brewery) and hosts not only a well-established CAMRA beer festival but also a charity one held, uniquely perhaps, in a Bishop's palace.
As for Stanley, while it's true that on my last visit none of the pubs in the town centre had real ale, it was available within less than ten minutes walk.
Jerry also asks why there are so many beer deserts in the North East? Well it is most definitely not even in part down to use of the sparkler as he seems to believe. Many North East beers are specifically brewed to be served through these devices so for every person who risks spreading infection by having them removed particularly where the request is uncommon, there are far more who prefer such beers to be served using them.
Equally it is also most certainly not down to a lack of "missionaries" from the South to "re-educate heathens" in the North East!
The true reasons are in fact well illustrated by this type of attitude. Many non-real ale drinkers, not only in the North East, perceive real ale as a middle class drink mainly from southern England. This idea is supported by the facts that the least affluent areas of the region such as the former East Durham coalfield correspond markedly with the areas of least real ale penetration and that it is clearly more frequently found in generally richer regions of the country such as East Anglia for example.
To make matters worse, by writing about "missionaries" and "heathens" besides exhibiting great arrogance, your columnist merely reinforces this sort of view that paradoxically makes it even harder for us to campaign for real ale to be sold more widely where it is currently not available.
It is also simply just not true that in the North East the "CAMRA message has seemingly been rejected". Although there are far fewer members in the North East than in other parts of the country where is the evidence to back up this damaging claim?
Finally I also question what Jerry was doing in quite so many pubs that do not serve real ale?; "I spoke to many landlords who say they had tried ..... but could not sell it". Even Stanley which he wrongly cites as an example of a beer desert is within easy striking distance, by frequent bus service, of the GBG 2007 listed Grey Horse, another brew pub, in Consett.
I am sorry if I upset John with my light hearted comments designed to wind up my many Northern friends lucky enough to live in this part of the world.
His knee-jerk reaction was similar to that of my frustration in my often futile search for pubs selling real ale. The Cambridge area boasts around 97% of all pubs selling real ale but I suspect that in various parts of the North East the opposite is true. [I think John Holland would argue not - Ed].
If I stand in the middle of Ely, within 2 minutes I can be drinking in one of 6 real ale pubs, and without a 10 minute trek; Ely also boasts its own beer festival and CAMRA branch to boot. If I go to Newmarket I have plenty of choice and do not have to resort to a bus journey to "An oasis" like the Boot at Dullingham.
We are lucky enough to have many pubs selling many wonderful Northern beers with real condition and not resorting to the sparkler to artificially add air.
We are also lucky enough to be within 60 miles of the oldest beer festival and the three largest in the country.
I wish John well and commend him for reading ALE - the East Anglian beer bible.