Summer 2013 Country Pub of the Season Presentation to Wombwell Arms, Wass

Ian (left) presenting Ian (right!) with the award

Ian (left) presenting Ian (right!) with the award

The sun was shining and the temperature was heading into the high 20s, so it was time for the Country Summer Pub of the Season award to the Wombwell Arms. Fourteen of us travelled by minibus from York through the glorious North Yorkshire countryside to Wass on the 6th July. Passing the impressive ruins of Byland Abbey our anticipation of a good thirst quenching pint was increasing. We were not to be disappointed as Ian Walker, the landlord, was waiting to greet us with a choice of real ales. Other CAMRA members who had made their own way to Wass also joined us. Ian had reduced his beer prices for the event and advertised it within the local community. There were two guest ales, Rudgate Yorvik Blonde and Wensleydale Poacher together with the regular Black Sheep Best Bitter. We sat outside and enjoyed the beer and sunshine before going inside to the Poachers bar where Ian and his staff had laid on an array of tasty canapés for us to sample.

After our lunch, Ian Alford, the sponsor, made the presentation to Ian, the landlord and congratulated him on the continuing success of the Wombell Arms and in particular his commitment to offering real ales from local breweries at the pub. Ian thanked CAMRA for the award and then entertained us with an account of how CAMRA had influenced his life, career in the brewing industry and finally his choice of beers in his own establishment. It was also a tale of the many changes in the British brewery industry over the last few decades.

His first involvement with the brewing industry was at the age of three when his father took him to the Scarsdale Brewery in Chesterfield where he worked. That brewery was taken over in 1959 by Whitbread and immediately closed. Latter, while at university Ian worked during the summers with Whitbread in Sheffield stacking crates, working in the office and cleaning cellar tanks. Some of the pub cellars had over 20 tanks and sold more Whitbread Trophy in a week than the Wombwell Arms’ beer sales in a year! In 1976, fed up with the fizzy beer at university he joined CAMRA and along with some friends got elected to the student bar committee, ended the Scottish and Newcastle arrangement and installed hand pumps. His copy of the 1976 Good Beer Guide (much thinner than the latest edition) was passed around as today’s CAMRA members searched for their favourite pubs. After graduating Ian got a job in product development with Watney Mann and Trueman at the Brick Lane London Brewery and in the post Red Barrel era was involved with new brands such as Watney’s Stag Bitter and Trumann’s Tap Bitter. In 1981 with the inducement of a company Ford Cortina he moved to sales eventually becoming General Sales Manager for new business and key accounts. Following takeovers and mergers he moved to the Courage Bristol Brewery which produced Directors, Courage Best and Courage Bitter Ale (3.2% for the local market). Thanks to the Bristol Brewery being a devolved business unit Ian was able to rename this latter beer as George’s Bitter, a traditional name. Along with an advertising campaign he increased sales fourfold and a long term decline in bitter sales was reversed. Following this success a 4.4% George’s Premium was launched for Christmas selling 987 out of the 1000 casks produced. Subsequently the brewery was closed and eventually Courage was taken over by Scottish and Newcastle and Ian became the West Country Regional Sales Director. Following a period of illness and a reorganisation where his job disappeared and Scottish and Newcastle itself were being acquired by Heineken, Ian decided to take early retirement and redundancy to fulfil his dream of running his own business.

Ian and his South African wife, Eunice, purchased the Wombwell Arms five years ago. Eunice is the head chef and brings a South African twist to their menu. Originally a micro brewery was planned. However, the need to refurbish the pub and in particular the kitchen, letting rooms and toilets has put the micro brewery on hold for the foreseeable future. A recession and poor weather has also not helped. Recently the Wombwell Arms has introduced a second guest beer alongside Black Sheep Best Bitter. The guest ales are always from local micro breweries and mostly in pins to maintain quality. Business now seems to be improving with last year’s turnover up by 7.5%. Perhaps the micro brewery may become a reality.

After a few more beers it was time to board the bus for the journey back to York. On the way back a call was made at Stillington for a beer break at the White Bear. This is a CAMRA favourite which offers a 10% discount to CAMRA members. The choice of beers on offer included Ilkley Black and Sam Smith’s Bitter. After an enjoyable pint or two we continued back to York after all having had a splendid day out. (IA)