I’m a firm believer that we all have our own peculiar ticks, our own OCD tendencies over one thing or another. Mine? Well, I have a few; some perhaps, are just rituals. I start the day with a cafetière of coffee. Instant coffee is like Watney’s Red Barrel, firmly, if you will excuse the word-play, beyond the pale. Tea? Milk in first, no question. Cream tea: jam on first, clotted cream after, no question. More strangely, I find myself particularly irked by the 1974 Local Government Act. Essentially, for bureaucratic neatness, the English Shires, or Counties were reorganized. Some counties, in effect, disappeared: Rutland, Westmorland, Cumberland, Middlesex. ‘City-states’ were created: Tyne and Wear; Greater Manchester, West Midlands. New administrative areas were cooked up too: Humberside, Merseyside, Avon, Cumbria. But the Government of the time, in their own version of administrative OCD had a revulsion against ‘exclaves’. Parts of counties that weren’t attached to the ‘main body’. Dudley, in the Black Country (actually in Worcestershire), was totally surrounded by the Staffordshire Black Country ‘proper’. The Furness peninsulas in Lancashire, were separated from the rest of the county by Morecambe Bay. Parts of Flintshire in North Wales. To the modernising eye of 1972 (when the Act was designed and the Bill passed through Parliament), the New World Order was manifested by sharply tailored bell bottoms; neatly brushed moustaches and floridly smart Prince of Wales Check suit lapels. Exclaves were distinctly untidy and, more to the point, were a real hassle for the bin lorry drivers who might have to stray across the ‘border’ to empty the rubbish. So my home county, Cheshire, had its arms removed. The left arm, the Wirral went to Merseyside, and the right arm, the spur of Longdendale and the Woodhead valley ‘given’ to Derbyshire simply because had they not done so, it would have become an ‘exclave’ due to the new mass of Greater Manchester being created and annexing the towns of Stockport, Staybridge, Mottram and Sale. And remember, exclaves are bad.
In some places there was uproar: Rutland has been restored after a long campaign; Humberside has ceased to exist. Elsewhere, quiet protest continues. The Westmorland Gazette is still published in the old county town of Kendal. In Delph and Diggle, on the edge of Saddleworth Moor, the county street signs still get vandalized and white rose flags are occasionally hoisted up the flag poles rather than red. Frustratingly, in other areas the changes seem of little consequence to the residents, Cheshire for one. Maybe I feel it more as I’ve lived away for so long now.
But brewers are tuning in. Robinsons in Stockport now describe themselves as ‘Cheshire Brewers’ even though they’ve been in Greater Manchester for 41 years. And Moor beers are ‘Brewed and bottled in Somerset’ even though, strictly speaking I guess, they’re in one of four new ‘Unitary Authorities’ in that part of the world. What a load of tosh. I know, let’s play cricket for ‘The Unitary Authority of Bath and North Somerset’. No thanks. The craft brewers, yet again, see sense and speak it. And that’s certainly the case with Moor. Here are simple beers in concept, carefully brewed and elegantly delivered. I bought a couple of cans of So’hop and Nor’hop when I was down at Darts Farm in (the ancient county of) Devon. Not only do they look lovely and feel great in the hand (due to textured ink) but they’re terrific beers the pair. Nor’hop is a pale ale (described as a ‘golden ale’ if that helps you – not me) brewed with a generous slug of northern hemisphere hop varieties, it has an unsurprising but in this case superbly balanced floral character – a hint of elderflower as well as the more dominant citrusy notes. So’hop, on the other hand, has that distinctive Australasian character; still a well balanced and sessionable 4.1% yet so much hop aroma, character and body jam-packed in. There was a distinct tinned pineapple note – and that’s meant in a good way – as well as a sweet honey character, not overpowering, and psychosomatically it would be easy to believe there is a little drop of Manuka in there – there isn’t as far as I’m aware, but that’s perception for you.
What can we conclude from all of this? Politicians are happy to throw away a thousand years of our connection to the land, to our regions and counties and think we won’t care or notice. But brewers are at the vanguard of the rebellion: because nothing connects someone to their sense of place than their local ale; and the brewers at least can see sense.