Eat, drink and be Jerry: a message from your new Ale Taster

tavern scene

A couple of years ago, a few of us in Wellington H2A had the idea to revive the post of town ale taster. It is a post first recorded in Wellington in 1345, and one that most manors would have appointed back in the Middle Ages, along with the likes of rat catchers and town criers. Becoming obsolete in Wellington and almost everywhere else in the 18th and 19th centuries, today very few places have their own official ale taster – but Wellington is one of them.

So what’s the point of this role? Traditionally, it would have been to ensure the quality of beer brewed in the town, and also the weight of bread (so that locals didn’t get diddled). Our intention was that the revised role would be a way of promoting local food and drink – to shops, pubs and restaurants, as well as directly to shoppers – and of encouraging some new, food-related community projects.

Having given the initial idea to Wellington Market Company two years ago, their first appointment to the post had seen his term come to an end and we sensed that interest in selecting someone else had waned. We took the idea to the town council instead, and they have embraced it. Local real ale fan and all round food-lover Jerry Baily was proposed for the role, and at our Charter Day event in February was officially appointed in the Market Square.

In this, the first of a series of regular articles, Jerry recounts his first day in the job…

Day one as the new ‘Ceremonial Ale Taster of Wellington’ went something like this. My wife and I had a full cooked English breakfast in The Beacon and met a friend (Jimmy the Spy) who had come up on the train from GCHQ Cheltenham for the celebrations and a beer or two. We were work colleagues inBerlinbefore the wall came down in 1989.

We then walked into the Market square and listened to the Wellington Town Band and chatted to all the friends and family who had come to see my inauguration, lovely to see so many friendly faces in the growing crowd. The Court Leet obviously liked what they heard from me because I was dually elected and given the Ale tasters Cloak and Tankard: after the ceremony I had a few photos taken before I retired to The White Lion to slate my thirst.

White Lion detail

The White Lion was refurbished and re-opened in December 2011; Darwin Inns own the building with Tiggy and Gill fronting it. The pub majors on beers from a Shrewsbury brewery called ‘Salopian’. Around 30 of us squeezed into the lounge area and I held court for a while as I tested a couple of Salopian beers and had more photos taken in, behind and outside the bar. I am pleased to say the ales were in fine form, as they have been on my every trip into The White Lion since its re-incarnation.

My entourage fell to the twenty mark as we left Tiggy to visit the rebranded ‘Raven’. They knew we were coming as I’d warned them, out of politeness I had done so with all the pubs I intended to imbibe in during the day. I didn’t expect a red carpet, but it being only their second Saturday since opening I did expect to meet the Landlord; sadly I was not acknowledged and the young lady behind the bar couldn’t cope with the influx of my party. This led to some friends leaving without being served; while others waited patiently like me. My pint of Wychwood Dirty Tackle was fine, but my elation had been dampened; without so much as a ‘thank you’ from the barmaid as I left, my cape and tankard somehow began to feel heavy, I had been deflated somewhat by my experience.

The Raven

What a difference on entering ‘The Wrekin’. Sam the landlord lined up all six cask ales he had on tap, a quarter of a pint of each for me to sample: all were on top form. I then had a guided tour of his cellar, something Sam is keen to repeat should anyone else wish to see how clean and well kept it is, just ask him. More photos and chats with Sam’s customers while consuming Wye Valley HPA ensured the time just flew by, my group of followers now down to a bakers dozen and a dog: it was time to make my way to ‘The Cock Hotel’ for the ‘Meet the Ale Taster Evening’.

Ale Taster with food

Pete and Liz (Landlord and Landlady of The Cock Hotel) were waiting for me; as were plates of Belton Cheeses, Paddy Ryan’s Pork Pies and a selection of breads locally sourced. Hobsons Best Bitter was poured into my tankard and it seemed to be regularly replenished whenever Pete or Liz saw me, I must have paid for a couple though because my wallet wasn’t as thick when I left as it was when I arrived. The Mayor was also on hand as the event progressed, even though she is tee-total: the numbers ebbed and flowed during the evening with everybody appearing to enjoy themselves. I left at about 22:00 and walked slowly home reflecting on a most wonderful day, many thanks to everyone involved, especially my wife Margie who endeavoured to stay by my side for the duration of the whole day!

Do you have any ideas the Ale Taster could take up in his official role promoting enjoyment of local food and drink? Is there a food project he should know about, an amazing local cook or brewer? Use the comments boxes below…