25 June 2008

Steamin' Billy - Barkin' up the Wrong Tree?

Further to my recent comments on the Western beer festival, a thread has been running in the Nottingham Drinker over the last couple of months which has caught my attention and raises some interesting points.

As I mentioned in my earlier entry, the Western is a Steamin’ Billy pub, and the 'Billy range are brewed under contract by Tower brewery, having previously been brewed by Grainstore – and therein lies the problem, at least as far as Nottingham CAMRA are concerned.

In an article entitled Taking Liberties? (April/May, page 18) the publication roundly and quite justly condemns the nefarious practices of marketing beers as brewed by defunct breweries(Ruddles, Hardy & Hanson etc) and of rebadging beers, however the piece goes on to attack breweries such as Steamin’ Billy which contract out their brewing…

“We have covered this topic … of breweries that no longer exist yet whose beer still amazingly appears on the pumps … Perhaps more amazingly there are even beers being sold from breweries that have never existed at all such as Steamin’ Billy … you won’t see any of these “breweries” at Nottingham Beer Festival as we believe in promoting breweries that actually exist.”
Personally I’m not sure where I stand on this one; I can understand where the Drinker is coming from, but at the same time I’m also aware that the recipes used for Steamin’ Billy brews are their own – a point raised in the letters section of the following edition (June/July, p.36). Surely this lends them validity as a brewery?

I have heard rumours through the grapevine that there are plans to start brewing on site at the Western, which would certainly satisfy the Nottingham branch, but in the interim what do other people think – should you be able to call yourself a brewery if you don’t actually brew anything yourselves?



  1. The Nottingham Drinker is certainly an opinionated publication! Whilst GK deserve all the bad press they get, the comment about Steamin' Billy having "never existed" is fundamentally wrong.

    They started off in the mid nineties brewing on-site at the multi-award-winning Cow & Plough in Oadby, Steamin' Billy being the name of the pub dog (RIP). It would appear from the info on the brewery's website that they first started contract brewing in 1999.

    It's one thing to boycott brutish nationals but quite another to ban local mircos from your camra beer festival. I'm pleased the Leicester branch haven't followed suit and actually celebrate Steamin' Billy beers - even if they are no longer brewed within the city limits.

  2. If I like an ale I'll drink it again, if I don't then I'll try to avoid it. Good beer is good beer where ever it is brewed. Sometimes certain Camra do tend to get a bit too anal.

  3. Dubbel. Are you sure about there being a brewery at The Cow & Plough? It's not my understanding and Quaffale agrees. I will drink their beers but don't consider them a brewery at all. More a company with beer recipes.

  4. Maeib,

    My first visit to the C&P was before the turn of the century and I was sure they said the Billy Bitter and Skydiver beers were brewed on-site. You're quite right that quaffale disagrees and I was unaware of the Leatherbritches connection before now. Interesting that SB don't mention this relationship on their history page - but I'm quite happy to stand corrected.

  5. I've just got off the phone with Barry Lount at Steamin' Billy having called him to get to the botom of this...

    SB was established as a brand to supply a couple of pubs (including the Cow & Plough) in 1991 by Billy Allingham (co-director), with the beers being licence brewed at Leatherbritches (which he had also established) until 1999 when production requirements outstripped the premises and brewing was moved to Grainstore.

    It's worth noting that after setting up the SB company Billy Allinghm passd over the Leatherbrithes reigns to his brother, who together with his wife still runs the brewery and and the Bentley Brook Inn where it is situated.

    During the Grainstore period SB beers were very much licence brewed with no real input from the SB team.

    Now that brewing has moved to Tower the Billy boys are able to get a lot more hands on with the process, and Barry is working closely with John (Tower's Head Brewer) on the current Steamin' Billy range.

    I can confirm that at no point have the beers been brewed at the Cow & Plough, and it turns out that the rumour of brewing being established at the Western is precisely that - just a rumour.


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