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  • Matt Chinnery

How has The Alehouse never won CAMRA Branch Pub of the Year?

I don’t usually do posts like this, I leave the ranting and beer politics to people who do it much better than I do. But the more time I spend in The Alehouse Chelmsford the more it puzzles me to how it has never been awarded for its beer by our local CAMRA branch. Before I go into one, I don’t want this to be thought of as an attack on my local CAMRA branch, because it is not it is an open question. I have met a few of the local CAMRA branch and they are all lovely people, so I hope they see this for how it is meant to be. The Alehouse has won branch cider pub in 2014 but what really puzzles me is how the beer side of the pub hasn’t been rewarded.

Sitting below the platforms of Chelmsford train station in Essex you will find The Alehouse, it was the first railway arch I ever drank in, they were doing it before it was cool to drink in railway arch taprooms. The arches were transformed in 2012 and turned into Chelmsford’s (possibly Essex’s) pub with the largest range of real ale and bottled beers. Three large corrugated iron shielded arches provide shelter for the bar, seating area and the cellar. Clean floors with several tables ranging from high tables for four with stalls to huge banquet style wooden tables fill the first arch. Dried hops decorate the walls along with famous quotes, local artwork and pictures of The Alehouse being transformed from archway to pub. The second adjacent arch homes the large bar which runs almost from the front door to the back. 12 real ale pumps feature beers from all over the country, ranging all styles and scaling from low ABV to some stronger offerings. There is also a large selection of real cider (up to 12!), wines, spirits, German lager, keg specials and several fridges full of bottled beers from all over the world. As I rest at one of the huge old barrels used as tables across from the bar I admire the range and think that there really is something for everyone.

The 12 ale pumps provide beer that has been kept perfectly, the cellarmanship in The Alehouse is superb and never have I been served a badly kept pint. From this amount of well-kept beer alone I am left speechless to how this pub hasn’t won at least Chelmsford Branch Pub of the Year? Not to mention in addition to all that cask beer there is bottled beers from Germany, UK, Belgium, America, Scandinavia and the South Pacific.

There are several local community events held at The Alehouse, from record fairs in collaboration with nearby record stores, the monthly SX Bottleshare, quiz nights, Morris dancers meets and college debates. There is information on Chelmsford FC matches as well as a Chelmsford FC scarf draped across the top of the bar. Cricket information is also available and is a great spot for a bit of pre or post cricket action. They advertise for What Pub and other CAMRA related information. All ticking CAMRA points when judging for best pubs.

Most the time it is busy, now I’m not sure if this is seen as a negative point to some but for me this just backs up another reason for it to be awarded. Being popular and busy will mean that staff can be stretched at the bar, but I always think they deal with large crowds very well. One of the most important points to me is that these large crowds are people who may not have been drinking real ale a couple years ago, thanks to the contribution of The Alehouse however, they now do. It is a great place to convert people to well-made beer. It was the first place I had a bottle of Tiny Rebel, thus starting my love affair with Craft Beer, it’s the first place some of my old school mates tried real ale, it has converted some college mates who didn’t really drink beer full stop! There is no crap lager on the bar, unlike many pubs who have won before all over the country, there is a selection of good quality German lager.

The staff are knowledgeable, when possible they do engage in conversation and they all get trained in how to serve real ale. I have seen first-hand younger people who drink in there ask questions about beer and seem keen to learn. If CAMRA wants to move with the times and evolve, like they say they do in their revitalisation meetings, then surely places like The Alehouse is a key factor in helping to recruit new young members, something they openly admit they are unsure on how to attract.

I’ve become friends with Alex the manager over the last couple of years so the following will most likely be biased, but he really knows his beers and runs a good ship. I think he has a tougher job than a few other pubs top dogs too, the size of the venue, staff and amount of people to walk through those doors (and not always for a beer sometimes just to cut through the pub!) are greater than most the other establishments. This makes it all the more impressive for me that he is able to provide a venue which serves spot on cask ale and entertain its many locals.

Supporting local ale is important, and rightly praised by CAMRA. The Alehouse always has a local Essex beer on at all times, including Chelmsford’s microbrewery Round Tower. They also have many festivals over the year, including the Americanish festival coming up at the end of July which I think is a great idea. I know many CAMRA members regularly attend these beer festivals, so how does this not translate into votes?

The prices reflect how much quality beer costs, I personally think the prices are fair, I know how much beer costs and this can be difficult to juggle. This part is possibly what infuriates me the most, there are too many people stuck in the past with an old mind state. I would love to be able to pay £3 a pint everywhere I go, but unfortunately that just isn’t possible in today’s world (and will only get worse… thanks Brexit!), not if you want to drink quality beer anyways. You love those hoppy pale ales from Oakhams right? Well they cost money and if you aint happy with paying for it then I am afraid you best go back to your big brand owned pubs or a Wetherspoons. CAMRA discounts shouldn’t effect awards or judging either, and personally if a pub was preferred over another just because they provide CAMRA discounts then I would see that as an unfair judging. Sometimes it isn’t possible to provide discounts.

The only thing that I could possible say that is negative over the years about The Alehouse was the original food served, although I always enjoyed the cooked pizza they weren’t able to continue with the kitchen. However, the current situation for me works better, being allowed to bring in our own food and them to provide cutlery for us is great, and means they can focus on what they do best, serving great pints of beer. There are snacks including local produce though for those in need of a nibble.

I’ve drank in a lot of pubs over Essex and in my opinion there is not a better selection of cask ale, bottles and other drinks all under one roof in the entire county. Again I want to make sure people understand this isn’t an argument with my local CAMRA branch this is an open letter to them as I can’t comprehend this situation maybe I am missing something. I would love to see the relationship between CAMRA and The Alehouse grow, the events and rep that they could contribute together on would be great.  I love this year’s best pub of Chelmsford, The Hop Beer Shop, they rightfully won after an incredible first year, and this is no disrespect to any other previous winners. They all deserved to win but I can’t understand how in the last 4 years The Alehouse has been open how it has never won at least CAMRA Branch Pub of the Year?

Disclaimer – This post was all my own making, all the views are mine not The Alehouse. The majority of my wages are spent in The Alehouse and I have never been asked to post this or anything by anyone involved with The Alehouse. As mentioned this is not an attack at CAMRA.

#TheAlehouse #Cider #pub #Essex #CAMRA #ale #RealAle #Chelmsford #Beer

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