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Published on September 7th, 2014 | by Alastair Gilmour

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Wood in hearts

A new branch of the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood has been set up in the North East. Current membership runs to double figures, but more are expected to join founder-members Gordon Heal and Rob Shacklock in their quest for beer nirvana.

“I first came across the society two or three years ago on a trip to Dirty Dicks in Halifax,” says Gordon. “The pub had some information on the wall and Rob and I got talking about forming our own. It’s a traditional way of keeping beer, it’s like going back to the good old days. But first we contacted the White Rose Cooperage in Wetherby, North Yorkshire, so we could get a cask filled and see what the beer was like.”

Apparently, there is no discernable difference between beer served from wooden barrels and beer from aluminium casks, so it’s really about a nostalgia trip. But Ewan McCann at Three Kings Brewery in North Shields was so confident that the idea would be a winner that he ordered 10 firkins – nine gallon casks.

The first cask of Three Kings Billy Mill Ale – a 4.0% abv golden bitter – lasted three-and-a-half hours in the Bacchus in Newcastle last month, so perhaps they’ve hit on a particularly good idea.

The Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood was originally conceived in December 1963 by a clutch of disgruntled drinkers in Epsom, Surrey, and it predates the Campaign For Real Ale (Camra) by a dozen years.

Rob Shacklock says: “It’s all about tradition. The term ‘craft’ beer is being bandied about – and Camra isn’t sure what to do with it – so it’s nice to get back to our roots. It’s a change in culture and a lot of patience is required with beer from the wood, but it’s about good company, good ale and a bit of fun.”

Rob should know about good beer – his CV spans The Fighting Cocks in Byker, Newcastle, the Tap & Spile, Darlington, and the Tap & Spile in North Shields – all of which won Pub of the Year while he was involved.

Wooden casks’ innards have to be treated regularly by steam-cleaning to kill off any lurking bacteria then seasoned with a salt solution (rinsed, of course) but the society believes the end result justifies the effort.

“We’re hoping to get some delivered to Darlington Snooker Club for the launch of the Camra Good Beer Guide this month,” says Gordon. “And Oddfellows, North Shields, is expanding on its annual cider festival in October by offering up to 11 beers available from the wood.”

*Oddfellows Beer From The Wood Festival takes place over the weekend of October 17-19. Tel Lynda Blair on 0191 435 8540 for details or visit www.oddfellowspub.co.uk/whats-on/


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Alastair Gilmour



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