Best of British… The John Bull pub, which once stood on Layerthorpe, York, pictured in 1979. Photograph: Imagine York

The Campaign for Real Ale has helped transform York from a place where great beers and pubs were hard to find into a city which boasts the best of both. In the first of his regular columns, York CAMRA’s Nick Love looks back

 

Over the coming months I’m going to be exploring the myriad of York’s pubs, breweries, beers and the colourful and passionate people who inhabit this world.

Luckily I’m living in a city that will prove a fertile hunting ground for me on those subjects – something that would have been nigh on impossible when I first came to York in 1985.

I was lucky to be born and live in Lichfield, Staffordshire, for the formative years of my life – a city that benefited from its close proximity to the then capital of brewing Burton on Trent.

We were blessed with great pubs serving great beers (that are mostly no longer so) such as the then magnificent Marston’s Pedigree, imperious Draught Bass, delicious Davenports Bitter – not to mention Burton Bridge, Holden’s, Batham’s and Banks.

Finding decent beer in York back then was a different matter. There was good beer to be discovered but it was few and far between – a small percentage of the 300-plus pubs sold good real ale from companies that were not national brands.

Stalwarts of the real ale scene then, where we used to drink were: the Royal Oak with Ind Coope Burton Ale and Everards Original; the Tap & Spile that served a great pint of Hadrian Gladiator; the John Bull (now a Mazda garage) and Spread Eagle where the Tim Taylors Landlord was drank with voracious alacrity long before it was mass produced.

The Royal Oak, Goodramgate – one of a series of illustrations of York pubs by Richard Liptrot on sale at the York Beer Festival – details below. Click here to go to Richard's website

Fast forward 25-plus years and just recently within the city walls alone, York Camra’s beer survey recorded an astounding 140 unique real ales, with a further 101 within York council boundaries.

Norwich and Sheffield may boast slightly more unique beers available in their cities, but when it comes to the sheer variety of pubs where you can drink 241 unique beers I truly believe and am proud to say that in the UK (and outside London) that York is matchless.

Quite simply, we’re lucky to be living in such a city that boasts the ultimate symbiosis of unique pubs and unique beers.

Coming next: Exploring the diversity of pubs that make up the York real ale drinking experience