I think of communities hidden away in valleys, enclosed in by mountains, and imagine that this location keeps minds and currents of thought equally closed. Then I think of this part of east Lincolnshire, in which Bateman’s Brewery has its home, and wonder if the wide open spaces engenders a sense of freedom and a Marco Polo-like need to explore; or conversely, could it breed a need to pull up the drawbridge, to shake a fist at the world and venture into this same world, prickly and pumping up the volume as the beers are introduced into this world.
Of course, the landscape, if it does influence the way Bateman’s views the world, this landscape is just one feature that helps in their direction: the beer market, the beers the brewers drink and read about, the market trends and the customers’ preferences in Bateman’s pubs (of which there are 60 or so I am told and once there was one in Bethnal Green, but like Carthage it is no more) all have an input in the way Bateman’s passes through this world.
After a day spent in the company of Jaclyn and Stuart Bateman, engaged in a tour and time spent looking around the brewery, tasting the beers and gleaning scraps of information from head brewer Martin Cullimore, I’m inclined to think Marco Polo rather than an inclination to pull up the drawbridge. As Stuart Bateman and I investigate a bottle of the barley wine BBB that was brewed in 1975 and then match it with the 2013 Vintage, whose added ingredient included time well spent in a port barrel, we talk beer, brewing, touch on trends, discuss American hops (the brewery were using them in 2003 or even earlier I seem to remember), future beers, a multiplicity of ingredients (black pepper, dried orange skin, cocoa nibs), key kegs (this is booming for them) and fermentation. The BBB has spent 39 summers in this dark bottle, it was a beer that Bateman’s finished brewing in 1975 because demand was descending, but at the time some cases were put away for Stuart Bateman’s 18th birthday in 1978 and then these cases were promptly forgot about until 2010. The beer has aged well, it gleams in the glass with its sleek chestnut-burgundy tones; there’s a sherry-like character on the palate, flighty, light, sprightly, joined by sultanas, raisins, and a touch of alcoholic fire. The 2013 Vintage, whose recipe is the same as BBB’s, is rich and bracing, port-like, nutty, chocolaty and a solemn foil to its ancient cousin.
But let us not forget the workaday beers, the beers that Martin Cullimore and his team produce day in day out: XB, XXXB, Salem Porter and so on. A glass of the session beer XB has a sweetness mid palate and a ring, a chime of jelly-like fruitiness, a delicacy, movement seen out of the corner of the eye, a brush from a feather before its dry sardonic finish. It’s not a boldly flavoured, vividly hopped beer — instead, it’s balanced and ineffable in its attraction. And so in the Red Lion out in the countryside, this flat featureless countryside between Boston and Wainfleet, I sit in a pub that has the feel of a large, comfortable front room, furnished with blanquettes, tables and chairs and comfortable sofas, while in the adjoining restaurant over 40 people have gathered to drink a wake to one of their own, and I drink XB with Jaclyn Bateman and think of how much character goes into this glass of beer. And later on, after a night spent carousing with Bateman’s people at the brewery’s Visitor Centre, this home to old brewery artefacts, ancient brewing books and a massive collection of bottled beers, I now start to wonder what influence people have the way Bateman’s conduct their business and brew their beers.
People, landscape, trends, traditions, tastes: so many influences on the way a brewery goes its way in the world; and I’m still seeking the answers to my questions.
I was invited to the brewery, ate lunch, drank beer and slept it all off in one of the brewery cottages; such is life.