Local CAMRA Chairman Reflects on Memories of Mitchell’s Brewery

July 29, 2011

Tony Skinner writing in the Lancaster Guardian in August 1977 found it quite remarkable for an area of its size, that Lancaster should have two local independent breweries”, Yates & Jackson and Mitchells. Well, Camra thought so too, which is why we have a local branch here. A system of Brewery Liaison Officers reporting to Camra HQ on each brewery was set up in 1976. It is a way of recording the health of the industry, the history of each company and focussing campaigns where there is a danger of takeover or closure.

In the early days of Camra, brewery visits were an essential part of getting to know the company, the people that work in them and the products they were producing and promoting. This side of the campaign continues and over the years the relationships are developed and matured. Respect and trust should be reflected on both sides. Lunesdale Branch lost no time in visiting both breweries in the early ‘70s and it was Roger Barker who took us round Mitchells at their Central Brewery on Church Street. The Brewery looked a fairly functional 1950s five storey concrete clad rebuild from a three storey former building on the same site, but it was neat and tidy with a splendid 1950s six-roller Porteous Malt Mill,  two mash tuns and two fermentation rooms holding several small copper lined rectangular vessels. Underneath was the racking area and conditioning cellar full of wooden casks. A cask washing shed and filtering and carbonation site for the small amount of keg beer produced completed this small site at the back of the New Inn which acted as the brewery tap. On our first visit we were treated to one free pint.

Mitchells presence in the community had always had a higher profile than Yates & Jackson whose advertising was virtually non-existent [a few beer mats and some black and white glass roundels with their initials on was all the advertising we saw].Mitchells advertised on the busses pre 1974 with “Mitchells Bitter” and “After a busy day Mitchells Stout” on banner advertising on the upper sides of the double-deckers. They also supported pictorial signs of a very high quality using Frank Perkins’ Lancaster Fine Arts Studio and these designs can still be seen at the Ring ’O Bells, and the Three Mariners,for instance, but sadly, the Rose Tavern has faded into memory. But what of the beers? In the 1970s and 1980s there was  a light Bitter at 3.5%ABV,  a soft malty, quite sweet Mild at 3.3%ABV and ESB at a decent 5%ABV. All these were also bottled and later, briefly, canned. Experimentation with a wider portfolio didn’t appear till after the move to Brewery Lane in 1985 when Yates & Jackson retired from brewing and Brain Moss joined the Company as Head Brewer in 1991 from Vaux and before that Matthew Brown and Greene King. The closure of Central Brewery and the move from Church Street to Brewery Lane enable Keith Greenhalgh and myself to sample the last bitter brew from the old brewery, which used towns water, to its new site with the spring water brewed at Brewery Lane. There was very little difference – perhaps a perception of a dryer less fruity palate. Brian Moss was very a “can do” brewer with an enthusiasm for his craft that was expressed with a bottled “Lancaster Charter 800” brew at 8.0%ABVand a single malt pale ale  7.2% that was deceptively drinkable. This was crowned with his very successful “Lancaster Bomber”at 4.4%ABV to celebrate D-Day. Mitchells were quite happy with Pipkin as their usual malt, but Brian wanted expensive Maris Otter and, along with extra metal casks, this beer took off with a flourish and has been flying ever since [although not to quite the same specifications from when it was first launched.] Mitchells could see that with a broader portfolio of beers, the continuing interest in real ale and the burgeoning expansion of microbrewers, the free trade was beckoning but a brief liaison with Tavern Wholesale, part of the Greenalls Company, did not bear fruit as many depots and wagons did not have chilled storage and quality problems arose on presentation. Cask return was also a problem. A brief holiday I had in Gloucestershire confirmed this disappointing expansion. After Brian’s early death at 52 to cancer in 1996, Alan Cox, briefly, and Ian Kendal, both brewers from Boddingtons continued the pattern of themed and seasonal brews. It was not enough to convince the board and brewing ceased in August 1999.

Since then, Mitchells have supported their houses with a range of guest beers, initially only Tetleys and Boddingtons, but later with a wider portfolio of beers we could never have hoped for back in 1999. With the purchase of York Brewery, to provide a house range and a changing list from micro-brewers, Lunesdale Camra is certainly spoilt for choice. The pubs are still with us thank goodness, and the engaging company of licensees. Before the current legislation, any changes in pub tenancies and managers were dealt with in monthly Transfer Sessions with a list of prospective licensees pinned up next to the door of Court 4 in Lancaster’s Magistrates Court. Any member of the public could attend these as spectators only unless one wished to comment in which case one had to alert the Clerk to the Court that you wished to speak. There was always a police presence in case any licensee had a history of “previous” which one had to admit to before proceedings began. Keith Greenhalgh and I would sometimes sit in on these proceedings if allowed time off from work. The other source of information was from a long time serving licensee at the Ring ‘O Bells and sometime Chairman of the local LVA, Arthur Wild. He was a fund of information and many a tale and a happy pint was enjoyed at the “Ring”, before we pottered off to which ever new incumbent had swapped the day job for this worthy profession. In this way we were able to keep up to date with licensee changes. Mitchells had several faithful long serving licensees. Fred Jackson at the Golden Ball at Snatchems was one who tested the Camra branch in its early days.”You know all about beer do you”, he said to a group of us one Saturday.“Go and look out of the window for a while”. “Right”, he said, “Come back and taste these. Which is the better pint?” We tasted and indicated which one we preferred. “Well”, he said” they are both the same beer, but one has been pulled without the sparkler”. We had a lot to learn about beer. One or two of Mitchells pubs would serve beer straight from the cask, on request and the Bridge at Wennington would certainly do this as the cellar was only a couple of steps down from the bar. The beer arrived in a large white enamelled jug. Handpumps have long replaced this service.

In a rural community, we are very lucky the Mitchells recognise the social necessity of the pub and we should do our best to support them. We have some truly lovely gems, but it’s hard to make a living from these small houses so some licensees do have other forms of income to supplement them. So Happy Birthday Mitchells – North Lancashire is lucky to have you!

Jenny Greenhalgh


July 29, 2011

As Mitchell’s of Lancaster celebrates its 140th anniversary it has teamed up with another important Lancaster based organisation, St John’s Hospice, and will raise funds for the charity throughout the year.

To mark the new partnership Managing Director, Jonathan Barker, invited Catherine Butterworth, the Hospice’s Fundraising Manager, to discuss future fundraising activities.

Jonathan says, ‘As part of our 140th birthday celebrations at Mitchell’s we wanted to focus our fundraising activities within our heartland and St John’s Hospice was the obvious choice because it cares for local people. We have always supported local organisations but decided to make a firm commitment to St. John’s for the foreseeable future’


The Boot and Shoe at Scotforth, one of Mitchell’s managed houses recently reached an individual fundraising target of £14,000 over the past three years. This is a great achievement and hopefully collectively as a company, Mitchell’s will be able to raise much more from the support of its customers.

Catherine  says, ‘St John’s Hospice is very much part of the local community, and this link with Mitchell’s of Lancaster will help us increase awareness of our role and our needs through its pubs and other outlets.  We’re really grateful to Jonathan and to everyone at Mitchell’s of Lancaster for deciding to spend the coming year raising funds for the work of the Hospice.’


First Draught – CAMRA member Julian Holt recalls the Lancaster pub scene of the sixties

May 6, 2011

For me Lancaster and Mitchell’s will always be synonymous,  though the first city I pub I drank in, aged 18, in 1964 was actually a John Smith’s house.  Six of us students at the brand new Lancaster University were in digs (now demolished) on Cable Street and on the first night walked across Skerton Bridge to the Red Cross.  On entering we were amazed to be welcomed by huge plates of sandwiches and pies.  It was darts night and our first taste of northern hospitality.

I didn’t deliberately choose a university with a brewery near it, though the pungent aroma  that wafted across town from Brewery Lane  was a happy reminder of my East Kent childhood.  (There was a hop garden next to our house, while trips to Maidstone were made memorable by the powerful smell of malt that hung over the Medway when Fremlin’s were brewing.)

In those days most Lancaster pubs were real locals, defined by community identity.  This was true of the two Mitchell’s houses I usually frequented  – the Tramway and The Shakespeare – and The Crown, a Yates & Jackson pub, all on St. Leonardgate, the street where the university was temporarily located in 1964/5.

It was here that I served my beer drinking apprenticeship under the sardonic mentorship of the locals, many of them building workers.   And it was here that I first experienced a pint of  “mixed” (Mitchell’s bitter and mild in one glass) which remained my drink of choice for years.  For me it was a satisfying blend of the best qualities of each ale style, smooth with a dry edge, and very moreish. Later I drank Original Bitter and later still Mitchell’s Lancaster Bomber, when Bomber was a very fine drink indeed.

The community between St. Leonardgate and the canal (this was before a whole residential area was demolished to make way for car parks) was lively, mutually supportive, and very pub orientated.  In those days people spent all week-end evenings in the local, and several weekday evenings as well.  Pub games thrived, whole families went out together, and “lock-ins” were a regular feature of a time when pubs were legally obliged to shut in the afternoon and at 10.30 in the evening.

Pubs were predominantly male establishments.  The Tramway had a small snug where you’d find elderly women drinking Mackeson, but the main bar on most nights would be men only, the punters standing shoulder to shoulder with pints of bitter or glasses of bottled Guinness lined up as if on parade.  No one drank from the bottle, and I can remember scarcely one lager drinker (Harp didn’t hit English pubs until 1965).  No one went to the boozer for a meal in those days.  The only “nourishment” available was a pasty from the heated cabinet or a pickled egg.

It was at this time that I was introduced to the “walk round town”,  where a number of pubs were visited before returning to home base for closing time.  A typical session would take you to the Fat Scot (now Mood), Nag’s Head, Cross Keys (on the site where British Home Stores is now), New Inn (demolished), Blue Anchor and Brown Cow, and back to the Tramway via North Road and The Station (subsequently the Lord Ashton, now gone).  For an aspiring beer drinker this was training Olympics-style.

I remember those days with unashamed nostalgia.  The town had two breweries producing distinctive brews, the flavours of which I still recall with pleasure.  Many of the numerous pubs, some of which have been closed, demolished or transformed, had great character and were community meeting places where everyone knew each other.  In a real sense Lancaster pubs, and in particular Mitchell’s, were the soul of the city.

Actually they still are.  We’ve lost Mitchell’s and Yates and Jackson’s as city brewers (though we  gained Lancaster, Bryson’s and now Cross Bay) but there is a much greater choice of good beers in Mitchell’s houses now than forty years ago.  And many of them remain community pubs, with an individual identity and ambience.

Those much-loved meeting places of my youth – the Shakespeare, Tramway and New Inn – may have gone, and I mourn their passing,  But wonderful places like the Three Mariners, Waterwitch and Yorkshire House continue to embody the city’s essence and spirit, and long may they do so.

English Asparagus Season

May 10, 2010

Asparagus is arguably our best vegetable and is known as the queen of vegetables. It has a short season, usually 1st of May to 15th of June, depending on the weather.

British asparagus is award winning and is the best in the world so to get the most out of this fantastic seasonal vegetable we hope you enjoy our recipe below. Alternatively, we will be serving up our fantastic asparagus menu throughout May featuring some mouthwatering dishes.

Grilled English Asparagus Spears Wrapped in Parma Ham,  Served with a Crispy Poached Hens Egg and a Chive Cream Sauce


6 spears of Asparagus

3 slices of Parma ham

1 Egg

15g Breadcrumbs

40ml Cream

20ml  White wine

10 ml Lemon juice

3  Chives


Lightly poach the asparagus in boiling seasoned water for 15 seconds and plunge in to iced water to stop cooking and cool down, lay out the Parma ham and cut in half,  and individually wrap each spear of asparagus.

Lightly poach an hen egg for 45 seconds and gently place in to cold water, when chilled place on to a piece of kitchen paper to drain, then lightly roll the egg in fine bread crumbs

For The Sauce

Finely dice the onion and gently fry off, do not colour, when soft add the  wine and reduce, add the lemon juice, add the cream and simmer on a low heat for 1 minute until the sauce has the consistency to coat the back of a spoon. Then pass through a sieve.

To Serve

Place the asparagus under / on a grill and cook either side turning over when required, place the bread crumbed egg into clean cooking oil at 180c and lightly deep fry until golden. Chop the chives and add to the sauce.

Place the asparagus on the plate, towering it up two on two, add the egg on top, and drizzle the sauce around the asparagus. Sprinkle over a few chive and serve.


Mitchell’s Gear Up For Charity Cycle Ride

March 5, 2010

Mitchell’s of Lancaster are gearing up for their Charity Cycle Ride in aid of CancerCare

Staff and customers are taking up the challenge to raise some money for a worthy cause with our big bike ride from Lancaster to York on Tuesday 18th May 2010.

We will be setting off from the Fox & Goose, Lancaster in the early hours and following a route via the Trough of Bowland, Long Preston, Grassington, Pateley Bridge and Ripon. The finishing line is York Brewery where a few well-deserved pints will be waiting.

Competitions Galore!

February 25, 2010

We have launched two fantastic competitions in the last few weeks here at Mitchell’s, with some great prizes up for grabs to the lucky winners.

First of all, we have launched our F.A CUP Competition which gives our customers the chance to win a pair of tickets to the live final at Wembley in May. To enter, simply visit us online and complete you details to be entered into our free prize draw. In addition, you get to claim a FREE PINT of Carlberg, Tetley or Export down at your local as well!

Secondly, we are running our ‘So You Think You Can Make a Sarnie?’ competition and are giving all our customers a chance to submit their very own sandwich filling in celebration of National Sandwich Week. Customers are encouraged to submit their favourite sandwich recipe from Friday 5th February 2010. From classics with an inspirational twist, brand new inventions or just totally bizarre we are waiting to hear from you! Perhaps the bizarre ELVIS sarnie (Peanut, Banana and Bacon) or a simple Ham, Brie and Coleslaw.

All entries submitted will be individually considered by our team of judges from the local area and whittled down to five lucky finalists who will each win a case of beer. The shortlisted sandwich recipes will then feature on Mitchell’s menus throughout the local area during National Sandwich Week 2010 (Sunday 9th – Saturday 15th May 2010)

The top selling sandwich filling will then be crowned the winner and win a meal for two at The Mill Inn with a magnum of champagne.Customers can submit their sandwich recipes at their local Mitchell’s pub using an entry form or via the Mitchell’s website (www.mitchellsinns.co.uk) or Facebook group (Mitchells of Lancaster.

For further information on either of our top competitions, visit us at our website http://www.mitchellshotelsandinns.co.uk

The Publican Awards 2010 – Finalists Announced!

February 25, 2010

Mitchell’s of Lancaster are celebrating this week after being named as a finalist in the Publican Awards 2010!

We beat off stiff competition and were whittled down to the final four in the Pub Company of the Year – Tenanted/Leased (20-199 outlets) category. The winner will be announced at a glittering awards cermemony on Wednesday 21st April 2010 in London. We are up against Everards, Batemans and St. Austell  Brewery on the final night so wish us luck!