The Red Lion in Histon is a fitting place for Lacons brewery to hold a talk and tutored tasting of their Audit ale, led by beer writer Roger Protz. This 1830s beer house was acquired by Lacons in the 1890s, becoming an inn with “well-aired beds” according to the painted signs on the building’s exterior. After a time as a Whitbread house from the 1960s to the 80s, it was eventually purchased as a free house by current landlord Mark Donachy in 1994, and is now a regular in the Good Beer Guide, edited by the venerable Roger Protz. The guide describes the bars “adorned with breweriana and historic photos”, with nine handpumps of which three have Lacons beers for the occasion, and it’s these ingredients which helped it win branch Pub of the Year 2017.
Roger gave a brief history of Audit ale, one that has its origins as a strong ale specially brewed in October for the annual Audit Feast in January or February, following the inspection of the accounts at Oxbridge colleges, where the Fellows handed it around in a large silver drinking cup. According to the short history of Audit ale, from at least the sixteenth century onwards some colleges brewed their own audit ale, but it was mostly produced by commercial breweries, including Dale’s of Cambridge.
By the 1920s Lacons won the contract to supply audit ale to the Cambridge colleges, and it’s this recipe that Lacons sought to recreate. Head Brewer Wil Wood talked about the challenges of recreating historic recipes, sourcing authentic ingredients such as Bramling Cross and Cluster hops, and trying to arrive at a beer of the right strength, colour and flavour – they even raided the brewery museum and cracked open a bottle of the ale from the 1960s just to check, and noted how the ale had darkened over the years of cellaring.
We were all generously given a tasting, with Roger talking through the berry fruit flavours the Bramling Cross hops impart, and the sweet, butterscotch of the Maris Otter barley – there were plenty of comments around the room about the beer going down far too easy and belying its strength.
But it was a beer not sampled on the evening that stole the show. Wil talked with excitement about Old Nogg, another from the heritage range, an old ale he first brewed last year and which from the first tasting became current favourite of his beers. A warming ale, hopped with Sorachi Ace and aged over three months, this is another beer Wil believes will improve from cellaring, so I’m looking forward to trying the bottle he kindly gave me, and which he agreed would be a good one to bring out on Christmas Day, if I have the willpower to leave it that long…
Compton-Davey, J., A Short History of Audit Ale, Brewery History Society
Histon and Impington Village Society (2013), The History of the Pubs of Hinton and Impington