Column: Freshening up at the Black Horse

Protz beer May 2

Protz beer May 2 - Credit: Archant

If you enjoy the taste of fresh, just-brewed beer, you can’t do better than to sample the ales in the Black Horse in Wood Street, Barnet. Last Saturday, Simon Collinson of Oak Taverns, which runs the Black Horse, opened the Barnet Brewery that’s based in buildings behind the pub and which can be viewed by customers while they enjoy a pint.

Oak Taverns runs 24 pubs specialising in real ale, including the Fox & Hounds in St Albans and the Rose & Crown in Sandridge. The Black Horse is the third of the group’s pubs to have small, on-site breweries, which Mr Collinson believes gives the outlets an added attraction.

The Black Horse is a large, open-plan pub with generous seating, good pub food and walls decorated with photos and paintings with a black horse theme. It’s owned by Britain’s biggest pub-owning company, Punch Taverns, which last summer invited Simon Collinson to run it on a leased basis as one of his Oak Taverns outlets.

The two companies invested £350,000 to refurbish the Black Horse and a further £10,000 has been spent on the brewing equipment, which can produce one barrel or 36 pints at a time. The Barnet Brewery has a strong European flavour as it’s run by brewer Edoardo Raimondi from Modena in Italy, who is fascinated by British cask ales and is given free rein to design the beers for the Black Horse.

The three draught beers on sale in the pub are Palomino (4 per cent), a golden ale with a pungent citrus aroma and flavour from the use of American hops. Brindle, also 4 per cent, is a more typically British bitter, amber coloured, with a rich biscuit malt character, balanced by spicy English hops and a touch of chocolate from roasted malts. Sorrel (4.2 per cent), is a pale beer with floral and fruity hop flavours from the use of both American and English varieties.

There’s also a bottled beer called Crying Chapel, with a more robust strength of 6 per cent that can be bought for home consumption. It’s a bottle-conditioned beer, which means it contains live yeast and will improve with age. Simon Collinson says it’s been developed as a “2s beer” that can be blended with any of the draught beers in the pub, recalling the old London habit of “half and half” – a mixture of draught bitter and bottled pale ale.

I took a bottle home and found it to be a fine beer in its own right. It’s straw-coloured, brewed with pale malt and a touch of slightly darker crystal malt, and hopped with English Admiral and American Cascade hops. It has a rich spicy and floral hop aroma, with a pear-like fruit note and bittersweet, juicy malt.

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All the beers in the pub can be sampled in third-of-a-pint taster glasses that enable customers to choose the brew they like best.

The Barnet Brewery has been installed by Brendan Moore, who runs the Iceni Brewery near Thetford in Norfolk. He is the leading light in the East Anglian Brewers’ Co-operative that buys malt and hops collectively and delivers its members’ beers to pubs from one vehicle to reduce both costs and carbon footprints.

The co-op buys the finest Maris Otter malting barley from farmer Teddy Maufe at Branthill Farm near Wells-Next-the-Sea. Along with a few other cereal farmers, Mr Maufe has helped save Maris Otter, which was phased out some years ago by bigger farmers and maltsters in favour of more modern “high yielding” barley varieties.

Mr Maufe produces what he calls “sun-kissed malt”. To counter the vagaries of the English climate, he has installed solar panels on his farm so that his Maris Otter barley gets the maximum amount of sun and can provide the sweet, biscuit-like flavours craft brewers need. The barley from Branthill has “traceability”. Rather like a French wine appellation, it means brewers can track the malt they buy to the precise field where the Maris Otter barley is grown.

The brewery at the Black Horse may be small but it has great flexibility. Simon Collinson and Edoardo Raimondi are working on plans for a Porter, a dark beer that in the 18th Century was the forerunner of stout, along with beers that will be aged in oak casks bought from the Portuguese wine industry.

The best news of all about the Black Horse is that a pint of the home-brewed beer will set you back £3.50, good value by North London and south Hertfordshire standards.

n Black Horse, 92 Wood Street, junction with Union Street, Barnet. Food served 12noon-3pm and 6-10pm weekdays; 12noon-10pm Saturday; 12noon-8pm Sunday. Park in the Spires Shopping Centre, then two minutes’ walk to the pub.

*Roger Protz edits the CAMRA Good Beer Guide. Follow him on Twitter @Roger ProtzBeer.