Sample beer for the people at Mayor’s tasting event

Mayor Cllr Geoff Harrison and Roger Protz

Mayor Cllr Geoff Harrison and Roger Protz - Credit: Archant

A beer “brewed by the people for the people” will be the centrepiece of the Mayor’s Charity Beer Tasting Evening on January 24. It’s called Magna Carta Ale, a powerful barley wine produced by the Windsor & Eton Brewery.

No doubt there will be other beers produced this year to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the charter that has enshrined the right to trial by jury and habeus corpus in Britain and many other countries. But Windsor & Eton is unlikely to be challenged when it points out that it’s a stone’s throw from Runnymede, the “running meadow” on the banks of the Thames where King John signed the Great Charter.

When I discussed the beer evening – which I will conduct -- with Mayor Geoff Harrison we both agreed that we should concentrate on British beers to underscore the importance of the 1215 celebrations. And not just 1215, for there’s a powerful link between the signing of the charter and a meeting in St Albans two years earlier.

If there had been mass media in the 13th century, King John would not have enjoyed “a good press”. As well as upsetting the powerful barons, who forced him to set his seal on the charter in 1215, he’d also roused the anger of the church by seizing a great deal of its land and weakening the power of the clergy.

As a result, a council of leading bishops was held in St Albans in August 1213, attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, with the aim of bringing the king to heel. It was the start of the campaign that led to Runnymede.

It’s likely that beer – or ale as it was universally known at the time – would have been drunk at both events. It was a different type of beer as hops were not yet in widespread use and brewers balanced the biscuit sweetness of malt with herbs and spices. The brewers at Windsor & Eton have set out to create a beer that not only marks the celebrations surrounding Magna Carta but also attempts to recreate the flavours of ale from 800 years ago.

I visited the brewery last summer when Magna Carta ale was first brewed. Keeping faith with the democratic ideals of the charter, the brewers had run a competition with London Amateur Brewers – a group of dedicated home brewers – to create the best recipe for the beer.

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The competition was won by Manmohan Birdi, an osteopath from Rotherhithe. Manmohan had brewed a prototype of the beer then went to the Windsor & Eton plant to “mash in” the commercial version. The beer is brewed with pale malted barley, wheat and hops but, in keeping with the ales of the 13th century, yarrow, ground ivy and liquorice are also used.

The beer has been aged in casks since the summer and has now been bottled and also made available in draught form. It has a mighty 7.2 per cent alcohol and is a sipping rather than a quaffing beer. The bottled version contains live yeast and will continue to age and improve if stored in a cool, dark place for a few years.

It has a nose-tingling aroma of herbs, spices and liquorice, followed by a full palate of creamy grain, herbs, spices and tangy hop resins.

At the time of writing, the Beer Shop, 71 London Road, St Albans, which stocks Windsor & Eton beers, hoped to have bottles of Magna Carta in stock: check on 01727 568030. It’s also available from the brewery at £35 for a case of 12:

The mayor’s event will also include an India Pale Ale brewed by McMullen of Hertford, the county’s oldest family brewer. The IPA will celebrate another important milestone this year, as Fergus McMullen, head of the brewery, is also High Sheriff of Hertfordshire for 2015.

The final beer list is not yet complete but there will also be beers from the 3 Brewers at Symonds Hyde Farm, Tring Brewery and a beer donated by the Beer Shop in London Road. In total, at least eight beers will be available on the night.

The Mayor’s chosen charity is Dream Foundation, the performing arts group founded by Zoe Jackson that offers young people the opportunity to learn the skills of singing, dancing and playing musical instruments for live performance.

The beer tasting, including a buffet, will be held at the Old Albanians Sports Association, Woollam’s Playing Fields, 160 Harpenden Road on January 24 from 7.30pm. Tickets cost £12.50 and are available from the Mayor’s Parlour at the Civic Centre, St Peter’s Street: 01727 819544 or from Roshni Nagaria, Dream Foundation, on 07538 774984.