Opinion

Protz: The Old Poets' Corner shows creativity works

By Roger Protz

- Last updated on GMT

The Old Poets' Corner in Ashover
The Old Poets' Corner in Ashover

Related tags: Beer

Roger Protz visits a Derbyshire pub which has succeeded with a name change and a new range of beers.

The good old British boozer never fails to amaze. People sing in pubs, play music in pubs, perform plays in pubs...and even recite poetry in them. And if a pub is called the Old Poets’ Corner, there’s fair chance a few budding laureates will be perfecting their stanzas there.

The impressive timber and stone building in the small Derbyshire town of Ashover is a late 17th-century coaching inn, originally called the Red Lion. When Kim and Jackie Beresford took over in 2004 they were keen to maintain their connection with the nearby Dead Poets pub in Holbrook where Kim had worked as a manager.

The owner of the Dead Poets was perfectly happy to go along with their plan and so the Ashover pub took on its new name. But the Beresfords found they had a job-and-a-half on their hands.

Under the previous owners, the Red Lion had become the Old Red. The name didn’t work. Nobody in Ashover liked it and, more importantly, didn’t drink there anymore.

Kim Beresford was alarmed to hear one customer in another pub describe it as “the morgue”: not so much dead poets as dead drinkers.

The Beresfords had to attract former drinkers back and also win custom from the large number of people who walk in the Derbyshire Peak District — the green-ridged hills rise behind the pub.

The strategy included the change of name and a fresh approach to beer, good food and accommodation.

The name wrote itself. Ashover was the home of a 17th-century writer called Leonard Wheatcroft, who penned risqué poetry. He had an eye for the ladies and was known as a bit of an all-round scallywag. His long-suffering wife was a brewer, so there was also a strong beer connection.

The Beresfords made it clear but the brand is widely available throughout the area and the Berefords, with the active support of the Chesterfield branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), were keen to serve a wide range of beers from independent producers.

The range is ever-changing but there will always be a black beer, while Oakham Citra and Bateman’s XXXB are firm favourites. Local brewers from Derby and surrounding counties include Abbeydale. Milestone and Welbeck. Nestling among the 10 hand pumps are beers labelled Ashover Brewery: it’s as local as you can get — at the rear of the pub.

The Beresfords were given help and advice on beer selection from CAMRA stalwart Roy Shorrock and they decided to go the extra mile by installing their own brewery. Shorrock tracked down brewing kit on eBay that started life in a Firkin brewpub and ended up in storage in Scotland.

The four-barrel plant is housed in a cottage behind the pub while malt and hops are stored in old stables. Kim Beresford and Roy Shorrock did the early brewing duties but Shorrock’s daughter Janine is now in charge after going on a Brewers’ Laboratory course in Sunderland.

She brews Poets’ Tipple, Coffin Lane Stout that commemorates a long-gone local mortuary, Serlo named after a Viking chief who controlled the area centuries ago, and two other beers, Light Rail and Amos, which underscore the pub’s strong support for the local light railway.

Amos is the name of a loco on the line that runs close to the pub and links a quarry with the town of Clay Cross. The pub hosts a rail ale festival in May, with 250 cask ales, cider, perry and world beers. Not too surprisingly, the Old Poets’ Corner has been named local CAMRA pub of the year four times in the past 10 years.
The Old Poets’ Corner is a hive of activity. There are live music, quiz and curry nights and regular beer festivals. Burns’ Night is a key event, with Kim Beresford addressing the haggis with due solemnity.

The large and rambling main room in the pub offers roaring log fires, a low ceiling and a solid oak bar topped by a frieze of hops that are grown near Chesterfield. There’s accommodation for 18 people and food is served in a small dining room downstairs and a bigger one on the first floor.

The menu includes beef stew, Derbyshire rump steak, hunter’s chicken, fish and chips, five bean chilli, veggie lasagne and goat’s cheese and butternut squash bake.

Kim Beresford’s main job now is planning an extension to the brewery. His son Rory is learning all the pub skills from cooking to serving beer and cellar management.

A second son, Jordan, manages the Poet & Castle in Codnor that the Beresfords run with Leicester brewery Everard’s.

You can’t move for poets in this part of the Peaks and as I supped Janine Shorrock’s scintillating fruit porter I felt the muse descend:

“Ashover’s Blackcurrant Porter/Is brewed by a CAMRA man’s daughter/She puffs and she toils/As she mashes and boils/And her beer is a mighty rip-snorter.”

Eat your heart out, Leonard Wheatcroft.

Related topics: Beer

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1 comment

Not creativity, viability

Posted by Jane Marsden,

No matter how good the offering in any pub or the imagination and energy of the team running it, unless the right financial arrangements are in place to ensure the business is viable it will all count for nothing. The past decade has shown that unrealistic expectations from the owners of the premises will kill a pub stone dead.

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