140 Years and Counting
For 140 years, Batemans brewery has been the heart and soul of the little Lincolnshire town of Wainfleet All Saints.
The business began when George and Suzanna Bateman sold their farm and took the rent on a small brewery in the town, moving to a bigger site, adjacent to a windmill, sixteen years later.
The brewery remains there, in family control, and for much of its life has shouldered the burden of producing most of Lincolnshire's beer.
But the 140th anniversary, while celebrating its heritage, provides an opportunity to shape the business for the future, as I discovered on my first ever visit – long overdue after twenty-five years of beer writing.
Wainfleet's a quiet place these days, bypassed off the road between the market town of Boston and the brash seaside resort of Skegness, but there's plenty of buzz about the brewery, now safely in the hands of Stuart and Jaclyn Bateman (pictured above), fourth-generation descendents of founders George and Suzanna.
The old windmill that stands alongside is a relic from a time when such structures were commonplace on this devastatingly flat, deeply agricultural landscape. Apparently, Lincolnshire, at one time, boasted more than 500.
It lost its sails in the early 20th century and was not put to much use in the decades that followed but now it has a found an excellent purpose, refurbished as a welcome centre for visitors and the starting point of brewery tours that take in both the original brewery vessels and the new brewhouse, named the Theatre of Beers when it opened in 2002.
The circular structure of the old mill makes for an unusual and homely environment in which to enjoy a pint. In the bar, settles curve around the walls bringing people together.
Upstairs, a small museum displays assorted artefacts from Batemans' many years of service to local drinkers, including some revealing and entertaining business correspondence from the 19th century.
An extension to the windmill has now been refitted as a restaurant/function room, packed to the exposed rafters with brewery paraphernalia, plastered with old beer posters and lined with cases displaying what may well be the world's largest collection of bottled beers.
The visitor centre, like the modern brewhouse, has formed part of the renewal of the company's image as Stuart and Jaclyn have taken control. The 140th anniversary now gives them an opportunity to take the modernising agenda even further.
First up, the highly-regarded cask beer range on which the company has built its reputation has been rebranded. New colour-coded pumpclips have been commissioned, depicting the Batemans windmill in a minimalist modern flourish.
Also, dangly tags (I think that's the technical term) declare that each beer has enjoyed an extended maturation. The Batemans yeast, Stuart tells me, is known for settling quickly. In about eight hours, Batemans beers drop bright, which is not necessarily a good thing in a world where pubs seize upon quick turnaround beers.
'We'd really like to see our beers having at least three days to mature in the pub cellar before going on the bar, ideally five, says Stuart. 'To make amends, we now keep the casks at the brewery for longer, to ensure they all have matured enough by the time they go on sale.'
As well as taking a fresh look at the regular cask ales (now known as the 'Classics'), the team has also added new seasonal beers under the Biscuit Barrel name.
The idea is to emulate the flavours of certain biscuits, playing up the character of the grain and natural beer flavours such as chocolate and citrus fruits. When they come around, try a Bourbon or an Oatmeal.
Innovation in Bottle
Innovation is not being confined to draught beers. There's now a four-pack of 'Bohemian' beers available in bottle (also in cask at times). These are beers that stretch the imagination of the beer drinker a little further, bringing in some unusual ingredients to create such distinctive offerings as Mocha Amaretto, Hazelnut Brownie and Orange Barley.
They join other adventurous bottled beers in pubs, supermarkets and off-licences, including B Bock (an ale interpretation of a strong German lager) and Black Pepper Ale (which comes with a sachet of black pepper to shower on top).
The range – getting on for thirty different beers a year – is clearly designed to show that Batemans can push the envelope as far as any brewer. But this is nothing new. The company was one of the first to introduce seasonal ales, and was experimenting with unusual flavours way back in the 1990s.
The Batemans recognise the challenges faced by long-established breweries in the fast-changing, modern era in which young, colourful breweries – rather like the waltzers and bumper cars along the road in Skegness – are catching the drinker's eye and making most of the noise. But they're determined not to be sidelined.
'We've been craft brewers for 140 years,' insists Stuart as we sink a few pints in the more relaxed atmosphere of Wainfleet's pubs and, as I'm supping some excellent ale, I really can't argue with that.