Winter ales for a hoppy festive season

Sedgley's real ale lovers are spoilt for choice this winter with a selection of seasonal specials

On a dark winter’s night, there’s nothing better than to take a trip to the local pub, grab a seat by the fire and enjoy one of the fine seasonal ales produced by Sedgley’s excellent breweries.

And, with Camra’s Dudley Winter Ales Fayre launching next Thursday, it seems only appropriate that we at Sedgleyscene re-acquaint ourselves with some of the finest brews this region has to offer.

Firstly, it’s down to the Beacon Hotel, home to the Sarah Hughes Brewery and its fine selection of regular beers, Surprise, Pale Amber and the infamous Ruby Mild.

While this unique pub with its Victorian tower brewery may have attracted controversy of late due to a seemingly unpopular ban on dogs, one thing that has remained constant is the quality of its beer.

And its winter special, Snowflake, is no exception. Available from next Thursday, November 24, this well-rounded, rich ale is guaranteed to keep out the cold.

But, don’t be fooled by its delicate-sounding name – weighing in at a hefty 8 per cent ABV, this barley wine-style concoction packs an almighty punch and is wisely served by Alex Marchant and her team in half-pint glasses.

Having a blast

Down in Woodsetton, the brewers at Holden’s have been putting the finishing touches to their festive special ale, named – appropriately enough – Christmas Blaster.

This golden ale, which is a more manageable 4.8 per cent ABV, is described by the popular Black Country brewery as: “Challenger hops and Optic malt suffuse to create winter sunshine in a glass. With a lively and assertive hop character and a dominant malty sweetness throughout this premium beer results in a moreish malty aftertaste. Will certainly blow away the cobwebs!”

Sample Holden's ales at the Bull's Head in Bilston Street

Christmas Blaster also takes its name from local history. In days of yore, “time off” was a rare luxury. The Sabbath was strictly adhered to – but this was a time for sober religious reflection not joviality – and holidays were few and far between. Christmas holidays consisted of Christmas day and (for some) Boxing Day.

However, nothing stood in the way of efficiency, and a blast furnace needed to be cared for and kept up to temperature no matter what day of the year, for if it cooled it would need to be dismantled and re-fired – a long and costly process. As a result, a skeleton workforce was always in attendance and if they were unfortunate enough to have to work on the 25th December, the poor souls were jokingly referred to as Christmas Blasters.

Sedgley drinkers can sample this winter wonder at the Bull’s Head in Bilston Street.

Winter’s t-ale

Over in Lower Gornal, the boys at Black Country Ales have been mashing merrily to create their seasonal offering, English Winter. With an ABV of 5.5 per cent, this stronger than usual brew is described as: “A well-balanced brown ale with a complex character of fine Marris Otter malt and choice Fuggles and Goldings hops.”

But be warned – this beer is dangerously moreish.

Prepare to get bitten by Black Widow, the seasonal ale at Ma Pardoe's

Slighty further afield, in Netherton, lies another traditional gem of the Black Country. The Old Swan, or Ma Pardoe’s as it’s more commonly known, is a unique, quirky pub full of character and serving a range of excellent real ales brewed in its Victorian tower brewery.

And, as the winter chill really starts to bite, landlord Tim Newey and his team are almost ready to launch their seasonal special, the aptly named Black Widow.

This incredibly dark tipple, which has a venomous ABV of 6.7 per cent, is a wonderfully balanced ale which shares some characteristics with the previously mentioned Dark Ruby Mild available at the Beacon Hotel.

Once again this winter, Sedgley’s suppers are spoilt for choice, with a winter ale to appeal to all tastes. It’s time to wrap up warm, take a trip to one of the region’s fine historic pubs and enjoy the taste of tradition.

The Camra Dudley Winter Ales Fayre is held at Dudley Concert Hall and begins on Thursday, November 24, at 5.30pm and continues from 12 noon on Friday and Saturday. There will be more than 70 real ales available, along with cider, wine and foreign bottled beers. Hot and cold food is available and there will be live entertainment. Entry on Thursday and Friday is £3, or £1 for Camra members.



Beacon Hotel gets a ghostly visit

Alex Marchant, general manager at the Beacon Hotel, Sedgely, with the mysterious beermats

For more than 40 years, this mysterious figure has ‘haunted’ pubs across the Black Country and Staffordshire, leaving only their calling card – an image of American opera singer and actor Mario Lanza drawn on a beermat accompanied by a quote and often signed simply AJW.

But now, bar staff and regulars at the Beacon Hotel, Sedgley, are one step closer to cracking the mystery of this local enigma – they know what he or she likes to eat for breakfast.

Because, along with beermats featuring newspaper clippings of the historic pub’s staff stuck to them, the mystery customer also left one with a receipt attached from Rob Newey Butchers in Kingswinford, listing home-cured streaky bacon as one of the items.

“He or she must have been in the pub around 12.30pm on Friday, July 15 ,” says general manager, Alex Marchant, who was delighted to find several beermats dedicated to her in reference to the pub’s recent Camra award.

“And, when I checked the CCTV later, I saw a figure get up to leave with what looked like a range of beermats on their table.”

But, despite having captured this famous ‘ghost’ on camera, Alex remains tight-lipped as to this individual’s identity.

She jokes: “I’m not telling anyone who he or she really is – especially not a member of the Press!”

The mystery fan of Mario Lanza – a tenor and Hollywood movie star who died in 1959 – has continued to arouse interest since the first beermats were discovered in the early 1970s.

Over the years, this secretive spectre has displayed a keen interest in local news stories, referring at one time to nearby Woolaston as the ‘Bermuda Triangle’ when there was a large rise in numbers of missing pets there.

As well as being the subject of a documentary by professional filmmaker Barney Snow, AJW even has a Facebook page set up in his or her honour, which currently has 159 members.

And, since many beermats now also include reference to this, along with email address,, some local people think it may now be a younger person who has taken up the role of Mario Lanza’s ghostwriter.

But Alex isn’t giving any clues away. “He could be a younger person, he could be older,” she says, before adding with a smile, “but I’m still not telling.”

Have you recently found one of these famous beermats or already own a collection?

Get in touch with us at Sedgleyscene – we’d love to hear your thoughts.

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