THE Campaign For Real Ale, the country’s biggest and most successful consumer group, has vowed over this past week to re-examine its future.
This soul-searching, which is aimed at finding a new purpose and focus, is a mark of its success. Founded in an era of bland, mass-produced keg beers, when quality ale was genuinely on the brink of extinction, CAMRA has fought and won the battle to ensure its survival. Beer has never been more popular or more widely available; the choice on offer to drinkers is broader than the organisation’s four founding fathers could have ever imagined.
The Lord Darcy is a case in point.
Way back when, during the drinking days of my youth, this was a rough-ish, tough-ish, slightly down-at-heel boozer called the Jester. It has had a few incarnations back then – a refit as The Alwoodley, a shift towards the child-friendly market as a Charlie Chalk’s Fun Factory, and it must be at least 15 years since it lurched up-market as The Lord Darcy.
Even at that time, real ale was only incidental to this cavernous roadhouse, focused on formulaic food and drawing in the passing trade on this artery through the city’s northern suburbs. It wasn’t bad, far from it, and for the past six or seven years it has served a reasonable selection of Greene King ales, but my visit this week confirmed just how far places like this have had to move, to respond to the astonishing resurgence in the popularity of beer.
It has forced every bar, every pub, to re-evaluate – and a growing number of restaurants are now following suit.
Signs outside now proclaim this as a Flame Grill pub - the menu covering all the main carniverous bases, as well as a smattering of pub grub favourites like steak pie, lasagne, sausage and mash. There is also something called a curry carvery on Thursday evenings, though quite how you carve a curry is beyond me. But beer is now a key element of the business.
As you step inside from busy Harrogate Road, dead ahead is a row of five real ale handpulls, with four more beyond an angle in the bar. From here the drinking and dining space spreads out beyond games machines and TV screens.
Two of the pumps are hooked up to entry-level GK products, the others proffer a great choice from some of Yorkshire’s best smaller breweries – Saltaire, Rooster’s, Abbeydale and more. Beside each, tiny kilner jars containing a sample, allow drinkers to make colour a factor in their decision.
A tangle of dried hops hangs above the bar; a colourful array of pump clips shows off the phenomenal choice of ales which the Darcy has laid before its customers in recent times.
I opt for the beer closest to home, the crisp, golden and refreshingly bitter Three Swords from Kirkstall Brewery, while contemplating that this amazing provision for the discerning drinker is absolute testament to the success of the Campaign.
Yet just along the bar is one of the organisation’s bêtes noires, the excellent Punk IPA from ballsy Scottish brewer Brewdog. And it is over beers like this, great-tasting, interesting, yet determinedly not real ale by their own definitions, that CAMRA is tearing itself apart. The Leeds branch made a bold and sensible decision in allowing some craft keg beers to feature at their recent beer festival, yet some dyed-in-the-wool members would never touch the stuff.
It’s an argument that will rage on for some time, but for a pub like the Darcy to be serving nine real ales, a good choice of lagers and Punk IPA for goodness sake, shows just how far we have come.
The Lord Darcy
Address: Harrogate Road, Alwoodley
Name: The Lord Darcy
Type: Real ale steakhouse
Opening Hours: 11am-11pm daily
Beers: Greene King IPA and Abbot Ale, plus a changing choice of real ales, many from Yorkshire - and Brewdog’s Punk IPA. Also Stella Artois, Carling, Peroni, Becks Strongbow and Guinness
Wine: Good choice from £2.80-glass and £8.95-bottle
Food: Great choice from the Greene King flame grill menu, served 11am-10pm daily
Children: Welcomed. Kids’meals available
Disabled: Easy access from the side entrance
Entertainment: Sky and BT Sports TV, games machines, plus quizzes on Tuesday and Sunday evenings
Beer Garden: Outdoor tables to the front and side
Parking: Large area to the side and the rear
Telephone: 0113 237 0100