McMullen's Country Bitter has been crowned the best pint of real ale in East Anglia. The well-loved bitter beat off competition from national and smaller brewers to win the top prize at the CAMRA (Campaign For Real Ale) annual contest for the region.
Country Bitter now takes its place in CAMRA's national finals, to be held at the Great British Beer Festival at London's Earls Court on 2-6 August. And McMullen has high hopes of its 4.3% abv beer walking away with the title of Champion Beer of Britain 2011.
Fergus McMullen, Production and Sales Director, says: "I am delighted for everyone at the brewery, and particularly our Head Brewer Chris Evans and his team. It's a wonderful achievement. We've won many awards for our beers since we began brewing in 1827, including a major international award for County Bitter, and it's the first for our new Whole Hop Brewery.
We were up against hundreds of other beers, so we're all really proud of winning this very prestigious award." McMullen has been enjoying the benefits of the national real-ale resurgence, reporting sales buoyant across its 134 pubs and in its freetrade business.
The company's traditional bitters, AK and Country Bitter, have performed robustly in line with the ale market. But the real stars have been its eight seasonals, which have registered impressive double-digit growth. Fergus McMullen believes the sales rise is being driven by customer demand for more choice. "Range is everything these days. People are looking for something a little different to choose from," he says.
To help drive business in its smaller pubs, where volume issues can work against licensees serving more than two real ales, McMullen is trialling four-and-a-half -gallon
pins. Says Fergus McMullen: "Pubs that have a lower turnover are missing out on being able to extend their range, and we want to help them overcome that. "We've been looking in our brewery at how we can ensure self-tilting stillage systems operate properly with lighter casks, and that there are absolutely no problems with quality - that is paramount. If we're happy with these tests, we'll trial it in two managed and two tenanted pubs, and take it from there."
Chris Evans, McMullen's Head Brewer since 2002, believes ale is doing so well because drinkers' tastes are changing. "I think people are much more interested these days in what they're drinking, and where it comes from and what goes into it," he says. "On all those points, as a natural product, ale scores very well. People like to know they're drinking a beer that is brewed locally and is wonderfully fresh and wholesome."
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