Friday, 4 April 2008

The Session: Beard the Brewer

If you walk through Cambridge with Richard Naisby, you'll find he's known to half of the city. Since he set up Milton Brewery in 1999, he's become a familiar sight to local yokels and transient students alike. His flame-red facial foliage makes him hard to miss, and earned him the nickname "Beard". It's entirely fitting, and mercifully easy to enunciate when drunk.

On Tuesday, I travelled up by train and pitched up at the brewery at noon. The plant is housed in a bright and spacious 1950s industrial unit. After a few beers from casks on stillage, Richard wisely chose not to tap a kilderkin of Mammon (a 7% abv old ale), and invited us on a pub crawl instead. It was a long day, one of those where you stop counting the pints in order to preserve some semblance of mental (if not physical) health. While we drank, I learned a lot more about the man and the brewery.

For Richard, it all started in another, better place: Oxford. It's a city packed with excellent pubs. Many an undergraduate is inspired to seek beery enlightenment, going forth into the worlds of politics, arts, media and business with a life-long appreciation of our favourite beverage. Richard was no different. He was a founding member of the Oxford University Beer Appreciation Society, and remembers hosting Michael Jackson at their annual dinner in 1994. The Beer Hunter knew how to charm an audience. Rising from his seat, he revealed a single white-gloved hand and began his speech with a reference to a namesake: "For those of you who are wondering - yes, I'm bad".

After leaving Oxford, clutching a drinker's degree, our protagonist beat the well worn path down the M40 to base himself in London. Eschewing the mundane, Richard took to travel writing and spent time traversing the globe. It was in Pakistan's Karakorum Mountains where the idea of launching a brewery first took hold in a chance meeting with a future business partner.

Within three years of that meeting, Milton's first beer - Pegasus - had been launched in Cambridge on 9th September 1999. By 2001, they'd already bagged a series of awards. The following year saw them open their first pub - Peterborough's Coalheaver's Arms - via the newly-founded Individual Pubs Company. That enterprise, of which Richard is managing director, now runs the Oakdale Arms (2003) and Pembury Tavern (2006) in London too.

Milton is now a successful, respected brewery that's looking forward to its tenth anniversary next year. Those were some of the milestones along the way. The quirkier anecdotes are better fun, and Richard has a host of them. Here's my favourite. In the brewery's first month, they were asked by veterans of the Arnhem landings to provide a cask of ale for their 55th anniversary trip over to the Netherlands. This didn't seem an unusual order, until one of the old boys let slip their plans: to jump out of a plane with it attached to a parachute, and then tap it on the landing grounds for the Prince of Wales. Bright beer was racked, and the mission commenced. He even got the cask back, with barely a dent in it.

  1. Milton Brewery is online here, and Individual Pubs Company is here.
  2. You can read Michael Jackson's own account of that dinner in Oxford here.
  3. I first met Richard at The Pembury Tavern last year - here's an account.
  4. During our Cambridge pub crawl we visited The Green Dragon (5 Water Street, CB4 1NZ, map), The Fort St. George (Midsummer Common, CB4 1HA, map), The St Radegund (129 King Street, CB1 1LD, map, my review) and The Cambridge Blue (85-87 Gwydir Street, CB1 2LG, map). All are recommended, the first two for their riverside locations and historic interiors, the others for their great real ales from microbreweries. The picture above shows myself and Richard at the bar in the Radegund, his regular haunt.


  1. very enjoyable article

  2. I used to drink at the Cambridge Blue when it was called the Dewdrop, and owned by Tolly Cobbold. The Blue is good though. Cambridge is a blooming good beery city, used to drink at the likes of the Live and Let Live, the Salisbury Arms, the Free Press and live opposite the Hop Bine, which was quite useful. best of all was the old Ancient Druids in the Kite, which was always packed on Thursdays — I think — when people got their giros, as they were called then. Our band used to rehearse in the squat next door.

  3. You're getting to be a regular visitor to East Anglia Jeff, thinking of exchanging the "Big Smoke" for the "Big Skies?"

    Awful joke I know but I couldn't resist.

  4. Twas a good day Stonch!
    Cheers mate,


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