Bensoir! It's me, Benjamin. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You may have read stuff I've written elsewhere, but here on my own blog as Ben Viveur I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others, so pretty much anything goes.

BV is about enjoying real food and drink in the real world. I showcase recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. And as a critic I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended. Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Lost Breweries: F is for Freeminer

One of the plus points of writing this series is that for every letter of the alphabet I get to indulge in a big bath of beery nostalgia.

I had to think fairly deeply to come up with my 'F', not because breweries whose names begin with the letter have proven immune from closure by quirk of fate, but because the obvious names that sprang to mind haven't really played a significant role in my drinking career, at least when I started thinking about it.

For example, when I was a small child, Fremlin's bitter seemed to be held in extremely high regard by my parents and everyone else who drank beer. It might well have been the first brewery name I ever learned. Possibly even the first beer I ever tasted.

But Fremlin's had been owned by Whitbread since the 1960s, the original Maidstone brewery site had closed in the early 70s and the Faversham brewery that had made the beer the adults raved about also went in 1990. So by the time I started drinking, Fremlin's had become a niche, hard-to-find brand from a ghost brewery that in all honesty never meant anything to me, even if it was beloved of the previous generation.

Then there is Flowers of Cheltenham, another bolted horse from the erstwhile Whitbread stable. In the mid-90s Flowers Original was the staple cask beer in my student union bar, but I hardly ever drank it because it was fucking awful. Warm, soupy goop that largely ensured everyone drank Stella or Guinness instead.

Even in good condition it was an entirely unspectacular beer. That brewery closed in 1998, probably wasn't missed by too many people, and while Flowers beers are still contract-brewed for Whitbread's successor AB-Inbev, it's not really something you'd actively seek out; Again, a brewery that ultimately means very little to me.

And that's why I've gone with Freeminer, whose beers I did at least drink and occasionally even enjoy!

Men of the Forest

Founded in 1992, in the Forest of Dean - not all that far away from Flowers in fact - they were one of the first microbreweries to gain a wider distribution. They got into the good London free houses within a couple of years - I remember drinking their beers in places like the Priory Arms in Stockwell, The White Lion in Streatham and Euston's Head of Steam - and thence onto the Wetherspoons list. In 2001 they moved, albeit not very far, to larger premises in the aptly named town of Cinderford.

I always thought the name 'Freeminer' was pretty good - snappy and unique but meaningful too, referencing the local tradition of the Forest where Freeminers were self-employed folks who were basically able to mine for coal on their own terms and sell whatever they hewed from the ground on the commercial market.

Their beers were alright too. Speculation Ale (4.8%) was the flagship, a fruity 'strong bitter' that wasn't all that dissimilar to Eldridge Pope Royal Oak, about which I wrote last time out.

The mining angle extended to the big, roasty Deep Shaft Stout (6.2%) which was fairly unusual at a time when most brewers were reluctant to put out draught stouts much stronger than Guinness.

Last of the Freeminers
Celestial Steam Gale (5%) probably has some meaning - if I recall, this became one of their bigger sellers, while the ordinary bitter was also perfectly drinkable. There were frequent specials and one-offs, especially for Spoons, and I remember honey and ginger finding its way into some of their ales.

During the mid-Naughties I played poker in a home game in Ipswich. The only place I could buy beer en route from the office to the house where we usually played was a fairly small Co-op store, so within a few weeks I'd worked my way through their modest bottled beer range and concluded that by far the best option was Gold Miner, a BCA brewed for the Co-op by Freeminer.

It only used First Gold hops, but there were plenty of them, resulting in a spicy, citrussy beer that was in many ways ahead of its time.

It can't be denied that in their later years, Freeminer were overshadowed by some of the newer, craftier breweries that came along. Certainly, they were no Thornbridge or Tiny Rebel, but their contribution to the real ale revival in the early 90s shouldn't be overlooked. They paved the way for the next generation.

In their final years, despite pubs in general offering an ever wider range, Freeminer beers became harder to find. The last pint of their beer I ever drank was YYZ, an unmemorable special for Wetherspoons October 2013 beerfest.

Perhaps fittingly, it was the very last one I tracked down. Scarce.

Freeminer 1992-2016


  1. Apart from the stout, I don't remember them being particularlyly good. There were better micros in the 90s, Hop Back, Ringwood pre-takeover, Abbeydale, Burton Bridge and so on

  2. Do you remember Lightbulb IPA? Great pint, sorely missed.

    1. Apparently it is very much still with us and sounds actually rather good...

  3. To be honest I think Fremlins was already more of a nostalgic memory rather than a good current beer even back in the 1980s. Wethereds on the other hand was still good right upuntil Whitbred closed it.

  4. I found your page when doing a search for GOLDMINER, in the hope it was still available. I have an empty bottle hear BBF 07 01 16. The best bourbon chaser beer I ever knew.

  5. Freeminer also produced Stairway to Heaven for Blackbeard. Beautiful 5% which I used to get through 3 x 18 gallon casks a week in my pub in the Black Country in the 80's. Incredibly, that equalled throughput of Bathams in their own back yard. Recipe is now brewed by Ludlow but just called Stairway. Still a great beer.


Comments are always welcomed and encouraged, especially interesting, thought-provoking contributions and outrageous suggestions.