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Published:  23 July, 2008

Clare Young, Director, Cockburn & Campbell Ltd (a division of Young & Co plc). Interview: Josie Butchart

There's a lot of horsing around at Young's. We're the last brewery in London still delivering beer by horse. We have ten shire horses and deliver twice daily within a radius of a few miles. Obviously they can't go out to Oxford because they'd have to set off now to deliver next Wednesday. Although I sometimes wonder if it would be quicker by horse when the M25 is particularly bad!

Do you ever take the horses out? Yes. Six of our black shire horses pull the gold carriage every year for the City of London Lord Mayor's show in November. When I joined the company they asked me to be the first female postillion rider, which means I ride the front horse and lead the one next to it. The most exciting bit is that we have to practice the route in the middle of the night because we go the wrong way down one-way streets. You should see the motorists' faces when they see a gold coach and horses coming towards them at 3am

Have you always been a pub fan? No! Before I took this job I hated pubs, absolutely loathed them, because I only drink wine and in those days it was Liebfraumilch or really cheap, two-litre screw-top French wine. When I took this job everyone laughed and said: Your car will be the only company car with five reverse gears because the publicans will throw ham and chips at you when you ask them to list wines.'

Was there much wine in Young's pubs when you started? Well, yes and no. The first call I got was from Mr Duffy at The Two Brewers, up the road in Wandsworth. As I wandered in I was thinking, This is really good; someone wants my advice about wine.' Then I saw the red-patterned carpet, the flock wallpaper and a couple of old geezers at the bar, probably not even drinking Young's but Guinness, and spotted the dreaded optic cabinet with its four litres of Liebfraumilch. The publican, Mr Duffy, bless him, was very enthusiastic and said he would like a wine list. But with the greatest will in the world, you could put the finest wine selection in there and you would never sell it. I walked out, burst into tears and rang up my old company saying I'd made a terrible mistake. But it's not too much of a mistake after all. I'm still here 17 years later.

What did you tackle first? Although none of the pubs really had a wine selection, we did have one or two restaurants, including The Guinea in Berkeley Square, which had a fantastic wine list. That cheered me up a bit so I thought I'd start with them. The pub in front, though, is like a gentleman's club. It's a tiny little bar with standing-room only and there are hardly any women. Chaps go there primarily for the bitter so there wasn't really any point in doing anything with it, but it was fun working with fine wines for the restaurant. I'm really lucky because there is a very supportive board here who have always been very pro-wine. What I realised fairly quickly is that you have to have the right dcor to make a pub conducive to wine drinking - which usually means it should be female friendly - and you have to have the space behind the bar to serve and display wines.

You've got a large range by the glass. The minimum we do is 14 wines by the glass and the new list that's coming out will have around 20. We were the first pub company to invest in a wine preservation system, Le Verre de Vin.

How effective is it? It slows down oxidation and we think it generally gives a safe 14 days before you start to notice a change on the palate, although it varies according to the wine, the temperature it's kept at and how often you open it. Most importantly, it takes away the excuse that you can't serve a large range of wines by the glass because they will go off - because they won't. Our staff are trained to use it every time - even if it's a fast-selling wine you will have back out of the fridge in about three minutes - because it gives the customer confidence and it's a talking point. At the end of the day wine is a great way of communicating with customers.

Any hiccups with the system? The whole point about wine preservation is that the system is only as good as the people who use it. The nightmare is keeping on top of the training, but we have our own in-house training course that I devised. In one of the pubs we were testing the effectiveness of the training by going in and ordering a glass of wine. The bartender took the order, went to the fridge, got the bottle out, resealed it with the preservation system, then re-opened it to pour the glass of wine, put the stopper back in and put it back in the fridge. Then she explained that Young's had a new system that rejuvenates' wine! Staff training - I can't emphasise its importance enough.