For this latest round of Magical Mystery Pour (the fifth) we’ve asked Justin Mason (@1970sboy) to pick us some beers from Essex in the east of England. He’s deeply immersed in the local beer scene as evidenced by his beer blog and the Twitter side project @BeerInEssex.
First, a quick recap of the premise of Magical Mystery Pour: we ask someone to pick an online retailer, choose five or six beers they think we’ll find interesting in one way or another, and send us some notes. We then buy the beers, drink them, and write them up.
We approached Justin because the idea behind MMP is to find beers we might otherwise miss and to highlight less talked about breweries, and we don’t know Essex beer at all well. Also, we both have family connections there, Boak more so than Bailey, and share a fascination with a county which at one end is tangled up in in London and at the other with East Anglia.
The first beer in this round is 1555, badged as an amber ale, from the Bishop Nick Brewery of Braintree. Its ABV is 4.3%. We bought our 500ml bottle from Essex Food for £3.10. Justin says:
Bishop Nick Brewery was founded from the ashes of Ridleys Brewery, at one time Essex’s oldest and largest by the son of its last chairman, and fittingly 1555 is named after the year that his ancestor, Nicholas Ridley was burnt at the stake for his Protestant beliefs in the reign of Bloody Mary. Hopped with Styrian Goldings this fruity red ale is one of my ‘go-tos’ if I see it on the bar on in a bottle.
We approached this with some wariness. The label says hip-young-things, the bottle size and the style says trad-as-your-dad, and ‘amber ale’ (i.e. bottled bitter) is rarely terribly exciting, even when (especially when?) bottle-conditioned, as this is. We’ve simply been burned too often by gushers and accidental lambics.
But, thankfully, there was no drama during pouring, just a discreet pssst, the right amount of carbonation to give a decent pub-style head without requiring lots of management, and well-behaved yeast that stayed put in the bottle.
It was bright in the glass and made us want to resurrect the disgraced descriptor ‘polished mahogany’. How about the skin of a freshly-hatched conker for a social realist alternative?
The taste was remarkably unremarkable, which is a good thing. It is squarely in the brown bitter tradition, but more or less flawlessly executed.
It’s a beer ruled over by malt — round, nutty, wholemeal, chewable. Malt-led beers can often end up tasting sugary or toffeeish but there’s none of that here: it’s been properly finished and polished, with hops doing their work behind the scenes, out of sight. Well, mostly — the further we went, the more we detected a quirky fruitiness which might have been Styrian Goldings, or the yeast, or a double act between the two.
It’s hard to say what sets this beer apart but we’d guess it’s some combination of (a) precision in practice, (b) good ingredients, and (c) discerning palates. A similar brewery that came to mind was Westerham — if you like their beers, you’ll probably like this.
This is a conservative beer. It is grandfather clocks, National Trust floorboards and Inspector Morse. Don’t buy it looking for Alton Towers and fireworks. Do buy it if you’re the kind of person who can find themselves captivated by a rather interesting carved chancel screen.
That price tag, though hardly exorbitant, might put some people off when supermarkets are knocking out similar beers at less — sometimes much less — than £2 apiece. Bottled Butcombe Bitter, for example, is in similar territory, and solid in its own way, but this is better. Your money, your choice, and all that.
This is another in our series of posts sharing photographs and details about post-war pubs from mouldering magazines. This time, it’s John Smith’s of Tadcaster and the magazine is The Magnet.
We’ve only got three editions — we’d love more — but they’re packed with good stuff if, that is, your definition of good stuff is profiles of plain-looking modern pubs on housing estates in places like Sheffield and Doncaster.
The Flarepath, Dunsville, South Yorkshire
The headline for this piece in The Magnet is A ROYAL AIR FORCE PUB — The Flarepath, which opened in November 1967, served RAF Lindholme, near Doncaster.
The name refers to an illuminated runway used by bombers returning from night-raids over Germany during World War II. (Again, another wonderful name squarely of its time.)
The carpet in the lounge was specially woven and featured a Lancaster bomber taking off and the bars were decorated with RAF squadron crests. There were photographs of various types of bomb, again from the Imperial War Museum archive, on the walls.
Its first managers were Joyce Varley and her husband Arthur, late of the Magnet Hotel, Bentley.
Is it still there? Yes, with John Smith’s signage outside, too.
On Sunday we ran through the beer-focused parts of James H. Coombs 1965 instructional manual Bar Service; today, we’re looking at the bits concerning people.
That means we’re skipping the sections on cider, spirits, wine, cigarettes and snacks — they’re pretty dry, to be honest, but if there’s anything particular you’re curious about ask below and we’ll dig around.
Mr Coombs’s first assertion in ‘Part IV: General Bar Practice’ is that ‘the Licensed Trade is a domestic business and is not like any other trade’. What he means by this is, first, that in his opinion unionisation won’t wash, just as it wouldn’t in the family home; and, secondly, that a lot of the work is just like looking after your own house — wind the clock, unblock the sink, don’t let the fire go out, and so on.
After a long section on cleaning — which goops and types of cloth to use on which surfaces — there comes a bit of timeless advice:
Never keep a customer waiting — it is most annoying. It will not escape you that a man quite resigned to wait ten minutes in the Post-office for a stamp will shout the place down if he is kept waiting more than five seconds for a drink. In fact many seem to think there should be one bartender to each customer! … However, should you be engaged in some job more important than taking his money (if there is anything more important!) always acknowledge him and say you won’t keep him a moment.
Fifty-odd years on, this is still just about all we ask for from bar staff.
The Public Bar
Perhaps our favourite bit in the book is this frank account of the dynamic between new staff members and the customers in the least pretentious room in the pub:
Some staff enjoy serving in the Public Bar better than the Saloon or Lounge. They appreciate the ‘earthy’ touch of the ‘honest-to-goodness’ working man, the quick and snappy conversation, the everlasting ‘mickey taking’… Should it be part of your duty to serve in the Public Bar you may have to suffer a certain amount of ribald comment from the regulars… ‘’Ow long you gonna stay? ’Ad eight noo barmen ’ere in six weeks!’ … Probably untrue anyway. The ‘Public’ as they are called are very fond of ‘having a go’ at anyone new but you should just laught it off and not get bad-tempered. When they fail to get a rise out of you they’ll go back to their dominoes.
In other words, don’t feed the trolls. Apparently speaking from bitter experience Coombs goes on to say that they’ll continue to watch the newbie waiting for a moment of vulnerability:
Wrong change rates three roars all round the bar… pulling up Mild instead of Bitter rates two roars… Short measure is good for five minutes hollering and hooting.
Londoners in particular, he observes, liked to lay the slang on thick as a kind of power move: ‘Pint o’ Diesel, an apple fritter and a Tom Thumb.’ This leads to a nice little list of colloquialisms:
Ale — Mild, Ale, Double, XX, Diesel, Splosh, Hogwash
Bitter — apple fritter
Scotch whisky — pimple [and blotch], Hooch
Gin — needle [and pin], Vera [Lynn], Mother’s Ruin
Rum — Tom Thumb, Nelson’s Blood, Black Jack
Brandy — Coconut Candy
This chapter, entitled ‘The Crooks — and Some Tricks to Catch You’, runs over familiar ground but with a few new bits of business. It begins with a general warning (slightly edited by us for weird punctuation):
If two strangers are found in the bar at the same time and have taken up separate positions, be very much on your guard, more especially if one of them engages you in close conversation — the other one may be up to a little ‘mullarky’. Anything portable is fair game to public-house crooks, the Blind collecting box, the lighter fuel box, the Christmas stocking, the Spastics Beacon, even chairs and tables — anything they can lay their thieving hands on.
Among the specific tricks described, after the short change con and a version of the serial number wheezed described in Lilliput, there’s a move with a touch of the Derren Brown about it:
A man standing at the bar waiting for service has a five-pound note spread out on the counter in front of him. He passes some remark about it to the man standing next to him — a complete stranger, probably… The stranger agrees and the man has made certain he has drawn ample attention to the five-pound note… As he is being served, however, he switches the fiver for a folded one-pound note. A little later he will insist to the barman he received change of £1. He calls on the stranger as a witness and he, of course, affirms that he saw a five-pound note handed over — which, of course, he didn’t! Heigh, ho! Another four quid up in the air!
Next, there’s a con in which the perp claims to have bumped into the landlord in the street who has authorised the cashing of a cheque. Not all that subtle this one, although the convincer is that he doesn’t need the full amount — just £15 for now and he’ll collect the rest that evening when he sees his old pal, the guv’nor.
There are stock cons, too, where a customer buys a bottle of whisky to take away, returning moments later to say, sorry, my husband wants a different brand, but the returned bottle is actually a dummy filled with water. Or, alternatively, a customer claims to have won a case of whisky in a raffle and sells it to the licensee at a pound a bottle, only that’s all water too. In this case, the licensee, having broken the law, can’t go to the police. (You can’t con an honest man and all that.)
Finally, there’s something that sounds quite implausible, outside of an Ealing comedy:
Watch for the gentleman, perhaps not too well dressed, who walks about with an umbrella or walking-stick. Sometimes these have a handy spike on the end and can be used for spearing cigarettes off a shelf behind the bar… Sometimes paper money is kept in a glass beside the till on an adjacent shelf. Make sure it is not in a mug with a handle because the same umbrella or walking stick can be used to hook it up.
A Final Round of Golden Rules
This part of the book, which comes after a lot of dated and dusty matter about wages and licencing law, is a kind of miscellany of stuff that didn’t fit elsewhere, and is great fun:
Before you go behind the bar make certain you enquire about the dog (if any) and where it is kept… If someone from the kitchen is kind enough to give you a cup of tea in the bar have the decency to wash up the cup and saucer… Buy an alarm clock… Turn out the dartboard light when play is finished… Keep a sharp eye on tramps, dirty-looking people, hawkers, or anyone with an obvious disease… It is illegal to take snuff behind the bar… Avoid those customers you know will want to engage you in conversation for the rest of the session… Pick up any loose crown corks on the floor — don’t kick ’em about!
(Some small edits for ease of quoting in that chunk of text, by the way.)
This book, unlike some others, gives relatively little time to matters of gender relations but does have this of-its-time advice:
It is one of the time-honoured features of the English public-house for the ‘regulars’ to have a bit of fun with the bar staff — especially with pretty barmaids. You will be expected to take this in good part — and even to join in. The purchase of a Brown Ale, however, does not entitle anyone to take liberties and you should see that the conversation never degenerates below the level of propriety.
If someone is constantly harassing you, Coombs says, don’t fall out with them but do tell the boss.
There’s lots on etiquette including some reminders that the pub was not quite a respectable place: don’t address customers in any way that might tip strangers off that they are regulars, for example, and avoid saying things like, ‘You back again?’ when a customer who was in at lunchtime returns in the evening with company.
Then, much as with Mrs Mullis, Mr Coombs seems to get more unhinged the closer he gets to the end of the book, finally letting his annoying customers have both barrels a few pages from the end:
The drinking public from every sphere, you will soon discover, are the most obstinate, ill-informed and perverse section of the community it is possible to find. Even if they have a question they will often refuse to accept the answer — right though it may be. Afford them an indulgent smile and let them wallow in their ignorance…
Our copy of this book cost £9.30 delivered — it’s rarer than some similar volumes, and less entertaining — but we can certainly see ourselves referring to it from time to time which makes it a worthwhile addition to the Arthur Millard Memorial Library. (That is, our back room).
What do you when you hear full-on, unapologetic racism being shouted across the public bar?
That’s not a rhetorical question — seriously, what do you do?
Because this has happened a few times over the years, but more to the point a couple of times lately, and we really don’t know how to react.
Just so you can gauge whether you think this is us being excessively politically correct or prissy, here’s a sample dialogue, as close to verbatim as we can manage given that we didn’t have tape recorders out:
Speaking of terrorists, I’ve had a couple move in next door to me.
Well, the wrong colour anyway.
Bad, right, by any reasonable standard? And, just to be clear, this wasn’t us eavesdropping on a muttered discussion — this was the King of the Bar and one of his courtiers essentially putting on a performance for the other seven or eight — showing off. This came a few minutes later:
We call him Osama because he looks like a Muslim with that f_____ beard.
I’m not a Muslim!
No, but you could be a f_____ Jew with that nose!
Racists exist, and they have to drink somewhere, we suppose, but can they not find something else to talk about for an hour when they’re out? It might also be good to hear someone behind the bar say, as a bare minimum, ‘Alright, change the subject.’ Rather, that is, than joining in, as in this case.
Given that we were strangers in this particular pub, and the approving audience of big blokes, we did nothing but squirm. We suppose we could have stood up and said, with quavering voices, ‘Hey, come on now, that’s not on!’ but, in that moment, it didn’t feel like a good idea. (See Mark and Hali on the difficult reality of ‘calling people out’.)
As it is, slightly stunned and anxious, we just drank up, left, and can’t imagine feeling comfortable going back.
Before anyone suggests it, having failed to register a complaint at the time, we’re not inclined to ‘name and shame’ — it just doesn’t quite feel right, at the moment. But maybe our instincts are wrong.
Seriously, we are asking for advice here: what shouldwe do next time? And what, if anything, have you done in similar situations?
The 1965 book Bar Service offers a snapshot of what was going on in pubs at the time and contains lots of interesting, often amusing, details.
It was written by James H. Coombs and published by Barrie & Rockliff. It is illustrated with cartoons by Bill Hooper, like this:
Coombs was a former solicitor who, after serving in the catering section of the RAF during World War II, ended up working in pubs in working class districts of London such as Kilburn and Elephant & Castle. He ran the bars of Collins’ Music Hall for several years and, by the time this book came out, was the proprietor of a training school for publicans and their staff.
He opens the book with what we now recognise as the traditional ‘Abandon All Hope’ warning:
So you fancy entering the Licensed Trade? You have thought it over and made up your mind that serving drinks to an unappreciative and sometimes downright rude public is just the life for you? … To make a real success of Barmanship you have got to like it… From the customer’s side of the bar some very strange ideas prevail about the ‘wonderful life’ behind the bar. These often stem from semi-alcoholics who think it must be heaven to be surrounded by unlimited drink.
This part of the book is the part that will be of most interest to many, capturing as it does the moment when mild had been usurped by bitter, lager was just on the rise, and keg was overtaking what we now know as ‘cask’ or ‘real ale’ but which Mr Coombs simply called ‘draught beer’. He starts out by explaining the reasons for the decline in the popularity of cask ale: poorly trained staff undertaking cellar-work in place of experience cellarmen; the decreasing strength of ale in the face of heavy taxation; and changes in public taste and habits. Of the latter, he says:
It was usual before World War II for the ordinary working man to come alone into the public bar for half a pint of ale and five ‘Weights’ [cigarettes] (total 4½d). Now he may come into the saloon with his wife or daughter for a lager and lime and a large gin and tonic and twenty ‘Senior Service’ — and good luck to him!
He regarded ‘Pressure Beer in the shape of “Keg” or “Canister” beer’ as a hopeful development ‘which may go a long way towards maintaining and even strengthening the premier position which draught beer has always held’.
There is a long chapter on bottled beer. Pale ale (AKA light ale) and brown ale, says Coombs, made up ‘the bulk of the bottled trade in most London and suburban houses — apart from Guinness.’ There were also ‘Special Beers… heavier alcoholically and well advertised by national brewers’:
They are, of course, dearer than the light beers and are the pride of their respective breweries. They are pale in colour and sparkling. Rarely, if ever, does anything go wrong with any of these beers — it would be an event to find one of them out of condition except through negligence.
Heavy beers (barley wines) are listed next, then India Pale Ales (‘a pale bitter beer’), and Colne Spring Ale which gets its own section:
This is a strong and potent ale, and if you hear any man boast that he drank ten pints one evening and then walked home you can safely say he is not telling the whole truth — he probably walked home two days later! … Produced by Benskins of Watford (Ind Coope)… [it is] carefully brewed to the most exacting limits, is is afterwards stored in casks for twelve months, during which time these hogsheads are regularly rolled and topped up. During this time a fermentation takes place which gives the beer a high alcoholic content and its characteristic flavour.
(This was probably Brettanomyces doing its thing, although last time we checked there was an ongoing debate about this among beer historians.)
What we would today call bottle-conditioned beers are described as ‘Natural Beers’ and detailed instructions are given for avoiding ‘cloudy and unpalatable’ pours:
Even so you may find some customers who insist on having the sediment poured into the glass — sometimes pouring it in themselves… [And] there are eccentrics who enjoy ‘The Bottoms’ as a final ‘Liqueur’…
“Customers will ask you for a ‘Baby Ben’, a ‘Mackey’, a ‘D.D.’, a ‘J.C.’ or a ‘Red’ and you will not look very intelligent if you have to enquire what they mean.”
In the section on lager, which lists many famous brand names, Holsten gets a perhaps surprising shout out as ‘a first-class brew, stored (lagered) for six months prior to shipment… a natural lager (not carbonated)’. There’s a heritage there waiting to be reclaimed. More generally, lager is described as being a joke to ‘hardened beer drinkers… a slightly “off-beat” drink with a certain snob appeal’. And you know that grapefruit beer trend that some people find annoying? Well, lager and lime we know, but…
The Americans started a vogue by adding Lime Juice Cordial to lager… Younger customers sometimes call for Lime Juice in Pale Ale — presumably for the same effect.
Stout is divided into two familiar categories, sweet and dry, and a nice detail here is a report on the popularity of Mac-and-Mild — as you might imagine, a mix of Mackeson milk stout and mild. There’s a huge amount of reverent detail on how to store, handle and serve Guinness, which makes it sound like wrangling a wild animal. And there’s more evidence of the status of stout as primarily a ladies’ drink, despite the macho image it acquired in later decades:
The old ladies in your ‘Private Bar’ are the greatest connoisseurs of Guinness and you may safely trust their judgement… If they say it is ‘no good’ change it at once without quibbling.
In the chapter on cask, keg and tank beer Coombs observes that mild ale, AKA XX, is on the outs:
The trend in recent years has been… towards Bitter which many can now afford an consider much better value for money. In some public-houses mild ale is not even on sale and apart from a few elderly old-timers who will stick to their pints it is more often sold mixed…
The mixes listed are:
Light and Mild — cask mild with bottled pale ale in a pint glass
Brown and Mild AKA up and down — cask mild with bottled brown ale
Stout and Mild — you get the idea
Mild and Bitter — cask mild with cask bitter
Old and Mild — cask mild with cask old ale
Mild, he says, is usually dark in London and the South of England but ‘should always pull up clear — crystal clear… If it is “murky“ or “muddy” something is wrong’. (An early use of ‘murky’ in this context, by the way.) It should also have a ‘nice creamy head’.
Bitter was clearly at this time the premium product: ‘Brewers take immense trouble… ensuring that it reaches your cellar in clean, sparkling and prime condition’. They would, Coombs says, replace a bad cask at the drop of a hat rather than risk any damage to their reputation, ‘so there is no excuse for serving anything short of the very best’. Foreshadowing the coming of CAMRA he also mentions that ‘You may have one or more qualities of Bitter to deal with; in a “Free” house there may be eight or ten!’
Bass and Worthingon are treated distinctly as ‘the ultimate in draught bitter’, with mention made of their fans whose ‘opinion constantly voiced’ is that they are best drawn from the wood. Had he encountered the bolshy men of the SPBW, do you think?
Another hint of the consumer revolt just around the corner comes with this passage on resistance to the rise of keg:
It must be mentioned… that some [brewers] steadfastly refused to have anything to do with any such newfangled notions, standing by the time-honoured method of delivery and service, and, given good cellarmen, who will say that they are wrong?
The final passage on beer covers its preparation for service and highlights an interesting change in terminology: breweries, Coombs says, sent out beer in five forms — Fined, Unfined, Racked and Filtered, Pressure or Tank. Unfined, a buzzword in 2017, didn’t mean hazy or cloudy, only that the publican or his cellar staff were expected to administer the finings, supplied by the brewery, on site. Could the presence of veterans in the trade be one explanation for why this kind of thing keeps happening?
We don't add finings to our beer, but seems some pubs insist on doing it themselves. This isn't an action shot, that gloop's hanging there. pic.twitter.com/0iO2i4ozBz
One final nugget on this topic: the glossary at the back of the book lists ‘Fishguts’ as traditional cellarmen’s slang for finings, so neither BrewDog nor any other 21st Century capital-C-craft brewery gets the blame/credit for that controversial bit of slang after all.