Raw, rough and rude

Kingsbridge Inn, Totnes, Devon.

Many of the new breweries from the 1970s ‘real ale revolution’ didn’t survive the 1980s but Butcombe did, and their Bitter is, as far as we can work out, one of the few beers from that time (1978) still readily available in British pubs.

At its best (as at the Kingsbridge Inn in Totnes, Devon) Butcombe Bitter illustrates perfectly why people were so excited by real ale in the 1970s: a leaning, Falstaffian mound of froth; a rather stern, chalky bitterness; and a raw, rough-edged rudeness. Compared to some of the beers we enjoyed in Bristol (of which more later) it might seem a little fuddy-duddy or sepia-toned, but that would not have been the case when the alternative was borderline sickly-sweet, weak, smoothed-out keg bitter. (Inflation of expectations.)

“It tastes like the first time I tasted beer, when I was five, and I dipped my finger in my Dad’s pint,” said Boak.

“It smells like the cold air that used to waft out of the door of Newmarket on a summer afternoon,” said Bailey.

“It’s really… beery.”

Regardless of how it tasted, after a couple of pints, we were ready to dash our mugs to the floor, board longboats and set sail for new lands. Rargh!

Does anyone know of other beers from breweries that opened between 1972 and 1980 which are still on the market?

14 thoughts on “Raw, rough and rude”

  1. aren’t Blackawton still going and Cotleigh started in 1979 with Exmoor a year later, Archers have been up and down but original founder Mark Wallington is brewing again in Swindon, Ballards, and do you count Traquair. which started up again in the 1960s?

    1. Are any of them still brewing what they brewed in the late 70s, though? Will have to look into it. (Hadn’t realised Blackawton was still going, to be honest — went through it on the bus on Monday and could have stopped off.)

      1. Blackawton have moved all over Devon and Cornwall, according to my gbg 2012 they are in Islington now but they still do a beer called Headstrong — Exmoor obviously still do Exmoor Ale, while Cotleigh do Tawny, don’t know about Ballards

  2. You’ll have to wait until I get back to London in December and can look at the Business Guide to Cask Ale, which I wrote in 2003, for a better answer, but I can tell you that of the 95 new small breweries open in 1981, only 18 were still in business in 2001. But a one-in-five survival rate over 20 years for small businesses is actually quite good. As I recall, however, the 1980s were the time when most of the small brewers who became well established by the 2000s got going, eg Black Sheep. Between 1973 and 2003 around 850 new small breweries opened in Britain, one every 12 days, and more than half of those were still open in 2003. Since then, of course, the number of open breweries has doubled, though I have no figures on closures.

  3. Well, it’s a brewpub but the John Thompson Inn in Derbyshire is still brewing and began the renaissance of brewing in the county in 1977.

    And there’s an argument to be made for Moorhouses who IIRC started brewing cask beer in the 70s.

    And the Kings Bridge Inn… Totnes was my first and last stop on summer working holidays in my formative years. I have fond memories of the town. Then again, I also have fond memories of rough cider and fish guts…

  4. Described by me here as “a distinctive bittersweet copper-coloured beer with a strong hop character and a kind of earthy, rustic note”, which very much chimes with your view.

  5. A pub I used to stop at after work kept Butcombe impeccably, it was gorgeous. It’s one of those beers though that if not kept well can be quite nasty. It’s also one of those beers that goes so well with dry roasted nuts.

  6. Interesting thread — I’m vaguely planning to write a series of tasting notes on Retro Classics, beers (from international sources) still sold today that predate the contemporary microbrewing movement, and I was wondering where to draw the line, hovering over 1979 when Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was first brewed, and then if I should be including Traquair House, which was after all a revival of a very old brewery rather than an entirely new one. Looks like I’ll have to backtrack further to avoid Butcombe being on the list.

    1. The interesting imports we keep reading about from the pre-CAMRA era are:

      1. Tuborg Porter and Double Imperial Stout (bet they don’t make them anymore)
      2. ‘Urquell-Pilsner’
      3. ‘Dublin-brewed Guinness’
      4. EKU (Woolworths sold it for a time in the mid-70s!)
      5. Spaten Pils
      6. Chimay
      7. Hacker-Pschorr Bock and Oktoberfest

      1. The landlord of the White Horse in Hertford, when I used to drink there regularly in around 1979-81, was proud to offer several specialist bottles beside his eight cask ales served on gravity. As I remember, these were Chimay Rouge, Pilsner Urquell and Courage Imperial Russian Stout. He also regularly stocked bottle conditioned Guinness from Park Royal and Worthington White Shield, but then again most pubs did in those days. The pub was left out of the GBG for several years around about that time after it barred members of the local CAMRA branch committee for complaining aggressively about something other. They probably mistook the in-cask cooling system for a top pressure CO2 coupler.

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