The Original Brewery Fanboys

Detail from the Young's 135 Association official tie.

Our list of British beer clubs and associations continues to grow with two more having come to our attention in the last week. First up, the original ‘Equity for Punks’ — the Young’s 135 Association.

Back before Young’s was a mere sub-brand managed (carelessly) by Charles Wells in Bedford, it was a South London brewery with a stubborn Chairman, John Young, who refused to give up on cask conditioned ale when even breweries such as nearby Fuller’s were on the brink of doing so. As such, Young’s had quite a cult following.

In the mid-60s (we’re still trying to pin down dates) they published a small pamphlet listing every one of their pubs. Later editions were called Real Draught Beer and How Where to Find It and, if that first edition bore the same name, it’s a candidate for the first usage of ‘real… beer’ in this sense (as in ‘real ale’).

The thing is, the minute you print a list, it triggers the Gotta Catch ‘em All impulse in some geeks and so, in 1967, quite unexpectedly, someone wrote to the brewery to announce that he’d visited all 135 pubs. He’d also had his pamphlet signed by the publicans or bar managers to prove it. John Young was impressed and delighted an invited him in for a VIP tour of the Ram Brewery, a slap-up feed, as much beer as he could drink in the sample room, and a pin of beer to take home.

In the years that followed, many others made the same pilgrimage. Eventually, the slap-up feed was dropped, but each of these fan boys still got to meet the boss and, in 1972, John Young presented a specially embroidered tie and pin to a Mr Peter Harris, the 29th person to visit all 135 pubs (Morning Advertiser, 24 October 1972). A loose association of ‘135ers’ was founded at the Buckingham Arms in Westminster, and met at various Young’s pubs thereafter with twelve members gathering as recently as 1999.

We’d love to find out more. If you were a member, know a member, or can point us towards any more information, please comment below.

Most of the information above came from our conversation with CAMRA-founder Michael Hardman who worked for Young’s for many years after leaving the Campaign.

UPDATE 04/11/2014: A member of the 135 Association, Colin Price, got in touch with some more information. We won’t reproduce it all, but these are two key passages:

I was a member of the 135 Association. Rather than ‘a loose association’ the 135 Association was a proper organisation with constitution, committee membership fee and quarterly newsletter… The Association had no official connection with Young’s and was completely independent of them although when people were sent their ties they were sent an application form. No doubt some people did the tour and got the tie but didn’t join the association.

By the late 1990’s interest was declining. The wider availability of real ale meant that Young’s had lost some of its cachet so fewer people were doing the tour and coming forward to replace members who were dropping out due to old age or moving away from London. Also some of the more traditional members were unhappy with the direction Young’s were taking… In the early 2000s the Association was formally wound up. The remaining funds were used to pay for a farewell social and the balance left donated to a charity John Young was a trustee of.

8 thoughts on “The Original Brewery Fanboys”

  1. I had the great pleasure of meeting John Young who, in the nicest possible way, was as mad as a hatter.
    It’s a long story but it involved filming for television an item I’d spotted in the Morning Advertiser about him having a commode installed in his company limo to help him on his regular ” quality control ” inpections of all the Youngs pubs in London.
    His PR people were appalled but he thought it a brilliant idea.
    We filmed then we got pissed.
    He was indiscreet and hilarious.
    It’s no coincidence that Youngs beer has gone downhill since he died.

    1. Well, he died the same week the Ram Brewery was shutting so you’d be about right about the beer. Happens I was spending time between contracts in 05/06 drinking at the Tap, so heard scuttlebut about the pilot brewing at Bedford. Ken Don told me they blended some of the final Wandsworth batches of Ordinary with some of the closer iterations from Bedford.

      Today’s Ordinary is close, but it’s not the same…

      1. We found it really shockingly wrong when we were up in London last week — where’s the bitterness gone? (And this is after we’ve developed a taste for sweet’n’malty West Country beer, too.)

  2. I think your studies should take in the lyrics of “The Village Green Preservation Society”, released by the Kinks in 1968, which must be one of the earliest references in popular culture to the idea of draught beer being something in need of preservation.

    1. Funnily enough, I started listening to the Kinks before I started drinking beer. Love them. Pretty sure that lyric is a reference to the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood (founded 1963).

  3. The term ‘real’ as in beer may have been in relatively common use c1930,see the following quote from Pete Brown ‘Man Walks into a Pub’ Second Edition page 282
    ‘It is the difference between the clear reasoning of H G Wells and the diatribe of an angry woman.It is the difference between real beer and sham beer..’
    The context of the above was a complaint to Whitbread following the replacement of bottle conditioned beer by carbonated beer.

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