Category Archives: Beer history

CAMRA and Lager: Eurofizz or Pure Beer?

In its 44 years of existence, the Campaign for Real Ale has had a more complicated relationship with lager than cries of ‘fizzy piss’ from some members might have you believe.

CAMRA Munich ad, 1972.In the early 1970s, no-one in the Campaign was thinking much about lager at all, its energy being focused almost entirely on battling keg bitters from Watneys et al. The very first issue of What’s Brewing (WB), however, did carry an advertisement for an excursion to the Munich Oktoberfest organised by one of the founders, the bespectacled and hawkish Graham Lees.

Another keen traveller with a far from parochial attitude was Richard Boston, the author, from 1973 onward, of a weekly column about beer in the Guardian. Though highly supportive of CAMRA, at least at first, he also made a point of acknowledging his love of good lager, as in this passage from his 1976 book Beer & Skittles in which he recounts one of his formative experiences:

Beer and Skittles by Richard Boston.Some time around 1965 I went for a holiday which took me by train through Germany, Czechoslovakia and Austria… To me [Prague] seemed delightful… The food was stodgy, low in taste and protein, but my God the beer was good. I had only intended to stay in Prague for two days: I knew no one there, I hadn’t much money and there was little to do. I stayed nearly a week, going from place to place drinking this wonderful beer and feeling more and more like the good soldier Svejk.

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QUOTE: Micropubs & Lager

“I used to drink brown and mild but beer in the 1970s was so rubbish that I eventually succumbed to lager… [Then] I discovered the Firkin pubs, Bruce’s Brewery… I had a pint of Whale Ale and thought, wow, this is fantastic! This is how beer is supposed to be… I could be wrong but I don’t think that in ten years, the police have never been called to a micropub. There’s twice as many hops in real ale as in lager, and hops are soporific – they make you sleepy and peaceful.”

Martyn Hillier, founder of the first micropub and godfather of the micropub movement, in an interview with one of the authors of this blog, 12/05/2015.

Bottle Parties, 1940s

In London between the 1920s and 1940s, it was possible to go on drinking after hours if you knew where to go and had (technically) ordered your booze in advance.

The ‘bottle party’ was another of those oddities that arise when legislators attempt to manage people’s drinking habits. Its workings were described by Lorna Hay for Picture Post, 25 December, 1948:

To be admitted to a bottle party, you must be ‘invited,’ and to be ‘invited,’ you must be sponsored by one or more existing invitees. But you must also have an order with a wine company, so that the drinks you order after midnight are, in theory at any rate, already paid for, and are, in theory at any rate, fetched by wingèd bicyclists from the shop. If your merchant is not an all-night one, there is nothing for it but to bring your own bottle along in your own hands.

Throughout the 1930s, there are newspaper reports of attempted prosecutions of people running ‘parties’, such as this account from the Times of 27 July 1934 of the case against Mr. Bridgeman Rochfort Mordaunt Smith, proprietor of the Front Page on New Compton Street, Soho:

Mr Melville, prosecuting, said at a previous hearing that the Front Page was not a registered club. Nominally persons went there by invitation to nightly ‘at homes,’ or bottle parties. Visitors were required to sign a form declaring that they had been invited to a private party, and were contributing 5s. towards the cost of the party. When ordering drinks they filled in another form directed to the Maddox Wine Company, which read: ‘Please place the following goods on order for me. I will give you instructions at a later date.’

As long as they stuck to the letter of the law, however, they were able to continue trading, like half-arsed speakeasies under half-arsed prohibition. The Met managed to close many during World War II using rather draconian emergency powers which permitted them to target ‘undesirable premises’ (Times, 28 June 1944) but they couldn’t do away with them altogether.

Ms. Hay wrote about bottle parties in 1948 because they were under threat thanks to proposed changes to licensing laws which would make it illegal to drink anything at all after hours except in the privacy of private homes, ‘or go to bed’.

She acknowledged that London nightclubs, quite apart from the weird rituals required to gain entrance, were seedy — ‘lush and draped and quilted, over-discreet and over-dim’ — and expensive, with bottle party entrance fees at a guinea (21 shillings) and spirits at £100+ a bottle in today’s money. Nonetheless, they were necessary:

Yet people do go to night-clubs in London. Why? Broadly speaking, for two reasons. The first, that most people from time to time get the feeling that the night is still young, and that it would be pleasant to go on drinking for a bit in company. The second, that, what with the night and the wine and the music, it is a way of getting your girl a step further. Or, from the girl’s angle, of appearing so double desirable in this ‘romantic’ atmosphere, that her young man will want to get her a step further.

(We’re filing that dainty euphemism for later use.)

In fact, in 1949, the Home Secretary, James Chuter Ede, extended the hours at which night-clubs could serve drinks with music and dancing until 2 am, with half-an-hour’s drinking up time, thus all but doing away with the need for bottle parties, and spiv-like wine dealers.

Adulterated Beer in Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure

Arabella said she would like some tea, and they entered an inn of an inferior class… They sat and looked round the room, and at the picture of Samson and Delilah which hung on the wall, and at the circular beer-stains on the table, and at the spittoons underfoot filled with sawdust. The whole aspect of the scene had that depressing effect on Jude which few places can produce like a tap-room on a Sunday evening when the setting sun is slanting in, and no liquor is going, and the unfortunate wayfarer finds himself with no other haven of rest.

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