Category Archives: Beer history

GALLERY: ‘You Ought to Know Whose Beer You’re Drinking’

These two leaflet were among the lovely pile of ephemera Steve ‘Beer Justice’ Williams sent us when he moved house.

The Young’s leaflet is dated 1979 and the Fuller’s one, we guess, is of about the same vintage.

Most notable is Young’s rhetoric — ‘You Ought to Know Whose Beer You’re Drinking’, ‘We don’t go in for chemical engineering’ — which sounds, we think, rather modern.

Sorry about the crappy ‘scans’ — our scanner is broken so we had to use a camera. Still, they’re readable, which is the main thing.

The Strange Death of Ronny Fincham

In December 1989, 60-year-old, 20-stone Ronald Henry Fincham stripped naked and climbed into a vat of beer at the brewery in Romford, where he drowned.

He was celebrating 25-years service at the brewery and, according to one not-entirely-reliable source, The Weekly World News, had been out on the town with colleagues but crept back into the brewery after kicking out time, climbed a six foot ladder and slipped into 35,000 pints of beer that had been returned from pubs.

His wife, the WWN said, reported him missing the next morning and his clothes were found next to the vat. Under police orders, the tank was drained and Mr Fincham’s body was found at the bottom.

Walthamstow Coroner Dr. Harold Price recorded a verdict of death from natural causes. He didn’t think Mr Fincham’s death could be blamed on alcohol because Ron ‘was known as a man who could take his drink’, though he did observe that a few beers might have made him less cautious than usual.

This story still crops up from time to time in ‘It’s a Wacky World!’-type filler features and we assumed it was an urban legend until we found it recorded in the Guardian. Poor old Ron.

Sources: The London DrinkerApril 1990; ‘News in Brief’, Guardian, 20/12/1989; ‘Vat’s All Folks: Boozed-up brewery worker drowns in huge tub of beer’, Weekly World News, 29/12/1989; ‘News Diary’, The Age, 22/12/1989. Record of Mr Fincham’s death and full name from public records via Ancestry.co.uk. Main photo: ‘glc – control panel ind coope brewery romford 82 JL’ by and © John Law, via Flickr.

The Age of Rail Ale, 1975-1980

During what the press called the ‘real ale craze’ of the late 1970s everyone got in on the act, including British Rail whose Travellers-Fare catering wing introduced cask-conditioned beer to around 50 station pubs.

We first came across mention of this trawling newspapers while researching Brew Britannia and, in an early draft, quoted this Daily Express report as evidence of how real ale drinkers were perceived at the time:

In the Shires Bar opposite Platform Six at London’s St Pancras Station, yesterday, groups of earnest young men sipped their pints with the assurance of wine tasters… There were nods of approval for the full bodied Sam Smith Old Brewery Bitter, and murmurs of delight at the nutty flavour of the Ruddles County Beer… [More than] half the customers drinking the five varieties of real ale in the Shires were not train travellers but people from the neighbourhood using the station as their local pub… In one corner sat for young men sipping foaming pints. They were members of CAMRA, the ginger group for beer brewed by natural means and prove their dedication by travelling three nights a week from Fulham in South West London — four miles away. One of them, 22-year-old accountant Michael Morris said: ‘This place just beats any of our local pubs.’

Twenty-something beer geeks travelling miles for good beer in a weird novelty bar rather than using their dodgy local boozer — you can file that under ‘nothing changes’.

Continue reading The Age of Rail Ale, 1975-1980

Historic England and Post-War Pubs

Historic England is the Government body ‘that looks after England’s historic environment’ and it wants your help cataloguing pubs built after World War II that are still standing.

Estate pubs, as they’re sometimes called though not all are actually on housing estates, are not always terribly attractive — sometimes cheaply built, they were often victim to panicked plastic-Victorian makeovers in the 1970s, and then subject to decades of neglect. Nonetheless, they’re an important part of our landscape which is in real danger of disappearing. (And, remember, Victorian pubs were once considered tasteless disposable crap, too.)

Continue reading Historic England and Post-War Pubs

Which? Beer Report, 1960

The magazine of the Consumers’ Association was only three years’ old when, in August 1960, it published its first report on the state of British beer.

Covering seven full pages, the article covers 25 draught bitters, 16 draught milds, and around 80 other beers in bottles and cans:

With about 300 brewers making nearly 4,000 different brews, a full, or even representative, coverage of every area has been impossible. We have, however, chosen all the nationally distributed beers, together with a selection from the larger regional breweries throughout the country.

Original gravity (OG), alcohol by volume (ABV), percentage of unfermented matter (PUM), hop bitterness (HB) and price are recorded for each.

Three years before the founding of the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood (SPBW), no particular attentions is paid to distinguishing between kegged and cask-conditioned beers, and filtering, pasteurisation and method of dispense are not among the various quality criteria considered:

People drink a particular beer largely because they prefer its flavour and quality to that of other brews which may be available in the district. Habit and, to some extent, fashion, also influence their choice.

Carlisle Brewery beer mat.All the bitters were between 3% and 4.6% ABV; the cheapest cost 6½d per-half-pint, the most expensive 11d. The best value for money  bitters, Which? concluded, were from Ansell’s of Birmingham, the Carlisle State Management brewery and Friary Meux. Flower’s Keg was notably poor value being the most expensive per half-pint but with a measly 3.4% ABV.

The draught milds all cost between 5½d and 6½d per-half-pint; the weakest was Watney’s at 2.5%, the strongest Hammond’s Best Mild, from Bradford, at 3.6%. The latter seems to have been an unusual brew: not only was it relatively strong but was also more bitter even than most of the bitters with 37 HB, and a PUM of 29 which suggests it was also fairly light-bodied and dry. The milds with most poke-per-penny were from Ansell, Carlisle SM, Charrington and Fremlins.

Looking at the bottled beers, it begins to seem obvious why kegged Guinness draught (kegged) stout had such a solid reputation among beer geeks: it was by far the most bitter beer measured at 62 HB, 30 PUM. By way of comparison, the most bitter of the bitters managed only 40 HB.

It’s a shame other beers beloved of early beer geeks aren’t listed, though — we’d love to see hop bitterness stats for the legendarily intense Boddington’s and Young’s Ordinary as they were in their prime.