In 1976, the Sunday Mirror invited Michael Hardman, a founding member of the Campaign for Real Ale, to take part in a beer ‘taste test’. He walked right into a trap.
Tasting ‘blind’, Hardman joined his fellow judges in declaring a keg bitter, Tetley’s Drum, the unanimous winner, and the Sunday Mirror duly declared it ‘the best beer in Britain’.
Hardman was quoted in the article, admitting that Drum was ‘very good’ and that he wasn’t surprised by the result.
CAMRA had, in effect, publicly endorsed a product of the very type it had been set up to do away with.
Campaign members were not impressed: they wrote to What’s Brewing declaring it a ‘fiasco’ and berating Hardman not only for taking part, but in particular for appearing to speak positively about keg bitter.
Hardman argued that he had only reacted honestly — the real ales, in the middle of a famous heat wave, had not been at their best, and the keg had been ‘in better condition on the day‘. He also defended his decision to take part, saying that CAMRA needed to take every opportunity it could to reach mainstream audiences.
Nonetheless, a lesson was learned, we think: we can’t recall hearing of anyone from CAMRA being lured into a similar cask vs. keg blind-tasting since.
There was only so much space available in Brew Britannia and not every nugget we came across made it into the text, so there will no doubt be more posts like this in the coming months.
“At the brewery where I washed bottles during my last year of school, beer that had come in kegs was put into bottles, marked with counterfeit labels of brands like Pilsener and Grätzer, and sold as genuine bottles of these beers… I could give examples of dozens of such tricks and prove by them how even poor people are cheated.”
Franz Bergg (1866-1913), originally in Ein Proletarierleben, 1913, translated in The German Worker, ed. Alfred Kelly, 1987.
For those of us who feel sad whenever a pub vanishes, this is a sad life. Progress, reconstruction, town-planning, war, all have one thing in common: the pubs go down before them like poppies under the scythe.
Maurice Gorham, The Local, 1939
Early in 2012, regulars at the Ivy House, a 1930s pub in Nunhead, South London, were stunned when its owners, Enterprise Inns, gave the manager a week’s notice and boarded the building up.
Howard Peacock, a secondary school teacher in his 30s who regarded the Ivy House as his ‘local’, felt what he calls a ‘sense of massive injustice’:
[The] pub was one that should have been able to stay open in any fair trading environment. The small local pubco that was running it… had been making a go of it even with restricted stocking options and limited profit margins thanks to the beer tie…
But he and his fellow drinkers (Tessa Blunden, Emily Dresner, Stuart Taylor and Hugo Simms) did something more than merely grumble and begin the hunt for a new haunt: instead, they launched a campaign to SAVE THE IVY HOUSE!
Nowadays, the idea of a community campaign to save a pub hardly seems remarkable — they are seen as an endangered species, the cruel property developers’ harpoons glancing off their leathery old skin — but a hundred years ago, thing were very different. Then, a cull was underway.
Read the rest of this ‘go long’ post after the jump →
Ron Pattinson has recently been sharing tons of data on the quality of mild in the 1920s, including its clarity, as judged by assessors at Whitbread.
As pointed out by one commenter on our post about beer clarity from last week, that can give us an insight into whether hazy beer necessarily tasted better, or was thought to taste better, in the past.
We put Ron’s figures into a spreadsheet (from 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11) and cut them various ways. Here’s what we found:
- Beers being rated on a scale of -3 to 2, of the 84 beers rated 1 and 2, some 22 were described as hazy, cloudy or variants thereon.
- Of the 60 beers scoring between -1 and -3, some 23 were described as bright or brilliant.
- Some beers described as hazy or cloudy were recorded as having ‘poor’ flavour, while others tasted ‘very fair’ or ‘good’.
- Beers described as brilliant were generally also found to taste good, though one was ‘poor’ and quite a few others were ‘fair’ (acceptable, with an overall score of 1).
UPDATE 13/2/2014: Ron has clarified in a comment below that the numerical scores are his addition, based on Whitbread’s more-or-less standardised flavour descriptors.
In other words, Whitbread’s tasters didn’t find any particular connection between clarity and flavour. Hazy beer wasn’t somehow better or more virtuous, but nor was it necessarily bad.
What we’d really like to know is whether customers in the pub would have shown a preference for the beer that looked ‘bright’ but had ‘unpleasant flavour, going off’.