Advice for Pub Staff, 1965, Pt.1 — the Beer

The 1965 book Bar Service offers a snapshot of what was going on in pubs at the time and contains lots of interesting, often amusing, details.

It was written by James H. Coombs and published by Barrie & Rockliff. It is illustrated with cartoons by Bill Hooper, like this:

CARTOON: Disgruntled publican surrounded by empty glasses.

Coombs was a former solicitor who, after serving in the catering section of the RAF during World War II, ended up working in pubs in working class districts of London such as Kilburn and Elephant & Castle. He ran the bars of Collins’ Music Hall for several years and, by the time this book came out, was the proprietor of a training school for publicans and their staff.

He opens the book with what we now recognise as the traditional ‘Abandon All Hope’ warning:

So you fancy entering the Licensed Trade? You have thought it over and made up your mind that serving drinks to an unappreciative and sometimes downright rude public is just the life for you? … To make a real success of Barmanship you have got to like it… From the customer’s side of the bar some very strange ideas prevail about the ‘wonderful life’ behind the bar. These often stem from semi-alcoholics who think it must be heaven to be surrounded by unlimited drink.

This part of the book is the part that will be of most interest to many, capturing as it does the moment when mild had been usurped by bitter, lager was just on the rise, and keg was overtaking what we now know as ‘cask’ or ‘real ale’ but which Mr Coombs simply called ‘draught beer’. He starts out by explaining the reasons for the decline in the popularity of cask ale: poorly trained staff undertaking cellar-work in place of experience cellarmen; the decreasing strength of ale in the face of heavy taxation; and changes in public taste and habits. Of the latter, he says:

It was usual before World War II for the ordinary working man to come alone into the public bar for half a pint of ale and five ‘Weights’  [cigarettes] (total 4½d). Now he may come into the saloon with his wife or daughter for a lager and lime and a large gin and tonic and twenty ‘Senior Service’ — and good luck to him!

He regarded ‘Pressure Beer in the shape of “Keg” or  “Canister” beer’ as a hopeful development ‘which may go a long way towards maintaining and even strengthening the premier position which draught beer has always held’.

The cover of 'Bar Service'.

Bottled Beer

There is a long chapter on bottled beer. Pale ale (AKA light ale) and brown ale, says Coombs, made up ‘the bulk of the bottled trade in most London and suburban houses — apart from Guinness.’ There were also ‘Special Beers… heavier alcoholically and well advertised by national brewers’:

They are, of course, dearer than the light beers and are the pride of their respective breweries. They are pale in colour and sparkling. Rarely, if ever, does anything go wrong with any of these beers — it would be an event to find one of them out of condition except through negligence.

Heavy beers (barley wines) are listed next, then India Pale Ales (‘a pale bitter beer’), and Colne Spring Ale which gets its own section:

This is a strong and potent ale, and if you hear any man boast that he drank ten pints one evening and then walked home you can safely say he is not telling the whole truth — he probably walked home two days later! … Produced by Benskins of Watford (Ind Coope)… [it is] carefully brewed to the most exacting limits, is is afterwards stored in casks for twelve months, during which time these hogsheads are regularly rolled and topped up. During this time a fermentation takes place which gives the beer a high alcoholic content and its characteristic flavour.

(This was probably Brettanomyces doing its thing, although last time we checked there was an ongoing debate about this among beer historians.)

What we would today call bottle-conditioned beers are described as ‘Natural Beers’ and detailed instructions are given for avoiding ‘cloudy and unpalatable’ pours:

Even so you may find some customers who insist on having the sediment poured into the glass — sometimes pouring it in themselves… [And] there are eccentrics who enjoy ‘The Bottoms’ as a final ‘Liqueur’…

(Something something hipsters something something.)

“Customers will ask you for a ‘Baby Ben’, a ‘Mackey’, a ‘D.D.’, a ‘J.C.’ or a ‘Red’ and you will not look very intelligent if you have to enquire what they mean.”

In the section on lager, which lists many famous brand names, Holsten gets a perhaps surprising shout out as ‘a first-class brew, stored (lagered) for six months prior to shipment… a natural lager (not carbonated)’. There’s a heritage there waiting to be reclaimed. More generally, lager is described as being a joke to ‘hardened beer drinkers… a slightly “off-beat” drink with a certain snob appeal’. And you know that grapefruit beer trend that some people find annoying? Well, lager and lime we know, but…

The Americans started a vogue by adding Lime Juice Cordial to lager… Younger customers sometimes call for Lime Juice in Pale Ale — presumably for the same effect.

Stout is divided into two familiar categories, sweet and dry, and a nice detail here is a report on the popularity of Mac-and-Mild — as you might imagine, a mix of Mackeson milk stout and mild. There’s a huge amount of reverent detail on how to store, handle and serve Guinness, which makes it sound like wrangling a wild animal. And there’s more evidence of the status of stout as primarily a ladies’ drink, despite the macho image it acquired in later decades:

The old ladies in your ‘Private Bar’ are the greatest connoisseurs of Guinness and you may safely trust their judgement… If they say it is ‘no good’ change it at once without quibbling.

Draught Beer

In the chapter on cask, keg and tank beer Coombs observes that mild ale, AKA XX, is on the outs:

The trend in recent years has been… towards Bitter which many can now afford an consider much better value for money. In some public-houses mild ale is not even on sale and apart from a few elderly old-timers who will stick to their pints it is more often sold mixed…

The mixes listed are:

  • Light and Mild — cask mild with bottled pale ale in a pint glass
  • Brown and Mild AKA up and down — cask mild with bottled brown ale
  • Stout and Mild — you get the idea
  • Mild and Bitter — cask mild with cask bitter
  • Old and Mild — cask mild with cask old ale

Mild, he says, is usually dark in London and the South of England but ‘should always pull up clear — crystal clear… If it is “murky“ or “muddy” something is wrong’. (An early use of ‘murky’ in this context, by the way.) It should also have a ‘nice creamy head’.

Bitter was clearly at this time the premium product: ‘Brewers take immense trouble… ensuring that it reaches your cellar in clean, sparkling and prime condition’. They would, Coombs says, replace a bad cask at the drop of a hat rather than risk any damage to their reputation, ‘so there is no excuse for serving anything short of the very best’. Foreshadowing the coming of CAMRA he also mentions that ‘You may have one or more qualities of Bitter to deal with; in a “Free” house there may be eight or ten!’

Bass and Worthingon are treated distinctly as ‘the ultimate in draught bitter’, with mention made of their fans whose ‘opinion constantly voiced’ is that they are best drawn from the wood. Had he encountered the bolshy men of the SPBW, do you think?

Another hint of the consumer revolt just around the corner comes with this passage on resistance to the rise of keg:

It must be mentioned… that some [brewers] steadfastly refused to have anything to do with any such newfangled notions, standing by the time-honoured method of delivery and service, and, given good cellarmen, who will say that they are wrong?

The final passage on beer covers its preparation for service and highlights an interesting change in terminology: breweries, Coombs says, sent out beer in five forms — Fined, Unfined, Racked and Filtered, Pressure or Tank. Unfined, a buzzword in 2017, didn’t mean hazy or cloudy, only that the publican or his cellar staff were expected to administer the finings, supplied by the brewery, on site. Could the presence of veterans in the trade be one explanation for why this kind of thing keeps happening?

One final nugget on this topic: the glossary at the back of the book lists ‘Fishguts’ as traditional cellarmen’s slang for finings, so neither BrewDog nor any other 21st Century capital-C-craft brewery gets the blame/credit for that controversial bit of slang after all.

We were tipped off to this book by Mark Hazell and John Lester in comments on last week’s post about con tricks in pubs — thanks, chaps!

Fameusement British — Watney’s in Belgium, 1969

The October 1969 edition of Watney’s in-house magazine, The Red Barrel, contains a substantial feature on the British mega-brewery’s operations in Belgium. Here are some highlights.

The author was John Nixon, editor of The Red Barrel, and what took him to Brussels in the summer of 1969 was the presentation of an award for the quality of Belgian-brewed Red Barrel keg bitter. (We think we’ve got that right — the text is a bit vague.) At that ceremony M. Orban of L’Institut Mondial pour la Protection de le Haute Qualite Alimentaire spoke of ‘the progress of an ideal to which men, calling themselves European, have dedicated their best efforts for so many years’. Highly topical in 2017… Can we even say poignant without having someone tick us off?

The feature proper is entitled ‘Continental Journey’ (as above) and is a charming period travelogue with a focus on beer. Mr Nixon observes, first, that Brussels isn’t far away once airport rigmarole is out of the way: ‘[Only] about the same distance from London as is Manchester — what an incredible difference that strip of water makes!’. Then, after a few observations about the terrible driving, the high price of food and drink, and the low cost of renting flats, he gets down to business:

I finished the [first] evening at The Red Lion, one of the first English pubs in Brussels. The house is going incredibly well and as I walked through the door I was greeted by Mine Host Major John Reynolds, his charming wife Pat and a vast chorus of slightly obscene singing from a circle of British Leyland apprentices — exactly what they were doing in the city I didn’t find out as the Reynolds rushed me upstairs to another bar where we could swap news in comfort and my delicate ears would not be affronted by the lyrics of British Rugby songs.

Ah, the British abroad! (See also.) Mr and Mrs Reynolds benefited in business terms but suffered personally as a result of the absence of British-style regulated licensing in Brussels:

They open at 9.00 am and are then continuously engaged until 5 o’clock in the morning. Of course, they have a bevy of carefully selected British and Belgian barmaids to assist, who ‘live in’ above the pub, but Mr and Mrs Reynolds have to work in shifts, sometimes seeing each other only for an hour or so each day or passing on the stairs in the small hours of the morning as one gets up and the other goes to bed!

Le Real, Brussels, 1969.

The next day Mr Nixon was escorted around the city by M. Joary, Watney’s PR man in Belgium, and (supposedly) a former boxing champion, Jean Charles, who was then in charge of sales to cafes in Brussels:

Our first stop was the Cafe Real, situated at the edge of a park and frequented by professional men — lawyers, doctors and business men who work in the area. The establishment is designed to represent a cafe in the Black Forest, Germany. It is panelled throughout in red pinewood, well decorated with chandeliers, flowers, advertisements, Red Barrels and the illuminated fluorescent advertisements which are a feature of nearly all Belgian cafes… You can buy most kinds of food at the Cafe Real… Drinks range from wine through to beer, with simple but unusual items like freshly-squeezed orange juice, which you could not obtain in most British cafes or pubs.

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Post-War Estate Pubs 1951-1954

As promised, we’re scanning and sharing pictures from the various magazines and books we’ve picked up over the years. This particular set tells a bit of a story.

During and after World War II, until 1954, there were strict building regulations — you couldn’t just build a pub when there was a desperate need for houses, schools, shops and so on. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t any pubs built at all. Rather, each case had to be debated with local authorities and central government ministries to prove there was a real need.

What you’ll notice about these pubs built immediately post-war is that they look very like those being built a decade earlier during the hey-day of the Improved Public House. (One reason why guessing the date of a pub isn’t always as easy as it should be.) That’s partly because ‘bigger but better’ remained the prevailing philosophy of pub design (Basil Oliver’s book was mostly written pre-war but only published afterwards) but also in some cases because plans had been drawn up and then put on ice.

The Balloon Hotel, Wollaton, Nottinghamshire

1930s style pub with straight lines.

This is The Balloon Hotel was designed by W.B. Starr of local firm Hall & Clifford and built in 1951 for Tennant Brothers of Sheffield. It looks, to us, very 1930s, not least in terms of its scale. We haven’t been able to find much specific information other than that its name was eventually changed to The Wollaton Arms and it is now gone.

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Tetley’s Post War ‘Estate’ Pubs in The North

We’ve just acquired a couple of editions of Tetley’s in-house magazine from the 1960s and thought we’d share some pictures of the then state-of-the-art modern pubs featured.

We usually scan these things and effectively thrown them away on Twitter but thought that we ought to put them somewhere a bit more permanent in case they’re interesting or useful for other researchers, or just for the enjoyment of people who might recall the pubs in question as they were in their heyday.

The first batch of photos are from The Huntsman for Autumn 1964. This picture is on the front cover:

The Cup & Ring (exterior).

Explanatory text inside says: ‘The Cup & Ring, the new opened Tetley house on the edge of the moors by Baildon. It is almost certainly the only public house in the country with this name — taken from the cup and ring markings carved by Early Bronze Age people on certain stones of Baildon Moor.’ Today the pub is — obviously, of course, it goes without saying — gone.

The Earl Francis, Park Hill, Sheffield -- exterior.

Next up is The Earl Francis at Park Hill in Sheffield of which the magazine says:

[The] third Tetley ‘pub’ in the vast comprehensive area of Corporation flats which will ultimately house 10,000 people, was named as a reminder of the local historical association with the Shrewsbury family… The first two of these three Tetley houses were each an integral part of the ground floor of the block of flats in which they were situated. The Earl Francis differs in that it is a separate building. To ensure harmony with its background of flats the shell was built by the Corporation; but the main entrance and canopy, the internal planning and structure, and all fixtures and fittings were dealt with by The Company.

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The Most Important British Craft Beers?

British beer bottle cap.

In response to an article listing ‘The 25 Most Important American Craft Beers’ Michael Lally at Bush Craft Beer has challenged his readers to think about what might be on a Brit-centric version of that list:

I think we can define ‘craft’ relatively loosely and ‘important’ in a similar way to our US colleagues: It’s one that either changed consumer tastes or how breweries approach making beer. There are a few obvious ones: Punk IPA by Brewdog, Jaipur by Thornbridge, ESB by Fullers.

There’s a survey you can respond to including space to make your own suggestions but here’s some food for thought from us.

1. Traquair House Ale (1965)

Arguably the very first ‘microbrewery’ was Traquair House which commenced production in 1965. It demonstrated that it was possible for small breweries to be opened despite prevailing industry trends, and also that small independent breweries could often do more interesting things than their bitter- and lager-focused Big Six peers — this beer was (and is) at a hefty ABV and very rich.

2. Litchborough Bitter (1974)

Another brewery with a strong claim to being the first microbrewery was Bill Urquhart’s Litchborough based in the village of that name near Northampton. The beer itself doesn’t seem to have been especially exciting but the business model, and Mr Urquhart’s mentoring/consultancy, directly inspired the microbrewery boom that followed.

Continue reading “The Most Important British Craft Beers?”