The British Exhibition in Copenhagen ran from 29 September to 16 October 1955 (exactly 59 years ago, by the way) and included representations from some 600 British concerns, including Whitbread.
The Britannia Inn was converted from an existing box-like modern restaurant on the exhibition ground site at the Tivoli Gardens and was intended to resemble a traditional Victorian pub:
Rustic seats stood by the doors leading to the saloon and public bars. Over the front door was the usual inscription in small letters: Frits Guldbrandsen. Licensed to sell beer, wines, spirits and tobacco.
Fixtures and fittings were borrowed from working Whitbread pubs back home. The sign — apparently the same as later used in Brussels — was taken from the Britannia Inn on High Road, Leytonstone, London E11, while several china barrels from the Nag’s Head, Covent Garden, were displayed behind the bar.
Only bottled beer was sold but ‘beer-engine handles had been fixed to the bar to give the right atmosphere’. When the Duke of Edinburgh arrived on the royal yacht Britannia on 12 October, however, draught beer was sent over specially, and he drank it from a presentation tankard which he promised to keep on the yacht as a souvenir. (The Queen of Denmark visited on 4 October and made do with a glass of sherry in the public bar.)
Pathe Newsreel: Britannia Inn at 1:30.
Britain was rather proud of its pubs and breweries back then, wasn’t it?
We recently acquired, through a response to our wanted page, several vintage issues of the Whitbread magazine, The House of Whitbread. This draws on the issue for winter 1955-56, cross-referenced against articles in The Times.
“You want me to take advice on tasting beer from Watney’s!?” our older readers might cry at this point. The fact is, it’s hard to read the QC tome without gaining a certain respect for the care and attention the Big Red Giant put into process, even if the products weren’t, er… universally adored.
The purpose of this test was to check that Red Barrel brewed in the regions was as near as possibly identical to that brewed at the mothership at Mortlake in London.
1. The Room
(a) should be quiet
(b) should be moderate in temperature (58-62°F) [14-16°C]
(c) and should be low in light intensity (twilight conditions)
(d) The light should be red in colour (to obscure difference in haze and colour)
(e) Seats should be provided for the taster to sit in a relaxed position.
(f) A glass of water and a sink should be provided for each taster.
(g) A form of recording the results should be provided for each taster.
2. The Beers
These should have been stood overnight at a temperature of 58-62°F. They should be of equal C02 content and should be poured so that all three glasses show equal amounts of head.
The instructions go on to suggest how results should be recorded and the role of the organiser in policing the process. There is also advice on testing the ‘skill and interest’ of the tasters:
Take some distilled or tap water which is free from unpleasant flavour, cool and bubble carbon dioxide through it to remove air and introduce carbon dioxide… This water is then added to a portion of beer to dilute it by 10%. This diluted beer and a control portion of the undiluted beer… are then used in a three-glass test [where two glasses contain the same beer]… The tasters are told beforehand only that one of the two beers is more dilute.
A sweetness test, run in exactly the same way, used a sample dosed with 4 grams of sucrose per litre.
It is possible to score 33% correct answers by mere “guessing”. Members taking part with average scores of 50% or more may be regarded as suitable tasters for a permanent panel. This eliminates people with low discriminating powers where beer tasting is concerned but, at the same time, the panel selected will not be too severe in its judgments.
We hadn’t considered it before but, yes, we can see that finicky super-tasters probably are as useless as total numb-tongues for this kind of task.
For our first attempt to extract a home brewing recipe from the Kegronomicon we’ve gone for the original Red Barrel, Watney’s Keg (RBWK) as it was in around 1966.
There’s a huge amount of technical information in the documents that won’t be of much practical use to home brewers, and which we barely understand, so we’ve concentrated on the key parameters which should enable you to get vaguely close if you plug them into your own brewing software and/or process.
In general, though, the emphasis throughout is on absolute cleanliness: contact with oxygen should be minimised at every stage; and everything should be kept completely, obsessively sterile.
And if you happen to have a bloody big industrial filtering and pasteurising facility, use it — that’s probably the biggest influence on how this beer would have tasted at the time.
Our primary source for vital statistics was a memo dated 26 August 1966, from F.W. Dickens of the Red Barrel & Draught Beer Department, Mortlake, providing a single handy summary of revised targets for colour, OG, IBU and carbonation.
In 1944, Faber published, on cheap wartime paper, a short book by local government official C.H. Gardiner entitled Your Village and Mine.
A pre-emptive strike in the debate about if and how British society should change in the wake of the experience of World War II, Gardiner devoted quite a bit of space to what he calls the ‘third oldest village institution’ after the church and the manor house — the inn.
Many of his comments show just how little debate has moved on in 70 years, sounding as if they might have come from a recent news article on ‘binge Britain’:
Generally, the village inn thrives, but sometimes in a way that is no good to the village. Instead of being a social meeting-ground for temperate and hard-working village men, it has become a drinking saloon patronized by men and women intent on consuming as much as they can in the shortest possible time before going home or rushing to another alcoholic place of call.
He doesn’t, however, advocate total abstinence — the dignified enjoyment of a ‘pint of cider or bitter beer’ meets his approval — but there is a sense that he sees serious boozing as a distraction from the really important functions of a pub: political debate, gossip and the playing of traditional games. Many village pub landlords, he observes, are teetotal and regulate the drinking of their customers.
The greatest threat to the integrity of this institution — he keeps using that word, and it’s an interesting one — is the influence of outsiders:
In war-time many inns have been temporarily ruined from a local and social angle by an influx of workmen engaged on government contracts and earning high wages. The shortage of beer and considerably reduced opening hours have had a bad effect in those places where the populations greatly increased. Both strangers and natives are inclined to drink more than is usual for fear that there will be none to-morrow. But as an elderly landlady said to me, ‘It’s just a phase’, and, with motor traffic off the roads, the pubs in remote villages have again assumed a leisurely local atmosphere…
He observes a tendency of pubs to separate different sections of the clientele with screens and side rooms, not along class lines, but based on ‘localness’. At one pub, he noted a small room reserved for ultra-locals who could trace family roots in the village back 200 years, and who would get up and walk out grumbling if a stranger insisted on entering. (Stammtisch?)
By this time, women, Gardiner suggests, were increasingly keen to visit the public bar and socialise with friends and neighbours, though many pubs still refused to admit them, which ‘raises questions of accommodation, particularly when a lawn or seats in a garden cannot be used’.
He concludes that ‘drinking in general has increased… [while] drunkenness has declined’, which he puts down largely to improvements in living conditions and the availability of alternative forms of entertainment, e.g. church-organised social events and the wireless.
His final recommendations are, first, that wartime licensing hours be removed in peace time but that early closing on Sunday lunchtime be retained: ‘Nobody appreciates this more than the village housewife who can now be certain of her menfolk returning to their Sunday dinner at a reasonable hour.’ He also suggests that the key to the survival of the village inn as an institution is the segregation of locals from visitors, who arrive by car in search of rural charm and something to eat:
The main bar should be reserved for the village men and facilities provided to enable them to play their innocent games of tippit, shove-halfpenny, crib, and darts.
We’re getting quite a collection of these slightly patronising, oh-so-worthy social observation studies. This one is no The Pub and the People, but it does provide a fascinating snapshot of a very specific point in British history.