“Before opening time there is a beautiful, virgin aroma of freshness, an inimitable pub-perfume mixture of hops and malt, spirits and polish with perhaps a faint touch of violet-scented air-freshener. This is my boyhood nostalgia. Spilt ale, dried and sugar-sticky.”
Adrian Bailey in an essay for Len Deighton’s London Dossier, 1967.
There’s been quite a lot going on in our local beer scene so, for the record, and to help those of you planning a visit to the far west, here’s a quick round-up of developments.
→ Coastal Brewery’s on-site brewery tap and specialist beer outlet is up and running in Redruth. An industrial estate on the outskirts of a former mining town is about as far from twee as you can get, and drinking among stacked palettes and breeze block walls won’t be to everyone’s taste, but we found it surprisingly atmospheric, with a chatty crowd of post-shift drinkers from surrounding units. It’s probably the best place to come if you want to ‘tick’ Coastal’s own beers from cask and keg (they’re generally decent and occasionally brilliant), and has plenty of Belgian, American and German beers not often seen out this way. Bottles are available to take away, too, if you’re thinking about stocking a holiday cottage. It’s open until 10-15:00, Mon-Thu, and on Saturday; and until 7pm on Fridays, but check the Facebook page — those hours aren’t fixed.
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’.
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.)
Tim Wilkinson’s short memoir of a year in the life of a new publican is full of details that will interest pub and beer obsessives but there are good reasons why, unlike similar books, it’s never inspired a cosy Sunday night TV programme along the lines of Heartbeat or All Creatures Great and Small.
Wilkinson, as far as we can work out from details in We Ran a Cornish Pub, served in the Army in India during World War II. He is best known for a similarly lightweight 1965 book, Hold on a Minute, which records his life working as a cargo carrier on the English canals after his demob. This book picks up the story in 1949 with both he and his wife recovering from injuries received on the waterways and looking for a new, less strenuous way to make a living.