The Loss of Local Preference as Observed in 1966

Book cover -- H.A. Monkcton: A History of Ale & Beer.

H.A. Monckton’s 1966 book A History of Ale & Beer is these days interesting mostly for what its epilogue tells us about the period of its writing, and about the tension between local and global.

That section of the book covers the rise of keg beer and the trend towards consolidation from an industry insider’s perspective (Monckton was on the board at Flower’s of Stratford-upon-Avon) but there’s a particular bit we want to zero in on here because it chimes with our Session post from last Friday which touched on the globalisation of taste:

Throughout history certain districts have favoured their own types of beer. There are definite differences between those beers brewed in the North, in the Midlands, and the South. Recently the strong preferences of certain districts have begun to weaken, not because of a change in the customer’s palate but rather because brewery amalgamations are bringing about the closure of many local breweries, which has meant the discontinuation of many local beers… In the case of bottled beers the situation was usually accepted without undue trouble, but often customer reaction to the introduction of new draught beers was strong. So strong has it been in several instances that the substituted beers have had to be changed to a type more in line with local requirements…

Unfortunately, he doesn’t break this down much further except to observe that sweeter beers were particularly popular in places like London, Birmingham and Coventry with high concentrations of manual workers, especially during and after World War II when sugar was rationed. He observes that:

All the successful beers launched on a national scale in the ten years following the last war, whether pale in colour or dark, were sweeter rather than drier. Now, some twenty years later, the situation is changing again, and full-drinking bitter beers, both in bottle and in cask, are returning to prominence. It is interesting that some premises in the Midlands are now selling increasing quantities of draught bitter beers where only mild ales have been sold for a quarter of a century.

Dry, bitter beers, he suggests, are simply better suited to our climate than ‘soft sweet beer’ — an argument we don’t quite follow, if we’re honest.

But, anyway, that’s stage one of homogenisation, driven by national consolidation and distribution, and countrywide marketing: everyone drinking the same style whether town or country, north or south, toff or scruff.

Harp lager beer mat (detail)

Then in the last paragraphs of the book he forecasts (or, rather, fails to forecast) stage two: in the midst of a great push that saw lager’s share of the UK market creep up from less than 2 per cent to 7 per cent by the end of the decade he suggests a certain scepticism about its suitability for the English weather. He was wrong, and lager now makes up something like 70 per cent of the market in the UK, and the vast majority of the global market.

On a related note, Alec Latham has an interesting post on lager in the UK at Mostly About Beer in which he observes that ‘Lambic has leap-frogged Lager’. (It’ll make sense when you read it.) If not exactly a return to local tastes as described by Monckton the failure of new breweries to engage with the market for lager does at least suggest — in some small way, in odd ways — some sort of shift.

And, while we’re pointing outwards, here’s a thought on a declaration by Carlsberg’s chief executive Julian Momen that the Danish giant is considering acquiring a UK craft brewery. Rather than join the (admittedly fun) game of guessing at specific breweries that might be in the frame we’ll just observer that previous UK acquisitions by global players have tended to be conservative. Camden, Meantime and Sharp’s all had strong brands popular in mainstream outlets; flagship beers at accessible strength (under 5% ABV); in classic styles (lager, bitter, pale ale); and straightforward, easy-drinking takes on those styles at that. (We’re being polite to Doom Bar, there.) In other words, breweries that already act ‘global’ seem more likely candidates than those that go out of their way to express any particular local or otherwise distinct character.

Modern Pubs of 1961: Watney’s & Whitbread

This selection of post-war pubs comes from 1961 editions of in-house magazines from two London brewing behemoths, Watney’s and Whitbread.

To reiterate what we said a few weeks ago, the primary point of this series of posts is to put the material in these publications somewhere where other people can find it. And, for clarity, we should say that these pubs weren’t all built or opened in 1961 — that’s just when the magazines covered them. Where a date of construction or opening is given, or is available from another reliable source, we’ve included it, along with the names of architects and photographers where possible.

1. The Buff Orpington, Orpington, Greater London (Kent)
The Buff Orpington on opening day.
Photo: A.C.K. Ware. Architect: Alan Chalmers.

This Whitbread pub was the permanent replacement for a prefab that was erected as a stopgap immediately after World War II. The lounge, in black and white, was decorated with reproductions of paintings of chickens, the Buff Orpington being a breed of hen. The tap room (public bar) had lemon walls and a red and blue tiled floor — so, something like this?

Tiled floor and yellow walls.

Is it still there? Yes, under the name The Buff, and it’s yet another post-war estate pub run by Greene King who seem to be keeping it in good nick, even if it has had some faux-Victorian bits glued on.

2. The Royal Engineer, Gillingham, Kent
The Royal Engineer (exterior)
Architect: L. Mason Apps

The original pub of this name was at Chatham, near the Royal Engineers’ barracks. This new pub — a fairly handsome building for the period — was built by Whitbread as part of the shopping centre on a new estate at Twydall:

Where in the old house were shutters and frosted glass are now clear panes and airy louvres. Special attention has been paid to heating and ventilation; a pleasing feature is the lighting — more and smaller bulbs giving brightness without glare. Richly hued woods in servery, counters and doors set off with light paint and wallpaper… An unusual feature is the porcelain handles of the beer pumps. On each is a reproduction of the inn sign.

We can imagine some people reading that thinking that the shutters and frosted glass sound much nicer.

This one is no longer in operation having been turned into a takeaway restaurant fairly recently, it seems.

Continue reading “Modern Pubs of 1961: Watney’s & Whitbread”

Advice for Pub Staff, 1965, Pt.2 — Pub Life

On Sunday we ran through the beer-focused parts of James H. Coombs 1965 instructional manual Bar Service; today, we’re looking at the bits concerning people.

That means we’re skipping the sections on cider, spirits, wine, cigarettes and snacks — they’re pretty dry, to be honest, but if there’s anything particular you’re curious about ask below and we’ll dig around.

Mr Coombs’s first assertion in ‘Part IV: General Bar Practice’ is that ‘the Licensed Trade is a domestic business and is not like any other trade’. What he means by this is, first, that in his opinion unionisation won’t wash, just as it wouldn’t in the family home; and, secondly, that a lot of the work is just like looking after your own house — wind the clock, unblock the sink, don’t let the fire go out, and so on.

After a long section on cleaning — which goops and types of cloth to use on which surfaces — there comes a bit of timeless advice:

Never keep a customer waiting — it is most annoying. It will not escape you that a man quite resigned to wait ten minutes in the Post-office for a stamp will shout the place down if he is kept waiting more than five seconds for a drink. In fact many seem to think there should be one bartender to each customer! … However, should you be engaged in some job more important than taking his money (if there is anything more important!) always acknowledge him and say you won’t keep him a moment.

Fifty-odd years on, this is still just about all we ask for from bar staff.

The Public Bar

Perhaps our favourite bit in the book is this frank account of the dynamic between new staff members and the customers in the least pretentious room in the pub:

Some staff enjoy serving in the Public Bar better than the Saloon or Lounge. They appreciate the ‘earthy’ touch of the ‘honest-to-goodness’ working man, the quick and snappy conversation, the everlasting ‘mickey taking’… Should it be part of your duty to serve in the Public Bar you may have to suffer a certain amount of ribald comment from the regulars… ‘’Ow long you gonna stay? ’Ad eight noo barmen ’ere in six weeks!’ … Probably untrue anyway. The ‘Public’ as they are called are very fond of ‘having a go’ at anyone new but you should just laught it off and not get bad-tempered. When they fail to get a rise out of you they’ll go back to their dominoes.

In other words, don’t feed the trolls. Apparently speaking from bitter experience Coombs goes on to say that they’ll continue to watch the newbie waiting for a moment of vulnerability:

Wrong change rates three roars all round the bar… pulling up Mild instead of Bitter rates two roars… Short measure is good for five minutes hollering and hooting.

Londoners in particular, he observes, liked to lay the slang on thick as a kind of power move: ‘Pint o’ Diesel, an apple fritter and a Tom Thumb.’ This leads to a nice little list of colloquialisms:

  • Ale — Mild, Ale, Double, XX, Diesel, Splosh, Hogwash
  • Bitter — apple fritter
  • Scotch whisky — pimple [and blotch], Hooch
  • Gin — needle [and pin], Vera [Lynn], Mother’s Ruin
  • Rum — Tom Thumb, Nelson’s Blood, Black Jack
  • Brandy  — Coconut Candy
Con Tricks

This chapter, entitled ‘The Crooks — and Some Tricks to Catch You’, runs over familiar ground but with a few new bits of business. It begins with a general warning (slightly edited by us for weird punctuation):

If two strangers are found in the bar at the same time and have taken up separate positions, be very much on your guard, more especially if one of them engages you in close conversation — the other one may be up to a little ‘mullarky’. Anything portable is fair game to public-house crooks, the Blind collecting box, the lighter fuel box, the Christmas stocking, the Spastics Beacon, even chairs and tables — anything they can lay their thieving hands on.

Sandra Gough pushing over a pile of pennies, 1965.
Sandra Gough (Irma Ogden in Coronation Street) pushing over a pile of pennies collected for charity (i.e. ‘the Spastics Beacon’) at The Bowling Green, Stockport. This was a big thing in the 1960s.

Among the specific tricks described, after the short change con and a version of the serial number wheezed described in Lilliput, there’s a move with a touch of the Derren Brown about it:

A man standing at the bar waiting for service has a five-pound note spread out on the counter in front of him. He passes some remark about it to the man standing next to him — a complete stranger, probably… The stranger agrees and the man has made certain he has drawn ample attention to the five-pound note… As he is being served, however, he switches the fiver for a folded one-pound note. A little later he will insist to the barman he received change of £1. He calls on the stranger as a witness and he, of course, affirms that he saw a five-pound note handed over — which, of course, he didn’t! Heigh, ho! Another four quid up in the air!

Next, there’s a con in which the perp claims to have bumped into the landlord in the street who has authorised the cashing of a cheque. Not all that subtle this one, although the convincer is that he doesn’t need the full amount — just £15 for now and he’ll collect the rest that evening when he sees his old pal, the guv’nor.

There are stock cons, too, where a customer buys a bottle of whisky to take away, returning moments later to say, sorry, my husband wants a different brand, but the returned bottle is actually a dummy filled with water. Or, alternatively, a customer claims to have won a case of whisky in a raffle and sells it to the licensee at a pound a bottle, only that’s all water too. In this case, the licensee, having broken the law, can’t go to the police. (You can’t con an honest man and all that.)

Finally, there’s something that sounds quite implausible, outside of an Ealing comedy:

Watch for the gentleman, perhaps not too well dressed, who walks about with an umbrella or walking-stick. Sometimes these have a handy spike on the end and can be used for spearing cigarettes off a shelf behind the bar… Sometimes paper money is kept in a glass beside the till on an adjacent shelf. Make sure it is not in a mug with a handle because the same umbrella or walking stick can be used to hook it up.

Close-up of a chapter heading in the book.
A Final Round of Golden Rules

This part of the book, which comes after a lot of dated and dusty matter about wages and licencing law, is a kind of miscellany of stuff that didn’t fit elsewhere, and is great fun:

Before you go behind the bar make certain you enquire about the dog (if any) and where it is kept… If someone from the kitchen is kind enough to give you a cup of tea in the bar have the decency to wash up the cup and saucer… Buy an alarm clock… Turn out the dartboard light when play is finished… Keep a sharp eye on tramps, dirty-looking people, hawkers, or anyone with an obvious disease… It is illegal to take snuff behind the bar… Avoid those customers you know will want to engage you in conversation for the rest of the session… Pick up any loose crown corks on the floor — don’t kick ’em about!

(Some small edits for ease of quoting in that chunk of text, by the way.)

This book, unlike some others, gives relatively little time to matters of gender relations but does have this of-its-time advice:

It is one of the time-honoured features of the English public-house for the ‘regulars’ to have a bit of fun with the bar staff — especially with pretty barmaids. You will be expected to take this in good part — and even to join in. The purchase of a Brown Ale, however, does not entitle anyone to take liberties and you should see that the conversation never degenerates below the level of propriety.

If someone is constantly harassing you, Coombs says, don’t fall out with them but do tell the boss.

There’s lots on etiquette including some reminders that the pub was not quite a respectable place: don’t address customers in any way that might tip strangers off that they are regulars, for example, and avoid saying things like, ‘You back again?’ when a customer who was in at lunchtime returns in the evening with company.

Then, much as with Mrs Mullis, Mr Coombs seems to get more unhinged the closer he gets to the end of the book, finally letting his annoying customers have both barrels a few pages from the end:

The drinking public from every sphere, you will soon discover, are the most obstinate, ill-informed and perverse section of the community it is possible to find. Even if they have a question they will often refuse to accept the answer — right though it may be. Afford them an indulgent smile and let them wallow in their ignorance…

Our copy of this book cost £9.30 delivered — it’s rarer than some similar volumes, and less entertaining — but we can certainly see ourselves referring to it from time to time which makes it a worthwhile addition to the Arthur Millard Memorial Library. (That is, our back room).

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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