Dead Fox

From the Western Daily Press, 8 October 1975:

The Old Fox, Bristol’s newest old pub or oldest new pub, will be officially opened this afternoon, but the trouble is no one knows exactly how old it is… The people from CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, whose laudable ambition is to keep alive the taste for beer from the wood, bought The Old Fox in Fox Road, Eastville, when it was due for demolition… And so far they have traced it back to 1758 when it was mentioned as being up for sale.

Landlord Peter Bull… with his wife Sylvia will be serving devotees with pints of strange sounding brews like Six X, Brakspears beers and South Wales United… Architect Edward Potter has created a pleasantly archaic black and white interior, a world away from rustic brick and plastic horse brasses and workmen put the final touches to his £25,000 renovation scheme yesterday.

Peter Bull.

From ‘All Things to All Men’, Financial Times, 7 April 1976:

The Old Fox, overlooking a dual-carriageway cut and a scrap-yard, may not be everyone’s idea of smart pub decor, but at least it is worth it for the quality of some of the beer it sells. It also reflects some of the tolerance traditionally shown in this most tolerant of cities.



From What’s Brewing, February 1982:

[The] Old Fox Inn in Bristol, one of [CAMRA Investments] smaller and less profitable houses, has been sold to Burton brewers Marstons for £120,000. It was felt to be badly sited in a city had many free houses… Investments managing director, Christopher Hutt, denied suggestions that the company was deliberately drawing back from being a national chain of free houses into a South East/East Anglia/East Midlands firm.


You can read more about the story of CAMRA Real Ale Investments in Brew Britannia and about the history of the Old Fox in this blog post by pub historian Andrew Swift.

An Extraordinary Gentleman: the Brand New Victorian Pubs of Roddy Gradidge

MAIN IMAGE: The Markham Arms in 1976 © Klaus Hiltscher, used with permission.

The architect and interior designer Roderick ‘Roddy’ Gradidge was both a conservative and a wannabe Teddy Boy proto-punk. Though he worked on all kinds of buildings, and wrote several books, he is usually described in short-form as one thing: a pub designer.

We’ve put together this profile based on the newspaper archives we were able to access, online sources, and the books in the ever-expanding Arthur Millard Memorial Library (our box room). As such, consider it a work in progress: when we get chance, for example, we’ll visit the RIBA library and see if we can come up with a more comprehensive list of his projects. Here’s what we know for now.

John Roderick Warlow Gradidge was born in Norfolk in 1929 but grew up in India where his father served in the colonial army. Young Roderick came back to England in 1943 to attend Stowe under the headmastership of J.F. Roxburgh. Writing in the aftermath of Gradidge’s death the writer A.N. Wilson, a friend, suggested that Roxburgh was a key influence on Gradidge’s character:

When one thinks of the flamboyant gallery of talent fostered by that schoolmaster – Peregrine Worsthorne, Antony Quinton, George Melly, – it is hard not to feel some connection.

Flamboyant is certainly the right word: Gradidge, who everyone describes as ‘huge’ or ‘massive’, started wearing an earring in 1955 and ‘longed to be a Teddy boy’, donning the uniform drape jacket, sideburns, tight trousers and suede brothel-creepers and devoting himself to rock’n’roll.

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Exhibit 1: Winemaker magazine, December 1971

Amateur Winemaker, December 1971 -- bright orange cover design.

All of the memorialising last week on the tenth anniversary of the death of Michael ‘the Beer Hunter’ Jackson gave Alan McLeod an opportunity to revisit one of his favourite challenges to the consensus: was Jackson really more influential than, say, Dave Line?

We heard Alan when he made this point a few years ago which is partly why we spent time tracking down Mr Line’s widow, Sheila, and interviewing her for Brew Britannia, where we devoted several pages to profiling him. In a later article for CAMRA’s BEER magazine we reflected in more detail on his influence:

While Dave Line was making a name for himself as arguably the world’s foremost home brewing writer, elsewhere, what we now know as micro-breweries were popping up all across Britain. Most were founded by professionals who had previously worked for large companies such as Watney’s or Courage but a handful came from a home-brewing background and it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t have had what were then the definitive texts, Dave’s two books, at hand. Certainly Brendan Dobbin, who started home brewing as a student in Belfast in the late 1970s, began his career by working through the recipes in The Big Book of Brewing.

In America, where the ‘craft beer revolution’ was very much more driven by home brewers, Dave’s books were even more important. Jack McAuliffe, who founded New Albion Brewing in California in 1976, learned to brew from kits purchased at Boots in Glasgow while on naval service and has frequently cited Dave’s Big Book of Brewing as a key text. Other famous names from the first wave of American craft beer such as Greg Noonan, Dave Miller and Ken Grossman, the founder of Sierra Nevada, also mention The Big Book as a key text in their early development – worth remembering next time you hear an overly-simplified account of the influence of modern US brewing on the British scene.

One concrete example of Dave Line’s influence can be found in Scottish brewery Harviestoun’s Old Engine Oil, a ‘black ale’ at 4.5% ABV in cask. The brewery’s founder, Ken Brooker, conceived the beer using a Dave Line recipe as his starting point, as he told Michael Jackson in 2000.

So we certainly acknowledge Dave Line’s impact on a generation of home-brewers and, by extension, microbrewers, but maintain that Michael Jackson was (a) a better writer (a matter of opinion, of course) and (b) more influential in the broad sense in that he inspired brewers to look beyond basic domestic styles and to explore ‘world beer’. He also (c) basically invented the pattern for modern beer writing.

Last week, though, Alan clarified his argument helpfully:

No. As I said above, my question is the influence of AW group on early micro brewers, not about ‘modern beer writing style’

For some time he has been urging someone, anyone, to dig up the archives of Amateur Winemaker magazine (for which Line and other early home-brewing gurus wrote) and renewed his call. We asked (not snarkily, only to clarify the mission) what he expected or hoped to be found there:

Subscribers lists? Reading the columns to see what was discussed in the ecosystem before key dates? Who wrote letters to the editor?

All of this (as Alan’s hectoring often does) got us thinking — perhaps, even acknowledging Dave Line as we did, we’d still not given him and his colleagues their due. We tested the water by emailing another pioneering UK brewer, Sean Franklin. When we spoke to him back in 2013 he talked glowingly of Michael Jackson, at length, but didn’t mention Dave Line at all. But perhaps (as Alan suggested in another Tweet) that’s because we failed to prompt him. So we prompted him. He replied (this lightly edited):

Like all home-brewers, I looked at those books but for the main part my days at Bordeaux University put me further ahead. It was mostly malt extract in those days. I did a recipe from Dave Line’s book as one of my first beers – the first one was horrible (my fault for using an old can of extract) but the second was much better. Fuller’s ESB, as I remember. I’d worked in London so I knew what that tasted like. After that I switched to full mash.

We can’t make it to the British Library just now but we were prompted to order a couple of copies of Amateur Winemaker from the 1970s by way of test-drilling. One order fell through but the other worked out and a copy of Winemaker (the magazine’s actual title, it turns out) came through the door yesterday.

Ted Wade.

Here’s what it contains that strikes us as being of relevance to Alan’s argument:

  1. Some surprisingly sophisticated brewing kit advertisements listing specific varieties of hops, various types of malt and even odd additives such as licquorice sticks for livening up stout.
  2. Some debate over a then topical news story about a Glasgow home-brewer who may or may not have contracted ‘erosive gastritis’ from contaminated beer.
  3. A feature article by Ted Wade called ‘Designing a Beer’. This is a fairly sophisticated piece suggesting that, by 1971, home-brewers had already moved beyond plastic dustbins and gravy browning. Having said that, hops (he says) should smell hoppy, and that’s it. The accompanying recipe is for a Newcastle Brown Ale clone.
  4. A recipe for Wassail Bowl that includes three pints of brown ale.
  5. An article with another recipe for Wassail Bowl and several other seasonal beer punches.
  6. An article about the various risks of home beer- and wine-making (fines, children drinking your stash, etc.).
  7. A photograph of D. Haynes receiving a trophy for best bitter (light or dark) from the Romsey Winemakers Circle.
  8. Branch reports: mostly wine but a couple of mentions of beer, and of a trip to the Belgian beer festival at Wieze from the Basingstoke crew.
  9. An Index for 1971, reproduced in part below.
  10. An advert for Northern Brewer hops from ‘Wine and the People’, a firm based in Oakland, California.

The rest of the magazine (about 60 out of 84 pages) are about wine, as are all the readers letters.

Index for December 1971, beer section.

You’ll see from the index above that there’s not much that seems to herald the coming of the age of craft beer, but of course it’s hard to tell from only two or three words per article.

But 1971 is still early and there’s enough here to make us think it might at least be worth looking at issues from, say, 1974 (when CAMRA was making serious waves) and 1976 when Michael Jackson’s World Guide to Beer was still a work in progress.

It goes without saying that if you or any elderly relatives have copies of this magazine knocking around in the attic, we’d love to see scans or photos — do get in touch.

PS. The magazine also contains a letter from someone apologising for an anti-Semitic joke in a previous issue, but pointing out that he has many Jewish friends, and, anyway, as a Scot he has to put up with worse. Yikes!

Bits We Underlined In Whitbread Way No. 13, 1979

"Ideal Suit in Lager" -- a hand with playing cards depicting lager brands.
Detail from the cover of Whitbread Way No. 13.

Whitbread Way was a magazine published by the mega-brewery for the education of its licensees. This issue from the summer of 1979 is all about lager and pub grub.

Actually, we had to work out the date from various clues — for some reason, it isn’t given anywhere in the publication — so don’t quote us on it. The magazine is glossy and professional looking, in that boring trade-mag way.

It starts with a news round-up by Graham Kemp which betrays some political bias in the wake of the election of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister:

There is undoubtedly a groundswell of opinion towards a more pragmatic, commercial approach to life in Britain… The mood of the country over the past decade has been to go for the highest possibly incomes without considering where the money is to come from or what we have to earn nationally to sustain our present standard of living.

What goes around comes around and all that. This statement comes in the context of pressure from the Price Commission which wanted to keep beer prices down to avoid consumer discontent. ‘Prices ought to go down even costs go up’, says Mr Kemp sarcastically, oddly presaging last week’s Cloudwater blog post. What goes around… Oh, we’ve done that one.

Three men raising pints over a video recorder.
Licensee William Garside of the Dog & Partridge, Ashton-under-Lyne, is presented with the Phillips N1700 video recorder he won in a magazine competition.

The first substantial feature, by John Firman, is fascinating and if we’d got round to reading this earlier might have informed our big piece on lager louts. It is entitled ‘Violence — is it necessary?’ and concerns the stalling of what they refer to as the Ban the Thug Bill. It was proposed by Conservative MP Anthony Grant and was intended to ban convicted ‘hooligans’ from entering pubs for up to two years at a time. Violence in pubs was felt to be on the rise and damaging the trade, as supported by quotes from interviews with licensees. Again, the article is openly political: the last government, Firman asserts, didn’t like to do anything and so blocked Grant’s bill, but he expresses a hope that the new Conservative government might be more open to the idea. (They were; the bill passed in 1980.) It’s interesting with hindsight that nowhere in this discussion was lager mentioned, but then…

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Barclay’s Russian Imperial Stout, 1970

Last night we sat down and, with due reverence (radio off, notebooks out) drank a bottle of 47-year-old Barclay’s (Courage) Russian Imperial Stout. And it was great.

The last very elderly bottle of RIS we got to try was at the specialist cafe Kulminator in Antwerp where we paid something like €18 for a relic from 1983. This new old bottle was found by Bailey at a car boot sale in Somerset and cost a much more reasonable £1.50.

The seller was an elderly bloke who had worked at Courage in the 1960s and 70s and said, ‘A mate of mine called me down to the cellars in the brewery at Tower Bridge one day where he’d found a stash of this everyone had forgotten about. He used to drink a bottle every morning before his shift started.’ This bottle, he said, was part of his own employee allowance that he’d never got round to drinking.

The cap of our bottle of RIS.

Having been stored who knows where for almost half a century, and then left on paste tables in the sun for who knows how summer boot sales, we didn’t have high expectations for our bottle’s condition. There was the usual hesitation when the time came to apply opener to cap — should we save it? But the answer to that question is generally ‘No’, and even more so when nuclear missiles are whizzing about on the other side of the world. So, one, two, three, and…

There was a smart snap and an assertive ‘Shush!’ Pouring it was easy enough, the yeast having fused with the bottle over the course of decades. We were left with a glass containing about 160ml of beer topped with a thick, stable head of sand coloured foam.

The aroma it threw up was immense, almost sneeze-inducingly spicy, and unmistakably ‘Bretty’.

The foam in the glass.

Oddly, perhaps, the Brett didn’t seem to carry over into the taste, or at least not in the ways our fairly limited experience (mostly Orval and Harvey’s take on RIS) has led us to expect. It wasn’t dry or challengingly funky. But perhaps it was simply that it was in balance, blended and melded with the rock solid bitterness.

The texture was like cream, the taste like the darkest chocolate you can imagine, with no hint of the sherry character we’d assumed was all-but inevitable in old beers. It was just wonderful — more subtle and smoother than Harvey’s, the nearest comparison, and overwhelmingly deep.

What amazed us most was how fresh it tasted, and how alive it seemed. If you’d told us it was brewed last year, we wouldn’t doubt you. (Disclaimer: such is the dodgy provenance of the bottle, we can’t say for sure it wasn’t brewed last year.)

Two hours later, Boak sighed dreamily: ‘I’m still tasting it.’

Beer as experience indeed.