In 1988 the British government faced a now forgotten domestic crisis.
Previously placid towns, villages and suburbs up and down the country were suddenly awash with mob violence – the kind of thing people expected in forsaken inner cities but which seemed newly terrifying as it spread to provincial market squares and high streets.
The police panicked, the public fretted, and politicians were pressed to take action.
What was causing this rash of insanity? Who or what was to blame for this descent into madness?
In September 1988 at an informal press briefing John Patten MP, Minister for Home Affairs, pointed the finger: the chaos was a result of ‘the Saturday night lager cult’ and ‘lager louts’.
Lager. Lager was to blame. A type of beer that had arrived in earnest in Britain only thirty years before as the upmarket, sophisticated, sharp-suited Continental cousin of the traditional pint of wallop.
Where did it all go wrong?
In the Beginning
Lager was first brewed in Britain as far back as the 1830s and had its first boom in popularity, primarily as a hip, high-price imported product, from the 1860s until World War I. (See Gambrinus Waltz for more on that.) For the next 40 years or so it sat in the background, very much a minority interest, represented by imports from the Continent and the occasional attempt by British brewers such as Barclay Perkins. In the 1950s it had a less than 2 per cent share of the total UK beer market.
The 1950s were an unsettling time for British breweries. They could no longer rely on armies of industrial workers tramping to the pub on a regular basis to drink ale in substantial quantities. Young people seemed less interested in pubs and beer and drawn rather more to burger bars, coffee shops, Coca Cola and pop music. Mild was definitely passé – a relic of the slum era – and though sales of bitter were surging, it too lacked glamour. Bitter drinkers wore blazers and smoked pipes. The tiny handful of Lager drinkers, on the other hand…
Walk into a pub at 7am and you’ll meet construction workers, police, nurses and paramedics, people from the media industry and other office workers. Giulia Barbos, who tends bar at the Fox and Anchor [in London], says the rising price of a stout and full English has meant the crowds have moved from market workers towards office workers, who might have a bit more money to spend. ‘Now, people sometimes come in just to have breakfast,’ she says.
On 1 December 1987, Manchester United held a launch party for Red Devil Lager at Old Trafford. Members of a team famed for its drinking culture, including Kevin Moran, Norman Whiteside and Paul McGrath, turned up alongside a collection of celebrities ‘du jour’… Indeed no party at that time and in that venue would have been complete without Coronation Street stars Michael Le Vell (aka Kevin Webster), Kevin Kennedy (Curly Watts) and Nigel Pivarro (Terry Duckworth)… What could possibly go wrong?
If you found this interesting then note that the site from which we took the picture, Latas Futebol Clube, is run by a collector of football-club-branded beer packaging. It’s in Portugese but easy enough to navigate.
It’s Manchester Beer Week (23/06-02/07) and a couple of posts from Mancunian bloggers caught our eye. First, from Kaleigh, there comes a useful guide to the city’s brewery taprooms which looks worth bookmarking for future reference. ‘If I find myself in Manchester city centre on a Saturday, I generally end up in a brewery’, she says, which we know to be true from following her on Twitter.
The Manchester Beer Audit 2017 found 411 different cask ales on sale in venues throughout the Manchester City Council area, beating nearest rival Sheffield, which boasted 385 beers in its last survey, as well as Nottingham (334), York (281), Norwich (254), Derby (213), and Leeds (211)… The survey also confirmed that Manchester is leading other cities in kegged “craft” beers too, with 234 different beers on sale throughout the city, an increase in variety that has been sparked by the recent boom in craft brewing.
This was prompted, we assume, by similar claims made by Sheffield last year and greeted with some consternation by Leodensians, Mancunians, Londoners… In other words, a pissing match has commenced. Instinctively we groan at this — ‘My city’s better than your city’ is a tedious, more or less unwinnable argument — but, actually, a bit of competition probably won’t do any harm, and certainly generates attention.
We’re always nagging people to write about smaller, less well-known, basically shy breweries, which is why we pounced on this piece by the Dirty Hallion. It profiles the the Ards Brewing Company of Northern Ireland which ‘has no website for… and a very limited social media presence’. We’d certainly never heard of it. There’s not much drama here but the origin story is interestingly typical and refreshingly free from Grand Passions:
Charles… was a successful architect but like many people involved in the construction industry, myself included, the recession forced a career change… A friend actually suggested brewing and despite no real experience in brewing, he was interested. The same friend taught him the basics and that was it, he was hooked. Shortly after he bought the equipment and started homebrewing. From there he expanded and built the brewery he now uses.
(This was actually posted last week but we only spotted it on Sunday.)
The distribution model and marketplace for beer simply isn’t designed for volatile IPAs or unpasteurized lagers. The history of this model is all tied into pasteurization and refrigeration. While refrigeration is still just as important, pasteurization is a dirty word amongst small brewers. When sending your beer out of the brewery you can almost guarantee that your beer is going to end up old, and probably on a warm shelf.
A glamorous, terrifying whirl of light, lushness and noise — that’s my earliest memory of The Pub.
I was about seven or eight and on a family holiday in Cley next the Sea, Norfolk. We usually stayed in slightly scary bed-and-breakfasts (out by ten and don’t come back until tea time) but that year, for some reason, we were in the George Hotel. My memories are of gorgeously deep red carpets and a baronial fireplace whose scale and richness are probably being exaggerated in the data recall process.
The moment I recall most vividly, the instance when my crush on The Pub was formed, is from after dark. I’d been put to bed and told to stay there with a warning: under no circumstances was I to come down to the public bar. But I needed something, in the way only small children can need something, and so I had to go down to where I could hear everyone laughing and having fun without me.
I was awed by the experience. Everything was sparkling and everyone was aglow, including my parents, surrounded by friends and gently, sociably tipsy, in the midst of a crowd of merry strangers.
The illusion was shattered when they spotted me and, in a half-panic, bundled me back upstairs with a telling off, but it was too late.
I’d seen where adults went to play, and I liked it, and thirty years on, I still do.
A week or so ago David Martin asked: ‘Rumour has it that Wetherspoons Milton Keynes was the first JDW pub to get in the GBG. Any idea if this is fact?’
We pretty quickly established that this couldn’t be true — beer and pub people are terrible for inventing and embellishing this kind of lore, unfortunately. But we couldn’t rest until we’d answered the implied supplementary question: which was the first Wetherspoon’s pub to make it into CAMRA’s annual Good Beer Guide?
There was no way to answer this other than ploughing through old copies with a list of early Wetherspoon pub names at hand. That, in itself, is harder to come by than you might think: there’s no official master-list with dates and many are no longer owned by JDW.
But we think we’ve got there, thanks in part, once again, to the wonderful pubology.co.uk. The first Wetherspoon pub in the GBG was, we can say with some certainty, Dick’s Bar at 61 Tottenham Lane, London N8, which made the edition for 1983.
We can be sure because in 1982 when this volume of the GBG was compiled there were only three Wetherspoon pubs: the original Marler’s/Martin’s/Wetherspoon in Crouch End (1979); this one, Dick’s Bar (1981); and J.J. Moons on Landseer Road, Holloway (1982). This is from November 1982, about when the GBG for 1983 would have been wrapping up to go to print ready for a launch in February:
So, that was a lot of work for a whole heap of Who Cares? but at least that itch is scratched. It’s interesting, we suppose, that it happened this early.
Obligatory pre-emptive plug: there’s a chapter given over to the history of the J.D. Wetherspoon chain and the rise of the superpub in our forthcoming book 20th Century pub: from beerhouse to booze bunker. Watch this space and all that.
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.
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.