Beer in Pubs, 1951

Spread from LHATM.

It’s always exciting to come across specific notes on how beers of the past looked and tasted, especially when those notes are from someone inside the industry.

Through a footnote to a footnote in someone else’s book we recently came across Licensed Houses and Their Management, a three-volume guidebook published in multiple editions from 1923 onwards and edited by W. Bently Capper. It’s made up of a whole series of essays and articles by different authors covering everything from book-keeping to ‘handling female staff’. We’re going to post a few more bits from it in the Bits We Underlined format at some point but, for now, the stuff on beer seemed too interesting not to share in its own right.

The section is called ‘Ales and Stouts and Hints on Cellar Management’ and is credited to an anonymous ‘A Brewery Cellars Manager’. (Worth noting, maybe, that the accompanying pics are from Fuller’s.)

First, we should say that, throughout, it is made clear that beer should definitely possess ‘brilliancy’, i.e. must be completely clear. We’ve collected lots of examples of people not minding a bit of haze in their beer, or even preferring it, but there was certainly a mainstream consensus that clarity was best by the mid-20th Century.

There are three types of dispense listed: straight from the cask, via beer engine and ‘the Scottish method of drawing’ — that is air or top pressure. (The cause of so much strife in CAMRA during the late 1970s.) There is also a lovely mention of what are now known as sparklers:

With the beer engine, there is sometimes a difficulty during the winter months of producing a good head on the beer… To combat this there are several excellent fittings on the market in the shape of ‘nozzles’ or ‘sprinklers’ which are fitted to the spout of the engine. These agitate the beer as it passes into the glass and produce a head, without affecting the palate in any degree.

Right, then — time for the main event: BEER. This section begins by highlighting the importance of choosing good beers and the strength of ‘local conditions and prejudices’:

In London, for instance, one class of beer will find favour in one district, whilst in another part of the town the same beer would not be appreciated. The same thing applies through the whole of the counties…

The author then very usefully breaks it down by style:

Mild Ales… In some parts a dark, sweet ale must be served. This must be as fresh as possible and quite brilliant. In the industrial centres this beer will be in very great demand… In the residential or suburban areas, a mild ale of a lighter colour is more in favour…

Ron Pattinson has explored the difference between urban and country milds but we love the idea of Metroland Mild!

Burton… is a heavy-gravity ale, very red in colour, and with a distinct dry-hop flavour. There is a very steady demand for this beer all the year round, but in winter-time the sales in some districts equal those of mild ale… [It should be] neither too bitter nor too sweet, but [have] a round, full-bodied flavour.

Colour and flavour notes! Red ale — sounds quite trendy, doesn’t it?

Bitter… Bitter ales form the great part of the saloon and private-bar demand. These beers are the most delicate and sensitive of all brewed. The colour must be as of bright polished amber, and the pungent aroma of the hops must be well in evidence. It is very important… that the palate is quite clean as the great charm of bitter ales lies in their delicate palate flavour… There is little doubt that the Burton-brewed ales are the best of this variety, although great progress has been made in other parts of the country by brewers and competition is very keen in this beer.

In case you don’t know how social class mapped to bars, the saloon and private-bar were the relatively posh ones. Bitter was a premium product, the craft beer of its day, drunk for flavour as much as alcohol content or nourishment. (There’s more from us on the history of bitter here.)

Stouts… are brewed from highly roasted malts and are therefore dark brown in colour. The palate should be full and creamy, but not too sweet. Avoid stouts that are not in condition or that have too bitter a flavour. There is little doubt that among the best stouts the best are those brewed in London…

An early use of creamy to describe beer, there? From long before nitro was a thing, too. But what is the difference between stout and porter?

Porter… is a light-gravity black beer which is usually much sweeter than stouts.

There you go. Sorted. Sort of.

There are many more editions of LHATM stretching back 25 years from this one — if you have a copy from before World War II, perhaps you can check whether this advice changed over the years?

Ask not for whom the Bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

The Bell Pub, Walthamstow, East London.

By Boak

Of all the exciting beer developments in London since we’ve moved away, none have intrigued us as much as the sudden discovery of demand for good beer in our former home of Walthamstow. This article highlighted the fact that not one, not two, but three (THREE!) formerly rough pubs were due to re-open under new management.

We went back to Walthamstow last week to have a look at the developments. Both the Chequers and the Cock are still being refurbished, which left us with the Bell.

The Bell is one of those large pubs-on-a-junction that you get in Victorian suburbs of London, the product of rapid expansion in housing plus limits on where licenced premises could be built. I went in once or twice as a teenager and remember it being huge and mostly empty. The best thing I could say about it then was that it wasn’t as rough as it looked.

Like other pubs of its ilk, it passed through many managers and a few halfhearted refurbishments in an attempt to bring it back to life, but never managed to shake its rough reputation. The Beer In The Evening comments make for a fascinating mini-history of the last ten years.

Why have the Bell’s new owners (apparently) succeeded where others have failed? Firstly, an ambitious but very tasteful refurbishment, which has involved stripping out lots of twentieth century additions and emphasising the original features (and complementing what’s there with old furniture). The pictures on the website actually make the pub look more modern than it feels. We commented a lot on how impressive the refurbishment was, how much more ‘pubby’ it felt now than we’d ever known it, and how, despite the vast space, it felt cosy.

Secondly, they are openly going for a more ‘aspirational’ market (craft beer and jazz feature heavily in the marketing) – but they are still managing to attract and welcome a range of clientele that reflect the local area.  Extremely welcoming and talkative bar staff help here.

Thirdly, the beer selection and quality is now the best in Walthamstow (which is getting harder and harder to do, and might be difficult to maintain if Antic open the Chequers as planned)  There are eight hand-pumps (plus a mixture of keggy stuff). We had to be somewhere else that afternoon, so we were limited as to what we could try in the time available. We were delighted with Brodie’s London Fields, which we could have easily drunk all afternoon. We also sampled their Landlord, which we’re coming to think is a good test of whether a pub can look after its ale or not.  They passed with flying colours.

We don’t want to exaggerate the quality of the beer selection –  the enormous competition in London means there’s probably not much to drag the serious beer geek out of their way to get here. However, if we were still living in Walthamstow, it would be our new local, no question.

Picture to come when Bailey gets back.

Posh pub/hotel in Hackney

Old pub livery on the Ship Inn, Hackney
Old pub livery on the Ship Inn, Hackney

We’d walked past the Ship Inn tons of times. We’d even photographed it and put the pictures here. From the outside, it looked like a pretty rough old dive, partly because of the gang of people smoking outside the long tunnel you have to walk down to get in.

Then we read somewhere that, far from being rough, it’s actually the poshest boozer in Hackney, so we got over our nerves and went in for a nosy round.

It’s actually a boutique hotel, and a nice looking one at that. The bar makes more sense when you think of it as a service for guests rather than a pub for locals. It’s done up, as the phrase goes, like a tart’s boudoir. A good half of it is laid up for dinner with table cloths, big wine goblets and silverware. The barmen/waiters are smartly dressed with continental aprons. One of them looks like Tobey Maguire.

Standing by the door, we had one of those moments: it’s too posh! They’ll expect us to eat even though we’re not hungry!

But they didn’t. And they were very nice. The beer was nothing special (several so-called world lagers, Tim Taylor Landlord and the now ubiquitous Sharp’s Doom Bar) but well enough kept. We enjoyed our pint and felt, on the whole, that this would be a good place to go on a date or to bring people from work who don’t like ‘old man’s pubs’.

More to the point, though, it’s across the road from the usual venue for the Pig’s Ear Beer Festival (scheduled this year for 2-6 December). Any out of towners struggling to convince other halves to join them at a beer festival could find a couple of nights in this place will clinch the deal, and it’s pretty convenient to stagger home to as well…

The Ship is owned by Urban Inns, who also own the Coach and Horses in Isleworth.