This weekend, we met a friend’s father for the first time, and he said: ‘You’re writing a book about beer, aren’t you? Have you ever heard of Becky’s Dive Bar?’
He told us about drinking at Becky’s, where he was dragged by a colleague who was a member of the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood to drink Ruddle’s from a barrel on the counter-top.
When we mentioned Starkey, Knight & Ford, he disappeared into a store room and returned with a green bottle bearing the brewery’s name, an early version of their prancing horse trademark, the intertwined SK&F logo, and the name of a nearby town, Paignton. ‘I found it in a hedgerow,’ he said.
He served us beer in Young & Co. half pint glasses with the slogan ‘Real Draught Beer‘, picked up at Young’s shareholder meetings. ‘The AGM was the biggest piss-up in town for the price of a single share,’ he told us. ‘John Young would ask who wanted to hear a long speech and we’d all shout NO! Then he’d ask who wanted some beer and we’d shout YES! You had to take the afternoon and the next day off work.’
The he wondered whether we might be interested in seeing his share certificate from the Tisbury Brewery? Readers, we were interested. It took him a while to find: ‘I keep it hidden away. I can’t stand to look at it because I lost a lot of money. I keep it as a reminder not to make stupid investments.’
It’s good to meet someone who has lived what we’ve only read about.
Fact: a geek will try to collect every item on any list he or she is given, and absolutely will not stop, ever, until it is ticked.
Since we spoke to CAMRA-founder Michael Hardman last year, we’ve been keen to get our hands on a copy of an influential publication he told us about — Young’s Brewery’s Real Draught Beer and Where to Find it. First published in the mid-sixties, it represents, we think, the first use of the term ‘real’ in connection to beer in this way, and perhaps begot ‘real ale’. Now, thanks to John Green, CAMRA’s first employee, we have a photocopy of the 1971 edition.
Green was discovered by CAMRA after he was featured in the local paper in St Albans after becoming a member of the 135 Association by drinking at every pub listed in the pamphlet. Graham Lees, another founder member of the Campaign, happened to be working on the paper in question and gave him a call. Like many such relics, it’s interesting not only in itself, but also because it’s covered in annotations — in this case, A to Z map references and crosses against the name of each pub.
Back before Young’s was a mere sub-brand managed (carelessly) by Charles Wells in Bedford, it was a South London brewery with a stubborn Chairman, John Young, who refused to give up on cask conditioned ale when even breweries such as nearby Fuller’s were on the brink of doing so. As such, Young’s had quite a cult following.
In the mid-60s (we’re still trying to pin down dates) they published a small pamphlet listing every one of their pubs. Later editions were called Real Draught Beer and How Where to Find It and, if that first edition bore the same name, it’s a candidate for the first usage of ‘real… beer’ in this sense (as in ‘real ale’).
The thing is, the minute you print a list, it triggers the Gotta Catch ‘em All impulse in some geeks and so, in 1967, quite unexpectedly, someone wrote to the brewery to announce that he’d visited all 135 pubs. He’d also had his pamphlet signed by the publicans or bar managers to prove it. John Young was impressed and delighted an invited him in for a VIP tour of the Ram Brewery, a slap-up feed, as much beer as he could drink in the sample room, and a pin of beer to take home.
In the years that followed, many others made the same pilgrimage. Eventually, the slap-up feed was dropped, but each of these fan boys still got to meet the boss and, in 1972, John Young presented a specially embroidered tie and pin to a Mr Peter Harris, the 29th person to visit all 135 pubs (Morning Advertiser, 24 October 1972). A loose association of ‘135ers’ was founded at the Buckingham Arms in Westminster, and met at various Young’s pubs thereafter with twelve members gathering as recently as 1999.
We’d love to find out more. If you were a member, know a member, or can point us towards any more information, please comment below.
Most of the information above came from our conversation with CAMRA-founder Michael Hardman who worked for Young’s for many years after leaving the Campaign.
UPDATE 04/11/2014: A member of the 135 Association, Colin Price, got in touch with some more information. We won’t reproduce it all, but these are two key passages:
I was a member of the 135 Association. Rather than ‘a loose association’ the 135 Association was a proper organisation with constitution, committee membership fee and quarterly newsletter… The Association had no official connection with Young’s and was completely independent of them although when people were sent their ties they were sent an application form. No doubt some people did the tour and got the tie but didn’t join the association.
By the late 1990’s interest was declining. The wider availability of real ale meant that Young’s had lost some of its cachet so fewer people were doing the tour and coming forward to replace members who were dropping out due to old age or moving away from London. Also some of the more traditional members were unhappy with the direction Young’s were taking… In the early 2000s the Association was formally wound up. The remaining funds were used to pay for a farewell social and the balance left donated to a charity John Young was a trustee of.
With our train due in an hour,we wandered out of the station in a small inland Cornish town in search of a pub. The first we came across was busy and smart enough; on entering, a cheery-looking landlady greeted us and engaged in a little light banter. She then served us two pints and a half of the warmest, dullest bitter we’ve had in a while.
This seemed a perfect time for a little experiment. “Is that Young’s Light Ale in the fridge?” we asked, spotting the label from several metres away. It was, so we bought some, and used it to (a) reduce the temperature of our pints from lukewarm to cool; (b) put some fizz in them; and (c) lift the bitterness. They weren’t great pints thereafter, but were at least pleasant enough to finish.
All of this reminded us of (sorry) yet another passage from Richard Boston’s Beer and Skittles (1976) in which he lists various ‘traditional’ beer mixes:
Lightplater – bitter and light ale.
Mother-in-law — old and bitter. (Oh dear. Bernard Manning much?)
Granny — old and mild.
Boilermaker — brown and mild.
Blacksmith –stout and barley wine.
Half-and-half – bitter and stout, or bitter and mild.
If you’re compelled to mix beers in an emergency as we were, or just fancy a change, these all sound like they might create something drinkable.
Bailey’s dad, of course, never complains about bad beer. If it can’t be rendered passable with the addition of a bottle of Mann’s Brown Ale, then it’s time to move on.
Given how clear the rules are about linking alcohol with increased attractiveness or confidence, these can’t be mistakes. I’ve seen the Courage ad more in the news today than I have in paid for advertising slots anywhere in the last few weeks. Contrived controversy = free publicity.
Over-thinking beer, pubs and the meaning of craft since 2007