Beer history

Dial-a-pint, Bolton, c.1977

If photographer Don Tonge hadn’t snapped the shot above, we’d probably have no record of Dial-a-Pint, Bolton 31922.

We came across it last week in a Twitter thread, without credit. In fact, worse, someone had gone to the trouble of carelessly snipping Mr Tonge’s credit off the picture, leaving just a few scraps of letters in the bottom left corner.

A brief digression: nostalgic photo accounts that do this kind of thing are awful. They often know who took a photo or, with reverse image search and the like, could easily find out. They choose not to credit because (a) they might get told to take it down and (b) they want to keep shares and likes for themselves rather than the original creator.

So, if you’ve ever @-ed us into a Tweet with a cool picture and wondered why we weren’t more enthusiastic, it’s probably because of this.

Anyway, back to Dial-a-pint: we asked Mr Tonge if he could remember when and where it was taken. He said: “I can only imagine it was someone doing homebrewing and trying to be entrepreneurial. Bolton mid 1970s.”

So, nothing precise.

What additional information can we glean from the photo? We know that the van was registered in 1972.

And as our pal @teninchwheels pointed out, the gawking man is wearing a Starsky cardigan; Starsky & Hutch was first broadcast in the UK in 1976 so we can probably assume this picture dates from around 1977. (Could we even guess that his mum knitted it for him from this Sirdar pattern for Christmas 1976?)

1977 would also tie in with the height of the real ale craze when all sorts of people were setting up beer-related businesses.

That phone number ought to tell us something, right? Bolton 31992. Well, so far, it hasn’t. We can’t find any current Bolton numbers with those digits, or any historic classified ads in local papers.

Ah, yes… Searching newspapers let us down on this occasion. You can usually rely on finding a smirking story about anything beer related but we couldn’t dig up anything searching dial-a-pint, beer delivery, or related terms.

There is always one last goldmine to explore, though: Facebook local history chat. This photo has been shared quite a few times, including by Mr Tonge himself, and Jan Taylor asks an interesting question in one comment: “Is this the back of Kingholm Gardens?”. And do you know what, it could well be. Someone else suggests Cramond Walk. Consensus seems to be that it’s Halliwell, anyway.

So, for now, we have no way to be sure what was going on here. Our guess is that it was someone delivering cask ale to drink at home, probably a spin-off from an off-licence.

If you were knocking about Bolton in 1970s, or have access to local sources we don’t, and can provide more information, please comment below.

Image © Don Tonge. You can find it in his book Shot in the North available here at £29.

Blogging and writing

Everything we wrote in November 2020

November was a bit more productive than October, thank goodness, or this blog might have started to acquire cobwebs.

It helped to have a bit of a project, only a small one, looking into some of those aspects of pub culture that puzzled or intrigued us.

We started the month by trying to work out what a sign we used to see in a London pub might have meant:

For years, we tried to work out what WYBMADIITY stood for, in the days before everyone had Google on their phones. We got as far as ‘Will you buy me a drink if I _____ you?’ What ITMA, Max Miller, Round the Horne naughtiness might that missing word suggest?

How important is consistency in beer? We’ve heard all sorts of opinions on this over the years and found ourselves reflecting on our own point of view as of 2020:

We want things to be consistent enough that we know what we’re going to get if we order the same thing twice, while still having scope to surprise us, just a little, in the subtle details.

What makes pubs feel like pubs? It’s at least partly the texture provided by the junk on the walls and shelves and back bar, which makes us think of the greebling on the plastic spaceships in Hollywood films.

We spent evening drinking beers from Elusive Brewing and liked them a lot:

The final round included Lord Nelson, a 6.8% saison originally brewed in collaboration with Weird Beard… [which inspired] oohing and aahing – it’s a really exciting beer. Think Dupont (classical) but with a sharp melon-grape-gooseberry note from New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops. Each sip reminded us of something different: Hopfenweisse? Tokaj? Japanese gummy sweets? We wonder how it might have fared in our saison contest of a few years back.

We reviewed our new local craft beer bar, Sidney and Eden, which proves that, in the right neighbourhood, you can make a go of this kind of specialist outlet.

Eoghan Walsh’s book Brussels Beer City seems to be going down well. We certainly enjoyed it:

What gives the book energy is Eoghan’s dogged determination to find the very last traces of these stories in real life – a broken chimney here, a faded sign there… It’s no deskbound, bookbound work of dry scholarship and even, at times, suggests mild peril. Poking through the ruins of a brewery by torchlight, kicking through the traces of recent trespassing, who or what might we bump into?

Jukeboxes are a fixture of a certain type of English pub but when did they first arrive? We reckon it can be pinned down to the late 1940s:

Throughout 1948, newspapers reported on the spread of jukeboxes much as they reported on outbreaks of coronavirus back in March this year – “Two already in Nottingham”; “Juke-box experiment for Hull”; “Juke-box music application fails” (Dewsbury)…In February 1949, a pub landlady in Liverpool, Eileen Jones of a ‘local’ on Griffiths Street, asked local licencing magistrates permission to install a jukebox. After much deliberation – would it cause noise? Bring down the tone? Prompt fighting over the choice of music? – they turned down the application.

Jess provided an update on our cider experiment now it’s had a year to mature:

It’s a gorgeous pale gold and very clear… The aroma is ever so slightly vinegary, which isn’t a good sign, although the acetic aroma dissipates quickly and doesn’t carry through into the taste… It is very dry, unsurprisingly, but I found a teaspoon of sugar per pint was enough to take the edge off.

We put together four round-ups of news, nuggets and longreads:

There was a load of stuff like this on Twitter:

And we put weekly round-ups of our favourite beers of each weekend on Patreon. We’ve had a few new sign-ups there, too – thanks, all!


Our cider experiment one year on

When I sought advice on making cider last year, the one thing everyone agreed on was timing – I should, the local gurus all said, leave it at least a year.

I don’t think my fermentation conditions were the best, truth be told. I put the vessels in the cupboard under the stairs, which is dark, but not particularly cool.

I also managed to grow mould in one of the carboys, but I’m pretty sure this is because (a) the carboy didn’t have a proper stopper (b) I had an accident with the emergency coronavirus flour sack and scattered the stuff all over everything. None of the other carboys, which were all properly sealed, had this issue.

I did try this cider at three months and at about eight months to see how it was developing. It was pretty raw but not totally unpleasant at three months.

At eight, it had begun to taste pretty mature and, it turns out, didn’t change much in the months that followed.

So how is it now?

It’s a gorgeous pale gold and very clear.

The aroma is ever so slightly vinegary, which isn’t a good sign, although the acetic aroma dissipates quickly and doesn’t carry through into the taste.

It is very dry, unsurprisingly, but I found a teaspoon of sugar per pint was enough to take the edge off.

I was very pleased with the taste and aftertaste. It has a crisp, clean, fresh apple character that hangs around for a while and does what cider should: brings the tree back to life, even when it’s out there, stripped and spindly.

Its ABV is about 6%, which appears to be the standard strength for cider.

On the whole, I’m pretty happy with the end product and look forward to seeing how it develops in the bottle. We didn’t add any further priming sugar or sweeteners but, even after a fortnight, there’s a slight hiss on opening, but no fizz.

It mulled nicely, too, providing a great baked apple background to clove and cinnamon.

We would have liked to make another batch this year but there was no way we were going to go to all that labour on our own, and obviously, our plans for a neighbourhood cider pressing party couldn’t go ahead, coz, Plague.

We’ll do it again one day, though, despite the fact we’re moving away from our lovely apple tree. Much like George’s Marvellous Medicine, there’s no way I’ll be able to recreate the serendipitous blend of varieties donated by our kind neighbours so it will be like doing it for the first time again. Next time, though, we’ll definitely use a straining sock.


News, nuggets and longreads 28 November 2020: train beer, steam beer, hedgehog glasses

Here’s all the writing on beer and pubs that caught our attention in the past week, from women in brewing to the minutiae of European beer history.

It’s been another grim week for those who worry about pubs, between the expected continuation of restrictions across most of the country and the ongoing failure of the government to provide targeted support.

The opposition is lobbying for it, though, which probably means Rishi Sunak will roll over and do it eventually… But only when publicans are at the absolute ends of their tethers, of course.

We’ve written to our local MP, which is about all you can do. We didn’t use the CAMRA form letter, though, for two reasons: form letters get thrown, unread, into a big bin marked CAMPAIGNS; and we don’t agree with the idea that there’s much of a debate to be had about the ‘fairness’ or science behind closing or restricting pubs. It makes sense to us. What doesn’t make sense is failing to accompany restrictions with grants, ideally based on previous years’ trading figures.

Beer while waiting for the train.

SOURCE: Kirsty Walker/LSTB

Christmas has come early in the form of a new post from Kirsty Walker at Lady Sinks the Booze. In ‘The Pints I Have Missed the Most’ she reflects, in typically witty style, on the social contexts in which we drink and how those, more than beer itself, is what’s missing from our lives:

The ‘missed the train’ pint… Since getting a promotion and a pay rise I have done what many working class people do and tried desperately to avoid working class people. Instead of the bus (albeit the wifi enabled fancy express bus with nightclub style lighting) I now get the train, and pay over a ton for a monthly season ticket. Of course since privatisation there are three different trains home and because I’m tight I will never pay extra to get a different company’s train if I miss mine. Hence I will spend £9 on beer, to save the £5.60 train fare.

German text about Dampfbier

Andreas Krennmair has turned his attention from Vienna beer to another historic style: Dampfbier. Does the origin story that crops up in style guides and popular guides really stand up to scrutiny?

So, the story of Dampfbier (lit. steam beer) goes like this… a 19th century Bavarian brewer who didn’t have a permit to brew with wheat malt instead brewed one with only lightly kilned barley malt and fermented it with a Weißbier yeast. As the beer was vigorously fermenting, it looked like steam coming off the beer, hence the name “Dampfbier”… The problem here is… if a beer style’s origin story sounds too good to be true, it probably is not actually rooted in history.

Tubinger hedgehog beer glass.

Adapted from Wikimedia Commons.

Also digging around in the details of German beer history is Kevin Kain of Casket Beer who has been exploring the history of a very specific type of beer glass:

With recent growth in lager production in the craft beer industry, breweries, media outlets and retailers often use a [British dimple mug] when depicting lager styles of beer… This seems odd as the similar Tübinger Kugel glass, traditionally used in Germany and Czechia, is appropriate and readily available… The origins of the Tübinger are connected to the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen in the mid to late 1800s. It was here that a glass called the Tübinger Igel, a stout, handled mug, was created for the Hedgehog Academic Student Association (Akademischen Studentenverbindung Igel.) Igel means hedgehog, and the bumpy texture is designed to match accordingly.

A box of beer.

Pedro Cotzier at The ElektroKemist has returned to blogging after a bit of a break with a long piece in which he attempts to decide which twelve beers should go into a mixed case summing up the current British beer scene:

Okay, so I have also borrowed a little from the section of the Wine Show, where Joe Fattorini tasks his two oenologically green co-hosts with going forth to pick a brace of wines (usually there are only around three iterations from a region they choose from, with each of the wine-seekers selecting a champion) from which he selects for a slot in a velvet-lined case. This in itself is not completely original in the genre which is somewhat associated with ‘Desert Island Discs’ ubiquity… However, with the wine that is picked there is a sought after sense of place, a provenance or a root into a community’s history. This is a criterion I certainly am going to uphold, as putting together a case of beers solely on quality is just a cold headed exercise in opinion and subjectivity.

Suzy Denison

SOURCE: Suzy Denison/Beervana

Jeff Alworth has decided to address a problem in the way brewery histories are recorded: why is a bloke always the hero of the tale? With that in mind, he has provided editorial support and space for Suzy Denison to explain her role in the founding of American craft beer as we know it today:

It was 1975. My oldest son had been accepted at Stanford and I was about ready to get out of Chicago and decided that we would just pick up and we’d all move to California. After unsuccessfully looking for a job in San Francisco and a place to live in Marin County, a friend said, “Well, why don’t you just take a break from looking for work and houses and go up to the wine country? It’s so beautiful.” So my daughter and I went to Sonoma and we drove around the Plaza and just fell in love with the town. And I said, OK, this is it. I mean, it was a pretty crazy, immediate decision… Then a new friend suggested, “You really should meet this guy, Jack McAuliffe. He’s interesting and he’s fun and he wants to put a brewery together. We should all go down to San Francisco to the Edinburgh Castle. It’s a great pub with fine beer and a bagpipers.”

BrewDog bar sign.

On LinkedIn, James Watt of BrewDog has written an interesting piece highlighting times when he got things wrong. It amounts to a bit of an extended humblebrag but, still, there are some fascinating details we’ll be filing away in case we ever get to write an update to Brew Britannia:

Sometimes it is really important to do things that just don’t scale. That should have been the case for Overworks, our sour beer facility. But we mistakenly misread the market for sour beers and put together an amazing facility that was simply far too big. Consequently, we were under pressure from the outset and ended up making far too many different sour beers than we could hardly even keep up with what was going on.

And finally, from Twitter, there’s this delightful bit of kitsch.

For more good reading (or, this week, quite a bit of the same reading with different commentary) check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.


When did jukeboxes arrive in British pubs?

Ask people to list the characteristic features of a great pub and they’ll eventually mention the jukebox – but when did this association begin?

This turns out to be surprisingly easy to pin down thanks to the novelty value of these electronic music boxes which guaranteed them press coverage. We can say, with some certainty, that the first pub jukeboxes arrived in Britain in the late 1940s.

Even before that date, though, the term ‘jukebox’ or ‘juke-box’ was familiar to British people through reportage from the US.

Jukeboxes, it was said, had led to a remarkable boom in sales of gramophone records. The film Juke Box Jenny was released in Britain in 1942 and American musicians were described as being “famous from the juke-boxes”.

In 1944, a writer for The Scotsman attempted to explain jukeboxes in terms British readers could understand:

“A juke-box is a mechanical contrivance to be found in most American drug-stores which supplies music on the insertion of an appropriate coin.” (10/07/1944)

It was in that year that the first widely accessible jukeboxes arrived in Britain, appearing in amusement arcades alongside other such ‘mechanical contrivances’.

A hint of things to come – of the jukebox in social settings – can be found in the presence of an imported machine at ‘Dunker’s Den’, the teetotal cafe-bar at the American serviceman’s club on Shaftesbury Avenue in London.

A sketch of American servicemen round a jukebox.

Terence Cuneo/British Newspaper Archive.

This particular jukebox, as befits its cultural importance, got an official portrait by Terence Cuneo, accompanying a note in the Illustrated London News for 31 March 1945:

“Music never ceases In Dunker’s Den, one of the most popular places at the American Red Cross Club, Rainbow Corner, for the members start the Juke-box early in the morning and play it continuously until 3 a.m. or until it is cut off because of some special programme going on. The Juke-box is a radiogram with a stock of twenty-four records, and by pressing a chosen button the American soldier is able to listen to his favourite tune for one penny a time. The men enjoy the records because they are a definite link with home.”

Then, in 1946, band leader Jack Hylton launched what was said to be the first British made jukebox, capable of holding 16 records, and built with pubs in mind as a possible target.

In April 1947 a fascinating article called ‘Whither the English Inn’ by Russell Warren Howe for The Sketch provided this detail in passing:

“I fear modernism will overrun everything… In Shakespeare’s Stratford, one of the best inns already has a juke-box.”

Throughout 1948, newspapers reported on the spread of jukeboxes much as they reported on outbreaks of coronavirus back in March this year – “Two already in Nottingham”; “Juke-box experiment for Hull”; “Juke-box music application fails” (Dewsbury). But these were generally confined to amusement arcades and cafes.

In February 1949, a pub landlady in Liverpool, Eileen Jones of a ‘local’ on Griffiths Street, asked local licencing magistrates permission to install a jukebox. After much deliberation – would it cause noise? Bring down the tone? Prompt fighting over the choice of music? – they turned down the application. (Liverpool Echo, 08/02/1949.)

An advertisement for Bal-Ami jukeboxes.

SOURCE: The Licensed Victuallers’ Gazette, February 1961.

By 1956, though, the Guardian was observing the gradual creep of the jukebox into pubs nationwide:

“[The] most unlikely places have surrendered their immunity. A London journalist reports finding a little inn in a North Country market town full of pewter and sporting prints, which seemed just the place to take his ease early after a long day’s driving. His head had barely touched the pillow when the notes of the latest Rock ‘n’ Roll tune floated up from the bar – the prelude to a performance which lasted till closing time. The morning disclosed a juke-box standing unashamedly beneath the polished horse-brasses, and lunch-time brought its best customers, two local youths, back for more music.”

So, to summarise:

  • Invented in the 1920s
  • Limited presence in the UK in the 1930s
  • Surge in interest in the 1940s
  • First pub jukebox installed c.1947
  • Spread throughout the 1950s
  • Part of the scenery by the 1960s