Look For Dates, Find Stories

Advert for the Barley Mow pub, St Albans, 1983.

In trying to pin down some more dates for our list of key points in the development of Britain’s alternative beer culture, we’ve found some fascinating stories and subjects for further exploration.

First, thanks to some very helpful input from commenters on the original post, Twitterers and the Pub Curmudgeon, we started looking into the Barley Mow in St Albans as an early, if not the first, ‘real ale pub’. That’s not a pub that has some real ale on offer, but a pub which specialiases in, and sells itself on the strength of, having lots of real ale. We now know, thanks to CAMRA Hertfordshire’s complete online archive of newsletters dating back to 1976, the full story of the Barley Mow and its various landlords and landladies (link to PDF).

Another name in the frame as an early ‘beer exhibition’ was the Hole in the Wall in Waterloo. This blog post gives us some personal recollections and a quote from the 1975 Good Beer Guide, but if anyone can point us to a CAMRA newsletter or any other source with dates and details, we’d be grateful.

One of the commenters on the original post mentioned the Litchborough Brewery founded in Northamptonshire by Bill Urquhart in 1974. Mr Urquhart’s story, from what we’ve been able to find so far, is fascinating and familiar: he worked for a big regional brewer which was taken over and closed but he wasn’t ready to hang up his wellies and so founded his own small brewery. He later acted as a consultant to other small breweries which followed in his wake. But, pioneering as he was, he certainly wasn’t a young, dangerous maverick on a mission to shake things up: the beer he brewed was a clone of the brown bitter he’d previously brewed at Phipps.

(The current outfit producing beers under the Phipps name, by the way, appears to be dedicated to brewing historic recipes. Anyone tried them?)

Finally, we were astonished to discover that the first completely new brewery to open in Britain in fifty years was Westbury Ales in Somerset, in 1973. (Selby, in 1972, was a re-opening.) A pilgrimage may be in order next time we go to visit Bailey’s folks.

8 thoughts on “Look For Dates, Find Stories”

  1. phipps are a pretend brewery.the beer is brewed by Grainstore brewery and imo is dull .cheers john

  2. I was delighted to hear of the beer being brewed again under the NBC/Phipps name, especially since they used the old six-pointed brewers’ star logo. Sadly the one time I did encounter the beer on draught it was terrible. I shall give it another go if I ever see it again, though.

  3. Becky’s Dive Bar in Southwark was famous for its range of real ale in the ’60s, as described in Richard Boston’s “Beer and Skittles”

      1. Reading it in about 1990 started my interest in beer. Much of the UK beer and pub scene then wasn’t much different to what he was describing in the mid 70s.

        1. Looking forward to reading it. Should have said that we ordered it because Des de Moor mentioned Becky’s on Twitter and a Google Books search turned up that and a couple of other books. (Another is Len Deighton’s 1967 London Dossier, apparently, also on its way…)

  4. I didn’t mind the Phipps beer, I drank it at the Ship Inn in Oundle last year, I think if its meant to be a recreation of a beer that was last brewed many decades ago, an accurate recreation would probably taste much less hoppy, probably thicker and much more malty than the beer we drink today. Could that render it dull?

    It makes you wonder therefore, if we recreated many more dead beers especially those which were meant to have been woeful like Offilers and Devenish, would we be disapointed?

    Meanwhile, beer and skittles is a fab book, I reckon you’ll like it, can’t remember if it had pics but there are some fantastic ones in The Death of The British Pub by Christopher Hutt, which no doubt you have a copy of.

    1. Actually, my memory is that, while truly hoppy beers were rare in the 1970s, many beers then were actually more distinctive than they became maybe 15 or 20 years later, when they had been “dumbed down” to avoid offending anyone’s palate. I remember my first taste of Abbot Ale and finding it had an aggressive, earthy hoppiness that initially was a bit hard to get used to. May just be rose-tinted spectacles, of course, but I think the phenomenon of dumbing-down has been widely reported. By 1995, if not 1990, Boddingtons and Holts Bitters were nothing like they had been in the late 70s. I also subjectively remember many beers as being more aromatic than they later became.

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