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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