Books about pubs from the pre-CAMRA era rarely give beer more than a passing mention.
Richard Keverne’s Tales of Old Inns (1939; rev. 1951) is really about architecture, and inns are not necessarily pubs, but, still, it seems odd that not once (as far as we have been able to see) is beer mentioned in its 160 pages.
Hunter Davies The New London Spy (1966) covers pubs at length, but with an emphasis on atmosphere, decor and food. It includes only one comment on beer:
The amazing thing about the popularity of the French [the York Minster, Dean Street], is its badness as a pub qua pub. There are no pint glasses, for instance, and your unsuspecting customer asking for a pint is simply served with a half, without explanation, and you can only get Watney’s Red Barrel in the way of beer.
The chapter on ‘Drink’ by Adrian Bailey in Len Deighton’s London Dossier (1967) offers a lengthy passage on the wonders of bitter and beer ‘from the wood’ but, when it comes to recommending pubs, beer doesn’t seem to be a particular draw. The Olde Wine Shades is listed because of its ‘Rich ruby port and thin, pale sherry, burgundies and clarets’; the Admiral Codrington in Mossop Street, Chelsea, ‘keeps more than a hundred different whiskies’; while the Chelsea Potter in the King’s Road has ‘the largest variety of aperitifs and spirits in London’. The greatest development of recent times, the author explains, is the availability in pubs of wine by the glass, in defiance of brewers who would ‘rather have them sell beer’.
Martin Green and Tony White, in their Guide to London Pubs (1968) mention beer but their listings for pubs (from the few we’ve been able to see here — still hunting a copy of our own) suggest that music, atmosphere and novelty value (Go Go cages!) are far more important considerations.
We suspect it is only with the arrival on the scene of CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide in the 1970s that we began to see the popularisation of the idea that a pub can only really be great if it has great beer.
This is yet more thinking aloud from us. Feel free to disagree as you would in a pub debate, while sipping your aperitif, glass of wine or whisky.