Advice for Pub Staff, 1965, Pt.1 – the Beer

A selection of beer mats from around the 1960s.

The 1965 book Bar Service offers a snapshot of what was going on in pubs at the time and contains lots of interesting, often amusing, details.

It was writ­ten by James H. Coombs and pub­lished by Bar­rie & Rock­liff. It is illus­trat­ed with car­toons by Bill Hoop­er, like this:

CARTOON: Disgruntled publican surrounded by empty glasses.

Coombs was a for­mer solic­i­tor who, after serv­ing in the cater­ing sec­tion of the RAF dur­ing World War II, end­ed up work­ing in pubs in work­ing class dis­tricts of Lon­don such as Kil­burn and Ele­phant & Cas­tle. He ran the bars of Collins’ Music Hall for sev­er­al years and, by the time this book came out, was the pro­pri­etor of a train­ing school for pub­li­cans and their staff.

He opens the book with what we now recog­nise as the tra­di­tion­al ‘Aban­don All Hope’ warn­ing:

So you fan­cy enter­ing the Licensed Trade? You have thought it over and made up your mind that serv­ing drinks to an unap­pre­cia­tive and some­times down­right rude pub­lic is just the life for you? … To make a real suc­cess of Bar­man­ship you have got to like it… From the cus­tomer’s side of the bar some very strange ideas pre­vail about the ‘won­der­ful life’ behind the bar. These often stem from semi-alco­holics who think it must be heav­en to be sur­round­ed by unlim­it­ed drink.

This part of the book is the part that will be of most inter­est to many, cap­tur­ing as it does the moment when mild had been usurped by bit­ter, lager was just on the rise, and keg was over­tak­ing what we now know as ‘cask’ or ‘real ale’ but which Mr Coombs sim­ply called ‘draught beer’. He starts out by explain­ing the rea­sons for the decline in the pop­u­lar­i­ty of cask ale: poor­ly trained staff under­tak­ing cel­lar-work in place of expe­ri­ence cel­lar­men; the decreas­ing strength of ale in the face of heavy tax­a­tion; and changes in pub­lic taste and habits. Of the lat­ter, he says:

It was usu­al before World War II for the ordi­nary work­ing man to come alone into the pub­lic bar for half a pint of ale and five ‘Weights’  [cig­a­rettes] (total 4½d). Now he may come into the saloon with his wife or daugh­ter for a lager and lime and a large gin and ton­ic and twen­ty ‘Senior Ser­vice’ – and good luck to him!

He regard­ed ‘Pres­sure Beer in the shape of “Keg” or  “Can­is­ter” beer’ as a hope­ful devel­op­ment ‘which may go a long way towards main­tain­ing and even strength­en­ing the pre­mier posi­tion which draught beer has always held’.

The cover of 'Bar Service'.

Bottled Beer

There is a long chap­ter on bot­tled beer. Pale ale (AKA light ale) and brown ale, says Coombs, made up ‘the bulk of the bot­tled trade in most Lon­don and sub­ur­ban hous­es – apart from Guin­ness.’ There were also ‘Spe­cial Beers… heav­ier alco­holi­cal­ly and well adver­tised by nation­al brew­ers’:

They are, of course, dear­er than the light beers and are the pride of their respec­tive brew­eries. They are pale in colour and sparkling. Rarely, if ever, does any­thing go wrong with any of these beers – it would be an event to find one of them out of con­di­tion except through neg­li­gence.

Heavy beers (bar­ley wines) are list­ed next, then India Pale Ales (‘a pale bit­ter beer’), and Colne Spring Ale which gets its own sec­tion:

This is a strong and potent ale, and if you hear any man boast that he drank ten pints one evening and then walked home you can safe­ly say he is not telling the whole truth – he prob­a­bly walked home two days lat­er! … Pro­duced by Ben­skins of Wat­ford (Ind Coope)… [it is] care­ful­ly brewed to the most exact­ing lim­its, is is after­wards stored in casks for twelve months, dur­ing which time these hogsheads are reg­u­lar­ly rolled and topped up. Dur­ing this time a fer­men­ta­tion takes place which gives the beer a high alco­holic con­tent and its char­ac­ter­is­tic flavour.

(This was prob­a­bly Bret­tanomyces doing its thing, although last time we checked there was an ongo­ing debate about this among beer his­to­ri­ans.)

What we would today call bot­tle-con­di­tioned beers are described as ‘Nat­ur­al Beers’ and detailed instruc­tions are giv­en for avoid­ing ‘cloudy and unpalat­able’ pours:

Even so you may find some cus­tomers who insist on hav­ing the sed­i­ment poured into the glass – some­times pour­ing it in them­selves… [And] there are eccentrics who enjoy ‘The Bot­toms’ as a final ‘Liqueur’…

(Some­thing some­thing hip­sters some­thing some­thing.)

Cus­tomers will ask you for a ‘Baby Ben’, a ‘Mack­ey’, a ‘D.D.’, a ‘J.C.’ or a ‘Red’ and you will not look very intel­li­gent if you have to enquire what they mean.”

In the sec­tion on lager, which lists many famous brand names, Hol­sten gets a per­haps sur­pris­ing shout out as ‘a first-class brew, stored (lagered) for six months pri­or to ship­ment… a nat­ur­al lager (not car­bon­at­ed)’. There’s a her­itage there wait­ing to be reclaimed. More gen­er­al­ly, lager is described as being a joke to ‘hard­ened beer drinkers… a slight­ly “off-beat” drink with a cer­tain snob appeal’. And you know that grape­fruit beer trend that some peo­ple find annoy­ing? Well, lager and lime we know, but…

The Amer­i­cans start­ed a vogue by adding Lime Juice Cor­dial to lager… Younger cus­tomers some­times call for Lime Juice in Pale Ale – pre­sum­ably for the same effect.

Stout is divid­ed into two famil­iar cat­e­gories, sweet and dry, and a nice detail here is a report on the pop­u­lar­i­ty of Mac-and-Mild – as you might imag­ine, a mix of Mack­e­son milk stout and mild. There’s a huge amount of rev­er­ent detail on how to store, han­dle and serve Guin­ness, which makes it sound like wran­gling a wild ani­mal. And there’s more evi­dence of the sta­tus of stout as pri­mar­i­ly a ladies’ drink, despite the macho image it acquired in lat­er decades:

The old ladies in your ‘Pri­vate Bar’ are the great­est con­nois­seurs of Guin­ness and you may safe­ly trust their judge­ment… If they say it is ‘no good’ change it at once with­out quib­bling.

Draught Beer

In the chap­ter on cask, keg and tank beer Coombs observes that mild ale, AKA XX, is on the outs:

The trend in recent years has been… towards Bit­ter which many can now afford an con­sid­er much bet­ter val­ue for mon­ey. In some pub­lic-hous­es mild ale is not even on sale and apart from a few elder­ly old-timers who will stick to their pints it is more often sold mixed…

The mix­es list­ed are:

  • Light and Mild – cask mild with bot­tled pale ale in a pint glass
  • Brown and Mild AKA up and down – cask mild with bot­tled brown ale
  • Stout and Mild – you get the idea
  • Mild and Bit­ter – cask mild with cask bit­ter
  • Old and Mild – cask mild with cask old ale

Mild, he says, is usu­al­ly dark in Lon­don and the South of Eng­land but ‘should always pull up clear – crys­tal clear… If it is “murky“ or “mud­dy” some­thing is wrong’. (An ear­ly use of ‘murky’ in this con­text, by the way.) It should also have a ‘nice creamy head’.

Bit­ter was clear­ly at this time the pre­mi­um prod­uct: ‘Brew­ers take immense trou­ble… ensur­ing that it reach­es your cel­lar in clean, sparkling and prime con­di­tion’. They would, Coombs says, replace a bad cask at the drop of a hat rather than risk any dam­age to their rep­u­ta­tion, ‘so there is no excuse for serv­ing any­thing short of the very best’. Fore­shad­ow­ing the com­ing of CAMRA he also men­tions that ‘You may have one or more qual­i­ties of Bit­ter to deal with; in a “Free” house there may be eight or ten!’

Bass and Wor­thin­gon are treat­ed dis­tinct­ly as ‘the ulti­mate in draught bit­ter’, with men­tion made of their fans whose ‘opin­ion con­stant­ly voiced’ is that they are best drawn from the wood. Had he encoun­tered the bol­shy men of the SPBW, do you think?

Anoth­er hint of the con­sumer revolt just around the cor­ner comes with this pas­sage on resis­tance to the rise of keg:

It must be men­tioned… that some [brew­ers] stead­fast­ly refused to have any­thing to do with any such new­fan­gled notions, stand­ing by the time-hon­oured method of deliv­ery and ser­vice, and, giv­en good cel­lar­men, who will say that they are wrong?

The final pas­sage on beer cov­ers its prepa­ra­tion for ser­vice and high­lights an inter­est­ing change in ter­mi­nol­o­gy: brew­eries, Coombs says, sent out beer in five forms – Fined, Unfined, Racked and Fil­tered, Pres­sure or Tank. Unfined, a buzz­word in 2017, did­n’t mean hazy or cloudy, only that the pub­li­can or his cel­lar staff were expect­ed to admin­is­ter the fin­ings, sup­plied by the brew­ery, on site. Could the pres­ence of vet­er­ans in the trade be one expla­na­tion for why this kind of thing keeps hap­pen­ing?

One final nugget on this top­ic: the glos­sary at the back of the book lists ‘Fishguts’ as tra­di­tion­al cel­lar­men’s slang for fin­ings, so nei­ther Brew­Dog nor any oth­er 21st Cen­tu­ry cap­i­tal-C-craft brew­ery gets the blame/credit for that con­tro­ver­sial bit of slang after all.

We were tipped off to this book by Mark Hazell and John Lester in com­ments on last week’s post about con tricks in pubs – thanks, chaps!

11 thoughts on “Advice for Pub Staff, 1965, Pt.1 – the Beer”

  1. Good stuff. Inter­est­ing that lager and lime is blamed on the Yanks. When we were drink­ing it in the late ’80s we through it was a British thing.

  2. It sounds as if he’s using ‘draught’ to mean ‘any­thing that comes out of a tap (which at that time would almost invari­ably mean cask)’ rather than ‘cask’. Oth­er­wise, when he looks for­ward to keg ‘main­tain­ing and even strength­en­ing the pre­mier posi­tion which draught beer has always held’, he’d have to be say­ing that the pre­mier posi­tion of cask will gain from the con­trast with keg, which does­n’t fit with his pos­i­tive atti­tude to keg.

    1. It’s quite con­fused. He uses draught to mean cask, *and* to mean the super-cat­e­go­ry of bulk beer that includes cask. Before the 1969 Sup­ply of Beer report and the arrival of CAMRA the ter­mi­nol­o­gy was a total mud­dle.

  3. I thought the book looked famil­iar, so I took a clos­er inspec­tion of my book­case, and found the very same edi­tion tucked away in there, com­plete with iden­ti­cal dust-jack­et.

    To my eter­nal shame, I have pre­vi­ous­ly only flicked through the pages, but fol­low­ing your review I will give the book the prop­er cov­er-to-cov­er read it deserves.

    Inci­den­tal­ly, lager and lime was in vogue when I start­ed drink­ing, back in the ear­ly 1970’s. I thought it was a soft-drink at first, as there was a blend­ed drink avail­able at the time, called limeade and lime!

    ps. I went through a phase around 20 years ago, of buy­ing up books on beer, brew­ing and pubs, as there were quite a few of them around in char­i­ty and sec­ond-hand book­shops.

        1. Hey” rather than “Oooh” shure­ly, or is that a gen­er­a­tional thing?

          Fun­ny how the mind plays tricks, I remem­bered him as more cud­dly than that.

          And the ran­dom things one finds whilst look­ing for oth­er things, a ran­dom video of some­one drink­ing 66-year-old Baby­cham. It has to be said that they’re not the most sophis­ti­cat­ed of tast­ing notes, and it does get quite sweary, but FWIW :

          1. Gen­er­a­tional is about right – I remem­ber the “ooh” line being deliv­ered straight, by a cock­ney­ish ‘bub­bly blonde’ type. That video’s the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion iron­ic so-uncool-it’s-cool ver­sion.

          2. Is this the one?

            Pos­si­bly the most 80s advert ever, I must have seen it but just has­n’t stuck in my mind unlike “Hey”. Although the lat­ter has a nod to it at 11s, where the girl in pearls says “Oh, I’d love a Baby­Cham”.

            It’s inter­est­ing watch­ing the evo­lu­tion of Baby­Cham adverts – in the 50s and 60s the catch­phrase was “Baby­Cham? I’d love a Baby­Cham!”.

            Whilst in that neigh­bour­hood – it’s fas­ci­nat­ing to watch the Heineken “Major­ca” ad from around the same time.

  4. No, that one’s riff­ing on the orig­i­nal “ooh” as well. There used to be a whole strand of booze adverts for “lady’s drinks” aimed at men – all say­ing, more or less sub­tly, “you can get her drunk on this”. I remem­ber one for a pas­sion-fruit liqueur, fea­tur­ing a group of girls one of whom is set up as a bit loud & brash. Enter a nice nor­mal cou­ple, who ask about the new liqueur & have it explained to them by the bar­man. Loud girl, over­hear­ing: “Pas­sion fruit? I’ll have some of that!” (dirty laugh). Mes­sage sent: if your girl­friend’s like this and you’d rather she was more like that

    Any­way, the “ooh, I’d love a Baby­cham” I remem­ber from the 70s was in that ter­ri­to­ry – if you’re try­ing to get her off the Cokes (and you can’t buy her a beer, obvi­ous­ly), try one of these.

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