The post-Camden world

A recent in-depth listicle from Pellicle made us reflect on how Camden Hells was a turning point, though we didn’t recognise the turn while it was taking place.

Back in around 2012, it was easy to over­look: sharp brand­ing aside, it was just anoth­er ‘craft lager’, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Zero Degrees, Mean­time and Free­dom.

We didn’t think it tast­ed espe­cial­ly excit­ing – per­haps a touch more appeal­ing than some main­stream draught lagers.

The com­pa­ny had its fans, but also its detrac­tors, not least those in the indus­try irri­tat­ed by a sense that it was out­right buy­ing cov­er­age, or was over-hyped, or was fail­ing to be trans­par­ent with con­sumers.

What we should have paid more atten­tion to was that our friends who weren’t espe­cial­ly inter­est­ed in beer – who would turn pale if you accused them of being beer geeks – seemed to like Hells a lot. They were switch­ing from Foster’s, Stel­la, Per­oni, and (per­haps cru­cial­ly) drink­ing Hells just as they’d drunk those oth­er beers: by the pint, pint after pint.

With hind­sight, it’s easy to see why they’d make the switch. Hells was light-tast­ing, rea­son­ably strong, clean and clear; usu­al­ly came in smart but chunky glass­ware; and the brand­ing was nice – bold, con­tem­po­rary, declar­ing itself a Lon­don­er.

To reit­er­ate, Hells cer­tain­ly wasn’t the first British craft lager, but it might yet turn out to be the most influ­en­tial.

It prob­a­bly prompt­ed Fuller’s Fron­tier (2013), Adnams Dry Hopped (2013), and Guin­ness Hop House 13 (2015), to name but three exam­ples.

And we’re cer­tain it’s why brew­eries like Moor have been unable to resist giv­ing lager a go in recent years, even though that’s not some­thing that seemed on the agen­da for them a decade ago.

The recent launch of Carls­berg Dan­ish Pil­sner must also sure­ly be a reac­tion to Hells, or at least indi­rect­ly, via Hop House 13 and the oth­ers.

Beese’s Tea Gardens – Biergarten-am-Avon

The riv­er for the first half mile is abom­inably dirty, and for some dis­tance above that is not to be called clean. In addi­tion to the water being so dirty, very unsavoury odours assail your nos­trils, at inter­vals, for the first mile as you pass through the parish of St. Philip’s. After the first mile or so you come into the fresh air of the coun­try. The water here is beau­ti­ful­ly clear, and if the weath­er is fine every­thing is very enjoy­able. At one bend of the riv­er a rail­way pass­es very near it, and to strength­en the banks it has been found nec­es­sary to build some arch­es which are now cov­ered with ivy, which gives them a very roman­tic and pleas­ing appear­ance — quite unlike the mat­ter-of-fact appear­ance of an ordi­nary rail­way embank­ment. After this the riv­er is of the most pleas­ing descrip­tion. A short dis­tance above the ivy-cov­ered arch­es is a land­ing for boats called Beese’s Tea Gar­dens. The Tea Gar­dens are three and a half miles from Bris­tol, so it is just a suit­able dis­tance there and back for an after­noon. It is quite easy to go up this length any half hol­i­day after call over, and to be back by lock up.

R.W.W. in The Clifton­ian, 1867

Beese’s Tea Gar­dens opened on the banks of the Avon in 1846 as a part­ner busi­ness to the Con­ham Fer­ry.

Nowa­days, under the name Beese’s River­side Bar, there’s as much beer, cider and wine drunk as tea, and lit­tle evi­dence of Vic­to­ri­an her­itage in the fix­tures and fit­tings, but, still, it’s an incred­i­ble sur­vivor.

We first came across it last sum­mer on an evening walk, hear­ing the chim­ing of glass­ware and song of con­ver­sa­tion from the wrong side of the water. From a dis­tance it looked and sound­ed like a Ger­man beer gar­den. We didn’t stop then but made a note to come back.

Last Sat­ur­day, we approached from Broomhill, cut­ting from a coun­cil estate into a slop­ing park where teenagers flirt­ed on the climb­ing frame next to a bas­ket­ball court. A short walk down a wood­ed path brought us to a gate that might have been trans­plant­ed from Bavaria.

Tables under the shade of a tree.

Down fur­ther, all the way down to sea lev­el, we found tables scat­tered across a lawn and huge, old trees pol­ished smooth by a cen­tu­ry of clam­ber­ing chil­dren.

It’s almost mag­i­cal, except it’s also very British: the self-ser­vice bar feels as if it ought to be at a Butlin’s hol­i­day camp and the ser­vice was abrupt to the point of aggres­sion. (Though it warmed up lat­er as the lunchtime rush passed.)

Beer and cider cans.

We drank Veltins, served in chunky Ger­man han­dled glass­ware for the first round, albeit with a stingy head of foam, and sat on a table in the shade.

I used to think it was for old ladies, the Tea Gar­dens,” said an old­er woman to her friend, “but it’s nice, innit?  It’s a laugh. And you can smoke, too. It’s  treat to have a prop­er fag.”

The River Avon

There’s some­thing class­less about the place, and a sense that it exists out­side real­i­ty, like Brigadoon. We not­ed Amer­i­cans, Spaniards, Poles, Roma­ni­ans, hip­pies, hip­sters, fam­i­lies from the estate up the hill, and plum­my tote-bag tot­ers with extrav­a­gant­ly named free-range chil­dren, and yet no ten­sion beyond occa­sion­al pas­sive-aggres­sion in pur­suit of the prime seats.

It’s so peace­ful that a boat pass­ing reg­is­ters as a major event, draw­ing peo­ple to the water’s edge to watch. We saw fer­ries, row­ers, and even a swim­mer at one point. (We wor­ry for them; we’ve heard that swim­ming here tends to make you sick.)

Beese's from the other bank

The trees and the danc­ing of light through the leaves are what makes it feel like a Ger­man beer gar­den – a sense of being out­side but shel­tered, enfold­ed in green.

Get­ting the fer­ry across the water (£1 for a 45 sec­ond jour­ney, but it beats pad­dling) was the per­fect way to fin­ish – a return to the real world in a puff of diesel fumes.

Beese’s River­side Bar is open Fri­day 12:00–11:00 pm, Sat­ur­day 12:00–11:00 pm, Sun­day 12:00–7:00 pm through­out the sum­mer sea­son.

Beer in ‘Victory’ magazine, September 1945

Victory was the magazine for armed services in India during World War II. We found a solitary tatty copy in a bargain bin in a bookshop – the September 1945 edition – and of course noticed references to beer throughout.

First, there are the adverts: one in the front for lager and one at the back for pale ale and stout. (Here’s Mur­ree today; and here’s Mohan Meakin.)

Advert for lion pilsener beer. Advert for Solan pale ale and XXX stout.

Then there are illus­tra­tions for arti­cles and sto­ries which include beer when they don’t need to – the first accom­pa­nies a com­ic tall tale of the adven­tures of an RAF offi­cer, and the sec­ond a soupy tale of a sol­dier falling in love remote­ly with a comrade’s sis­ter.

RAF officer with pint. Photo and pints of beer.

Final­ly, though it has no illus­tra­tion of note, there’s a fan­tas­tic piece called ‘The Man in the Cor­ner on… Rationing’. The Man in the Cor­ner is a hec­tor­ing bore who argues in favour of con­tin­u­ing rationing even after the war because he thinks it’s good for peo­ple, good for soci­ety, and incon­ve­niences peo­ple he doesn’t like. The punch­line is:

There’s only one thing I’m all against rationing – and that’s beer. It’s fair tired me out this war run­ning from pub to pub – first it’s fetch your own glass, then it’s only half-a-pint served at any one time, then it’s reg­u­lar cus­tomers only… there’s half-a-dozen kinds of what you might call rationing. And I hate the lot of them.

All of this ties into a the­o­ry we’ve had brew­ing for a while: that the rea­son beer and pubs sud­den­ly became respectable top­ics to write about, and accept­able as hob­bies, was because of the gen­er­al break­down of class dis­tinc­tions brought about by the war. We’re going to explore that thought a lit­tle more in anoth­er blog post soon.

News, nuggets and longreads 18 May 2019: ratings, lager, and lager ratings

Here’s everything that struck as particularly interesting in writing about beer and pubs in the past week, from Carlsberg to Cambridge.

First, some news: those Red­church rum­blings from the oth­er week are now con­firmed – the brew­ery went into admin­is­tra­tion and is now under new own­er­ship. This has prompt­ed an inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion about crowd­fund­ing:


More news: it’s intrigu­ing to hear that Curi­ous is expand­ing. It’s a brew­ery you don’t hear talked about much by geeks like us – in fact, we’re not sure we’ve ever tried the beer – but it does turn up in a sur­pris­ing num­ber of pubs and restau­rants.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, nuggets and lon­greads 18 May 2019: rat­ings, lager, and lager rat­ings”

Sparklers, in summary

The Grey Horse, Manchester.

So, to sum­marise:

  • Sparklers work best with well-con­di­tioned beer, bring­ing some of c02 out of sus­pen­sion to form a denser head, but leav­ing plen­ty in the body of the pint.
  • But if a beer is low on con­di­tion, a sparkler might well rob it of what lit­tle CO2 it has, leav­ing it with a head, but even flat­ter beneath.
  • There­fore, sparklers might equal­ly be used to make beer in poor con­di­tion look bet­ter than it is, or to give a beer in good con­di­tion a par­tic­u­lar pre­sen­ta­tion.
  • But there’s no way for a drinker to know until they taste it.
  • Sparklers may also mute or oth­er­wise affect per­cep­tion of cer­tain flavours and aro­mas. Some beers are brewed with this in mind.
  • Oth­er­wise, it’s a mat­ter of per­son­al pref­er­ence.
  • So sparklers are nei­ther pure­ly good, not pure­ly evil.

Is that about it?