Stonch’s piece on lagers made in the UK made me think about why lager got so popular in the UK so quickly in the late 20th century. As the British Beer and Pub Association say:
Until 1960 lager accounted for less than one per cent of the British beer market… it was not generally provided on draught until 1963. Since then its growth has been phenomenal and it now accounts for almost half the beer market in Britain.
I’ve heard various explanations.
1. The big breweries were determined to move from cask to keg, and lager works better from kegs than ale. Faced with a choice between John Smith’s smooth flow and Fosters, I’d probably go for Fosters, so there might be something in that.
2. People picked up the taste for cold lager on package holidays in continental Europe, and especially Spain. It seemed more refreshing and more ‘sophisticated’ than boring old British ale.
3. As the British diet got more varied and spicy after the end of rationing in the early 1950s, people wanted a lighter, more refreshing beer to go with it. Here’s a bit from an article on the history of the curry from The Observer:
Like so much else connected with curry… the origins of lager-drinking with Indian food are mysterious. Namita Panjabi has been told that in the early days of Veeraswamy in London’s West End, which was founded in 1927, the King of Denmark came whenever he was in the country. Frustrated at not being able to drink Carlsberg – which wasn’t then available here – he shipped over a barrel, so that when he came to eat it would be available for him.
4. All of the above are probably partly true, but my favourite theory is that British soldiers serving in Germany during the war, and then the cold war, came back to the UK as enthusiastic advocates of lager, and demanded the same product back home. My uncle, who was stationed in Germany in the 1960s, certainly speaks fondly of the steins of lager he enjoyed in Munich, and has been a lager man ever since.
Living in London, I’m used to seeing the ghostly indications of defunct breweries everywhere I look – Taylor Walker; Truman Hanbury and Buxton; and, yes, Barclay Perkins. But the whole time I was growing up in Somerset, I didn’t once notice the arguably more subtle remains of the big regional brewery, Starkey, Knight and Ford.
Nowadays, you can spot their old pub buildings – many of which are now shops – by their black horse plaques.
From what I can tell, SKF were established in Bridgwater (or possibly Tiverton, in Devon) but then expanded aggressively into the surrounding towns (notably Taunton
– this pamphlet is excellent). Googling them reveals very little other than a trail of takeovers of smaller breweries throughout the 20th century, until they themselves were subsumed by the colossal Whitbread empire in the early 1960s.
My Dad: “They had a big range of beers. There was double X at about 3.2%; triple X at about 3.8%; and four X at around 4.1%. Triple X was the best – sort of nutty, from what I remember.
“There was one called Lighthouse, named after the lighthouse on the beach at Burnham-on-Sea, and a stout, but I can’t remember the name. The brewery was right in the centre of town, behind where the swimming pool is now. I was drinking their beer right up until about 1966, when they started getting replaced in the pubs by Whitbread’s own beers.”
You can see the remains of SKF pubs on Fore Street (pic 1), Taunton Road (pic 2) and West Quay (pic 3) in Bridgwater, and on the Knowle Inn, Bawdrip (pic 4). For more details of remaining SKF livery, see the excellent defunct brewery history site.
Sherlock Holmes didn’t much go for beer. I read today, in one of the millions of footnotes in William S Baring Gould’s Annotated Sherlock Holmes, that in all of the 56 short stories and four novels, he drinks beer only a handful of times. On two occasions, it’s half-and-half, which he drinks when disguised as a working man.
But that didn’t stop him posing for this advertisement for Mann’s Brown Ale in the 1950s (click for bigger version).
Although, to be fair, it’s Watson who’s the boozer in this case.
Picture taken from Peter Haining’s Sherlock Holmes Scrapbook.
Wrocław, Poland, is a fascinating place. It’s been part of Bohemia, Poland, Germany, and probably a few other countries I’ve forgotten. It also has a decent brew pub, Spiż, in the town square – probably on the same site as a German bierkeller from its days as the German city of Breslau.
What I didn’t realise until today is that it was also the home of something called “The beer war of 1380”. The city’s website says:
The duality of municipal governance – ecclesiastical and secular – gave rise to the famous ‘beer war’ of 1380. The City Council defended the city’s monopoly on the sale of beer against the Cathedral canons, who lived in Ostrów Tumski (Cathedral Island). As a result, an interdict (a church disciplinary measure) was imposed on the city’s churches, which were subsequently pillaged. It took a papal bull to end the conflict.
Now, having a war about beer really is taking it too seriously.
I read about the beer war in Norman Davies’ Microcosm, a history of the city of Wrocław/Breslau. In the same book, he also talks intriguingly about the two dominant beers in Wrocław in the middle ages. One was called “Schöps” – Davies says it was a brand name and was first mentioned in 1392. It came to be the most popular brand in the area in the late 15th century, superceding something called “Schweidnitzer”. I’m adding both to the list of weird historical beers, along with Pimlico Ale.
Also see a much older post, “Why isn’t Polish beer good?”
The Essex Brewery used to be on St James Street in Walthamstow, east London. It was demolished in 1975. But there are still signs of the brewery’s existence in the immediate area. A nearby pub – which seems now to be abandoned, having been a nightclub in recent years – bears the brewery’s name.
I’m keen to find out more about “Collier Brothers Essex Brewery”. For now, I’ve found this brief history, at the East London and City Beer Guide Online:
Only one takeover, apart from the Wenlock Brewery Co Ltd, has been made by a brewery outside London. This was when Tollemache Breweries Ltd of Ipswich acquired Collier Brothers, Essex Brewery, St Jamess Street, Walthamstow in 1920. Founded by Williams Hawes in 1859. Brewing ceased in 1972 and the brewery has been demolished.
There’s also this interesting trade advert at the British Library website.
And this from the amazing British History Online website:
A brewer was listed in 1848. (fn. 169) In 1859 there were two, one of them being William Hawes, who built the steam-powered Walthamstow Brewery in St. James Street. (fn. 170) The Essex Brewery Co. Ltd. was formed in 1871 to buy Hawes’s brewery, (fn. 171) but apparently failed to attract subscribers, for the brewery was acquired by Collier Bros., who operated it as the Essex Brewery, until 1922. It was then sold to Tollemache’s Breweries Ltd., to whom it still belonged in 1968. (fn. 172)
From: ‘Walthamstow: Economic history, marshes and forests’, A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6 (1973), pp. 263–75. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=42779. Date accessed: 26 July 2007.