Nineteen-Seventy-Four: Birth of the Beer Guide

In 1974 the first edition of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide was published. We spoke to those who were involved in its genesis to find out how it came to be. Here is the story in the words of those who were there, a version of which first appeared in the summer 2017 edition of BEER magazine.

John Hanscomb
Ear­ly CAMRA mem­ber, and first edi­tor of the Good Beer Guide
We all knew we liked prop­er beer but the prob­lem was, we didn’t know where to drink – we didn’t know where the pubs were. There was Frank Baillie’s Beer Drinker’s Com­pan­ion but that was all about the brew­eries, not the pubs, although it did give you an idea of their trad­ing areas. And the brew­ers… The brew­ers wouldn’t give me any infor­ma­tion! I rang up one and asked them which were their pubs and which sold prop­er beer and they wouldn’t tell me because they thought I was from Watney’s or Whit­bread: ‘We don’t know who you are.’

Michael Hard­man
Co-founder and first chair of CAMRA
John Young [of Young’s brew­ery] was cham­pi­oning cask ale in a very seri­ous way, and had been hold­ing out for a decade before CAMRA came along. He thought of him­self as the only one left. Young’s had nev­er been a par­tic­u­lar­ly prof­itable com­pa­ny. They had some pret­ty dingy pubs, and a very ‘bit­ter’ bit­ter that was going out of fash­ion. In 1963, he’d been approached by Derek Pee­bles, a for­mer naval offi­cer, who said: ‘What you need is a PR cam­paign, and I’m the man to do it!’ What he did was put togeth­er the first ever com­pre­hen­sive list of Young’s pubs under the title ‘Real Draught Beer and Where to Find It’.

Real Draught Beer and Where to Find It

John Hanscomb
The Young’s guide was undoubt­ed­ly an influ­ence, very much so. With Young’s you could guar­an­tee that all their pubs would have prop­er beer. John Young deserves a lot of cred­it.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Nine­teen-Sev­en­ty-Four: Birth of the Beer Guide”

Watney’s Red on Film, 1971

The above film was made by Watney Mann (Watney’s) to help their staff understand Watney’s Red, which replaced Red Barrel as the firm’s flagship keg bitter in 1971.

It was unearthed by Nick Wheat who col­lects British doc­u­men­tary and indus­tri­al films and writes occa­sion­al beer arti­cles for Dron­field CAMRA’s Peel Ale mag­a­zine. The copy above was made by pro­ject­ing the 16mm film onto a wall and point­ing his phone at it but it does­n’t look bad for all that.

From an arti­cle Nick dug up from Film User for July 1971 we know that it was one of three films pro­duced to help with the roll-out of the new prod­uct as part of what Wat­ney’s called ‘Oper­a­tion Che­ka’ in ref­er­ence to the Bol­she­vik secret police. The suit of films cost £5,500 pounds to make (about £80k in today’s mon­ey) and this one is ‘Che­ka 2’ ‘Che­ka 3’, high­light­ed in this info­graph­ic from Film User:

Infographic depicting the roll-out of Operation Cheka.

The film itself is an amaz­ing rel­ic. It fea­tures var­i­ous plum­my senior exec­u­tives explain­ing, rather stilt­ed­ly, the think­ing behind the change, accom­pa­nied by footage of lor­ries and brew­ing plants around the coun­try (our empha­sis):

You see Red Bar­rel has been with us now for fif­teen years and is still the same. In the mean­time oth­er beers have come along in keg with new flavours, and meet­ing new ideas of taste. There­fore Red Bar­rel might be said to be old fash­ioned. So what we did was to study the whole sit­u­a­tion in great detail with our col­leagues in the group mar­ket­ing depart­ment. We want­ed to find out just what it was the cus­tomers liked, what their ideals were, what were the faults, per­haps, in ear­li­er beers, and alto­geth­er how we could make it right for the sev­en­ties.

What we’ve done is to give the beer a new smooth pleas­ant taste. We’ve also giv­en it a much bet­ter head and alto­geth­er a more attrac­tive appear­ance. Gone is any sug­ges­tion of bit­ter after palate; instead, there is a pleas­ant malty meali­ness.… We’ve stud­ied flavour, stud­ied peo­ple’s reac­tion to flavour, and pro­duced exper­i­men­tal beers, test­ing out all the vari­a­tions we can think of in such things of sweet­ness or bit­ter­ness.

That con­firms what we’d heard from oth­er sources, and what we said in Brew Bri­tan­nia: that Red Bar­rel and Red were quite dif­fer­ent beers, with the lat­ter an alto­geth­er fizzi­er, sweet­er beer. But this would seem to sug­gest that, unless they’re out­right fib­bers, that peo­ple in the com­pa­ny gen­uine­ly believed they were respond­ing to pub­lic demand rather than cut­ting cor­ners for the sake of it.

There’s some sol­id his­tor­i­cal infor­ma­tion in all this, too. It tells us, for exam­ple, that Red was devel­oped pri­mar­i­ly at the Wat­ney’s plant in Northamp­ton, for­mer­ly Phipps, and that the beer and point-of-sale mate­r­i­al was sched­uled to hit pubs in March and April of 1971.

There is also an awk­ward inter­view with Mr Hors­fall, a pub­li­can in… Eldon? Old­ham? Answers on a post­card. He had been tasked with sell­ing the new Red on the qui­et to gauge cus­tomer reac­tions to the refor­mu­la­tion and, though hard­ly jump­ing for joy, seemed to think his cus­tomers pre­ferred it, on the whole.

Arguably the most excit­ing part comes at the end: a reel of orig­i­nal TV ads from the time star­ring (we think) Michael Coles as a hard-boiled counter-intel­li­gence oper­a­tive tasked with stop­ping ‘the Red Rev­o­lu­tion’. These ads seem to us to be par­o­dy­ing Callan, a pop­u­lar TV pro­gramme of the day star­ring Edward Wood­ward, with the seedy side­kick ‘Friend­ly’ clear­ly a ref­er­ence to Callan’s ‘Lone­ly’.

Thanks so much for shar­ing this, Nick! And if any­one else out there has this kind of mate­r­i­al, we’d love to see it.

Updat­ed 22/03/2018 after Nick got in touch to say he thinks this is actu­al­ly Film 3.

Sacred Text

Before Christmas we wrote a post about The Ring, a London-based drinking society, based on an email from Sue Hart, one of its long-time members.

Dur­ing our cor­re­spon­dence she agreed to send us copies of some of the orig­i­nal Ring pub crawl sheets. What you see above is the old­est of the set from May 1967. In that orig­i­nal post Sue is quot­ed as say­ing of these crawls:

The ones put togeth­er by The Deputy took some under­stand­ing. He was a real whizz with num­bers and often his Ring sheets would con­tain lots of math­e­mat­i­cal rid­dles, or some­times ref­er­ences to foot­ball teams. He would also try and get a singing spot in the right sort of pub.

Actu­al­ly see­ing the text brings home exact­ly what she means. It’s a com­bi­na­tion of cryp­tic cross­word, puns, in-jokes and nick­names that makes bare­ly any sense in places.

We’re going to let the doc­u­ment speak for itself except for one quick obser­va­tion: Wot a Lot of Wat­ney’s!

And a foot­note: Spurs did beat Chelsea, 2–1.

The Story of the Ring

Back in 2012, when we were researching Brew Britannia, we gathered quite a list of proto-CAMRA beer appreciation societies, including The Ring.

Details on The Ring proved elu­sive, though, even when we emailed an address we were giv­en for Sue Hart, who we were told was a core mem­ber of the group. She did­n’t reply and we did­n’t pur­sue the sto­ry any fur­ther.

Then, ear­li­er this week, she emailed out of the blue with kind words about our two books and a won­der­ful sum­ma­ry of the sto­ry of The Ring which (edit­ed slight­ly, with her per­mis­sion) we’re delight­ed to present here so that nobody with access to Google need be as puz­zled as we were five years back.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “The Sto­ry of the Ring”

QUICK ONE: (A Comically Small Portion of) Food for Thought

Auguste Escoffier in pop art colours.

In 1973 the food critic Henri Gault published ‘The Ten Commandments of Nouvelle Cuisine’, crystallising the new movement then sweeping French gastronomy:

  1. Thou shall not over­cook
  2. Thou shall use fresh, qual­i­ty prod­ucts
  3. Thou shall light­en thy menu
  4. Thou shall not be sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly mod­ernistic
  5. Thou shall seek out what the new tech­niques can bring you
  6. Thou shall elim­i­nate brown and white sauces
  7. Thou shall not ignore dietet­ics
  8. Thou shall not cheat on thy pre­sen­ta­tion
  9. Thou shall be inven­tive
  10. Thou shall not be prej­u­diced

(This is the trans­la­tion giv­en by Paul Freed­man in Ten Restau­rants That Changed Amer­i­ca, 2016. There are many sub­tly dif­fer­ent ver­sions around.)

From this side of the 1980s, Nou­velle Cui­sine is a bit of a joke – huge plates, tiny amounts of sil­ly food, very expen­sive. What yup­pies ate. But that list made us think about changes in beer that were tak­ing place in the same peri­od with the rise of micro-brew­ing and ‘alter­no beer’.

Of course some of those com­mand­ment don’t direct­ly map (over­cook­ing, sauces) but how about if we rewrite them a bit?

  1. Thou shall not stew good hops.
  2. Thou shall use fresh, qual­i­ty prod­ucts.
  3. Thou shall light­en thy beer.
  4. Thou shall not be indus­tri­al.
  5. But thou shall seek out what the new tech­niques can bring you.
  6. Thou shall elim­i­nate brown beer (UK) and yel­low beer (US).
  7. Thou shall be trans­par­ent about the strength and ingre­di­ents of your beer.
  8. Thou shall not prize mar­ket­ing over qual­i­ty.
  9. Thou shall be inven­tive.
  10. Thou shall not be prej­u­diced.

Of course there are a mil­lion excep­tions to each of those ‘rules’, as there were in Nou­velle Cui­sine as actu­al­ly prac­tised, but that does­n’t feel to us like a bad sum­ma­ry of where – in the very most gen­er­al sense – peo­ple’s heads were between about 1963 and, say, 2015. (We say 2015 because, in very recent years, some­thing seems to be chang­ing. But that’s just a gut feel­ing which we’re still prob­ing.)

This feels like a con­nec­tion Michael Jack­son, Char­lie Papaz­ian, Gar­rett Oliv­er or even Sean Franklin must have made at some point but a quick Google (time is short this morn­ing) does­n’t turn any­thing up. Point­ers wel­come in com­ments below.

To fin­ish, here’s anoth­er quote from Freed­man:

Nou­velle Cui­sine of the 1970s… had two mis­sions that have since gone sep­a­rate ways: to exalt pri­ma­ry ingre­di­ents sim­ply pre­pared, and to advo­cate vari­ety result­ing from break­ing with tra­di­tion – new com­bi­na­tions such as Asian fusion.

That sounds a bit like the break between ‘real ale’ and ‘craft beer’, does­n’t it?