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.

BWOASA: Marble Barley Wine from a dusty old can

One of the good things about this little project has been the nudge to go to different places, such as Mother Kelly’s in Bethnal Green.

Though we still think of it as that new bar we must get to at some point, it turns out to be five years old, and now part of a sub­stan­tial chain. Time slips away.

We had formed the idea, per­haps based on murky social media pho­tos, that it was a small, dark space on the cor­ner of a back street. In fact, it’s in a large rail­way arch with a decent beer gar­den and, on a sun­ny April after­noon at least, per­fect­ly airy and bright.

Though Moth­er Kelly’s does have draught beer, its sell­ing point is real­ly the wall of fridges on the cus­tomer side, packed with intrigu­ing beers from sought after brew­eries. We fig­ured there might be at least one bar­ley wine lurk­ing in there.

There were three, but they took a while to find, dur­ing which squint­ing, bent-backed hunt we con­clud­ed that fan­cy pack­ag­ing designs and quirky names are great and all that but they don’t half make it a chal­lenge to work out what you’re buy­ing.

We chose the cheap­est of the three at a drink-in price of £12 for 440ml. It was the 2017 vin­tage of Marble’s won­der­ful­ly clear­ly-named 12.4% bar­ley wine, BARLEY WINE. Being an antique, the can had spots of rust across its top, and crumbs and dust, so we asked for a quick clean up before pour­ing. We got it, albeit grudg­ing­ly – maybe a bit of filth on your tin­ny is con­sid­ered all part of the fun these days?

Marble Barley Wine in the glass.

Sit­ting down to drink a beer that you already resent is a good test of qual­i­ty. Any irri­ta­tion we felt in this case passed the moment we tast­ed it, which real­ly was fan­tas­tic – almost, maybe, per­haps £6-per-nip good.

It seemed pos­i­tive­ly lumi­nous in the dain­ty glass­ware, cycling orange, red and gold depend­ing how the light struck it. The con­di­tion was also excel­lent prov­ing that cans can work for this kind of beer.

Between appre­cia­tive purring, we talked it over: on the one hand, it did rather resem­ble Gold Label, but it also remind­ed us of a very par­tic­u­lar beer: an attempt to recre­ate Bal­lan­tine IPA using Clus­ter hops. Rasp­ber­ry jam, mar­malade, chewy syrup sweet­ness, clean-tast­ing and dou­ble-bass res­o­nance. Just won­der­ful.

And one more small twist: because of the dif­fi­cul­ty of pour­ing two clear glass­es from one can, we got to try this with and with­out (a tiny bit) of yeast haze. On bal­ance, though it was hard to resist the sheer visu­al appeal of yeast­less, slight­ly yeasty actu­al­ly tast­ed bet­ter – soft­er and silki­er, with a lit­tle less jan­gle.

We con­tin­ue to hold Mar­ble in high regard and will prob­a­bly go back to Moth­er Kelly’s some time, when we’ve saved up some pock­et mon­ey.

London pubs from a woman’s perspective, 1964

A drawing of a pub.
The Kings Head and Eight Bells by John Coop­er.

In 1964 Batsford published a guide to London with a twist: it was about where to go and what to do on sleepy Sundays. Such as, for example… visit the pub.

We picked up our copy of Lon­don on Sun­day at Oxfam in Cotham for £3.99. It’s not a book we’ve ever encoun­tered before, or even heard of.

We haven’t man­aged to find out much about the author, Bet­ty James, either, except that she wrote a few oth­er books, includ­ing Lon­don and the Sin­gle Girl, pub­lished in 1967, and Lon­don for Lovers, 1968. She was old­er than the girl­ish tone of the book might sug­gest – in her late for­ties, we gath­er – and twice divorced by the time she was pro­filed in the New­cas­tle Jour­nal in 1969.

Before the main event, indi­vid­ual pubs crop up here and there – the Grapes in Wap­ping is accu­rate­ly described as ‘an old saw­dusty riv­er pub’ where the staff give direc­tions to a par­tic­u­lar­ly good but hard-to-find Chi­nese restau­rant.

One of the best lines in the book, thrown away in an itin­er­ary for a walk, is, we’re cer­tain, a dig at male guide­book writ­ers of the peri­od who couldn’t resist rat­ing bar­maids:

The Colville Tav­ern at 72 Kings Road… [has] the best-look­ing bar­man in Lon­don. Ask for Charles.

Pubs are giv­en real, focused treat­ment in the dying pages of the book, which is a state­ment in its own right.

From Mon­day until Sat­ur­day this Sun­day is the Local Pub­lic House of some­body else in whom once has no inter­est what­so­ev­er. How­ev­er… on Sun­day at the hour of noon it is entered imme­di­ate­ly by the knowl­edge­able tosspot in order that he may refresh him­self in con­vivial com­pa­ny, while his wife cooks the joint to which he even­tu­al­ly return too late to avoid unpleas­ant­ness… Mean­while, the reg­u­lar vis­i­tor to this Sun­day Pub (whose Local Pub­lic House it is from Mon­day until Sat­ur­day) will repair to anoth­er Sun­day Pub because it is con­sid­ered not schmaltzy to take drink in one’s own Local Pub­lic House upon a Sun­day.

Inevitably, the first pub to get a write-up is the Grenadier, which we vis­it­ed ear­li­er this year:

This very old pub is impos­si­ble to find. You can wan­der around the chi-chi lit­tle mews sur­round­ing it, absorb­ing the untrace­able ema­na­tions of Guards sub­al­terns and debu­tantes with­out actu­al­ly ever see­ing any­thing but a chi-chi lit­tle mews… A dread silence occa­sion­al­ly falls upon the place… [because] some­body has mis­laid a debu­tante.

The Kings Head and Eight Bells in Chelsea sounds like fun, with peo­ple drink­ing out­side in the embank­ment gar­dens on Sun­day morn­ing, or block­ing the road ‘where they risk being knocked drin­k­less by oth­er cognoscen­ti in fast sports job’. It is, Ms. James says, ‘exclu­sive­ly patro­n­ised by absolute­ly every­body who isn’t any­body’. Sad­ly, this one seems to be a goner.

A drawing of a pub interior.
The inte­ri­or of the Square Rig­ger by John Coop­er.

Of course we got real­ly excit­ed at the descrip­tion of a theme pub, the Square Rig­ger in the City, near Mon­u­ment Sta­tion:

Ful­ly rigged with seag­ull cries and the sound of break­ing surf there is also an enor­mous social schism between the Captain’s Cab­in and the Mess Decks both 1 and 2… ‘Tween decks there are rope lad­ders, sails, and yard-arms and that. Togeth­er with a lot of beau­ti­ful­ly pol­ished brass bar-top.

We see from whatpub.com that it was a notable booze bunker, before its demo­li­tion in the 1980s.

Back to those clas­sic mews pubs of west Lon­don, the Star in Bel­gravia, of course, gets a men­tion, and rather a cheeky one: ‘Well now… The best thing we can say about this pub is that all the afore­men­tioned miss­ing debu­tantes may be dis­cov­ered here… recov­er­ing… And some of them sim­ply aching for the utter, utter blis­sikins of get­ting mis­laid again as soon as pos­si­ble’.

The Wind­sor Cas­tle in Kens­ing­ton appar­ent­ly had ‘Lus­cious sand­wich­es’ and quite the scene going on, with actors in the bar and ‘a pig ogling a cow in the pleas­ant walled gar­den’.

The last pub tip is giv­en reluc­tant­ly:

There is of course one Sun­day Pub to which affi­ciona­dos resort of a Sun­day evening. How­ev­er, it could so eas­i­ly be com­plete­ly ruined by hyper­me­trop­ic inva­sion that I hard­ly like to men­tion it. This is the Lil­liput Hall, a Courage’s house at 9 Jamaica Road SE1, where, at around 9 pm, com­mences the best not-too-far-out jazz this side of par­adise. The hun­dred per cent pro­fes­sion­al group ren­der­ings are led by the guv’nor, Bert Annable, a name to be con­jured with in the busi­ness, since he’s worked with Cyril Sta­ple­ton and Paul Fenoul­het, among oth­ers.

Sound like a laugh. Now, it goes with­out say­ing, flats, but the closedpubs.co.uk records some nice first­hand mem­o­ries.

We reck­on it’d have been quite nice to read an entire book about pubs by Bet­ty James. She seems to have a feel for them, and her arch­ness is amus­ing.

Australian drinking culture in London, 1966–1970

One of the perks of having been blogging for as long as we have is that people find us via Google and send us interesting things without us having to make the slightest effort.

At the begin­ning of Feb­ru­ary, Sal­ly Mays emailed us ask­ing for help track­ing down infor­ma­tion about a pub she remem­bered vis­it­ing years ago, the Sur­rey, just of the Strand in Lon­don:

I went there a num­ber of times with my boyfriend when I was a very young woman, around 1970. We were plan­ning to trav­el to Aus­tralia as Ten Pound Poms and Aus­tralia House (where we were inter­viewed) was just around the cor­ner from the Sur­rey – well, actu­al­ly on the oth­er side of the Strand, on a cor­ner oppo­site Sur­rey Street.

I’m not sure quite how we became aware of the pub but it was main­ly fre­quent­ed by Aussies and New Zealan­ders and served most­ly (per­haps only) Foster’s beer (or lager, I should say). I think it was the only peri­od of my life where I imbibed the amber nec­tar.

It didn’t look much like a pub – it was housed in one of the build­ings on the right hand side of Sur­rey Street, as you walk down it towards the Embank­ment. Its décor was very basic – plain, I seem to remem­ber, with lots of beer spilled onto the floor, and a rau­cous ambi­ence.

Those were days when it was still pos­si­ble for [incom­ing] trav­ellers to park their Com­bi vans down by the Thames for the pur­pos­es of sell­ing [them on to out­go­ers].

[The pub] was a very male-dom­i­nat­ed place – the sort that wore shorts and flip flops no mat­ter what the weath­er!

Sal­ly also point­ed us to one of the few sources she’d been able to find – a 1966 diary by a young Aus­tralian trav­eller in Lon­don shared on a blog – but we think it’s now been hid­den from pub­lic view.

The good news is that the first book we reached out for, Green and White’s 1968 Guide to Lon­don Pubs, had a detailed entry on the Sur­rey that con­firmed Sally’s mem­o­ries:

The Sur­rey, just off the Strand, is the first vis­it­ing-place of the new­ly arrived Aus­tralian; though they don’t actu­al­ly serve schooners of beer, you can get two home-brewed vari­eties: Swan’s Lager on draught and Foster’s in the bot­tle. The present house dates back to the turn of the cen­tu­ry and had, until a recent fire, a fine col­lec­tion of Aus­traliana; this was reduced to a cou­ple of boomerangs and pho­tographs of vis­it­ing crick­eters. It is the sort of place in which the lone Pom­mie, towards clos­ing time, feels rather uncom­fort­able; there is a lot of back-slap­ping and singing and rather too much noise. Oth­er­wise, it is a per­fect­ly nor­mal pub, serv­ing lunch and snacks all day. The upstairs bar is a tri­fle small, par­tic­u­lar­ly when it gets crowd­ed at lunch-time, but there is plen­ty of room down­stairs, and even a dart­board. A vis­it­ing Cana­di­an pro­fes­sor once refused to buy his pub­lish­er a box of match­es here, but the staff oblig­ing­ly accept­ed a 2d cheque, which must prove some­thing. Being handy for Aus­tralia House, the prospec­tive migrant, har­ried by bad weath­er, hous­ing and tax­es, might well take a drink in the Sur­rey to see how the natives dis­port them­selves.

Since Jan­u­ary, we’ve also man­aged to find our copy of The New Lon­don Spy, edit­ed by Hunter Davies and pub­lished in 1966. Its sec­tion on ‘Aus­tralian Lon­don’ men­tions the Sur­rey repeat­ed­ly as some­thing of a cen­tre of Aus­tralian life in Lon­don:

Here, on a Fri­day night, elbow to elbow, sur­round­ed by boomerangs and famil­iar accents, London’s Aus­tralians sip their Fos­ters (Mel­bourne) and Swan (Perth)… and com­plain about jobs (‘lousy bloody sev­en quid a week’), food (‘I haven’t had a decent steak since I got here’ and the weath­er (‘How can you ever get a tan in this place?’).

The pace of drink­ing is, by British stan­dards, express-like, but even so it is unlike­ly you will see that well-known Aus­tralian sight, rare in Britain, the-face-on-the-bar-room-floor. (You can, by the way, pick out the old Aus­tralian from the new­ly-arrived. The sea­soned man drinks iced Eng­lish beer instead of iced Aus­tralian.)

This book, though, also lists oth­er notable Aus­tralian pubs: the Zambe­si Club and the Ifield, both in Earls Court, then known as ‘Kan­ga­roo Val­ley’ because of its sup­posed pop­u­la­tion of 50,000 row­dy Aussies.

An arti­cle by Rod­ney Burbeck in Tatler for 7 May 1966, avail­able in full via to sub­scribers to the British News­pa­per Archive, puts this influx down to the open­ing of the Over­seas Vis­i­tors Cen­tre (OVS) in Earls Court in 1955. It also has notes on the cul­ture clash between British drinkers and Aus­tralians:

Bill Robert­son, 28-year- old farmer, strolling along Earls Court Road on his sec­ond night in Lon­don [said] ‘We went to Wim­ble­don last night to see how the oth­er half live. Walked into a pub and every head turned round. We were strangers, for­eign­ers. And what’s more they didn’t drink as quick­ly as Aus­tralians.’ In Earls Court you can walk into a pub and be the only Eng­lish­man there. Col­league John McLeod, who writes the Lon­don Life drinks col­umn, doesn’t like Aus­tralians in pubs. He thinks they are row­dy and boor­ish and drink too much. I have a friend who says you can always tell an Aus­tralian in a pub because when he has fin­ished drink­ing he falls flat on his face… One girl liv­ing in Earls Court says ‘The only Aus­tralians I have met have only been inter­est­ed in two things: rug­ger and beer.’

The 1972 film The Adven­tures of Bar­ry McKen­zie includes a scene set in an Aus­tralian pub in Lon­don, with Bar­ry dis­gust­ed by Eng­lish beer and demand­ing ‘a decent chilled Foster’s’. It might be satire but it prob­a­bly cap­tures to some degree how these pubs real­ly felt. (For now, you can see it here, at 14:46.)

It feels as if there’s a lot more to be explored here. If you’re an Aus­tralian who lived in Lon­don in the 1960s-70s with mem­o­ries of pubs and of hunt­ing ‘iced beer’, do drop us a line.

News, Nuggets and Longreads 2 March 2019: Retirement, Simplification, Adjuncts

Here’s all the bookmarkworthy writing about beer and pubs that landed in the past week, from the mysterious behaviour of dads to corn syrup.

First, some depress­ing news from the north west of Eng­land, in a sto­ry that’s unfold­ing right now: Cloudwater’s much-antic­i­pat­ed Fam­i­ly & Friends beer fes­ti­val has run into a licenc­ing issue and may not go ahead today. In a state­ment issued first thing this morn­ing, the brew­ery said:

The police have informed us that Upper Camp­field Mar­ket is not, as we have been assured on many occa­sions by the man­ag­ing agent act­ing on behalf of Man­ches­ter City Coun­cil, licensed for the sale of alco­hol. The attend­ing police offi­cer ear­li­er this evening, the two licens­ing offi­cers, a licens­ing solic­i­tor, and even the night-time tzar of Greater Man­ches­ter, appear to have exhaust­ed every option to allow us to oper­ate in Upper Camp­field Mar­ket tomor­row. If we ignore the licens­ing team, and run tomor­row any­way, I risk an unlim­it­ed fine or six months impris­on­ment.

It’s a reminder of just how much behind-the-scenes bureau­crat­ic bat­tling has to go on to put on any event with booze, and gives a glimpse into why entre­pre­neurs so often seem to end up regard­ing local gov­ern­ment as the ene­my.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets and Lon­greads 2 March 2019: Retire­ment, Sim­pli­fi­ca­tion, Adjuncts”