A Pub from a David Peace Novel

As more than one commentator has pointed out, the news in the UK at the moment — police corruption at the time of Hillsborough and during the Miners’ Strike, the Jimmy Savile abuse scandal — is straight out of the work of Yorkshire-born crime novelist David Peace. On the blogging and writing front, too, we have our heads firmly buried in the 1970s, which only adds to the strangeness.

Peace popped into our heads in particular as we found ourselves researching early post-CAMRA ‘real ale pubs’. (That is, a new type of multi-tap freehouse that emerged to capitalise on the ‘real ale craze’ of the mid-to-late seventies.) An early example, from c.1976, seems to have been the Brahms & Liszt on East Parade in Leeds which was at least part-owned by a consortium of Leeds United players — presumably some of the very same players depicted in Peace’s The Damned United. It was in the basement of Devereux House, the upstairs floors being occupied by a chicken-in-a-basket nightclub with the same owners and the splendidly period name ‘The Nouveau’.

The B&L is in the 1978 Good Beer Guide with (we think) an offer of ten real ales and one ‘real cider’. Former barman Chris Martin, who worked there in 1976, told us that ”There were other pubs in Leeds that sold real ale but this was the first time I had seen a long bar filled with so many strange ones.’ We also know that, from around 1977, Martin Sykes and the Selby Brewery produced a special bottled pale ale for them.

The B&L closed in the 1980s and Devereux House was demolished in around 1990.

When we read lists of famous mid-70s real ale pubs, we hear about the Barley Mow near St Albans, the Hole in the Wall at Waterloo and maybe Becky’s Dive Bar, but never this place. Are there any other pubs like this from beyond London and the Home Counties, from 1976 or earlier, that we should know about?

This seemed like another good opportunity to share the Ian Nairn clip above...

Alternate History: XXXX instead of IPA

Imaginary keg font with 1977 Food Standards labelling recommendations.

The UK Government’s 1977 Food Standards Committee Report on Beer is a strange but illuminating document. It records how certain words and phrases relating to beer were being used at a certain point in time and, in its recommendations, most of which were ignored, presents a vision of what might have been.

After representations from CAMRA and others, the Committee agreed that beer needed clearer labelling. Their proposals were that draught beer point-of-sale information (pumpclips) ought to contain:

  • A declaration of the amount of the amount of malted barley used.
  • An indicator of strength based on the ‘XXX’ system, referring to original gravity rather than alcohol percentage in the finished product.
  • Disclosure of carbonation above 1.5 volumes.

Their proposal for the gravity bands and acceptable (but not compulsory) text descriptions was as follows.

  • Up to but not including 1035 — Light — X
  • 1035 up to but not including 1041 — Special, Heavy — XX
  • 1041 up to but not including 1047 — Export, India Pale Ale (IPA) — XXX
  • 1047 up to but not including 1062 — Strong — XXXX
  • 1062 and above — Extra Strong, Barley Wine — XXXXX

In the explanatory notes, they say this of IPA:

“India Pale Ale” (“IPA”) was originally brewed to have sufficient stability for export by sea to India and “export” probably came into use as a modern equivalent. These beers were originally stronger than those brewed for the home market and our impression is that consumers expect them to be rather stronger than ordinary beers. We recommend that the use of these two descriptions should be restricted to beers in the third band (XXX). We realise that there will be some beers which have been called “export” which are stronger than is given by this band. Any limitation of names must create anomalies, which are the more to be regretted if the claim to the name has a reasonable basis in terms of the original meaning of export.

They also suggest banning the use of the words ‘best’ and ‘premium’ on beer packaging. If they’d reported this year, they’d probably have added to that list ‘craft’, ‘crafted’, and so on.

On that basis, a pumpclip for a keg IPA with an original gravity of more than 1047 (that is, stronger than about 4.5% ABV) might have looked something like the one we’ve mocked up in the picture above. Weird, huh?

Before beer blogging, there was Boston on Beer

Detail from a poor-quality scan of Richard Boston portrait in the Guardian.

Richard Boston’s first weekly Boston on Beer column appeared in The Guardian on 11 August 1973. In an article marking its first anniversary (6 July 1974) he said a few things that might chime with beer bloggers.

This column has been going for nearly a year, and whereas when I started I thought I had enough material for about three weeks, having now written some 50,000 words I have enough to keep me going indefinitely.

He  also describes tottering stacks of ‘notes and rough drafts for articles on subjects ranging from canal-side pubs to beer glasses (why they have handles and dimples in the south and are clear and straight-sided in the north), as well as the results of the search for the best Gents’ and ‘amazing revelations about the awfulness of American beer’.

Every week, he came up with something to say, even if the occasional column seemed rather contrived under the pressure of a deadline.

Thirty years later (Guardian, 23 March 1989) he recalled the column’s success: ‘I had never heard of Camra… but just mentioning them in the Guardian and giving their address caused a surge in their membership so great that they had to take on extra staff in order to cope.’ This seems to be true: when his column went to print, CAMRA had c.2700 members; by September, it was approaching c.5000, by our reckoning.

In the same piece, he recalls why the column ended in 1975: ‘I became bored of the sound of my own voice going on about beer and pubs.’ Hmm. We know that feeling.

We’re ashamed to say we’d never read Richard Boston until Des de Moor told us about Beer and Skittles (1976), a book adapted from the Guardian columns. You can get a copy fairly cheaply through Amazon, or read the original columns in the online archive of The Guardian if your local library provides access.

See also: Orwell’s Beer Blog and this strange nineteenth century exercise in proto-blogging.

Wretched Hives of Scum and Villainy

Illustration by Andrew Young for the Beverage Report by Derek Cooper.

Derek Cooper’s The Beverage Report (1970) has an entire chapter dedicated to detailing the various ways those working behind the bar can rip-off their employers and customers; how landlords can rip-off the brewery and customers; how draymen can rip-off landlords and the brewery; and even how customers, given half a chance, can rip-off the bar staff, the landlord and the brewery.

Here’s one example:

A barman of some experience told me: “Say you’ve only got one bar and one cash register. Right! You take an order for a round of drinks, it may come to 8s 6d. The customer gives you a pound. Now two simple fiddles are workable here. Either you decided to cheat the till of cheat the customer. If you’re going to cheat the till you have to be careful. You mustn’t let the customer see you ringing up less than 8s 6d. So you may ring up 6d, almost instantaneously correct yourself openly — you say something like ‘Oh, I’m going mad — that was 8s 6d wasn’t it’ and then you ring up 3s 6d. See what I’m driving at? He’s rung up only 3s 6d so he can pocket 5s 0d. The customer gets the right change, the till gets the right change and he gets the difference.”

The bar staff interviewed reported that they especially prized the kind of customers who didn’t count their change, thus marking themselves out as well-off and careless. You won’t be surprised to hear, though, that they also claimed to reserve their nastiest tricks for the rudest and most annoying characters.

Of course, it goes both ways. Cooper has several stories of pubs being cleaned out by light-fingered customers, and we once saw with our own eyes a three man team pull a perfect short change con with distractions in the Pembury Tavern about five years ago.

The moral? No-one on either side of the bar should trust anyone or relax, even for a moment. Er, wait, that can’t be right…

Fantastic period iIllustration by Andrew Young scanned from our copy of  The Beverage Report.

Look For Dates, Find Stories

Advert for the Barley Mow pub, St Albans, 1983.

In trying to pin down some more dates for our list of key points in the development of Britain’s alternative beer culture, we’ve found some fascinating stories and subjects for further exploration.

First, thanks to some very helpful input from commenters on the original post, Twitterers and the Pub Curmudgeon, we started looking into the Barley Mow in St Albans as an early, if not the first, ‘real ale pub’. That’s not a pub that has some real ale on offer, but a pub which specialiases in, and sells itself on the strength of, having lots of real ale. We now know, thanks to CAMRA Hertfordshire’s complete online archive of newsletters dating back to 1976, the full story of the Barley Mow and its various landlords and landladies (link to PDF).

Another name in the frame as an early ‘beer exhibition’ was the Hole in the Wall in Waterloo. This blog post gives us some personal recollections and a quote from the 1975 Good Beer Guide, but if anyone can point us to a CAMRA newsletter or any other source with dates and details, we’d be grateful.

One of the commenters on the original post mentioned the Litchborough Brewery founded in Northamptonshire by Bill Urquhart in 1974. Mr Urquhart’s story, from what we’ve been able to find so far, is fascinating and familiar: he worked for a big regional brewer which was taken over and closed but he wasn’t ready to hang up his wellies and so founded his own small brewery. He later acted as a consultant to other small breweries which followed in his wake. But, pioneering as he was, he certainly wasn’t a young, dangerous maverick on a mission to shake things up: the beer he brewed was a clone of the brown bitter he’d previously brewed at Phipps.

(The current outfit producing beers under the Phipps name, by the way, appears to be dedicated to brewing historic recipes. Anyone tried them?)

Finally, we were astonished to discover that the first completely new brewery to open in Britain in fifty years was Westbury Ales in Somerset, in 1973. (Selby, in 1972, was a re-opening.) A pilgrimage may be in order next time we go to visit Bailey’s folks.