Beer history featured

Newquay Steam: Cornwall’s Own Beer

In 1987, a pub-owning entrepreneur looked at British brewing and decided it wasn’t working.

Stylishly packaged ranges of bottled beers trumpeting their purity and quality are easy to find these days. Back in 1987, though, bottled beer meant, in most cases, brown or light ale gathering dust on shelves behind the bar in pubs, with labels that appeared to have been designed before World War II. If you wanted to know their ingredients, or their alcoholic strength, tough luck, because the breweries didn’t want to tell you.

A cult beer from Cornwall would play a major role in changing that scene.

Beer history

Non-keg, non-chemical, all-malt

Copies of the Campaign for Real Ale newspaper, What's Brewing.

Yesterday, we took delivery of around fifty mid-nineteen-eighties issues of the Campaign for Real Ale’s What’s Brewing newspaper, and have begun to immerse ourselves in the strange but familiar world they reflect.

Most interesting to us right now are the omens of the ‘craft beer’ vs. ‘real ale’ agonies of the last few years.

Our feeling that David ‘Firkin’ Bruce was the James ‘Brewdog’ Watt of his day are strengthened by a piece from Roger Protz in the May 1985 edition. He observed that Bruce had achieved something with which CAMRA was struggling: the Firkin pubs were popular with young, affluent, trendy types — typical lager drinkers, in other words — who were paying above the going rate for pints of bitter. He also noted that, though Bruce’s beer wasn’t ‘real ale’ in the technical sense (he used a ‘light blanket’ of CO2), nor was it utterly disgusting. How confusing!

In another issue, Protz — something of a controversial reformer — argued that maybe it might be worth considering serving cask ale a little cooler to give it half a chance to compete with lager. Furious letters ensued: it would be too little too late, argued one lobby; ‘Heresy!’ cried the other.

There were also some complicated manoeuvrings required to explain CAMRA’s position on SIBA (then the Small Independent Brewers’ Society). Though both organisations were ‘fellow travelers’, in a sense, SIBA’s members were not all ‘real ale’ producers. ‘We are trying to produce good beer,’ said SIBA’s chairman, Paul Soden, in May 1987. CAMRGB? Not quite: ‘Most of us produce non-chemical, non-keg, 100-per-cent malt brews.’ (Our emphasis.)

If he was making the same point today, he’d have to drop  the phrase ‘non-keg’.

Reading old issues of WB is how we’re rewarding ourselves for finishing the first draft of what is still called Brew Britannia. We know how to party. Woo.

Beer history

An official definition of craft beer?

In his New Beer Guide (1988), Brian Glover recounts the story of Mike Reynolds and the Paradise Brewery, just down the road from us in Hayle:

[The brewery] was installed in 1981 in outbuildings which already had planning permission for craft use. Mike Reynolds considered small-scale brewing a craft and went ahead. Penwith District Council considered brewing an industry and objected. Eventually the case (with a little help from CAMRA) went on appeal to the Department of the Environment — which is where Michael Heseltine leapt in as Secretary of State, ruling in favour of the brewery.

In 1988, that was a nice little story but, twenty five years on, has it take on a new importance? (To beer geeks, at least…) Did the Government, with this intervention, establish a precedent for what does and doesn’t count as ‘craft’ brewing in the UK? They did so for ‘draught beer’ and ‘cask ale’, so it is possible.

We can’t find any contemporary newspaper coverage but, when we get the chance, we’ll do some digging in the Cornwall county archives. We’d also love to read contemporary paperwork from the DoE. In the meantime, if anyone else can point us to more information, or remembers this case, please comment below.

Bonus: Mike Reynolds sounds like an amazing bloke: amongst other achievements,  he also invented the Milky Bar kid!


Ale, Lager and Macho Fantasy

Carlsberg Special Brew Advert 1976.In 1983, a piece of fluff research sponsored by the International Lager Festival, and written up in The Daily Mirror by none other than Alastair Campbell, found that lager drinkers were ‘better in bed… suaver, slimmer, more sophisticated and better educated than bitter drinkers’. They tended to fancy ‘women like Raquel Welch, TV presenter Sue Lawley and actress Pamela Stephenson’. They were men as cool as Sting or Barry Sheene. Bitter drinkers, on the other hand, as represented by Bernard Manning and Jocky Wilson, were ‘big and fat, dull and drab with hairy chests and spend so much time playing darts with the lads that when they go to bed, it’s usually to sleep’.

A CAMRA spokesman disagreed with these findings: ‘better in bed my boot’.

Oddly, when a survey was conducted by real ale brewers Hall and Woodhouse (aka ‘Badger’) in 1989, the results were quite different. As reported in The Times on 30 December that year:

Ale fellows, it seems, like to think of themselves as country types who work the land, wear rough-textured clothes and are “physically stronger than men of today”. “It is here that the real attraction of this fantasy lies,” says Thornton Mustard, the marketing psychologist behind the project.

Mr Mustard, who, amazingly, is a real person, went on to say that, in the ale drinker’s fantasy:

…the work pace is seen to be leisurely, and it is nearly always summer. The only variation is the harvest; a lovely autumnal mood. A man works hard and is brought tankards of ale by his wife. He has earned this ale: it is strong, yet refreshing.

‘Bitter’, on the other hand, ‘has a rough, uncultured and very masculine tonality which reassures today’s man that underneath his civility he is little-changed’. It’s was a word of the industrial north, he reckoned. (Oh, really?).

His conclusion? Brewers should market to men using one macho fantasy or another and leave women alone to make up their own minds: ‘The whole idea of marketing to women has been a disaster because it always comes across as incredibly condescending.’