Artyfacts from the Nyneties #1: Lemon Ale

Whitbread (Flower's) advert, 1995: Colonel Pepper's Lemon Ale.

In Chapter 10 of Brew Britannia we wrote about the craze in the mid-1990s for interesting one-off seasonals.

Some were single-hopped, others were spiced and/or infused with fruit beers. This beauty from Flowers (Whitbread) launched in 1995 is typical.

As luck would have it, what appears to be the original press release is lurking in the depths of the internet:


Whitbread has revived the use of one of brewing’s oldest ingredients, black pepper and added a relatively new one into British beer making, lemon, with the launch of Colonel Pepper’s Lemon Ale – the ideal thirst-quenching pint for those long, balmy summer days!

Colonel Pepper’s (5.0% ABV) is a wonderfully refreshing beer, unusually light and golden in colour for an ale, with a spicy aroma – the lemon peel and ground black pepper added into the brew give it a clean and fresh ‘tingle’ for the drinker’s palate.

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Pubs of London E17, 1991

CAMRA’s East London & City Beer Guide is a fascinating document which, across three editions from 1983 to 1991, charts changes to the drinking landscape.

We’ve had the 1986 edition for a while, and have 1983 (finally) on the way, but 1991 arrived this week, looking as if it had come fresh from the binders, the spine un-cracked. (“Printed by Calvert’s Press (TU) Worker’s Co-Operative”.)

We turned to the section that covers Walthamstow, London E17 — an area we know particularly well — which prompted a few observations.

1. It hasn’t changed that much. The Grove, the Windmill, the Plough and a few others have gone, but many others are still there — the Lord Brooke, the Lord Raglan, the Lord Palmerston, the Chequers, and so on, many in better shape now than they were when this book was written.

2. It’s always seemed odd that there’s no Wetherspoon’s in Walthamstow (the nearest is across the line into Leyton). Now we know that the College Arms on Forest Road was a JDW (Younger’s Scotch Ale at 79p a pint!) but, at some point, the firm abandoned it — something it seems it’s always been pretty ruthless about.

3. The Village, which looks like a well-worn and traditional Victorian pub, actually opened in 1989. The building is Victorian but the premises was formerly (Boak thinks, calling on childhood memories) residential. For that  matter, The College Arms was formerly two shop units and the Coppermill an off-licence, so these change-of-use conversions have occasionally gone the other way.

4. Pubs change their names a lot. The Tower Hotel became Flanagan’s Tower, which became the Tower Hotel again, which is now the Goose. The College Arms was formerly ‘Cheeks American Bar‘. What is now the Waltham Oak on Lea Bridge Road was formerly the Chestnut Tree, but began life with what might be our new favourite pub name: The Little Wonder.

The content of all three editions is available at this splendidly old-school website if you want to investigate further, but the 1991 edition is also generally available for pennies.

Where Did Christmas Ales Come From?

For a long time, Britain had beers associated with Christmas that weren’t explicitly billed as Christmas beers.

If Frank Baillie’s 1973 Beer Drinker’s Companion is anything to go by, there were certainly winter ales released in November or December in time for Christmas, but they didn’t feature Father Christmas on the pump clips or labels; they weren’t called things like Rudolf’s Throbbing Conk; and they weren’t dosed with cinnamon and nutmeg.  As far as we can see, Shepherd Neame’s bottled Christmas Ale was the only one with Christmas is in its name at that time.*

Based on looking through old copies of the Campaign for Real Ale’s Good Beer Guide (thanks again, Ed!) it looks as if the idea of marketing ‘winter warmers’ as Christmas beers really took off in the increasingly competitive real ale scene of the 1980s. The 1987 GBG (published in 1986) lists around ten beers that we would classify as definitely Christmas seasonals, such as Mauldon Christmas Reserve, Wood’s Christmas Cracker and the Bridgewater Arms’s Old Santa.

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The Arrival of Aroma

Humulus Lupulus illustration.

The fundamental shift in thinking around hops which took place at some point after the 1970s was reflected in a mid-nineties UK industry competition.

First run in 1996, ‘The Beauty of Hops’ was sponsored and organised by the National Hop Association (now the British Hop Association), Horticulture Research International (HRI) and SIBA.

In its inaugural year, the event took place at the White Horse, Parson’s Green, then run by Mark Dorber, and reflects a strain of thought you might call ‘Franklinism’:

The aim behind the Awards was an attempt to stimulate thought about varietal brewing, to  steal some of the clothes of oenologists and increase understanding of the potentials of individual hops in the same way that grape varieties are assessed and understood. [The Grist, May/June 1996, ed. Alastair Hook]

It seems amazing, in an age when Marks & Spencer has a single-hop beer range, to think that this approach needed prompting as recently as 18 years ago.

Four hop varieties were used in the competition: Phoenix, Progress, Target, and the then-brand-new First Gold. The winners in each hop category were, respectively, Ballards with Nyewood Gold; Rooster’s (Sean Franklin) with Bullseye; and Hop Back with Thunderstorm. The First Gold competition was informal and no winner was announced.

The competition was repeated the following year, this time at Wolverhampton & Dudley brewery, and with a new category open to regional/family brewers: Aromatic Cask Ales.

The task brewers they were set was ‘to brew a beer with any grist of English grown hops — Max ABV 5%’. The gold medal winners were Hardy & Hanson of Nottinghamshire with Guzzling Goose, described by a correspondent for The Grist (Mar/Apr 1997, ed. Peter Haydon):

Here was a beer that was balanced, not too powerfully bitter, which demonstrated a teamwork between the hop aroma and the hop flavour, so that the former gave you a reasonable indication of what the latter was going to provide.

In second place, Wolverhampton & Dudley’s White Rabbit ‘painted a landscape of fruits and spices’.

The winners in other categories were Crouch Vale First Gold (single hop cask), Rooster’s Jerry (aromatic lager), and Freeminer Trafalgar (single hop bottle).

The most entertaining thing about The Grist article, however, is the criticism directed at brewers who didn’t rise to the challenge:

The judges of the aromatic cask ales… were a little disappointed with the standard of the ale offered up to taste. The beers fell into four categories. Oxidised (by far the largest), full of off flavours (buckets of diacetyl and acetone), good beers but either of so malty a character or so lacking in hop character that one was left wondering why they had been entered in a hop competition, or good beers that filled the remit… 

One beer was so bad it prompted Hop Back’s John Gilbert to remark, disturbingly, that it reminded him of his ‘Granny’s pants’, while another wasn’t fit to wash his dog in.

There’s a sense that the regional brewers didn’t understand how the rules of the game were changing — that ‘hoppy’ was gaining a new, alternate meaning that didn’t have much to do with bitterness or Fuggles. In the years that followed these competitions, the gap between them and the ‘micros’ would grow ever wider.

This post was, as you’ll have guessed, based only on a couple of old magazine articles. If you can point us to more detailed information on the Beauty of Hops competitions, or were involved yourself as a competitor or judge, please do comment below.

Embracing Keg, Rejecting CAMRA, 1995

In 1995, a handful of Brits were beginning to get excited about American beer and, at the same time, rather irritated by the Campaign for Real Ale.

The Grist began life as, to all intents and purposes, the magazine of SIBA, in 1983, under the editorship of Elisabeth Baker. In that incarnation, it focused largely on offering technical advice to small brewers, and pre-Beer Orders policy propaganda.

By 1995, however, its ties to that organisation had been all but severed, and it was being edited by Alastair Hook, now best known as the founder of Meantime, but then head brewer at Freedom in West London. Under his control, and, later, that of his friend Peter Haydon, The Grist became more concerned with personalities and the passionate advocacy of ‘great beer’.

The Grist, November/December 1995.The November/December 1995 edition (No. 67) gives us a glimpse into a time when more than one influential voice was beginning to evangelise about the quality of American beer and the benefits of ‘brewery conditioning’, while also criticising the Campaign for Real Ale’s dogmatism. From Hook’s editorial:

[Most American microbrewery] beer is brewery conditioned. It might be bottled or kegged, but always cold matured and filtered. The American micros know that without a consistent product there is no business… For hundreds of UK micros who fight to survive in a fiercely competitive market, producing beer that by its very nature is difficult to handle, the role of CAMRA is critical. It strikes me that unless CAMRA’s nonsensical opposition to the cask breather and blanket opposition to brewery-conditioned beers is reversed, the microbrewing industry will suffer chronically. The irony is that the micros are, after all, the greatest agent for the change and choice that CAMRA claim to desire.

Elsewhere in the same issue, Mark Dorber, then manager of the White Horse, also in West London, gave an account of the Great American Beer Festival XIV:

A tradition unencumbered by the ideological baggage of our ‘real ale’ movement appreciates quality in terms of flavour and absence of faults, as it should… Vibrant flavours stood out in many of the beers judged and sampled. (Alas, much of the UK brewing industry, by contrast, seems reluctant to offend any portion of the beer market with its bland {aka ‘balanced’} beers.)

A third article by Keith Laric (a pseudonym?) in the same issue lays into CAMRA’s ‘Cask Breather Hypocrisy’: “Perhaps we need to be less insular, and to look at the best European and American traditions as well.”

Just to make sure the point was absolutely hammered home, Hook also gave over two-and-a-half pages to a piece on his own brewery venture, written by Peter Haydon, who said:

The American microbrewers were not able to produce cask conditioned beers when their revolution started. They produced keg beers of startling quality and sophistication that really deserve a different appellation. If a keg beer is produced by a brewer who wants to produce good, exciting beer, then there is no reason why such a beer cannot be produced… Keg beer is only bad when it is produced by accountants, or when it is masquerading as something else.

OK, we get the message!

Though the term ‘craft beer’ does not appear once in any of the articles — Hook uses the term (brace yourselves) “gourmet beer” — this particular issue of The Grist suggests that the idea of a ‘third way’ that was neither ‘industrial fizz’ nor ‘real ale’ was fully formed by the middle of the 90s.