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.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Arty­facts from the Nyneties #1: Lemon Ale”

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.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Where Did Christ­mas Ales Come From?”

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.