Artyfacts from the Nyneties #6: Beers of ’94

Sainsbury's Biere de Garde.
SOURCE: JS Jour­nal Online (PDF).

Yesterday we stumbled upon a 2006 ‘top ten bottled British ales’ listicle by Pete Brown which we shared on Twitter, and which reminded us of something we found during research on Brew Britannia: a list of 101 bottled reviewed by Michael ‘The Beer Hunter’ Jackson’s for an article in British tabloid the People in 1994.

It appeared in the Sun­day edi­tion for 21 August that year and offers an excel­lent snap­shot of what was then read­i­ly avail­able in British shops.

It’s from just the moment when Pre­mi­um Bot­tled Ales were com­ing into exis­tence in their almost-a-pint bot­tles and at around pub strength, shov­ing aside tra­di­tion­al half-pint brown and light ales.

There are some sur­pris­es but, gen­er­al­ly, we think, it brings home how far things have come.

Jack­son sub­scribed to the view that it was a waste of time to write bad reviews when you could focus on things you’d enjoyed but in this exer­cise was essen­tial­ly forced to give a short note for each beer, some of which were unchar­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly sting­ing.  Carls­berg Spe­cial Brew, for exam­ple, he found “sweet and yucky” and Scor­pi­on Dry prompt­ed him to ask: “Where’s the sting? More like cab­bage water.”

On the whole, though, he remained quite gen­tle, even find­ing diplo­mat­ic words to say about some fair­ly bland lagers such as Rolling Rock with its touch of “new-mown hay”.

The aster­isked beers are those he par­tic­u­lar­ly rec­om­mend­ed – quite a high bar, evi­dent­ly.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Arty­facts from the Nyneties #6: Beers of ’94”

Artyfacts from the Nyneties #5: Sainsbury’s Bière de Garde, 1991

Sainsbury's Biere de Garde.

The image above comes from the Sainsbury’s supermarket in-house magazine for November 1991 and is a great reminder that interesting beer didn’t arrive in Britain in 2010.

Here’s the text that accom­pa­nied the prod­uct shot under the groan­some head­line THE BEER WORTH GUARDING:

The new Sainsbury’s Biere de Garde derives its name from the tra­di­tion­al brew­ing meti­iods used at tlie brew­ery in Beni­fontaine, in the Nord-pas de Calais region of France. This strong beer, which is made with sev­en malts, spends six weeks ‘kept’ in spe­cial chilled tanks in a locked Garde room while top fer­men­ta­tion takes place. Hence Biere de Garde – ‘kept’ beer.

The design of the bot­tle, and the label, is a strik­ing blend of the mod­ern and tra­di­tion­al, and the amber beer is, in the words of the buy­er: ‘robust, deliv­er­ing a rich bou­quet and an intense full, round­ed flavour.’

Biere de Garde is avail­able in 123 stores at £1.79.

Retro Sainsbury’s brand­ing is very cool right now – some of it has aged rather won­der­ful­ly – and this Biere de Garde isn’t bad at all.

You can read the whole issue as a PDF via the JS Jour­nal Online pages at the Sainsbury’s Archive, and there’s more on the arrival of ‘world beer’ in Britain in Brew Bri­tan­nia, espe­cial­ly on pages 106 to 111.

Artyfacts from the Nyneties #4: Meet Pete

Pete's Wicked Ale ad, 1994.
Click to enlarge.

The advertisement above appeared in the Campaign for Real Ale’s monthly What’s Brewing in November 1994.

The year before, ‘Pete’s’ had spon­sored the Bieres Sans Fron­tieres pro­gramme and it was on its way to becom­ing the best-known Amer­i­can brew­ery among British drinkers.

In the Dai­ly Mir­ror on 27 Jan­u­ary 1995, Nick Kent wrote:

THE coolest beers in Amer­i­ca are hit­ting Britain – and some of them are OK when they’re warm! Micro­brew­ery beers are fash­ion­able in the US but may become an endan­gered species as hype and big busi­ness start to get a hold… Pete’s Wicked Lager is a fine exam­ple; hops pre­dom­i­nate and it has a clean, sharp, dry taste even though it is on the strong side (4.8 per cent alco­hol).

Then, on 21 July the same year, Kent announced an excit­ing com­pe­ti­tion:

HE’S loud, proud, thirsty-some­thing, and he could be head­ing your way… Amer­i­can Pete Slos­berg, founder of Pete’s Brew­ing Com­pa­ny, is com­ing to the British Beer Fes­ti­val, and he wants a brace of Mir­ror read­ers to go with him… So pre­pare to be sloshed with Slos­berg. It will be a swill par­ty… Mod­est, qui­et, polite, a taste­ful dress­er – Pete is none of these, as the two com­pe­ti­tion win­ners will soon dis­cov­er… They will accom­pa­ny Pete as he pint-ifi­cates his way around the fes­ti­val at London’s Olympia, on Thurs­day, August 3… Dis­pens­ing views on oth­er people’s wares, he will be look­ing out for any beer dar­ing to rival Pete’s Wicked Lager and Pete’s Wicked Ale for taste… Pete will also take his Mir­ror guests for a taste of the Bel­gian beer and food at Bel­go Cen­traal… This top restau­rant is the trendi­est thing to come out of Bel­gium since Tintin.

By 1996, Pete’s beers were in Majes­tic, Wait­rose, Tesco, Morrison’s and Odd­bins (Inde­pen­dent on Sun­day, 17 Novem­ber).

The flag­ship beer was a brown ale, Pete’s Wicked Ale, which was reviewed by ‘Sparks’ for the Oxford Bot­tled Beer Data­base in around 1998:

This is one of the eas­i­er Amer­i­can brew­eries to get hold of in the UK… The beer is ruby-coloured with a thick, rea­son­ably tena­cious head. The nose is quite light, but with notice­able sug­ary malt notes and a lit­tle back­ground hop­pi­ness (aro­ma hops only). On the tongue, it is quite fizzy and fair­ly malty, but not as sweet as you might expect from the aro­ma – in fact it is much dri­er than many brown ales. There is burnt caramel in the back of the throat, becom­ing more pro­nounced towards the fin­ish. The after­taste is more hop­py, but also with bit­ter, burnt sug­ar flavours. This is a pleas­ant exam­ple of a brown ale, with a pleas­ing dry­ness not often encoun­tered in the genre.

It doesn’t sound ter­ri­bly excit­ing – as Jeff Alworth put it in 2011, ‘In the 1990s, lots and lots of peo­ple drank and enjoyed brown ales… I mean real­ly, brown ales. What the … ?’ – but it had a whiff of the exot­ic about it, and was clev­er­ly mar­ket­ed with a big per­son­al­i­ty front-and-cen­tre, e.g.

In the UK, it seems to have occu­pied a sim­i­lar space to Newquay Steam Beer, come to think of it – a bit out­side the nar­ra­tive of the ‘craft beer rev­o­lu­tion’ (unless we’re mis­tak­en, the last 20 years hasn’t seen a ton of Pete’s Wicked clones among UK brew­ers, unlike, say, Sier­ra Neva­da Pale Ale) and dif­fer­ent with­out being too dif­fer­ent.

Artyfacts from the Nyneties #3: Editors at War

This really is the footnote to end all footnotes but it interested us because it answered some lingering from this long post about women in the world of British beer.

Back in 2013, we emailed Andrea Gillies, who edit­ed two edi­tions of the Cam­paign for Real Ale’s Good Beer Guide in the ear­ly 1990s, but she wasn’t espe­cial­ly keen to talk about her time at CAMRA. Now we think we know why.

After a peri­od of appar­ent­ly rea­son­ably friend­ly rela­tions with her for­mer employ­er dur­ing which she wrote a chal­leng­ing guest col­umn about bot­tled beer (WB, Novem­ber 1993), in Decem­ber 1993, this hap­pened:

Gillies raps 'blokish' GBG -- story from What's Brewing, December 1993.
From What’s Brew­ing, Decem­ber 1993. (Click to enlarge.)

Though Mr Evans’s response was fair­ly diplo­mat­ic it’s hard not to sus­pect that some per­sis­tent resent­ment in St Albans influ­enced this review of Ms Gillies’ own book released in 1995:

'How Andrea Got "Canned"', book review from What's Brewing.
From What’s Brew­ing, Octo­ber 1995. (Click to enlarge.)

We weren’t there, and we don’t know the peo­ple involved, so it wouldn’t be right for us to pick sides. It was pret­ty for­ward-think­ing of CAMRA to appoint Ms Gillies in 1988, though, and it’s a shame it all got so nasty.

Artyfacts from the Nyneties #2: World Beer Menu, 1993

Front cover of the 1993 Great British Beer Festival Bieres Sans Frontieres menu.
The front cov­er.
Welcome to the most exotic bar in the whole festival… This year’s star feature has to be the USA. Thanks to months of work by Jonathan Tuttle… Rick’s American Bar has probably the widest selection of beer and beer styles ever to cross the Atlantic Ocean from West to East.”

From Alis­tair Boyd’s intro­duc­tion.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Arty­facts from the Nyneties #2: World Beer Menu, 1993”