Beer history

Beer for the penguins

Penguins on the Falkland Islands.
SOURCE: Yuriy Rzhemovskiy/Unsplash

In the excitement of the post-CAMRA beer revolution, breweries popped up in some very remote places.

First, starting closest to home, there was the Lundy Brewery on the island in the Bristol Channel, which sold its beer through the Marisco Tavern from 1984 until 1995. With a permanent population of fewer than thirty people, the brewery was really installed to capitalise on the summer tourist market.

1983 saw the opening of a brewery at Borve on the Isle of Lewis. Brian Glover, in his marvellous New Beer Guide (1987), describes the owners’ difficulties in getting raw materials — malt picked up with farm supplies; hops and yeast in the post — and, in particular, the locals’ lack of sympathy when the cost was passed on to them. In 1988, the brewery moved to the mainland.

So far, so good, but now it’s time to really push the boat out, so to speak, and head all the way across the Atlantic to the Falkland Islands. It was there, in February 1983 that a brewery was established for the first time. Sir Rex Hunt, Civil Commissioner, opened the brewery, and was shown around by Ron Barclay whose employers, Everard’s of Leicester, were behind the venture. They both enjoyed pints of Penguin Ale. Was it a political statement in the wake of the recently concluded war with Argentina? Or, more likely, an attempt to pacify the several thousand thirsty soldiers stationed there?

Finally, there was a similar effort on St Helena, this time led by veteran brewer Bill Urquhart. Urquhart, an ex-Watney man, is a contender for the title of Britain’s first ‘microbrewer’, and acted as consultant to several new breweries in the late seventies and eighties. In 1980, after he’d sold the Litchborough Brewery, intending to retire, the Foreign Office approached him on behalf of Solomon’s, the island’s biggest company. As his daughter told us: “For the next three years he spent several months a year in the South Atlantic assembling a brewing plant and training the local staff.”

See also: the pub at the edge of the world.

beer in fiction / tv pubs

The Pub at the Edge of the World

Dramatic Sky! (in St Kilda) by Gajtalbot From Flickr Creative Commons.

We’ve developed the bad habit of annotating films as we watch them, both of us with mobile devices in front of the TV reading different bits of Wikipedia. (“Huh, fancy that — Basil Rathbone was an intelligence agent in World War I and once disguised himself as a tree to get near to the enemy lines.”)

Last week, Film 4 showed Michael Powell’s first real feature film, The Edge of the World (1937), set on a fictional archipelago beyond the Outer Hebrides. That led us to look up St Kilda and the story of its evacuation in 1930. Of course what leapt out to us was the mention of ‘the Puff Inn’, which must be the most remote licensed premises in Britain.

The Puff Inn isn’t really called the Puff Inn. In fact, it’s not really a pub and that’s official. It’s a stormproof shed where the military personnel who are now the islands’ only residents can go to drink and eat. Someone ought to write a book about the influence of the British armed forces on beer culture. Where they go, beer goes, it seems.

Its decor hints at ‘pubbiness’, and there is beer, but tourists who’ve made the journey across the open sea to visit the National Trust-owned islands shouldn’t expect a ploughmans and a pint of mild.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the country, near us, there are several pubs on the far less remote and much balmier Isles of Scilly, the residents of which seem to relish their reputation as “2000 alcoholics clinging to a rock”.

The film was great, by the way, despite the typical 1930s all-purpose RADA Irish/Scottish/Welsh lilting accents.

Picture by Gajtalbot, via Flickr Creative Commons.


Generalisations about beer culture real ale

The Zen Garden of Brown Bitter

Zen garden

When Zythophile posted his thoughts on the wonder of brown beer yesterday, it prompted several people to observe (paraphrased) that bitter is underrated and that beer geeks are too obsessed with big beer to give it its due.

Is the fact that this is on people’s minds more evidence of the Quiet Beer Counter-Revolution Alan McLeod observed last year?

Relatively simple beers — those that aren’t limited edition, barrel-aged, spiced, super strong or exotically hopped — should not be seen as boring, but conducive to meditation.

As Alan suggests here, brewers who can coax notes of apple and pear out of pale malt are doing something very clever, very quietly.

(Brown bitter is British beer’s Zen garden? That must be one of
the most pretentious things we’ve ever written, and God knows there’s
some competition.)

beer and food opinion

Sucking up a social class


In his column in the 5 December issue of New Statesman, Will Self, on the subject of wine, quotes his French translator who says “when I have a glass of wine, I’m imbibing the region where it comes from.” Self ponders this and suggests that “when an English person drinks wine, she’s sucking up a social class”.

Is that also what’s going on when people drink craft beer? Is it becoming an accessory for those who aspire to, or wish to emphasise, middle class credentials?

We like to think that beer is in the process of being stripped of any specific class associations — that it’s becoming socially mobile, as comfortable at an Islington dinner party as in a working men’s club. But maybe we’re kidding ourselves.

Either way, there’s plenty of work to be done before beer is quite welcome to a seat at the shabby chic dining table in front of the Aga. The Cheese Shop in Truro — one of the most middle class shops you can imagine — has wine, port, sherry, sparkling cider, soft drinks… but not one drop of beer. Not even a politely packaged Fuller’s Vintage Ale getting dusty in a corner. Shame.

This agonising over snobbery and social class isn’t going to end anytime soon, we’re afraid. It is much on our minds.