In their own words: the development of the Leeds beer scene

A while ago some­one on Twit­ter said they’d like to read a his­to­ry of the Leeds beer scene. We want­ed to read one, too, but didn’t feel it was our place to write it. Then we recalled the suc­cess of a cou­ple of pieces we’d writ­ten ‘in their own words’ and decid­ed that at least we could facil­i­tate.

What fol­lows is based on emails and inter­views, some dat­ing as far back as 2013 (John Gyn­gell and Chris­t­ian Towns­ley), oth­ers from the past month or so, with light edit­ing for sense and clar­i­ty.

We’ve also used a quote from Richard Coldwell’s blog because we get the impres­sion he wouldn’t want the mere fact that he sad­ly died in July stop him con­tribut­ing on a sub­ject about which he was so pas­sion­ate.

Ian Gar­rett Drinker and CAMRA activist
I first drank in Leeds in the ear­ly 1970s, when I was a stu­dent in Brad­ford and vis­it­ed the city to go to gigs at the Uni­ver­si­ty. The only pubs that beer lovers talked about were The Vic­to­ria Fam­i­ly and Com­mer­cial Hotel, and The White­locks. Leeds was awash with Tet­ley pubs and I remem­ber when doing a PGCE in Leeds the won­der­ful aro­mas waft­ing over the city cen­tre as they mashed in. I guess the ‘beer scene’ in Leeds had a few fal­ter­ing starts. There was the CAMRA owned pub The Eagle which always seemed to be strug­gling when­ev­er I ven­tured there. Then, in the 1980s, The Fox & Newt brew­pub opened and, of course, The Felon & Firkin where Dave Sanders first plied his trade.

Bar­rie Pep­per Beer writer and vet­er­an CAMRA activist
Leeds had a beer explo­sion came around the turn of the cen­tu­ry. I think Ian Fozard – now the Chair­man of SIBA – had quite a bit to do with it. The amaz­ing suc­cess of his Mar­ket Town Tav­erns com­pa­ny, which he start­ed in the mid-1990s with the Long Boat in Skip­ton, like Top­sy, just grew and grew. His pol­i­cy was to sell a good selec­tion of cask beer in pleas­ant sur­round­ings to accom­pa­ny good food. There were also con­ti­nen­tal beers and a fine wine list. The estate grew to ten pubs – all in York­shire, five in Leeds – and by the issue of the 2008 Good Beer Guide, every one of the ten pubs was in it. There were some oth­er fac­tors of course. Tetley’s opened a few brew pubs and was devel­op­ing its Feast group and some Fes­ti­val pubs which had guest beers on their bars. Oth­er brew­eries fol­lowed suit. A cou­ple of small brew­eries locat­ed at pubs opened with prize-win­ning ales. The city’s drinkers had an impres­sive choice.

Having fun behind the bar.
Chris­t­ian Towns­ley (left) and John Gyn­gell at North Bar c.1997.

Zak Avery Beer writer and retail­er
John Gyn­gell and Chris­t­ian Towns­ley from North Bar were pio­neers, doing the beer thing before craft beer exist­ed.

John Gyn­gell Co-founder of North Bar
Peo­ple thought we were mak­ing a mis­take open­ing a bar on Brig­gate. This was kebab alley. I remem­ber dri­ving past here with my Mum and show­ing her the site and she just said: “What the hell are you doing?”

Chris­t­ian Towns­ley Co-founder of North Bar
I was 22 when we opened on 26 June 1997; John was a bit old­er. It was real­ly qui­et for the first six months, or some­thing like that. At first, the beer was­n’t any­thing spe­cial, large­ly because of the brew­ery loan from John Smith’s. Back then, that was real­ly the only way to finance some­thing like this, if you did­n’t have a rich mum­my and dad­dy.

John Gyn­gell
I can’t remem­ber if we approached James Clay or they approached us, but that’s how we start­ed get­ting more inter­est­ing beer. We’ve always had a great rela­tion­ship with them, and we became more-or-less their brew­ery tap. Brook­lyn, Goose Island, that kind of thing.

Chris­t­ian Towns­ley
Erdinger Weiss­bier was an ear­ly one. We were the first place in the UK to sell it and I guess we’re a bit proud of that. In bot­tles, we had the Chi­mays, Duv­el and Anchor Lib­er­ty, when they were pret­ty hard to find. We’d been drink­ing Lib­er­ty at the Atlantic and at Mash. That was a real land­mark beer – prob­a­bly where, for me, some­thing clicked.

North Bar

Matt Gorec­ki Own­er of Zap­a­to brew­ery, indus­try ‘face’
The first Bel­gian beer I had was a Hoe­gaar­den in some ter­ri­ble pub down low­er Brig­gate and I almost smashed a tooth on the huge glass. The same night I was intro­duced to North Bar by a friend and mar­velled at the freely flow­ing pints of Erdinger. When I start­ed work­ing at The Cross Keys [part of the North chain] I was edu­cat­ed by Mr Chris­t­ian Towns­ley in the beau­ty and sub­tle­ty of some of the import­ed US, Bel­gian and Ger­man beers that were avail­able at the time from James Clay. Leeds at that point had a few stand-out venues but inter­est­ing cask ale was only real­ly just start­ing to take hold. My first ever beer pur­chase as man­ag­er was casks of Mar­ble Gin­ger – the first time over the Pen­nines!

Ian Gar­rett
Spe­cial men­tion must go to the orig­i­nal Beer­Ritz which was a whole­sale-retail ware­house where it was pos­si­ble to pick up some great Bel­gian beers by the bot­tle or case.

Zak Avery
After uni­ver­si­ty, I was work­ing on a PhD with the Open Uni­ver­si­ty and also writ­ing music. I was liv­ing in Head­in­g­ley just round the cor­ner from Beer­Ritz and one day in 2000 they put up a sign adver­tis­ing for a part time shop assis­tant. Eigh­teen months in, I was man­ag­ing the shop and a cou­ple of years after that had launched thebeerboy.co.uk to host beer tast­ings as cor­po­rate events. The shop went from strength to strength – best inde­pen­dent beer retail­er 2003 – and I start­ed writ­ing beer-relat­ed web­site con­tent. In my mind, it was before blog­ging was real­ly a thing, but I might be wrong about that. From 2008, I start­ed doing video beer reviews – I’ve been blamed for the whole phe­nom­e­non by var­i­ous peo­ple – and get cho­sen as Beer Writer of the Year by The British Guild of Beer Writ­ers. 2009 saw the blog Are You Tast­ing The Pith? launch and in 2011 my busi­ness part­ner and I bought out Beer Par­adise and Beer­Ritz.

Neil Walk­er Blog­ger, lat­er employed by CAMRA and now SIBA
Dean at Mr Foley’s was the guy that dragged Mr Foley’s into the 21st cen­tu­ry, got good keg beers on the bar and mod­ernised what they were all about. It was always a good ale bar but 2011 was when it start­ed to get real­ly inter­est­ing.

Dean Pugh Head of Euro­pean bar oper­a­tions for Brew­Dog
I moved to Leeds for uni­ver­si­ty in 2003 and was work­ing part time at Wether­spoons. I had a shift man­ag­er there who taught me every­thing about cask ales and cel­lar man­age­ment. I moved into man­age­ment and dif­fer­ent Wether­spoon loca­tions in Leeds, always tak­ing on the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the cel­lar and organ­is­ing real ale fes­ti­vals. I had a friend who was run­ning the tap room at York Brew­ery and they were pur­chas­ing a bar on the Head­row called Dr Okells. I joined as gen­er­al man­ag­er and the bar was rebrand­ed as Mr Foley’s, open­ing in 2007. My ini­tial aim when open­ing Foley’s was to become the best cask ale pub in the city, and we were named Leeds CAMRA pub of the year in 2008. Around the same time I joined Foley’s in 2007 I was also dis­cov­er­ing Amer­i­can craft beer, most­ly through vis­its to North Bar. I remem­ber Brook­lyn Choco­late Stout being one of the first beers that real­ly grabbed my atten­tion and showed me a dif­fer­ent side to beer. I brought this back to Foley’s, begin­ning with an extend­ed bot­tle list, but soon con­vinced my boss­es to hand over that draft lines too.

Neil Walk­er
Mr Foley’s felt like the com­mon room for the Leeds beer scene. Its ample space and rel­a­tive cheap­ness made it ide­al for events and beer-gath­er­ings – bot­tle-shares, beer launch­es and so on. We even had a beer din­ner there with Gar­rett Oliv­er [of Brook­lyn Brew­ery] pour­ing Ghost bot­tles of wine-lees aged sai­son paired with buf­fa­lo chick­en wings and pulled pork pre­pared by Tyler Kiley.

Dean Pugh
I think towards the end of my time at Foley’s we had around six to eight rotat­ing taps for craft beer, two Brew­Dog taps, ten cask ales, bag-in-a-box real cider and prob­a­bly up to a hun­dred bot­tled and canned beers.

Neil Walk­er
One of the ear­ly, key moments for me was IPA­Day in 2011. It felt like an impor­tant moment – every­one seemed to be there and every­one remem­bers it. As well as the inter­na­tion­al beer list there were some great offer­ings from British brew­ers and I remem­ber Zak Avery and Dave from Hard­knott mak­ing impas­sioned and semi-incom­pre­hen­si­ble speech­es on the style. My first mem­o­ry of feel­ing like I was in a beer scene was the Brew­dog IPA is Dead launch at North Bar. There were just so many blog­gers there and at that time it felt a lit­tle bit com­pet­i­tive, albeit in a friend­ly way, and I remem­ber writ­ing up my tast­ing notes at about 6 am the next morn­ing to make sure I was first to press.

Zak Avery
I was shit broke in 2010, real­ly strug­gling to make ends meet, man­ag­ing the shop, try­ing to go free­lance, a new par­ent. I was sell­ing things to meet mort­gage pay­ments. I wrote a real­ly well-paid adver­to­r­i­al for Guin­ness. It was­n’t all totes craft amaze­balls, you know?

Tetley's sign on a pub.

Mike Hamp­shire For­mer local CAMRA chair, own­er of Mike’s Tap Room
The sin­gle key turn­ing point in Leeds beer has been the clo­sure of Tetley’s Brew­ery in 2011. As sad and dif­fi­cult as it was, it effec­tive­ly hit the reset but­ton on the Leeds beer scene. The US craft rev­o­lu­tion was well under­way and lots of micro-brew­eries start­ed pop­ping up, see­ing the huge gap in the Leeds mar­ket for tra­di­tion­al ales and US-influ­enced mod­ern styles.

Ian Gar­rett
In its hey­day, Tetley’s was one of the biggest brew­eries in the UK, Tetley’s Bit­ter was the best sell­ing beer in the UK, Leeds drinkers knew what to expect from a good pint of Tetley’s, and they drank it by the gal­lon.

Leigh Lin­ley Retired blog­ger, author of Great York­shire Beer
The buzz around the first Leeds Inter­na­tion­al Beer Fes­ti­val in 2012 was fan­tas­tic. A real inde­pen­dent beer fes­ti­val in Leeds, a shift toward keg being not only accept­ed but expect­ed.

Maria Estibal­iz Organ­is­er of the Leeds Inter­na­tion­al Beer Fes­ti­val
We want­ed to cre­ate a fes­ti­val that cel­e­brat­ed and embraced the inde­pen­dent craft scene in the UK as exist­ing beer events weren’t real­ly recog­nis­ing the amaz­ing things that were going on in the indus­try and a lot of new, great brew­eries were being over­looked. We also want­ed to cre­ate some­thing that was a lot more acces­si­ble and inclu­sive for younger audi­ences, par­tic­u­lar­ly women in this age group, as the indus­try and fes­ti­vals at the time were incred­i­bly male dom­i­nat­ed. We also want­ed the brew­ers them­selves to attend the fes­ti­val, meet audi­ences and talk about their beer – and at the same time we encour­aged audi­ences not be afraid to ask the brew­ers ques­tions.

Leigh Lin­ley
I recall sit­ting behind my desk at work eaves­drop­ping on a group of col­leagues who had no pri­or inter­est in beer who had got tick­ets for the Fes­ti­val excit­ing­ly detail­ing what beers they were going to try. That felt dif­fer­ent, for sure.

Leeds town hall

Zak Avery
The first LIBF, held in the city cen­tre at the glo­ri­ous town hall, marked a point where the scene start­ed to prop­er­ly cross over into the main­stream.

Leigh Lin­ley
Leeds host­ed the Euro­pean Beer Blog­gers Con­fer­ence in 2012 – an event that prob­a­bly passed a lot of non-blog­gers by but the impor­tance of hav­ing that many jour­nal­ists, blog­gers, writ­ers and retail­ers in the city can’t be over­stat­ed. I think a lot of influ­en­tial writ­ers went away rethink­ing what Leeds was about. We did the city proud.

Friends of Ham

Gareth Pettman Blog­ger
Friends of Ham open­ing in 2012 was the game chang­er for me – one of those ideas that a lot of us had dreams of, but not the abil­i­ty to exe­cute. Tyler Kiley took over as head beer buy­er there and under the Kitch­ings it was unbe­liev­ably rammed almost every night of the week.

Leigh Lin­ley
Here was a bar that embraced beer cul­ture but offered some­thing total­ly dif­fer­ent. It was a tiny, well-put-togeth­er bar with good beer but also more than that. It bridged the gap between beer and food (although it real­ly was­n’t beer­centric – it sold plen­ty of wine and sher­ry, too) in a way that real­ly shook up the bar scene. And it did it in a rat­ty part of Leeds that’s thriv­ing now, due to key­stone busi­ness­es like FoH.

Richard Brown­hill Lit­tle Leeds Beer House, Brown­hill & Co
Claire and [Antho­ny ‘Kitch’ Kitch­ing] real­ly raised the bar in terms of qual­i­ty in Leeds when they opened. It coin­cid­ed with my move to Leeds and their focus on ser­vice and the orig­i­nal­i­ty of their con­cept was a real scene-set­ter at the time.

Zak Avery
Even though Friends of Ham has been through ‘finan­cial restruc­tur­ing’ which left a bad taste in a lot of mouths (metaphor­i­cal­ly rather than lit­er­al­ly, of course) I don’t think their impor­tance can be over­stat­ed in chang­ing the Leeds beer scene. It was qual­i­ta­tive­ly dif­fer­ent from any­thing that had gone before, and set the blue­print for much that fol­lowed

Richard Brown­hill
It was a real shame what hap­pened with Friends Of Ham. I think their strug­gles just show the fragili­ty of small inde­pen­dent busi­ness­es, regard­less of rep­u­ta­tion or stand­ing in the indus­try. It’s an ever crowd­ed mar­ket out there and it’s very easy for offer­ings to become dilut­ed. It’s great that they man­aged to strike a deal to stay oper­at­ing, and it’s start­ing to get back to it’s best – they have some great new peo­ple in there who have a real pas­sion for the prod­uct.

Gareth Pettman
I arrived quite late to the scene itself and with­out friends who shared my bur­geon­ing inter­est in beer, it wasn’t until Simon Girt, AKA ‘Leeds Beer Wolf’, organ­ised a Twissup in 2014 that I actu­al­ly made an effort to get to know peo­ple in Leeds and beyond. So for me, per­son­al­ly, the peri­od between 2014–2016 was when the scene was at its peak, with reg­u­lar bot­tle­shares, most­ly organ­ised by Rob Der­byshire, AKA Hopzine, and held at Lit­tle Leeds Beer House or North­ern Monk. The open­ing of North­ern Monk was the next big leap for­ward in itself – with­out a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of brew­eries in Leeds this was prob­a­bly the kick up the arse that oth­ers need­ed.

Rus­sell Bis­set North­ern Monk Brew Co.
I start­ed North­ern Monk in a parent’s cel­lar in 2013, launch­ing at The Spar­row in Brad­ford the sum­mer of that year. Orig­i­nal­ly oper­at­ing as a cuck­oo brew­ery, we built our own brew­ery in a list­ed mill just out­side the cen­tre of Leeds, which launched in Octo­ber 2014.

Matt Gorec­ki
North­ern Monk are absolute­ly up there and their rate of growth and mas­tery of the mar­ket has been aston­ish­ing. Their beers have helped put the UK on the map across the rest of the world and espe­cial­ly in the US. Kirkstall’s cask offer­ing and extreme­ly sol­id expand­ing range of beers has been qui­et­ly win­ning hearts all over the place. Kirk­stall have also breathed life into two pubs that had gone to the dogs and man­aged the impor­ta­tion of so many of the gate­way brands and excit­ing US beers – the entire scene owes a lot to Steve Holt and Dave Sanders. There are also scene lead­ers and crossover suc­cess­es like Bun­do­bust, Lit­tle Leeds Beer­house and the team behind White­locks – Ed Mason of Five Points and Ash Kol­lakows­ki – who’ve put this ven­er­a­ble pub back at the heart of the scene.

Beer at Bundobust.

Richard Brown­hill
Leeds Beer Week was start­ed by myself, Matt Gorec­ki and James Ock­elford from Refold Design in 2016 – both to com­ple­ment the very pop­u­lar Leeds Inter­na­tion­al Beer Fes­ti­val but also to have a week where the many venues of Leeds were all under one umbrel­la and in the spot­light. I had found as both as man­ag­er of Tapped Leeds in 2014 and at the fledg­ling Lit­tle Leeds Beer­house in 2015 that although LIBF brought many peo­ple to the fes­ti­val at the town hall, the impact was quite insu­lar. The first cou­ple of years were tough but we’ve now expand­ed the team to include more than ten peo­ple and it is 100% inde­pen­dent­ly fund­ed. We have so many amaz­ing venues in Leeds who spon­sor the week finan­cial­ly every year, and James pro­duces world class design for our year­ly guide which pro­motes all venues, big or small. I am par­tic­u­lar­ly proud that we have built a mod­el which is not for prof­it – we are paid a lit­tle for our time each year, and we pay our com­mit­ted team, but every oth­er pen­ny from spon­sor­ship, adver­tis­ing and mer­chan­dise goes back into the fes­ti­val to help it grow each year. Which is a good job as Matt’s bunting fetish knows no bounds.

Ian Gar­rett
Today’s scene, for me, is over­crowd­ed as all the new bars try to entice the same hand­ful of peo­ple. I tend to stick to a hand­ful where I know there’s either excel­lent cask, well-kept, or a decent choice. Too many have eight vari­eties of IPA but that seems a com­mon prac­tice. It still looks like a healthy beer scene and new bars still appear, Brown­hill & Co being a recent addi­tion try­ing to do some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent.

Richard Brown­hill
Brown­hill & Co is a blue­print for every­thing Bry­ony and I love about the drink­ing expe­ri­ence and is focused on pro­vid­ing relaxed, sim­ple table ser­vice in a chilled envi­ron­ment. Ten taps of qual­i­ty, no filler, and bal­anced with all sorts of styles – a rotat­ing lager line and rotat­ing cask beers. Many years of vis­it­ing Bel­gium had us won­der­ing why the UK is aller­gic to table ser­vice in pubs and bars. I per­son­al­ly can’t think of any­thing bet­ter than not mov­ing all day while a nice, friend­ly, knowl­edge­able per­son brings me lots of beer. We’re delight­ed to have been select­ed to host this year’s Can­til­lon Zwanze Day.

Leigh Lin­ley
Leeds is still Leeds – there’s still a pub for all tastes with­in walk­ing dis­tance and the major­i­ty of the clas­sic places are still there, doing well. There’s even more choice and it’s hard to not encounter ‘craft’ in most places now, like in any major city. At the risk of sound­ing like an old man, it’s get­ting increas­ing­ly expen­sive to drink in the city cen­tre, but the scene itself is thriv­ing – beer is main­stream, there’s no need to guide peo­ple any­more. There’s a new gen­er­a­tion of drinkers dis­cov­er­ing beer and enjoy­ing some incred­i­ble venues that we’d have been over the moon to have enjoyed back in the ear­ly 2000s.

Richard Cold­well Blog­ger
There’s no doubt in my mind that Leeds is one of the pre­mier beer cities in the UK and that includes mak­ing the stuff as well as con­sum­ing it. We just need to shout out and make our mark. I often think Leeds is a bit slow to catch on to self pro­mo­tion. (2016.)

Matt Gorec­ki
There’s always some­thing going on and a num­ber of qual­i­ty brew­eries are com­ing through, push­ing things for­ward. Venues are high­er qual­i­ty and you’re start­ing to see some real­ly good qual­i­ty and curat­ed selec­tions rather than just a list of ques­tion­able hype beers that taste rough­ly sim­i­lar. Leeds is at its peak right now.


Pho­to cred­its: All ours except the one based on ‘Leeds Town Hall at Night’ by Enchu­fla Con Clave via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons and the pic­ture of John Gyn­gell and Chris­t­ian Towns­ley which they kind­ly sup­plied to us in 2013.


We’re very grate­ful to every­one who found time to respond to our ques­tions so ful­ly and frankly, but espe­cial­ly Zak Avery and Leigh Lin­ley. This post was sup­port­ed by Patre­on sub­scribers like Will Jor­dan and Peter Sid­well. Please con­sid­er sign­ing up, or just buy us a one-off pint via Ko-Fi. Alter­na­tive­ly, you can give us a boost by buy­ing one of our books, or just by shar­ing some­thing we’ve writ­ten on social media. Cheers! Ray & Jess. 

From Suffolk to Burton in search of work, c.1880–1931

Interviewing farm-workers in East Anglia the folklorist and oral historian George Ewart Evans discovered what in publishing blurbs would be trumpeted as an ‘untold story’: the mass movement of men from Suffolk to Burton on Trent to work in the brewing industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

His book Where Beards Wag All is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly a col­lec­tion of essays high­light­ing spe­cif­ic nar­ra­tives aris­ing from oral his­to­ry research and a defence of oral his­to­ry as a dis­ci­pline. Its mes­sage is that with­out oral his­to­ry – with­out talk­ing to work­ing peo­ple, and min­ing their mem­o­ries – we lose great chunks of his­to­ry that weren’t record­ed in offi­cial papers or cov­ered in the news.

Hav­ing spent a chunk of the past few years research­ing and writ­ing about pubs, we can’t agree enough. Pubs, being seen as pro­sa­ic and unsavoury, weren’t well record­ed, and it is only through oral his­to­ry that much sense of the habits of drinkers and pub­li­cans real­ly emerges from the fog of the past.

The sto­ry of the Suf­folk malt­sters Evans uncov­ered is par­tic­u­lar­ly fas­ci­nat­ing and begins like this:

The search to col­lect evi­dence start­ed after a chance remark made by a farm horse­man while I was col­lect­ing infor­ma­tion about his expe­ri­ences on the Suf­folk farms. I found that it was not the first occa­sion on which a remark made on the mar­gin of anoth­er and total­ly dif­fer­ent enquiry proved – when fol­lowed up – to be more fruit­ful than the sub­ject I was inves­ti­gat­ing at the time… [The] horse­man was giv­ing an out­line of his life on the farm: “I rec­ol­lect,” he said, “that were the year I went to Bur­ton. I went up for two sea­sons, missed a sea­son, then went for anoth­er two – and then I got mar­ried.”

Evans con­tin­ued to hear vari­a­tions on this sto­ry until, he writes, “it became clear in my own mind that there had been a fair­ly wide­spread move­ment of young farm-work­ers who fol­lowed the bar­ley they had grown in East Anglia to Bur­ton on Trent where they worked as malt­sters, help­ing to con­vert the malt to be used in the brew­ing of beer”.

For more than 50 years

This migra­tion, Evans was able to work out, began at least as ear­ly as 1880 (pos­si­bly as far back as 1860) and con­tin­ued until 1931 when unem­ploy­ment in Bur­ton trig­gered a back­lash against import­ed labour.

What prompt­ed this pat­tern of work­ing to emerge was the sea­son­al nature of farm work. Once the corn and hay had been har­vest­ed, lots of fit, able young men found them­selves unem­ployed. Some spent win­ter liv­ing off their fam­i­lies or char­i­ty; oth­ers joined the fish­ing fleet; but lots went to Bur­ton, because just after the har­vest hap­pened to be exact­ly when broad-shoul­dered malt­sters were most in demand.

Evans recounts his strug­gle to find doc­u­men­tary evi­dence and the even­tu­al emer­gence of paper­work from Bass which record­ed the names of Suf­folk and Nor­folk men on the pay­roll dur­ing 1904-05 and 1926–27. In 1904, the doc­u­ments revealed, 169 men went to Bur­ton from Suf­folk, mak­ing up a lit­tle over half of the work­force dur­ing that malt­ing sea­son.

Then comes a heart­break­ing detail: when Evans went to Bur­ton in 1968 intend­ing to inter­view Suf­folk men who had set­tled there he found that Bass had just moved offices and in so doing, destroyed the labour books. Yet anoth­er archives-in-the-skip sto­ry to make researchers weep.

Had it not been for the efforts of indus­tri­al his­to­ri­an Col­in Owen, who tran­scribed and sum­marised many of these records, noth­ing would sur­vive. As it is, Evans was able to include Owen’s work as an appen­dix to his book. It takes the form of a list of work­ers from East Anglia in the 1890–91 sea­son, with names, home vil­lages and the rail­way sta­tions from which they embarked, via Peter­bor­ough, to reach Bur­ton. Edgar Spall, Obe­di­ah Mort­lock, Arthur Pan­ment, William Tit­shall, George Fenn, Charles Flatt… There are also lists of names for lat­er sea­sons.

The old men Evans inter­viewed told him how the recruit­ment process worked:

At the end of August and the begin­ning of Sep­tem­ber the Bur­ton brew­ers sent agents down to var­i­ous cen­tres in East Anglia to engage the young farm-work­ers. Bass and Com­pa­ny sent a cir­cu­lar let­ter to each malt­ing work­er who had been employed dur­ing the pre­vi­ous sea­son – if he had proved sat­is­fac­to­ry. The let­ter gave the date when the agent would be in a par­tic­u­lar local­i­ty. The place was usu­al­ly a pub­lic house – The Sta­tion Hotel, Ipswich, Fram­ling­ham Crown and so on.

They used to sign us up at the Crown. The agent was a man called John­ny Clubs, a good owd bloke, and lat­er a Mr White­hart come down. You went into a room and he looked you up and down to see if you could do the work, see if you were well set up. Then he asked you the name of your last mas­ter so he could get a char­ac­ter. Then you signed the paper.”

One inter­vie­wee, Albert Love of Wortwell in Nor­folk, describes men gath­er­ing at the local sta­tion ready to depart “like sol­diers”. They were giv­en one-way tick­ets and Evans includes a sec­ond-hand account of one work­er mak­ing his way back to Suf­folk from Bur­ton on foot, push­ing a child in a pram. It wasn’t a cushy life and it’s hard not to read into it echoes of mod­ern slav­ery.

Hard work and free beer

As well as a chap­ter on the recruit­ment and migra­tion, Evans also gives a detailed account of the work itself, from lug­ging 16-stone sacks of malt to hurl­ing hot malt against screens to fil­ter out “the muck”: “When you come out of there you was drunk from the dust of the malt – with­out hav­ing nawthen to drink!”

And, of course, there are the tales of free beer, includ­ing this from Will Gosling, a man born and brought up in Bur­ton but whose father migrat­ed there from Suf­folk in the 1890s:

In all steel-works and in every job like that where men lose a lot of sweat it has to be replaced with five pints of some­thing – whether it’s water, tea, milk or beer. They used to sup­ply us with allowance beer. Five pints in my time; we used to have a pint at six o’clock, a pint at ten, anoth­er pint at mid­day and anoth­er two pints dur­ing the after­noon. Then if you had to come back after tea to turn the kiln you had anoth­er pint for that. In between times you was giv­en two pints of beer called lack. They called it lack because it was lack­ing a lot of things. It was a very mild beer, but it was wet: it was mois­ture.

Living and working in Burton

Final­ly, there are two entire chap­ters on life in Bur­ton for migrants from East Anglia. Evans inter­viewed William Den­ny (1882–1968), who worked four sea­sons in Bur­ton around the turn of the cen­tu­ry, and gave a bril­liant account of the social lives of young work­ers:

After com­ing home from work and hav­ing some tea we’d go round the town, hav­ing a pint at one pub and then at anoth­er. There was The Wheat­sheaf, Punch Bowl, Gold­en Ball and many more. We were a crowd togeth­er and we used to enjoy our­selves. We used to sing, and one thing we used to do up there was step dance on top of a bar­rel. In all the pubs up there you could get a free clay-pipe at that time – with the pub’s name on it. After my first sea­son I rec­ol­lect I brought nine­ty clay-pipes home with me.

Evans paints a pic­ture of “Suf­folk Jims” as hard-drink­ing, hard-work­ing men liv­ing in lodg­ings, scrap­ping in pubs, and mak­ing them­selves con­spic­u­ous in Bur­ton by their unusu­al taste in cloth­ing and pecu­liar accents. When they went home, it was often in a fan­cy new Bur­ton suit, or wear­ing braid­ed belts that were a spe­cial­i­ty of Bur­ton; and bear­ing fan­cy teapots as gifts for their moth­ers or land­ladies.

One spe­cif­ic brand­ed beer also gets a brief men­tion in this con­text – the 1902 King’s Ale, bot­tles of which are amaz­ing­ly still in cir­cu­la­tion. This is Will Den­ny again:

It cost a lot o’money, about a shilling a pint as far as I can rec­ol­lect. Some of the boys brought a gal­lon of the Roy­al Ale hoom with them. My mate did.

Although this sto­ry was for­got­ten when Evans wrote Where Beards Wag All, and was ques­tioned at the time, it has since become an accept­ed part of the nar­ra­tive of brew­ing in Bur­ton, being ref­er­enced by mul­ti­ple aca­d­e­m­ic works on the sub­ject.

And these days, even ama­teurs can find doc­u­men­tary evi­dence with a few clicks: if you have access to ancestry.co.uk, search the 1901 cen­sus for peo­ple born in Suf­folk, liv­ing in Bur­ton, with ‘malt­ster’ as a key­word, and you’ll see for your­self how real this was.

We bought our copy of Where Beards Wag All for £5 in a book­shop but used edi­tions are avail­able online for less. There’s also a Faber print-on-demand edi­tion avail­able at £20.

Main image: Suf­folk malt­sters in Bur­ton, one of sev­er­al old pho­tographs repro­duced in Evan­s’s book.

Not as Local as it Looks

You might think that a brewery called Camden Town makes all its beer in London, but some of it is actually brewed in continental Europe.

When we drank a pint of Cam­den Hells lager on Sun­day, we enjoyed it enor­mous­ly, hav­ing not pre­vi­ous­ly been huge fans. We Tweet­ed about it, and got sev­er­al inter­est­ing respons­es along the lines of this one:

When we asked for more infor­ma­tion, we were point­ed towards this arti­cle by Nicholas Lan­der on the Finan­cial Times web­site from Sep­tem­ber last year (some­times behind a pay­wall, some­times not):

 Hells Lager, is now so pop­u­lar with British drinkers that each week an extra 50,000 pints are trucked back from a brew­ery out­side Munich… A 40-strong team brews 80,000 pints a week sup­ple­ment­ed by the beer import­ed from Ger­many.

Camden Hells logo.

We sought cor­rob­o­ra­tion on the Cam­den Town web­site but could­n’t find any­thing. Both the point of sale infor­ma­tion (the keg font) and the web­site give the dis­tinct impres­sion that all Cam­den Hells is brewed in Lon­don: ‘Great beer brewed in Cam­den Town’; ‘Inspired by Ger­many, deliv­ered for Lon­don’, and so on.

The Facts in the Case

The best way to clar­i­fy the sit­u­a­tion was, we decid­ed, to speak to some­one at Cam­den Town. That some­one turned out to be Jasper Cup­paidge, the brew­ery’s own­er and founder. He seemed sur­prised that there might be con­fu­sion, and felt that he’d been quite open about the over­seas brew­ing arrange­ment in inter­views, but was hap­py to explain the details (our emphases):

The only beer that we ever brew in Europe is kegged Cam­den Hells. Pale Ale, Ink, every­thing else, is brewed at HQ, and all small pack­aged beers includ­ing Hells is brewed and packed at Cam­den

Right now, because it’s a qui­et time of year for sales, none of it is being brewed abroad. In the sum­mer, when it’s real­ly busy, yes, a small pro­por­tion might come from over­seas. It does­n’t come in big tankers every sin­gle week. We pull from our ware­house and pal­lets might con­tain some kegs of Euro­pean-brewed Hells, and some from Lon­don.

It’s our recipe, using the same sup­pli­ers of malt from Europe and hops that we use for UK-made beer, and we always have one of our brew­ers there to super­vise

It’s not about cost-cut­ting – it’s actu­al­ly expen­sive, and we can’t real­ly afford to do it, but it is impor­tant to main­tain sup­ply to bars and pubs. We want to be mak­ing the change and not rid­ing it.

We worked with a small fam­i­ly brew­ery in Bavaria from sum­mer last year till Novem­ber this year and, recent­ly, after run­ning tri­als for three months, moved to a sim­i­lar brew­ery in Bel­gium, a lot clos­er to home, and so eas­i­er for get­ting to and from for us as a team. We work with them because they’re the best and can make the beer taste exact­ly like it does when we brew it here.

We don’t declare it on the keg font because we don’t want to con­fuse con­sumers, but we are going to improve the FAQ on our web­site, because we’re not ashamed of this – we’re proud of it – and we came into this busi­ness with the inten­tion of being trans­par­ent and hon­est.

Though he was reluc­tant to spec­i­fy how much Cam­den Hells is brewed abroad at peak times because it can vary, the very vague ball­park fig­ure of 25 per cent was men­tioned. So, between, say, May and Sep­tem­ber 2014, there will be a some­thing like a one-in-four chance that pint of Hells you drink will have been brewed in Bel­gium.

(The very tasty pint we drank was, it turns out, def­i­nite­ly brewed in Lon­don.)

Does it really matter, and why?

We asked our read­ers this ques­tion in a poll which ran for 26 hours, clos­ing at 5 p.m. today:

Do you think it is impor­tant for a brew­ery to declare where a beer is made?

Of the 207 peo­ple who respond­ed, 125 said it was essen­tial to know; 79 said it was good to know; and only 7 peo­ple – about 3 per cent – said they did­n’t care.

That con­firmed our sus­pi­cion: that prove­nance is impor­tant, at least to beer geeks. They want to know where the beer they’re drink­ing has been made.

More specif­i­cal­ly, the com­ments under that poll and dis­cus­sions on Twit­ter sug­gest that peo­ple real­ly don’t like the idea that a beer bear­ing the name of a spe­cif­ic place might or might not come from anoth­er coun­try.

Rea­sons vary. Some feel that if a brew­ery isn’t hon­est about prove­nance, they can’t be trust­ed in oth­er areas; oth­ers want to sup­port the local econ­o­my; and some, pre­sum­ably, just like the idea of lager from Lon­don because it’s cool.

For us, it’s about the bal­ance of pow­er. Even if the con­ti­nen­tal-Euro­pean-brewed Hells looks, smells and tastes iden­ti­cal to the UK prod­uct, with­hold­ing infor­ma­tion about its man­u­fac­ture exploits con­sumers.

Where is the ‘pre­mi­um’?

At first, we thought of it as an inver­sion of the Big Beer prac­tice of brew­ing for­eign brands under license in the UK. But it isn’t an inver­sion – it’s exact­ly the same. Where is the ‘pre­mi­um’ right now? In the 1980s, it was with Con­ti­nen­tal beers, so every­thing was pre­sent­ed as Con­ti­nen­tal, even if it was actu­al­ly made in Northamp­ton. Now, the mar­ket demands local, so con­ti­nen­tal Euro­pean beer is pre­sent­ed as British.

What should have happened instead?

Brew­eries think­ing of fol­low­ing Cam­den’s suit and hav­ing some of their beer brewed else­where have, as we see it, three choic­es:

  1. Do it and hope no-one notices; be pre­pared for some fin­ger-wag­ging (like this post…) if word gets out.
  2. Be com­plete­ly, pre-emp­tive­ly hon­est about it: turn it into a good news sto­ry about part­ner­ship, qual­i­ty con­trol, and serv­ing the needs of your cus­tomers. (Mr Cup­paidge told exact­ly this sto­ry when we spoke to him, and it sound­ed good.)
  3. If you can’t face explain­ing it to peo­ple, pre-emp­tive­ly or dur­ing that back­lash, that might mean you are about to do some­thing that, in your heart of hearts, you are ashamed of. So don’t do it.

We would, of course, always advo­cate option 2 – com­plete hon­esty and trans­paren­cy. There’s noth­ing fun­da­men­tal­ly wrong with con­tract (‘part­ner­ship’) brew­ing, as long as it’s done open­ly.

Conclusion

We’re glad to hear Cam­den Town are updat­ing their online FAQ – infor­ma­tion like this should be easy to find and unam­bigu­ous, if only for the sake of avoid­ing rumours which over-state the case. (Cam­den don’t brew ‘all their beer’ in Ger­many; and they’re not buy­ing some dodgy Bavar­i­an super­mar­ket brand and rela­belling it.)

Ide­al­ly, there also ought to be some infor­ma­tion at the point of sale that indi­cates whether the spe­cif­ic pint a cus­tomer is about to drink is British or Ger­man, but how to do that ele­gant­ly is beyond us.

Main image based on a pho­to­graph by Les Chat­field, from Flickr, under a Cre­ative Com­mons license.

Falling in Love

This weekend, we visited two ‘craft beer’ bars which were new to us, and failed to ‘fall in love’ with either of them.

That does­n’t mean we hat­ed them – far from it – but nor did we react as we did to the Sand­ford Park Ale­house in Chel­tenham the oth­er week: they did­n’t lure is into stay­ing for just one more, or cause us to sigh with sat­is­fac­tion. We could­n’t set­tle.

Set­tling is what hap­pens when we can get real­ly cosy, or the atmos­phere is so good we don’t care about being com­fort­able. (It’s nice to get both.) Great beer is impor­tant, but we don’t tend to fall in love on the basis of beer alone.

That last con­clu­sion we reached at the Fat Pig brew­pub, the third new place we vis­it­ed, on Sat­ur­day after­noon. The beer did­n’t strike us as amaz­ing – vari­a­tions on hon­ey-sweet blonde ale in the main, though we were impressed with a won­der­ful­ly dry stout – but the pub made us feel hap­py. The Fat Pig, there and then, had it.

Was it some­thing to do with the qual­i­ty of the light through the big frost­ed win­dows? The well worn bare wood sur­faces? Good food did­n’t hurt. If we lived near­by, we thought, we’d be hap­py to have it as our local.

But it is the def­i­n­i­tion of sub­jec­tive: you might go there on a wet Wednes­day evening and won­der what on earth we saw in the place.

We’re hop­ing to write about the Beer Cel­lars (Exeter) and the Teign Cel­lars (New­ton Abbot) in more detail in a future post fair­ly soon, when we’ve had chance to pay return vis­its. Per­haps in a dif­fer­ent month/week/day/hour, there will be more chem­istry.

Leather Plates and Pipe Smoke

When I was a kid we used to go to my uncle’s house in Lon­don… The heat and light crack­ling sound of the fire, mixed with the smell of his oak-pan­elled room, his tobac­co and the whisky by his leather chair, always bring Christ­mas of my child­hood strong­ly to my thoughts… We cre­at­ed a dish… based on the mem­o­ry… We set the frozen apple sor­bet on fire with a whisky blend, while dry ice bel­lows from the leather plate car­ry­ing the smell of leather, wood, fire, tobac­co and whisky. We even have the crack­ling sound of the burn­ing logs com­ing from the dish.”

Hes­ton Blu­men­thal

The very idea of a beer based on a historic recipe – the chance to share a sensory experience with our ancestors – gets us excited.

Pack­ag­ing alone can build expec­ta­tion, sug­gest­ing a swirl of fog, soot in the air, and the dis­tant pip­ing of a bar­rel organ, with a few tricks of typog­ra­phy and the promi­nent place­ment of an evoca­tive date: 1913, 1891, 1884, 1880… (Like the dash­board on Rod Tay­lor’s time Machine.)

How his­toric are some of these recipes? Many are mere­ly ‘inspired by’ some­thing from the archives, while oth­ers are painstak­ing recre­ations. While we pre­fer the lat­ter, we’re also more than will­ing to play along with the for­mer, just as we would be with Hes­ton Blu­men­thal’s sen­so­ry manip­u­la­tions.

Read our tasting notes after the jump →