‘Saucy’ Beer Names

Saucy beer names — Dirty Tackle, Piddle Slasher, Old Slapper — are a bit of fun to some, off-putting to others, and either way are another battleground for debates over ‘political correctness’, censorship, good taste and sexism.

We’ve been keeping notes for years, now, trying to work out how they came to be so common in British brewing in particular.

(Though America also has them (Old Leghumper) as does Belgium (Mad Bitch) and they also seem to crop up elsewhere on occasion.)

To have saucy beer names, you need to have beer names — that is, other than in this format:

The 1966 Brewery Manual contains a reference list of trademarked brand names. It’s not comprehensive, Ron Pattinson tells us, but it’s still a good starting point: of the 650 or so provided none are outright filthy and only about ten provide anything for a bar-room wag to get a snigger out of with enough mugging and winking, e.g. Big Horn, Cock o’ the North, ‘I’ll take a Mild Maid please!’ (And it had apparently not even occurred to anyone that there was fun to be had with ‘Blonde’ — no beers are listed.)

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The Return of Dogbolter

What's Brewing magazine, Winter 1980/81, featuring David Bruce.

When we interviewed David ‘Firkin’ Bruce last summer, he told us about his new role as Chairman of the West Berkshire Brewery.

Last week, that rather belatedly triggered an idea: maybe, with a brewery at hand, he might be convinced, for the first time since the 1980s, to personally brew a beer to an original Firkin recipe.

He responded enthusiastically to the idea and is going to dig out his original 1979 recipe for the famous Dogbolter (all grain, no malt extract) and recreate it in the brewhouse at WBB.

It should be available on draught in time for the launch of Brew Britannia in June. There will also be a nationally-marketed bottled version available at some point afterwards.

UPDATE 23/04/2014: David Bruce says —

The WBB will be brewing 30 brewers’ barrels of my original Dogbolter (full-mash grist at 1060° O.G.) at 7:30 am on Wednesday 21st May.  This will be packaged to produce 40 firkins and c. 6,000 commemorative bottles, all to be available nationally from 2nd Jun.

Having spent so much time and effort researching the rise and fall of the Firkin brewpubs, we’re really excited at the prospect of actually tasting it.**

In fact, with the ‘1970s bitter’ currently being tinkered with at Kirkstall in Leeds, and talk of an anniversary batch of Litchborough Bitter at Phipps NBC, it’s going to be an interesting couple of months for we who lust after long gone beers.

We’ll post more details on availability when we have them.

** We have, of course, tasted the Ramsgate Brewery beer of the same name. Let’s hope this doesn’t turn into one of those trademark disputes everyone hates.

Non-keg, non-chemical, all-malt

Copies of the Campaign for Real Ale newspaper, What's Brewing.

Yesterday, we took delivery of around fifty mid-nineteen-eighties issues of the Campaign for Real Ale’s What’s Brewing newspaper, and have begun to immerse ourselves in the strange but familiar world they reflect.

Most interesting to us right now are the omens of the ‘craft beer’ vs. ‘real ale’ agonies of the last few years.

Our feeling that David ‘Firkin’ Bruce was the James ‘Brewdog’ Watt of his day are strengthened by a piece from Roger Protz in the May 1985 edition. He observed that Bruce had achieved something with which CAMRA was struggling: the Firkin pubs were popular with young, affluent, trendy types — typical lager drinkers, in other words — who were paying above the going rate for pints of bitter. He also noted that, though Bruce’s beer wasn’t ‘real ale’ in the technical sense (he used a ‘light blanket’ of CO2), nor was it utterly disgusting. How confusing!

In another issue, Protz — something of a controversial reformer — argued that maybe it might be worth considering serving cask ale a little cooler to give it half a chance to compete with lager. Furious letters ensued: it would be too little too late, argued one lobby; ‘Heresy!’ cried the other.

There were also some complicated manoeuvrings required to explain CAMRA’s position on SIBA (then the Small Independent Brewers’ Society). Though both organisations were ‘fellow travelers’, in a sense, SIBA’s members were not all ‘real ale’ producers. ‘We are trying to produce good beer,’ said SIBA’s chairman, Paul Soden, in May 1987. CAMRGB? Not quite: ‘Most of us produce non-chemical, non-keg, 100-per-cent malt brews.’ (Our emphasis.)

If he was making the same point today, he’d have to drop  the phrase ‘non-keg’.

Reading old issues of WB is how we’re rewarding ourselves for finishing the first draft of what is still called Brew Britannia. We know how to party. Woo.

The Death of the English Brewpub

David Bruce's Firkin Brewery advert c.1980.

It’s an early start for us this morning as we’re heading off to interview David Bruce who founded the Firkin chain of brewpubs in 1979.

On the one hand, he’s a very influential figure: there were four pubs brewing on the premises in 1973, but, after Firkin and its imitators came along, that number swelled to reach a peak (we think) of almost a hundred by 1996. Many breweries are currently running on old Firkin kit, and/or with Firkin-trained brewers.

And yet… where did all the brewpubs go? Was it really a dead end? And if so, why?

Now, we happen to live in a part of the world where there are several brewpubs, from the Star Inn just outside Crowlas, where brewing commenced in 2008, to the Blue Anchor at Helston — one of the four survivors that was hanging on back in 1973.

But something interesting is happening right now, up and down the country: a blurring of the lines between brewing, wholesale and hospitality. Distributors are opening bars and breweries; breweries are installing ‘tap rooms’; and pubs are setting up microbreweries. For various reasons, ‘Brewed on the premises’ might be on the return.