My brow furrowed. I struggled to articulate how it felt to me like something had been lost from the place, even though all that had really happened was that more options had been added. I’d loved the pub for precisely its niche; the reliability of excellently kept Castle Rock ales, the chance to try the brewery’s seasonal ranges, and guest ales from other small local breweries, such as the fantastic Springhead. But now there was a smorgasbord of choice that was almost dizzying. I quickly realised the problem; were it not for the recognisable brick walls and beams lovingly decorated with pump labels, I could be anywhere. The pub had retained its charm, but the bar choice had lost its accent.
Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that grabbed us in the past week, from PR disasters to art installations.
Last year Kirst Walker wrote up a pub crawl of Runcorn’s Victorian pubs with her trademark spark; this year, she notes plenty of changes, giving the exercise a certain academic interest as well as pure entertainment value:
Time for the Lion, where everybody knows your name! Last year’s winner was where we we would end the night once more. I didn’t double up last time but as we’d already had time bonuses, sambucca, and sandwiches I threw caution to the wind. Alan bought a round of pies like a freaking billionaire and we had a group de-brief with plans to repeat the operation next year on the same weekend… The Lion has lost much of its original room layout since it was refurbished and part of it converted into houses, but it’s still the type of traditional corner pub which is a hub for the community, and in my opinion it as better to try and save the pub than keep the entire sprawling space.
The most remarkable thing about the price of Alesmith Speedway Stout Hawaiian is not that it is five-times higher than the price of Rochefort 10, but that it is three-times higher than Alesmith’s ordinary Speedway Stout… That premium buys you some toasted coconut flakes, some vanilla and some rare Hawaiian Ka’u coffee beans, which are indeed three-times more expensive than your bog-standard joe… If you can taste the difference after those beans have had beer fermenting on them, I complement you on your sensitive palate. If you think it justifies a 200% premium, I have a bridge to sell you.
Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past seven days, from ongoing developments in the discussion around sexist beer branding to the ever-expanding BrewDog empire.
Katie Taylor has an interesting run-down on Moorhouse’s rebranding exercise. Packaging re-designs are usually among the world’s most boring topics but this case sees a longstanding problem solved as poorly rendered ‘sexy’ witches in flimsy frocks are out, replaced by more abstract, modern designs that come with an unambiguous statement of intent:
“When I joined, Moorhouse’s was a strong brand, tied into the provenance of the local area,” said Lee [Miller] when I met with him a couple of weeks ago. “But we are guilty as charged. Our branding was indefensible and really could have happened sooner. What I wanted to make sure of was that when we did this, we did it right. I wanted Moorhouse’s to set out its stall, to bring in a new brand ready for the future. We hold our hands up.”
But the stuff about the temperance influence on their new range of beers is almost as interesting.
Quite a lot is made of the fact that lambic is made out of wheat, today usually 30% to 40%. In the 19th century, that was even more: a 1829 recipe specifies no less than 58% raw wheat.However, at that time all-barley beers were only just starting to gain popularity in Belgium. In fact, at the start lambic was quite modern for not having any oats, spelt or buckwheat in it…. only in the 20th century did it become special for not being an all-barley beer.
A reminder, this, that snappy stories and simple explanations in beer history are usually the work of storytellers and marketing people; the truth is almost always more complicated and, frankly, less fun.
First, the mystique of Dublin pubs: ‘I’ve always gone along with the belief that any Dublin bar has a magic aura which causes the talk to shimmer and sparkle as fast as the Guinness flows.’
Then their true qualities: ‘I now think the Dublin pub mystique is thriving as never before for the simple reason that its pubs are more comfortable.’
(See also a related 1996 columns from the Pub Curmudgeon here.)
And, finally, there’s a pointed examination of the state of English pubs in the mid-1960s:
One of the most recent attempts to revamp a pub’s image in central London is a bar designed to appeal to ‘business executives and the younger set,’ in which rattan cane, murals of brooding buddhas, slatted bamboo swing doors and a background of jungle noises are among the attractions. Yet this is only an extreme example of the way the brewers seem bent on catering to a city of pub-lovers. Given that the beer is good (and I know that this is another question), I can’t believe that anyone wants to drink his pint, let alone talk the evening through with friends, in the kind of South Seas Traders tavern or sub-Scandinavian bar which seems to appear whenever the painters and decorators move in on an ordinary pub.
In general the Spectator archive is a fantastic resource: searchable, fully indexed, with material provided as both OCRd text and original page scans. Our ramblings through it to date suggest that it was very much a wet office — there’s lots of coverage of beer and pubs — so if you’ve got a pet obsession, give it a search and see what you can turn up.
We’re keen to hear from people who drank at, worked in or were otherwise involved with Irish theme pubs in England between the 1980s and the early 2000s.
Here’s a list of specific pubs and chains we’re interested in:
Flanagan’s Apple, Liverpool — converted from a warehouse by local entrepreneur Bob Burns it opened in 1984 and is still trading.
Minogues, London N1 (Islington) — formerly the Islington Tup/Tap it was converted into an Irish pub in 1986; it became the Pig & Butcher in 2012.
Mulligan’s, London W1 (Mayfair) — an Irish pub from c.1991.
Waxy O’Connor’s, London W1 (Covent Garden) — opened in 1995; still there, still massive.
Mid-1990s chains: Scruffy Murphy’s (Allied-Domecq), Rosy O’Grady’s (Greene King), J.J. Murphy (Whitbread) and O’Neill’s (Bass). We’re really interested in what they were like in their prime which ran from about 1994-1998.
And, going back a bit further, because it can’t hurt to ask…
Any of the Murphy’s pubs that operated in London between the 1930s and 1980s, e.g. The White Hart on Mile End Road. (More info.)
Ward’s Irish House, London W1 (Piccadilly Circus) — in the basement of the London Pavilion where you will now find Ripley’s Believe it Or Not.
Any branch of Mooney’s,found across London up until the 1970s, e.g. at 395 The Strand.
Comment below or, even better, email us at email@example.com if you can help.
PS. We’re also still after reminiscences of theme pubs (especially the Nag’s Head, Covent Garden) and prefabs.
Main image adapted from ‘Flanagan’s Apple’ by Adam Bruderer via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.
When we picked up a few editions of Guinness Time, the brewery’s UK-focused in-house magazine, one thing that leapt out at us was an account of the roll-out of draught Guinness after WWII.
It appears as part of an article called (rather long-windedly) ‘The Men Who See That Draught Guinness Runs Smoothly… The Service Representatives’ from the Spring 1971 edition.
First, there are some helpful numbers:
In 1970 we sold more than 16 times as much draught Guinness as in 1956. Fifteen years ago the number of outlets could be counted in hundreds. In 1962 there 3,200 and now in 1971 there are over 40,000 pubs and clubs where devotees of draught Guinness can get their favourite brew.
By way of context, in those mid-1960s Batsford pub guides we’ve been trawling through draught Guinness is frequently mentioned as a sign of an interesting pub in much the same way, say, BrewDog Punk IPA might be today. That is, by no means obscure, but still noteworthy, and a welcome sight for many beer geeks.
For now, the only biographical information we have about Patrick Fitzpatrick, founder of Godson’s, London, c.1977, is in some old cuttings Ian Mackey kindly shared. One article, from 1978, says that Fitzpatrick, at 23, was ‘one of the third generation of the Murphy family who have run a string of pubs in East London for 50 years’. We knew we’d seen the name Murphy in connection with London pubs and dug through the old paperbacks until we found this is from The Evening Standard Guide to London Pubs by Martin Green and Tony White (1973):
Since the demolition of the Duke of Cambridge on the opposite corner, the White Hart is the only remaining old-style Murphy’s in the East End, apart from the tiny Manchester Arms in Hackney Road. (The Old Red Lion, Whitechapel Road, and the Mackworth Arms, Commercial Road, have both been dragged struggling into the Seventies.) Murphy’s is not, as some people think, a brewery, but a firm which was originated in 1934 by a Mr J.R. Murphy from Co. Offaly who pioneered draught Guinness in the East End of London… Murphy’s, Mile End, remains an honest-to-goodness East End pub… where you can hear Irish music and choose from a wide range of draught beers, including… what is probably the best kept pint of draught Guinness in the East End.
That bit about ‘old-style Murphy’s’ suggests they were quite an institution. That’s supported by the fact that modern pub review websites also say that the White Hart is ‘known locally’ by that name. And yet there is surprisingly little (easily accessible…) information about the pubs or J.R. Murphy & Sons. Company listings suggest that the White Hart was the group headquarters, at any rate, and that it was formally dissolved in 2010.
What we’re especially interested in is whether the ‘fifteen or so’ pubs the Murphys owned constituted the original Irish theme chain — or was it a chain of pubs that just happened to be founded by an Irishman? We’d need to see photos or read descriptions of the interiors to get a sense of how much set dressing there was, but the Guinness and Irish music mentioned are clues. If these pubs were self-consciously Irish, to what extent did they provide a template for the chains that followed in the eighties and nineties?
Do you remember Murphy’s pubs? Or know Patrick Fitzpatrick? If so, let us know below. UPDATE 10/7/2014: we found Mr Fitzpatrick and interviewed him.
I used to avoid Irish pubs, particularly when abroad, thinking they´d be full of tourists. Then I discovered that in a lot of places they´re actually really good places to meet the locals thanks to (a) the bizarre belief that Irish and British things are just inherently cool (b) the fact that they´re shunned by self-righteous tourists like me. So I became more tolerant, and stopped going into a sulk everytime someone suggested going to an Irish pub. But now I’ve been in a few here in Spain, I find myself very unnerved by the fact that they are, here at least, another weapon in the fearsome armada of Heineken International.
Salamanca has at least four Irish pubs and for various reasons I’ve now been in three of them. They´re all Heineken beasts so you get Paulaner and other delights such as Adelscott and Desperados. You may also come across an advert for the local Octoberfest franchise, a subject I blogged about a couple of months ago.
More sinister still (I find) are the various efforts to make the locals drink more and more. Special offers for large drinks, for example. Even the pub quiz turns out to be a syndicated marketing effort.
The very things about the drinking culture in Spain and France that the Government in the UK want us to emulate — moderation and smaller measures — are an anathema to people in the business of selling.
It’s not all bad news though — some of these Heineken outlets do have a guest beer from another brewer. Guinness. Sigh.