The Man Within Compass: mystery solved?

A couple of months ago someone tagged us into a Twitter query: what is the origin of the name of a pub called The Man Within Compass? After weeks of digging around, we think we’ve sussed it.

The Man With­in Com­pass is a famous real ale pub in Whitwick, near Coalville, in Leices­ter­shire, and has been in numer­ous edi­tions of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide over the years.

Its name is appar­ent­ly unique and cer­tain­ly mys­te­ri­ous – none of the stan­dard ref­er­ences seem to even offer a sug­ges­tion. There’s no joy to be had from local his­to­ry web­sites, either.

So, we went through our usu­al research rou­tines:

1. Search the exact phrase using quotes (“man with­in com­pass”) to see if it appears in old books, news­pa­pers or the Bible. All the ref­er­ences we found were to the pub itself, or seemed unlike­ly to be con­nect­ed, e.g. John Locke uses those words in that order but there’s no obvi­ous link.

2. Search vari­a­tions on the phrase: “man­with­in com­pass” and “man with­en com­pass” (between unortho­dox spelling and dodgy OCR, this can some­times turn up results); “man­wid­den com­pass” (pub names are often man­gled ver­sions of place or per­son­al names); and “men with­in com­pass”.

3. Look for par­tial match­es: “man with­in”, “with­in com­pass”, “man * com­pass”, and so on.

It was “with­in com­pass” that unlocked it, specif­i­cal­ly lead­ing us to the fol­low­ing mass-pro­duced print from c.1820 at the British Muse­um web­site.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “The Man With­in Com­pass: mys­tery solved?”

Q&A: Harmonising European brewing methods, 1973

Newspaper headline from 1975Via Twitter, we’ve been asked to provide more information on plans by the European Common Market in 1973 to “harmonise European brewing methods”, as mentioned in Fintan O’Toole’s book  Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain.

Mr O’Toole quotes from a sto­ry in the Dai­ly Mir­ror (25/06/1973) head­lined EUROBEER MENACE:

A Com­mon Mar­ket threat to British beer unit­ed labour and Tory MPs yes­ter­day. The threat came in reports of a plan by Mar­ket author­i­ties to ‘har­monise’ brew­ing meth­ods in mem­ber coun­tries.

Mr. William Wil­son, tee­to­tal Labour MP for South Coven­try, and Tory Sir Ger­ald Nabar­ro both plan to raise the issue with Food Min­is­ter Joseph God­ber “in the inter­ests of the beer drinkers of Britain.”

Sir Ger­ald said: “This would be a dis­as­ter. Our beer is world famous for its strength, nutri­tion­al val­ue and excel­lence.”

It’s not hard to work out what peo­ple thought har­mon­i­sa­tion might mean: mild and bit­ter banned, Ger­man-style lager every­where, by order of Brus­sels.

But there’s very lit­tle detail in the sto­ry and it reads like typ­i­cal fuss-about-noth­ing tabloid report­ing wil­ful­ly miss­ing the point for the sake of caus­ing out­rage. (On the same page: NOW FRIED ONIONS ARE BANNED AT WIMBLEDON.)

Sure enough, it did­n’t take much dig­ging to find a report from the Econ­o­mist from two days ear­li­er (23/06/1973) announc­ing that these pro­pos­als had already been aban­doned by the time the Mir­ror ran its piece.

"Ideal Suit in Lager" -- a hand with playing cards depicting lager brands.
Detail from the cov­er of Whit­bread Way No. 13.

Beer geeks, how­ev­er, were talk­ing about at least one spe­cif­ic tech­ni­cal issue: in the dis­cus­sion around har­mon­i­sa­tion pro­pos­als, there was a sug­ges­tion that only female (seed­less) hops ought to be used in brew­ing across Europe. In Eng­land, how­ev­er, male hops were his­tor­i­cal­ly grown along­side female, and peo­ple had a vague sense that male hops… er… made our beer taste more vir­ile? Or some­thing.

Richard Boston wrote about this in his Guardian col­umn for 29 Sep­tem­ber 1973:

You can imag­ine the con­ster­na­tion with which I received the ugly rumour that in order to con­form with the prac­tice of our Com­mon Mar­ket part­ners the male hop was going to be rout­ed out here too… I got straight on the blow­er to the Hops Mar­ket­ing Board… and asked their spokesman if it was true… “Absolute balls,” he replied.

The Econ­o­mist fol­lowed the Eurobeer sto­ry close­ly, report­ing on its progress over the next few years, as in this par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing piece from 2 Novem­ber 1974:

Much non­sense is talked by Euro­pean politi­cians about Brus­sels busy­bod­ies try­ing mad­ly to stan­dard­ise Euro­pean food and drink. Britain’s Mr Harold Wil­son is just about the worst offend­er. At long last it has pro­voked a Euro­pean civ­il ser­vant into putting the record straight. Anony­mous­ly, he is cir­cu­lat­ing a paper dis­sect­ing each com­plaint. Most are exposed as innacu­rate…

Plans for Eurobeer and Euro­bread – now with­drawn for review – nei­ther out­law nor stan­dard­ise nation­al brews and loaves. The aim is rather to demol­ish pro­tec­tion­ist bar­ri­ers which impede the free sale of these prod­ucts across nation­al bound­aries. Ger­many, for exam­ple, has strict rules which vir­tu­al­ly mean that if a beer is not brewed in the Ger­man way it can­not be called beer. The Com­mis­sion’s Eurobeer plan would make Ger­many open its mar­ket to import­ed beers, includ­ing British ales, which meet a com­mon Euro­pean stan­dard.

In 1975, the UK Gov­ern­ment held a ref­er­en­dum on con­tin­ued mem­ber­ship of the Euro­pean Com­mu­ni­ty. The threat of Eurobeer came up repeat­ed­ly in ref­er­en­dum cam­paign mate­ri­als such as this pam­phlet from the Gov­ern­ment itself. A Q&A with the Con­sumer Asso­ci­a­tion in the Dai­ly Mir­ror for 30 May 1975 answers our ques­tion head on:

Q: What does ‘har­mon­i­sa­tion’ mean? Shall we be drink­ing Eurobeer?

A: Har­mon­i­sa­tion means get­ting our stan­dards in line with those of oth­er coun­tries to enable us to sell our prod­ucts to them. There are two types in the Com­mon Mar­ket:

TOTAL: When a Com­mon Mar­ket law says that only prod­ucts which com­ply with that law can be sold at all in the Com­mon Mar­ket;

OPTIONAL: When indi­vid­ual coun­tries can allow prod­ucts which do not con­form to the law to be sold in their own coun­tries…

But if there is a reg­u­la­tion on beer or bread, this will almost cer­tain­ly be option­al.

Odd­ly enough, even though the EC/EU did­n’t imple­ment any such plan, by the late 1980s, lager was every­where in Eng­land any­way, much of it brewed in the UK under the super­vi­sion of con­ti­nen­tal Euro­pean brew­ers, and sold under con­ti­nen­tal Euro­pean brand names. Mar­ket eco­nom­ics and con­sumer demand did what the EC did­n’t.

Q&A: What’s the Story of Lanted Ale?

Froth blowing.

In a brief exchange with @HappyBeerTime and @bierocratie on Twitter last month we agreed to see what we could find out about the practice of ‘lanting’ ale – that is, adding urine to it.

It turns out this has been writ­ten about fair­ly fre­quent­ly espe­cial­ly on ‘Wacky Word of the Day’ type blogs, prob­a­bly at least in part because of the sheer glo­ri­ous grot­ti­ness of the idea.

Here’s what Sal­ly Mag­nus­son has to say in her 2011 book The Life Pee: How Urine Got Every­where:

The epony­mous Tin­ker of Tur­vey claims in 1630 to have “drunke dou­ble-lant­ed ale, and sin­gle-lant­ed”. Thir­ty years lat­er the anony­mous Renais­sance dra­ma, The Mar­riage Bro­ker, includes a lament that: “My host­ess tak­ings will be very small,/ Although her lant­ed ale be nere so strong.” John Wright’s bur­lesque Mock-Thyestes in 1674 has a char­ac­ter “dead drunk with dou­ble lant­ed ale” and by 1691 the prac­tice is so com­mon that it wins a place in John Ray’s North Coun­try Words: “To leint ale: To put urine into it to make it strong.”

But not every­one approved. The brew­ers’ bible, The Lon­don and Coun­try Brew­er, com­plained in 1743 of the “nasty, hor­rid and detestable piece of cun­ning and knav­ery… of putting cham­ber­ly, or human urine, into their pale or amber twopen­ny malt drink.”

Anoth­er fre­quent­ly quot­ed instance can be found in a 1639 com­ic play by Hen­ry Glapthorne called Wit in a Con­sta­ble:

I doe believe you sir, your face does tel me,
You’r one that feed on bacon and bag­pud­ding,
Your nose by its com­plex­ion does betray
Your fre­quent drink­ing coun­try Ale with lant in’t,
Have you no hob­nayls in your boots, dri­ven in
To save the pre­cious leather from the stones
That pave the streets of Lon­don.

But is any of that con­vinc­ing evi­dence for this actu­al­ly hap­pen­ing in prac­tice? The ref­er­ences are most­ly in com­e­dy and it strikes us that it’s prob­a­bly a folk leg­end high­light­ing the back­ward habits of bump­kins, and/or the foul cun­ning of brew­ers and pub­li­cans. (See also: KFCs mutant chick­ens.)

And, as it hap­pens, these his­to­ri­ans on Red­dit tend to agree with us.

Before we’d real­ly be will­ing to believe that any­one was putting wee in beer we’d want to see some­thing like a brew­ers’ man­u­al advis­ing on how to go about it, and per­haps explain­ing why on earth you would both­er; or an offi­cial doc­u­ment record­ing instances of it occur­ring in the real world.

Q&A: Electric Beer Pumps

We like it when people ask us questions. Yesterday, we got this one from Simon Briercliffe:

These days, hand-pulls are the stan­dard sym­bol of Prop­er Real Ale­ness, but in the 1970s mea­sured elec­tric dis­pense (push the but­ton once for a half, twice for a full pint) were com­mon enough, espe­cial­ly in the north, to war­rant a dia­gram and descrip­tion in mul­ti­ple edi­tions of the Cam­paign for Real Ale’s Good Beer Guide, first pub­lished in paper­back form in 1974. The main image above is from the 1976 edi­tion and is accom­pa­nied by text say­ing: “Taps oper­at­ed by lit­tle levers or push-but­tons can, how­ev­er, work either by elec­tric­i­ty or CO2 pres­sure and the only way to tell the dif­fer­ence is to pay your mon­ey and taste the stuff in your glass.”

Work­ing back through a selec­tion of how-to-run-a-pub guides in our library we dug up this ref­er­ence from James H. Coomb­s’s 1965 book Bar Ser­vice: “For some time beer meters have been installed through­out the coun­try and their oper­a­tion takes all the guess­work out of draw­ing beer.” (We fil­let­ed that book in two posts here and here.) That helps nar­row the search but left us mild­ly dis­sat­is­fied – sure­ly there must be some more con­crete dates we can pin down?

Well, here’s the low­er bound­ary: it would seem that in 1948 when J.W. Scott deliv­ered his paper ‘From Cask to Con­sumer’ (PDF) to a meet­ing of the Lon­don sec­tion of the Insti­tute of Brew­ing, reli­able beer dis­pense meters were not wide­ly avail­able on the UK mar­ket. He had designed his own which, while intend­ed to deliv­er half a pint at a time, was not pre­cise:

Mr H.G. SPILLANE asked whether it was pos­si­ble for the author’s dis­pense to be reg­u­lat­ed to serve half-pints of mixed beers… Mr SCOTT replied.… [that the] machine he had described did not give a def­i­nite mea­sure, thought it was attempt­ed to approach it close­ly; he could then give a head, or could fill the glass right to the top by means of the top­ping-up or agi­tat­ing device. It was almost impos­si­ble to design a machine to give a pre­cise mea­sure because of the vary­ing con­di­tion in the beer, which cov­ered a fair­ly wide range when a vent peg was used.

Scan­ning more close­ly between those dates we find an arti­cle in the Decem­ber 1955 edi­tion of trade mag­a­zine A Month­ly Bul­letin on short mea­sures:

From time to time var­i­ous meth­ods of serv­ing draught beer [cask ale] with­out over­spill have been pro­pound­ed. One was the adop­tion of a dis­penser which would mea­sure out exact­ly ten ounces in over­sized glass­es. Such a device would have to be easy to clean, quick to oper­ate, sim­ple to use and main­tain. So far as is known, no machine has yet been invent­ed that could be used with beer engines or in draw­ing beer from the wood. It is pos­si­ble to adjust a beer engine to deliv­er an exact half-pint with one even and con­tin­u­ous pull. That is, in favourable con­di­tions; in prac­tice, to use a beer engine as a mea­sur­ing device would depend too much on the care and skill of the oper­a­tor.

There are tan­ta­lis­ing men­tions through­out the 1950s, locked behind pay­walls and copy­right bar­ri­ers, of Mills Elec­tric Beer Engines. If any­one can tell us more about that, from sources un-Google-able, we’d be grate­ful. Here’s a (fair­ly use­less) morsel we did find in a 1957 edi­tion of the More­cambe Guardian from 1957, via the British News­pa­per Archive:

Mills Electric Beer Engine advertisement.

It’s not clear from that whether the Mills device was mere­ly an elec­tric pump, not nec­es­sar­i­ly metered, or some­thing more sophis­ti­cat­ed.

One oth­er impor­tant date would seem to be 1963 when a new Weights and Mea­sures Act came into force. Before this, as we under­stand it, short or long mea­sures of alco­holic drinks weren’t actu­al­ly ille­gal, mere­ly frowned upon. Sud­den­ly, pub­li­cans were oblig­ed to pro­vide exact­ly a half pint or full pint or risk pros­e­cu­tion. Speak­ing in the House of Com­mons in July 1966 the Min­is­ter for the Board of Trade, George Dar­ling MP, described a pro­posed amend­ment to the Act to allow for the use of meters (our empha­sis):

What the Order does is to recog­nise approved new appli­ances for mea­sur­ing beer and cider in pub­lic hous­es and bars of hotels which have come into use gen­er­al­ly since the Act was passed.… Hon. Mem­bers who take a mod­est glass of beer or cider occa­sion­al­ly will have seen these new devices in oper­a­tion. They usu­al­ly have the appear­ance of a glass or trans­par­ent plas­tic cylin­der which, when a tap is turned or a lever pulled, fills up with beer or cider to a mark on the cylin­der and then emp­ties that amount into a glass or mug.

At the oth­er end of the time­line, dig­ging around high­light­ed what might be anoth­er impor­tant moment: Gaskell & Cham­bers, man­u­fac­tur­ers of beer engines since the 19th cen­tu­ry and the dom­i­nant name in beer dis­pense equip­ment, announced plans to mar­ket their new beer meter­ing sys­tem in the com­pa­ny state­ment for 1966–67, pub­lished in May 1967. Here’s some blurb from an accom­pa­ny­ing adver­to­r­i­al pub­lished in the Birm­ing­ham Dai­ly Post on 4 May 1967:

Changes in the phys­i­cal han­dling of beer at the point of sale have been helped along by Gaskell & Cham­bers.… The old man­u­al beer engine which has for so long typ­i­fied the Eng­lish hostel­ry is slow­ly yield­ing ground to neat­ly styled dis­pense taps in dec­o­ra­tive hous­ings, and to beer meters.

So the guess in Simon’s orig­i­nal Tweet does­n’t look far off the mark: 1963–1967 is when metered dis­pense real­ly took off.

Q&A: Beers for Stashing

Questions & Answers -- 1906 magazine header graphic.

Any recommendations for stash beers?” – Rob G.

This ques­tion came up in the con­text of a Twit­ter dis­cus­sion in which some­one shared a pho­to of their col­lec­tion of spe­cial beers int­ed­ed for age­ing. It includ­ed Fuller’s Vin­tage Ale, Old Chim­ney’s Good King Hen­ry, Courage Russ­ian Impe­r­i­al and Lees Har­vest Ale, which is a pret­ty good list to begin with.

Now, we’re not real­ly into age­ing beer our­selves, pure­ly because we haven’t got the time, space or mon­ey to do it prop­er­ly, but we’re cer­tain­ly inter­est­ed and so have had a go at answer­ing this ques­tion. We sus­pect more use­ful advice will emerge in the com­m­ments.

First, some thoughts on gen­er­al prin­ci­ples.

One rea­son for build­ing a col­lec­tion is to enable com­par­i­son over time, either by drink­ing the same beer at inter­vals and keep­ing notes, or by drink­ing mul­ti­ple vin­tages of the same beer in a so-called ‘ver­ti­cal tast­ing’. With that in mind it makes sense to focus on bet­ter-estab­lished brew­eries that have been pro­duc­ing a big stout or bar­ley wine for some years and look set to con­tin­ue brew­ing it for a few years more. That way you should be able to col­lect a set worth play­ing with. There’s also a sort of insur­ance in buy­ing from brew­eries who know what they’re doing, and whose beer is less like­ly to reveal flaws and off-flavours over time.

When we spoke to Jez­za (@BonsVoeux1) for our recent arti­cle on Bel­gium obses­sives in CAM­RA’s BEER mag­a­zine he men­tioned that when stock­ing his col­lec­tion of aged and age­ing beer he now buys “huge quan­ti­ties at a time”. That’s because he fre­quent­ly found him­self wish­ing he’d bought a lot more of a beer as it reached a state of per­fec­tion after many years hid­den in his cup­board. So we’d say that means look­ing for beers that aren’t pro­hib­i­tive­ly expen­sive and which you can con­ceive of buy­ing by the case, per­haps with only a bit of winc­ing and dig­ging around for cop­pers down the back of the sofa.

Or, to put all that anoth­er way, this is one area where ‘bor­ing’, easy-to-buy beers and brew­eries are prob­a­bly a safer bet than obscu­ri­ties.

We found that the Fuller’s Past Mas­ters 1893 Dou­ble Stout got bet­ter over the course of a cou­ple of years, and the bot­tle we found in a Lon­don pub that must have been three years old was aston­ish­ing­ly good. You won’t find any of that around now but that’s an exam­ple of the kind of beer we should have bought a lot more of and left alone. Fuller’s Impe­r­i­al Stout, a new batch of which is out now, is a sim­i­lar beer (but not quite as good, in our view) and will prob­a­bly age in sim­i­lar ways.

A beer Jez­za men­tioned as a par­tic­u­lar focus of his age­ing project was De Dolle Stille Nacht which, when avail­able, can be picked up in the UK for between £4–5 per 330ml bot­tle. (He has bot­tles going back to 1989.)

Bel­gian beers, tend­ing to the strong and sweet, gen­er­al­ly age well. (But triples, wheat beers and hop-focused beers prob­a­bly won’t yield as much from age­ing, even if they’ll sell ’em to you at Kul­mi­na­tor.) Rochefort 10 is one we’d con­sid­er fill­ing a cel­lar with, espe­cial­ly if you can pick it up in Bel­gium at Bel­gian prices – it’s get­ting pro­hib­i­tive­ly expen­sive in the UK.

Orval (not espe­cial­ly strong or sweet) is one famous exam­ple of a beer often drunk aged and which has the ben­e­fit of show­ing its devel­op­ment rel­a­tive­ly quick­ly, over the course of months rather than years. If you bought a batch of twelve every six months, at around £30–40 a go, you’d be able to com­pare fresh with six-month, with one-year, with two-years, and so on, and soon learn its ways and your own pref­er­ences. (It is also good for mag­i­cal­ly enhanc­ing oth­er beers.)

The Beer Nut’s side project, Stash Killer, is a use­ful source of knowl­edge on what time does to spe­cif­ic beers. Of an 8‑year-old West­malle Dubbel, an easy to find, con­sis­tent and afford­able beer, he says:

There’s sweet sher­ry in the flavour… which is pos­si­bly just oxi­da­tion at work, but it does trans­form the beer in a fun and pleas­ant way. It has­n’t become mag­i­cal­ly heav­ier than usu­al, but it has ele­ments of the things you find in dou­ble-dig­it dark Bel­gian-style beers: the fruit, the cake, the round­ed estery greasi­ness, though not the heat. It still remains light­ly tex­tured and easy drink­ing… Seems to me like a handy way to upgrade your West­malle Dubbel into some­thing more com­plex is leave it alone for a few years.

That sounds like some­thing we’ll have to try. Do look at his oth­er posts for more sug­ges­tions.

If you want to read some­thing more sub­stan­tial on this we rec­om­mend Patrick Daw­son’s 2014 book Vin­tage Beer which con­tains detailed notes on how to age beer, what to expect from the process, gen­er­al advice on which types of beer gen­er­al­ly age well, as well as tips on which spe­cif­ic beers to buy.

Now, to those com­ments – tell us, what’s worked for you?