News pubs

News, Nuggets & Longreads 5 January 2019: Gratitude and Onions

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past few weeks (given that we took Christmas off) from St Albans to air raid shelters.

At The Pursuit of Abbeyness Martin Steward asks an excellent question: why do people visit brewery taprooms?

On the face of it, this is an odd thing to do. Breweries without taprooms may give you a taste of their beer, but they are hardly places to kick back and put the world to rights over a good session. They can be interesting for beer lovers, but, if we’re honest, setting aside the few with special architectural, historical or brewing points of interest, one is much the same as another.

But perhaps there is something deeper going on:

When we knock on the door of a pokey little brewery at the ragged end of a rainswept industrial estate, are we really responding to a soul-deep thirst to express our gratitude, in person, to the brewers of our much-loved beer?

Beer history

Look For Dates, Find Stories

Advert for the Barley Mow pub, St Albans, 1983.

In trying to pin down some more dates for our list of key points in the development of Britain’s alternative beer culture, we’ve found some fascinating stories and subjects for further exploration.

First, thanks to some very helpful input from commenters on the original post, Twitterers and the Pub Curmudgeon, we started looking into the Barley Mow in St Albans as an early, if not the first, ‘real ale pub’. That’s not a pub that has some real ale on offer, but a pub which specialiases in, and sells itself on the strength of, having lots of real ale. We now know, thanks to CAMRA Hertfordshire’s complete online archive of newsletters dating back to 1976, the full story of the Barley Mow and its various landlords and landladies (link to PDF).

Another name in the frame as an early ‘beer exhibition’ was the Hole in the Wall in Waterloo. This blog post gives us some personal recollections and a quote from the 1975 Good Beer Guide, but if anyone can point us to a CAMRA newsletter or any other source with dates and details, we’d be grateful.

One of the commenters on the original post mentioned the Litchborough Brewery founded in Northamptonshire by Bill Urquhart in 1974. Mr Urquhart’s story, from what we’ve been able to find so far, is fascinating and familiar: he worked for a big regional brewer which was taken over and closed but he wasn’t ready to hang up his wellies and so founded his own small brewery. He later acted as a consultant to other small breweries which followed in his wake. But, pioneering as he was, he certainly wasn’t a young, dangerous maverick on a mission to shake things up: the beer he brewed was a clone of the brown bitter he’d previously brewed at Phipps.

(The current outfit producing beers under the Phipps name, by the way, appears to be dedicated to brewing historic recipes. Anyone tried them?)

Finally, we were astonished to discover that the first completely new brewery to open in Britain in fifty years was Westbury Ales in Somerset, in 1973. (Selby, in 1972, was a re-opening.) A pilgrimage may be in order next time we go to visit Bailey’s folks.