Time Was Never Called

The Valiant Soldier -- the pub where time was never called.

In 1965, the land­lord and land­la­dy of the Valiant Sol­dier in Buck­fastleigh, Devon, shut the doors and retired to the flat above the pub. They left ash­trays full and unfin­ished pints on the bar, and nev­er went back. Thir­ty years lat­er, when the land­la­dy died, the pub was redis­cov­ered – a per­fect, dusty time cap­sule of post-war drink­ing cul­ture.

We vis­it­ed on Fri­day after­noon. It was rain­ing – thun­der­ing, in fact – and we had the place to our­selves. Walk­ing across the bare, creak­ing flooboards of the bar with the archive sounds of the Light Pro­gramme drift­ing in from anoth­er room, we felt the hairs on our necks stand up. It was as if, at any moment, a long dead land­lord was going to appear behind the bar and take our order.

We were remind­ed of the Shin­ing or this episode of Sap­phire and Steel.

The walls are cov­ered with vin­tage adver­tise­ments for the Exeter City Brew­ery. The board over the fire place list­ed prices for bit­ter, best bit­ter, BB, HB, PA, XXX, mild, pale, brown and impe­r­i­al ales. Two beers – Tun and Wat­ney’s Red Bar­rel – were adver­tised as com­ing from a ‘con­tain­er’. On the tables, half-fin­ished games of domi­noes and cards, cig­a­rette pack­ets and tick­et stubs.

Interior of the Valiant Soldier pub.

That was the bar, of course; the lounge, with its flow­ery wall­pa­per and cush­ioned chairs, was alto­geth­er more gen­teel. The ladies seemed to have stepped out­side, just for a moment…

In fact, the pub isn’t quite as it was found in 1996: it was emp­tied, cleaned and put back togeth­er, and there are some anachro­nisms where things found in the attic or cup­boards were too good not to have on dis­play.

Sad­ly, thanks to a vin­tage restric­tive covenant imposed by Whit­bread, no booze can be served on the premis­es. It would have been love­ly to enjoy a cou­ple of pints of mild in that bar.

The muse­um is open Mon­day to Fri­day from April onwards. There are bus­es to Buck­fastleigh from Exeter but, for the full expe­ri­ence, why not get a steam train from Totnes?

Is old keg the same as new keg?

Watneys Red Barrel: detail of beer mat c.1968

In the ongo­ing dis­cus­sions about whether CAMRA should or should not do more to sup­port qual­i­ty kegged and bot­tled British beer, one of the key stick­ing points is this: what makes the kegged beer of today any bet­ter than the bland kegged beer of the 1960s and 70s which pro­voke the cam­paign’s found­ing?

Or, to put that anoth­er way, is ‘new keg’ just the same shite as ‘old keg’?

Hav­ing read Mar­tyn Cor­nel­l’s mar­vel­lous Beer: the Sto­ry of the Pint recent­ly, we were prompt­ed to con­trast the motives of the mak­ers of ‘old keg’ – big con­glom­er­at­ed brew­eries like Wat­neys – with those of the new breed of keg brew­ers.

Old keg: post-World War II, cask ale got weak­er and became more tem­pera­men­tal until, to para­phrase Beer, a change of land­lord or bar­maid could be enough to push pun­ters towards less excit­ing but more reli­able bot­tled beer. Sales were drop­ping alarm­ing­ly. Kegged beer was the brew­eries’ response to that – a way of ensur­ing con­sis­tent­ly ade­quate qual­i­ty (less vine­gar) but at the cost of excel­lence. The cask ver­sions of their beer at the time were hard­ly earth-shat­ter­ing­ly bril­liant either.

New keg: some small­er brew­ers, with a focus on flavour and qual­i­ty, whether you agree with them or not, believe their beer tastes as good if not bet­ter with­out cask or bot­tle con­di­tion­ing. (“Too fizzy” and “too cold” are sub­jec­tive com­plaints). Oth­ers might pre­fer to cask-con­di­tion but, to expand their busi­ness, as an expres­sion of beer­van­ge­lism, or a bit of both, want to get their beer into as many venues as pos­si­ble, and believe keg­ging will help them achieve that. Many of these beers are stronger, more intense­ly flavoured and much more var­ied than the cask con­di­tioned beers com­mon­ly seen in the aver­age pub.

What do you think? Are they the same thing?

Yet more vintage beer mats

Here are four British beer mats from the six­ties (or ear­ly sev­en­ties?).

Two make dubi­ous health claims for their prod­uct – Man­n’s does you a pow­er of good, while Mack­eson’s looks good, tastes good and does good. The retro equiv­a­lent of “con­tains friend­ly bac­te­ria”, maybe?

And these two are just beau­ti­ful. Hel­veti­ca ahoy on the Wor­thing­ton mat? And the Wat­ney’s design is pure Fes­ti­val of Britain.