Tuesday, 3 July 2007
Book of the day
"The Red Barrel", Burford Janes 1963
I apologise for referencing a book about Watney Mann. The history of the Griffin Brewery (bought and closed by Watneys in the 1890s) is what prompted me to buy it. (The Griffin Brewery will feature in later posts. If I keep this up. Enthusiasm. The thing that carries me away. Quite often. Dead often. Like a succession of short sentences. On and on. Until the metaphors run dry. Or something else grabs my attention.) I thought you might like the insight it gives into the development of keg beer - the infamous Red Barrel.
When reading about the big London brewers - Whitbread, Watney, Mann, Truman, Courage - it's hard not to recall the pissiness of their beer and the crappiness of their pubs when I started drinking. I do their 19th century incarnations a disservice. But it's hard not to hold them responsible for their later crimes. What would you feel if you met Hitler as a baby? He couldn't have been evil at 3 months could he? That's how I look at the big London breweries before 1900 - baby Hitlers. You know that you'll hate them one day, but aren't they sweet just now?
"Seventy Rolling Years", Sydney Neville, 1958
I announce "book of the day" then give you two. That's the sort of bloke I am. Innaccurate but generous.
That could be why I obsess over Barclay Perkins. They closed before my first encounters with beer. No keggy afterlife taints my memory. But one of their beers (albeit brewed elsewhere) was still skulking in a few dodgy pubs when I arrived in London - Russian Stout. Courage Russian Stout is how most know it. Barclay's brewed it for 200 years. Courage barely managed 20. Let's credit it to Barclay's.
Watneys weren't the first to try convincing British drinkers that keg was better than cask. Before WW I Worthington, one of the big brewers in Burton, seeing the success of processed ales in the USA, had a try at marketing keg beer. It didn't go down well. Edwardians preferred cask. Good on them. Later generations of Britons, immunised to taste by rationing, white bread and TV advertising, weren't so discerning. I blame Hitler, ITV and Tesco (not necessarily in that order).
Has anyone got the answer to Monday's question?
While we're on the subject of red barrels, one of the last in the universe is close to my house. A few remain on Alpha Centauri, but those guys are well behind the times. Literally light years. You can see the proof in the photo (not of the dreadfully démodé alphacentaurans, but of a barrel that is red and accompanied by the letters W - A - T - N - E - Y - S). I'll be happy to guide any beer archeologists to the site for a mere skinfull.