Thursday, 21 September 2023

To Belgrade! (part two)

We go all the way to the bus’s city-centre terminus. On the map, it didn’t look far to our hotel. It isn’t that far. It’s just that the intervening space is all uphill. And it’s like an obstacle course. No fun when dragging luggage behind you.

The street in front of the hotel is all dug up. With workmen scurrying around laying a new pavement.

Reception is on the first floor. A very high first floor. And there’s no lift. Did I mention that it’s hot? Very hot. An unseasonal 30º C. With the walk from the bus stop and ascending the stairs, I’m a ball of sweat.

It’s unmanned. On the door a phone number is given. We need to ring that to get the access code for the front door. Just as well I got that Serbian sim. Once inside, our room key is waiting for us on the front desk.

Thankfully, the air-conditioning is top-notch. Soon I’m cooled to a reasonable temperature. It’s time to fire up my flipflop and look for a supermarket. To stock up on a few essentials. Like beer and slivovic

There seems to be one just a couple of hundred metres away. So, off there we head.

Of course, it’s uphill. And some steps. So much fun in this heat.

No sign of a supermarket at the address. Bum. What to do? We go in search of a pub to regroup. We wander along a city-centre street lined with pubs and restaurants. Where to go? Eventually, we settle on an Irish pub. With the inspired name of Irish Pub.

I’m not tempted by the Guiness (sic). Instead, we both plump for Nikšićko Pivo. A pale Lager thing. It’s OK. And just 3 euros for a half litre.

“I’m surprised by how many of the shops’ signs are in the Roman rather than the Cyrillic alphabet. I wonder why that is?”

“No idea.”

While Dolores is away at the toilet, I order the cheapest spirit on the menu. Gorki List, 2.50 euros for 5 cl. With my first sip. I had a linguistic revelation

One of the differences between Czech and most other Slavonic languages is the letter “h”. It pretty well all the others, a “g” takes its place. So, Czech “hovno”  is “govno” is in all the other slavonic languages I’ve come across.

I can still remember a surprising amount of Czech vocabulary. Despite not having really used the language in the last couple of decades. Swap out that “g” for an “h” and you get “horki”. That’s why it’s so scorchingly bitter. I think, as I recall that “hořký”, is the Czech for “bitter”. Pity I didn’t remember that before ordering.

“What’s that, Ronald?” Dolores asks on her return from the bog.

“Something to help settle my stomach. A bitter.” I say, trying to cover up my mistake.

“Right. That’s a good excuse. How much does it cost?”

“Not much.” I’m not telling my own truth this time.

When we leave, we notice that a place over the road has some interesting-looking breakfast options. Could be a good spot for a bit of brekkie tomorrow.

On the way out, we noticed a smallish supermarket and that’s where we now head.

We get some French bread and some stuff to put on it: cheese, ham and some other sliced meat. Not totally sure what it is. Looks nice, mind. I’m sure that word means “roast”. Must be good, then.

The booze section is rather disappointing. Nothing stronger than beer. Especially disappointing for Dolores, because she fancies some wine. She’s lucky. I’m having to forgo spirits. Total disaster. Do they not allow supermarkets to sell booze.?

Luckily, there’s a wine shop almost opposite our hotel. I get some slivovic and crafty-looking beer/ The wine is far outside Dolores’s price range. That is, what she’s willing to pay.

Back in our room, we nibble a little on our nosh. And I try out my slivovic. While flicking through the TV channels. There don’t seem to be any foreign ones. At least not in languages I know.

In my pre-trip research, I found a couple of beery places fairly close to our hotel. Time to try them out. The first, Gradska Pivnica Terazije is on a big boulevard, flanked by rather grand buildings. Just past the impressive Hotel Moskva. We wander up there just after six and plonk our arses down outside.

“Do they have food?” Dolores asks. The menu only lists drinks.

“It doesn’t look like it.”

Doubting whether they have any food, we stroll around the corner to the second place, Samo Pivo. Down a much less impressive street. Which, despite being fairly narrow, is partially lined by seven- and eight-storey buildings.

Mmm … Where is the fucker. After a while, we realise that it doesn’t exist any more. Instead, we sit in the pub which has replaced it. Beery, it isn’t. There’s no food, either. And the beer (Lav) we order is rather sour. Well, that went well.

We return to the first pub. And ask for the food menu. As they do sell food. Well done me, I say.

They have 22 draught beers. Including lots of dull international stuff, like Heineken and Carlsberg. I can resist those. We both decide on local beers: Zaječarsko svetlo (pale) for Dolores and Zaječarsko tamno (dark) for me. They’re OK. Mine has a pleasant caramel flavour.

Neither of us being that hungry, we opt for small dishes. A salad for Dolores. A sausage and crisps for me. A slightly odd combination. Dolores is happy with her choice. Especially the cheese topping it.

We don’t stay out too late. Returning to the air-conditioned delight of our room. And the slivovic I bought earlier. Which eases me into sleepland.

Irish Pub Gecko
Obilićev venac 17,
Beograd 11000.

Samo Pivo
Balkanska 13,
Beograd 11000.

Gradska Pivnica Terazije
Terazije 28,
Beograd 11000'

Wednesday, 20 September 2023

Let's Brew Wedbesday - 1937 Barclay Perkins KK (bottling)

I was going to extend the WW II tedium with another recipe from that period. But I thought: "They must be pig sick of this by now. Let's give my few remaining readers something different."

Like a recipe from the very late 1930s. Which just happens to be included in my scrupulously over-detailed book on beer during WW II, "Blitzkrieg!".

Plug done, recipe begins.

Marketed as No. 1 Southwarke Old Ale, this was a beer which was only sold in bottled format. I would say that that was to be expected, it being too strong for draught. However, Fullers Old Burton Extra was the same strength and that was only sold on draught. Mind you, that was made in tiny batches, mostly of fewer than 10 barrels.

It’s pretty typical of dark beers of the period (other than Porter and Stout) in containing very little in the way of coloured malt, just a little crystal. The bulk of the colour comes from the rather large quantity of caramel.

Slightly odd is the use of No. 2 invert. You’d expect No. 3 invert in this type of beer. There’s also a little malt extract, which is quite a rarity in Barclay Perkins beers. Only this and the strong version of IBS seem to have employed it.

The kettle hops were all English. Mid-Kent Fuggles from the 1936 harvest and two types of EK Goldings from 1935, one of which was described as “1st Grade”. Saaz from 1936 made up the dry hops. All of the hops had been cold stored. 

1937 Barclay Perkins KK (bottling)
pale malt 10.00 lb 69.57%
crystal malt 60 L 0.75 lb 5.22%
flaked maize 1.25 lb 8.70%
No. 2 invert sugar 2.00 lb 13.91%
malt extract 0.25 lb 1.74%
caramel 1000 SRM 0.125 lb 0.87%
Fuggles 150 mins 2.00 oz
Goldings 60 mins 2.00 oz
Goldings 30 mins 2.00 oz
Saaz dry hops 1.00 oz
OG 1069
FG 1022
ABV 6.22
Apparent attenuation 68.12%
IBU 69
SRM 18
Mash at 150º F
After underlet 153º F
Sparge at 164º F
Boil time 150 minutes
pitching temp 59º F
Yeast Wyeast 1099 Whitbread ale

This recipe is from my recently-released Blitzkrieg!, the definitive book on brewing during WW II.

Get your copy now!

The second volume contains the recipes. But not just that. There are also overviews of some of the breweries covered, showing their beers at the start and the end of the conflict.

Buy one now and be the envy of your friends!

Tuesday, 19 September 2023

To Belgrade!

“This will be my second new country this year.”

“Good for you, Ronald.” Dolores says unenthusiastically

“You don’t sound very enthusiastic.”

“Don’t make such a big thing out of everything.” That’s me telt.

We rise pretty early, at six. Our flight is fairly early. But not early enough to require us getting at quite that ungodly an hour. We just want to get in some lounge time. Why waste time and money making breakfast when we can get one for free?

A cab whisks us to the airport a little after seven.

The airport is busier than I’ve seen it recently. But that could well be because of the time of day. Most of my recent flights out of Schiphol have been in the late afternoon.

My bag is soon checked in, and we head for security. I’m not looking forward to the confrontation with the gatekeeper of priority security. Then I notice that the escalator isn’t working. Which a good excuse to take the lift up. Which also has the advantage of dodging the gatekeeper.

It’s all been a doddle so far. Then we get to passport control. Where there’s quite a queue. Again. The wait looks about as long for the EU and non-EU queues. We pick one randomly.

No duty free for me today. “You can buy something in Belgrade. It’ll be a lot cheaper there.” Dolores suggests. And I’m not going to argue with her. I know where that will get me. To not a good place.

As soon as we hit the lounge, it’s breakfast time. I let Dolores go first, gentleman that I am. She returns with a couple of plates of food. Good thinking, as the plates are tiny.

Before venturing for food, I visit the bar.

“One Teachers and one Jim Beam, please. No ice in either.” My usual order. OK, it’s not yet 8 AM. But we are in an airport. So, it’s fine.

“Do you want a coffee, Ronald.”

“Go on. It’ll help wash the whisky down.”

Once I’ve got a whisky/coffee combination inside me, I assemble my breakfast. No scrambled egg today, unfortunately. Just some weird round egg thing. It’ll have to do. Along with some sausages and a token bit of veg, in the form of spuds and mushrooms.

“Do you want anything from the bar, Dolores?”

“A rosé wine, please.”

“I see you’re applying airport rules, too.”

“What do you mean.”

“That it’s acceptable to drink alcohol in an airport at any time of day.” Dolores doesn’t normally drink wine just after breakfast.”

“Well, you can talk with your whiskies.”

“I didn’t mean it in any kind of negative way.”


One wine is enough for Dolores. At least until we get on the plane. Me, I need more whisky.

“Are those both for you, sir?”

“No.” I lie unconvincingly.

“You’re getting through the drinks quickly.”

“I’m a nervous flyer. I need to build up some courage.” I lie, ever so slightly more convincingly.

I’m just polishing off my third brace of whiskies when Dolores notices that the flight has been delayed by thirty minutes.

“Time for another drink, then.”

“Don’t go crazy, Ronald.”

“When did I ever go crazy?”

I head for the bar before Dolores has time to reply.

After my last encounter with the barmaid, I’m slightly nervous. And decide to play it safe.

“A Pils, please.”

It’s a bit of a walk to our gate. So, we allow plenty of time. It’ll take at least ten minutes. Trudging through airports is so much fun.

“This is so much fun.”

“Your comments are really helping, Ronald.”

We have to wait around a bit for boarding. I’d have cut it finer, myself. Dolores is more cautious. Like Andrew.

“Andrew gets quite nervous as it gets close to boarding time. I did leave it a bit late in Incheon earlier this year. We were the last to board and the ground crew had started to look for us.”

“Lovely. Don’t do that with me.” I wouldn’t dare.

The flight isn’t very full. As no-one is in the window seat next to us, Dolores moves there. Giving us more room. Which is cool.

They feed us a sandwich and ask what we’d like to drink.

“I’ll have a red wine, please.”

“A white wine for me.” Dolores says.

“Still applying airport rules, I see.”

“And what about you?”

“I’m just a hopeless pisshead. Totally different rules apply to me.”

“I’ve noticed.”

While we’re waiting for our bags to flop onto the carousel, I notice that they’re selling Serbian sims. It’s only four euros for a week. Which seems a pretty good deal. I get myself one.

It takes a while queueing and then having the sim fitted. But my bag still hasn’t emerged. After consulting with other baggage-less passengers, Dolores has a look on the other carousels. Sure enough, my bag is there. I assume that the luggage that has been circling our carousel for 40 minutes is from a random other flight.

After getting some Serbian dinars, we head off in search of the number 72 bus stop. Which should take us to within a couple of hundred metres of our hotel.

One eventually rolls up. Paying is a challenge. It’s not possible to buy a ticket from the driver. He points us at a poster. About a quarter of the way into the journey, I manage to work out what it says. You need to pay using a phone app. Great.

On the other hand, the driver being pretty uninterested in our success at ticket purchasing, we travel for free. 

More about our first day in Belgrade next. When we get to some pubs and drink some beer.

Monday, 18 September 2023

The Big Six (part three)

More stuff on the demons of 1970s brewing. How evil they were. The ones who supped at the devils hosepipe. Two more Big Six members.

I have very mixed feelings about Courage. Having ended up owning both of my hometown of Newark’s brewers, they owned almost all the pubs. All but one of which sold no cask beer. On the other hand, they brewed Russian Stout.

On the other hand, my first job after school was working in their Newark plant, the former Holes brewery. Filling kegs. It was so much fun. Not really. It was very heavy work. Which my 18-iear-old body could cope with. Then there was all that free beer.

In the North and Midlands, Courage produced no cask beer at either their Tadcaster or Newark breweries. Drinkers in the South were luckier, with the London and Bristol plants producing some cask. Though Worton Grange, the replacement for the former Simmonds brewery in Reading, produced only keg beer.

Scottish & Newcastle
Due to the way the pub trade worked in Scotland, where loan ties rather than outright brewery ownership were the norm, Scottish & Newcastle looked by far the smallest of the Big Six.

Many “free houses” had some sort of loan tie to S & N. Often just for draught beer, rather than everything.

With not many more than the maximum number of brewery-owned pubs, S & N was the least affected by the Beer Orders.

Their cask beers offerings were patchy. Younger’s 70/- and 80/- appeared in natural form reasonably frequently. With the latter being called IPA in England. Just to confuse thing up.

The best-known beer of Newcastle Breweries was their Brown Ale, along with Exhibition. There was also an Anber Ale, which one of the two constituent parts of Newcastle Brown.

Sunday, 17 September 2023

The Big Six (part two)

Today we're going to look at a couple of the Big Six members. Specifically Allied Breweries and Bass Charrington.

Allied Breweries
Unlike the other large brewing groups, which had mostly coalesced around one large brewery, Allied was more like a merger of equals. Those parties being Tetley Walker, Ind Coope and Ansells. And, to some extent, they kept their regional identity. Other than Double Diamond and Skol, they didn’t really have national draught brands.

In Yorkshire, Tetley was much better than most of the Big Six. They didn’t mess their pubs around and were happy for most of them to sell cask beer. It’s a brewery I had a lot of affection for. Obviously, it’s now closed.

The Ansells brewery in Birmingham was the scene of much industrial unrest. Which led to its closure, with the Ansells beers being moved to other breweries in the group.

Bass Charrington

Who knows what Bass Charrington could have achieved, if they hadn’t been led by a lunatic with no knowledge of the brewing industry. Despite his best efforts, the company became the biggest in the UK and one of the largest in the world. In the hands of someone more competent, they could only have been more successful.

The chairman’s insane plan was to have just two breweries, Cape Hill in Birmingham and the new brewery in Runcorn serving the whole of the UK. Which led them to closing most of their breweries. Though, when they discovered Runcorn couldn’t brew acceptable versions of some of their Northern brands, breweries such as Stones in Sheffield and the Tower Brewery in Tadcaster were reprieved.

They were one of the worst in terms of pub vandalism. When there was a pub swap in the 1980s, they took over the Little Park from Tetley. It was a Leeds little lovely pub, with two distinct rooms. Bass almost immediately fucked it up, knocking it through into a single room. Totally ruining the atmosphere.

Saturday, 16 September 2023

Let's Brew - 1902 Fullers Single Stout

Sometime around 1900, Fullers introduced a new, weaker Stout. Which, in a moment of inspiration, they named Single Stout.

Even for a Single Stout, it’s pretty feeble. Whitbread’s, for example, was 1072º. And not that much stronger than Fullers Porter, at 1050º. I suppose there must have been a market for something of this strength. Or maybe not, as it doesn’t appear in the records from 1910.

The backbone of London Stout – pale, brown and black malt – are all present. Along with some other stuff. Like flaked maize and caramel. There’s some undefined type of sugar. No. 3 invert seems to leave it around the right colour. There’s a lot of it, too. Over 25% of the total.

Amongst the malts, there’s a modest quantity of brown malt and quite a lot of black malt. Enough to create a pretty dark beer in conjunction with the No. 3 and caramel.

Definitely an underlet. Not sure what the third step is. It’s described as “Sacc.”. I know from later logs that it’s “Saccharum liquor”, i.e., a sugar solution. It seems a bit odd to add that to the mash. I just have to assume that they knew what the hell they were doing.

Action barrels strike heat mashed (mins) stood (mins) tap heat gravity
mash 1 206 158º F 60 25 145º F 1086.2
underlet 16 175º F   80    
sacc. liquor 63          
sparge 197 170º F        

Three types of hops. English from the 1900 and 1901 seasons and Worcester from 1901.

No ageing for this baby.  

1902 Fullers Single Stout
pale malt 5.75 lb 51.25%
brown malt 1.25 lb 11.14%
black malt 0.67 lb 5.97%
flaked maize 0.25 lb 2.23%
No. 3 invert sugar 3.00 lb 26.74%
caramel 500 SRM 0.30 lb 2.67%
Fuggles 90 min 1.75 oz
Fuggles 30 min 1.75 oz
Fuggles dry hops 0.25 oz
OG 1058
FG 1015.5
ABV 5.62
Apparent attenuation 73.28%
IBU 37
SRM 38
Mash at 147º F
Sparge at 175º F
Boil time 90 minutes
pitching temp 60º F
Yeast Wyeast 1968 London ESB


This is one of the 277 recipes in my new book on London Stout. Get your copy now!

Friday, 15 September 2023

UK Breweries in the 1970s

The number of breweries in the UK had been in decline for more than a century. Other than the clubs breweries founded just after WW I, there had been almost no new in the 20th century.

But that changed in the 1970s. In 1977, the trend was reversed and for the first time in more than two centuries, the number of breweries increased. After a stuttering start, the number of new breweries exploded after 1980.

Most brewery closures were the result of takeovers. But some, like Melbourn of Stamford, was because a vital piece of equipment gave up and there wasn’t the cash, or the will, to replace it.

Owning pubs was the name of the game. Most beer was sold in pubs. But the number of pub licences was limited. And mostly owned by brewers. The only way to get new outlets was to buy another brewery. Take the pubs and close the brewery.

The Big Six dominated brewing in the 1970s. Owning a huge percentage of the UK’s pubs, how could it go wrong? Yet it did.

At the time, it looked like they had an unbreakable grip on UK brewing. Yet after the Beer Orders they would fade into nothing. 

Number of UK breweries 1969 - 1972
Year breweries
1969 177
1970 177
1971 170
1972 162
1973 162
1974 152
1975 147
1976 142
1977 144
1978 143
1979 145
1980 191
1981 210
1982 244
BBPA Statistical Handbook 2003, p. 92

Thursday, 14 September 2023

Opening times in the 1970s

In the different parts of the United Kingdom the licensing laws varied. One thing they had in common was two-hour break (at least) in the afternoon. And a closing time of no later than 23:00. Plus 15 minutes “drinking up time” after serving stopped before they kicked you out.

Oh, except for the islands which aren’t part of the UK: the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

The rules set by the 1922 Licensing Act were pretty much still in force. The Act formalised the temporary regulations brought in during WW I. They drastically reduced opening hours and enforce a closure of a minimum of two hours during the afternoon.

There wasn’t one set of opening hours. They varied according to licensing district. I would tell you the pattern behind those differences. But there isn’t really one. It was pretty random, much dependent on the whims of the local licensing authorities.

In London, the hours were 11:00 – 15:00 and 17:30 – 11:00, or 11:30 – 15:00 and 17:00 – 11:00.

In Newark, it was 10:30 – 14:30 and 18:30 – 22:30 (23:00 on Friday and Saturday.). In Nottinghamshire 22:30 was the usual evening closing time. But as neighbouring Lincolnshire had 23:00 closing, some would dash in their cars the few miles to the border to cram in an extra pint. As the police wanted to discourage such a dangerous activity, Newark was allowed an extra half hour of drinking at the weekend.

While in Leeds, opening was 11:00 – 15:00 and 17:30 – 22:30. Why they were different from Newark and is purely random. For me, opening at 17:30 in the evening was perfect: I could take a bus straight to the pub after work. Which wouldn’t have been possible with opening at 18:30.

Channel Islands
On Jersey, there was no compulsory afternoon closing and pubs could open between 9:00 and 23:00. Guernsey had slightly shorter hours: 10:30 to 23:00. Only Alderney had an afternoon break: 11:00 – 14:00 and 17:00 – 23:00.

Isle of Man
No afternoon closing here either. Other than on Sunday, when the hours were, frankly, shit: 12:00 – 13:30 and 20:00 – 22:00. Fuck me. That’s even worse than England. I won’t say UK, as in Wales and Scotland pubs were either all, or mostly, closed.

On weekdays, however, they were open 10:30 - 22:45.

Small wonder those semi-independent islands were popular with British tourists. Especially as the beer was cheaper, too. Simply due to the duty on beer being much lower.

Wednesday, 13 September 2023

Let's Brew Wednesday - 1941 Barclay Perkins Export

What’s changed since last year? Just about nothing, if I’m honest. Even the gravity has remained the same.

The grist is still 28 quarters of lager malt and 9 quarters of grits. I’m pretty sure that it’s lager malt and not pale malt purely based on the name of the maltster: Gilstrap (coincidentally, from my home town of Newark). Barclay Perkins usually got their lager malt from either Taylor or Gilstrap.

One area where there have been modifications is the hopping. The rate has been reduced from 6 lbs per quarter (336 lbs) of malt to a bit over 4.5 lbs. Brewers were instructed by the government to reduce hop usage in the summer of 1941.

Two types of Bohemian Saaz were both from the 1938 harvest. In addition, there were Belgian Saaz and English hops, both from 1939. All the hops had been cold stored.

This was the mashing scheme:

mash in 110º F 86 minutes
raise to 154º F 20 minutes
raise to 168º F  
hold at 168º F 29 minutes
Sparge at 175º F  

The cereal mash was used like a decoction. 

1941 Barclay Perkins Export
lager malt 7.75 lb 73.81%
grits 2.75 lb 26.19%
Saaz 120 mins 0.50 oz
Saaz 60 mins 0.50 oz
Saaz 30 mins 0.25 oz
Goldings 30 min 0.25 oz
OG 1047.5
FG 1015
ABV 4.30
Apparent attenuation 68.42%
IBU 14
Mash at 154º F
Sparge at 175º F
Boil time 120 minutes
pitching temp 47.5º F
Yeast Wyeast 2042 Danish lager

This recipe is from my recently-released Blitzkrieg!, the definitive book on brewing during WW II.

Get your copy now!

The second volume contains the recipes. But not just that. There are also overviews of some of the breweries covered, showing their beers at the start and the end of the conflict.

Buy one now and be the envy of your friends!

Tuesday, 12 September 2023

Estate pubs in the 1970s

Some more of my ramblings about the pubs of my youth. With two types of pubs spawned by slum clearances.

Estate pubs
The 1960s and the 1970s were the last period when any quantity of new, purpose-built pubs were constructed. In either inner-city areas which had been cleared, new suburbs or whole new towns.

Brewers were very keen on acquiring such sites. Large modern premises without any nearby competition were likely to be very profitable. So much so, that brewers were happy to trade in the licences of two or three small inner-city pubs in exchange.

In the valuation of Hole’s tied estate made before their takeover by Courage, the highest valued was the Lincoln Imp, a pub in a new estate in Lincoln. It was listed as being worth £91,500, when most of the pubs in Newark were valued at between £8,000 and £15,000.

As time went on, these profit machines sometimes turned into quite scary venues, depending on the nature of the housing estate around it. Pubs on rough estates tended to be, well, rough. As the saying went: never drink in a flat-roofed pub.

The Cardinal’s Hat in Newark was an example of a fairly rough estate pub. Though not as terrifying as such pubs could be in larger cities.

Clearance pubs

One of the oddities of slum clearances is that the pubs often remained after all the housing had been demolished. Such pubs looked very sad standing alone in a sea of devastation. Sometimes they remained when the district was rebuilt. For others it was just a question of a stay of execution.

When I first moved to Leeds there were a couple of such pubs in Sheepscar. Which were the first place I ever tasted handpulled Tetley’s Mild. And what a revelation that was. There was a reason why those pubs still had beer engines.

In the early 1970s, Tetley replaced handpulls with electric pumps. Basically. for hygiene reasons. Their only houses which retained beer engines were ones which they didn’t expect to be around for long.

Monday, 11 September 2023

The Big Six

The buying spree initiated by Eddie Taylor in the 1950s and 1960s came to an end in the 1970s, when the Labour government stopped further takeovers by the large brewing groups. Effectively freezing the six as they were. Any expansion had to come from off sales or adventures abroad.

In the 1970s, those UK large breweries were amongst the largest in the world. But with domestic possibilities extremely limited, what could they do?

At a time when most beer was consumed in pubs, the number of them you controlled determined how much beer you could sell. Roughly. Which is why they had gobbled up ramshackle breweries, purely for the pubs that they owned.

This is also when the Big Six started to rationalise their production Through closing multiple older breweries and replacing them with new more “rational” plants. Which were mostly a total disaster.

The most insane proposals came from Bass Charrington, whose chairman came from outside the brewing industry.  He wanted to concentrate brewing in just two plants: the M & B brewery in Cape Hill, Birmingham and Runcorn in Lancashire. It didn’t end well.

Large numbers of regional breweries were closed. Replaced with massive keg plants that never operated to capacity. The Courage brewery that replaced Simonds Reading brewery is a good example. It never brewed the full six million barrels it was capable of. That would have been about 17% of the UK's total output. And has closed.

When beer consumption began to fall, the UK was left with serious overcapacity. Assuming demand would continue to rise, big brewers had invested in massive plants to expand capacity.

The new “megakeggeries”, as CAMRA called them, were no great success. Whitbread’s plant in Luton and Bass Charrington’s in Runcorn were plagued with technical problems and industrial unrest. Both closed. Poor labour relations were rare amongst family brewers with their more paternalistic approach.

Big brewery tied houses in 1970
Bass Charrington 9,450
Whitbread 8,280
Allied 8,250
Watney Mann 6,135
Courage 6,000
S&N 1,700
Guinness 2
Total 39,817
 Investors' Chronicle, 13 November 1970.



Sunday, 10 September 2023

Real Ale pubs in the 1970s

When CAMRA started to really take off in the mid-1970s, a new type of pub started to appear. Free houses where, rather than just serving the Mild and Bitter of whichever brewer gave them the best deal, they would sell cask beer from several different breweries.

In those days, it was very unusual for a pub to sell draught beer from multiple breweries. Even “free houses” were usually committed to the draught products of a single brewer. Bottled beers were a different matter. Some big bottled brands – Guinness and Mackeson, for example – were available in other brewers’ tied houses. Bass is the only draught beer that broke out of the tie.

Having grown up in a region where brewers mostly had a very limited draught. Mild and Bitter. With no Best Bitter or Old Ale, seeing more than two operational hand pulls was an occasion. Entering a pub with six or even eight beer engines, all dispensing a different beer, was like a punch in the face. In a good way.

I did learn to be wary of pubs with lots of hand pumps. Sometimes more than their trade could sustain. Selling two cask beers was sustainable for most pubs. Six or more? Only a pub with a large number of committed cask drinkers. I preferred tied houses with just a couple of casks. If there was a decent landlord.

And here’s one of the great things about cask beer. A mediocre beer can be polished and made to shine by a good cellarman. The downside is that an idiot landlord can ruin the most wonderful beer.

CAMRA, in my opinion unwisely, set up their own real ale pub chain. There was nothing wrong with the pubs themselves. They had a range of cask beers from different brewers. One, The Eagle, was in Leeds. And in an area I regularly pub-crawled. All the other pubs on the crawl were Tetley houses, so it did offer a little variety.

The problem was more a conflict of interest. A consumer organisation that was dabbling in the trade? Too many places the aims of the campaign and the pub chain wouldn’t be in sync. 

As always, your memories are welcome.

Saturday, 9 September 2023

Let's Brew - 1837 Combe Double Brown Stout

This comes from a tricky brewing record which is miscatalogued as being from Reid. I'm pretty sure that it's actually from Combe. But I could be wrong.

A stronger Stout was also brewed by Combe. Called, rather unimaginatively, Double Stout. Very similar in strength to that of its London rivals.

Much the same grist as Brown Stout. Just the tiniest bit more black malt. Along with the higher gravity, it makes for a beer that’s quite a bit darker.

The first two mashes were very like those for Brown Stout. While the third was a little hotter. At least the strike temperature was. Because of the small volume of water, however, the tap heat was lower.

Mash number barrels strike heat time (mins) tap heat gravity
1 190 160º F 90 143º F 1100.6
2 100 182º F 50 156º F 1075.1
3 40 174º F 45 152.5º F  

It’s not that crazily hopped. In terms of lbs per barrel, it’s almost exactly the same as Brown Stout. Two lots of English hops: East Kent from 1837 and Mid-Kent from 1836.

Vat 10 was used this time. Where it would have sat for probably a year. 

1837 Combe Double Brown Stout
pale malt 15.50 lb 77.11%
brown malt 3.75 lb 18.66%
black malt 0.85 lb 4.23%
Goldings 90 min 3.00 oz
Goldings 60 min 3.00 oz
Goldings 30 min 3.00 oz
Goldings dry hops 0.75 oz
OG 1084
FG 1026
ABV 7.67
Apparent attenuation 69.05%
IBU 91
SRM 36
Mash at 152º F
Sparge at 168º F
Boil time 90 minutes
pitching temp 61º F
Yeast Wyeast 1099 Whitbread Ale


This is one of the 277 recipes in my new book on London Stout. Get your copy now!

Friday, 8 September 2023

Clubs in the 1970s

Not the dancey type of club, but the workingmen's sort. 

When I first starting drinking, clubs were this mysterious, closed-off world. Inaccessible, just like pubs had been in my early teenage years.

Clubs remained alien when I first started visiting pubs. That all changed in my second year at university. Some of my friends had moved to Chapeltown. Into a house directly opposite the Trades Club.

My friends realised that the student union was affiliated to the Clubs and Institutes Union (CIU). As were most working men’s clubs. Meaning we could go and play on their snooker tables. There being fuck all tables outside clubs then.

The draught beer was crap. But they had Guinness. Because of the large West Indian contingent in the clientele. We could hear the thwack of every domino they smacked down.

Old political allegiances meant that inner city Leeds had many Liberal clubs. When I lived on Burley Road, there was a club not that far away called The Burley Road Liberal Club.

We used our CIU cards to get in to play snooker. Often enough that at one point they asked: “Do you want to become members, lads?” Which is what we did.

There was an obvious Scottish & Newcastle tie. But they had hand pulls serving Younger’s IPA and No.3. Of course, I drank the latter. Being dark and vaguely Mild-like. Now, knowing more of Scottish brewing practice, I suspect No. 3 was just IPA with added caramel.

We mostly went to the club to play snooker. But, of course, we’d have a couple of pints to accompany the game. They looked after the beer pretty well. And I’ve always had a soft spot for Younger’s No. 3. 

Do you have any memories of clubs in the 1970s? Please share them.

Thursday, 7 September 2023

Pub games in the 1970s

I'll admit to being a bit of a lazy git here. What follows is only really a rough outline of a section of "Keg!" on pub games. Feel free to help me flesh it out with your own memories of games played in pubs.

 I'd especially like to know about any regional pub games, both indoor and outdoor.

Here goes. You'll see how rough it is.

Like many things about pubs, games were regional. Even something as simple as darts.

I’ve mentioned darts, so let’s start there. In Newark, a doubles board was common. It’s like a standard board, but without the treble ring.

In the East End, I drank in a few pubs that had a fives board. The sections were larger and the only numbers were 5, 10, 15 and 20. It had both a double and a treble ring.

The Manchester board was trickiest to play. Smaller in size and with a tiny double and no treble, it was made extra difficult by having most of the numbers in different positions.

I played darts a fair bit in pubs. Well, mostly in pubs.

The classic pub card game was cribbage. It being one of the few games being generally legal to play for small stakes. Score was kept on cribbage board, which was also used for scoring some other games, such as dominoes.

Other games were played, but were by no means as common.

One of the most common games to be found in pubs. Quite often in the form of fives and threes. A game played by pairs and more intellectually challenging than simple straight out. And also scored on a crib board.

Table games

By that, I mean games like billiards that are played by knocking balls around a table.

Far the most common of these games was pool. Often the pool table was in the public bar, or, in pubs with many rooms, in its own special one. In rougher pubs, they were notorious as fight starters.

Bar billiards was rarer, but could be found in the occasional pub.

I can never recall seeing a full-size snooker table in a pub. If you wanted to play snooker, you had to go to a club.

Video games

The first video games began to appear in pubs in this period. The first being tennis, which started popping up in the early years of the 1970s. Followed a couple of years later by Space Invaders and Galaxian.

Wednesday, 6 September 2023

Let's Brew Wednesday - 1940 Boddington CC

There’s only been a little shaved off the strength of Boddington’s Strong Ale, CC, since the outbreak of war.

Don’t ask me what CC stands for. Or means. Absolutely no fucking idea. None. But dead cool to find a recipe for a Manchester-style Strong Ale.

There’s only been a minimal reduction in the gravity – 1.5º. But this was brewed very early in the year, on 4th January. Having said that, as late as October the gravity remained 1055º

Just as with XX, the flaked maize has been replaced by flaked rice. Though, in contrast to the Mild, the proportion of adjunct has been significantly reduced, roughly halved. The slack being taken up by the base pale malt. There’s also been a significant reduction in the sugar content.

Most, though not quite all, of the hops were English from the 1939 crop. The dry hops were a combination of more English from 1939 and Styrian from 1938. The latter having been kept in a cold store.

1940 Boddington CC
pale malt 8.50 lb 69.19%
crystal malt 60 L 1.50 lb 12.21%
flaked rice 1.50 lb 12.21%
malt extract 0.33 lb 2.69%
No. 3 invert sugar 0.33 lb 2.69%
caramel 1000 SRM 0.125 lb 1.02%
Cluster 170 mins 0.50 oz
Fuggles 170 mins 3.50 oz
Fuggles 30 mins 4.00 oz
Goldings dry hops 0.50 oz
OG 1055
FG 1014
ABV 5.42
Apparent attenuation 74.55%
IBU 97
SRM 18
Mash at 149º F
Sparge at 162º F
Boil time 170 minutes
pitching temp 62º F
Yeast Wyeast 1318 London ale III (Boddingtons)

This recipe is from my recently-released Blitzkrieg!, the definitive book on brewing during WW II.

Get your copy now!

The second volume contains the recipes. But not just that. There are also overviews of some of the breweries covered, showing their beers at the start and the end of the conflict.

Buy one now and be the envy of your friends!