Thursday 29 June 2023

London Bitter in 1971

How much more of this 1970s fun will we have? Loads more. Unless, of course, I get bored or distracted. Something that is quite likely.

I genuinely didn't start this with the intention of writing a book on the 1970s. However, I've assembled so much material it seems a waste not to. It will follow on from where "Austerity!" ends. Not sure when I'll publish it. Possibly as a "quick" book next year. If other things don't get in the way.

One difference from my other books in the series will be the inclusion of personal memories. Quite a few of which I've already collected. Though I'll be delighted if you send in some more. They really help conjure up the atmosphere of the period.

Right. Back to today's real topic: Bitters brewed in London.

First, something about the breweries. All are members of the Big Six, other than Youngs. Which may partly explain the high prices and poor value.

The average price, at 15.3p is just shy of 2p per pint more than Northern Bitters. Even though the average OG is a bit higher, the value is worse both in terms of OG and ABV. A couple are particularly poor value: Watneys Red Barrel and Charrington Crown Bitter. Both costing 16p for a beer of only around average strength.

The best value beer (in terms of OG) is also from Charrington, in the form of their Best Bitter. Which is considerably stronger than Crown Bitter, but 1p per pint cheaper. It doesn't make any sense. Unless Crown Bitter was keg and Best Bitter cask. I love the way you had to pay a premium to drink inferior beer.

Attenuation isn't great, averaging just short of 75%. Lower than all the other regions we've looked at so far. And that's with Youngs Special dragging up the average with its 85% attenuation. Which leaves that beer best value in terms of ABV. For London. It's far short of the best value from other regions.

Deserving special mention is Watneys Starbright in combining both shit value for money and being barely intoxicating at under 3% ABV. I'm sure it tasted lovely, too. 

London Bitter in 1971
Brewer Beer Price per pint (p) º gravity per p % ABV per p OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation
Watney Starlight 14 2.32 0.21 1032.5 1009.9 2.93 69.69%
Watney Red Barrel 16 2.29 0.21 1036.6 1010.4 3.39 71.58%
Watney Special Bitter 15 2.53 0.23 1037.9 1011.1 3.47 70.71%
Whitbread Tankard 16 2.38 0.22 1038 1010.4 3.58 72.63%
Charrington Crown Bitter 16 2.26 0.22 1036.1 1008.4 3.59 76.73%
Courage Tavern Keg 14 2.59 0.27 1036.2 1007 3.80 80.66%
Charrington Best Bitter 15 2.88 0.26 1043.2 1013.4 3.86 68.98%
Young Special Bitter 16 2.79 0.31 1044.6 1006.4 4.98 85.65%
Average   15.3 2.50 0.24 1038.1 1009.6 3.70 74.58%
Sunday Mirror - Sunday 21 March 1971, page 25.


petalia paul said...

yes I am pretty sure crown was a keg beer.Best I dont know I do remember there being a cask bitter in the charrington pubs in south Essex in this period but cant recall if it was just called Best bitter

Phil said...

Charrington - there's a name I hadn't heard in a few... decades... Would have been a Bass brand by this stage, presumably.

The story went round at school that a kid we knew had been out with his Dad, who had ordered a pint of "Chass Barrington". To which his son replied, "Lucky you didn't do that at the golf club, Dad - they serve Whitbread Tankard."

Chris Pickles said...

I wonder if it was Starlight that went into the Watney's Party Seven and Party Four. Gosh that was terrible stuff, I think it must have been the worst excuse for beer I ever tasted.

I went to the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final at Wembley in 1973 with my dad and some of his mates. Bradford Northern 14, Featherstone Rovers 33 or something close to that. Not only was the result a disaster (Featherstone ran in three tries in the first 20 minutes with the Bradford defenders just waving them through) but before the game we all had a pint at a Watneys pub to general disgust, volubly expressed by all present.

I remember Charringtons IPA, this was later on in the 1970's (1976/7 perhaps). That was splendid stuff, strength wise it seems to have come in between Crown and Best.

Anonymous said...

As an American I am totally blind here. For those who wanted it, in the 1970s how available was good quality German and Belgian beer? How was the price?

Was it possible to go out to a standard pub with friends and find some in bottles, or did you have to find a special store that sold it and then drink it at home?

Anonymous said...

No ratings this time? I wonder how Red Barrel or Starlight fared....

Bribie G said...


My recollection of the early 1970s was that if you wanted a reasonably authentic German beer in a pub, you would get a bottle or two of Holsten Diät Pils which was a highly attenuated lager that was low in carbohydrates.

However it was fairly high in ABV compared to the often 3% mass crap lagers like Harp and if you could afford it, the beer was a good German experience for the evening.

Belgian beers were not a pub item until Stella Artois and Lamot strong lagers came on tap in the early seventies.
Stella survives but Lamot, which was B.U.L by the Bass groups of breweries disappeared.

As for dubbels, Lambics etc that was more of a 2000s thing.

John Lester said...

Charrington’s Crown Bitter was available in both cask and keg, but it was much less common than IPA in the early 70s, at least in London (I don’t think I remember seeing it at all in SW London). It was quite widely available in Essex, however. I didn’t drink very much of it, but as far as I recall it was pretty bland. IPA was much better: before Charrington’s brewery was closed in 1975, it was quite a dark, bitter beer – completely different from the later substitutes from Birmingham and Wolverhampton. (Incidentally, IPA and Best Bitter were the same beer: in the late 60s, the last Charrington’s pump clips described it as “Best Bitter IPA”, and I think the early Bass Charrington pump clips read “IPA Best Bitter”.)

Anonymous said...

Ron my paternal grandfather loved Young’s special when he was working in London said it was very strong which says a lot on how British brewing fared with two world wars and the great depression where the average beer had become so weak that an bitter ale at 4.8 percent was strong.

Ron Pattinson said...


apart from the odd Lager, Belgian beer was unavailable. At one of the earliest Great British Beer Festivals they had some Lambics. That was the first proper Belgian beer I'd come across in the UK.

Weirdly, my first encounter with Belgian beer was in Bordeaux in 1979.

Very little foreign beer was available in the UK until the 1980s. Other than the obvious Lagers.

Anonymous said...

I recall encountering the Chimay beers first on a University field trip in the mid 90' the Tower Bank Arms in Near Sawrey. At closing time we bought all they had for after hours drinking back at the cottage we were staying in.