Sunday 5 November 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 was 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.


Matt said...

The former CAMRA-owned pub nearest me, the White Gates in Hyde, still has a rather impressive mirror from that time, despite having long been a keg-only Sam Smith's house.

Anonymous said...

Would it be heresy to suggest that for the majority of drinkers in the 70's struggling with ridiculous rates of inflation, strikes, blackouts and the rest, beer was something that oiled the wheels of a good night out, or slaked the thirst after a hard days graft? My Dad would drink in pubs where his mates went, gathered before and after football matches, or had family ties. He knew a bad pint, and a good pint, but as long as it wasn't Red Barrel he was pretty happy to have time away from the kids, and money in his pocket to spend on a pint.

bigLurch Habercom said...

The pub I used to help run had what I would like to think of as the 3 Burton Beers (Bass, Marstons Pedigree and Ind Coope DBA) on cask as we could shift a lot of that but we would do reqular guest and visiting ales either via beer engine or direct from the barrel. Most customers were happy with pay approach taking a reqular followed by a guest.