I think it might be a good idea to give a bit of background on me and an indication of how and why I’ve embarked on this examination of the world of British beer.
Beer and I go back a long way. My initiation was probably in the mid sixties being given a half of shandy in the back of my parent’s car outside a country pub. My mum and dad didn’t drink very often so a pre-Sunday lunch drive out into the country was a rare treat. Children weren’t allowed in pubs in those days so a shandy and bag of crisps in the car was a good as it got. We lived in Derby and The Dog and Duck at Shardlow sticks in my memory as a favourite venue.
My relationship with beer grew as the sixties moved into the seventies. Life back then was so very different to today so I’ll not dwell on attitudes to under-age drinking in pubs at that time, as younger readers might find it too far fetched to be credible.
Let’s resume then around 1973/74 with me at eighteen enjoying the real delights of Derby’s pubs. The pubs were great but the beer variable. Unfortunately, one of the most popular venues for my crowd was a pub serving only keg Younger’s Tartan and McKewan’s Export. Some of us did stray to sample the excellent Marston’s Pedigree or Draught Bass available elsewhere, but keg had to be our usual tipple.
In 1975 I went off to Polytechnic in Portsmouth and this move was the catalyst for the development of a passion for the wonderful variety of real ales across England. My digs were just around the corner from the 5th Hants Volunteer Arms where I experienced Gales Hordean Special Bitter for the first time. It was such a shock at first! This flat bitter with a head more like washing up liquid foam than anything I’d seen before took some getting used to. But I was soon hooked. Eldridge Pope’s Dorset beers and Whitbread’s Pompey Royal (a re-branding of the old Portsmouth Brickwood’s Best) provided variety but Gales Ales ruled the roost.
Visits to friends studying in London provided the next part of my education. London’s Fuller’s and Young’s beers soon became firm favourites. Then as the seventies moved into the eighties trips around the country to watch football provided plenty of new tastes, and serving styles. Regular trips to West Yorkshire demanded the searching out of Timothy Taylor’s outlets (then restricted to West Yorkshire!) as their Landlord took the crown as the best of everything I’d sampled.
Beer variety was exciting and something I relished, but I also appreciated the different ways beer was served. From the flat frothy southern brews of my college years to the thick creamy heads of Yorkshire and Lancashire I loved them all. I eventually settled in Sheffield which at the time had a few isolated examples of an old re-cycling type of hand-pump to serve especially creamy bitters. The system did produce a lovely pint but the growing Food Hygiene culture drew a curtain over this historic practice!
My beer drinking life initially saw great improvements in access to excellent real ales. The keg pubs of my youth have become very much in the minority in many areas, and the boom in the creation of very small independent breweries has fuelled unprecedented interest in real ales. However, far too many wonderful beers are now extinct, far too many lovely pubs are no more, and keg beer has put on a disguise and is creeping back into drinkers’ lives. I am also concerned that many of the things that excited me about the world of British beers have been diluted as regional beers become national and regional serving styles become standardised. And finally, I do believe that the rise of the new small breweries is bringing with it a tendency towards experimentation rather than focus on quality, and its forcing out the best of the traditional styles for the sake of ‘exciting’ new flavours.
As a result of my concerns for the brew that I love, I’ve decided to use this blog to raise beer, brewing, and pub issues to see what level of agreement, understanding, or debate I can generate. I’m also going to brew beers at home in the style that I’d like to be able to find when I’m out and about, and write about these exeperiences too.
I think British beer is a really important subject and I hope I can encourage interest and comment amongst all who have the same high regard for our national brew. Beer has had a varied past and an interesting present; hopefully we can all help it achieve a satisfying future!