Thursday, 30 April 2015

Birmingham day one

The Alabama, not West Midlands one. I'm sure you're aware of that, but just making sure.

I have to be up reasonably early as my flight is just after 10 AM. And I've a couple of bags to check in. After loading up of eggs and bacon, I check out and get a cab.

Boucing around in the back, I notice a disconcerting sign: "Concealed weapons prohibited". Does that mean unconcealed weapons are OK? It must, otherwise surely it would just say "Weapons prohibited".

I've splashed out on a first class ticket, which means I get two free checkin bags. May as well take advantage. I've also got the TSA express thing, which means I can leave on some of my clothing during the seciurity check. I had this last time I was in the US, too. No idea why, but I'm not complaining.

George Bush internationalis a funny place. A big, international airport, but few eat/drink/shop opportunities. Very odd. Most airports nowadays are like shopping centres with an auxiliary transport function.

I'm looking for a bar. There's a breakfasty type place, but, significantly, the seats at the bar are all tilted forward. Looks like it isn't open yet. I eventually find somewhere more bar-like, only to be told they serve me a beer yet. This is as bad as Totonto airport. Even in Britain you can get a beer airside at 8 AM. I have a coffee instead.

Having a first class ticket, I can board early. I've got seat 1A, another perk of flying first class. It's coveniently close to the galley. Something that's very handy during the flight. Dead easy for me to ask for another whisky, which I do several times during th flight.

I'm collected at the airport by Nick Hudson, a member of the homebrewing club the Carboy Junkies.

"Do you want to go straight to your hotel or have a beer first?"

It's a principle of mine never to turn down a beer. Ever. We head for Paramount, which is downtown, not far from my hotel.

It's one of those odd places that combines beer, food and old arcade games.We order a very good hamburger and I shovel down a few beers.

As you can see, it's very light inside. I quite like the place.

I've just about time to check in before it's time to head over to Cahaba Brewing, the location of today's event.

With a 3.5 barrel brewhouse, they're at the small end of production breweries. It looks like they've still plenty of room to expand. The brewing revival is very recent here, partly due to crazy alcohol laws, like a ceiling on ABV. And a ban on home brewing. That's all by way of explanation of the fact that, although Cahaba was only founded in 2011, they're one of Alabama's older breweries.

The taap room is smack bang in the brewery. Which I'd find disconcerting were I a brewer. But I've seen it more often in newer breweries, for example in Seattle.

It a simple, unpretentious place:

Carboy Junkies have set up a small bar, serving six historic beers:

- 1855 Barclay Perkins EI Porter
- 1879 Younger No. 3
- 1914 Fullers  AK
- 1924 Barclay Perkins RNS "Royal Navy" Stout
- 1952 Lees Best Mild
- 1955 Whitbread Double Brown Ale

I'd like to say, all beers from my book. But only the Younger's No. 3 is. Double Brown was in, but got cut for space reasons. It's a good spread of styles, with only a Pale Ale and a Strong Ale missing.

I chat merrily with club members about all things beer history and enjoy the occasional beer. That Lees Mild recipe is a cracker. Been very popular with home brewers. Why didn't I include it in the book? I remember: it's Kristen's recipe.

Someone presses a badge into my hand. At first I think it's a club badge, like the one I was given in Houston. Then I see the anchor and the words "Barclay Perkins". It was given to William Thomas Jackson to celebrate 21 years service. Wow. I don't know what to say. It's a wonderful gift.

One of the club members I chat with is Scotsman Stuart Carter. He's taking me on a brewery crawl tomorrow. Can't wait.

200 20th St N,
Birmingham, AL 35203

Cahaba Brewing Company
2616 3rd Ave S,
Birmingham, Alabama 35233

Buy my book:

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Let's Brew Wednesday - 1959 Watneys Brown Ale

Now here's a special treat: a beer from the legendary Watneys. Unfortunately, they're legendary for all the wrong reasons. Maybe notorious would be a better word.

I thought I'd never get to write any Watney recipes. Because their brewing records don't appear to have been preserved. However those of one of the breweries they took over, Usher's of Trowbridge, have. And they brewed some Watney brands in addition to their own beers.

Watney acquired a terrible reputation in the 1970's for producing crap beer. Their name got so bad, that they eventually removed it from the exterior of their pubs. As a brand, Watney became unusable.

CAMRA was to a great part responsible. Watney produced no cask beer for many years and were an obvious target. Grotney was what they called them. And with good reason: their beer was crap.

John Keeling told me how when he worked at Wilson's, another Watney subsidiary, the Cream Stout they produced was for a large part made up of ullage - returned beer - pasteurised and coloured up with caramel. It sounded disgusting. I now realise that this wasn't an isolated example.

Because the Watney's Dairy Maid Stout, Brown Ale and XX Mild brewed at Ushers are exactly the same. There's all sorts of drecky beer added at racking time to the stuff that was brewed and fermented.

In the case of Brown Ale, this was added to the 734 barrels brewed the normal way:

BB 30 barrels
Bottoms 40 barrels
RB 93 barrels
finings 9 barrels

That's 172 barrels, in total. Bottoms is the sludgy stuff left behind in vessels. RB I assume stands for returned beer, or ullage. Not sure what BB is, but it's definitely not Best Bitter.

I can't imagine that lot improved the quality of the finished beer.

The recipe below is for the beer as brewed. If you want to go all authentic, I suggest collecting dregs and the gunk left after racking, filtering it, boiling it for a while to kill any bugs, then add it to the beer when you rack. Not that I would recommend such scummy practice.

The recipe itself doesn't look too bad. A mild malt base, a bit of crystal for body and roast barley for colour. At about the standard gravity for Brown Ale back then, around 1030º.

Time to pass you over to me (again - though Kristen will be back in a couple of weeks) . . .

1959 Watneys Brown Ale
MA malt 5.50 lb 81.06%
crystal malt 0.33 lb 4.86%
flaked maize 0.33 lb 4.86%
roast barley 0.25 lb 3.68%
No. 2 invert 0.25 lb 3.68%
caramel 0.125 lb 1.84%
ginger pinch
Fuggles 45 min 1.00 oz
OG 1031
FG 1007
ABV 3.18
Apparent attenuation 77.42%
IBU 14.5
SRM 30
Mash at 152º F
Sparge at 170º F
Boil time 45 minutes
pitching temp 60º F
Yeast WLP023 Burton Ale

Tuesday, 28 April 2015


Did the package from the Netherlands arrive in Stratford?

Sorry to be so cryptic. Just wondering if something got through customs.

Brewing in the 1950’s - English Hops (part one)

Continuing with the 1950’s theme, more about hops. To be more precise, about the different types of English hops and their characteristics.

I’m particularly pleased that it details which type of hops were grown in specific regions. This is dead handy for me as brewing records mostly only specify the region of production, not the hop variety. Using this information I’ll be able to guess the variety with more security.

It’s amazing how long two groups of hops have dominated in Britain. The second paragraph could just as well have been written 50 years earlier:

“Types of Hops. Goldings and Fuggles appear to have been the dominating types for many years, but there are now so many varieties on the market that the two original types have been swallowed up in a maze of cross breeds. With the increasing variety of names, it is more and more difficult to classify hops. We should be more accurate if, instead of calling the hops Goldings and Fuggles, we placed them under the headings of Golding type and Fuggle type. When the reason for the introduction of the various types is investigated it will be readily understood, why this complication has arisen."
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 172.

When I was writing the Home Brewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer, the one area I didn’t feel too confident about was hop varieties. So I asked Ed Wray, who I knew had just written a piece for the Brewery History Society about hops.

What he said was quite surprising. Most of the hops sold as East Kent Goldings aren’t really Goldings, but a series of related varieties. And it’s probable that the specific hop selected by Mr. Golding no longer exists. It’s way more complicated than you might expect. As Jeffery hints above.

This next bit surprised me:

“There is no denying the fact that for many years growers have not been getting prices for their Goldings commensurate with the prices obtained for Fuggles. Goldings are the more difficult to grow, and, being rather delicate, are the more susceptible to diseases, especially the Downy Mildew. Apart from these features, they yield a poorer crop per acre than that obtained from Fuggles. The price paid per cwt, for them does not compensate the grower, in comparison, for his extra trouble. It is hardly to be wondered at that the genuine Golding is going out of favour with the grower. He now goes in for a hop which gives him a greater yield per acre, still of the Golding type, but not of the delicate flavour of the original Golding. The brewer must deplore this change, since no better hop could be used for best pale ale than a Golding. All the same, the brewer is to blame, because it is he who refuses to pay a price for Goldings which will encourage their growth. As a result, growers have come to experiment with crosses between numerous types of hops. These experiments continue daily at research stations, in an endeavour to produce a hop which will give the yield per acre of Fuggles, and at the same time have the delicate flavour of the Golding.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 172.

I’d always assumed that Goldings sold at a premium. It would make sense, given its superior qualities but poorer yield per acre. I’ve just made a little check on hop prices. Thanks to Barclay Perkins very informative brewing records, which include both hop variety and price. Here are the prices I’ve extracted from some records from 1946:

Hop prices in 1946
variety price in shillings per cwt
Fuggles 446
Fuggles 452
Fuggles 437.5
Fuggles 416
Fuggles 476
Fuggles 444
Fuggles 450
Fuggles 474
Fuggles 481
Fuggles 478
average 455.5
Goldings 558
Goldings 531
Goldings 510
Goldings 458.5
Goldings 491
Goldings 476
Goldings 469
Goldings 419
Goldings 491
Goldings 526
average 493.0
Cobb 451
Tolhurst 476
Barclay Perkins brewing record held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number ACC/2305/01/627.

You can see that the difference in average price is small, just 8%.

Now some form the mid-1930’s:

Hop prices in the 1934 - 1937
variety price in shillings per cwt
Fuggles 150
Fuggles 'B" 194
Fuggles 192.5
Fuggles 180
Fuggles 297.5
Fuggles 160
Fuggles 150
Fuggles 281
Fuggles 205
Fuggles 197
Fuggles 180
average 198.8
Goldings 345
Goldings 160
Goldings 223
Goldings 287
Goldings 261
Goldings 1st grade 229
average 250.8
Barclay Perkins brewing records held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document numbers ACC/2305/01/619 and ACC/2305/01/621.

The difference is much larger, 21%. Remember that the average price of hops in these years was £9, or 180/-. Meaning Fuggles were a little above average price, Goldings almost 40% more.

This bit about the different soils in Kent is interesting:

“The position of the grower is not enviable. He is entirely dependent upon the nature of the soil in his garden as to what type of hop he can grow. For instance, the heavy clays of the Weald of Kent are not suitable for the Golding type, yet produce a large crop of Fuggles. On the other hand, the lighter loams of East Kent are not suitable for Fuggles. There does not appear to be any great desire to change the nature of the Fuggles. It continues to give heavy yields per acre, and retains its coarseness of texture and its high preservative properties. It must, however, be admitted that some have toned down in flavour to such an extent that it is possible to use a blend even for delicate pale ales.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, pages 172 - 173.

So Fuggles in the West, Goldings in the East.

“It is important to enumerate within the compass of these notes all the various hops grown under different names and marks. Of the earlier type, we would mention first of all Bramlings. This hop has rather the appearance of a Golding, being a compact hop of good flavour, but not quite so delicate as a Golding. Then we have Prolifics, a fairly heavy crop but very deficient in lupulin, and of poor brewing value. We fail to see the object of growing such a hop. It comes on the market early, and can only be of use to freshen up old hops.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 173.

I wonder if he means Bramling or Bramling Cross? Prolifics sound a pretty useless. No wonder they aren’t around anymore.

“Among the main crop are numbered Worcester Mathons and Cobbs, the last named being the first ready to pick. We must also include in the list hops grown in Surrey and Hampshire, known in the trade as Farnhams. They are mostly of the Golding character. There are also Fuggles grown in Sussex. Later varieties include Colegates grown in Kent and Sussex usually a strong grower, but coarse in flavour. Also Mayfield Grapes, another hop of rather heavy flavour which grows in the Worcester district. We will now endeavour to give a brief characteristic outline of the various hops.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 173.

Just to confuse even more, Mathons are really the Farnham variety, which by this point were no longer grown in Farnham, the last bines having been grubbed up before the war.

More details of the different hop varieties next time.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Brewing in the 1950’s - Cold Storage of Hops

I was really pleased to find this in Jeffery. A neat little section on the storage of hops.

A couple of times during my last US tour this topic came up. When I was asked about the level of bitterness in the recipes in “The Home Brewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer”. “Weren’t hops less bitter in the past?” “Wouldn’t hops have quickly lost their bitterness through inadequate storage?”

In fact even in the 19th century, they stored hops very carefully and knew how to preserve their best properties. The method was still essentially the same in the 1950’s.

Cold Storage of Hops. Before we conclude our article on hops we do feel it most necessary to include a few notes on the cold storage of hops. Although this process has been tested for many years and is found to give excellent results, we find that in some quarters mistaken ideas still exist as to its value. Our own experience justifies the saying that if properly carried out with the right kind of hop it is a process of the utmost value. In the first place, it is wrong to imagine that any old store so long as it is cold will do. It is essential that the cold store is carefully and effectively insulated, not only for the sake of maintaining a low temperature at a constant figure, but in order to prevent any ingress of warmer air. Warm air may bring with it moisture which may condense on the hops. There are two systems of cooling stores. One is by circulating air over cold pipes in a chamber outside the store, and then blowing it in by a fan through ports fixed at intervals in a duct. The other system is by brine pipes placed in the store itself through which brine is constantly being pumped. The first-named process has the disadvantage of causing a certain amount of draught and movement of the air. Unless the cold air is carefully introduced into the store, there is a danger of drying up the hops. The ports in the air duct must be so arranged that no air strikes direct on a pocket of hops. The air should impinge on a bare wall or passage, and then be diffused over the store. The introduction of air must never be carried out in violent gusts, but must take place steadily and regularly.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 186.

So there you have it: you need the right type of cold store. You don’t want warm air coming in and getting the hops wet. But you also didn’t want to dry the hops out by blowing too much cold air over them.  Who would have guessed that it was so complicated?

Here’s a description of the second, superior method of cooling the cold store:

“The alternative system of internal brine pipes is preferable. The moisture is extracted from the air in the store and is deposited on the surface of the pipes in the shape of frost or snow. It is essential to extract the moisture from the air, whichever process is adopted. With brine pipes there is very little movement of the air. However, there is a danger with brine pipes in the event of the circulation unavoidably stopping for any length of time. The frost on the pipes will melt, and cause a great deal of moisture. It is therefore necessary to provide drip troughs in order to catch the moisture. It must on no account come into contact with the hops or they may be irreparably ruined. If a steady and unvarying temperature of 32º to 33º is maintained good results may be expected. Considerable changes of temperature and air movement should be avoided.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 186.

Having seen analyses made in the early 20th century, I’ve seen hard proof – in the form of alpha and beta acid content – that the deterioration wasn’t enormous, at least in the first couple of years. And way less than in hops stored warm.

“It is remarkable in what an excellent condition hops may be preserved providing they are of a suitable quality when they start. The temperature must be maintained at the correct level. We sampled some Worcester hops of good growth and management, some time ago, which had been in cold storage for eight years. They might easily have been mistaken for yearlings! It is very necessary that they are placed in store at the correct age, that is to say, just after the hop has passed through what may be termed its natural sweat in pocket. This takes place some three or four months after being gathered. Certainly not later than six months.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, pages 186 - 187.

By “yearlings”, he means hops not from the last season, but the one before it.

Here are those numbers:

Analyses of Fuggle's hops during storage
cold store warehouse
storage period alpha resin beta resin preservative value alpha resin beta resin preservative value
6.28 8.6 91.5 6.67 9.26 97.6
5 months 6.22 8.2 89.5 5.83 9.17 88.8
9 months 5.72 8.25 84.7 4.72 9.34 78.5
14 months 5.84 8.54 86.9 3.48 8.64 63.6
19 months 5.15 8.92 81.2 3.21 9.9 55.1
"Brewing Science & Practice" H. Lloyd Hind, 1943, page 349

But you shouldn’t just throw any old hops in the cold store. Because, after all, it cost money to keep hops cool:

“It is unreasonable to expect any benefit commensurate with the outlay if the store is filled with hops of poor quality, or if the resins have already hardened to a considerable extent. We know of several instances where this has been done, with the result that a wrong and unmerited opinion has been formed of the cold storage process. The mistake is often made, too, of exposing hops, which have been in cold store, to ordinary temperatures and surroundings too long before use. This is another abuse of the system. A week or ten days at the most should be the limit of exposure, for afterwards the resins rapidly begin to harden.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 186.

This is a fascinating point:

“The introduction of cold storage for hops has resulted in a levelling of prices. Advantage can now be taken of a season when hops are of good quality and plentiful, whereas previously the brewer was at the mercy of prevailing conditions, even if unfavourable.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 186.

I plenty of numbers on the price of hops. Let’s see if it’s true that prices didn’t vary so much from year to year.

First in the early 19th century, before cold stores:

London Price of Hops per cwt 1800 - 1855
Year. £ s. d. Year. £ s. d. Year. £ s. d. Year. £ s. d.
1800 17 17 0 1814 8 8 0 1828 5 12 0 1842 4 8 10
1801 5 18 0 1815 7 10 0 1829 8 8 0 1843 6 0 9
1802 10 12 0 1816 13 13 0 1830 12 8 0 1844 7 3 0
1803 6 6 0 1817 27 0 0 1831 5 18 0 1845 6 10 0
1804 5 5 0 1818 7 0 0 1832 8 13 0 1846 5 0 0
1805 8 0 0 1819 4 8 0 1833 7 4 0 1847 3 10 0
1806 7 0 0 1820 4 4 0 1834 6 3 0 1848 2 15 0
1807 5 10 0 1821 4 15 0 1835 4 15 0 1849 7 10 0
1808 5 18 0 1822 4 4 0 1836 5 0 0 1850 3 10 0
1809 4 4 0 1823 13 0 0 1837 5 1 6 1851 6 10 0
1810 6 0 0 1824 7 0 0 1838 5 17 0 1852 4 5 0
1811 6 6 0 1825 19 0 0 1839 4 10 0 1853 11 11 0
1812 13 8 0 1826 5 0 0 1840 13 11 0 1854 20 0 0
1813 8 8 0 1827 5 0 0 1841 6 6 0 1855 - - -
"A Practical Treatise on Malting and Brewing" by William Ford, 1862, page 289.

You can see that there was a fair amount of jumping about, particularly 1822 to 1825, 1839 to 1842, 1852 to 1854. This was a period without inflation. Yet the prices vary by about a factor of 10 from the most expensive year – 1817, £27 – and the cheapest – 1848 £2.75

Now here’s WW I on:

Price of hops per cwt 1918 - 1960
Year Average Price of English Hops Year Average Price of English Hops Year Average Price of English Hops
£ s. d. £ s. d. £ s. d. £ s. d. £ s. d. £ s. d.
1918 18 15 0 1933 16 10 0 1947 23 10 0
1920 19 10 0 1934 9 0 0 1948 25 15 0
1921 19 10 0 1935 9 0 0 1949 26 10 0
1922 12 0 0 1936 9 0 0 1950 21 0 0
1923 14 10 0 1937 9 0 0 1951 26 0 0
1924 10 5 0 1938 9 0 0 1952 28 3 0
1925 10 15 0 1939 9 10 0 1953 27 10 0
1926 11 5 0 1940 12 0 0 1954 29 0 0
1927 12 10 0 1941 15 0 0 1955 27 8 0
1928 11 16 0 1942 17 10 0 1956 35 2 0
1929 5 0 0 1943 18 0 0 1957 27 15 6
1930 4 15 0 1944 20 0 0 1958 27 5 6
1931 7 5 0 1945 21 0 0 1959 32 11 0
1932 9 15 0 1946 22 10 0 1960 30 18 6
1955 Brewers' Almanack, page 63.
1971 Brewers'Almanack, page 54

There’s some instability in the 1920’s, but from 1934 on, there’s not much movement. If you ignore the inflation of the war years.

I should like up the details of hop control in WW I and after. They sort of nationalised hop sales to stop all the farmers going bankrupt when demand collapsed in the later war years. That probably had some effect on prices. But I can’t be arsed at the moment.

I have been arsed. These were the rules:

"The prices in the years 1918 to 1924 were fixed by the Hop Controller, and from 1934 onwards have been determined in accordance with the Agreement between the Brewers' Society and the Hops Marketing Board. The Agreement also provides for a levy in addition to the price, the maximum being 10s. per cwt. No levy had been imposed since 1943.
From 1917 onwards, the home production of hops was severely curtailed and controlled without compensation to growers, under war-time restrictions and imports of hops were restricted except under licence. These measure came to an end in 1925."
"1955 Brewers' Almanack", page 63.

The effect of the rules after 1934 are pretty evident – rock steady prices. Looks like control rather than cold storage had the biggest effect on price stability.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

San Francisco in June

Continuing my jetset lifestyle, I'll be in San Francisco 5th - 9th June.

Obviously, the main point is to sell my book. Drink some beer and talk endlessly about beer play a part, too.

Any suggestions about what I should do and see while in the city gratefully accepted. And if you fancy setting up an event where I do my talking bollocks thing, get in touch.

I'm almost ready to reveal exactly why I'll be in California. Probably the most exciting event of 2015.

Buy my book:

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer

Houston day two

I'm still a bit knacked, even after a good long sleep. So after stuffing scrambled eggs and bacon down my throat I head back upstaitrs for a bit of a lie down.

Just as well I'm in no rush. Noel Hart is picking me up at midday to drive me out to DeFalco's, the home brew shop where I'm having an event. It's always fun watching random US TV.

I particulalry enjoy the adverts for prescription drugs. Where thye say how miraculous it is then quickly rattle through a list of side effects, including such minor things as stroke, heart attack or death. They always make me smile.

When I get to DeFalco's I realise something: all the strip malls in Houston are painted the same sand colour.

The event is in a back room. I say event, it's really just me chatting about beer and trying to sell books. That's becoming the story of my life. They've brewed up some recipes from the book so I do get to drink beer, too. There's a 19th-century Whitbread X - always love those old Mild recipes. If only because they're nothing like Mild as it's now understood.

I always enjoy a nice Scottish IPA. And 1885 Younger XP certainly plugs that hole in my dyke. It's another good style for confusing the unwary, Scottish IPA. The 1900 Grätzer proves once again what a cracking - and seriously negelected - style it is.

I'm given a rather cool Foam Rangers badge, the shape and size of a sheriff's badge.Thanks.

It's a pretty relaxed couple of hours. But my belly is calling. I'm taken to The Hay Merchant, a beer bar crammed with what mostly looked like young things. It's hard to tell when the lights are low and you're as old as me.

Maybe you can check on the photo:

Hard to tell when everyone has their back turned, isn't it?

Let's try with this one. Bit blurry, but at least a few are facing the right way:

Fairly young crowd. Look at those beards.

I get a tour of the cellar. As you can see, they have one or two draught beers:

I leave pretty early. Or rather I'm driven back fairly early hen I start nodding off and dribbling down my shirt. Still not totally at home in this time zone. Couldn't possibly be anything to do with drinking beer for hours on end.

Tomorrow it's my luxury flight to glamourous Birmingham, Alabama. Need to be at my freshest.

Defalco's Homebrew
9223 Stella link Rd.
Houston, TX 77025

The Hay Merchant
1100 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77006.

Buy my book:

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Tied houses again

By 1950 the tied house system as we know it had been around for 60 years or so. But it wasn’t without its critics.

As I’ve already mentioned, it was the indirect result of government interference in the licensed trade. A shortage of potential outlets for brewers was created by making new licenses almost impossible to obtain and by aggressively delicensing existing pubs.

Before the 1880’s breweries had tied houses, but they were only a small part of their trade. The vast majority of pubs were free, though, as today, there were also loan ties.

Let’s make this clear: most pubs ended up being tied because brewers wanted to secure outlets for their beers. Bear that in mind while you read this:

Profit and the Tied House
There has been some appreciative comment upon the attempt made under the above heading last month in these columns to set out the true facts about the tied house system: what it means and why it is in being. Too often, and for too long, there have been statements and questions raised which are based upon the supposition that the tied house system exists because it is a fruitful source of revenue to the brewery. That supposition is entirely without any foundation at all, for it can be clearly demonstrated that the difference in the margin of profit to the brewery as between the beer it sells through its tied houses and the beer which it sells in the competitive free market does not, when all the factors are taken properly into account, amount to a row of pins. The tied house system came into being of sheer necessity to save the licensed house from bad times, to improve and restore it to its proper place in the service of the public which no other system could have done. It enables the vast majority of retailers to conduct their own largely independent businesses, the public to continue to enjoy the advantages of licensed houses bring in the main run by individual "landlords," and the brewery to run its long-term productive programme on lines which make for economy in costs. The tied-house system has but one serious defect—the name by which it came to be known from the outset. Its critics are too prone to jump to the conclusion that a licensee being tied means that he is bound hand and foot. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
"Brewing Trade Review, 1950", page 13.

So the tied house system was all about breweries serving the public rather than providing profit for the brewery. Why the hell did they bother having them if they provided no profit? The argument that the profit margin was much the same as in the free trade is irrelevant. The vast majority of a brewer’s income came through beer sales in their tied pubs and off-licences. If only because that’s where most beer sales took place.

“Tied house” seems a perfectly fair description to me of a pub which is controlled by a brewery and obliged to sell its beers.

This sounds like the sort of guff pubcos come up with when trying to claim they’re wonderfully philanthropic organisations, without a thought for themselves.

“The simple fact is that the wholesale and retail sides of the trade have been on very good terms for a great many years. Within the past two years or so they have been going together into ways and means of perfecting a system of mutual consultation which shall make things work smoothly and provide recourse for the settlement of the occasional instance of individual dissatisfaction. That work has now for practical purposes been completed in the panel system which extends over the whole country. The tenant has at his disposal for the asking a 12 months' security of tenure in his house, but it is significant that a comparatively small proportion have exercised the option for a new agreement in those terms. The reason is not far to seek, for the tied tenant by and large knows perfectly well, and has known for many years, that his security is not for three months or for 12 months but that so long as he runs his business properly his tenancy will also run on as long as he wishes to remain. That is not supposition or sentiment, but the hard economic fact that it pays the brewery to leave a good tenant to carry on and to have him satisfied and content.”
"Brewing Trade Review, 1950", page 13.

I’ve seen plenty or arguments between breweries and their tenants documented in newspapers. I don’t believe for a minute the rosy picture painted here. And quite a few of those related to breweries evicting tenants.

There are reasons why a brewery might want to get rid of a successful landlord. They might want to give the pub to someone else, or they might want to put in a manager, if they thought the landlord was making too much profit. Or they might just have had a disagreement with the tenant. I’d have gone before the panel and got my 12 months’ security. You can’t trust money-grabbing capitalist bastards.

I’m sure I’ll have lots more to say about tied houses.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Houston day one

As you're probably aware, I'm just back from 10 days in the USA. All spent in the South, a part of the country I've scarcely set foot in before.

It all kicked off in Houston. I started there for a very good reason: there's a direct flight from Amsterdam. I've learned my lesson about changing planes. Way too stressful.

Talking of stressful, boarding USA-bound flights at Schiphol has become tense for me. Twice last year I was near as damnit strip searched. It's not a good way to start a journey. To calm my nerves I have a couple of Famous Grouses and a Heineken at the bar adjacent to the gate.

I needn't have worried. They don't say more than two words to me.

Flying across the Atlantic is becoming routine. Not necessarily a pleasure, but not too much of a chore, either. With my extra legroom seat and noise-cancelling headphones, I pass the journey in reasonable comfort, watching crap films to while way the time. And obviously taking fiull advantage of the free drinks on offer.

Another good reason to fly in via Houston: no ridiculous queues at immigration, unlike some airports. Before I know it, I'm in a taxi bouncing along a freeway lined by endless strip malls. Every one has a pawn shop. Can't remember seeing many of those when I lived in the US in the 1980's. Maybe I just didn't notice.

I'm stopping downtown. That's what I usually do. Preferably somewhere quite nice. I've picked the Magnolia because I liked the one in Denver so much. Nice old building, comfortable rooms, decent free breakfast. What more do you need?

This is the view from the window:

The weather is pretty crap. Wet, humid and surprisingly warm. I've deliberately come in the spring, knowing what southern summer weather is like.

I've a couple of hours to get my head straightened before meeting Noel Hart at 4 PM. He's helped organise tomorrow with his home brew club the Foam Rangers (great name).

We're headed for the Flying Saucer, a beer pub handily situated just a couple of blocks from my hotel. It's a fairly cavernous place, with a high ceiling and an enormous beer list. Loads of US beers, but equally plenty of European imports. Not that I'm going to bother with any of the latter. Just as I usually avoid American beers in Europe. Unsurprisingly, it being Friday, it's pretty boisterous inside.

We chat and drink. A few other people turn up. Until I hit a wall at about 9 pm. I think that's when it was. I didn't do that badly, when you consider it was 4 am for me. And I'd been up over 20 hours.

It's pissing it down when I leave. I wake up in bed at 1 am, fully clothed, TV on. Must have dropped off while watching something.

I sleep deeply well past dawn.

Foam Rangers and De Falco's tomorrow.

The Flying Saucer
705 Main St
Houston, TX 77002

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Thursday, 23 April 2015

The Tied House System

It’s odd the sense of déjà vu as I flick through the Brewing Trade Review. Many of the same topics as today were being discussed back in 1950. Like the tied house system.

First, let’s hear from those who wanted to abolish it:

Tied House System (Motion)
MR. Bing (Hornchurch, Lab.) asked the following question during a discussion on the coming business of the House: Can my right hon. friend say, in view of the interest shown on all sides of the House in the tourist industry, and of the fact that this motion really was signed by a record number of hon. members, whether he can give any time at a convenient date in future for the discussion of a motion on tied houses which is at present standing on the Order Paper?

[That this House condemns the Tied Public House System, as at present operated, in that it deprives the customer of his freedom of choice of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages alike, tends to restrict the provision of food and accommodation, increases by monopolist practices the price of refreshments to the customer and does not furnish sufficient security of tenure to the publican; and that therefore this House calls upon His Majesty's Government to inquire into the Tied House system and other restrictive practices of brewers and to introduce, where necessary, remedial legislation.]

Mr. Morrison (Lord President of the Council): I am afraid I could not give any firm undertaking at this stage, but I do realise that this is a matter upon which there is fairly extensive interest among hon. members on all sides of the House ; but, as my hon. friend knows, after he and his hon. friends put down their motion, the brewers did offer to make a new type of agreement with their tenants. Perhaps he and his hon. Friends might consider whether we should not wait for a little while to see how it works out in practice and get some experience of it in a practical way.”
"Brewing Trade Review, 1950", page 80.

The irony is, of course, that the tied house system was the direct result of government interference in the brewing industry. The limitation of the number of licensed premises was what prompted brewers to snap up every pub they could in the first place.

Like most Private Member's Bills, the one on tied houses got nowhere. The brewers had plenty of friends in parliament. Note from which side the Bill came: Labour. The party had a tradition of hostility to brewers, partly through worries about them taking advantage of and profiting from the working classes, partly from the non-conformist, temperance wing of the party.

This next quote comes from chairman’s report at Ansell’s annual general meeting. Unsurprisingly, he had a slightly more positive view of tied houses:

The Tied House System.—The past year has also seen a Private Member's Bill introduced by Mr. Bing, seeking to abolish the tied house, and, when that failed to get a Second Reading, a motion was put on the Order Paper for an inquiry into the tied house system. It is quite clear that this campaign is not based on any practical knowledge of the system under which the industry works, nor has any satisfactory alternative system been put forward.

At the same time, it is alarming to find that the tied house system, as it has come to be called, is so little understood not only by the public but by many Members of Parliament.

About a hundred years ago the system did not exist. Licensed houses were, for the most part, privately owned and somewhat squalid. The licensed trade did not enjoy a good repute. The licensed house was not a place in which a respectable person liked to be seen, let alone take his wife. These somewhat derogatory remarks are not, of course, aimed at the many fine old inns that existed then as they do to-day. I am speaking of the ordinary public house as it then was.”
"Brewing Trade Review, 1950", page 84.

You should see some of the places I’ve dragged Dolores.  Just trying to think where the roughest ones were. Either Czechoslovakia or East Berlin.  I guess I’m not that respectable a person.

The line trotted out is also a familiar one: MP’s don’t understand the way the trade works. It’s always a good one. A timeless classic.

Note that at no point does he mention the reason breweries started buying pubs like crazy:

“As time went by brewery companies began to take over these places—at first by a system of mortgage, and later by outright purchase. The brewery companies, by thus ensuring a certain outlet for their products, were able to cut down on many overhead expenses and to spend money on the improvement of the promises. They were thus able to provide a good quality beer at a low price, and to afford to surrender licences in areas where there were too many, and also to build now licensed premises at high cost and with no chance of writing off the capital expenditure for a great number of years.

The policy of surrender and improvement of licensed premises pursued by Birmingham brewers prior to and immediately after the 1914-18 war—known as the "fewer and better scheme” - could not have been carried through had not the licensed houses been owned by brewery companies. Had such a scheme been carried through while the houses were individually owned, it would have meant ruin to many of the owners. Surely the benefit to the public that has resulted from this scheme in Birmingham and from a similar policy in other ports of the country is easily seen from the very high standard of licensed premises which now exist, many of which are owned by your company."
"Brewing Trade Review, 1950", pages 84 - 85.

Ansells were one of the big Birmingham breweries. I remember the city well from visits to my mum’s family in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Driving through the city, it was clear that the pubs were relatively few in number but large in size. Partly it was due to when bits of the city were built. Birmingham was one of the few provincial cities to see substantial areas of new housing built between the wars. But even in the older districts, the pubs were few and big.

Many brewers had been keen on the “improved” public house between the wars. Somewhere bigger and with more facilities than a back-street boozer. Whitbread and Barclay Perkins in London, for example. But they had been frustrated by licensing authorities to a great extent. You couldn’t just rebuild or extend a pub. You needed permission from the licensing magistrates. And the teetotal twats amongst them didn’t want pubs to improve. They wanted them to be squalid so they had more reason to close them.

In Birmingham they were more practical. Brewers were allowed to build big, modern premises, if they surrendered enough licences. Obviously several, as councils were keen on whacking down the number of licences.

If I tell you the City of Birmingham had a population of 1.1 million in 1951 this next sentence won’t sound so impressive:

“So far as the tied house system limiting choice is concerned, in Birmingham alone there are houses owned by 11 different brewery companies all producing several different types of beer, though, with all modesty, we claim that the "Better Beer" is very popular in all districts where it is obtainable.

Fortunately the relationship between the wholesale and retail trade, both in the Midlands and throughout the country as a whole, has never been healthier nor happier than it is at the present time. It is only natural that the two sections of the trade, with similar but not identical interests, should from time to time have differing views. But it has been proved during this year that any differences within the trade that do exist can be settled within the trade to everyone's satisfaction, and without any need for outside interference.”
"Brewing Trade Review, 1950", page 85.

Well, at least all eleven brewed several types of beer.

That’s a dreadful selection for 1950. Though, in the Birmingham of my youth, it was two. Pretty much. The pubs were alternately M & B or Ansells. Unless you were in Aston. Just to the West of the city, in the Black Country, there were still a half dozen small brewers. But you’d never see their beer in Birmingham.

Davenports, the other brewery in Birmingham, had sold most of its pubs to invest in its home-delivery service. I can remember just one in the city centre, on Hurst Street. Where I was served the yeastiest pint of Mild I’ve ever had.

Yes, everything is wonderful. If only the government would leave us alone. That last paragraph could have come from a pubco today.