On very special occasions, and sometimes perhaps on a Sunday, my dad would have a bottle of ale with his dinner. The first time I remember this happening was one Christmas at Bolster Moor, so I would be no older than seven.
The reason I remember it was because Dad put a small amount in a glass for me, perhaps no more than an inch, but it was very special. The taste was something very different, and very occasionally a guest beer will evoke that same, very happy memory from all those years ago. My memory of the beer my dad liked on those occasions came in a dark green/brown bottle with a Bakelite screw cap.
Beer: at one time safer than water
Beer has been a standard beverage for hundreds of years. In fact, for many decades it was much safer to drink than water. The fermentation process during the making of beer killed many harmful bacteria that were common in village drinking water. Traditionally the men would drink the beer produced in the first mash (a porridge-like mixture of grain and water where the sugars eventually turn into alcohol).The mash would then be used again to produce a weaker beverage, and then used a third time to produce a drink weak enough to give to children. Physical work out in the fields would require the men to drink a gallon of their strong ale every day.
During or soon after the Victorian era, efficient sanitation and clean drinking water became the norm, and beer drinking then became a leisure activity. Many householders were brewing beer and giving up areas of their houses as meeting places for locals to gather, socialise and drink beer. This developed into what we now recognise as a pub (public house). History often goes round in circles, and many of our pubs have now closed and been converted into housing.
Changing fashions in beer drinking: real ale makes a comeback
Over the last 100, years, beers have evolved several times. Fashions also change. My dad’s generation often drank from half pint glasses and the mild beers that use fewer hops during brewing were very popular. Gradually the bitter beer became the only option from many pubs, and mild beer has now become a minority sport. A popular beer option during my formative years was a pint of ‘mixed’ half bitter and half mild.
Then came the dreaded keg beer. This beer is pasteurised (heat treated) to stop further fermentation, and carbon dioxide is added to give it fizz. It was first developed for export to India but then, through the work of the devil, it became popular in Britain. I suspect that this went a long way towards the demise of the mild beers.
Luckily, through the gallant work of, among others, the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood (SPBW) established in 1963, and since 1971 the Campaign for Real Ale(CAMRA), we now have many real, proper ales to choose from. Microbreweries are popping up in old run-down mills all over the Colne Valley and surrounding areas.
Beers in kegs and bottles
Unfortunately, the beers available in the pubs my biking mates and I were welcome in during the 1960s tended to be the ones selling keg beers. The most memorable (notorious) beers were Watney’s Red Barrel, Worthington ‘E’, Whitbread Tankard, Brew Ten, Ind Coope Double Diamond, Younger’s Tartan and Courage Tavern. There have been several studies into why keg beer became popular. It was, after all, weaker, more expensive and less flavoursome than the traditional hand pump beers. The most popular conclusion to such studies was that “it had more fizz”.
Bottled beer has been around for hundreds of years, and canned beers since the mid-1930s. Ind Coope Long Life is said to have been among the first. I remember the first appearance of Watney’s Party Seven, a can containing seven pints, strangely enough, first produced in 1968. It was a novel idea and thought ideal for parties, but it was horrible. Before then, us regular partygoers might club together and buy a five or ten-gallon traditional wooden barrel of beer. The technique was to let it settle for a day before attempting to hammer the big brass tap into the barrel without it flying across the room and wasting much of the beer.
The popular beers that were produced locally were Bentley and Shaw of Huddersfield, Samuel Webster’s of Ellend, Timothy Taylor’s of Keighley, Joshua Tetley’s of Leeds, Wilson’s of Manchester and Sam Smith’s of Tadcaster. Notable exceptions to local breweries were Bass, later to become Bass Charrington, Worthington’s, Stones, and Guinness.
All these beers were of varying quality and were often tolerated rather than liked because the pubs selling these beers were within easy walking distance or run by a landlord/landlady who provided a very friendly and pleasant atmosphere. Some beers even had the reputation of being able to give you varying degrees and quality of hangovers and some could give you a right good clear-out.
Youthful jaunts to local pubs
One of the pubs we frequented was The Commercial in Hoyle House, if we felt like slumming it a bit, and didn’t care too much about spoiling their reputation. But if we felt a little posh, or wanted to impress the ladies, we frequented The White House in Slawit, Blue Ball at Norland and Castle Hill in Newsome. All of these are now closed. There may be a common denominator here somewhere. Not only was The Commercial closed, but it was quickly demolished, and the space left doesn’t seem big enough to fit a garage never mind a pub. Perhaps like Dr Who’s Tardis, it was bigger inside than out.
The Commercial in Hoyle House was a regular venue for our rowdier gatherings, with much alcohol consumed. Keg beers were sold (Brew Ten, if memory serves) and because it was horrible, we felt obliged to drink enough for it to become tolerable, which started to happen after about three pints. Then each pint after the third was counted as double and so on. While very unpleasant, this beer did still contain alcohol and as a result this particular pub seems to be where the silliest and most juvenile incidents took place, most of which I don’t feel brave enough to mention in Norky’s Ramblings, not even in the ‘Do men ever grow up’ mini-series.
All I will say is that all fines, sentences, punishment and penalties were carried out in a timely and manly manner without complaint. When we were caught, that is – when they were caught, I mean, of course. I’m sure I don’t have to point out again that I myself was completely innocent of even any minor incident in which I may have been involved. I just happened to be stood close by while others were acting in a drunken rowdy manner.
I am proud to say that I am still friends with many of the survivors, who with the help of Norky’s maturity and guidance, have grown up to be fine fellows. I think the ladies may have had some part to play also.