Sunday, 10 January 2016

A Guide to Real Draught Beer in Kent 1975

Well, after yesterday’s rant regarding the latest nonsense from the Ministry of Magic, something a little lighter this afternoon. We’ve been having a bit of a tidy round and sort out at home and, as is normally the case with these purges, a number of unexpected items have come to light.

Foremost amongst them and buried deep at the back of one of the bookcases, is this 1975 “Guide to Real Draught Beer in Kent. As you will see from the cover, it cost the princely sum of 20p – probably the price of a pint back then! It’s a thin tome with only 16 pages; although it does have a fold-out map of the county at the back.

With only 386 outlets listed as selling “real ale” (plus two late additions), for the whole of Kent, that map was probably jolly handy. The 1975 edition was the first of a series of guides covering the county; the last edition appearing in 1993. My own West Kent CAMRA branch was jointly involved with two neighbouring branches, in producing the award-winning “Gateway to Kent Pub Guide”, which hit the bookshops in 2009 but which only covered the west of the county. Interestingly, that particular guide also contained a fold-out map

It is worth noting that forty years ago there were only two breweries left in Kent; Shepherd Neame Ltd and Whitbread Fremlins – both based in Faversham. This was the result of a series of mergers, takeovers and ultimately closures, carried out primarily by London-based brewers, Whitbread; although Courage and Ind Coope also saw off a few other former independents along the way.

The introduction in this original guide points out, that whilst the majority of Shepherd Neame pubs sold the real thing; the opposite was true with Whitbread Fremlins. Cask-conditioned Trophy Bitter, dispensed without the use of CO2 gas, was a rare sight in Whitbread pubs four decades ago, although bizarrely the Whitbread name has now disappeared completely, not just from Kent, but from the whole of the UK as well.

Other brewers supplying the “real thing” into Kent were Bass Charrington (IPA and Draught Bass), Courage (Best Bitter and very occasionally, Directors) and Ind Coope (Bitter), plus there was also the odd outlet offering either Harvey’s or Young’s. Times have definitely changed for the better, as far as beer choice is concerned, but I wonder how many pubs in that original guide are still trading today?

Unlike today’s highly informative publications, the 1975 edition was nothing more than a list of pubs, sorted by location. Addresses were restricted to just the name of the road or street, and then only in towns. There were no phone numbers, no indication of opening times – although to be fair, pub hours were pretty standard back then. Breweries, and beers were listed in the form of a number of abbreviations and symbols (see photo opposite for an example of this), and heaven help you if you wanted a meal or a room for the night!

Still, for those wishing to seek out a decent drop of ale, served in the traditional manner, this early guide was invaluable, and today it provides a fascinating glimpse of what the beer situation was like in Kent, all those years ago.


Anonymous said...

386 real ale pubs seems a pitiful percentage of the pubs Kent must have had then Paul (c.1,500 ?). On that basis Kent (and presume London) really was a flood of keg and top-pressure in the early '70s.

I though the 2009 Gateway to Kent guide was a gem. I suspect new branch guides are going to be a rarity now we have WhatPub, but I do miss the printed versions.

Paul Bailey said...

One branch member famously turned up to the inaugural committee meeting of the “Gateway to Kent Guide”, and announced that paper guides were a thing of the past and that the future lay in electronic versions.

We never saw him again (he’s not been missed!), but his words may have been strangely prophetic. I too, much prefer a printed guide, in the same way that I prefer a printed map; but unfortunately I think you are correct Martin, and we will see less and less physical beer guides, and more on-line versions. A shame really, as a guide you can slip in your pocket, or rucksack whilst out walking, and can then refer to in the comfort of the pub, takes a lot of beating.

Going back to that first Kent Guide, it was definitely the case that keg and top pressure beers ruled the roost in Kent, during the mid 70’s, and London was not much better off either. Ironically, Charrington’s supplied much of the capital’s real ale; largely because the company had been slower than their main competitors to switch to keg; either that or, as some people claimed, too tight to rip the hand pumps out from their pubs! I would imagine that financial considerations were one of the reasons why Shep’s stuck with traditional dispense methods as well.