Sunday, 12 August 2012

An old companion

I recently obtained via eBay a copy of Frank Baillie’s classic book The Beer Drinker’s Companion, first published in 1973. Although dating from slightly after the formation of CAMRA, it is essentially a pre-CAMRA view of the British brewing industry. It says of the author (now deceased) on the back cover:
Frank Baillie assiduously researches the practical aspects of beer as a hobby, has drunk beer in thirty-six countries, and has drunk all the draught beers presently available as well as a great many keg and bottled beers.
I haven’t been able to find any kind of obituary on the Internet, but I have been told he was apparently a heroic toper.

It contains the usual descriptions of the method of brewing beer, the history and development of the brewing industry, and methods of dispense, which are now seen as commonplace, but at the time were quite revelatory. However, the centrepiece of the book are the detailed descriptions of the 88 independent breweries then in existence in the UK, with a potted history, full beer ranges and an indication of where their beers could be found. For some of the smaller breweries he is very specific about where their tied pubs were located.

This list – now, by my reckoning, whittled down to 38 survivors – includes breweries that barely made it into the CAMRA era such as Workington, Melbourns of Stamford, and Gray’s of Chelmsford, and also two odd little breweries just serving the off-trade, Cook’s in Essex and Hoskins of Leicester.

He mentions the four surviving home-brew pubs and also tells how there were a few more than just failed to make it through to the era of the real ale revival, most notably the Britannia in Loughborough where brewing only stopped in 1972.

By current standards, the tasting notes are very rudimentary. For example, Robinson’s Best Bitter is “quite a well hopped draught beer”, while Holt’s is “a well-balanced traditional brew”. He doesn’t acknowledge the existence of Robinson’s “Ordinary” bitter – had it not been introduced then, or did he just not notice it because it was in so few pubs?

One interesting point is the number of independent breweries such as Fullers making extensive use of top pressure dispense. I can only recall one occasion when I drank what I believed at the time to be top pressure beer, although there may have been more. I suspect, once “real ale” came to be seen as a selling point, the breweries thought “why should we be applying gas to what is basically proper cask beer?” Arguably CAMRA’s greatest achievement in its early years was not to turn the keg tide, but to virtually eliminate top pressure. As far as I’m aware, it’s a method of beer dispense that has completely died the death for twenty or more years now. Indeed, is there any tank beer still being produced now?

A fascinating book that paints a picture of an era very different from today – the geographical limitations on the availability of most beers, and the dominance of the tied house system being two of the major points that stand out. Was it better or worse than today – well, that’s a subjective judgment, but the pub trade as a whole was certainly much healthier and there was a refreshing absence of anti-drink paranoia. Incidentally, you may be interested in this post from last year about beer drinking in different eras.

18 comments:

  1. It’s a great book, I seem to remember an interview with him from an issue of The Taste in the late 1990s, which I will have to dig out.

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  2. I'll have to have a flick through my copy.

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  3. has drunk all the draught beers presently available

    !!!

    Part of me is quite nostalgic for the pre-CAMRA cask-drinking world (not that I ever really knew it) - where you'd drink what they served in your local, and if you had a fancy to taste something from Suffolk or Cardiff you'd need to go to Suffolk or Cardiff. Mind you, living in Manchester I wouldn't be short of choice anyway.

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  4. "has drunk all the draught beers presently available"

    At the time, that was probably no more than around 300, so a lot more feasible than today. 88 independent breweries, maybe about 40 belonging to the Big Six, no more than two or three beers per brewery.

    Mind you, living in Manchester I wouldn't be short of choice anyway.

    The lack of pubs in the city centre belonging to the local independents was quite striking, though. No Holts at all.

    On the other hand, I remember an old Good Beer Guide saying that on the A62 between Werneth Fire Station and Hollinwood there were 16 pubs serving beer from 12 different breweries.

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  5. yeah, its a great book. Can't remember what prompted me to pick it up!

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  6. Must try and track down a copy.

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  7. Yes it's excellent - as has been remarked on, from today's perspective it is ramarkable that it was possible to drink every draught and bottled beer in the UK and then regard yourself as something as a completist given that so few new beers appeared.

    Again, as has been noted, the "thrill of the chase" has gone now. I joined CAMRA in 1977 and even then if you wanted a beer from a certain locality (say King & Barnes or Holdens) then you had to go where that beer ws made to try it. I remember Ron Pattinson's brother David driving me and him out to the Royal Oak at Long Bennington in about 1975 to try such exotica as Marstons Pedigree. Howeveer multi-beer free hosues and beer agencies have put paid to all of that.

    By the way, I have recently acquired another book I am sure you will be interested in - The Book of Beer by Andrew Campbell. Published in 1956 but obviously written in 1955 it reeks of its era. It's quite London-centric but opens a door onto a pub, beer and drinking world that the author could have no idea was about to be swept away.

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  8. Howeveer multi-beer free hosues and beer agencies have put paid to all of that.

    Not quite all - I'd never tasted Oakwell until visiting its one Manchester tied house last year (must find an excuse to go back). Then there are these people. That "brewery + local tied estate + that's your lot" approach is very unusual now, though. I've even seen Holt's as a guest (in Manchester, admittedly).

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  9. Or rather this year. Time flies!

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  10. Tandleman: I've just checked - you can get it second hand on Amazon for between 49p and £2, presumably depending on condition. They have 4 left.

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  11. I live in hope that the following may one day be a book

    http://www.pubtoilets.com/

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  12. I still have my copy of Frank Baillie's ground-breaking publication, purchased new in 1974 for £2.95 (it was only available in hard-back form). That was a lot of money back then for a hard up student, but it was worth every penny. Not only was it an interesting and very informative read, but it was also written in an entretaining style by someone who clearly "knew his stuff". Just skimming through the pages made one want to go straight out and track down these unheard of beers the author was describing. His handy hints for how to recognise the pubs belonging to the various breweries, where to find them, together with a brief introduction about the companies concerned, made this a book that was way ahead of its time.

    I hadn't realised Frank had passed away, but seeing as the book was published almost 40 years ago, I am not entirely surprised. What I am surprised at though is the lack of any mention, let alone obituary, in "What's Brewing". Surely here was a man who was every bit as pioneering in his time, so far as beer drinkers were concerned, as Michael Jackson was a decade or so later! I do vaguely recall an article about Frank Baillie, that was published in WB, but I can't remember whether it was in the late 80's or early 90's.

    Anyone who "assiduously researches the practical aspects of beer as a hobby, has drunk beer in thirty-six countries, and has drunk all the draught beers presently available as well as a great many keg and bottled beers." is, even today, worthy of praise in my book, but back then this was a person one could really look up to and admire, (even if one was a little envious!)

    Frank Baillie R.I.P.

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  13. Melbourns of Stamford is now owned by Sam Smiths.

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  14. Are we absolutely sure about Frank's demise as stated in the main post. At the CAMRA 40th Birthday Party for the 100 top campaigners last year Frank (who amazingly did not get into the top 100) was said to be quite frail and now in a Dorset nursing home. He used to live in Christchurch and I confess to having had the great honour of drinking several times with him in Christchurch and again in Salisbury. A pre-CAMRA pioneer really.

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  15. I have just been advised by a good old drinking chum of Frank's that he is still alive and in a rest home. Friends are, unfortunately, no longer able to take him out for a pint. Great news though of a veteran campaigner.

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  16. I can advise that Frank was laid to rest at a woodland burial in Dorset yesterday at the age of 92.
    As befits a true drinker, the final music of the ceremony was the German drinking song, Ein Prosit"!
    A true eccentric in the best English tradition, it was a pleasure to have known him.
    The funeral was attended by 2 CAMRA founder members, so no doubt it will be mentioned by CAMRA at some point.

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  17. I was naturally sad to hear of Frank's death but sounds as if he had a good send off. Naturally CAMRA has provided an illuminating obituary of the man and this may be read here:

    http://www.camra.org.uk/article.php?group_id=12670

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  18. There were about 40 people at the funeral.....not bad for a childless 92yo who spent the last few years in a care home going slowly doolally!
    About 4 cousins, otherwise all old colleagues or drinking pals.
    A barrel of special ale (wish I could remember its name!) was laid on at the Vine Inn, Pamphill, Wimborne, for the wake.
    The Vine was the sort of pub all beer drinkers, and especially Frank, would cherish. Tucked away up a narrow country lane.
    Absolutely tiny bar, holds about 6 at a push!
    Larger function room upstairs holding about 30 at a push, plus an outside terrace.
    I will give the Camra obit a read.

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