Monday, 30 June 2008

Bottled Brown Ale and Memory Lane


I was set to thinking by Southport Drinker, when in a response to Stonch, he mentioned that old classic drink, "brown bitter". When I played in various Darts Leagues in Liverpool, it was inevitably keg beer in the Social Club League in which I played for St Anthony's of Aigburth and mostly cask, as most beer was then, in the Merseyside Civil Service Darts League. Most of us, cask ale men in the main, when in social clubs, consequently drank brown bitter, which was indeed a very popular mix in Scousley. (I believe in the Midlands a brown bitter was unattractively called a "brown split". I don't think I'd fancy asking for one of those!) The bottled brown ales all had their differences in terms of body and sweetness, though all were inevitably on the sweet side of the brewing spectrum with the possible exception of Higson's Double Top. In those days you knew where you were with beer. Each pub or club sold the beer of one brewery, with many selling Mann's Brown Ale in addition.

Greenall's had "Bull's Eye Brown" a pretty good beer as I recall, Whitbread had "Forest Brown", Tetley and Walker's pubs had the excellent "Walker's Brown Peter" and Mann's, Bass I think just called their effort "Bass Brown Ale". To add to the variety available, there was on occasion in Tetley pubs, Ind Coope Brown Ale. Some deviants even added Jubilee Sweet Stout to their keg bitter! One advantage this drinking habit had was that the half pint of bitter was poured by eye and usually gave you a bit extra, which in these impoverished days, was a welcome bonus. You measured this simply by how much ale remained in the bottle after topping up your half pint while gleefully or dolefully looking at the measure others had got. Happy days. It was therefore good to read Stonch's review of Mann's, which, with a few notable exceptions in some regional breweries such as Harvey's and Holt's, is a survivor and in its own way, despite its peripatetic career, a genuine piece of brewing history.

Perhaps less well remembered, but worth recalling are other beer mixes. "Golden" was a lager/bitter mix and "fifty" was a mix of mild and Guinness. I used to drink this in the Park Hotel in Tuebrook for a bit. Mild and Bitter was I think the same as it is now - A pint of mixed. It survives still. I poured quite a few on Saturday when I was working at the pub. I say survives, it clings on here and there where draught mild is available, but is a splendid reminder of how, when breweries produced little by way of variety, the drinker found a way to individualise his beer, though of course there were other more sinister reasons, historically at least, why bottled beer was added to draught. That's for another time though.

Now with all the variety available, I miss the simple act of being able to make a bad beer taste better by the addition of a bottle of brown. I fact, I miss all these brown ales and all these breweries. Am I alone in thinking this? I hope not.

11 comments:

Tyson said...

Ah, happy days. But surely you've left out probably the most famous blend of all-Black and Tan?

Berkshire Bloke said...

As an impoverished civil servant paying off my student debts in Reading in the early nineties, the tipple of choice at the local was Light and Bitter, a bottle of Courage Light Ale over half of Courage Best (or if feeling extravagant Directors), solely due to the fact that thanks to the absent-mindedness or generosity of the bar maid, that half a bitter usually came in at close to the three quarter mark pint - if all went well you could indulge yourself with a couple bonus pints over the course of an evening...

Tandleman said...

Ah yes, Black and tan.

Stonch said...

Light and Bitter isn't that uncommon. I notice lots of Young's pubs in London - which tend to attract older drinkers - keep stocks of Light Ale for the purpose.

Tom Fryer said...

I remember one of my old school friends drinking light and bitter when we occasionally snuck out of school for some illicit lunchtime beer. This was in Chelmsford in the late eighties - I remember the bottle being Ridley's Light Ale, so I presume the half-pint was Ridley's Bitter. This was before my own beer enlightenment, of course, so I would sit there drinking my Foster's and wonder why he bothered with the bizarre ritual of topping up his half-pint of bitter with a bottle of something that (to me) looked identical. I can't remember if he gave a reason, but he did point out that he usually ended up with more than a pint for his money.

The SOuthport Drinker said...

You're not alone, Tandleman. I miss those simple days, too. I felt very much part of the secret, grown-up drinking clan ordering brown mixes, goldens and fifties on a whim.

Snakebites were always banned by my local landlord on pain of a kicking when I was a pimply youth. I was a bit disappointed when I finally got up the nerve to order one elsewhere.

Boak said...

Fullers also have their light ale equivalent in many of their pubs. The practice of improving your beer through the addition of brown hasn't yet died out, although I've only seen it done once.

Personally I'd rather take my pint back and get something else rather than dilute it.

Stonch said...

On Friday I'm going to be reviewing another tiny beer that has somehow survived from years gone by: Harvey's Nut Brown Ale. I've got one very lovely 275ml bottle from the brewery and it's only 3.0%abv! I expect to stay sober!

Andy Holmes said...

In my student days I remember a couple of other oddities.

One was a mix of GK Abbott and a bottle of St Edmund (known as "Brain Damage").

The other was a mix of two bottles, Merrydown Cider and Carlsberg Special Brew (I don't remember a name for this but it should have been called "Brain Death"). Strangely this didn't go cloudy as most snakebite does?

I hope not to see anyone drink either of these ever again.

Rednev said...

When I was a student, a friend of mine told me she liked lager and lime, but found it a bit pricey. I suggested she try bitter and lime, which she did and liked. Ordering it went down like a lead balloon, especially as I recall in a Boddingtons pub in the late 1970s ~ sacrilege then, but probably not a bad idea now. As a drink, it didn't catch on. I've lost touch with her, but for all I know she might still be ordering bitter and lime somewhere. For the record, I have never drunk it myself!

Anonymous said...

Had a terrible pint of mixed ( mild & bitter ) recently in a local pub. Which had my friend and i thinking, Which should be poured first, the Mild or the Bitter?, or does it really matter.



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