1. : The Road to Monopoly
The long, sorry story of brewery-mergers has been
detailed in the Breweries Section.
The dire effects,
of brewery closures, upon choice of liquors available
to the public, are also detailed later in that Section.
All that is left to say - which is a great deal -
is that the few remaining beers, which the
monopolists condescended to brew, were brewed
to their requirements.
This, of course, meant inferior products (using cheap
and shoddy ingredients); but also, specifically, beers
brewed in a different and non-traditional way.
Students of the subject will know that
I am referring to "keg" beer.
For other readers, it is easier to say what "keg"
isn't rather than what it is. Perhaps the best way to
explain is to indulge in a little nostalgic "flash-back".
2. : Off The Wood
The beer-engine, or hand-pump, is a pretty
sophisticated and expensive piece of equipment.
It was invented in 1797 by locksmith and
hydraulic engineer Joseph Bramah.
For some time after, few publicans would have been
able to afford such a thing; and so they served beer
direct from the barrel.
As late as the 1960's one or two (literally) pubs still
used this method, notably the Adam & Eve and, in
Bethel Street, the Coach & Horses.
They continued to do so, even in the early days of
replacement steel barrels, although the term
"off the steel" did not catch-on !.
The beer was dispensed by gravity :
no (extra) air-pressure being needed.
Nevertheless, all draught beers "pre-keg" were
capable of generating some CO2 gas : from a slow,
residual fermentation occurring after leaving
the brewery, termed "natural conditioning".
Now the monopolists had no need to worry about the
defunct "off the wood" pubs; and the beer engines
(in general use) did all their own work, and had
no need of the tiny auxiliary CO2 pressure from
the secondary fermentation.
3. : Sterile Beers
Conversely, the latest School of Brewing could see
great advantages in boosting the pressures within
the barrel. This was now feasible : with the
one-piece metal barrels in full use.
One of these 'advantages' was a follow-up to a
decision, already taken : to sterilise all beer
Sterilised beer has obvious "benefits", in terms of -
Sadly, it also means that the beer becomes "flat",
- ease of handling (less cloudiness);
- staying sellable for longer (less "going-off")
without the gentle infusion of natural CO2.
Forcing-in CO2, under pressure (a gas-cylinder) was
deemed to compensate for the deadening effect of
sterilisation; and, if the pressure was kept sufficiently
strong within the barrels in the cellar, could send
the liquid all the way up to a small tap on the bar.
"Ah", you are saying, "I've seen them".
So, here is a run-down of the Master Plan :-
- Remove all yeast and sterilise before despatch;
- Keep under CO2 pressure at all times
(except when bunged and in transit);
- Avoid any leftover beer in the barrel by -
- Having no residual cloudiness;
- Allowing no air (only CO2) into
the emptied portion.
- Discontinue the use of beer-engines,
and serve under pressure;
- Save money on wasted beer;
engine-cleaning and maintenance;
- Employ cheaper, untrained staff
- with minimal cellar/bar work.
4. : Protests
The fly in the ointment : the pernickety customer,
who claimed to be able to tell the difference.
He or she complained, principally, about too much
liveliness (gas) in the beer; even suggesting that
the taste was now inferior.
Worse still, the said customer began to describe the
bad, old beers (so lovingly replaced) as "real ale".
They even had the temerity to imply that the
Master Plan had been a serious mistake.
Just how ungrateful can the British Public be ?!
They even began to launch a campaign for the
restoration of traditional brewing methods;
and thus was born the
Campaign for Real Ale -
The Norwich Branch was formed in 1975, when
only 20 pubs or hotels in the whole county were
still selling real ale.
Obviously, and perversely, they did not share the
warm glow of pleasure enjoyed by the breweries &
their shareholders : in contemplating significantly
cheaper costs and higher profits.
Now can you believe it !?
Watney's, for one, later saw some need to make
conciliatory gestures towards the ale-drinker,
under their new 'customer-friendly' name of
Norwich Brewery Ltd.
The name was adopted in 1976, and subsequently
many pubs had a couple of beer-engines restored.
These were later used to sell non-keg imitations of
former brews, as indicated by the names "Bullard's"
mild and "S. & P." bitter; and also Webster's bitter,
from the same brewery Group.
Many, even most, of the new pumps
were left idle by the landlords :-
- customers had no faith in the imitation beers;
- new landlords had no experience of
handling real ale or pumps.
5. : Green Shoots
Nevertheless, by 1980 over 25% of pubs in Norfolk
were able to sell Real Ale, principally Watney's
Norwich Castle Bitter, plus some
Courage and Whitbread brews.
Faced with a growing popular "backlash" against
'keg', the breweries (in the main) seemed both
unwilling and unable to react :-
Having regarded the changes to "keg" as permanent,
- unwilling, because of adding-back
the various costs;
- unable, mainly because of staff problems
- arising as follows . . . .
they had dispensed with the services of some of the
older, more skilled brewers; and even more of the
older, skilled publicans (tenants).
This made the keg-revolution almost irreversible**,
in relation to their own activities.
Fortunately, old brewers never die; and there were
plenty already sitting on the scrap-heap : more a
result of earlier brewery closures, than from
changes in brewing methods.
They, naturally, had **no wish to return to the firms
who had made them redundant; and preferred to
take up the challenge of creating new
Real Ale enterprises.
6. : Norfolk to the Rescue
The major breweries scorned the pinpricks of the
early micro breweries; but were more vulnerable to
bigger enterprises, who could also afford to hire
experts in sales and marketing, transport etc.
Those bigger outfits saw the need to base themselves
at sites outside the urban area, to allow for the
anticipated rapid future expansion.
The first of these was Woodforde's (later also Wolf's)
as mentioned under Breweries. Fortunately, plenty
of other breweries have taken-up the cudgels in
The list of breweries is - hopefully - a dynamic one;
so, to facilitate printing-off this list, it has been made
available on a separate page.
The breweries range in size from pub-based
'micro breweries' to stand-alone enterprises of
They also cover a wider area than Norfolk itself.
7. : Untying the Knot
Interestingly, when the Big Breweries finally
lost their grip on many of the tied premises, the
incoming landlords could - somehow - afford to
replace the beer-engines (which had
allegedly been such a 'burden').
They also quickly acquired sufficient skills
to keep the pumps clean; and, generally, to
manage all the traditional cellar-based tasks.
Where there's a will, there's a way.
Once again, there is free competition between
free houses; and those landlords who neglect
their technical duties lose trade to others.
For some odd reason, the former brewery overlords
could never manage to guarantee good outcomes
via their under-paid and under-trained tenants
on the company payroll; except, of course,
by moving the keg goalposts.
Temporarily, thank goodness
(and the awkward customers).
A few pubs in the City have revived the tradition
of sales "off the wood" (see para. 2 above),
albeit from the near-universal steel barrels.
The Fat Cat; Cidershed; Freemason's Arms;
the Dog House and the Duke of Wellington can
all oblige the discerning drinker in this way.
8. : The Future
There is a rosy future for Real Ale - a confident
prediction; especially in the light of Beer Festivals
(run by CAMRA and others), such as the
Norwich Beer Festival - soon (October 2013)
to be celebrating its 36th Anniversary.
However, at times during that long, and often
agonising, period - it has seemed that the future
was going to be lager.
Now lager is certainly "real" if not an ale, but the
brewing methods are radically different; and readily
lent themselves to accompanying the "sterilised"
beers of the 1980's.
Hence the fact that most of them are served under
modest gas-pressure, via the tell-tale tiny taps
on the bar.
While the Real Ale Battle was raging, the Brewery
Giants tried, very successfully, to promote lager :-
You pays your money and you takes your choice.
- Firstly, as a simple diversionary tactic.
- Secondly, they found that they could charge
higher prices for this "fashionable"
While there is a choice, that is.