The Bread of Life – after The Final Lap

And the Beer

Hatch, match and despatch as the saying goes for the three times when most people go to church or perhaps when families get together these days. With Cathy’s family over from Zambia for the funeral there is the chance to catch up. Turns out one nephew has his inherited his mother’s business sense and runs a bar in Lusaka but has never brewed his own beer or been to an English pub. Few Englishmen would want to leave such a gap in a family member’s education, so one night it’s a pub crawl round the City. But as my student days are long past, it’s looking in most of them rather than a pint in each. We manage to include two of the smallest pubs in London: The Rake in Borough Market and The Jerusalem Tavern in Clerkenwell.

Now there are Five

Talking of pub crawls, one yours truly never managed was the King Street pub crawl in Cambridge. Growing up there in the 60s, there were 8 pubs in King Street, but such is life that now only five survive. The idea was not so much to show that your liver could take the alcohol, rather that you could get down the whole street without having a pee. If you did, it was back to the previous pub to have another pint. Ladies participating only had to have a half pint in each. Time was when you had two hours to do the crawl but nowadays it is a race with the record standing at just over 14 minutes for the five remaining pubs. Doesn’t seem so much fun somehow. If five pubs in one evening are not enough for you Cambridge & District CAMRA list four Cambridge Pub Crawls.

If CAMRA the Campaign for Real Ale interests you, then this obituary of Lt-Cdr John Hone a founder member, might be of interest. Not often that you see biplanes and the 60s pop group The Pretty Things (they weren’t, but we were younger then) in the same article. But I digress.

Bread and Ale

The above relates to beer as a leisure/social drink, a relatively recent development. Until  about 200 years ago, beer was a food stuff and brewing was mainly a woman’s job which is the origin of brewster, but proving that you learn something every day, there are regional variations  Just a thought, but I wonder how often this comes up in pub quizzes? In the absence of clean piped water or a well in the back garden, the home brew done by the wife was an essential part of everyday life consumed by the whole family. The mash could be used up to three times by adding fresh sugar and yeast, but the third brew was not as strong as the first, so was OK for the children to drink – hence the term small beer.

Unsurprisingly,  regular beer consumption wasn’t always best for productivity and as early as 975 AD King Edgar sometimes known as the King Edgar the Peaceful, tried to restrict beer consumption. Like today, stronger beer was taxed more than weaker beers, but how to tell? Well, you employed an ale-conner whose tools were a pair of leather (ideally stag leather) breeches.

For strength, sugar content is crucial. If the beer had strength the breeches stuck to the seat after some beer had been poured on the bench 15 minutes beforehand. If the breeches did not stick, then the beer was watered down or weak to start with. All the same, bread and ale were the staples of our British ancestors and rulers tried to establish some sort of standard where the Assize of Bread and Ale in 1266 was the first of a series of edicts or laws which were only abandoned in 2008.

Beer Tours

The Adnam’s beer tour in Southwold mentions a previous occupant of the site now used by Adnam’s, where the landlady was prosecuted thirty times for selling watered down beer and short loaves. Proving it’s a small world, one of the two original Adnam’s brothers decided that brewing was not for him. After selling his shares in the family business, he went on a world tour, only to end up being eaten by a crocodile after drinking too much and falling in the Zambezi river. The brewery tour ends up in the brewery shop and after seeing Limoncello there, I had to buy some for my Italian son-in-law who informed me that it was better than some Italian stuff?

Fuller’s Brewery tour is also great fun and the nearby Chiswick Eyot will be familiar to anyone who has watched the Cambridge/Oxford University Boat Race. Both breweries smell less than years ago as heat and water vapour are recycled to make the process more eco-friendly. Adnam’s seems to be way ahead here, only using three and quarter gallons of water per gallon of beer produced against the national brewery average of seven gallons.

Closer to Home

Brewers tend to be busiest in hot weather, so no places on the Camden Town Brewery tour until this weekend. Worth waiting for though as the brewery is compact with much detail given by our guide. Just to confuse, the guide turns out to be a namesake of well-known beer writer/blogger Pete Brown author of Man Walks into a PubShakespeare’s Local and others.

As a former home brewer, it is interesting how processes have changed in my lifetime. Beers use top-fermenting yeasts (similar to the yeast used in baking) which work at around 20 degrees Celsius while lagers use bottom-fermenting yeasts which work at a lower temperature – around 10 degrees Celsius, taking three times as long to convert the carbohydrates into alcohol and CO2. Since time is money in any manufacturing business, it’s not surprising that most lagers these days use top fermenting-yeasts saying that it tastes the same?

The two hour tour of Camden Town Brewery proves to be a very pleasant way of finishing off a Saturday afternoon especially with the Prairie BBQ next door offering Braised Brisket & Pulled Pork. A nice touch on the tour is being encouraged to bring one’s sampling glass on the tour, which was topped up twice in the two hours. The stainless steel containers in Wilkin Street Mews near Kentish Town West station, hold 12,000 litres each.

Most popular beer is Hells Lager winner of a 2013 award and now exported to Australia. The Hells is nothing to do with Hell’s Angels – helles is the German word for bright or light. Nuff said?

All the above tours and others, are now booked online where the price is generally £12.

Might do the London Fields Brewery tour next.

George Emsden
Now retired, George is busier than ever: working through an OU Maths & Physics degree, blogs, volunteering at Muswell Hill Soup Kitchen and Haringey Winter Shelter plus being a very proud granddad.

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