Sunday, 30 March 2014

Beer stories

In our youth in the 1960's on Sheppey, as we drank our way around Sheerness and Minster, the pubs served beers from the following breweries. Fremlins, Shepherd Neame (Sheps), Courage and to a lesser degree, Trumans, Watneys and Worthington.
Shepherd Neame and Fremlins were two old Kentish breweries with Fremlins based in a large brewery alongside the river at Maidstone and Sheps based at Faversham. Fremlins are now long gone but "Sheps" remain as a very successful brand who have done well as a result of the rise of interest in Real Ales. Watneys and Trumans no longer exist as far as I know, or possibly Courage, I don't go in pubs much these days to know, mainly because on Sheppey, there are far fewer to go in.
Certainly when we were drinking regularly in the 1960's/early 1970's, Courage was our favourite beer and fortunately the two pubs that we most frequented, The Queens in Sheerness and the Kings Arms in Minster, both served Courage. While I imagine that some lager was about in those days, I can't recall ever seeing anybody drinking it, we still drank beer just as our fathers had, mostly light or brown ales from the bottle or mild and bitter from the hand pump. The in-fashion drink in those days, for some years, was a pint of Light and Bitter - half a glass of bitter ale topped up with a bottle of light ale. My little circle of friends however, favoured the darker beers, either brown and mild - a bottle of brown ale in half a pint of mild ale, or in my case Courage Velvet Stout and dark mild. Stout and mild was a heavy and sweet beer mixture that looked like Guinness and had some quite sickly effects if you got drunk on it, which I did quite regularly. But that was my favourite drink for several years until my tastes matured and I discovered the continuing delights of Real Ales.
On the subject of the dark mild ale that made up my stout and mild, generally in those days, there were just the two beers pulled up from the cellar by the hand pumps at the bar - bitter and mild. The barrels of mild ale were supplied by the breweries in either a dark or mid-coloured variety but there were still a few pubs at that time that were still hanging on to an old fashioned and soon outlawed method of acquiring mild. They would have a funnel and pipe behind the bar that run back down into the cellar into an empty barrel. Throughout the day/evening the drip trays under the hand pumps and all left over beer in glasses, was poured into the funnel to gradually fill up the barrel below. This awful and potentially unhealthy mixture was then drawn back up on the mild pump and served to people like myself who ordered a brown ale or stout ale and mild mixture. Generally, if you were served this stuff, the bottled beer masked the taste and you didn't know that you were drinking it but now and then a landlord would also be silly enough to include lemonade slops and then you could and complained.

Although some of the "old timers" in the pubs were quite partial to "Sheps" beers, many of our generation in the 60's found it quite abhorrent and considered it as being the closest thing to drinking a pint of vinegar - how tastes change, I love it now.
There were however, times when we found ourselves stranded, with no choice but a "Sheps" pub and then we had to grin and bear it but could at least have a bit of fun with a nickname for one of their beers. I remember that we went into one such pub one day to find a landlady that looked like she's been there as long as the barrels and was clearly not happy to see four long-haired and boisterous teenagers walk in. "What'll you have then" she grunted, to which I replied "a pint of Nun's Delight please". "We only have Masterbrew or Bishops Finger" she said, pointing to the two hand pumps. I put my hand on the one labelled Bishops Finger and said again, "a pint of Nun's Delight please" - well, eventually she realised what our nickname meant, said "that's disgusting" and ordered us out.

Although you could sometimes find one or two that stayed open longer than they should, the biggest drawback in those days was the fact that pubs closed at 11.00 at night - 10.30 on Sundays! It wasn't that important in the winter but on warm summer nights when we tended to stay out all weekend, sleeping in tents or other assorted and sometimes bizarre places, it seemed an early time to have our drinking cut off. Normally the only recourse was to by a crate or two of our favourite bottles of beer and take them with us to wherever we were going, often in those days, the open air shelters along Sheerness seafront. There we would play guitar and sing folk songs, carry on drinking and often, sleep on the benches till dawn broke. The first few times, after midnight, a police land rover would drive along the promenade and stop to check us out but eventually they realised that we weren't of the trouble-making variety and used to just drive by and wave. In the early morning light, a tad hung over and damp from the overnight dew, we would first hide the beer crates and bottles, (for later return to the pub cause there was money back on the empty bottles) and make our way to Sheerness bus station. Here, outside the booking office, was the only form of hot refreshment at that time of day, a hot drink dispensing machine. For a few pence it dispensed paper cups of coffee, hot chocolate, weak tea and even weaker chicken soup which tasted at best like hot water with a chicken feather in it. After that, at 7.00 on a Sunday morning, what do we do next, oh well back to the shelters until a cafe opens we suppose, we can watch the dog walkers go by, they didn't have joggers in those days.


  1. My Other Half is really chuffed with the number of micro pubs (real ale outlets) springing up now - First Herne and now Tankerton (5 mins walk from us), Whitstable and Herne Bay for starters ... Do you have any on Sheppy yet?

  2. Yes we do Sue. It's called The Heritage and is in what used to be the Halfway Post Office. It's only been open a few months and I've been in there once so far.
    5 mins walk from your house - a dream come true me thinks.

  3. No Style and Winch pubs in your youth then? They were in Maidstone and had 600+ pubs in Kent. Taken over by Courage in the late 50's and carried on until 1971. My grandfather and then one of my uncles was Head Cooper there when beer was in wooden casks.

  4. Tony, the name rings a bell, so it's probable that they were around and I've overlooked them.

  5. Anyone have any memories of The North Star pub on North street on the Isle of Sheppey. My great grandad used to own it. his name was Charles Frank Keen..Does anyone remember anything about him. The North Star no longer stands as it was demolished to make flats in the sixties I think.