Archive for May 2nd, 2008

The theme of The Session this month is how did it all start for you ? 

 Boak and Bailey have given us the following challenge: We’d like you to write about the moment when you saw the light. At what point did you realise you were a beer lover / geek / enthusiast? What beer(s) triggered the conversion? Did someone help you along your way, or did you come to it yourself?

In short; how did you get into good beer?

If you can talk about a specific beer, so much the better — it would be good to see if there are any trends.


This goes way back through the mists of time, almost thirty years. There were four of us, we were in our late teens, and we ruled the world.  Trying to get the maximum mileage out of our Interrail tickets, we were heading north from Portugal, bringing cartons of SG cigarettes and perfect tans. The Boomtown Rats are on the top of the charts, and there are no signs of Bob Geldoff getting an MBE.

Getting from Lisbon to London in the pre-tunnel days meant going through Paris. According to the timetable, it should be theoretically possible to get a connection, but navigating the Metro with our scant knowledge of French lost us the precious minutes we needed. We did not bother to look around for a hotel, we decided to buy tickets for the next morning Dover ferry and camp in the departure hall instead.

We were not alone there, and we were soon chatting to some English and Irish boys who were also staying the night. We had, for some reason, dragged along a five kilo watermelon from Portugal, and this was sliced and distributed. Someone had a bottle of whisky in their backpack, and there probably was some cheap wine passed around as well. Station personnel made sure only ticket holders were staying, and we made ourselves as comfortable as we could.

We got the phone numbers of two of the English guys, who were from Sutton in Surrey, just to the south of London, and we made plans to meet up later in the week.

Our Interrail tickets were even good for travel on the London commuter trains, so on Tuesday afternoon we were off to Sutton. This was where I discovered what good beer was all about. 

We joined our hosts and a number of their friends for a pub crawl of the area, and we ended up at a riverside pub which I cannot locate today. There is one thing that stands out, however, the choice of drink was totally clear. Some of the girls drank lagers, but for the guys every round was the same: A pint of Special, please!

We had entered the heartland of Young’s of Wandsworth. And, remember, this was the late seventies. CAMRA was just starting up, and I doubt they had gained much momentum at the time. Young’s were one of the very few who were carrying the torch of brewing, distributing and serving cask ale. I had the luck to end up in an area where the brewery giants had not steamrolled everything into pasteurized blandness. From the first sip of the first pint I knew that this was the real thing.

Being nineteen, drinking quality beer is no obstacle to consuming large quantities, and we barely made the last train back to London. We went back down on Saturday, the last night before we had to leave for home, and got totally smashed. Pure luck and the skills of London taxi drivers were the only reason we caught the train heading for the ferry to Holland.

I can’t remember all the details. I went down to Sutton a few years ago, but I did not really recognize any of the pubs, but it is more than likely that the Robin Hood was one of our stops.

Young’s is no longer a brewery, and their pubs are phazing out the Young’s range in favour of Bombardier. The Special has been made more mellow and easy-drinking in the never ending quest to please all palates, and rumours say they are to stop brewing it.

But I hope there is still a little time left, that even the next time I arrive in London, I can walk up to the bar of a classic Young’s pub, smile at the barmaid and tell her A pint of Special, please.

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