The world was a very different place in the 1970s. Judas Priest were at large, classic films like Rocky and Scum were invented. CAMRA was just making a name for itself and beer blogging didn't exist. I didn't exist.
Richard Boston's Beer and Skittles is a book that provides a very informative and personal perspective of the British beer scene from the '60s and '70s when beer meant mild, bitter, stout/Guinness, occasional strong ales or the growing trend that is continental lager beer. Pubs were architecturally sound havens for the working man to smoke, drink and play pub games like billiards. They were also under constant threat from the unstoppable evil empires of tied pubs owned by the infamous 'big six' whose tied houses were constantly being adulterated and manipulated by the brewer to suit commercial needs.
The book, like many other beer books, briefly covers the the history of beer going back to ancient civilisations and (just like Pete Brown did many years later) the origins of the pub are also explored. The brewing process, homebrewing (very popular in the 70s) and pub games are also covered to some extent. The strong support of pairing beer and food doesn't really go into any guidelines of how to pair beer and food but does give a lot of old-school cooking recipes such as Guinness stew, and steak, kidney and oyster pudding which include beer. Back then good bottled beer apparently meant Worthington's White Shield, Guinness (then bottle conditioned), Newcastle Brown Ale and keeping beers such as Eldridge Pope Thomas Hardy Ale (RIP) and Courage Imperial Russian Stout.
The thing I find most interesting about this book, is that it gives an insight to a bygone era.
Admittedly a lot of it did remind me of the numerous occasions I've got chatting to old pub locals about beer. Many an old local has the opinionated old codger in the corner rambling about how things were 'back in the day' and how much better pubs and beer were before the 60s. Perhaps one of those old codgers was Richard Boston? Who knows, but what I did realise was that where most modern beer authors rave in celebration about the successess of CAMRA and artisan beer over the decades this literature gives the reader the impressions of an underlying insecurity from the author. The tone is fiercely defensive of all that is small, traditional, original and authentic or in short all that was under threat in an era that was progressively becoming more mainstreamed, mass-marketed, mass-advertised and just boring.
But my favourite part of this book, is the bit that illustrated that some things haven't changed. Apparently many followers of the 'big six' and the new kegged beer had written off the 'real ale' market as small, dying and comprised of old flat caps who in ten or twenty years or so would have all died off. Now where have I heard that before? Funny how I'm reading this over thirty years later and the 'real ale' market looks far from dead, yet very occasionally I still hear this same opinion.
So in conclusion, not a bad read at all. To celebrate finishing it I thought I'd crack open an old school beer so without the much mentioned White Shield at hand I thought I'd go for a Directors Courage, one of the first bottled beers I ever tried.