Drinking Simpkiss at The Waterloo Inn


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January 30th 2021
Published: January 30th 2021
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In 1975 I began working as an English teacher at Old Swinford Hospital School in Stourbridge, West Midlands. I was a real ale fanatic in those days. On my very first evening in Stourbridge, armed with the 1975 Good Beer Guide and a map, I visited two of the listed pubs: The Royal Exchange in Enville Street and The Waterloo in Wollaston. The beers I sampled that evening, Batham’s and Simpkiss, were new to me; I was a Southerner well versed in the beers of my native Reading and of Swansea, where I’d recently lived, but this was my first time in the West Midlands. I’ve written elsewhere about my love of Batham’s and, especially, of The Bull and Bladder pub where Batham’s is brewed; now I would like to sing the praises of Simpkiss and The Waterloo.

I was reminded of Simpkiss the other day when I posted on Facebook a list of my favourite English bitters along with their insignia. Simpkiss was one of them. The Simpkiss beermat image I found on the internet was very familiar to me; even after 40+ years I can remember those beermats in The Waterloo.

The 1975 Good Beer Guide, which I still possess, lists one pub for Wollaston: The Waterloo. It was a Simpkiss tied house serving bitter and mild. The comment reads: “Small well-kept corner pub. Interesting decorations in lounge”. There are symbols for recorded music and for ‘sandwiches and other snacks’.

We teachers used to visit The Waterloo during school lunchtimes. In 1975 and ’76, our lunchtime break was a whopping 90 minutes – plenty of time for a pint or three of Simpkiss or Batham’s. We – Phil Price, Jeremy Christian-Brookes and myself - usually travelled in Phil’s car to either The Royal Exchange (Batham’s) or The Longland’s Tavern (Banks’s) or The Waterloo.

I do not remember the “interesting decorations in the lounge” – probably because we always sat in the public bar at the front. However, I do remember the tasty beer, the cheese and onion cobs, the juke box and the tasty barmaids.

Let’s start with the beer. I never drank the mild because I always prefer a good bitter. Simpkiss bitter was delectable – a low gravity hoppy beer with a unique tang. It was brewed in Brierley Hill and available in 16 tied houses. I drank Simpkiss almost exclusively at The Waterloo but occasionally sampled it at The Foley Arms (next door to the Brierley Hill brewery), The New Inn, The Leopard in Kingswinford and The Old Plough in Kinver (where at Xmas the landlord allowed us to mull the black Xmas ale with a red-hot poker).The landlord of The Waterloo knew how to look after his beer, which was served by hand pump.

The public bar was simple – a typical West Midlands working man’s drinking space. The only embellishment was a jukebox on which I played my favourite singles.

As well as the landlord, a no-nonsense unsmiling fellow (whose name, I think, was Gordon), there was his wife – a mature woman with understated sex appeal. And then there was the beauteous barmaid. I think there may have been two barmaids at one time, but only one stands out in my memory. She had a lovely face and figure, and we teachers lusted after her. In those days I was shy; I regret now I did not have the courage to ask her out for a date.

After arriving in Stourbridge in September 1975, I enjoyed drinking Simpkiss continuously until June 1976, when something happened. One day at The Waterloo I ordered my usual pint of bitter, but the taste was different. It was still a decent pint, but the beautiful unique tang I was so used to was missing. This was not a one-off. On subsequent visits, the Simpkiss bitter was not quite the beer I'd grown to love. Therefore I decided to write to the brewery.

In those pre-computer days, letters and telephone calls were the only means of communication. I thought a well-written letter to the brewery, expressing my disappointment, might be a good idea. I hardly expected the brewery to reply; they would probably be insulted by a smart alec teacher casting aspersions on their famous beer. I have no copy of the handwritten letter I sent, but I am sure it was polite and skilfully worded.

The reply I received shortly afterwards took my breath away. The Head Brewer had taken it upon himself to write me a long detailed letter explaining why Simpkiss beer was subject to seasonal changes in flavour. The letter was dated June 30th 1976 and carefully typed on paper with the Simpkiss Brewery letterhead. I have kept it. Here is the text:

Dear Mr Mulqueen,

We are in receipt of yours dated 20.6.76 and are sorry that you are not enjoying our bitter as formerly.

We can assure you, however, that nothing has consciously been changed. It is axiomatic, so far as we are concerned, that if things are right, leave them alone. Having said that, we would also like to say that brewing a pint of traditional ale, as against the characterless rubbish offered by our large competitors, is no easy task.

Malt and hops vary from season to season due to the influence of weather, which is an act of God. Whilst we do expect any help from the Diety (sic!), from the barley and hops he has sent us we choose only the best.

Much could be written about this, but let us settle for skill and know-how.

After intensive study, both physical and technical, a blend is decided upon which must conform to our receipt (sic) dedicated to the production of a glass of ale which is acceptable by what we here call the ‘popular palate’ and, in view of the many compliments we have already received upon the very hoppy flavor to which you refer, we thought that idiomatically speaking we ‘had it made’.

We mourn that we have even one critic among the faithful and say with all humility that we can only brew to satisfy the ‘popular palate’. We cannot unfortunately brew to individual tastes.

We hope this broadly answers your queries. It is after all a very involved subject. We regret that we have offered you grounds for criticism and trust that we shall still be favoured with your valuable patronage.

Yours faithfully

F. Riley (Head Brewer)

And together with the letter was a voucher for four free pints of Simpkiss at The Waterloo. What a wonderful piece of public relations! The wind had been entirely taken out of my sails; Mr Riley’s reply made me feel like a silly complaining cur. I love the ‘Diety’ spelling mistake, which makes a kind of sense if you see God as looking after our dietary needs. And I think ‘receipt’ should be ‘recipe’.

Naturally I redeemed my voucher and went on drinking Simpkiss at The Waterloo until the brewery folded in 1985. It was always a very decent pint, but the old taste that I liked so much was gone forever.

Clipped to Mr Riley’s magnanimous letter was something I’d clean forgotten: a parody I wrote. It is handwritten in blue biro on school lined paper. At the time I was besotted by that barmaid and wrote the following:

Dear Mr Mulqueen,

Thank you for your letter. We are sorry you are not enjoying our barmaids as formerly.

We can assure you, however, that no tit has consciously been changed. It is axiomatic, so far as we are concerned, that if tits are right, leave them alone. Having said that, we would also like to say that turning out a full-bodied traditional barmaid, as against the flat-chested, tarted-up rubbish offered by our large competitors, is no easy task.

The female form, which is a gift of God, varies from season to season. Whilst we do not expect any help from the Diety, we select only the choicest females and do our best to keep them in prime condition.

Much could be written about this, but let us settle for big tits.

After intensive study, both physical and technical, a shape is decided upon which must be acceptable to what we here call the 'popular libido' and, in view of the many compliments we have already received upon the very full-bodied charm to which you refer, we thought that idiomatically speaking we 'had tit made'.

We mourn that we have even one critic among the faithful and say with all humility that we can cater only to satisfy the 'popular libido' and cannot unfortunately satisfy deviant tastes such as your own.

We hope this broadly answers your queries. It is after all a very involved subject, and boobs are occasionally unavoidable. We regret that we have offered you grounds for criticism and trust that in future our barmaids will be more to your satisfaction. We will keep you abreast of any new developments.

Yours faithfully,

F. Riley (Head Brewer)

Reading it today, I am underwhelmed. In truth, it is not very funny; those puns are pretty feeble, reminiscent of Benny Hill. I have included it here as a sort of timepiece – a reflection of my younger self.

Simpkiss is one of many fine old breweries that have long since closed down. Courage Reading, Gales, Brakspears, Morlands and Buckleys are others. Simpkiss was taken over in 1985 by Greenall Whitley. The good news is that a new brewery, the Enville Brewery, has bought the recipe for Simpkiss bitter and revived it. On their website is a picture of a hand pump with 'Simpkiss Bitter, an old favourite' inscribed on it. I have never sampled this reincarnation of one of my all-time favourite beers, but I hope it is the real McCoy.

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