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Published: February 1st 2021
I’ve just posted a list of my all-time favourite English beers – draught bitters – on Facebook. Here is the post: I went overseas in 1985. The best beers - by which I mean draught bitters - I drank in England up to 1985 were (in no particular order, although Batham's is my all-time favourite): Batham's, Holden's, Doris Pardoe's, Simpkiss (all from the West Midlands); Gales HSB, Fuller's London Pride, Young's, King and Barnes, Courage Reading (all from the South of England); Felinfoel Double Dragon, Brains, Buckley's, Penrhos (all from Wales); Hardy and Hanson's (from Nottingham); Timothy Taylor's Landlord Bitter (which, alas, I only drank at beer festivals). Sadly, a few of these breweries have long since perished: Simpkiss, Courage Reading, Gales, Buckley's, Hardy and Hanson's.
I haven’t mentioned two beers, Brakspear’s and Morland’s, which were common in the Reading area until the breweries were taken over. I would now like to reflect on them, especially Morland’s.
The reason I haven’t listed Morland’s and Brakspear’s in my list is simple: they were fine beers but not THAT fine. They lacked the scrumptious taste of, say, Fuller’s London Pride or Gale’s HSB or my all-time favourite, Batham’s. Many people
would disagree with me; for example, my friend, Tony Blakeley, thinks that Brakspear’s bitter was superb.
In my judgment of Brakspear’s, I've had to separate the pubs from the actual beer. The ambience of some of those old Brakspear country pubs was magical. I used to cycle around Henley-on-Thames, where Brakspear’s was brewed, and the Oxfordshire countryside between Henley and Marlow. The Brakspear pubs I came across in my ramblings were often lovely old traditional buildings, gems of English architecture: The Rose and Crown in Henley town centre, the Crooked Billet in Stoke Row, the Prince Albert in Frieth. The 1975 Good Beer Guide shares my opinion: "some of the most unspoilt pubs in the country
." I am sure the ambience influenced my opinion of the beer. In judging Brakspear’s, I have ruthlessly suppressed my memories of those glorious pub buildings and focused solely on the taste of the beer.
The same could be said about Morland’s. Some of their country pubs were magnificent structures. One that stands out in my memory is The Plough in Waltham St. Lawrence to the east of Reading. It is listed in the 1975 CAMRA Good Beer Guide, which I still possess,
as “a fine old timber-framed pub with cheerful open fire and good furniture
”. It served Morland's best bitter on gravity. I remember the rich hoppy taste of that beer, the finest Morland’s I ever drank. However, again the ambience of that country pub probably had something to do with my taste experience. When I recall the Morland’s bitter I used to drink at The Plasterer’s Arms – a quite ordinary pub in Cemetery Junction, Reading – it was definitely not in the same league as my all-time favourites.
I remember Morland’s pubs not so much for the beer as for something else: the ceramic plaque often embedded in the brickwork or stonework outside. I've just posted on Facebook several examples of these plaques together with the following description: Morland’s ceramic plaque – embedded into the walls of their pubs – has to be my all-time favourite example of pub livery. It depicts depicts an 18th-century artist - either Robert or George Morland - with his palette, eyeing a glass of beer, with the implication that brewing is an art in itself and that Morland’s beer is a work of art. Although Morland’s was taken over by Greene King
in 2000, these lovely old plaques still grace the walls of many old Morland’s pubs.
As I say, I've never seen a more beautiful pub plaque. Stuck on the wall, in front of my writing desk in Ho Chi Minh City, is a photograph of one. A lovely picture that reminds me of the 1970’s, when I used to cycle down the country lanes from pub to pub. The plaque is from a pub somewhere in Reading, but I have forgotten which. All those old plaques will eventually be vandalized by philistines or removed by collectors or tarnished by time; but, until then, they will survive on Berkshire and Oxfordshire walls to remind us oldsters of a beer called Morland's that, once upon a time, was brewed in Abingdon.
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