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Published: September 9th 2021
I recently posted my memories of three old Reading beers: Morland, Brakspear and Gales. Now I want to say something about Courage.
Back in 1975, when I was a CAMRA real ale fanatic, there was a Courage brewery in Reading town centre. According to the 1975 CAMRA Good Beer Guide, there were four Courage breweries in the UK: in London, Bristol, Plymouth and Reading. In 1960 Courage Reading had taken over the old Simonds brewery.
As I walked down London Street towards Mill Lane, the pungent aroma of freshly malted barley from the Bridge Street brewery would hit me. Courage tied houses abounded, but the trick was to find a pub which served draught bitter without CO² pressure – in other words served it by handpump or by gravity. My 1975 guide states that of the four Courage breweries, Reading was the only one with many tied houses serving unpressurized draught beer.
My favourite Courage pub was the unpretentious and old-fashioned Wheatsheaf in Grazeley, on the outskirts of Reading, which I came across in the course of my bicycle meanderings. It is described in the CAMRA 1975 Good Beer Guide as "a friendly basic country pub". Here the
bitter flowed straight from a wooden cask behind the bar. No dirty pipes to spoil the taste. A lovely tipple. I lament the passing of the old Reading Courage bitter, which had a distinctive hoppy tang. However, I seem to be one of the few who miss it. It has a bad reputation, I think, because it was so often adulterated with CO².
A very special beer in those days was Courage Directors bitter. It was quite rare and very potent, and I found a gem of a pub which served it: The Pot Kiln in Frilsham. This pub was even quainter than The Wheatsheaf, and the Directors flowed by gravity from the cask. My 1975 CAMRA Beer Guide describes it as an “unchanged musty old pub in the middle of nowhere”. One never-to-be-forgotten lunchtime, after pedalling my bike all the way from Reading, I went mad: the beer was heavenly, and I drank five pints of Directors in a very short time. I then proceeded to fall off my bike and puncture a tyre. While trying to mend the inner tube, I somehow managed to rip it into two pieces. Very fortunately, I was rescued by a passing
car, which gave me and my bike a lift back to Reading. I sent the good Samaritan a cheque by post.
A Courage tied house that sticks in my mind for the wrong reason is The Horn in St Mary’s Butts. I, and a group of friends, visited The Horn in the mid to late 1970’s. As we drank the decent beer and talked, the landlord was eyeballing us. As soon as we left, he followed us outside and told us never to darken his premises again. He gave no reason. We had done nothing wrong. Probably we were not ‘respectable’ in his eyes. We had been younger and less smartly dressed than the other customers in the public bar. I wrote to the brewery about this and received a polite reply basically defending the landlord’s right to choose his clientele.
Finally, a fun fact. As one approached Reading station by train, there used to be a sign that read: 'Take Courage'. I would joke that it was warning would-be visitors to steel themselves before entering the town of Reading!
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