Historic Beer Birthday: Ralph Thrale

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Today is the birthday of Ralph Thrale (1698-April 9, 1758). Thrale’s exact date of birth is not known, but he died today in 1758, so that’s why I’m celebrating his birthday today. He was born in Offley, Hertfordshire, England, the son of Ralph Thrale, a Cottager originally from Sandridge who moved to Offley. His uncle brought him to London around 1711 after his father died (when he was only 13) to work at his Anchor Brewery, in Southwark, in the central part of the city, and eventually he became the Master of The Brewers Company, having bought the brewery after his uncle’s death. He was also a Member of Parliament from 1741-1747 and also High Sheriff for Surrey from 1733-34.

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Portrait of Ralph Thrale by Thomas Hudson.

This is his short biography from the History of Parliament:

The son of ‘a hardworking man at Offley’, Thrale was brought to London by his uncle, Edmund Halsey, the owner of the Anchor brewery at Southwark, who ‘said he would make a man of him, and did so but … treated him very roughly’, making him work ‘at six shillings a week for twenty years’. He soon ‘made himself so useful … that the weight of the business fell entirely on him’, and he was expected to succeed to the brewery.1 But he fell out with his uncle by marrying ‘a wench that Halsey wanted to have for his own pleasure’, and was cut off.2On Halsey’s death in 1729, the Anchor brewery was put up for sale. According to Mrs. Piozzi, Thrale’s daughter-in-law,

to find a purchaser for so large a property was a difficult matter, and after some time, it was suggested that it would be advisable to treat with Thrale, a sensible, active, honest man, who had been long employed in the house, and to transfer the whole to him for £30,000, security being taken upon the property. This was accordingly settled. In eleven years Thrale paid the purchase money. He acquired a large fortune. But what was most remarkable was the liberality with which he used his riches.

Returned as an opposition Whig for Southwark, the brewers’ constituency, he voted against the Government on the chairman of the elections committee in 1741 and on the Hanoverians in 1744, was absent from other recorded divisions, did not stand again, and died 8 Apr. 1758.

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Thrale’s Anchor Brewery around 1785.

This mention of Ralph Thrale’s involvement in the Anchor Brewery is from “A History of Beer and Brewing,” by Ian Spencer Hornsey:

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This is the entry for Barclay, Perkins & Co. Ltd, which at one time had been Thrale’s Anchor Brewery, from “The Brewing Industry: A Guide to Historical Records,” edited by Lesley Richmond, Alison Turton, published in 1990:

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The Anchor Brewery around 1820.

And finally, the famous English writer Charles Dickens, during the period when he was writing many of his major works, “he was also the publisher, editor, and a major contributor to the journals Household Words (1850–1859) and All the Year Round (1858–1870). In “Volume V, from March 30, 1861 to September 21, 1861,” in a piece entitled “Queen of the Blue Stockings,” from April 20, 1861, Ralph Thrale is mentioned in a history of the Barclay Perkins brewery to give context to his tale:

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A marker where Thrale’s brewery once stood in central London.

Beer Birthday: Jeff Bell

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Today is the 38th birthday of Jeff Bell, whose alter ego was, until a few years ago, Stonch, one of England’s best bloggers. He had retired from blogging to concentrate on his new job as landlord of a London pub, The Gunmakers, in Clerkenwell, a village in the heart of London. I stopped by to meet Jeff on my way back from a trip to Burton-on-Trent a few years ago. And several years back, I saw Jeff several times during GBBF week. But later, the blogging started up again, and he moved on from that pub, and for a time he was the landlord of the Finborough Arms in Earl’s Court, next to the Finborough Theatre, but he’s moved on from there, as well. Now he describes himself as an “Englishman living in Tuscany.” Nice work, if you can get it. Join me in wishing Jeff a very happy birthday.

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Jeff Bell, a.k.a. Stonch, at The Gunmakers Pub in central London.

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With a Gunmaker’s bartender at the British Beer Writers Guild event before the start of the Great British Beer Festival in 2009.

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In front of Gunmaker’s in the summer of 2009.

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Ron Pattinson, talking with Jeff and Mark Dredge at the Carlsberg Laboratories in Copenhagen last year.

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Leaving Copenhagen; Pete Brown, Ron Pattinson, Jeff, Stephen Beaumont and Stan Hieronymus.

Beer Birthday: Alastair Hook

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Today is the 53rd birthday of Alastair Hook, founder and brewmaster of Meantime Brewing, which was one of the first breweries in the UK to make good Non-CAMRA beer. I’m not sure when I first met Alastair, either at GABF or World Beer Cup, or over on his turf, but sometime last decade, and he’s great fun to judge with as the topics he’s interested in are wide-ranging and always interesting. Join me in wishing Alastair a very happy birthday.

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Alastair with Greg Koch from Stone Brewing, at a British Guild of Beer Writers event during the Great British Beer Festival in 2009.

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A publicity photo of Alastair in his brewery.

The London Beer Flood Of 1814

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Today was a dark day in a certain part of London, known as the Parish of St. Giles. On October 17, 1814, an incident which became known as the London Beer Flood took place. Here’s the basic account, from Wikipedia:

At the Meux and Company Brewery on Tottenham Court Road, a huge vat containing over 135,000 imperial gallons (610,000 L) of beer ruptured, causing other vats in the same building to succumb in a domino effect. As a result, more than 323,000 imperial gallons (1,470,000 L) of beer burst out and gushed into the streets. The wave of beer destroyed two homes and crumbled the wall of the Tavistock Arms Pub, trapping teenage employee Eleanor Cooper under the rubble. Within minutes neighbouring George Street and New Street were swamped with alcohol, killing a mother and daughter who were taking tea, and surging through a room of people gathered for a wake.

One source claimed this engraving appeared shortly after the incident, an artists rendition, so to speak, but I’ve since learned it very recent, created by a London artist, Chris Bianchi, for Completely London, and given the title “It’ll All End in Beer.”

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The flood occurred at Meux’s Brewery Co Ltd., which was established in 1764, It was a London brewery owned by Sir Henry Meux. Meux, like many modern brewers, bought out smaller breweries. One of the breweries it acquired was the Horse Shoe Brewery (founded by a Mr Blackburn, and famous for its ‘black beer’), located on the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street, London. Atop the Horse Shoe stood several large vats of beer. The largest was the porter vat – a 22-foot-high monstrosity that held 511,920 litres of beer, in turn held together by a total of 29 large iron hoops. For some idea of its vastness, The Times report of 1 April, 1785 read:

There is a cask now building at Messrs. Meux & Co.’s brewery…the size of which exceeds all credibility, being designed to hold 20,000 barrels of porter; the whole expense attending the same will be upwards of £10,000.

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Meux’s Horse Shoe Brewery, c. 1830.

The following account of the incident is from Historic UK:

On Monday 17th October 1814, a terrible disaster claimed the lives of at least 8 people in St Giles, London. A bizarre industrial accident resulted in the release of a beer tsunami onto the streets around Tottenham Court Road.

The Horse Shoe Brewery stood at the corner of Great Russell Street and Tottenham Court Road. In 1810 the brewery, Meux and Company, had had a 22 foot high wooden fermentation tank installed on the premises. Held together with massive iron rings, this huge vat held the equivalent of over 3,500 barrels of brown porter ale, a beer not unlike stout.

On the afternoon of October 17th 1814 one of the iron rings around the tank snapped. About an hour later the whole tank ruptured, releasing the hot fermenting ale with such force that the back wall of the brewery collapsed. The force also blasted open several more vats, adding their contents to the flood which now burst forth onto the street. More than 320,000 gallons of beer were released into the area. This was St Giles Rookery, a densely populated London slum of cheap housing and tenements inhabited by the poor, the destitute, prostitutes and criminals.

The flood reached George Street and New Street within minutes, swamping them with a tide of alcohol. The 15 foot high wave of beer and debris inundated the basements of two houses, causing them to collapse. In one of the houses, Mary Banfield and her daughter Hannah were taking tea when the flood hit; both were killed.
In the basement of the other house, an Irish wake was being held for a 2 year old boy who had died the previous day. The four mourners were all killed. The wave also took out the wall of the Tavistock Arms pub, trapping the teenage barmaid Eleanor Cooper in the rubble. In all, eight people were killed. Three brewery workers were rescued from the waist-high flood and another was pulled alive from the rubble.

All this ‘free’ beer led to hundreds of people scooping up the liquid in whatever containers they could. Some resorted to just drinking it, leading to reports of the death of a ninth victim some days later from alcoholic poisoning.

‘The bursting of the brew-house walls, and the fall of heavy timber, materially contributed to aggravate the mischief, by forcing the roofs and walls of the adjoining houses.’ The Times, 19th October 1814.
Some relatives exhibited the corpses of the victims for money. In one house, the macabre exhibition resulted in the collapse of the floor under the weight of all the visitors, plunging everyone waist-high into a beer-flooded cellar.

The stench of beer in the area persisted for months afterwards. The brewery was taken to court over the accident but the disaster was ruled to be an Act of God, leaving no one responsible.

The flood cost the brewery around £23000 (approx. £1.25 million today). However the company were able to reclaim the excise duty paid on the beer, which saved them from bankruptcy. They were also granted ₤7,250 (₤400,000 today) as compensation for the barrels of lost beer.

This unique disaster was responsible for the gradual phasing out of wooden fermentation casks to be replaced by lined concrete vats. The Horse Shoe Brewery was demolished in 1922; the Dominion Theatre now sits partly on its site.

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Toten Hall house in Tottenham Court Road, destroyed by the beer flood.

This is from h2g2 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Earth Edition.

Come October of 1814, the beer had been fermenting atop the brewery for months (as was the need with porter), and the metal and wood of this huge vat was, unbeknownst to the majority of the brewery workers3, beginning to show the strain of holding back the thousands of litres. Suddenly, at about 6.00pm, one of the heavy metal hoops snapped and the contents of the porter vat exploded out – quite literally – causing a chain reaction with the surrounding vats. The resulting noise was apparently heard as far away as five miles!

A total of 1,224,000 litres of beer under pressure smashed through the twenty-five foot high brick wall of the building, and gushed out into the surrounding area – the slum of St Giles. Many people lived in crowded conditions here, and some were caught by the waves of beer completely unaware. The torrent flooded through houses, demolishing two in its wake, and the nearby Tavistock Arms pub in Great Russell Street suffered too, its 14-year-old barmaid Eleanor Cooper buried under the rubble. The Times reported on 19 October of the flood:

The bursting of the brew-house walls, and the fall of heavy timber, materially contributed to aggravate the mischief, by forcing the roofs and walls of the adjoining houses.

Fearful that all the beer should go to waste, though, hundreds of people ran outside carrying pots, pans, and kettles to scoop it up – while some simply stooped low and lapped at the liquid washing through the streets. However, the tide was too strong for many, and as injured people began arriving at the nearby Middlesex Hospital there was almost a riot as other patients demanded to know why they weren’t being supplied with beer too – they could smell it on the flood survivors, and were insistent that they were missing out on a party! Calm was quickly restored at the hospital, but out in the streets was a different matter.

Back at the brewery, one man managed to save his brother from going under the vast wave, but as the tide receded the true damage could be discovered. The beer tsunami left nine people dead4; many had drowned (like Mary Mulvey and her 3-year-old son Thomas), others were swept away in the flood and died of the injuries they sustained (two young children: Hannah Banfield, 4, and Sarah Bates, 3), and the final victim actually succumbed some days later of alcohol poisoning – such was his heroic attempt to stem the tide by drinking as much beer as he humanly could.

Because of the poverty of the area, relatives of the drowned took to exhibiting their families’ corpses in their homes and charging a fee for viewing. In one house, though, too many people crowded in and the floor gave out, plunging them all into a cellar half full of beer. This morbid exhibition moved locations, attracting more custom – and eventually the police, who closed the doors on the horrible circus. Later, the funerals of the dead were paid for by the St Giles population, coins left on their coffins. The stench of the beer apparently lasted for months, and after the initial excitement, many found both their homes and livelihoods swept away with the flood. In amongst the misery of clearing away the dead and cleaning up the streets, though, there was compassion. The Times concluded:

The emotion and humanity with which the labourers proceeded in their distressing task excited a strong interest, and deserves warm approbation.

The Meux Brewery Company was taken to court over the accident, but the judge ruled that although devastating, the flood was an ‘Act of God’ and the deaths6 were simply by ‘casualty’. In other words, no party was to blame, and the company continued working despite the incident. Up until 1961 that is, when it was sold to Friary, Holroyd and Healy’s Brewery Ltd of Guildford. The firm became Friary Meux Ltd for only three years, before being bought outright by Ind Coope (& Allsop) of Burton-on-Trent.

Apparently the only eyewitness account to the flood was from an American tourist who chose the wrong shortcut:

All at once, I found myself borne onward with great velocity by a torrent which burst upon me so suddenly as almost to deprive me of breath. A roar as of falling buildings at a distance, and suffocating fumes, were in my ears and nostrils. I was rescued with great difficulty by the people who immediately collected around me, and from whom I learned the nature of the disaster which had befallen me. An immense vat belonging to a brew house situated in Banbury street [sic – now Bainbridge Street], Saint Giles, and containing four or five thousand barrels of strong beer, had suddenly burst and swept every thing before it. Whole dwellings were literally riddled by the flood; numbers were killed; and from among the crowds which filled the narrow passages in every direction came the groans of sufferers.

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There are quite a few more accounts, such as History Nuggets, Damn Interesting, the History Channel, and The Independent. But naturally, the best account os from Martyn Cornell, the Zythophile, in So what REALLY happened on October 17 1814?

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Meux’s Horseshoe Brewery, around 1906.

This version of the story, a bit altered from reality, appeared in the comic book “Doctor Who #4″ (December 2012), with a script by Brandon Seifert, pencils by Philip Bond, inks by Ilias Kyriazis, colors by Charlie Kirchoff, and letters by Tom B. Long:

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And here’s a short video on the flood, from American Adventure Survival Science (and please note, the host is wearing a Bagby Beer Co. shirt):

ABI Buys London’s Camden Town Brewery

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Anheuser-Busch InBev announced this morning that they were buying British brewer Camden Town Brewery, located in London. Despite having recently raised over £2.75 million through a crowdfunding campaign on Crowdcube (nearly doubling their £1.5 million target), which was purported to fund a second London brewery, Camden Town is quoted in the Guardian that “the businesses needed a major investor to fund the construction of a second brewery that will create 30 jobs.”

Jasper Cuppaidge, who founded the brewery just five years ago, also posted a short statement on their website:

The ‘craft’ brewing movement has seen incredible growth driven by innovation, quality and daring. Camden Town Brewery has been at the forefront of this revolution. The success and reputation we have built has been nothing short of incredible. That has been thanks to all of you and the great beers we’ve brewed.

To stay at the forefront of this movement and secure our future success, we have to build a bigger brewery, employ more people and gain access to an international distribution network.

We can’t do this on our own. That’s why I’m proud to say I’ve signed a deal with AB InBev.

This partnership is going to help us deliver our plans to grow. With AB InBev’s support we will expand our operations, create more jobs in London and continue to brew our great beer and get it to more drinkers. Read more here.

We are really excited about taking this opportunity to turn Camden, and the quality it stands for, from being an outstanding London brewer, to being a world famous one. We hope you are too.

If you’re one of our shareholders, we’ll be in contact soon with more details about what the news means for you. We’ll also be updating the investor site shortly with answers to questions you may have.

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The terms of the deal, and the price, were not disclosed. The transaction is expected to close quickly, by January 7. Camden Town also posted a more traditional press release:

Camden Town Brewery today announced that it is partnering with Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) to pave the way for further growth and expansion. The partnership will enable Camden Town Brewery to expand its operations, bringing more of its popular canned, bottled and kegged beer to more people. The deal will see AB InBev acquire Camden Town Brewery.

Founded by Jasper Cuppaidge, the owner of The Horseshoe pub in Hampstead, Camden Town Brewery started full production in 2010. From an original staff of three people, it now employs a team of 95 and has sold 12 million pints in 2015. Their beers are available in over 1000 pubs, bars, restaurants and retailers around the UK, as well as further afield in Sweden, Australia and Japan.

The deal follows a successful bid by Camden Town Brewery to raise capital via crowd funding and will support the company’s plan to build a second brewery in London, employing 30 more people and meeting growing demand for its products. The partnership will enable Camden Town Brewery to brew more of its own distinctive beers and continue to innovate, while maintaining its focus on quality.

Jasper Cuppaidge said: “Our growth has been phenomenal. To keep up with the demand for our distinctive beers we’ve had to look at expanding our brewing capacity and team. AB InBev is going to be our strategic partner, helping us maintain the character and quality of our beers, while giving us access to the investment we need to drive Camden to being ever more successful at home and abroad.

“Opportunities like this come rarely. We believe we must have the ambition to grab this opportunity and turn Camden Town Brewery, and the quality it stands for, from being an outstanding London brewer to being a world famous one.”

Iain Newell, European Director of Specialities & Craft, AB InBev, said: “We have a passion for great beer. Camden Town is a creative business with a great range of brands that will complement our existing portfolio. We will support their ambitious plans for the future, using our expertise and global distribution network to help them get their great beer to more people.”

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The Town of Malt

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Last week, you may recall, that for the weekly beer in art last week I featured some sketches by French artist Gustave Doré. Those sketches were preliminary works that eventually were turned into engravings that became part of a larger work known as Doré’s London: A Pilgrimage, published in 1872. The final engravings appeared in Chapter 16 of the book, titled “The Town of Malt.” Digging a little further, I stumbled upon the text of Chapter 16, along with the six engravings that accompanied it. It’s an interesting time capsule and look backwards into what brewing was like in late 17th century London. Enjoy.

CHAPTER XVI: THE TOWN OF MALT

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In the Brewery

Among the earliest of risers in London are those who supply it with its beer. Having seen the opening of Covent Garden Market on a summer morning (and there is not a more striking picture by the banks of the Thames), stroll along the Strand and Fleet Street, alive with newsboys and newsmen, and home-returning compositors; through Thames Street, over Southwark Bridge, to Park Street. Your nose will lead you to the town of Malt …

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Mixing the Malt

… and Hops. The massive drays are out; the prodigious draymen are arrayed in their leather, that would gall any limbs but theirs of Titan build ; the stately horses that are the astonishment of the foreigner and the pride of the English brewer are tossing their noble heads and pawing the ground. The barrels are rolling and swinging in all directions. Thirsty London is being attended to, with a will: and with perfect order, under the control of matutinal clerks and overseers. Before the ordinary tradesman has touched his shutters, lumbering processions of heavily laden drays are debouching on various quarters of London, bearing the famous “entire” to scores of customers.

Within the gates are the government houses of the town of Malt and Hops, in which there are upwards of forty officials, who direct the coming and going, the filling and repairing, the brewing and selling of a rolling army of something like eighty thousand barrels. Their domain covers an acre of land, and comprises several streets bridged by light iron bridges, that look slight as spider-webs from the pavements.

A journey through the town of Malt and Hops is heavy work. The departments are many, and are all spacious. They follow in well-considered sequence. The mashing, the boiling, the cooling, the fermenting, the cleansing, the barrel-filling, the storing, the despatching, are so many departments of the government; with a sustaining aroma holding all in one atmosphere and which keeps the mind in an unbroken train of thought even when contemplating the stables where the famous horses are kept as daintily as in the Royal Mews. Perhaps the first startling scene in the round is the mash-tun.

Mashing is the elementary process of beer making, and the object …

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St. Paul’s from the Brewery Bridge

… of these strange workers with wooden spades is to mix the malt thoroughly with the water. The result is an amber liquid, called wort, lakes of which we proceed to view, lying placidly in tanks. During its progression to perfect beer the sweet wort grows sour. On its way it is pumped up from the cool lakes into gigantic copper boilers, and boiled with great care, for here the experienced and learned brewer shows himself. The boiling satisfactorily done, the wort flows out into broad lakes, airily situated, where it can become …

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The Great Vats

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Brewer’s Men

… rapidly cool, without getting sour; and then it gradually subsides into these prodigious gyle tuns, about which staircases are ranged, and in which you would have to drag carefully for the body of an elephant. In these towers, against which men look like flies, the wort ferments and we have porter, or “entire.” I should explain that “entire” is a combination of the qualities of three beers, that, in primitive London brewing days, were made separately, and mixed from different barrels in the customer’s glass. Hence the “Barclay, Perkins and Co.’s Entire” that is all over England, and the painting of which upon gaudy signboards occupies a distinct department in the town of Malt.

Looking over London from one of the high-perched galleries that traverse the streets of these mighty brewers’ realm, with St. Paul’s dominating the view from the north, our guide gently interposes the figure of Mr. Thrale, and his illustrious friend, that Londoner among Londoners, Samuel Johnson. We are upon classic ground. Where the coopers are overhauling hundreds of damaged barrels, and giving them their proper adjustment of hoops; where the red-capped draymen are gossiping in groups; where the enormous butts are ranged; where the smiths are shoeing the colossal horses, and where the 300 feet of stables stretches; Samuel Johnson lounged and talked, -and worked at his dictionary, under the protecting friendship of Mr. Thrale, then owner of the brewery. The rough old Doctor was executor to the will under which Mr. Thrale’s property passed into the families of its present owners, who have realised his description of its capabilities by extending it until it has become one of the representative industries of the world. “We are not,” said executor Johnson “to sell a parcel of boilers and vats, but the potentiality of growing rich beyond the dream of avarice.” The boilers and vats of the city of Malt realised £135,000, even when Messrs. Barclay and Perkins bought it.

How much would the boilers and vats: the drays and barrels, realise to-day?

The potentiality of growing rich beyond the dream of avarice may not have been reached even now by the firm; but a good step along the doctor’s highway has been taken. If “he who drinks beer thinks beer,” this must be a beer-thinking age, for how many foaming tankards take their laughing rise in this town of Malt! How many hop-yards to feed these vats and lakes? A humorous speculator, who accompanied us, and sat in a little office where we finally tasted the various brews, suggested, …

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The Brewer’s Dray

“Yes, and how many temperance advocates do these stupendous men and horses keep going, the ungrateful varlets!”

“There’s a good deal of ‘talkee’ yet to be done, sir,” a sensible drayman said to us, flirting a flower between his lips as he spoke, “before they teach English workmen that there’s sin and wickedness in a pint of honest beer.”

And with this he set his heavy dray in motion.

Beer Birthday: Stonch

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Today is the 30th birthday of Jeff Bell, whose alter ego is Stonch, one of England’s best bloggers. He also runs a pub, The Gunmakers, in Clerkenwell, a village in the heart of London. When I was in the UK late last summer, I stopped by to meet Jeff on my way back from Burton-on-Trent, slogging my way from the train station with my rollerbag in tow through the darkened streets of London, weaving this way and that until I finally made my way to his pub. It was great to finally meet him in person since we’d been corresponding for so long, and I had a fun, albeit short, visit, which I thought I’d share on the occasion of his birthday. Join me in wishing Stonch a very happy birthday.

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Jeff Bell, a.k.a. Stonch, at The Gunmakers Pub in central London.

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The pub’s centerpiece mirror opposite the bar.

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I had a wonderful Theakston’s Old Peculiar on cask, an entirely different beer from the bottled version. And Stonch had some terrific cheese to pair with it that was delicious.

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But for Jeff it was a work night, so I left him to it, and set off on the long journey to stay with one of my old best friends near Greenwich, who over ten years ago moved to London after marrying an Englishwoman, Alex.