Young’s at heart!!

28 Mar

Each time I walk past a Young’s pub these days, my heart sinks just a little bit. For those of an older generation, they can probably remember Young’s stance as a defender of cask ale in its darkest moments. I myself am not old enough to remember how John Young dug in, stiff upper lip boys, Dunkirk spirit and all that, and defended the cause. However, it was one more thing that appealed to me about the brewery’s story.

Young’s brewery was one with a lot of history. Located on the River Wandle, a stone’s throw from the Thames at Wandsworth, brewing there dated back to the early 1500s, and the video they used to show as an introduction to brewery tours suggested that Queen Elizabeth I herself had stopped off for a pint or three on her way to Westminster. It could be true, Lord knows she enjoyed a good quaff. It fell into the Young family in the early 1800s and remained so until 2006 when all brewing was moved to Bedford after a merger with one of the country’s least exciting brewers Charles Wells. A hole has been left in the heart of Wandsworth ever since. Young’s is now just another pub company, while Charles Wells deal with the brewing.

The brewery was full of stories and little quirks. It had a little farm with ducks and geese on it and had kept its stables as working stables until relatively recently, keeping up the old traditions such as delivering its ale to the pubs in the local area by horse and dray. All this, bear in mind, happened in the centre of Europe’s largest city and it wasn’t until the phenomenon of road rage, when rabid drivers started attacking the horses, that it eventually stopped.

When I lived in Wandsworth, a short walk from the brewery, most of the surrounding pubs were tied to the brewery and the beer in them was, as you might expect, impeccable. You may have thought this led to a limited choice of beer, which in one respect it did, but there was the added advantage of being able to buy the full Young’s range of ales, plus their export and pilsner lagers from these pubs. Yes, most of these were in bottles but then pubs with 10 handpulls were not exactly ten a penny back then. Being young and frisky at the time, I didn’t go to these places for a rip-roaring night on the town, it was more on those quiet nights when you sit down and enjoy a few beers and chat with mates. The choice was always a good one and I can remember Ordinary, Special, Winter Warmer, Oatmeal Stout, Old Nick, Ram Rod, Christmas Pudding Ale, Kew Brew, Champion, Special London Ale, Double Chocolate Stout, Dirty Dicks and maybe a stray Waggledance, all being sold behind the bar in the amazing gin palace of a pub that was and is the Spread Eagle. Other pubs also had an extensive range with take home deals. Great memories but sadly, no more.

The complaints that the beers had changed their character after moving from London to Bedford are well-documented in various places around the internet and I’m not one who thinks they’ve got worse. I drink their beers less and less these days anyway, gone is the blind loyalty I had to the old brewery and it’s a more exciting brewing world out there anyway. Winter Warmer and Special London Ale still stand up in my eyes but the charm has gone. Nevertheless, it’s still beer.

Young’s new lease of life as a pub company on the other hand has been a little more disconcerting. My main gripe with them is the interior designers they have employed to work on their pub estate!! All the new interiors seem to have come out of the A-Z of How to Strip a Pub of All Character and Charm by Lawrence LLewelyn Bowen. I walk past pub after pub that could have been updated extremely well and still screamed class and quality at a more well-heeled clientele but have instead been treated with a cheap-looking Changing Rooms makeover. Garish wallpaper and nasty obtrusive chandeliers. Horrible pinks and blues squashed together or just plain stripping of everything that ever was from the place. All of which will probably need updating in a year’s time. It’s no wonder my romantic vision has evaporated.

 The brewery site in Wandsworth is yet to be rebuilt but there are plans to build a modern town centre on the spot while retaining some of the older buildings. This is to include a microbrewery, which apparently has already been in limited operation. You can see a video of the plans along with some corporate twaddle from an uncomfortable man in a suit and an architect in an obligatory body warmer. You get glimpses of the old coppers and parts of the old stable too.

I really hope their plans do what they say but, to be honest, we’re not much good at creating either public space or buildings that will look good well into the future in our towns and cities. At least we haven’t been for a long time and as Confucius once said ‘When uncomfortable man in new suit speak, don’t hold your breath you mug!’

I swear that was Confucius, or was it from Monkey Magic?

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