In this post I will mention a beer, or rather two, whose taste and availability were notable in the period of my active visits to London, 1985-2000. For the most part I’ll leave the detailed history of Courage for another day, but will make some points to assist the narrative.
In this period Courage had many public houses in London, from my rambles seemingly concentrated centre and east. In contrast the west parts of town tended to feature Fuller’s and Young’s houses. I don’t address here the actual numbers but more appearances to one constantly on foot in different quarters.
Courage beers were brewed in this period near Reading, at Worton Grange aka Berkshire brewery, operational from 1980. It replaced (or ultimately) Simmond’s historic brewery in Reading. Simmond’s had merged with Courage & Barclay in 1960, Courage and Barclay having combined five years earlier.
Scottish & Newcastle acquired Courage in 1995, hence Scottish Courage. Berkshire brewery was closed in 2010. At some point, 2010 or maybe before, Courage beers were brewed up north in Tadcaster at John Smith’s.
Possibly between 1985 and 2000 some Courage was brewed at George’s brewery in Bristol.
Those reading may have more details, this is a high level review from my understanding.
Courage Best Bitter and Courage Director’s in this period were flavourful and notably fruity. It’s a taste not seen as much today, due I think to long brewing in one location with a distinctive, often multi-strain, house yeast.
Director’s is still brewed, at the Eagle Brewery (formerly Charles Wells) of Marston’s that is now in a joint venture with Carlsberg. I have not had it on cask in many years. I did have it in the can a couple of years ago and was disappointed, the richness of that version 20 years ago, not to mention the draught in pubs, seemed lacking.
Still, I need to re-acquaint especially with the draught and will do so when I can next visit Britain.
In 1985-2000 the cask beers were almost a reddish or garnet, fruity as noted with a fine English bitterness. Different sources state that Target, Fuggles, and Goldings have been used in the brewing, possibly only Target now. However it was (is) done, the result was that Seville orange + English arbour taste of classic English bitter, a sub-set anyway. Nothing tropical-like in the modern hop way though.
Maltiness was stressed, especially in Director’s. Best Bitter was and is a weaker, lower-cost beer more suited to sessions.
Directors’ Bitter quite possibly was a direct link to the naturally-conditioned beers of Alton Brewery in Hampshire in 1903. Courage in London bought Alton’s to expand its pale ale offerings. Brian Glover in his The Lost Beers and Breweries of Britain tells the tale well, see here.
Muntons, the malt and malting ingredient specialists, offer Courage Director’s in homebrew kit form, and it would be interesting to try this. The kits employ liquid malt extract.
As to the grain beers at the breweries, again one reads different things. I don’t think Directors was or is all-malt, although in 1903 it may well have been.
Some sources state maltose syrup or barley syrup (maybe the same thing) is an adjunct, with most of the grist pale and amber malt. However the recipe ran or does now, the beers when I had them were first rate if properly dispensed. The canned versions were pretty good, too.
Davy’s Wallop at the Davy Wine Bars (London) was said to be Courage Director’s and very good it was.
The term “decent” in the tube poster was typical British understatement. This style is not as evident in U.K. advertising today but styles change in marketing, as in everything. (In fact 19th century ads for British beer had their own style: brash but often with an elaborate courtesy. They were kind of a cross between 1950-2000 and where we are today).
I’ll leave the last word to Muntons. Their description, no doubt supplied by the current brand owner, is exactly how I recall the taste in the London Courage houses:
A rich, chestnut hued, full-bodied brew boasting a clean, bitter taste balanced with burnt, orange peel notes and a dry-hop aroma and flavour…