Today, during the 40th Cambridge Beer Festival, I served a man who told me he was at the very first one, back in 1974 when it was held at the Corn Exchange.
What was it like back then, I asked.
“It was the start of something bloody brilliant”
“They ran out of beer and my mate had to drive a truck to Young’s brewery in London to bring some back. He can’t drive a truck anymore. He couldnt drive one then”
He talked about some pubs in the area at that time.
“Pubs didn’t have the pipe cleaning equipment they have now. They had a little sponge they’d shove in the pipe and then force it through with cold water. Sometimes, not reading the instructions, they’d put pipe cleaning fluid in the pipes and leave it overnight – it was supposed to be washed out after an hour”
“There wasn’t much choice of beers. It was keg Double Diamond or Watney, or some terrible local homebrewed ales. If you walked into a pub that had Greene King beers, you thought you’d reached the promised land”
Cellarmanship was apparently lacking at a local football club bar.
“Keg beer was indestructible back then. At the end of the football season, they knew how to look after the grass, but the beer was just left there until the next season started. They had lovely grass…”
The infamous Watneys Red Barrel was referred to.
“Well, Watneys Red Barrel was weak. You could drown in it and never get drunk.”
“The winter of 1963 was a harsh one, but although the water in the taps was still running, the landlord’s barrel of Watneys froze and all that came out was a bit of alcohol because there weren’t much of that”
As he walked off, pint in hand, he turned and said “I’ll be coming back here to the next forty Cambridge Beer Festivals”. I’ll drink to that.