“It’s truly a 21st Century City now”, John observed. The evening before he’d gone for a walk with his wife down to see the ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ – the display of poppies at the Tower, before they were removed. He and his wife had moved to the city from the west country almost 25 years before – not exactly the streets of gold perhaps, but when you’re from Plymouth you know the buildings must have a little more architectural merit than the post war concrete blocks that make up the port’s current urban skyline. And now we sat in a bar at St Pancras station, discussing business, but also reflecting on how this station, unbelievably threatened with demolition 40 or so years before was now a thrumming hive of connectivity and architectural dreaming writ large. A metaphor for the Capital’s transformation over the same few decades?
This same stretch of the Euston Road was certainly something of a journey from me. When I first worked in London, I was part of an itinerant ‘hit squad’ sales team, selling beer to off licenses throughout London from our base at the Posthouse on Carburton Street (I later learnt that it was ‘the’ prostitutes hotel but never saw any evidence to support this. Today it’s a very respectable Holiday Inn). I drive down, through the warren of streets around Swiss Cottage, along by Regents Park and down Albany Street past barracks and then menacing tenement style blocks and boozers to the top of the Euston Road. Although there were some grand buildings, Euston was squalid, St Pancras run down and Kings Cross best avoided. Today, hipsters are moving out to here and to Somers Town. The off licences we called on were nothing to be proud about: hundreds of Unwins, ‘Super’food and Wine (later, when running the London territory, my first sales call on a Monday was at a Superfoods on Shaftesbury Avenue, where there was already a queue formed before opening for the first chilled can of Tennent’s Super of the day). Pubs were either touristy or showy, or – in another sweep of generalisation – brewery tied, unimaginative and typically, pretty ragged. Grand Met and Whitbread carved up the market, the others fought for scraps. Most bars carried one of a couple of ranges of beer dictated by the national brewers. A foreign, imported lager was met with a surge of excitement. God, we even got excited about alcopops.
It may be stating the obvious to point out how much things have changed. But it’s worth underlining that this change is not simply dramatic, it’s revolutionary. Seeing small brewer IPAs or Porters on draught is nowadays nothing new, rotating casks with dizzying frequency. But for the same now to happen with kegs – and with the lager too – has really changed the rules, particularly if you are Carlsberg, Fosters or Carling.
Today, not seeing a Camden beer on the bar would be unusual down here, and the supporting cast is growing – London Fields, Brew By Numbers, Beavertown, a fridge full of Kernel – gosh, you’ll be as familiar with the beers as I am. And sure, not all are to my taste, but at least now I get the chance to try and swoon or gag from a huge and growing range of interesting beers, an option that wasn’t open to me in my 20s.
As an infrequent traveller to Larndon today, I get to see the city changes in stages not as an evolutionary curve but as the steps of change. And I get to keep my eyes open for the growing number of beer shops that would put Superfood to shame and make my memory of 9am super strength lagers a distant, and best forgotten, memory.
© Beer Tinted Spectacles, 2014