Young's Brewery leaves Wandsworth

The announcement that Young‘s is to close its Ram Brewery in Wandsworth prompted Time Out to remember his first job in the capital (as a toilet cleaner at a Young‘s pub) before taking a tour of Wandsworth‘s boozers – all in the name of research, of course


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    Carted off: the end of south London's legendar

    They wouldn’t let me in my Brewery. ‘There’s lot of people here who are going to lose their jobs,’ said the Young’s spokesman over the phone, ‘it might be insensitive to have the press in.’ Perhaps, but not as insensitive as making them redundant. When London brewing institution Young and Co announced last month that it would be closing its famous Ram Brewery in Wandsworth town and moving in with its new partner, Bedford brewers Charles Wells, the Campaign for Real Ale declared itself ‘shocked’ that the brewery was leaving Wandsworth. But I wasn’t surprised. Ever since Young’s announced a ‘review of the options for Ram Brewery’ two years ago it was obvious they would be going. Wandsworth is a boomtown for property developers and selling up will make millions for Young’s and its shareholders, directors and new partners in Bedford (£80 or £100 million depending which City analyst you care to trust). Wandsworth Council will do well out of it as well. Leader Edward Lister salivated: ‘It is early days but the council will want to ensure the listed buildings on the site remain and that any new development is of a high quality that will enhance the town centre.’

    Humphrey Langridge first brewed on the site in 1581 – long beforethere was a town centre – but my personal involvement began in 1984 with my first job in London: barman, cellarman and toilet cleaner at the Duke’s Head in Putney.


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    Laid-off workers wait to get bought a round by Hodges

    As my contemporaries crawled through cocaine drifts in the Wag Club toilets I was tapping up barrels and contemplating the play of light through a tasting glass 15 feet beneath the Putney pavement. Young’s, as I soon worked out, was wonderful beer. Clean and simple, pleasingly bitter but lacking the flowery overtones that emanate from its great rival, Fullers, across the river in Chiswick, it spoke of it’s terroir as much as a burgundy or a Bordeaux. And the terroir was south London: Young’s was sharp, savvy, a bit full of it and distrustful of pretension. If you wanted a pint of ordinary bitter, you asked for a pint of Ordinary (3.7 per cent). If you wanted something a bit more special then you ordered a pint of Special (4.5 per cent). There was no Dog’s Knob Bitter or Old Tub Thumper Ale with Young’s. The only animal mentioned was the brewery Ram championed in Ram Rod (5 per cent), the bottled ale that was mixed with a half pint of Special to create Ram and Special, to drink which was to publically declare you had come of age in south London.

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    Sign of the times, Young's billboa

    The nearest Young’s came to Sunday supplement whimsy was Winter Warmer – a dark, slightly oily, beer to be drunk with slight wonderment that so much tang could be forced into your mouth. Beyond that there was Old Nick, a fearsome 7.2 per cent barley wine (invariably drunk by old women as a pick me up – occasionally accompanied with a port and brandy which would certainly pick them up and then throw them right down again) and the classic Light Ale, its character defined by the Kentish Goldings and Fuggles hops that gave most of the Ram Brewery’s output its flavour. Young’s beers were so astringent in their hoppiniess they were almost sour. These were grown up, serious beers that played with your perceptions; they were watery yet dry, understated but powerful. In the mid-’80s, visits from the chairman John Young, were a little like the arrival of royalty. ‘Young’s,’ he’d say, ‘is a family brewery,’ as I made sure his pint of Ordinary came from the best barrel. I never did serve him a bad pint but now it is John Young, rather than his beer, that has soured the family tradition that started when his great-great grandfather Charles Young took over the brewery in 1831.

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