A short history of the Beer Circle
A Connoisseur could perhaps be described as someone who enjoys and appreciates the best of what is available.
However, supposing it is believed that what is available could be bettered.
This was indeed the opinion of many beer drinkers in the 60s when commercial beer was showing a considerable decline in quality under the influence of the accountants in breweries, in their attempts to swell profits for shareholders.
Although accountants have influenced beer quality, in fairness, one has to also recognise the effects of governmental taxation on commercial beer alcohol levels. The reduction in ingredients and gravities subsequently introduced by brewers, was instigated to counteract this taxation.
Nevertheless when Keg Beers appeared on the market, many considered it was time for a revolt at what was being inflicted on the consumer. An organisation known as the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) came into being which initiated the start of a change in what was produced, by naming good beers and criticising the bad ones, Their membership grew and popularised Pubs that sold what CAMRA considered good beers. This caused commercial brewers to sit up and take notice.
The same opinion of commercial beer was shared by many who were convinced they could do better as amateur brewers.
Because in 1963 the then chancellor of the Exchequer Reginald Maudling (bless him) had removed the archaic laws preventing amateurs from making beer for their own purpose in their own homes, this in turn fostered the introduction of beer brewing into the already established amateur winemaker groups. Although historically brewing beer used to be a craft familiar to the woman of the home, who produced ale just as easily as she prepared and cooked food, now that it was again legal, it was a craft that needed to be painstakingly re-learnt. At the time it became legal again there was very little literature available on the subject, for an amateur home brewer.
The number of members brewing beer in any winemaking club was small, as the appeal of making country wines from readily available fruits was greater than making beer requiring special ingredients which were more difficult to acquire.
Some of this small band of enthusiastic brewers scattered amongst the winemaking clubs decided they could improve their brewing skills and achieve more if they got together and formed their own group for beer brewers only. Their aim being to eventually produce something better than was available commercially.
This was the philosophy behind the concept of the Durden Park Beer Circle.
The group started its life in 1971 and takes it’s name from its first meeting place; a tin hut acting as the cricket pavilion on the Durden Park cricket ground in Southall in Middlesex. We were kindly allowed to use the hut, free of charge, once a month for our meetings. The pavilion was later rebuilt into a much nicer venue with a proper bar which, despite our hobby we endeavoured to support and managed to influence which commercial beers were sold there. Our current venue 'Perivale Community Centre' in West London has not discouraged members from driving from as far afield as Bagshot, Luton, Reading and Aylesbury to attend our monthly meetings. Such is the dedication we have.
From it’s beginning, the pooling of knowledge enabled the group to improve it’s expertise quickly. This has lead to a world-wide acceptance of our brewing expertise, which is reflected in the books we have published and distributed to many parts of the world, over the last 33 years. It has also enabled its members to feedback and teach other interested potential beer brewers in their own “Mother” wine clubs.
The books we publish are intended to help and encourage all levels of brewers to aspire to making top class beers. We are aware that several commercial brewers also have copies of our books in their libraries, and we know of at least one commercial brewer who has used modified versions of our recipes.
The top class beers we produce are not only due to our expertise but are a combination of using modern techniques and high quality of brewing ingredients. The historical recipes in our books extracted from brewery archives countrywide have been re-compiled for small scale brewing. We have had to take into account the quality of modern day ingredients such as the alpha acid content of modern hops and the yield from current malts and in some cases even produced our own malts where there is no modern day equivalent. The quality the beers we produce based on these archives serves to remind us of the sad decline of many of the commercial beers available today.
The research we do into these Old Beers going back over 200 years, involves the whole membership who make and test the recipes we evolve, and the final recipes are only published, when we are satisfied they represent the original beers as closely as we think they would have been at the time. Some of these beers have become classics amongst the membership, such as the 1750 and 1850 Porters which we believe to be so good that members make them frequently for their own cellars. Picture shows two members brewing at Brewlab, Sunderland
Although we continue to research brewery archives our aim is to produce and evaluate quality beers of any type (both ancient and modern) and to help others to do so as well. We are committed to full-mash brewing but realise that 'kit-brews' may be a first step in the process of becoming an accomplished craft brewer. We will always welcome new members who wish to expand their knowledge from this basic level and we will provide the encouragement for them to take the next step forward.
Whether you are novice or an experienced craft brewer why not come along and join a group of like-minded enthusiasts?
If you have already ventured into brewing and would like to join others enjoying the same hobby we would like to invite you to come along to our meetings.
Our meetings are always on the third Monday of the month at 8 pm at the Perivale Community Centre.
Scenes from a typical circle meeting
For details of the programme click here.
For further enquiries about membership or other enquiries please contact:
Durden Park Beer Circle,
Perivale Community Centre,
Middlesex, UB6 7NP.