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A life less ordinary: thoughts on the Young’s closure

Trevor Gulliver, founder of St John restaurant in Smithfield and the Fire Station in Waterloo, waxes lyrical on the closure of Young’s brewery and fears for the future of a much-loved pint of bitter.

"When we opened the Fire Station in Waterloo all those years ago, the Eagle in Farringdon was to prove that there was the possibility of a different future for the pub. We, on our part, with Dan Evans working in the open kitchen, the big spaces, good wines and beers, happy staff, I hope, showed that old public buildings could be put to new use and were more fun than what the pub had become.

"John Young, maybe to flatter, told me that we were his biggest free trade account in London. We were delighted – independent breweries were under threat. Young’s was later to be besieged by the NZ raider Ron Brierley. Later Steve Goodyear who had joined from one of the big commercial brewers to take on sales and marketing bemoaned to me that old JY still would not hear of his bitter being called ‘ordinary’ – everyone else did. Young’s was to many the quintessential London pint: bitter, no-nonsense, refreshing against the London dust, a pleasure.

"Young’s survived and prospered, as did its rival Fuller’s. Fuller’s recently took over Gales brewery and closed it down. Now Young’s is merging with Charles Wells (they of UK Red Stripe fame, amongst other traditional brews) of Bedford to form a new company operating on a new greenfield site in Bedfordshire.

"My sons had noted recently that we had not seen the Shire horses for a little while; now we know why. There has been a brewery on the banks of the Wandle at Wandsworth for over 400 years and Young’s was at the heart of the town. It may be that various extended family members or incentivised directors want the cash that the site developed would spew. The wheels were not coming off and what is lost cannot be replaced. Unless, of course, someone comes up with the idea of a local brewery: lots of small, independent shareholders who are in it only for the beer, serving local ales, no food miles with horses, using craftsman brewers, local acting yeasts – but then again, Young’s have tried that.

"One thing is for sure: Young’s Ordinary could become exactly what it says on the label."

© db 1st August 2006

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