Warning. May not be suitable for those of a nervous disposition, dealing as it does with the destruction of large quantities of alcohol.
Now hands up if you like a drink.
I thought so.
How many of you would class Hofmeister lager as one of your favourite tipples?
Aha! Trick question, as Hofmeister no longer exists. The low strength low flavour lager was axed by its manfacturer, brewing conglomerate Scottish and Newcastle in 2003. But it reminds me of the early eighties when I worked in a ream wine store situated at the top end of Bloomsbury, Central London.
If you head north through Tavistock Square, pass the British Medical Association, then turn right between The New Ambassadors and the County Hotels, you come upon Woburn Walk. As if you’ve stepped into a timewarp you are transported from the noise, grime and traffic on Upper Woburn Place to the most wonderful parade of Georgian shops, designed by Thomas Cubitt and built in 1822 as London’s first pedestrianised street. This is where the shop stood.
As the business established itself one of the things it did was to begin to take on the sourcing and delivery of barrels to naughty West End publicans who were ‘buying in’. It went like this. A landlord of a ‘tied house’ (Brewery owned/Fosters one of its beers/supplies all products) would ‘buy in’ say 20 x 11 gallon barrels of Fosters lager at from us at a knock down cash and carry price, we would buy the barrels from the wholesalers and deliver them at a convenient time. Usually in the dead of night just before a stock check. The barrels were hooked up to the pumps and sold at brewery/pub prices. The landlord then simply had to gauge how much extra beer he could make ‘disappear’ without arousing the suspicions of the brewery and of course make sure that everything tallied at stock check time… And pocket the difference.
Clearly something the brewery would take a very dim view of if they knew.
This is why we were often to be found at ridiculous hours of the morning or night in a transit van speeding through the sleeping city to a rendezvous in some dodgy boozer or other. Our modus operandi once we had arrived, was to use the shortest route possible from van to ‘away from prying eyes’, whether this was the cellar, bar or other storage area. We were no draymen, there was no finesse in our methods. But what we lacked in finesse we made up for in speed.
One such delivery took us at the crack of dawn to The Duke of Argyll on Brewer street, Soho (if memory serves correct) It was the first time we had been there, and the publican looked nervous. He soon started getting in the way ‘supervising’ his delivery of half a dozen 11gal. barrels of Carlsberg and one 18gal. Hofmeister. Now despite being skinny as a whippet I was quite strong in those days. I could lift a full 11gal keg, but the 18gal. was beyond me. The publican had the cellar trap door open in the street. We were carrying the barrels to the cellar edge and dropping them down onto a thick hemp mat.
Time came for the big Hofmeister, Two of us got it off the van, then the publican insited we tie in on a rope, like the brewery draymen and lower it into the cellar, reluctantly we did so and rolled it to the edge ready take its weight. In a scene reminicent of film ‘The Dambusters’ when Barnes Wallace’s spinning bomb is succefully launched, the steel cask slipped out of its rope sling and went turning in freefall down into the cellar … where it bounced and bounced again. Now, the cellar was so arranged that the barrels were all out of the way. Beneath the cellar door and its vicinity was where the bottled beers and mixers were stacked in great towers to about five feet in height. The bouncing Hofmeister headed straight into these stacks and with a deafening roar demolished the towers of crates containing bottled beers and mixers. There was beer and broken glass everywhere.
The smell was incredible. We were up to our ankles in beer, but oddly mine host seemed quite unconcerned about the breakages, in fact he was quite cavalier about it. Once the financial transaction had taken place he grinned at us.
‘Well there’s no point in crying over spilt beer’
I can only assume that he was so relieved to get his barrels in that he wasn’t bothered about the bottles, which he could claim were down to breakage. Catastrophic breakage at that.
One other thought about the German-sounding Hofmeister, which had always been brewed in the UK. What did it say about drinking culture, advertising and marketing in 80’s Britain. By 2003 Hofmeister sales had plummeted to just 4,000 barrels a year. Sales of Foster’s (which you couldn’t give away in 1980) had soared 30% . For Hofmeister, Scottish and Newcastle went with Ad agency Boase Massimi Pollitt’s (‘For Mash Get Smash’ and It’s Frothy Man’) who conjured up George the Bear. The ads featured the tagline “For great lager, follow the bear” Hmmm at 3.2% it was piss weak and up against the likes of Stella, Becks, Budwieser, other imports and a burgeoning Real Ale market.
Bad taste. In more ways than one.
© Andy Daly 2015