New pub that's Young at heart
Added: Friday, August 6th 2021
There’s a Young’s pub in St Albans – and about time, too, when you consider the long history between the London brewer and the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), which has its home base in the city.
When CAMRA was founded in 1971, Young’s in Wandsworth, South London, was one of a small handful of brewers who stood out against the tide of heavily promoted keg beers foist on the drinking public by newly formed giant national producers.
Regional and family brewers were closing or being taken over in droves by the national brewers. But Young’s, a family brewery dating from 1831, held out against the tide of fizzy beer due to the determination of the chairman, John Young, to stay true to traditional values with cask-conditioned ale.
As a result, Young’s took on legendary status among beer lovers who would flock to the Ram Brewery to witness beer being delivered by horse-drawn drays and sample the hoppy beers in fine pubs throughout London.
And now the two key beers – Bitter and Special – can be enjoyed in Alban’sWell in St Peter’s Street on part of the old British Home Stores site. The pub and restaurant serve people staying at the adjacent Travelodge in Drovers’ Way but it’s also open to the general public.
Be warned – in an age of “craft beer” packed with citrus fruit from American hops, the Young’s beers are uncompromisingly bitter. The brewery was close to the Kent hop fields and used the finest Fuggles and Goldings hops that deliver spicy and peppery notes to the beers. The barley malt used was Maris Otter from East Anglia, considered to deliver the finest biscuit and honey notes.
They are brews that have had a peripatetic existence in recent years. When John Young died, his family decided to leave brewing in 2006 and just run their pubs. Production of the beers was moved to Charles Wells in Bedford: the former Young’s head brewer, Ken Don, spent several months in Bedford making sure the beers brewed there were identical to the ones he’d made in South London.
Then the wheel spun again and in 2017 Charles Wells sold its Eagle Brewery to the national brewer Marston’s. Bitter and Special, now branded London Original (3.7 per cent) and London Special (4.5 per cent) remain in Bedford and I was delighted to hear from Eagle head brewer Chris Reid that he has remained faithful to Maris Otter, Fuggles and Goldings.
You can sample the beers in Alban’s Well along with a range of craft beers and lagers. The venue is not so much a pub as a bar and restaurant, with many tables set for dining but you can drop in a beer without eating. There are tables at the front on St Peter’s Street and in the passage that leads to Drovers’ Way.
The emphasis on food comes with a large menu. As well as meat and fish there’s a sizeable list of plant-based dishes for vegetarians and vegans but I won’t say more about the food for fear Becky Alexander will run me out of town.
If you would prefer to sample the beers in a more traditional pub atmosphere, then head for Young’s splendid pub in Radlett, the Red Lion.
•Brewing has returned to the former Young’s site in Wandsworth. Duncan Sambrook gave up a career in the City to launch his brewery in 2008 in Battersea to fill the gap left by Young’s. He has achieved great success with his beers Wandle Ale, Junction Ale and Powerhouse Porter.
The old Young’s site has been incorporated into the Ram Quarter and Duncan has moved there – lock, stock and barrel. Visitors can sample his beers, enjoy a pizza and take a tour of the site that includes memorabilia from the time of Young’s.
It’s good to find beer being made again at London’s oldest brewing site. 1 Bellwether Lane, The Ram Quarter, London SW18 1UR. www.sambrooksbrewery.co.uk
First published in the Herts Advertiser, 5 August 2021