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Everything's Coming Up Roses

Added: Sunday, May 1st 2005

The Bread and Roses pub had organised a beer festival that featured most of the beers that have won the Champion Beer of Britain competition since the 1970s and I had selected six of them for a tasting and seminar in an upstairs room.

Bread and Roses must be unique - a pub owned and run by local trade unions. There are thousands of working men's clubs, many of them with union connections. But I do not know of any other pubs, open to the general public rather than members, which are run in this way.

Until 1996, the pub was called the Bowyer Arms, named not, I suspect, after a certain pugnacious footballer. It was, in the shorthand of the Campaign for Real Ale, a "fizz pub" , which meant it sold only keg beer. Then Battersea and Wandsworth Trades Union Council bought it. The council also owns the Workers Beer Company that acts as a wholesaler and supplies beer to such major events as the Glastonbury Festival.

Bread and Roses has a comfortable main bar, a conservatory at the back, where the beer festival was staged, and large upstairs rooms, one of which is the head office of the trades council. The walls are decorated with photos of trade union events from Victorian times to the present day, along with some striking Canadian oil paintings of union struggles.

A large and receptive audience joined me in tasting Cottage Norman's Conquest, two Woodforde's beer, Norfolk Nog and Wherry Best, Mauldon's Black Adder, Tim Taylor's Landlord and Ind Coope Burton Ale. With the exception of Belgium, it would be difficult to think of another country in the world where just six beers offered such variety of aromas and tastes. I explained how darker grains give colour and flavour to beer and, in particular, the coffee and chocolate character in Black Adder that comes from the use of heavily roasted black malts.