The Bar Man, by Jeff Hoyle, January 8, 2016

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I was browsing through the King’s Lynn Forum website recently, and came across a series of photographs of the Spotted Cow, a former pub that was located on County Court Road, near the entrance to the Walks. I never visited the place myself, as it closed in 1967, but the building was still there awaiting demolition when I moved down to Norfolk in 1980. The pictures confirmed my memory that the pub was once a Morgan’s House. Morgans was one of the great names of Norfolk brewing and once had breweries in Norwich and King’s Lynn, but went into liquidation in 1961, being taken over by Bullards and Steward & Patteson who shared the tied estate between them, before themselves becoming part of the Watney Empire. It is not an unusual tale, with hundreds of breweries around the country meeting a similar fate, consigning many legendary beers to the dustbin of history.

Or so I thought. Recently on a trip to the northeast, I called in a pub and had a pint of Double Maxim. This name dates back to 1901 and celebrates the return of a Maxim gun detachment, commanded by Major Ernest Vaux, from the Boer war. For many years it was brewed by Vaux (no coincidence. Earnest was one of the family) in Sunderland, but the brewery closed in 1999. Two former directors of the brewery decided to set up their own operation and bought the brand name and revived the beer. Look around and you will find a number of defunct beers brought back to life, at least in name. Some are created by former employees, as in the case of Maxim, whilst others aspire to taste like the original, using the same recipes. Shipstone’s bitter in Nottingham is a case in point, having been revived after a 22 year gap.

Do they taste like the original brews? It’s hard to tell, with memory of taste being rather unreliable. It’s hard enough for me to recognise a well-known beer in a blind tasting, never mind being asked to comment on the authenticity of a brew I last consumed 25 years ago.

One thing works in the brewer’s favour. All around there are reminders of the name. In Nottingham the old Shipstone brewery still towers over New Basford, whilst etched glass windows, and old signs still adorn the front of many of their former pubs, providing free advertising. So, in a sense, reusing old names is a smart marketing move irrelevant of whether the new product bears any resemblance to the old. What chance of this happening in Norfolk. It already has, but over in the east of the county. Whilst most of the area was dominated by Watneys, (and good luck with trying to revive that beer), the area around Yarmouth was largely Lacon’s which was bought out by Whitbread. Many of the pubs had ceramic tiles on the front, featuring the falcon trademark, keeping the memory alive, and this was possibly an incentive to the revival of the brand in 2013.

So, when a new brewery opens in Lynn, and from what I hear, it might be sooner than you think, will it revive one of the old names? Probably not. Watney’s did such a good job of eradicating the past, that Morgans, Bullards, and Steward & Patteson are fading from memory, and I guess you would have to be into your 70’s to have tasted Morgans. So, any new brewery is likely to link itself with some other aspect of local history to use as a selling point. Any ideas come to mind?