Very droll, we thought . . . Hurried negotiations lead to something of a deal: we could rush to join the end of the tour for a £1 discount off the normal £5.50 per head fee. Sadly, we missed out on most of the brewing processes, but did latch on in time to see the open fermenting vessels likened to a set of surreal indoor swimming-pools. Then the yeast press and a swift ascent to the hop store to admire the Fuggles and Goldings.
The bottling plant lost out in preference to a chance to admire the historic beam engines (dating from 1834 and still in working order). Thence to the stables, pausing only to note vast lager tanks looming in the distance. The Shires and their companions (goats, a pony and a donkey) provided a photo opportunity - but not so "Ramrod", Youngs' Dorset longhorn mascot, whose hindquarters alone were visible in his shelter.
Once around the tack room, and then it was back to the bar, where some of us saw a promotional video showing what we had missed. Perhaps our hosts took pity on us: our half-pint drinking vouchers were converted to pints. And their generosity was rewarded by the purchase of several more pints, lunch and souvenirs from the gift shop (which seemed only to have change enough for one five-pound note).
The plan was then to try out some of the local hostelries, so we began just across the road at the Spread Eagle (Youngs). The Winter Warmer wasn't on, but the Bitter or Special sufficed. Stunning original Edwardian decor - numerous etched glass panels, chandelier lighting, sweeping staircase . . .
Next the Alma (Youngs). Basic beer selection and sadly the table football was out of order. We unfortunately missed out on a "freehouse" promising "fabulous real ales" (including Hook Norton and Greene King).
Our minibus took us on to the Ship (Youngs), squeezed between a building site, a cement works and the Thames, spanned by one of its less attractive bridges. The "garden" is a pocket-handkerchief-sized piece of concrete. Much better than it sounds, and apparently a goldmine in summer.
On to the White Horse, Parsons Green. A choice at last! Rooster, Bass, Adnams and a display of Belgian beers. Then via the Cross Keys (Fullers) to the excellent Dove (Fullers) in Hammersmith. London Pride and ESB both in fine form. Time to eat, and admire the cosy seventeenth-century architecture and the view of the river.
We returned to our pick-up points via the Cross Keys only to discover that we had lost one of our party. A long wait and an extensive search failed to turn him up. I never did find out what became of him!
Despite an inauspicious start and puzzling end, a good day out.