“I knew it was good when I began to see two tellies and could only switch one of them off” – said much-missed Three Horse Shoes landlord Fred Tipping. Dirty Stop Outs' Neil Anderson tells the story of his legendary and rather illegal Loony Juice.
Chesterfield Brampton Mile had many potential pitfalls in the early 1980s but few had as much destructive power as the illicit concoction cooked up in the living room above the Three Horse Shoes.
The Three Horse Shoes was actually my first introduction to pub life.
It was, on the face of it, a questionable choice. We’d shunned the bright lights of Chesterfield town centre with its burgeoning ‘80s ‘fun pub’ scene for a venue many would describe as an ‘old man’s pub’.
But this venue hid a dark secret – brewing’s answer to Armageddon. Even to this day nobody knows exactly what was in its legendary ‘Loony Juice’.
And, remarkably, the people with the least knowledge of the thriving trade around this illicit substance was the owners of the pub itself.
Brewing giant Whitbread was the taskmaster and Fred Tipping, the landlord, was legally bound to sell nothing but their endorsed products.
There would have been more chance of getting the green light to sell radiation-charged furniture polish for public consumption than there would have been his ‘loony juice’.
But that didn’t stop him building an entire cottage industry around his invention – a blend of unregulated alcohol so strong it even caused Fred’s wife countless sleepness nights as she worried about possible fatalities as inebriated punters fell out of the pub and straight into oncoming traffic – the Three Horse Shoes sat on the busy Chatsworth Road.
Fred was an incredibly charismatic chap. Everyone adored him. If Fred was behind the bar, it was going to be a good night.
He had great wit, a cheeky glint in his eye and would seemingly turn a blind eye if people looked to be on the cusp of 18. The only pre-requisite of acceptance? You had to fit in with the ‘Three Horse Shoes family’ which was undoubtably the most eclectic bunch in northern England.
I’m unsure of the precise timing but within weeks of crossing the Three Horse Shoes threshold for the first time we seemed to be joined by an ever evolving number of punks, rockers and goths making the pilgrimage to the pub and the illicit blend of alcohol it sold.
Thoughts of the brown, plastic barrel that used to sit innocuously on the tap room bar still sends shivers down my spine even today.
Fred was in no doubt regarding the hot water he’d be in from Whitbread if they ever found out that his ‘Loony Juice’ was even being sold from their pub – let alone the fact it was outselling half of the drink he should have been selling.
Lyn said: “I remember seeing him in the yard every Sunday morning burning plastic barrels and other incriminating evidence using a big metal incinerating bin!”
She wasn’t a fan. “I tried it once and couldn’t drink the stuff. It was sickly sweet and syrupy. It was beyond me how anyone could have a pint of it!”
But that didn’t stop it become a youth phenomena. Fred Tipping didn’t need social media for his bar to become one of the most popular pubs in the entire area.
Lyn added: “Word spread like wildfire and increasing numbers of young people started to come to the Three Horse Shoes for the Loony. Whenever I was required to give my surname for anything someone would always ask “Are you related to Fred Tipping who sells Loony?”
Fred Tipping was no fool. He knew he had to be careful.
Lyn said: “Dad would serve Loony Juice from the Whitbread approved ‘Triple Vintage Cider’ barrel on the bar. And, strictly speaking, Loony did contain Triple Vintage. But wow – that was only the start!
“Young people would arrive at the Shoes around 7 – 7.30pm on a Friday and Saturday night and would ‘pre-load’ before heading off to the town centre pubs and clubs; that was if they made it that far. Our entrance and exit doors opened onto the pavement by Chatsworth Road; Mum was very worried about customers getting so drunk on Loony and falling into oncoming traffic on the busy main road. Dad found a solution. He limited sales so that men could only buy up to 2 pints and women couldn’t buy more than 1.”
Personally, I never managed – or even wanted to manage – more than half a pint of Loony Juice. It was bloody awful.
But I feel privileged that Fred and Dot Tipping’s Three Horse Shoes was part of my early life. Though I’ll never, ever, yearn Loony Juice – and I pray that recipe is never uncovered – I always smile whenever I think of life at that enigma of a pub.
80-odd year-old war heroes adorned with medals in the snug, whipper snapper punks with little more than a UB40 and a Mohican in the tap room. I made lifelong friends and memories.
Fred retired in November 1985 and sadly died just 6 months later. I think he’d be impressed by our new T-shirt that celebrates his legacy whilst the real Loony Juice is safely out of harm’s way in the fermentation barrel in the sky.