About Martyn Cornell

Beer educator, beer consultant, author, journalist and beer historian

Shall we call this new British beer style – Hoppy Light Ale?

A new British beer style is being born as you read this. Indeed, “being born” is almost certainly wrong: “building up bulk” is probably much better, since it’s been on bar tops, arguably, for at least 15 years, albeit without being properly recognised and catalogued as the fresh branch in the evolution of pale ale that it is.

Redemption Trinity light ale

Redemption Trinity light ale: a classic modern Hoppy Light Ale

This new style of beer is, effectively, the British equivalent of the American “session IPA” or “Indian session ale“, though not inspired by those beers, which are still often stronger, at 5 per cent abv or more, than a British session beer would ever be. Instead the new brews take the floral, tropical hoppiness of a typically strong standard American Pale Ale or IPA and presents that at a much more comfortable UK session strength, 4 per cent alcohol by volume and below.

As with all truly sustainable movements, this has been an example of push and pull: demand was pushed by the makers, individual brewers deciding that they wanted to brew just such a beer, crossing true sessionability with dramatic New World hop flavours, and pulled by consumers, drinkers who had been converted to loving American hops and were very happy to find drinks with all the American IPA taste assertiveness they wanted but low enough in alcohol that they could comfortably have several pints over an evening, not something that is possible with your usual Seattle or San Diego hop soup thumper.

As the trend spread, it seems to have escaped recognition as a different style of British beer, not the least reason being, I suspect, that there wasn’t an easy name to apply to this new family of brews, the way Golden Ales, the last new British beer style, could be badged and corralled back in the 1980s when they initially arrived, with a name based just on their colour. Mark Dredge was one of the first to spot that there was actually a new movement happening, putting a selection of similar low-gravity but hop-filled British brews into a chapter in his 2013 book Craft Beer World and calling the category “pale and hoppy session beers”. His examples included Moor Revival (3.8% abv, brewed with Columbus and Cascade hops); Cromarty Happy Chappy (4.1%, Columbus, Cascade, Nelson Sauvin and Willamette); Hawkshead Windermere Pale (3.5%, Goldings, Fuggles, Bramling Cross and Citra); and Buxton Moor Top (3.6%, Chinook and Columbus). Mark also gave an excellent definition of the category:

Hawkshead Windermere Pale“The love for American Pale Ales and their citrus and fruit-forward hops, combined with the British drinking culture of going to the pub and sinking a few pints, has pushed these beers ahead and created a new British beer style … hitting somewhere between 3% and 4% abv, these beers, pale straw to gold in colour, are made to be refreshing, light in body, powerfully hopped, dryly bitter and drunk all day long. Bitterness can be very high set against the lightness of the alcohol, reaching 50-plus IBUs, although typically it’ll be in the 30s … it’s the hops that elevate this from a Golden Mild or Bitter: brightly aromatic, full of fruitiness, and often crisply bitter at the end with a dryness that makes you want to drink more – it’s the combination of huge hop flavours and the quenching bitterness that best defines these beers.”

Fremlins light ale

Light ale – the ancestor of Hoppy Light Ale?

As a name to label this new category with, however, “pale and hoppy session beers” fails to satisfy: the three descriptors could equally fit American-style “Indian session ales”, and it does not emphasise the most important differentiator: these beers are less strong than their American equivalent. However, there is a solution we can find in the history of British brewing. Throughout most of the 20th century, brewers in the UK would make two different strengths of bitter beer, often called ordinary bitter, at 3.8 per cent abv or less, and best bitter or special bitter, 4.2 per cent to 4.8 per cent or so, and each had its bottled equivalent, where the stronger was called pale ale and the weaker one light ale. What we are trying to find a name for is hoppy, but weaker than American hoppy pale ales – it’s hoppy light ale.

I am sure many are now going to argue that Hoppy Light Ale is not a separate thing from hoppy pale ale: Boak and Bailey discussed “pale and hoppy session beers” in All About Beer magazine in November and traced the roots of the style back to Sean Franklin’s Rooster brewery’s Yankee from 1993. They also threw Oakham Brewery’s Jeffrey Hudson Bitter and the same brewery’s Citra into the “pale ’n’ hoppy session” bin. But for me, Yankee was Franklin’s attempt to make Sierra Nevada Pale Ale at a strength (4.3 per cent) Britons would be comfortable with, rather than specifically aiming for a session hoppy beer, while JHB is a Golden Ale (in the Venn diagram of beer styles, it cannot be denied, Golden Ales and Hoppy Light Ales overlap somewhere between a little and a lot) while Citra, at 4.2 per cent, is also too strong.

Dark Star Hophead

Dark Star’s pioneering Hophead Hoppy Light Ale

You can go right back to beers such as Hartley’s much-missed ordinary bitter from Cumbria, just 1031OG but mouth-warpingly rammed with hops, and similar brews in the now effectively vanished North West of England style of very pale, very bitter beers, such as Boddingtons before Whitbread wrecked it, to show that the new Hoppy Light Ales have a pedigree rooted in an English tradition of pale ’n’ hoppy ’n’ weak. But these were beers made with traditional English hops, not New World ones. If you are looking for the real pioneer in the Hoppy Light Ale category, it has to be Dark Star’s Hophead, I suggest. Brewed since 2001 at 3.8 per cent alcohol, and using Cascade and Amarillo hops and Extra Pale malt with a tough of Caramalt, it’s the brewery’s most popular beer, it actually self-describes as “light and hoppy”, and I strongly suspect it has influenced many of the Hoppy Light Ales that have arrived since then, from Burning Sky’s Plateau (3.5 per cent) to Redemption’s Trinity (3 per cent – which brewer Andy Moffat specifically labels a “light ale”, it being weaker than the next beer up in his range, Redemption Pale Ale). It is revealing to see how the Camra Good Beer Guide‘s description of Hophead altered over the years: until 2006 it was merely “a light, hoppy, refreshing bitter”, but in 2007 that changed to “Wonderfully hoppy and clean-tasting … flavours remain strong to the end”. It looks like this was the time Britain became properly in love with, and appreciative of, American hops.

The country is also increasingly in love with lighter-coloured ales. Last year Mitchells & Butlers’ Nicholson’s chain, which controls 80 or so cask ale-oriented outlets, revealed that sales of paler-coloured ales were up 25% in its pubs, at the expense of traditional amber-coloured bitter. Its top-selling beers in volume terms were still traditional amber ales, it said, but with the introduction of new hops from countries such as the United States, Australia and New Zealand, “customers are opting for more lighter-coloured ales.” Paler ales flavoured with New World hops are a great entry for lager drinkers, Nicholson’s said, “appealing equally to both men and women”. More evidence to back a prediction that the Hoppy Light Ale category will grow and grow.

Pleasure versus risk, the honest alcohol debate

If Dame Sally Davies had really wanted to be honest, she would have said: “Here’s my advice on how to live a possibly longer but almost certainly less pleasure-filled life …”

Rose in Bloom frontInstead the chief medical officer for England completely failed to address why people drink – because we enjoy it – and concentrated solely on why we shouldn’t, insisting that the new recommendations on alcohol limits were “hard science” based on the health risks of even moderate drinking. With the old guidelines for men, compared to the new lower ones, “an extra 20 men per 1,000 will get bowel cancer. That’s not scaremongering, that’s hard science.” But why did she say “20 per 1,000” instead of the equally accurate “two in a hundred”? Because 20 sounds worse than two, of course. Scaremongering …

I realised recently that it will be 50 years this summer since I first drank beer, in the garden of the Rose in Bloom in Seasalter, Whitstable. My father (illegally) bought a pint of bitter for me, thinking correctly, that though I was only just 14, I would enjoy it, and thank you, Dad, I did, greatly: that cellar-cool, floral, hoppy initial pint was the start of a lasting love. If Dame Sally Davies had popped up over the fence as I was drinking and assured me that I was increasing my chances of cancer of many kinds, I hope that my 14-year-old self would have replied: “If all the pints for the next 50 years are as good as this one, I genuinely don’t care.”

The point about risk is that, as we all see every day, it’s calculable, all right, but totally random. My mother hardly drank at all: a Snowball, advocaat and lemonade, at Christmas, with a cherry on a cocktail stick balanced across the glass, was her limit. She certainly never smoked. She died, aged 60, having survived breast cancer when she was 45 but eventually being taken out by cancer of the oesophagus. My brother – a cancer survivor himself, having come through Hodgkin’s Lymphoma nearly 40 years ago – still rides motor bikes at the age of 59, big ones, Harley Davidsons and the like, and in the past few years he has taken motorbike tours through South Africa and the eastern United States. For a rider, the chances of dying in a motorcycle crash during your lifetime are about the same as the chances of getting bowel cancer through drinking alcohol. Do we see Dame Sally Davies on daytime TV urging us to cut down on the number of motorcycle journeys we take each week, to reduce the risk?

Rose in Bloom backWe do not, of course, because it would be preposterous. Risk is part of motorcycle riding, as it is of many activities, from mountaineering to hang-gliding. As it happens I had a friend who died in a hang-gliding accident in his early 50s. The risk of dying in a hang-gliding accident is one in every 116,000 flights, apparently. Let’s make the mathematics easier and say you go hang-gliding every weekend, and get in two flights each time for 100 flights a year. In a lifetime’s hang-gliding that gives you just over a three per cent chance of dying in a crash. Set the undoubted joy of soaring silently over fields and woods, one with the winds and sky, against a risk of death if you did it every weekend for 40 years of 33 to one against, and I’m sure most of us would vote with my friend Bryan.

And now we know, because Dame Sally won’t let us forget, that risk is a part of even moderate drinking, too. But as another friend of mine says, stay in bed to avoid all risk, the ceiling will probably fall on your head. Indeed, Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, the Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge, declared that the risk level Dame Sally wants us to lower ourselves to while drinking alcohol is lower than the risk from eating a bacon sandwich, or spending an hour watching a film.

The lifetime chances of a woman who doesn’t drink getting breast cancer, like my mother, are 11 in a hundred. If a woman drinks, that risk goes up to 13 in a hundred. It’s an entirely valid decision to weigh decades of the pleasures that drinking wine and beer bring against a one-in-50 greater change of breast cancer, and say: “I believe the risk is worth it,” just the way a hang-glider or a motorcyclist weighs up similar risks.

The big problem in the health-and-drink debate is that the pleasures of drinking are seldom discussed, and never calculated. Winston Churchill, speaking around 1953, after 60 years of regular solid drinking, including pints of champagne, and having Carlsberg invent Special Brew for him, declared: “I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.” I have had huge enjoyment from drinking beer since that first pint of Fremlin’s bitter in the garden of the Rose in Bloom – in a coincidence Carl Jung would have appreciated, the pub’s address is Joy Lane – and if Dame Sally popped up at the end of my bed tomorrow with a scythe and hourglass to declare my time was over, adding that if only I had been a teetotaller I could have had an extra ten years, I’d spit in her eye and say it was more than worth it.

More frequently repeated beery history that turns out to be totally bogus

Bass No 5 signIt’s depressing and frightening, sometimes, if you start tugging at loose threads in the historical narrative, because the whole fabric can start unravelling. This all began with the Canadian beer blogger and beer historian Alan McLeod emailing me about claims that the “Hull ale” that was being drunk in the 17th century in London was really ale from Burton upon Trent, shipped down that river to the sea, and taking the Yorkshire port’s name on the way. Did I have any views, he asked?

I confess I’ve repeated the idea that “Hull ale probably really means Burton ale” myself, but Alan had several good points to make against it: Hull, like other ports, was known for its own ales, Burton lacked common brewers until the start of the 18th century, and in any case, until the opening of the Trent Navigation in 1712 it was not easy for Burton brewers to get their ales shipped out anywhere. So I hit the internets.

It all began to fall down with Peter Mathias’s reference in the otherwise magisterial The Brewing Industry in England (p150), written in 1959, to Samuel Pepys drinking Hull ale in London in 1660. Mathias wrote that “of course”, this Hull ale was “probably” from Burton upon Trent, with the town allegedly being “well known in the capital for its ale in the seventeenth century”, and the first consignment “reputedly” sold at the Peacock in Gray’s Inn Lane London in 1623. However, once you start digging, these claims appear to be completely wrong. The reference Mathias gives, to back all this up, The history and antiquities of Staffordshire by Stebbing Shaw, published in 1798, Volume 1 p13, is only available in Google Books via snippet view but it appears not to give a specific year for Burton Ale being sold at the Peacock at all. What it says, talking about Burton, is:

“And so great is the celebrity of this place for its ale brewed here, that, besides a very considerable home consumption, both in the country and in London (where it was first sold at the Peacock in Gray’s Inn Lane, a house still celebrated for the vending of this liquor) vast quantities have been exported to Sweden, Denmark, Russia and many other kingdoms.”

– but with no date for when Burton Ale was first sold at the Peacock.

Almost a century before Mathias, William Molyneaux, in Burton on Tent: Its History, Its Waters and its Breweries (1869 ) claimed in a footnote (p223) that

“About the year 1630 Burton ale was sold at the Peacock inn in Gray’s Inn Lane and had even then acquired a high reputation amongst the famous ales of England.”

But Molyneaux offered no reference to back this up. This claim was subsequently repeated in several books. However, there is no evidence at all that the Peacock was even open in the 17th century.

Gray's Inn Lane around 1810 or 1820

Gray’s Inn Lane around 1810 or 1820

One big problem is that very little seems to be recorded of the early history of the Peacock, though what is know is certainly tied up with Burton Ale. The pub was definitely going by 1751, when George Ash, “who was servant to Mr Ford at the Peacock in Gray’s Inn Lane,” opened his own pub under the same name at Charing Cross, where he had in stock “a quantity of Burton Ale, to be sold wholesale or retail”, according to an ad in the London Daily Advertiser on May 25 that year. But the tavern does not appear in the Vade Mecum for Maltworms, the anonymous guide to London pubs and taverns written circa 1718, which if it was famous I would have expected (that book, incidentally, mentions Derby Ale twice, and Burton ale once – and Oxford Ale three times). It was briefly mentioned again in 1755, still being kept by Mr Ford. The poet John Langhorne is said to have drunk Burton ale at the Gray’s Inn Lane Peacock, and he lived in the vicinity of Gray’s Inn around 1764-66. Two other writers, Gilbert Stuart, and William Thomson, both Scottish exiles, drank in the Peacock in the 1780s, where, according to Thomson’s obituary, “in rivulets of Burton ale [they] not unfrequently quaffed libations to their favourite deity, until the clock informed them of the approaching day.” Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue in 1796 said the Peacock in Gray’s Inn Lane, “where Burton ale is sold in nyps”, was known as the “nyp-shop”.

Gilbert Stuart, Burton Ale fan and regular at the Peacock

Gilbert Stuart, Burton Ale fan and regular at the Peacock

The antiquarist Richard Warner, writing in 1802 in the orotund style popular with Georgian essayists, called Burton Ale “that rich and glutinous beverage named after the town and well known in the neighbourhood of Gray’s Inn Lane, ‘balm of the cares, sweet solace of the toils’ of many an exhausted Limb of the Law who at the renowned Peacock reinvigorates the powers with a nipperkin of Burton ale and a whiff of the Indian weed,” indicating that the pub was popular with barristers from Gray’s Inn. It was frequented by those who needed barristers, too. In October 1814 a 68-year-old woman named Elizabeth McDonald was sentenced Old Bailey to be hanged after she attempted to pass a counterfeit shilling at the Peacock and was seized by the landlord, William Kilsbey. The pub seems to have changed its name to the Fox and Peacock by 1845, but was back as the Peacock again in 1870, by which time Gray’s Inn Lane was Gray’s Inn Road. It was described as “totally modernised” in 1880, and was still being kept in 1882 by the marvellously named Nicholas Pollyblank who had been there since 1875, according to the 1882’s Post Office Directory. However, it disappears some time after that, evidently when that part of Gray’s Inn Road was redeveloped.

Is it possible that the Peacock in Gray’s Inn Road was actually much older than the year 1751, its (currently) first known appearance in the records? Certainly the advert in the London Daily Advertiser hints that the pub had been going for some time, to built up enough of a reputation that George Ash would want to boast of his connection with it. But it would be wrong to push the pub back more than ten years at the most just based on that. It is certainly true that pubs can stay under the radar for many decades after their founding: there was one pub in Mile End, East London with the excellent name of Why Not Beat Dragon, which first surfaces in an Old Bailey court case from 1723, but which has a name that refers to a race at Newmarket four decades earlier, in 1684, when a horse called Dragon was beaten by (you’re ahead of me here) another called Why Not. The pub must have been opened as the Why Not Beat Dragon very soon after the race took place, but apparently stayed unrecorded for almost 40 years.

An even longer example of an apparently “invisible” pub is the (now closed) Eagle and Child in Whitwell, Hertfordshire. It looks to take its name from the crest of the Stanley family, Earls of Derby, who were lords of the manor of Stagenhoe in nearby St Paul’s Walden from 1488 until 1582. The implication has to be that the pub opened, or at least received its name, some day during this 94-year Tudor timespan when the Stanleys were a big name in the area. But the pub’s first known mention comes in 1725, implying that it remained unrecorded by history for more than 140 years, at least, from the time when the Stanleys were local landowners to almost a century and a half after they had gone.

All the same, despite these examples, I find it highly implausible that a pub in as central a site as Gray’s Inn Lane/Road could have been open for 120 years before 1751 without anybody making some kind of record of its existence that would survive until today. On the evidence, I’d be surprised if the Peacock was much older than the 1710s or 1720s.

I don’t know where Molyneaux got his claim that the Peacock sold Burton Ale around 1630 from, but the reference to Burton ale being sold in London in 1623 appears to come from John Bushnan’s Burton and its Bitter Ale (pub 1853), which says

“In 1623 the Burton ale made itself known in London as Darbie or Derby from which town it used to reach London as we find in a singular work published that year entitled Panala a la Catholica or a Compound Ale.”

What that pamphlet, written by the deeply obscure William Folkingham (and also known as Panala Alacatholica, according to some souces, while the author’s surname is also found as Folkington) talks about, according to the extract reprinted by Bushnan, is:

“a cup of nappie ale (right Darbie, not Dagger ale, though effectually animating) well boyled, defecated, and cleared, that it shall equall the best-brewed beer in transparence, please the most curious palatt with milde quicknesse of relish.”

“Defecated” there, of course, means “cleared of dregs” (what did you think it could mean? Wash your mind out now). But all the evidence is that Bushnan is entirely wrong in asserting that “Darbie Ale” actually meant Burton ale. Derby was famous in its own right in the 17th century as a centre for brewing, with a large number of malthouses and inns, and it was only five miles by packhorse from the Trent, from where ale could be carried away by water to Hull, and from there to London and elsewhere. “Darbie Ale” being mentioned in Folkingham’s pamphlet does not prove it was on sale in London, though it, and other mentions, underline the idea that Derby Ale was well-enough known in the capital in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. There is a reference to “Darbie Ale” in an anti-Puritan pamphlet called Martin Junior, published around 1589/90. William Camden, in his great survey Britannia, published in 1607, declared that Derby was “vero celebritas” – truly famous – for “ceruisia, quam coquit optima“, excellent ale. The pseudo-Chaucerian The Cobbler of Canturbury, published in 1608, says that “there must be admitted no compare betweene a Cup of Darby ale and a dish of durtie water.”

Derby in the early 17th century

Derby in the early 17th century

In 1611 a play by John Cook, Tu Quoque or The City Gallant, performed in front of James I, included the lines: “I have sent my daughter this morning as far as Pimlico to fetch a draught of Derby ale, that it may fetch a colour in her cheeks,” suggesting that Derby Ale was indeed on sale in London in early Stuart times. In 1637, John Taylor, the “Water Poet”, and one of the last campaigners against hops and in favour of traditional unhopped ale, wrote Drinke and Welcome: or The famous historie of the most part of drinks, in use now in the kingdomes of Great Brittaine and Ireland, which hailed the ales of “Yorke, Chester, Hull, Nottingham, Darby, Gravesend”, but does not mention Burton at all. A Civil War Royalist newsletter, Mercurius Pragmaticus, spoke sarcastically in 1649 of “a flagon of Darby Ale” that would make someone’s brains “runne over with the froth of non-sense”. “The froth of non-sense” looks to be a good description of Bushnan’s assertion that “Derby ale” was a synonym for Burton Ale.

Bushnan goes on to say that

“The Dagger Ale here alluded to was that sold at a house in Holborn in the same manner as the ale of Burton was about the same period at the Peacock in Gray’s Inn Lane.”

and this appears to have led Colin Owen in The Development of Industry in Burton upon Trent (1978, p31) to claim that

“by the early 1620s Burton Ale (sometimes under the name of ‘Darbie Ale’) was being sold at the Dagger in Holborn and at the Peacock in Gray’s Inn Lane, where it was held in high esteem”

referencing Bushnan. But, of course, Bushnan doesn’t say the Dagger sold Burton or Derby ales – it was selling its own Dagger Ale – and Bushnan also gives no source for the claim that the Peacock was selling Burton ale at this time.

However, Burton had 46 licensed victuallers in 1604, so it is certainly not impossible that some of those inn or alehouse operators, who would all almost certainly have been brewing their own ale, were shipping some outside the district. Benjamin Printon, the first known common brewer in Burton, started operations probably some time around the year of his marriage, in 1708, and his business was very likely boosted by the opening of the Trent Navigation in 1712, but there is a hint that Burton innkeepers were already using the Trent to ship beer to other markets before then (Owen, p33), probably carrying casks by horse or cart to where the Trent started being navigable (which would have been Nottingham, six to eight hours away).

The frequently repeated claim that Printon actually began brewing in 1708, incidentally, is again based on Stebbing Shaw. But what Shaw actually wrote in 1798, talking about brewing in Burton, was that

“The first origin of this business here was about 90 years ago, and simply commenced with a few public houses ; and, one Benjamin Printon was the first, who began in a small way (by employing only three men) any thing like the business of a common brewer.”

Taking “about 90 years ago” in 1798 to mean 1708, other writers have used Shaw’s words, wrongly, to make a definite claim that Printon starting brewing that year. But you’ll note that Shaw doesn’t actually say it was Printon that began “about 90 years ago”, merely that Printon was the first common brewer, rather than innkeeper-brewer, in Burton, with the public house brewers being the ones who started exporting their beer “about 90 years ago” and Printon coming along later. (John Bushnan got into a terrible mess over the claim that Benjamin Printon is really Benjamin Prilson, which itself, Bushnan tried to claim, was a misreading of Benjamin Wilson, founder of what became Allsopp’s brewery: all total nonsense.)

Printon, by the way, is regularly said to have been the (or “a”) “chief client” of William Bass before Bass gave up working as a carrier and started in the brewing business himself in 1777. But this is impossible: Printon died in 1729, when Bass was nine years old, and Bass only moved to Burton to start as a carrier in or around the late 1750s. It is possible that Bass carried beer for the family that took over Printon’s brewery, the Musgraves (or Musgroves), whose “genuine Burton ale” was advertised for sale at the St Dunstan’s coffee house in Fleet Street, London in 1751 at the extremely high price of ten pence a quart: ordinary porter was only 3d a quart. But someone else can investigate that …

An advert for Musgrove's Burton Ale from the London Daily Advertiser of June 15 1751, one of the earliest ads featuring a named brewer from outside London

An advert for Musgrove’s Burton Ale from the London Daily Advertiser of June 15 1751, one of the earliest ads featuring a named brewer from outside London

Incidentally, A Topographical History of Staffordshire: Including Its Agriculture, Mines and Manufactures … By William Pitt, published 1817, claims:

“The origin of this lucrative business was in the year 1610 [sic], when Benjamin Printon began a small brewery, and his success induced others to engage in the same business.”

surely a misprint (or misprinton).

The first definite evidence we have for Burton Ale on sale in London comes from a report printed in the edition of the Spectator magazine for May 20 1712, when at the end of a trip to the Spring Gardens pleasure grounds at “Fox Hall” (Vauxhall) on the south side of the Thames, the author and the fictional Sir Roger de Coverley “concluded our walk with a glass of Burton ale and a slice of hung beef.” The Vade Mecum for Malt Worms around 1718 shows Burton Ale on sale at the Guy of Warwick in Milk Street, in the City of London, while on January 11 1718 a London-based newspaper called the Post-Man published an ad showing “Fine Burton Ale, Bottled or in Hogsheads” on sale at “the sign of the Sawyers near Fleet Lane Bridge”.

Still, what about the famous quote from Daniel Defoe, writing in his Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain, published in 1726, that “the best character you give to Ale in London is calling it Burton Ale”, a quote regularly repeated by authors writing about Burton beer? Well, the problem is, Defoe never said it. It’s actually a quote from another travel writer entirely, the Scots spy John Macky, in A Journey through England, which was published just before Defoe, in 1724. Macky, talking of Lichfield, said:

“The Ale is incomparable here, as it is all over this County of Stafford. Burton is the most famous Town in England for it, as also Stafford and Newcastle in this Shire. And indeed the best Character you give to Ale in London is calling it Burton Ale; from whence they send vast Quantities to London: Yet they brew at London some that goes by that Denomination.”

I suspect (though I haven’t researched it) that later editors of Defoe’s work lifted chunks of that quote from Macky and stuck it into later “enlarged and improved” editions of Danny boy’s works. But we can still gather from the quote that by the early 1720s Derby ale had lost its pre-eminence, to be replaced by its neighbouring rival across the border in Staffordshire. And, indeed, mentions in London newspapers in the 18th century of Derby ale are rare to non-existent. (Defoe, incidentally, did not mention Burton ale at all in his original first edition, and says only of Derby: “What Trade there is in the Town is chiefly in good Malt and good Ale.”)

So, to conclude or round up: claims that Burton Ale was on sale in London in the 17th century are unsubstantiated, though Derby Ale certainly was, and despite claims by Burtonians there is no evidence that “Derby Ale” was another name for Burton Ale: Derby ale was exactly what it said on the tin, or rather cask. By the 18th century Derby Ale had been pushed out of the London market, however. Of claims about Benjamin Printon, one is based on a misinterpretation and one is nonsense. There is no evidence that the Peacock in Gray’s Inn Lane was the first place in the capital to sell Burton ale, and it looks unlikely it was doing so in the 17th century. That’s six myths scotched. Thanks, Alan.

The Twelve Beers of Christmas

1st day of Christmas2nd day of Christmas 3rd day of Christmas 4th day of Christmas5th day of Christmas6th day of Christmas 7th day of Christmas 8th day of Christmas_edited-1 9th day of Christmas 10th day of Christmas 11th day of Christmas 12th day of Christmas

On the 12th day of Christmas my True Love gave to me
Twelve draughts of Duvel
Eleven pints of porter
Ten Landlords leaping
Nine Lagunitas
Eight Mackeson milk stouts
Seven Silly Saisons
Six Geuze spraying
Five Golden Prides
Four Caley beers
Three Speckled Hens
Two Ola Dubhs
And a pint of Partridge in the Pear Tree

© Martyn Cornell 2015

AB InBev acquires Camden Town: least surprising news in the history of beer

I was actually speaking to a senior London brewer about something else entirely on Monday when he asked me if I had heard that AB InBev had bought the Camden Town Brewery, and my instant response was: “That’s the least surprising news I’ve ever heard.”

Jasper Cuppaidge, evil mustachio-twirling villain – if you believe Twitter …

Jasper Cuppaidge, evil mustachio-twirling villain – that is, if you believe Twitter …

Camden Town has always seemed to me the Brewery Most Likely to Sell Out to a Big Buyer – certainly since its beers started appearing on bartops all over London. It’s got a great brand name, picking up the associations of a part of the capital that is somehow, at least in its image, gritty, urban, young, trendy and authentic all at the same time (possibly relevant trivia: Camden is where Scrooge’s clerk Bob Cratchit and his family lived, which suggests the place has had a reputation for cheery grittiness since Dickens’s time).

But it ought to be expected that the brewery is a great brand: founder Jasper Cuppaidge is married to the daughter of Sir John Hegarty, a partner in Bartle Bogle Hegarty, one of Britain’s most renowned advertising people, the man who gave us Vorsprung Durch Technik and Nick Kamen stripping to his boxers in a launderette to advertise Levi’s, and who is – or was – Camden Town’s chairman. If Hegarty and his ad world pals didn’t stump up the initial funding that allowed Cuppaidge to install all that shiny brewing kit from Germany’s Braukon in a Kentish Town railway arch in 2010, then I WOULD be surprised. And if there wasn’t always the possibility of a trade sale in the business plan, I’d be pretty surprised there too. (More trivia: Hegarty apparently designed Camden Town’s logo, with the horseshoe shape a nod to the Horseshoe in Hampstead where Cuppaidge started brewing)

I see the Guardian is suggesting ABI paid a total price of nearly £85m for Camden Town, which is within throwing distance of the £100m a (different) senior London brewer suggested to me that SAB Miller paid for Meantime Brewing earlier this year. That same man also suggested that I wasn’t far wrong when I said at the time that Meantime was actually worth about £25m. “Worth” here means “what you ought to pay based on a realistic return on your investment, given a company’s current turnover and pre-tax profit”, though in the real world, of course, “worth” means “what someone is prepared to pay”. So in that sense, Meantime IS worth £100m. But when I was at business college, a company’s worth was generally reckoned to be one times turnover or ten times PTP, which would put a value on Camden Town of £9 million tops – maybe £18 million if you were being optimistic.

But it’s all about snatching territory before others do: the craft lager/craft beer market is where the growth is, and ABI knew that if it didn’t grab Camden Town, someone else would, which would leave it struggling to find an equivalent scaleable brand. (Incidentally, nobody seems to have pointed out the irony of ABI buying one London lager brewery barely a month after it had closed another one.)

Of course, while ABI was negotiating to acquire Camden Town it was also hunting very much bigger game, namely SAB Miller, and it must have been embarrassed to realise that with SAB in the bag, it was going to own TWO London craft brewers, with Meantime as well. Hence, no doubt, the announcement that Meantime is to be sold off, along with other brands such as Grolsch and Peroni. In many London pubs, where you find Camden Town you often find Meantime as well: competition authorities would not smile on ABI owning both. But that raises the interesting question: who’s going to buy Meantime? I am told that a management buy-back is not considered likely, but apart from Heineken, which already has Caledonian developing a craft offer for it in the UK, I can’t think of an obvious buyer.

The Twatterati have been going bonkers at Camden Town’s alleged sell-out, with comments such as “Another one to avoid from now on, like Meantime”. It is the panto season, I suppose, where moustachioed villains called Jasper are there to be booed and hissed. But Mr Cuppaidge has done extremely well for his investors, and under ABI, Camden Town looks like continuing to supply London’s – and Britain’s – bar tops with considerably more interesting beer than might otherwise have been available. Not in BrewDog bars, of course, where James Watt, who has never knowingly ignored a publicity opportunity, has announced that Camden Town beers will now be boycotted.) But of course, they’re missing the point: the overwhelming majority of drinkers simply do not care who brews Camden Town’s beers. They’re only interested in enjoing drinking them.

Meanwhile the question is – who’s next? I’m not sure anyone in the UK has both the immediate brand clout and the availability to be a realistic acquisition target (BrewDog has the clout, of course, but Messers Watt and Dickie are having far too much fun to want to sell, I suggest, and anyway if they did there would be an irony explosion so huge it would leave most of North East Scotland a glowing desert.) Instead, I’d look to Italy for the next big acquisition of a craft brewer by a global marque, followed closely by Poland.

Caley’s self- crafted approach to being craft

Are you a mature but still lively Victorian brewery? Do you worry that younger breweries, with their weird American hop varieties, shiny stainless steel lauter tuns and one-off wacky recipes, are luring your customers away? Is your 150-barrel minimum brewlength too inflexible to make experimental brews on? Worry no more: install your own microbrewery on the premises, and you too can be hitting the bartops with mango-flavoured double IPAs and smoked malt saisons. Comes with clip-on manbun and removable extra-bushy beard for all brewhouse operatives …

That’s unfairly sarcastic: I have no problems at all with big brewers who respond to the craft micro-brewery challenge by bringing in their own tiny set-up: I had great fun playing with the 10-barrel mini-brewery Brains installed at its site in Cardiff. The Brains plant, like those installed at Shepherd Neame in Kent, Hook Norton in Oxfordshire and Adnams in Suffolk, is designed to brew short-run one-off beers for selling in the company’s pubs. The Caledonian brewery in Edinburgh, however, has gone for something craftily different: an on-site microbrewery that is solely for experimenting with, making brews that, should they prove to be successful, will then be scaled up for commercial production in the main brewery.

The Caledonian brewery, Edinburgh in 1989

The Caledonian brewery, Edinburgh in 1989

I last visited the Caledonian brewery more than a quarter of a century ago, in 1989, which was just two years after it had been the subject of a management buy-out to acquire it from Vaux, the Sunderland brewer, which had bought it in 1919. The brewery was founded by George Lorimer and Robert Clark in 1869, and Vaux took it over to supply the North East of England with Scotch Ale, a style of dark, fruity beer then very popular in the region. Edinburgh was once the third biggest brewing city in Britain, after Burton and London, and even in 1958 it has 18 surviving breweries. One upon one they closed: Vaux announced it wanted to shut the Caledonian in 1985. Fortunately for posterity, its then managing director, Dan Kane, an active Camra member, and his head brewer, Russell Sharp, felt there was enough demand for the traditional beer it made for the business to be viable on its own. In a regular irony, the lack of investment by Vaux over the years meant the Caledonian brewery still retained old-style equipment long replaced elsewhere, most notably open direct-fired coppers, which gave the brewery an excellent marketing story.

Steaming wort runs into an open copper at the Caledonian brewerry, Edinburgh, in 1989

Steaming wort runs into an open copper at the Caledonian brewery, Edinburgh, in 1989

Despite a couple of fires at the brewery in the 1990s, those coppers are still there (though one is a replica, replacing a vessel lost in the fire of 1998, and they now appear to have suspended lids I don’t remember from before). Brewery manager Craig Steven says the now unique coppers give all the brewery’s beers a distinctive rotundity he always recognises in blind tastings. In 1991 the brewery launched a golden IPA using the name of another old Edinburgh operation, Deuchar’s, which had closed in 1961. That beer’s popularity was cemented with the award of the Champion Beer of Britain title by Camra in 2002, and it remains one of the UK’s best-selling cask ales. Then in 2004 the Caledonian Brewery lost its independence again, being bought by Scottish & Newcastle after S&N closed the old McEwan’s Fountainbridge brewery in Edinburgh. Just four years later the Dutch giant Heineken swooped on S&N, and Caledonian is now the second-smallest brewery (out of 165-plus) in what is currently the world’s third-largest brewing group.

Marble bust of George Lorimer, founder of ther Caledonian brewery

Marble bust of George Lorimer, founder of the Caledonian brewery

Which is why, presumably, they can afford to fly me up to Edinburgh, stick me in a four-star hotel, take me out for a very fine dinner in one of the Scottish capital’s best eateries, and all so I can see the new “Wee George” microbrewery (named for George Lorimer) and try the first beer to be scaled up and rolled out after trials on Wee George, an American-style IPA called Coast to Coast. There are those beer writers who would turn down being filled full of roast venison at a brewer’s expense in the belief that it would compromise their independence: I like to claim I’m not that cheaply influenced. (That is to say, you CAN influence me, but it will cost you lots …)

Talking of independence, Caledonian’s MD, Andy Maddock, who joined the Scottish brewer in March last year after six years as a senior sales and marketing man at Heineken, says his operation has an “arm’s length” relationship with its Dutch parent, allowing it to be entrepreneurial and to follow its own path as a “modern craft brewer”. There seems to be considerable fondness for the Caledonian brewery at the top in Heineken: they like its hands-on old fashionedness, and Michel de Carvalho, husband of Charlene Heineken, who inherited the business from her father Freddie in 2002, has apparently said Deuchars is his favourite beer.

Three Caledonian keg tapsThe advantages Caledonian has over most of its rivals, of course, are that as part of a huge conglomerate its financing is cheaper to arrange than a totally independent operator could manage, though it still has to have “all the rigour” in its budgets that any commercial operation has to have; and it can use its Heineken connections to get into other markets. Currently 95 per cent of sales are “domestic”, but in the next four to five years, Maddock says, he wants to see exports increasing, with Deuchars in particular and also Coast to Coast and the brewery’s new “craft lager”, Three Hop, being aimed at Western Europe. He also wants to see Caledonian’s beers making a bigger impact in the off-trade (“We haven’t punched our weight there yet,” Maddock says), and a greater awareness among drinkers that Deuchers is a Caledonian beer: it appears many Deuchars drinkers don’t actually know who makes it.

An original Deuchar's brewery mirror, now in the tasting bar at the Caledonian brewery, rescuded from a pub in Bath

An original Deuchar’s brewery mirror, now in the tasting bar at the Caledonian brewery, rescued from a pub in Bath

On the other hand, they know why they drink it, or at least Caledonian does: “drinkability”, that mysterious characteristic no brewer knows for certain how to achieve, but which is vital for a beer to win a substantial slice of the market. Strangely, Caledonian is one of the few breweries I’ve visited where “drinkability” has been emphatically placed in the heart of the business strategy. Maddock says that the future of Caledonian will be based on a “modern” range, with beers such as Coast to Coast, that emphasises “distinctiveness and accessibility”, and a “traditional” range, led by Deuchars, where “drinkability is really important”. The idea, clearly, is that if you fancy trying one of those new craft beers, you can be reassured by the Caledonian name that it won’t be a frightening experience you’ll never want to repeat; and if you’re looking for something comfortable and more familiar, Caledonian has that for you as well. “Comfortable and familiar” are, frankly, far too under-rated among beer raters: most people most of the time don’t want to be challenged by their beer. Indeed, probably, most people don’t want to be challenged by their beer any of the time. “Predictable but not boring” is a great position for your brand to take, if you can capture it. “Predictable” also has to mean “predictably good”, of course, and part of that means making sure your raw materials are top quality: Caledonian has insisted for a long time on using what it says is the best malting barley in the world, from the east coast of Britain, both Southern Scotland and East Anglia, it also only uses whole-leaf hops, and it has now altered the way it buys hops, eschewing the traditional hessian hopsack for vacuum-packing in foil, believing this to keep the hops fresh for longer.

THe 'Wee George' microbrewery set-up at the Caley

The ‘Wee George’ microbrewery set-up at the Caley: note mini-hopback above the drain

So to Wee George: Caledonian’s answer to the fact that there are now 100 breweries in Scotland, very few of which can match it with the popularity of its “traditional” line-up, but at least some of which offer are going to have widespread appeal – “widespread appeal” being the market sector Andy Maddock and his crew would like to own most of, thank you. It’s a £100,000 collection of hand-assembled stainless-steel kit capable of producing just 400 litres at a time, around a thirtieth of the main brewery’s capacity, but it has its own filler that can be used to put the beer into bottle, cask or keg, and it even has a hopback, just like the “big” brewery. Hopbacks are an old-fashioned item of kit today, replaced almost everywhere by whirlpools, but brewers who have kept them have realised that a hopback can be a terrific tool for adding all sorts of flavour to your hot wort. The new kit went in on June 1, and since then it has been producing one beer a week – the first being a version of Deuchar’s IPA, presumably to see how different the recipe would turn out on the Wee George kit compared to the Big George kit. Scaleablity was a problem at first, but the Caley brewers are getting better, they told me, at working out what tweaks were likely to be needed to translate a brew from Wee George to the main brewery.

The first Wee George beer to make it from experiment to scaled-up bar-top brand, Coast to Coast, was pushed through in eight weeks, which shows that for a 146-year-old, the Caley can be nimble enough when it wants to be: most big breweries barely have a meetings cycle that short, never mind the NPD pipeline. The name comes from the combination of West Coast of American hops – Simcoe, apparently – with East Coast of Britain barley. It’s a perfectly fine craft-beer-with-training-wheels, I suspect there’s an as yet untapped market for such brews among people looking for a beer to have when you’re only popping in for one and you want something with more flavour that usual but not TOO much, and I’d give it a fair chance of doing very well. Though if I were any good at predictions, I’d be much richer than I am.

Many thanks to the Caley crew for taking me north to meet Wee George, and I look forward to tasting future roll-outs.

Mash run with Steele's masher, Caledonian brewery

Mash run with Steele’s masher, Caledonian brewery

Inside the drained mash tun, with the grains still waiting to be removed

Inside the drained mash tun, with the grains still waiting to be removed

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Filling a copper at the Caledonian brewery, 2015

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One of the three copper coppers at the Caledonian brewery

A lovely rocky head in a fermenting square at the Caledonian brewery

A lovely rocky head in a fermenting square at the Caledonian brewery

A steaming louvre over the copper room at ther Caledonian brewery

A steaming louvre over the copper room at the Caledonian brewery

Caledonian brewery, Edinburgh, 2015

Caledonian brewery, Edinburgh, 2015

 

Goodbye to the last of London’s million-barrel breweries

Flag on the top of the Mortlake brewery 1932

Flag on the top of the Mortlake brewery 1932

It is one of history’s ironies that just as London hits more breweries than at any time in the past 110 years, its brewing capacity is more than halved with the closure of the last of the capital’s remaining megabreweries, at Mortlake.

That the brewery at Mortlake, which has been pumping out hundreds of thousands of barrels a year of Budweiser for the past two decades, should have survived to be at least 250 years old this year is remarkable: it lost its independent in 1889, and the guillotine has been poised above its neck for the past six years.

The Mortlake site, famous as the home of Watney’s Red Barrel, was one of eight huge breweries still operating in London in the mid-1970s, which between them made one in every five pints drunk in Britain. Four closed between 1975 and 1982: Charrington’s in Mile End, Whitbread’s on the northern edge of the City, Mann’s in Whitechapel and Courage by Tower Bridge. Truman’s brewery shut in Brick Lane in 1989, and Ind Coope in Romford in 1992. In 2005, Guinness closed the Park Royal brewery. With the shuttering of Young’s in 2006 (yes, I know there’s still brewing on the site, but it’s not a commercial operation), in 2007 brewery numbers in London hit what was almost an all-time low, of just 10.

It’s instructive to see how brewery numbers have fluctuated over the past 300 years:

1700 London had 190 breweries, producing a total of 1.7 million barrels of ale and beer.
1786 Still around 161 brewers in the London area, though the top 12 London porter brewers made up half the capital’s beer production
1826 London has 93 commercial brewers, and 61 retail or pub brewers
1850 More than 40 London breweries had closed in the previous 20 years. However, the capital can still boast some 160 brewers
1904 London still had 90 breweries, out of a total of 1,503 in England and Wales. It also had just one pub still brewing its own beer, although in the rest of the country there were another 3,108 home-brew pubs.
1913 Brewery numbers are starting to drop, with just 65 left still operating
1919 The First World War, and high beer taxes, have see a big cull, with only 46 breweries now left in London
1923 London is now down to some 42 or so operating breweries
1952 London still had 25 operating breweries, run by some 19 or so companies, out of around 560 breweries in the whole of the UK.
1960 16 breweries left, including some surprising survivors – Harman’s in Uxbridge, for example; the Wenlock Brewery, off the City Road in Shoreditch; Woodheads, running at the South London Brewery in Southwark Bridge Road until 1964; and the Essex Brewery in Walthamstow, which was being run by the Ipswich brewers Tolly Cobbold when it closed in December 1971
1976 After all but two of London’s smaller breweries had shut, and with the closure of two of the largest, Charrington’s and Whitbread, the capital reaches an all-time low of just nine breweries
1981 A burst of pub-brewery openings lift numbers to 20
1998 The growth of the Firkin chain helps push brewery numbers up to a post-Second World War high of 34
2000 Closure of the Firkin breweries sees numbers fall to just 20
2007 While the rest of the country sees brewery numbers rising, London is now down to just ten
2010 Brewery numbers start to climb again, to 14
2012 A surge of openings sees a new post-war high of 36
2013 Brewery numbers almost double in a year, to hit 70
2015 Numbers now believed to be around 80, more than for 110 years

We’re one more down, now though: and whatever you thought of the beer it brewed in recent years, it’s still, I think, a little sad that this is the end of an important chapter in London’s industrial heritage. So here’s my small tribute:

Weatherstone's brewery, split by Thames Street, from Samuel Leigh's 1829 Panorama of the Thames

Weatherstone’s brewery, split by Thames Street, from Samuel Leigh’s 1829 Panorama of the Thames

Much of the commentary about the brewery’s closure claims it was founded in 1487, when a Welshman, John Morgan, was “induced” (to use a term first used by an antiquarian writing in 1886) to start a brewery at Mortlake, supposedly to supply the largely Welsh household of the new Tudor king, Henry VII, who was to base himself at the palace at nearby Sheen – shortly to have its name changed to Richmond. It has also been claimed that the brewery sprang from a brewhouse at Mortlake Manor House, which was occupied by the Archbishops of Canterbury from at least the 11th century. But the archbishops continued to own the manor house until 1535, after which it went to a multitude of hands, before being demolished, apparently, soon after 1700. There is absolutely nothing currently known to link either Morgan or the manor house to the two small breweries recorded in 1765 either side of Thames Street in Mortlake, leading to the Town Dock, one owned by James Weatherstone and the other by William Richmond, which are the first recorded commercial breweries in what was then a small village.

By 1780 Richmond’s brewery had been bought by a man called John Prior. Weatherstone meanwhile went into partnership with Carteret John Halford. In 1807 Weatherstone and Halford bought land next to the river with a frontage of 104 feet and extended their brewery premises northward. Four years later, in 1811, they acquired Prior’s brewery, merging them into one, though Thames Street still separated the two halves. Weatherstone passed on his brewery to his nephew Thomas, who carried on the partnership with Halford until he died around 1825. The business was substantial enough by now that it employed a clerk, called John Stephenson and a brewer called George Dyson, who signed the codicil to Weatherstone’s will in 1824. Halford was then in partnership at the brewery with William Topham: at one point they were “brewers to her Majesty”, according to a directory entry. By 1840 Halford was dead, and Topham had entered into a new partnership with George Streater Kempson, who looks to have been a relative by marriage of Halford’s. In 1841 Kempson and Topham’s operation at Mortlake was described as a “considerable establishment”.

Phillips & Wigan cask labelCharles James Phillips, son of a corn and coal merchant, became a partner in the firm in 1846, which was listed in 1849 as CJ Phillips and GS Kempson. Then in 1852, James Wigan, aged 20, the son of a hop merchant, bought a half-share in the business for £15,000, and it became Phillips and Wigan. By that time the brewery was using around 5,000 quarters of malt a year, suggesting an output of between 20,000 and 25,000 barrels of beer. In 1865 Phillips and Wigan bought the freehold of all the properties along the river frontage, for £2,350, and in 1866 they moved to shut the alleys and streets that ran through the brewery premises, including Thames Street and Brewhouse Lane. The people of Mortlake fought to prevent this, but the brewers eventually won, after a court case. The brewery was then substantially rebuilt, and a stone in the main wall still marks this, with the monogram P and W and the date 1869. In 1876, however, Wigan bought Hawkes’ brewery in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire and although he continued to live in Mortlake, control of the brewery passed in 1877 solely to the Philips family.

The brewery is often said to have “held lucrative contracts for supplying beer to the Army in India”, but if it did, it was not alone: in 1873 the India Office revealed that there were “about eighteen” of the “great London brewers” on the list of suppliers of beer to the Indian army, a trade worth 150,000 barrels a year. Two sets of recipients of Mortlake brewery beer every year were the crews who took part in the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race: Charles Phillips regularly held a lunch for them at his home at the end of the race.

Mortlake brewery from the Middlesex side of the river in 1931

Mortlake brewery from the Middlesex side of the river in 1931

By the end of the 1880s brewers were starting to gobble each other up as the only way of acquiring new pub customers, with, particularly in the South of England, very few free houses left. In 1889 the Phillipses accepted a takeover offer from Watney’s of the Stag brewery, Pimlico, once one of London’s Big 12 porter brewers, and two of Charles Phillips’s sons, Charles junior and Herbert, joined the Watney’s board. It was not just the Mortlake brewery’s pubs that Watney’s was after: the Pimlico concern needed somewhere that could make the increasingly popular pale ales and bitter beers, and the Mortlake brewery seems to have had a good reputation for them. For many years after the acquisition, all the bitter for Watney’s London trade was brewed at Mortlake and taken down river by two barges, called Mollie and Ann.

In 1898 Watney’s merged with two other long-established London porter brewers, Reid’s of Clerkenwell and Combe’s of Covent Garden, to become the largest brewing concern in London. Reid’s brewery was closed, but Combe’s ran for another six years, until the Mortlake brewery had been rebuilt enough to supply the enlarged operation, including an I eight-storey maltings built by the riverside in 1903 on the eastern corner of Ship Lane.

With the restrictions on beer production brought about by the First World War, brewing at Mortlake actually ceased for a while during the conflict, and the site was used for the production of (unrationed) honey sugar, sold under the Union Jack brand in cut-down quart beer bottles.

Coppers in the 'pale ale' copperhouse at the Mortlake brewery around 1938

Coppers in the ‘pale ale’ copperhouse at the Mortlake brewery around 1938

Mash tuns at the Mortlake brewery circa 1939

Mash tuns at the Mortlake brewery circa 1939

In 1930 Watney’s bought a bulk beer pasteuriser from a firm in Germany, installing it at Mortlake, and began experimenting with “container” bitter – pressurised keg beer. The first customer was the nearby East Sheen Lawn Tennis Club, where a Mortlake brewer, Bert Hussey, was a member. But “keg” beer was also being installed in pubs as early as 1933: when the Chequers Inn in Isleworth, a few miles from Mortlake, was rebuilt, the Watney’s house magazine, The Red Barrel, said:

“A feature of this house is an innovation in the system of supplying the beer to the bar from the cellar. It is delivered under pressure direct from the cask and does not go through any pump of beer engine. It is one of the most hygienic methods of service known and this is one of the first houses in the country to be so equipped. It ensures that the beer is served to the customer in the same condition as that in which it leaves the Brewery.”

Rolling barrels in the Mortlake brewery yard 1932

Rolling barrels in the Mortlake brewery yard 1932

Two years later, in 1935, the company launched the Mortlake-brewed Watney’s Special bitter, stronger and more expensive than the “ordinary” bitter, at eight pence a pint in public bars, nine pence in the saloon

In 1959 the original Watney’s site in Pimlico closed. Mortlake was still not big enough to brew all the company’s beers, and a year earlier Watney’s had taken over Mann’s brewery in the East End to ensure it had enough capacity. By 1971 Mann’s was looking old and cramped, however, and Watney’s set in train plans to shut Mann’s and expand the Mortlake brewery again. In the meantime the company decided that since Mortlake would not be ready until 1975, at a cost of £7 million, it needed to buy more capacity. It was about to bid for another East End brewery, the recently refurbished Truman’s in Brick Lane, when Joseph Maxwell of Grand Metropolitan made an unexpected move on the Brick Lane brewer. The two-month fight that followed seems to have exhausted Watney’s, the loser, so much that it succumbed itself to a bid from Grand Met the following year.

Mortlake brewery on Boatrace Day around 1938

Mortlake brewery on Boatrace Day around 1938

By the 1980s, under Grand Met, Mortlake was essentially a massive lager brewery, with Fosters and Holsten Export the big brands, though according to one ex-Mortlake brewer, Watney’s Special and Watney’s Pale Ale were still “reasonable” volumes, with Watney’s Pale Ale a “significant” bottled beer brand. However, automation meant that the number of employees had plunged, from 1,400 in the 1960s to just 400.

The brewery changed owners several times in the 1990s as the reverberations of the 1989 Beer Orders saw Britain’s giant brewery companies merge, evaporate or quit brewing, and in 1995 the Mortlake site, which had been given the former name of Watney’s premises in Pimlico, the Stag brewery, was leased to Anheuser-Busch to make Budweiser. It still had a capacity of a million barrels a year in 1995, though it has probably not been making more than about 650,000 barrels a year in very recent times: even now, probably more than all the rest of London’s breweries put together.

An announcement that the site was to close was originally made in 2009, by which time only around 180 people were employed there, though a year later it appeared that a surprise increase in sales of Budweiser had stayed the axeman’s hand. Now, however, AB, or rather AB InBev, as it has become, which eventually bought the leasehold of the 21-acre site, has shut it down, and sold it to a Singapore-listed company, City Developments Ltd, for £158m. There are, apparently, no firm development plas yet, but one extimate reckons 850 homes could be fitted onto the site – you can see how big it is here.

Best-selling business advice from a BrewDog

As the only beer writer on the planet with an MBA (probably), it falls to me to give a business school-style review on behalf of beer drinkers to Business for Punks, the just-published “how we succeeded and how you can too” guidebook from BrewDog co-founder James Watt.

Not that any review is likely to make much difference to the book’s popularity: it is already the number-one best seller in the “entrepreneurship” section of Amazon’s UK website, and in the top 350 best-selling books on the site overall, despite only being published last week. The book, it appears, is as popular as the beer.

Thanks, James we get rthe idea

Selling like hot … um … ale … James Watt and book

Business manuals from stars of the American craft brewing scene have been popping up like mushrooms in the past few years: Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada, Steve Hindy of Brooklyn Brewery, Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head, Tony Magee of Lagunitas, Steve Wagner and Greg Koch of Stone Brewing and Jeremy Cowan of Schmaltz have all written books about how they started and grew their businesses, Calagione has a second book out in December, Off-Centered Leadership: The DogFish Head Guide to Motivation, Collaboration and Smart Growth, and Jim Koch, founder of Samuel Adams, has his “how I did it” book out in April 2016 .

Britain’s craft brewers have been slower to get their experiences on paper: maybe they’re too busy brewing. It’s not as if we lack an audience for how-to-be-a-successful-brewer books: large numbers of people apparently want to brew commercially. Some 200 new breweries have opened in the UK in the past 12 months, and the country now has more than twice as many breweries per head as the United States: 1 to 38,000, against 1 to 80,000. More likely, we lack the “superstar” brewers that the US has, people whose name on the cover will attract the buyers. I doubt that Watt wrote the book and sought a publisher: much more likely that someone at Penguin Random House approached Watt with the idea

Watt, of course, and his fellow founder of BrewDog, Martin Dickie, are among the very, very few candidates for “star brewer” in the UK. More than 6,000 people turned up to BrewDog’s annual general meeting in Aberdeen in June. Six thousand people. In Aberdeen. Admittedly this is not so much an AGM as a beer festival-cum-love in, with something on the order of 40,000 pints of beer consumed. But there isn’t another brewery in Britain that could hope to attract that level of support. And as Pete Brown once pointed out, when even his Stella-drinking mother in Barnsley has heard of BrewDog, you know you’re looking at a powerful brand.

So: what’s Watt’s book like?

Continue reading

A short account of the surprisingly long history of putting beer in cellar tanks.

Tank beer – “tankova” – may be a hot new trend in London, with Meantime in Greenwich and Pilsner Urquell delivering fresh unpasteurised beer to pubs in beautiful shiny big containers, but the idea of putting beer in cellar tanks to deliver better quality is, even in London, more than a century old.

The first “tank” beer system in the capital appears to have been introduced by Hugh Abbot, a brewer at Watney’s original Stag brewery in Pimlico, London, just around the corner from Buckingham Palace. In 1913 he had three standing butts fixed up in the cellar of a Watney’s pub, and beer delivered in an old horse-drawn tank wagon of the sort that brewers used to transport beer to their bottling stores. The experiment was successful enough that by 1920 Watney’s had electric-powered tanker lorries, fitted with copper tanks, taking beer around to its pubs. It was still using electric vehicles in 1949, though by then tank deliveries to pubs were done using trailers mounted behind standard tractor units.

Large ceramic cellar tanks made by Royal Doulton in a Hull Brewery pub cellar

Large ceramic cellar tanks made by Royal Doulton in a Hull Brewery pub cellar

Another of London’s “big seven” 20th century brewers, Charrington’s, of the Anchor brewery in Mile End, was also delivering tank beer by the early 1920s, and a Charrington’s brewer, Alfred Paul, described the system to the Institute of Brewers in a talk in May 1922. Only “bright” mild beer, chilled and filtered, was delivered by Charrington’s tankers to its pubs, he said, although “experiments are being made with a tank for the bulk delivery of naturally conditioned beer.” The road tanks, made of copper lagged with iron, had a capacity of 24 barrels each, that is, 864 gallons, and the tanks in the pub cellars generally held three barrels each. “On arrival of the delivery tank, or road tank, at the house, the hose, is let down through the cellar-flap or any other available aperture, and the beer allowed to run down into the cellar tank. Should the fall from the street to the cellar be insufficient, a band-pump attached to the foot-board of the chassis could be used.” Charrington’s cellar tanks were generally made of earthenware, Paul said, being upright, cylindrical vessels, with a glazed inside, but ” experiments are now being carried out with aluminium and glass-lined steel.” The tanks, he said, “are carefully examined prior to filling, with a powerful electric torch. The men, who are carefully selected, are definitely instructed not to fill a tank unless, in their opinion, which by constant practice has become expert, the tank is scrupulously clean.”

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The IPA shipwreck and the Night of the Big Wind

The “IPA shipwreck” is one of many long-lasting myths in the history of India Pale Ale. The story says that IPA became popular in Britain after a ship on its way to India in the 1820s was wrecked in the Irish Sea, and some hogsheads of beer it was carrying out east were salvaged and sold to publicans in Liverpool, after which the city’s drinkers demanded lots more of the same. Colin Owen, author of a history of Bass’s brewery, called the tale “unsubstantiated” more than 20 years ago, and others, including me, being unable to find any reports of any such wreck, nor of any indication that IPA was a big seller in the UK until the 1840s, have dismissed it as completely untrue. Except that it turns out casks of IPA did go on sale in Liverpool after a wreck off the Lancashire coast involving a ship carrying hogsheads of beer to India, a shipwreck that, literally, became a landmark – though not in the 1820s – and the true story is a cracker, involving one of the worst storms to hit the British Isles in centuries, which brought huge destruction and hundreds of deaths from one side of the UK to the other.

The story of the IPA shipwreck first turns up in 1869 in a book called Burton-on-Trent, its History, its Waters and its Breweries, by Walter Molyneaux, who described how the Burton brewers began brewing beer for export to India from 1823. Molyneaux wrote: “India appears to have been the exclusive market for the Burton bitter beer up to about the year 1827, when in consequence of the wreck in the Irish Channel of a vessel containing a cargo of about 300 hogsheads, several casks saved were sold in Liverpool for the benefit of the underwriters, and by this means, in a remarkably rapid manner, the fame of the new India ale spread throughout Great Britain.”

Molyneaux’s story has been regularly repeated in the past century and a half. But no one has been able to find a wreck that matched up with his story. This turns out to be, not because the wreck didn’t happen, but because he was 12 years out with the date.

The year after Molyneaux’s book came out, a different version of the tale appeared in the “notes and queries” section of an obscure publication called English Mechanic and World of Science. The account was written by a man who gave himself the name of “Meunier”, and it said: “Forty years ago [ie about 1830] pale ale was very little known in London, except to those engaged in the India trade. The house with which I was connected shipped large quantities, receiving in return consignments of East Indian produce. About 1839, a ship, the Crusader, bound for one of our Indian ports, foundered, and the salvage, comprising a large quantity of export bitter ale, was sold for the benefit of the underwriters. An enterprising publican or restaurant keeper in Liverpool purchased a portion of the beer and introduced it to his customers; the novelty pleased, and, I believe, laid the foundation of the home trade now so extensively carried on.”

Ships off Liverpool in the Great Storm of 1839, painted by Samuel Walters.

Ships off Liverpool in the Great Storm of 1839, painted by Samuel Walters.

The two clues – the ship’s name and the later date – together with the fact that large numbers of newspapers from the time have now been scanned and made available on the web make it easy to trace the story at last. The Crusader was a 584-tonne East Indiaman, or armed merchantman, described as “a fine large ship with painted ports [that is, gun-ports] and a full-length figurehead”, “newly coppered”, that is, with new copper sheathing on the hull to prevent attacks by wood-boring molluscs, and “a very fast sailer”, under the command of Captain JG Wickman. She had arrived in Liverpool early in November 1838 after a five-month journey from either Calcutta or Bombay (different Liverpool newspapers at the time gave different starting ports) with a cargo including raw cotton, 83 elephants’ tusks, coffee, wool, pepper, ginger – and opium, which did not become illegal in Britain until 1916. Captain Wickman and his crew were due to leave for Bombay again on Saturday December 15, after five weeks of roistering in Liverpool, with a cargo that included finished cotton goods, silk, beef and pork in casks, cases of glass shades, iron ingots, tin plates, Government dispatches – and India ale in hogsheads, brewed by two different Burton brewers, Bass and Allsopp, the whole lot being insured for £100,000, perhaps £8 million today.

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