Tag Archives: Wells & Young’s

Courage IRS: a 40-year vertical tasting

Very few beer brands survive today that have modern examples to put into a worthwhile four-decade vertical tasting. That’s simply because forty years ago there were hardly any beers being brewed that had the longevity to be still drinkable when even the most junior brewer involved in their production is now at or approaching retirement age.

It wasn’t looking good for Courage Imperial Russian Stout, which was one of less than a handful of strong beers capable of great age being brewed in the 1970s and which stopped being made in the early 1990s despite a history going back more than two centuries.

But Courage IRS, doubtless in considerable part because Michael Jackson’s World Guide to Beer in 1977 featured it across two pages, has inspired a huge number of imitators in the US and created an extremely popular beer style in the process.

When the Bedford brewer Wells & Youngs acquired the rights to the Courage beer brands from Scottish & Newcastle in 2007, the first two beers from the old Courage stable Wells produced were the Best Bitter and Directors Bitter. But I am sure it quickly occurred to the company’s marketers that here was a chance to bring back a truly iconic beer, which would surely have an instant appeal in the US as the ur-IRS, the Imperial Russian Stout in honour of which all others are named.

Thus in May last year the Bedford brewery produced the first new brew of Courage Imperial Russian Stout for 18 years, two bottles of which they’ve been kind enough to send to me, to my great delight, as I love a good IRS. And because I’m the sort of sad nerd who stuffs bottles of beers away for decades, I was able to pull out examples of Courage IRS from 1975, 1985 and 1992 to compare against the latest version. Continue reading Courage IRS: a 40-year vertical tasting

Wells gets Younger – which isn’t as old as claimed

Excellent news, I think, that Wells & Young’s has acquired the Scottish brands McEwan’s and Younger’s from their current owner, Heineken.

The announcement last week that W&Y was bringing back Courage Imperial Russian Stout genuinely excited me, and not just because it’s a fantastic beer. It showed that the Bedford company has a shrewd understanding of the sort of niche a medium-sized brewer can exploit with the right brands, and it has cottoned on to the growing desire of drinkers in the UK, the US and elsewhere to drink authentic, heritage beers again. McEwan’s and Younger’s have plenty of heritage – Younger’s No 3, for example.

But I’d like to make it clear, now, that if I notice ANY references by the brand’s new owners to Younger’s being “established in 1749”, I shall be driving up to Bedford and administering a few slaps. Because it wasn’t. This claim of a 1749 foundation date has been around since at least 1861, making it 150 years old, or more, and it still regularly pops up. Only yesterday the Scotsman newspaper printed this rubbish

“William Younger founded Edinburgh’s historic brewing industry when he set up his firm in Leith in 1749.”

There are two big errors in that one sentence: Edinburgh’s brewing industry is, of course, far older than 1749: the city was stuffed with breweries long before, so much that its nickname, “Auld Reekie” (“Old Smoky”), is sometimes said to have come from all the smoke that came out of the brewery chimneys. In addition, William Younger never started a brewery in Leith, in 1749 or any other year. In fact he was almost certainly never a brewer at all.

Continue reading Wells gets Younger – which isn’t as old as claimed

Take Courage in the face of idiocy

take-courage-1961Out of the 49 million adults in the UK it apparently only takes three idiots to complain for a 60-year-old advertising slogan to be banned by the Advertising Standards Authority.

The phrase “Take Courage” has been in use by the brewers of Courage since at least 1950, when the beer still came from the Anchor brewery hard by Tower Bridge: the earliest mention I have been able to find is from a book on “Royal Windsor’ published that year which contained an advertisement for the Royal Oak pub:

For good beer, good cheer, a friendly atmosphere and a ready welcome, at all times, visit the “ROYAL OAK” Opposite Windsor Station LUNCHEONS PARTY CATERING tel Windsor 1179
Whenever you see a cockerel

the cockerel, of course, being the Courage trademark.

Another early mention of the slogan comes in an article from a publication called the American Magazine, which covered a trip to Europe in 1952, and which is worth reprinting because of the fabulous picture it gives of pub life in the first year of Queen Elizabeth II:

Stopped next at a family-style pub with little old ladies lining the wall like chaperones at a school dance. They gossip and watch goings-on, including us. A woman in spectacles and a tired fur piece got up and sang a song. Left pub early because we fly to Paris at 9am.. Saw sign saying ‘Take Courage Here.’ Learned Courage is a brand of beer. Long live England!

Alas, in the 57th year of Liz’s reign, when Wells and Young’s, who now brew Courage beers at Bedford, decided to press the old slogan into new service, a trio of feckwits complained to the ASA that the ad showing a woman in a new dress clearly asking the question all men know must be answered “No, darling, certainly not” really implied that the beer the man was drinking “would give him confidence to either make negative comments on the woman’s appearance or take advantage of her.” Take advantage of her? What strange planet do this people beam down from?

takecourageThe ASA, demonstrating that you have to have a senseofhumourectomy before you can become an advertising watchdog, has ruled that “Although we understood the humorous intention of the scenario” – well, no, I don’t think you do, actually – “we concluded that the poster breached the [advertising] code by suggesting that the beer could increase confidence.” Clearly no one at the ASA ever has a drink, either, because as a number of commentators have pointed out, alcohol DOES increase confidence, whether the ASA wishes it or not, and making jokes about that fact is perfectly legitimate.

Continue reading Take Courage in the face of idiocy