Friday 16 May 2014

Brewing History: Big fish eat little fish

The other week I got to hear Chris Marchbanks talk about brewery history. The subtitle gave away what's happened to a lot of the breweries: big fish eat little fish.

With the number of microbreweries ever increasing it almost seems strange to think that for a long time the only way brewery numbers went was down, but of the 400 breweries left after the second world was there are only 56 still around.

The talk was wide ranging, covering the brewing industry and factors that have affected it, as well as Chris's own career which started at Ansells, before it became part of Allied. I'm not sure I can draw together a coherent account of all he covered,so I'll try and scape together some fascinating facts from my scribbled notes.

  • The 1830 Beer House Act also move duty from beer to malt. 
  • The beer barons really took off after Allsopp's and Whitbread's were Incorporated. 
  • Ornate breweries were built in the 1880s and 1890s, the scramble for pubs took off in 1890.
  • In 1914 there were 3600 breweries in Britain.
  • WWI deaths causes succession problems for breweries. 
  • The 1931 budget was not good for beer.
  •  Neither was WWII bombing.
  • Allied Breweries was originally called ICTA for Ind Coope, Tetley, Ansells, and had eight breweries, maltings, a hop farm and of course thousands of pubs.
  • Pilot malting and brewing trials for new barley varieties (the reason I was recently in Edinburgh) started after the then new variety Julia caused serious viscosity problems when used for brewing.
  • Breweries would make their own hop extract by boiling hops with potassium hydroxide.
  • Party Sevens came from when Metal Box didn't sell enough paint tins. Ansells were the first to use them in 1962. Originally they were coarse filtered but not pasteurised which lead to loads being returned.
  • The high spot of British beer production was 79/80 at 41 million barrels. This lead to production for 1985 being forecast as 49 million, but in fact it was 38 and it's been downhill ever since.
  • In 1983 (before The Beer Orders) Allied Breweries had made clear where their priorities lay by stating that they are retailers vertically integrated into breweries, not breweries that own tied houses.
  • Continuous fermentation was tried in various ways but outside of New Zealand was abandoned (not that it's stopped people looking at bringing it back).
  • The Big Six ended up at retailers, selling their breweries to international concerns with long histories of brewing but not retailing.
Chris was followed by Nigel Sadler of Wibblers Brewery (and a whole host of beery organisations). When the scheduled speaker couldn't make it he stepped in to give a talk on the rise of Craft Breweries. The thing that most struck me from his talk was the statement that in the UK people want farmhouse cheddar at dairylea prices, and there are probably too many breweries already. Certainly one to think about and it will be interesting to see how things work out.


  1. The thing that most struck me from his talk was the statement that in the UK people want farmhouse cheddar at dairylea prices

    Bollocks. We want farmhouse cheddar back. If we say we want "real ale", it's not because we want more artisanal specialities hand-crafted for hipsters, while the proles get on with necking whatever swill they can afford - it means we want all ale to be real, again. No more tasteless plastic cheddar, no more tasteless 'smooth' bitter - for anyone.

    People who say that CAMRA isn't a campaign against other sorts of beer have a point - I drink plenty of beer that doesn't qualify myself - but fundamentally the argument is misguided. CAMRA has always been a campaign 'against' as well as 'for' - it's against all the inferior substitutes that pass for real ale.

    As for price, how does an increase of twice the rate of inflation for forty years sound? (Obviously the brewers didn't get all or even most of that, but still.)

  2. Sorry Phil, I was thinking of the bit about there being too many breweries. I'm with you about CAMRA: