Category Archives: Beer & cider

Notes on the Carlsberg UK merger with Marston’s

Some initial thoughts on the merger of the businesses of Carlsberg UK and the Marston’s Beer Company.

On 22 May 2020 it was announced that Carlsberg UK will merge with the brewing arm of Marston’s. Carlsberg will control 60 percent of the equity in the venture and Marston’s will hold the remainder.

The Twittersphere seems to believe that this is a “classic case” of “Big Beer” exercising control over the British brewing industry. Perhaps it is, but I would characterise it as more of an act of desperation on the part of Carlsberg. Not only will Marston’s continue to hold a large minority stake in the business, but they will receive a one off cash payment of £273 million.

As things stood, Carlsberg UK was undoubtedly in a position of weakness. Despite a major rebrand and overhaul of its recipe, Carlsberg lager remains stuck at third place in the standard lager market, behind Carling and Foster’s. Their only powerful brand in the premium lager market is San Miguel, which admittedly has enjoyed somewhat of a surge in popularity in recent years.

Other than the licence to brew Brooklyn Brewery products, Carlsberg’s most noticeable commitment to craft beer consisted of closing down their Leeds site, the largest cask ale brewery in the world, in 2008. The tie-up with Marston’s effectively reverses this decision, buying into a business that operates six breweries, largely producing cask ale.

Furthermore, the Marston’s tie-up represents a reversal of strategy for Carlsberg. They closed their own distribution network in 2016. Now, four years later, having access to the Marston’s distribution network is an appeal for them.

I honestly wish the venture success. I believe that both businesses are stronger together. Carlsberg has neglected its Tetley cask ale brand, which was the largest in the world as late as the mid-1990s, whereas Marston’s has nurtured and heavily invested in its own. Meanwhile Marston’s lacks strong lager brands, which Carlsberg provides.

Milk the profits: a history of Mackeson Stout

Mackeson & Co was the first brewery to introduce milk stout.

The Hythe Brewery and the Mackeson family
The Hythe Brewery was established on High Street, Hythe, Kent in 1669.

Overseas version of Mackeson Stout

William Mackeson (1774 – 1821), a surgeon, became junior partner at the Hythe Brewery from 1801.

Following his death in 1821 the business was continued by his brother, Henry Mackeson (1772 – 1860).

Nine men were employed at the Hythe Brewery in 1851.

Henry Mackeson died in 1860, and his son, Henry Bean Mackeson (1813 – 1894) took control of the Hythe Brewery.

Henry Bean Mackeson was gentlemanly, genial, courteous, and well-respected. He employed 37 men in 1871, and 36 men in 1881. He served as Mayor of Hythe for nine consecutive years.

Henry Mackeson takes control of the business, and milk stout is introduced
Henry Mackeson (1861 – 1935), studied chemistry at Edinburgh and London. He became the head of the business following the death of his father in 1894.

Mackeson was persistent and hard working, and developed the business. He invested in new buildings and machinery, and updated the range of beers provided in order to meet changing customer preference.

Henry Mackeson was joined in partnership by his brother, George Lawrie Mackeson (1864 – 1950).

Mackeson & Co was incorporated with a share capital of £120,000 in 1900.

Mackeson & Co acquired various patents relating to using lactose, or milk sugar, in brewing from 1908. Stout was already recommended as a source of energy during convalescence, and Mackeson hoped that the addition of lactose would further increase its nutritional value. Mackeson Milk Stout, the first milk stout in the world, was introduced from 1909. 9 lbs (4.1 kg) of lactose were used in each 36 gallon barrel. The product was an immediate success.

Henry and George Lawrie Mackeson sold their shareholdings to H & G Simonds, a large brewery based in Reading, in 1920. The two brothers took the opportunity to enter into retirement.

Mackeson became a well-established brand throughout Kent. The brewery employed 120 people by 1929.

Mackeson is acquired by Whitbread
Whitbread, a large London brewer, acquired Mackeson & Co in 1929. Simonds sold up as the offer price was simply too good to refuse.

Whitbread afforded Mackeson Milk Stout nationwide distribution. The J Walter Thompson advertising agency was engaged to market the brand towards women, who it was reasoned would appreciate its smooth and sweet flavour. Over 50,000 barrels were sold in 1939, and the beer accounted for nearly ten percent of Whitbread production.

The name of the product was changed to “Mackeson Stout” from around 1942 onwards.

Sales gained momentum following the Second World War. Mackeson benefited from an increasing demand for bottled beers, which, although more expensive, provided consistent flavour and quality.

103,000 barrels of Mackeson were produced in 1948.

Mackeson Stout contained eight percent lactose in 1954.

Whitbread bottled beers were available in over half the licensed houses in Britain by 1955. Demand was such that Whitbread had to subcontract around 20 percent of its bottling to other companies.

60 percent of the £850,000 Whitbread advertising budget was dedicated to Mackeson in 1957. Mackeson accounted for almost half of revenue at Whitbread by 1960. Sales had effectively quadrupled during the 1950s, and 425,000 barrels of Mackeson were sold in 1961.

Mackeson held around a quarter of the stout market in Britain by 1963. Whitbread briefly experimented with a draught version of Mackeson at this time.

A reciprocal agreement was signed with Bass in 1965, who agreed to stock Mackeson Stout across its estate of 4,100 public houses in exchange for Whitbread selling Bass beers throughout their estate.

Mackeson was introduced to the South African market in 1967.

Mackeson had an ABV of over four percent in 1968, and sold for a premium price.

The Hythe brewery was closed in 1968 and Whitbread relocated production to the Exchange Brewery in Sheffield.

Mackeson had been introduced in cans by 1971.

Mackeson was withdrawn from sale in South Africa in 1972.

Mackeson was brewed under licence in Jamaica and Trinidad from 1973. It began to be brewed in Singapore from 1978 and Nigeria from 1979.

Sales of Mackeson had began to decline in Britain by the late 1970s.

British Mackeson had an ABV of 4.3 percent in 1988.

The Exchange Brewery was closed in 1993, and Whitbread relocated production to their Castle Eden, Co Durham and Samlesbury, Lancashire plants.

Mackeson XXX Stout was brewed under licence in the United States by the Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewing Company in Cincinnati, Ohio from around 2000.

The former Mackeson malthouse in Hythe (2007)

Whitbread sold its beer operations to Interbrew of Belgium for £400 million in 2000. Interbrew merged with AmBev to form Inbev from 2004.

Mackeson Stout was produced under contract by a number of brewers from 1999, including Young’s of Wandsworth, Ridley’s of Chelmsford, Cameron’s of Hartlepool and Hydes of Manchester. The Hydes Brewery was closed in 2012, and its production centre since this date remains unknown.

The ABV of Mackeson’s was reduced from 3 percent to 2.8 percent from 2012 in order to qualify for duty relief.

According to information kindly provided by InBev, Mackeson Stout currently contains 600g of lactose per hectolitre of final product as of 2020.

Sources
* British Newspaper Archive
* The Times Historical Archive
* The Story of Whitbread PLC 1742-1990 by Nicholas Barritt Redman
* Census, birth and death records
* Martyn Cornell
* Ron Pattinson

Beer we go again: E Smithwick & Sons

How did Smithwick’s rise from relative obscurity to become the largest ale brewer in Ireland?

Origins and the Edmond Smithwick era
The Smithwicks were a well-established and highly-respected Catholic family in Kilkenny, Ireland.

John Smithwick (1763 – 1842) entered into business as a wholesale and general grocer with premises on Kilkenny High Street. From modest beginnings Smithwick grew wealthy, and he leased a distillery at St Francis Abbey, Kilkenny, on behalf of his eldest son, Edmond Smithwick (1801 – 1876), from 1827.

St Francis Abbey is a ruinous former Franciscan abbey built in the early 13th century.

The brewery was built around the historic St Francis Abbey, as seen in this 2007 photograph

An adjoining brewery was acquired on lease from 1833. Ireland had relatively few breweries, numbered at just 207 in 1831, against 5,419 in England. Kilkenny was to prove an advantageous location for the production of beer, given that it was situated in one of the most best barley growing regions in Ireland. The brewery soon overtook the distillery to become the predominant business.

Edmond Smithwick hosted Daniel O’Connell (1775 – 1847), the Catholic emancipation campaigner, in 1840. Amongst this fervour of nationalistic mood, there was a revival of a campaign for Irish consumers to purchase Irish-made goods. Smithwick himself argued that if the middle classes supported Irish industry, lower taxes would ensue, as there would be fewer unemployed to support.*

Highly-regarded by the community, Edmond Smithwick was elected Mayor of Kilkenny in 1844.

Edmond Smithwick greatly extended and modernised the brewery in 1851. He also hired a highly experienced brewer.

Edmond Smithwick funded an all-expenses paid trip for over 100 employees to the Great Exhibition of Dublin in 1853.

His brother, Daniel Smithwick (died 1869), established a bottling works.

Edmond Smithwick had commenced exports to the British Empire by 1855.

The business traded as E Smithwick & Sons by 1861.

Edmond Smithwick was re-elected Mayor of Kilkenny in 1864 and 1865.

Edmond Smithwick had spent thousands of pounds on improvements to his site by 1867. It was one of the foremost industrial concerns in the south of Ireland. The brewery employed hundreds of people. Smithwick had a reputation as a fair employer who paid a good wage.

Edmond Smithwick acquired the precinct of St Francis’s Abbey for £3,100 in 1867.

Edmond’s sons take over the business
Edmond Smithwick died in 1877, and the business was continued by his three sons, John William Smithwick (1835 – 1894), Edmond Smithwick (1839 – 1912) and Daniel Smithwick (1840 – 1883).

The business was incorporated as E Smithwick & Sons in 1890.

The brewery employed around 400 people in 1900.

The market consolidates
The success of the company in the beginning of the twentieth century was credited to its chairman, Michael Buggy (1855 – 1935), a solicitor.

E Smithwick & Sons was one of only 25 breweries remaining in Ireland by 1917, and one of only 15 to brew stout, porter and ale.

James Sullivan & Co, a rival Kilkenny brewery with a production capacity of 20,000 barrels a year, entered into receivership in 1917, and the assets were acquired by E Smithwick & Sons in 1919. The purchase left E Smithwick & Sons as the sole surviving brewery in Kilkenny.

Strong growth under W A Smithwick
Walter Aloysius Smithwick (1908 – 1993), the grandson of John William Smithwick, became a company director from 1931. He was responsible for introducing a large sales team to the business, which was to prove highly successful in increasing revenue. Smithwick’s products had national distribution by 1935. Over 400 licensed establishments in Dublin were supplied by 1937.

E Smithwick & Sons was the oldest and most important industrial concern in Kilkenny by 1937, and employed over 140 people in the city.

E Smithwick & Sons won first prize for best bottle conditioned beer in a British Commonwealth competition in 1937.** Shortly afterwards, the beer was rebranded as Smithwick’s No.1.

The Second World War hampered production, with output reduced to just 6,000 barrels in 1942.

Walter Smithwick became chairman and managing director from 1947. He determined to make Smithwick’s the leading ale brand in Ireland. Sales grew quickly under his dynamic leadership, and improved distribution saw annual production reach 50,000 barrels by 1952.

The Great Northern Brewery in Dundalk was purchased for £37,500 in order to supplement brewing capacity in 1954. The news was greeted positively, as it presented an opportunity for W A Smithwick to introduce his superior management skills to the acquired business.

Smithwick’s Brewery was registered as a public company with a capital of £500,000 in 1956. That year Guinness, the large Dublin-based brewery, took a stake in the business.

The Dundalk purchase was to prove problematic. Public taste increasingly favoured keg beer, and Smithwick’s lacked sufficient capital to convert the Dundalk brewery for this purpose. The Dundalk brewery was sold to Guinness, who invested to convert the plant towards the production of Harp lager.

E Smithwick & Sons held over 60 percent of the Irish ale market by 1960, a total of around 60,000 barrels a year. The four products were Smithwick’s No.1, a deep gold ale, Smithwick’s Export Ale, Smithwick’s SS Ale, and Smithwick’s Barley Wine.

Time, a pasteurised beer, was introduced from 1960.

Vintage bottles of Smithwick’s Barley Wine

Smithwick’s Barley Wine won the Olympic Gold Medal at the World Beer Olympics in 1963.

Takeover by Guinness and investment
Guinness acquired a 60 percent interest in Smithwick’s for £750,000 in 1964. The rest of the business was acquired the following year for £490,000.

Smithwick’s had been slow to anticipate the increased demand for draught beer. It introduced a lager brand, which failed, in part because it lacked the marketing power of Guinness and rival English brewers. Smithwick’s was also struggling with the capital demands of investing in draught beer.

Walter Smithwick did not regret his decision to sell the brewery. He knew the business needed large amounts of capital if it was to remain competitive, and to fail to take the business public would have seen it struggle to survive. Smithwick understood that a workforce of 250 were dependant on the brewery for their livelihood.

A new brewhouse was established from June 1965.

Some Smithwick’s bottling had been transferred to Dundalk by 1968.

The Smithwick’s brewery was expanded in 1969.

Walter Smithwick retired in 1973.

Hop varieties in use in the early 1970s included Irish-grown Fuggles, Goldings and Bullion. Hop pellets were in use by 1985.

Budweiser was produced under licence at the Kilkenny brewery from 1987. A £1 million investment was made to enable lager production at the brewery.

Growth as an export brand
Kilkenny Irish Beer (c.5% ABV) was introduced, originally as an export-only product, from 1987. The Kilkenny name was chosen as opposed to Smithwick’s as it was easier for non-native English speakers to pronounce. The initial market was Germany.

Draught Smithwick’s for the Northern Ireland market was brewed at Dundalk by 1988. Smithwicks Ale bottling was transferred to Dundalk as part of a rationalisation drive from 1989.

Export sales of Smithwick’s and Kilkenny increased by over one third in 1994, with a large market in Canada.

Domestic sales of Smithwick’s declined every year from the mid-1980s, and ale, excluding stout, comprised just ten percent of the Irish beer market by 1995.

A reduced-strength (4.3% ABV) version of Kilkenny Irish Beer was introduced to the Irish market from 1995. A Guinness executive explained that it was a different beer from Smithwick’s. It was a premium-priced product, and was intended to revitalise the declining ale category, and prevent the newly-launched Caffrey’s, a rival Irish ale from Bass, from taking market share.

Dundalk brewed all bottled and canned Smithwick’s, including the Barley Wine, by 1995.

Production of Smithwick’s beer for the domestic market had been transferred to the Guinness-owned Cherry’s Brewery in Waterford by 1997.

43,000 hectolitres (75 million pints) of Kilkenny Irish Beer had been sold across 53 different countries in 1999. The beer was sold in 1,860 domestic Irish pubs.

The Kilkenny Brewery employed 150 people in 2000. It was an efficient site, but was suffering from capacity constraints.

Smithwick’s Barley Wine was discontinued in 2001.

The front of the St Francis Abbey brewery, Kilkenny (2012)

The Kilkenny and Dunalk breweries were closed in 2013, with production relocated to St James’s Gate, Dublin, the home of Guinness.

Smithwick’s remains a leading ale brand in Ireland, with estimated sales of around 58,000 barrels in 2020, according to data from Euromonitor.

Notes
* It remains unclear exactly which Mr Smithwick was speaking at this Kilkenny meeting, but Edmond Smithwick (1801 – 1877) is the most likely.
** The name of the awarding body was the Brewing Trade Review Bottled Beer Exhibition

Perry good: a history of Babycham

Babycham is a pear cider drink. It was introduced in the early 1950s to immediate success.

Background
The Showering family had an association with the innkeeping and brewing trade in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, dating back to the 18th century.

Albert Edward Showering (1874 – 1946), a small-scale brewer, owned three public houses in Shepton Mallet by 1928. He had four sons, and two of them, Herbert Showering (1906 – 1974) and Francis Showering (1912 – 1995) were to prove instrumental in the subsequent growth of the family business.

Arthur Edward Showering (1899 – 1979) took over the licence of the Ship Inn on Kilver Street, Shepton Mallet, which was owned by his father Albert, in 1921. The rear of the Ship Inn housed a small brewery.

Showerings was incorporated as a private company in 1932, with Herbert Showering as chairman. Cider production was established by this time. Albert Edward Showering retired in 1934.

Francis Showering, a trained chemist, was manager of the Showerings cider mill by 1939. He was a stocky, hard-working, no-nonsense West Countryman. He had been appointed managing director of Showerings by 1949.

Showerings won numerous awards for the quality of its bottled ciders throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Babycham introduction
Following years of research and development Francis Showering developed a new sterile filtration process that improved the shelf quality of perry (pear cider) in 1947. The product was clear and sparkling, and reminiscent of champagne.

The sale of perry in Britain at the time was miniscule. The Showering brothers introduced the new product to the Bristol area and assessed its potential. Francis Showering determined to market the product towards women, and the Babycham trademark was registered in 1950. The product was packaged in 4 liquid ounce (118ml) “baby bottles”, similar to those of Baby Moussec, a popular brand of champagne at the time.

In order to prioritise the production of Babycham, brewing ceased from 1952, and apple cider production ended in early 1953. Babycham was launched nationwide from 1953 and demand immediately exceeded all expectations.

Herbert Showering was responsible for marketing the product, and advertising commenced from September 1953. Advertising was to heavily emphasise its similarity to champagne. Sales quickly boomed. Advertising agency Masius Wynne-Williams created the Chinese water deer mascot for the brand.

The Babycham deer outside the cider mill at Shepton Mallet (2008)

A significant factor behind the success of Babycham was that it appealed to the relatively underdeveloped female market. “It was the right product at the right price. It filled a gap for people, especially women, who didn’t want to drink beer or spirits”, recalled Keith Showering (1930 – 1982), the son of Herbert Showering. At the same time, bottled beers and ciders were becoming increasingly popular over draught drinks due to their more consistent quality. Furthermore, the brewers who owned much of the licensed premises in Britain readily introduced Babycham to their public houses, as it was not in direct competition with their beer.

Showerings found it was unable to meet demand for Babycham in the pre-Christmas period of 1954. Rather than compromise on product quality, which could have increased supply, strict rationing of Babycham was introduced.

Babycham became the first alcoholic product to be advertised on British television in 1955. Around £300,000 was spent on advertising  between 1953 and 1956.

Acquisition trail
Showerings acquired R N Coate & Co of Nailsea, near Bristol, one of the four largest cider manufacturers in Britain, in 1956.

Showerings had installed the largest and most highly-mechanised bottling plant in the world by 1958. Tens of thousands of bottles of Babycham were produced every day. Supplies had to be delivered almost daily to holiday resorts across Britain during the summer.

Showerings was converted into a public company in 1959. Over 1,000 people were employed. By this time Showerings bought much of Britain’s perry pear crop, and had to import additional fruit from Europe. A two and a half year stock of pear juice was maintained in order to ensure supply.

Aided by heavy marketing expenditure, annual sales of Babycham had reached £8 million by 1961.

Showerings was keen to reduce its dependence on the Babycham brand. The family-controlled William Gaymer & Son of Norfolk was acquired for £150,000 in 1961. Gaymer was the third largest cider producer in Britain, best known for the Olde English brand. However it had struggled against the greater resources of its major rival, H P Bulmer. The deal transformed Showerings into the second largest cider manufacturer in the world.

30 bottles of Babycham were produced every second by the mid-1960s.

Allied Breweries merger to present
Showerings merged with Allied Breweries in 1968. Francis Showering was appointed chief executive of the wine and spirits division.

2.5 million bottles of Babycham were manufactured every week by 1969, utilising the majority of British pear production.

The Shepton Mallet plant had a production capacity of 90,000 bottles an hour, and Showerings employed around 500 people in the town.

Babycham overseas sales tripled between 1962 and 1971. Babycham was exported to 52 countries by 1971.

R N Coate production was relocated to Shepton Mallet from 1974.

Keith Showering became chairman of Allied Breweries from 1975. Allied was the largest drinks business in Europe by this time.

Allied Breweries sold 144 million bottles of Babycham a year in 1977. The product was distributed across 90 percent of licensed premises in Britain.

Babycham was made with 25 percent apple cider by 1979. It had an alcohol content of 8.4 percent.

Babycham sales were successfully established in South Africa and the Far East and the product was exported to more than 70 countries by 1980.

The Shepton Mallet site employed nearly 800 people in 1986.

The Allied Breweries cider business was subject to a management buyout named the Gaymer Group in 1992. The deal valued the business at £140 million. 125 jobs were lost at Shepton Mallet.

Annual sales of Babycham had fallen to around one million bottles by 1993, and the deer mascot was retired.

The alcohol content of the product had fallen to six percent by 1993.

The Gaymer Group was acquired by Matthew Clark for £109 million in 1994.

Babycham sales suffered in the mid-1990s as alcopops grew in popularity.

Matthew Clark was acquired by Constellation Brands in 1998.

The Gaymer Group was sold to C&C Group of Ireland for £43.5 million in 2009. Constellation Brands retained the rights to Babycham.

The Shepton Mallet factory was bought back by the grandchildren of Francis Showering in 2016.

Message in a bottle: Newcastle Brown Ale

Newcastle Brown Ale became the highest selling bottled beer in Britain, and came to make significant sales in the United States.

John Barras & Co
Bells, Robson & Co established the Tyne Brewery on Bath Lane, Newcastle in 1867. It was said to be the largest brewery in the North of England.

Bells, Robson & Co entered into financial difficulty, and the business was acquired by John Barras & Co of Gateshead, after their own brewery site was subject to compulsory purchase by the North Eastern Railway in 1884.

John Barras & Co was managed by Charles John Reed (1820 – 1908), who had leased the brewery since 1861, after marrying into the founding Barras family.

Reed appointed Thomas Watson Lovibond (1849 – 1918) as head brewer and manager from 1887. Lovibond had received scientific training during an era when almost all brewers lacked such formal education. He was to have a significant impact upon the future success of the business.

John Barras & Co traditionally brewed mild ale, but under Lovibond’s direction, pale ale was being produced by 1889, in order to compete with rival products from Burton upon Trent and Edinburgh. Lovibond also introduced greater standardisation of product quality.

Newcastle Breweries
John Barras & Co merged with four local brewers in 1890: W H Allison of North Shields, J J & W H Allison of Sunderland, Swinburne of Gateshead and Carr Brothers & Carr of North Shields to form Newcastle Breweries.

The Tyne Brewery was regarded as one of the largest and best equipped breweries in the North of England, and all production was centralised there. As a result, the output of the brewery was doubled from 900 to 1,800 barrels a week.

Newcastle Breweries controlled an estate of nearly 300 public houses by 1897.

The amalgamation was to prove highly successful. Forster’s Bishop Middleham Breweries was acquired in 1910.

Colonel Porter and the introduction of Newcastle Brown Ale
James Herbert Porter (1891 – 1973) was the son of a master brewer in Burton upon Trent. He joined Newcastle Breweries as a trainee brewer in 1909.

Porter was a highly courteous and mild-mannered man, a model of an English gentleman. He saw action during the First World War, and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

Newcastle Exhibition, a cask beer, was introduced from 1920.

Sales of bottled beers began to increase after the war, influenced by the inconsistent quality of cask beer. Colonel Porter determined to develop a high quality bottled beer of his own. Newcastle Breweries opened one of the largest and best-equipped bottling plants in Britain in June 1925.

Colonel Porter, by now promoted to assistant brewer, and Archdale Mercer Jones (1881 – 1954), manager of the bottling works, laboured for three years to perfect the recipe for Newcastle Brown Ale. Porter created its distinctive taste by blending a strong, crystal malt-influenced aged beer with a light pale ale.

Newcastle Brown Ale was launched in April 1927. The sole ingredients were malt, hops, sugar and yeast and it boasted an ABV of 6.25 percent. It was filtered but was not subject to pasteurisation.

Newcastle Brown Ale would have been seen as a rival to Bass Pale Ale, a comparable beer in terms of strength and quality. Another similar beer, Whitbread Double Brown, had been launched in London just a month earlier.

Newcastle Brown Ale was to enjoy immediate success. It was a quality product brewed to vigorous scientific methods and high standards, and sold at a reasonable price. Colonel Porter’s role in improving the beer sold by Newcastle Breweries saw him promoted to head brewer by September 1927.

Newcastle Brown Ale was named as the best bottled beer in Britain at the 1928 Brewers Exhibition in London. Newcastle water had long been considered an inferior brewing liquor, but Colonel Porter disproved this notion.

The blue star logo was introduced in 1928. Each point on the star represented one of the five businesses that combined to form Newcastle Breweries.

The brewery produced six million bottles of beer a year by 1928.

Newcastle Brown Ale had seen its ABV reduced to around 5.5 percent by 1931.

Colonel Porter was promoted to the Newcastle Breweries board of directors in 1931.

Newcastle Breweries encountered material shortages during the Second World War, and as a result brewed lower strength beers out of necessity. However the company refused to compromise on the quality of Newcastle Brown Ale, which went unchanged, although sales were by necessity highly rationed.

Although sales remained confined to the North East of England, 300 million bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale had been produced by 1952.

Colonel Porter was appointed chairman of Newcastle Breweries in 1955.

The Tyne Brewery occupied 6.5 acres by 1956.

The crown cork bottle cap replaced the old screw cap from 1958 in order to help preserve freshness.

It was claimed that Newcastle Brown Ale was the highest selling bottled beer in the North of England by 1959. That year, “the one and only” was introduced as an advertising slogan.

Production of Newcastle Brown Ale had continued to grow and the brewer’s bottling facility had reached capacity. A new bottling plant entered into production from 1959.

John Rowell & Son of Gateshead was acquired in 1959 to bring the total number of Newcastle Breweries controlled premises to around 700.

Scottish & Newcastle
Newcastle Breweries merged with Scottish Brewers to form Scottish & Newcastle in 1960. Colonel Porter was appointed vice chairman. Newcastle Brown Ale was a leading product of the new company, alongside McEwan’s Export and Younger’s Tartan Special. The merger afforded Newcastle Brown Ale a wider network for distribution.

In the early 1960s Scottish & Newcastle began to produce Newcastle Brown Ale in brown bottles instead of clear ones. This was to protect the beer from UV rays, which can have a negative impact on taste. However drinkers complained about the change, and the decision was swiftly reversed.

Newcastle Brown Ale had been introduced in cans by 1964.

Distribution of Newcastle Brown Ale throughout the Midlands and the South of England had begun by the late 1960s. The beer found particular favour among university and polytechnic students.

The Tyne Brewery produced over one million barrels of beer a year by 1972, however increasing national sales of Newcastle Brown Ale saw the facility struggle to meet demand.

Newcastle Brown Ale had earned a near legendary reputation in its local area by the mid-1970s. It garnered colourful nicknames, based on its supposed strength, such as “lunatic’s broth” and “journey into space”. However an independent analysis in 1974 found the beer to have an ABV of five percent, and an original gravity of 1047.

Domestic sales of Newcastle Brown Ale peaked in 1974, after which sales of bottled beers began to enter into a steady decline. The appeal of bottled beer had been its consistency, but with the increasing distribution of keg beer its unique selling point was lost.

By 1977 a total of 7.5 million barrels of Newcastle Brown Ale had been produced since it was introduced in 1927.

Newcastle Brown Ale was the highest selling packaged ale in Britain by 1980. It was sold in over 97 percent of off licences in England and Wales and more than 90 percent of supermarkets and grocers.

It is believed that Newcastle Brown Ale ceased to be a blended beer from the early 1980s onwards.

Newcastle Brown Ale was known as “Dog” on Tyneside by the 1980s, arising from the “going to walk the dog” euphemism, which implied a visit to the pub.

A new £3.5 million bottling plant was opened in 1984, the fastest in Europe. The Tyne Brewery had grown to cover 14 acres by 1985. 1,200 people were employed there in 1988.

Scottish & Newcastle was the fifth largest brewer in Britain by 1988.

Newcastle Brown Ale had settled on its current ABV of 4.7 percent by 1989.

Newcastle Exhibition was the highest selling draught ale in the North East of England by 1989.

A resurgence for Newcastle Brown Ale
Newcastle Brown Ale underwent a resurgence in the late 1980s and early 1990s with increased distribution in the South of England, as well as a strong presence in student union bars. Marketing efforts dissociated the drink from its working class roots and repositioned it as a premium product. The product was sold in thirty countries.

Scottish & Newcastle took direct control of its United States product distribution from 1990 onwards. Major European import rivals such as Bass, Guinness and Heineken had strength on the East Coast, so Scottish & Newcastle established its American headquarters in San Francisco.

American sales increased by 300 percent between 1989 and 1991, and a further 75 percent in 1993.

25 percent of Tyne Brewery output was dedicated to Newcastle Brown Ale by 1994. 120 million pint bottles (not including cans) of Newcastle Brown Ale were produced every year.

Newcastle Brown Ale had gained significant traction in the United States, with over a million cases of the beer sold in that market during the 1994-5 financial year.

Scottish & Newcastle acquired Courage in 1995 to become the largest brewer in Britain.

Embed from Getty Images

The United States represented the largest market for Newcastle Brown Ale by 2001, with annual sales of over 300,000 hectolitres. However sales in Britain were “well down”, according to a Scottish & Newcastle executive.

The Tyne Brewery was closed in May 2005. Production of Newcastle Brown Ale was relocated to the Federation Brewery in nearby Dunston, Gateshead.

Newcastle Brown Ale was among the top fifty highest-selling beers in the United States in 2006.

Bottling of Newcastle Brown Ale was relocated to the John Smith’s Brewery in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, from 2007.

Heineken ownership
Scottish & Newcastle was acquired by Heineken in 2008.

Heineken closed the Federation Brewery in May 2010, and production of Newcastle Brown Ale was relocated to the John Smith’s Brewery.

Caramel, used to darken and flavour Newcastle Brown Ale since its inception, was replaced with roasted malt from 2015, amid United States health concerns.

Production of Newcastle Brown Ale for export was relocated to the Zoeterwoude Brewery in the Netherlands from 2017.

Global sales of Newcastle Brown Ale declined from nearly seven million cases in 2014 to around two million cases in 2019.

Production of Newcastle Brown Ale for the United States market was relocated to the Heineken-owned Lagunitas Brewery from 2019. The recipe was subjected to significant changes, including the addition of Centennial and Chinook hops.

Largest brewery in the world: historic claimants

In 1750 to 1760, John Calvert of London had the largest brewery in the world.

From at least 1780 until 1808 Whitbread of London was the largest brewer in the world.

In 1809 Barclay Perkins of Southwark, London became the largest brewer in the world.

In 1858 Allsopp & Son erected the largest brewery in the world at Burton upon Trent in the English Midlands.

By the 1870s Bass at Burton upon Trent was the largest brewer in the world.

By 1886 the Guinness site at St James’s Gate in Dublin was the largest brewery in the world.

By 1929 as many as 10 million glasses of Guinness could be sold in a single day.

In 2015 the Miller Coors facility at Golden, Colorado is the largest single-site brewery in the world.

Over a barrel: a history of Watney’s Red

Watney’s Red Barrel was the highest-selling keg bitter in the world by the mid-1960s. The beer’s relaunch as Watney’s Red in 1971 represents one of the most famous failures of brand management in recent British history. What went wrong?

The birth of Red Barrel
Watney, Combe & Reid was formed by the amalgamation of three London breweries in 1898. It was the second largest brewing business in the world.

The brewery was highly profitable. When Charles Combe (1837 – 1920) died he left a net estate valued at £956,139, or over £350 million in 2020 prices.

Watney, Combe & Reid had begun to pasteurise at least some of its bottled beers by the 1920s. A large new pasteuriser was imported from Germany in 1930.

Watney, Combe & Reid introduced the Red Barrel as their in-house trademark from 1930.

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Watney, Combe & Reid was the first British brewer to introduce a draught keg beer in 1931. By subjecting the beer to filtration and pasteurisation, it was able to withstand tropical heat and a lengthy shipping period. The product was to prove a success and was soon found on Royal Navy ships, Cunard liners and Middle Eastern oil fields.

Watney’s Red Barrel was introduced to the domestic market in 1935. It was initially sold at the East Sheen Lawn Tennis Club, where its keeping properties proved ideal for the intermittent trade of a sports club.

Keg beer is introduced
Simon Harvey Combe (1903 – 1965) was appointed chairman of Watney, Combe & Reid in 1948.

Watney’s Red Barrel was introduced to pubs as a premium-priced bottled pale ale from 1950.

Following the war, a large proportion of the managers of free houses had neither the time nor the experience to correctly handle cask beer, and quality had suffered.

Flowers Breweries began to mass market the first keg beer in Britain from 1955. Keg beer had the advantage of being easy for the pub manager or landlord to keep to an acceptable standard.

Watney, Combe & Reid followed suit, and introduced the keg version of Red Barrel to British pubs from 1956.

Watney, Combe & Reid acquired Mann, Crossman & Paulin to form Watney Mann in 1958. The merger allowed the group to reclaim its position as one of the largest brewers in Britain, and strengthened Watney’s position in hitherto underrepresented markets such as Essex, Luton and Coventry.

Watney’s Red Barrel that was the most widely-distributed keg beer by the late 1950s.

Watney Mann fights the takeover threat
Watney Mann remained a highly traditional and conservative business, but this was about to change. Sears Holdings, controlled by Charles Clore (1904 – 1979), launched a £27 million hostile takeover for Watney Mann in 1959. Clore planned to modernise the “smoky, smelly, barnlike premises” of Watney Mann by introducing comfortable seating, removing the distinction between saloon and public bars, and improving the food offering. Pubs in areas with high footfall, such as city centres, would be sold off and converted into shops.

The directors of Watney Mann, descendants of the founding families, were horrified. Simon Combe called the proposal, “preposterous … deplorable for the brewing industry and a disaster for Watney’s”. The Evening Standard commented on the deal: “it threw the whole brewery world into confusion. Here was an outsider trying to storm his way in. It must not be allowed to happen”.

The attempted takeover was ultimately unsuccessful, but Watney Mann directors realised that the company could no longer take its independence for granted. Reforms were introduced.

Milner Gray (1899 – 1997) was hired to design a new corporate identity for the tied estate of pubs. 87 sites were refurbished at a cost of £4.65 million in 1960.

The Watney Mann directors decided to expand the business in order to make it less vulnerable to a hostile bid. Phipps of Northampton, with 1,171 licensed premises, was acquired to create the second largest brewing group in Britain in 1960. Later that year Watney Mann acquired Ushers of Trowbridge for £4 million, and Wilson & Walker of Manchester for nearly £11.5 million. Watney Mann also required brewing capacity, and the Phipps and Wilson & Walker breweries were under-utilised.

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Keg beer sales grew, initially at the expense of bottled beers. Customers, particularly the young, appreciated the consistent taste, and it commanded a premium price and superior profit margins. Watney’s Red Barrel was marketed heavily, and was the highest-selling keg bitter in Britain by 1961, with a category share of around 20 percent and estimated sales of around 150,000 barrels. It was brewed with Norfolk malt and Goldings hops, and was naturally matured for several weeks.

Watney’s Red Barrel was exported to northern France and Belgium from 1962.

Watney Mann had 6,224 tied houses, and 34,000 free trade accounts by 1963. Most Red Barrel was sold to the free trade or exported, and traditional cask beer predominated in the tied estate. A reciprocal agreement was arranged with rival brewer Ind Coope, whereby Watney Mann sold Skol lager through its tied estate, in exchange for Ind Coope selling Watney’s Red Barrel.

A modified version of Watney’s Red Barrel, reformulated to suit the American palate, was successfully introduced in the United States from around 1964. Nearly 5,000 barrels of Red Barrel were exported to Northern Europe in 1965. Licensed production of Red Barrel began at the Murphy’s brewery in Cork, Ireland, from 1966. It was claimed that Watney’s Red Barrel was the highest-selling keg beer in the world by 1966.

In 1968 Peter Crossman (1908 – 1989), chairman of Watney Mann, predicted the extinction of cask beer within ten years.

Watney Mann continued to expand by acquisitions throughout the 1960s. The takeover targets included Morgans of Norwich (1961), Bullard & Sons and Steward & Patteson of Norwich (1963), Drybroughs of Edinburgh (1965) and Maes of Belgium (1969).

Watney Mann announced plans to centralise production at its breweries in Mortlake, Manchester, Norwich and Edinburgh in 1970. The Trowbridge, Whitechapel and Brighton breweries would be closed. Production of cask ales had largely ceased, and local names would be phased out in favour of the Watney brand. The range of beers produced was reduced from 80 to 35 between 1969 and 1971.

Watney’s Red is introduced
Watney’s Red Barrel volumes had peaked in 1969, and then began to decline. Sales had fallen behind keg rivals Double Diamond and Whitbread Tankard. Double Diamond offered greater taste consistency than Red Barrel, as it was only brewed in one place: Burton upon Trent. It was also believed that its sweeter taste and higher strength rendered it more appealing. Meanwhile it was claimed that Red Barrel suffered from inferior marketing.

Julian Crawshay (1923 – 2009), the marketing director for Watney Mann, admitted that “a beer developed for the 1950s is not right for the 1970s”. A replacement for Watney’s Red Barrel was needed. Watney’s Red was introduced in April 1971. The result of experimentation with 30 different recipes, the new product was a “completely different beer”, designed to be darker, fizzier and slightly sweeter. It was smooth with a creamy head and good lacing. It was designed as a session beer, with greater drinkability and less of an aftertaste. Crawshay explained, “we were looking for the customer who settles in his local pub and drinks eight or ten pints in an evening”. The Economist reported that the new beer tasted “bland”.

A Watney’s Red Revolution print advertisement in 1971. Well if it’s good enough for Chairman Mao…

The Watney’s Red product launch was accompanied by a £500,000 television and poster campaign. Controversially, portrayals of Castro, Khrushchev and Mao were used alongside with the tagline, “long live the Watney’s Red revolution”. A further £100,000 was spent to convert the cowls on 30,000 Red Barrel keg dispensers.

Watney’s Red initially enjoyed a 15 percent sales boost against Red Barrel, and was the brewery’s most profitable beer, although Watney’s Special Bitter enjoyed slightly higher sales . Around 350,000 barrels of Watney’s Red were sold in 1972, accounting for around 20 to 25 percent of Watney Mann sales.

The public backlash
Watney Mann, with an estate of 7,000 pubs, was acquired by Grand Metropolitan, the owner of Truman’s Brewery and a host of hospitality concerns, for around £400 million in 1972. At the time it represented the largest takeover in British history.

Watney Mann began to brew using a grist of up to 50 percent raw barley with added enzymes from 1971 in an effort to lower production costs. The proportion of raw barley was increased to up to 70 percent of the grist from 1973.

Following a successful launch the sales of Watney’s Red began to decline, and remained stubbornly behind those of rival Double Diamond. The recipe was adjusted twice to increase ABV and original gravity in 1973. Richard Boston (1938 – 2006), a beer writer for The Guardian, derided the tactic as “desperate”, and suggested that “Watney’s themselves are becoming uncomfortably aware that people don’t like their beer”.

Meanwhile, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) pressure group had been established in 1971. CAMRA rallied against keg beers, which it argued lost much of their flavour due to the process of filtration and pasteurisation. Watney’s Red was subject to particular criticism, and the company was derided as “Grotney’s”. A Watney Mann official dismissed CAMRA members as a “cranky bunch”, and cited market research that supposedly demonstrated that the public preferred keg beer.

A change of course for Watney Mann
Concerned by criticism of the company, as well as by falling sales of Watney’s Red, Watney Mann conducted a market research study in mid-1974. Watney Mann management acknowledged that the introduction of Watney’s Red had “backfired”. In a bid to rescue the company’s reputation, greater autonomy was devolved to regional management, and local beers began to be promoted from 1974. Scheduled brewery closures at Trowbridge and Halifax were reversed. Discontinued local brands such as Tamplins were revived, and efforts were made to reach out to CAMRA.

Ben Truman Export was introduced alongside Watney’s Red to function as a premium bitter. Watney’s introduced Fined Bitter, a cask beer later renamed Stag, to its tied estate from 1976.

Watney’s Red was finally discontinued in May 1979. Webster’s Yorkshire Bitter became the core ale brand for Grand Metropolitan from 1980.

Ruddles Brewery of Rutland was acquired in 1986 to increase Grand Metropolitan’s presence in the cask ale market. The brewery received a £5 million investment, and a further £1 million was spent on advertising the brand.

Grand Metropolitan sold its brewing interests to Courage in 1991.

Watney’s Red remained available in France and Spain into the early 1990s. Watney’s Scotch Ale is still sold in Belgium. Mann’s Brown Ale remains available throughout Britain.