Monday, 19 November 2018

Bass and the Mad Hatter

In my early days of beer appreciation, Draught Bass was regarded as the Rolls Royce of beers which we would go out of our way to find. The bottled version, Bass Pale, was similarly well regarded; it was slightly stronger than the draught and was known all over the world, being shipped to many countries, especially India, and was the first foreign beer to be sold in Japan. Edouard Manet depicted bottles of Bass in his painting ‘Le Bar Aux Folies Bergere’ in 1882, and thirty years later 12,000 bottles went down with the Titanic. Bass Pale was a world-wide phenomenon whose history, it has been claimed, goes back to 1777.

The brand is now owned by global brewer AB InBev who will relaunch it next month. In 2013, they decided to rename this iconic beer as “Bass Trademark Number One” to acknowledge the fact that the famous Bass red triangle was the first registered trade mark in the UK. This move was described by beer blogger Zythophile as “a classic example of How To Royally Screw Up Your Brand” (see his full post here). AB InBev say they are bringing this beer back with its original name to “invigorate the premium ale category”.

The beer scene has changed a lot in recent decades, with a younger generation of beer drinkers who have a far wider choice of real ales, craft beers and bottled ales than ever before. Classic brand or not, it will be competing in a very crowded market place and the beer will have to be very good to make any serious inroads. Still, I look forward to giving it a try.

Closer to home, I was sorry to hear that Liverpool's Mad Hatter Brewery has ceased trading. Launched in 2013, it was one of the few breweries to be run by a woman, Sue Starling, and produced a number of interesting and sometimes quirky beers, some of them named after local places such as Penny Lane Pale and Toxteth IPA. Sue has said the pleasure of brewing has gone after the departure of her co-founder, Gareth Matthews, whose creativity she has sorely missed. That loss, coupled with a change of premises, means that she no longer wants to run the business herself, but she is open to offers to buy it “so it could live on”.

It's certainly a pity to lose a distinctive presence on the local beer scene, so you've always fancied running your own brewery, this may be your big chance.

This is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser.


  1. If you read novels written in the 30's by Graham Greene and Patrick Hamilton, Bass seems to be the standard bottled pale ale in pubs, much like Guinness was the standard bottled stout. Andrew Campbell in his 1956 Book of Beer refers to as one of the few truly national brands, although I get the feeling that by the 60s its place had been taken in pubs by Worthington White Shield (Bass and Worthington were also part of the same company from the late 20s).

  2. That's true: I remember drinking White Shield in pubs where I didn't like the bitter. I don't recall often seeing Bass Pale, although I obviously wasn't taking notes at the time.


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