Saturday 17 October 2009

We're on the move...

The announcement that Newcastle Brown Ale production is to be transferred to the John Smith's brewery in Tadcaster will no doubt cause a lot of dismay in the North East. It seems bizarre that a beer that is so closely associated with Geordie Land will now come from Yorkshire, but regrettably such moves are nothing new. Geordies will already have seen production move to Gateshead in 2005, but at least they could console themselves that it was in the same area, cross-Tyne rivalry notwithstanding. Newcastle Brown isn't a real ale, of course, and has been for me a beer to fall back upon - along with Guinness - if I found myself in a pub or bar with no real ale, but I suspect a lot of people will be upset on Tyneside.

At the CAMRA conference in Eastbourne this year, delegates from Leeds were genuinely mourning the announcement of the closure of the Tetley Brewery, with production due to be transferred to Northampton. Tetley used to be brewed in Warrington as well, and drinkers who regarded themselves as discerning always claimed that it wasn't as good as the Leeds Tetley. I have to admit that the two brews tasted very similar to me, with the Leeds version sometimes having a slight edge, perhaps, but I did feel that when the Warrington brewery was closed down and production moved to Leeds, the taste of Tetley Bitter declined so that - in my view - it was far worse than both previous versions. I will try the Northampton Tetley when it becomes available with interest, but I don't expect any improvement. At the Southport Beer Festival, you could actually get Tetley Bitter free using tokens printed in the local paper. Despite this, Tetley Bitter was the only cask with any substantial amount of beer left. It says it all, really ~ you can't even give it away.

The most notorious example locally of wandering beer was of course Higson's of Liverpool. The brewery was taken over by Boddington's of Manchester in 1985. They sold it to Whitbread in 1990, who closed it shortly afterwards. Production was moved the Hillsborough brewery in Sheffield and, when that closed, to Castle Eden in County Durham ~ a long way from its Merseyside origins. Production finally ceased in 1999, by which time the beer bore absolutely no resemblance to the original.

There are many more examples. Some drinkers, myself among them, believe that Young's beers have suffered from the move from the historic Ram brewery in Wandsworth after the merger with Wells. Other examples of peripatetic beers  include Ruddles, Old Speckled Hen, Ind Coope Burton, Bass, Courage Directors ~ the list goes on. While some of these are still drinkable, none is as good as (and often bears little resemblance to) its original form. In fact, I can't think of any beer from a big brewery that has been uprooted and moved elsewhere without a loss in quality. Geordies should enjoy their brew before its taste wanders into history.

As a footnote, after the failure of the recent relaunch of Higson’s, drinkers who remember the original with fondness may wish to know that the Liverpool Organic Brewery is working on a new Higson's brew.


  1. Totally agreed - beer (or good beer anyway) is not simply an industrial product and provenance is important.

    Having said that, I don't think that Mitchells beer in Lancaster suffered from being moved to the nearby former Yates & Jackson brewery, and is Brains worse for being brewed in the former Bass/Hancocks brewery?

  2. You're right, and it would be silly to suggest that any move whatsoever is the death knell. What I have described tends to apply when the big brewers move production of a volume brand and don't make any real effort to maintain the style of the beer. Ind Coope Burton, once a favourite of mine and a former Champion Beer of Britain, springs to mind.


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