‘World Beer’ in the UK: a timeline

Pete's Wicked Ale -- label detail.

This is a work in progress which overlaps with an earlier, more general timeline, and we’re still corresponding with a few ‘insiders’ who should be able to help us fill in gaps.

What seems obvious already, however, is how slowly foreign beer made its way into the UK market over the course of decades (you had to like Chimay Rouge or Anchor Steam) and how sudden the rush of the last ten years seems by comparison.

Is all the ‘Urquell and Chimay aren’t what they used to be’ talk partly a result of those beers having been here the longest? Familiarity breeding contempt?

And is Cooper’s Sparkling Ale even remotely as cool now as it was in 2002?

1955 ‘World lagers’ widely available (German, Danish); Pilsner Urquell; Maerzen, bock, Oktoberfestbier in some outlets; strong foreign stouts on order. According to Andrew Campbell in The Book of Beer, Tuborg imperial stout could be ‘got in’ by specialist off-licences such as the Vintage House in Old Compton Street.The Pilsner Urquell company had an office in Mark Lane, London EC3, in 1968.
1968 Becky’s Dive Bar: 200+ bottled beers. Lots of ‘world lager’, but basically anything ‘foreign’ she could get her hands on.
August 1974 World Beer Festival, Olympia, London Mostly ‘international pilsner’, but also EKU strong lager from Germany.
November 1974 Chimay (Rouge?) becomes regular UK import. Through off-licence chain Arthur Rackham.
1975 Cooper’s Sparkling Ale from Australia available. Mentioned by Richard Boston in a list of desert island beers, alongside Chimay.
1977 Michael Jackson’s World Guide to Beer. We’re still assessing the impact of this book. Thesis: didn’t sell many copies, but everyone who bought one opened a brewery, import company, pub or bar; or became a beer writer themselves.
1979 Anchor Steam, Duvel available at CAMRA Great British Beer Festival. Hugely expensive: £1.65 for ‘third of a pint’ bottle of Anchor Steam, while British ales were at 35p a pint.
1979 and 1980  Cave Direct and James Clay founded. (We’re still assessing the significance of this.)
c.1980 Chimay Rouge in pubs. E.g. The White Horse, Hertford. (Thanks, Des!)
c.1982 Pitfield Beer Shop opens. By 1988 at the latest, selling Liefmann’s Kriek, Samichlaus,
1988 Hoegaarden arrives. Listed by Roger Protz in his pick of the year.
1989 Liefmann’s Frambozen available. 1989 article lists it among speciality beers at Grog Blossom off licence, Notting Hill, West London.
1990 Brooklyn Lager arrives. Available only in Harrods!
1991 Crazy for bottled ‘designer beer’ takes hold. Mostly ‘world lager’, but Daily Mirror lists Chimay Blue, Judas and other Belgian beers. Also, Pinkus Alt.
1992 Belgos opens in London. Tipped by stock pundits as a good investment.
1993 Hoegaarden in Whitbread pubs.Anchor Liberty Ale available.

German wheat beers slated as ‘next big thing’.

Mainstreaming of ‘world beer’? 

Cascade hops start to be talked about.

1994-95 Several lengthy articles in the UK press about the ‘explosion’ of US craft brewing.
1995 Thresher off-licences run full-page newspaper ads for their ‘world beer’ list. Early use of the term ‘world beer’ in this particular way; more ‘mainstreaming’.
1996 Pete’s Wicked Ale (US) in Tesco stores. Big time mainstreaming!
1998 Belgian beer bar craze.Hogshead pubs (Cambridge, Manchester, Aberdeen) offering large ranges of Belgian beer. L’Abbaye, Charterhouse St, London, offering 28 Belgian beers, including Westmalle, Rochefort, Orval.

16 thoughts on “‘World Beer’ in the UK: a timeline”

  1. The Hogshead in Aberdeen, in 1999, was where we went to treat ourselves. I always opted for novelty cask over novelty Belgian bottles, though. There was one in Edinburgh too.

  2. Spaten lagers being advertised in Piccadilly Circus 1895 according to a photo in a book I have.
    Oddbins sold Piraat in 1993, it enlivened many a press night at TVQuick and we went to the Camden Belgo in 1993 for Xmas lunch; Pete’s Wicked was also in Oddbins about then I think; St Stan’s in Tesco 95/94; Budvar in corner shops in Hackney in 1983 btu I suspect it was around long before and the Russian beer whose name started with z.

  3. I was in the Pitfield beer shop in the fall of 87 and can confirm they had shelves of imports including a Falklands Island two packs as a dragged one back to Canada for a friend’s Christmas gift. The neat thing about that place was it had home brew supplies (which I also dragged home – empty polypins, books), brewed its own beer (Dark Star?) and for some reason also had excise man seized mead that was, the sign said, deemed too artisanal to be destroyed as it would regularly have been. Dragged that home, too.

  4. Hoegaarden in Whitbread pubs in 1993??? It must have been on a high shelf. I distinctly remember ordering one when I was in Holland on business in 1997, & the Dutch guy I was with saying that he’d never met an Englishman who drank witbier. I’d been drinking it for a couple of years by then – not in pubs, though.

    1. Phil — apparently so, though maybe it was like the Watney real ale in the late 70s: stocked only in selected pubs in London?

  5. The Masons Arms at Strawberry Bank, Cartmel Fell, Cumbria stocked 100 different Belgian beers in the mid 80′s plus other unusual European breweries such as t’IJ from the Netherlands.

  6. Birkonian – - funnily enough, the landlord lives near us. We have a tentative agreement to meet and discuss.

  7. Winter 1978/79, The Moon, a pub in Holborn (Boswell St ?), owned by Roger Berman, trialled draught Grolsch one evening, with free pints until the 2 kegs ran out. It was touted as Dutch real lager, and I was told that it was the first time draught Grolsch was ever available in this country. The swing-top bottles (sensible brown in those days) were fairly widely available in London by then.

    For what it’s worth, I think your assessment of the significance of The World Guide To Beer is about right.

  8. Seem to remember bottles of Samuel Adams appearing in some pubs about 1996 – I was a full-time Shoreditch Nathan Barley then, and I’m pretty sure they sold it at newly opened Canteloupe on Curtain Road. They also sold a lot of short-lived gimmicky American import lagers like Mickey’s Big Mouth, which came in a bottle shaped like a hand grenade and cost about three quid even then.

  9. One of the milestones should be Oddbins, who flirted with specialist beers, both imported and domestic, at various times in the 1990s. In the mid to late 1990s they were stocking not only the Chimays but also Achouffe (including various odd seasonals Chris Bauweraerts was experimenting with at the time), ‘t IJ, Saint-Sylvestre Trois Monts, various varieties of Pete’s Wicked and Samuel Adams, and the now defunct Maasland brewery in Dutch Limburg, of D’n Schele Os (Dizzy Cow) fame. I’m sure at one point the branch in Greenwich (also now gone) even had Старый Мельни from Moscow — all beers that were being written about at the time in various English language world beer guides.

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