It was once a dominant force in British brewing but Whitbread, as a brewery, no longer exists. The company runs hotels and coffee shops, but doesn’t have anything to do with beer.
Nonetheless, the name, and its connection with beer, lingers on.
A handful of the brands are still in production by various companies, under license from InBev who now own the rights. We’ve seen 275ml bottles of Light Ale in a convenience store in Clapton; bitter on the bar at an old pub in the East End of London; and, of course, supermarket four-packs of bitter and mild every now and then.
In Devon last year we saw a rusting advert for NEW Whitbread Tankard on the side of a boarded-up country pub.
And, on Saturday night, when someone nearby ordered a pint of bitter, as it was rung through the till, the word WHITBREAD appeared on its screen in glowing green letters for just a few seconds. Was it a ghost in the machine? No, sure enough, there on the bar, next to the lemonade, was a faded and chipped font for Trophy Bitter, which someone is evidently still making.
Whitbread’s other great legacy would appear to be its yeast: a kind of ‘stud’ which begat many of those currently in use by breweries all over Britain today. Wouldn’t it be nice to see someone brewing Whitbread’s long lost cask beers with it and bringing the name back from this odd form of suspended animation?