In its heyday, Boddington’s Bitter was among the most highly-regarded of British beers, and the pride of its home city of Manchester. These days, it is rather unloved and rootless. Where did it all go wrong?
Michael Hardman, one of the founders of CAMRA, mentioned it, alongside Young’s Ordinary, as typifying the ‘intense bitterness’ that, as a young man, he sought in a pint of ale: it was what those early campaigners were fighting for.
Beer writer and CAMRA stalwart Roger Protz has similarly rosy memories: “The first time I drank it, in a pub in Hyde, Cheshire, I thought I had died and gone to heaven: I couldn’t believe beer could taste that good.”
John Keeling, head brewer at Fuller’s and a native Mancunian, named it as his number one ‘desert island beer’: “In 1974 at the start of my brewing career there was no better drinking beer than Boddington’s.”
And the blogoshire’s very own Tandleman told us in an email:
It was a very dry beer, yet intensely bitter throughout, though not greatly hoppy. I’m guessing early hop additions to give that intensity of bitterness throughout. Good mouthfeel too – not thin at all.
But it isn’t just a matter of nostalgia. Contemporary sources note, albeit without waxing lyrical, that Boddington’s was ‘well hopped’ (Frank Baillie’s Beer Drinker’s Companion, 1973), ‘One of the best’ (the first edition of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide, 1974) and ‘exceptionally bitter’ (GBG 1977).
A highly evocative description of how Boddington’s tasted in its prime comes from a letter to What’s Brewing from Mike Field of Batley, published in May 1984: “[It had a] bitterness that clawed at the back of the throat and took you back to the bar for another one.”
It owed some part of its reputation to what the 1978 Good Beer Guide called its ‘distinctive straw colour’, and Ewart Boddington, brewery chairman from 1970 to 1989, is said (by Mr Field) to have put the beer’s popularity down to the fact that it ‘looked like lager’.
Somewhere along the line, however, even as Britain was in the midst of the late-1970s ‘real ale craze’, Boddington’s edge began to grow blunt. The story is told by the brief entries in successive editions of the Good Beer Guide: by 1983, it had ceased to be ‘exceptionally bitter’ and had become, instead, ‘A popular light quaffing bitter’, and the 1984 edition noted that ‘locals are concerned that the bitter has lost some of its distinctive character’.
While it is possible that politics might have coloured local perceptions to an extent– when Boddington’s took over the nearby Oldham Brewery in 1982, it caused a serious falling-out with CAMRA — there are many accounts like this one from blogger Paul Bailey (no relation):
[As] far back as the late 1970s, when I was still living in Manchester, rumours abounded that Boddington’s had reduced the hopping rate of their most famous product to make it less aggressively bitter (blander), so as to increase its appeal to a wider audience. This was confirmed by someone we knew who worked at the brewery, although the company strenuously denied it (they would, wouldn’t they?). We ended up voting with our feet and switched to drinking in Holts’ pubs, where the bitter still tasted like bitter, and was also quite a bit cheaper as well!
Mike Field’s letter to What’s Brewing quoted above, along with complaints at the 1984 AGM, prompted the brewery liaison officer, microbiologist Kevin Buckley, to look into the matter. In a report in the April 1984 edition of What’s Brewing, he concluded as follows:
The traditional bitter was fermented to a very low final gravity — around 1000 — removing all fermentable sugars. Now fermentation is allowed to stop at an earlier stage… This affects the palate of the beer, increasing the ‘palate fullness’ or ‘body’ of the beer, so the light, slightly thin palate becomes smoother… In combination with the reduction in ‘bitterness’ and the use of less fragrant hop, the net effect is to produce a beer with a ‘smoother mouthfeel’, less after-palate, less alcohol and less hop-aroma…. The colour of the beer has also apparently increased — to mimic the more commonly accepted ‘national’ bitters.
And it worked, eventually: ‘blanded out’, Boddington’s did indeed become a national brand in the 1990s, after the brewery was sold to Whitbread. Launched in cans in 1990, it was the best selling canned bitter for almost a decade, supported by glossy but self-mocking adverts capitalising on its Mancunian roots in the era of the Happy Mondays and Oasis.
But it wasn’t really Boddington’s — it was an impostor, especially when, after 2004, new owners Interbrew moved production out of the City. Some Mancunians continued to drink it out of habit or nostalgia, while CAMRA members and other beer geeks wouldn’t be seen dead with a pint of its ‘smooth’ keg incarnation.
They weren’t interested in ‘creaminess’ — instead, they yearned for that dry, golden, truly bitter beer of 30 years before.
Filling a Boddington’s-Shaped Hole
The first brewery to attempt to plug the gap was Marble who launched ‘Manchester Bitter’ in (we think) around 2001. Never intended as a clone, MMB started from the idea that Boddington’s Bitter in its prime was actually a single expression of a localised style. In 2011, head brewer James Campbell was quoted by journalist Will Hawkes: “It’s a pale, mid-strength, hoppy bitter beer, as was drunk in Manchester 30 years ago. That’s the tradition here.”
Clone or not, how close does it come to its inspiration? Tandleman:
It does reflect… the dryness and colour of the original Boddington’s Bitter, but not the strength — it is much stronger.
When we drank it at the gorgeously tiled Marble Arch pub last week, we found it hard to distinguish from any number of other ‘pale’n’hoppy’ beers from the north of England, though perhaps less flowery or perfumed than some examples. If we could arrange for a pint of 1970s Boddington’s Bitter to be transported through time and space, would it strike us the same way? We suspect so.
In 2013, another Manchester brewery released a beer inspired, at least to some degree, by Boddington’s. J.W. Lees is a large family concern founded in 1828, with a rather conservative image. Their Manchester Pale Ale (MPA) at 3.7% on cask is an attempt to do something that, by their standards, is a bit ‘out there’, i.e. not brown. MPA is the name of this particular beer, but, again, seems to imply that there might once have been an entire set of beers in this style — golden, dry, and ‘sessionable’.
Perhaps partly because we’re suckers for context and cues provided by packaging and branding, we fell hard for MPA as consumed in a Manchester pub. While its bitterness didn’t claw at the back of our throats, it did trigger that pleasant chain reaction: pint-thirsty-pint-thirsty-pint… The crusty-bread character we’ve previously noted in the same brewery’s bitter is present and correct, but complemented with more and brighter hops. It won’t excite green-nostriled lupulin addicts frantically seeking their next fix, but as a beer to settle on for a few hours, it would be hard to beat.
Our own contribution to this nascent sub-style was a set of notes emailed to Matt Lovatt at Kirkstall Brewery who produced a beer under the name Revitalisation! for our appearance at North Bar in Leeds. We referenced this recipe from Ron Pattinson and Kristen England to suggest all pale malt and a bit of sugar, and then lots of Goldings hops to achieve dry bitterness without much aroma.
Matt put a lot of thought into interpreting our suggestions and came up with a beer that, as a beer inspired by Michael Hardman’s memories of Boddington’s or Young’s, was probably not quite right. It was, however, very clean, pleasingly austere, and extremely drinkable — we would have stayed on it all night if we’d been allowed.
The Cream of Manchester
We couldn’t leave the north without drinking at least one pint of the real thing — or at least, the beer that bears the brand of the real thing these days. We found ‘smooth’ keg Boddington’s Bitter on offer at a pub in central Manchester alongside a ‘super cold’ variant, though the standard version makes your teeth chatter. It came with an inch of shaving foam on top — weird-looking even in a part of the world where a ‘tight creamy head’ is the norm — and bubbles clustered on the inside of the apparently slightly grubby glass. It tasted… well, not bad, really. Extremely bland, of course, with a touch of sweetcorn, and reminiscent of, say, Estrella Damm, but not terrible.
None of the beers mentioned above are the best or most exciting you will find in Manchester — it is a city crammed with great bars and pubs — but we think they do tell you something about its culture and history, and drinking three beers that aren’t Boddington’s can help you discern its outline.
A final tip from Tandleman: “If you want a beer that tastes pretty much as I recall the original Boddington’s Bitter, I’d suggest Linfit Gold Medal from the Sair Inn near Huddersfield. It is a near as I’ve ever had. Quite a lot stronger though at 4.2%.”
We’re sure we read something somewhere at some point about the Boddington’s yeast strain being ‘cleaned up’ in the 1980s — if you can think where, let us know in the comments below.
UPDATE 02/09/2015: Another possible explanation for the decline of Boddington’s Bitter in the 1980s has come to light through the April 1993 edition of CAMRA’s What’s Brewing. When quizzed by Roger Protz, Boddington’s brewing manager Peter Laws and general manage Ian Kendal suggested that the change might be the result of a change in priming sugars: ‘The brewery had used a blend of of cane sugar and a variety called Ambrose… When [Tate & Lyle] phased it out Boddington’s switched to another blend from the same company called DAS… Kendel and Laws think that stands for “dark ale syrup”, a singularly inappropriate name for Boddington’s Bitter.’
63 replies on “Where the Boddies is Buried”
Preston’s former Boddington’s pub, the Old Black Bull on Friargate have had Moorhouses brew a Boddies-alike for them since it was axed. Never tried it, though.
Ironically, canned and keg Boddingtons is made just outside Preston at the AB-Inbev shed at Salmesbury.
Interesting. And they don’t sell it generally, just in that one pub? A pub we visited in Castleton in Derbyshire had an own-brand smooth keg bitter with pastiche Boddington’s branding, too.
a lovely read, guys. And I don’t think I’ll read a better title all year.
Though I used the same joke myself a year ago : http://seeingthelizards.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/old-beer-ads-3-boddingtons-1993.html
Great minds, fools seldom, and so on.
Lees’ were definitely going after the “Boddies’ when it was good” market with MPA – the representative of the dynasty who was at the launch made a rather pointed remark about “putting the cream back into Manchester”.
Tandleman can correct me, but I don’t believe Bodds’ can ever have been the only pale & dry bitter around here. (Hyde’s Anvil, their standard bitter at one time, was bright yellow and rather sour; people seemed to like it.) Certainly there’d been a big local appetite for pale hoppy bitters – from breweries like Marble and Phoenix – for some years before the hop revolution hit & we all went Kraft Krazy.
You might be right, but then Marble is very much post-Golden Ale/Summer Lightning/Sean Franklin/Brendan Dobbin.
A quick look at the 1984 GBG which we’ve got at hand suggests Holt’s, Hyde’s, Lees’ and Robinson’s beer at the time was all dark or otherwise unremarkable in terms of its colour.
The 1979 GBG says Anvil was 1068 (!) and ‘rich’ and ‘heavy’, but no mention of its colour. Of all the Manchester beers listed in ’79, only Boddington’s is mentioned as being light in colour, hence ‘distinctive’, I guess.
I’m surprised by those GBG entries. I was drinking Anvil in 1984, and at that point it was definitely (a) Hyde’s standard bitter & (b) sour and yellow. Can we call Tand from the vasty deep?
As for Marble, fair point – they’re not Tiny Rebel but they’re not Harvey’s either. Maybe the pale’n’oppy revolution just started a bit earlier here. Or at least, a pale’n’oppy revolution. I don’t know if this is something you’ve covered, but it seems to me that we’ve been in a different world since the more-or-less simultaneous rise of Thornbridge (consistency and quality) and BD (innovation & assertiveness). In the early 2000s Marble, Abbeydale, Phoenix, Pictish were all turning out beers that could be mistaken for traditional session beers, & which to some extent aspired to be traditional session beers (only better). The idea that you could do something totally different and proclaim fairly aggressively that it was totally different – and carry it off – wasn’t really around 10-15 years ago (back in the BC period!).
A bit further north, but Yates & Jackson Bitter was very much in the same style – pale and very bitter.
Just had a quick look at GBGs for 79 and 84 which confirm it was ‘dry and truly bitter’. No mention of colour, so presumably the editors/contributors thought it neither unusually dark nor unusually light.
Wonder why it doesn’t have the prominence of Boddington’s in historic sources? Less well distributed, perhaps?
Also worth bearing in mind, I suppose, that CAMRA’s four founders and Christopher Hutt were, if not all Mancunians, then at least employed there or otherwise in its orbit as young men, so maybe they were predisposed to rave about Boddies, much as we tend to be more excited about Butcombe Bitter and London Pride than other commentators.
It was only a small brewery with about 40 pubs in and around Lancaster, and was taken over and closed by Thwaites in around 1985. Their Lancaster rivals Mitchell’s ended up taking over Y&J’s much bigger and better equipped brewery.
A fascinating article, and what a spectacular fall from grace. Boddingtons really was a “desert island beer” back in its heyday. However, even before the advertising agencies got their hands on it with their “Cream of Manchester” nonsense, (talk about the triumph of style over substance), Boddingtons had already begun dumbing the beer down and embarking on a course of self destruction which led to the sale of the brand, plus the brewery itself to Whitbread.
Thanks for the link back to my article about “The Price of Fame”. I will be covering Boddingtons in greater depth, in my occasional series on “The Old Family Brewers of Britain.”
As far as I can gather Manchester’s bitters did have a tendency to be very pale and very bitter. Talking to people who drank in th early 1960s both Chesters’ Bitter and Wilson’s Bitter (both of which would have been all over the place) fell into that category.
Paul is also right in saying that it was Boddingtons who cocked up their own beer with no outside help (although the myth has built up that it was Whitbread who ruined it). Mind you Whitbread didn’t help by cutting coners with ingredients (althuogh at first they stuck to the “all-malt – whole hops” regime. They then relaunched the cask version as an all malt beer at a higher strength (4.2%) before shutting the brewery and farming it out to Hydes. That was a tale of woe, too. The Strangeways yeast was a multi-strain affair which basically fell apart at Hydes with the resulting quality issues causing a one-third volume loss which was never recovered. Quality recovered after they started using Hydes yeast but the damage was done. At the end no more than 30 barrels at a time of this once iconic beer were being brewed and trade was largely concentrated not in Manchester (although there remained a few outlets locally) but on the Fylde coast. Discontinuing it was a mercy killing really.
By the way – pleased to see Phil referencing Phoenix as one of the early adopters of “pale’n’hoppy” – that’s Tony Allen again. Still can’t belive B&B didn’t talk to hm for their book. As Phil says we were rahter used to these sort of beers up here before everyone else caught on. Of course Richard Sutton at Pictish was another pioneer of the style (as well as making the first UK version of what we would now call an American IPA back in 2001 with Blue Moon). Seems like he wasn’t on the B&B radar either – instead all we hear about are Brendan Dobbin and Sean Franklin (no disrespect to either of these gentlemen but they had a few contempories who seem to be in danger of being airbrushed out).
With 50 years to cover in 300 pages, we had to pick individuals and breweries which were either (a) first; (b) particularly influentialt; or (c) representative of a specific trend. After you mentioned them to us the other day, we did a bit of reading, and nothing we’ve come across suggests Phoenix fits any of those criteria, at least not better than any other brewery.
We exchanged emails with Richard Sutton who said:
“I never really considered Blue Moon to be an American style IPA although it does fit neatly into that box. It was first brewed in November 2001 to coincide with the blue moon that month. The original plan was that it would only be brewed when there was a blue moon coming up but popular demand changed that idea… In terms of the recipe the philosophy was the same as with all my beers, it had to be packed with flavour as there’s nothing worse than bland beer. I wanted it to be strong so that it stood out as a special occasion beer but at the same time I didn’t want it to be too heavy drinking. The result was a strong IPA packed with hops, some of which come from the USA. Frankly it turned out better than I expected and appears to have acquired a bit of a following… In my opinion the trend towards pale overly hoppy beers, including USA style IPA’s began with Hop Back Summer Lighting. It might not have been the first in the style but it was the one that captured peoples imagination at the time and fundamentally changed what the real ale enthusiast wanted. ”
So Pictish weren’t first, weren’t especially influential, and weren’t particularly useful to us in describing a trend, though we do acknowledge the IPA trend in much broader terms, and mention Richard in the acknowledgements.
If, when you’ve read the book, you still think we’ve dropped the ball, then by all means write a review — we’re quite happy to have our work scrutinised. (Although it would be nice if it didn’t feel so personal sometimes.)
I agree that Pictish weren’t first generally but I’d still say that Blue Moon was the first bere of its kind frankly.
As for Phoenix, it’s more Tony Allen. He started brewing in 1982 and is still at it. I don’t think there’s anyone else around brewing today (apart from the family firms that is) with such continuity and a “seen it all” history. If you don’t think that’s significant then so be it.
As Phil says,the pale and hoppy revolution started much earlier in the North West and Yorkshire than in did elsewhere, but the point of there being a Manchester pale style is debatable at best and nonsense at worst, unless of course you go back to Ron Pattinson era, bbut as he would point out, there was loads then.
Maybe Boddies was just a survivor (of a sort) of a much earlier era?
I have a showcard of Hydes Anvil Bitter and it depicts the beer as brown.
Yes – I think Boddies wass a survivor of an earlier time when I think there may have been something of a “Manchester style”. As you say, latterly the idea is a non-starter but perhaps that’s why “pale’n’hoppy” gained such early traction hereabouts as these beers did appeal to an ingrained local tase that wasn’t being met by the bigger firms.
You got it! (Second paragraph). This is undoubtedly the case and all the stuff about lager imitation was more for convenience after the fact, IMO. The only thing that would change my mind about this is if it is documented that Boddie’s got lighter in the 60’s or 70’s (the way Duvel did, say) after an early period of being a darker beer.
What was that sour yellow liquid I was drinking at the Vic in Withington in 1985, then?
Sorry, that was in reply to Tandleman’s comment about Hyde’s Anvil being a brown bitter.
Phil — another source of data on Hyde’s is Mike Dunn’s 1986 book Local Brew, presumably researched and written during 1984/5. He says Anvil Strong Ale had an OG of 1080 and was a ‘rich and heavy draught barley wine which can be found between November and March’. He says the Best Mild (1034) was ‘lighter in colour, and with a subtle, pleasantly hoppy flavour’. Bitter (1036) he describes as ‘well-balanced if not especially memorable’.
He describes Holt’s Bitter as ‘one of Britain’s truly great draught beers… very dry and bitter, pale straw-coloured and bursting with flavour, it shocks the tastebuds of those used to bland, ordinary bitters’.
I’ve been drinking Holts since way back when and it was never straw coloured
PS – Hydes Anvil Strong varied in stength from year to year for some reason.
If anything 1980s Holt’s was darker than the average bitter, as well as being as bitter as you like. (Do Titanic brew a darkish bitter? If they do it’s probably a bit like that.)
Hyde’s was bright yellow, though. I guess I may have remembered the name wrong – I believe they called the works the Anvil brewery back then, so the beer may just have been Hyde’s Bitter. Definitely pale, thin and sharp-tasting, though. Got through a load of it in the Vic.
(FWIW the plugs don’t bother me. The tone of the blog is the same – likeable, human & un-corporate – even when you’re trying to sell something. I’d be more critical of those blogs that come over as bland & promotional even when they’re not trying to sell something…)
I do remember Wilson’s Bitter rather well, as it was much sought after when you lived in Liverpool and had a diet beer wise that didn’t include it. They had one pub in Liverpool centre and we always included it in any crawl of the City Centre. (The Marlborough rings a bell) and while it was a pale brown, it was by no means golden.
Nor was Chesters and I was lucky enough to have one of the last tours before it closed, but yes, a little lighter than others, so John has a point. Mind you, memory falters after all this time, but I do know nothing was as pale as Boddies.
Tony Allen. Yes. I will include this in my review of your book. A serious contender for being a game changer.
Not talking about when you and me were drinking these beers Tanders old bean – this is back in about 1960ish. Fron what I can gather both Chesters’ and Wilson’s bitters then were rather different beers to those we drank.
Look forward to your review – I have commissioned one for Opening Times (from another blogger who’s had a freebie – I get the impression these have been ditributed far and wide – talk about relentless promotion)
PS: Thoroughly enjoyable post this.
Fair point John. Even I’m not that old.
I don’t know about others, but I have reviewed books for Aurum before and it is in that context that my contact there offered me one.
Anyway, if you have a book, why not promote it? Seems wise to me.
I agree there’s nowt wrong with a bit of promotion but it’s the sheer relentlessness of it here that’s struck me. When you think of the other bloggers turned authors – Mark Dredge, Ron, Leigh Linley, the team behind the Craft “bookazines” , there’s has been a modicum of promotion but not the barrage we’ve had from B&B for weeks now.
I think it just seems relentless to you because your starting point (for whatever reason) is that we’re annoying.
If you look back at the last month or two’s worth of posts, there are plenty that don’t mention the book at all. Including this one, in fact, until you brought it up.
We were actually advised by Leigh Linley to be a bit less shy about pushing the book because our natural instinct was in quite the opposite direction.
Ironically, after Boddington’s had taken over Higson’s, Boddies’ Bitter was widely thought to have shown some improvement as it spent more time hanging around in depots, giving it chance to enjoy more of a secondary fermentation.
For a while, Boddington’s kept the Higson’s brewery open and spent a lot of money tarting up their rather run-down pub estate, and won plaudits from the Merseyside branches of CAMRA.
Mudgie. Yes indeed. As Max Boyce might have said “I know, coz I was there.”
Yes they put cask in loads of pubs that Higgies had said couldn’t do it for one reason or another. They left the beer alone, did tart up some pubs and generally did a good job. Maybe that takeover was wrong place, wrong time.
Until Boddies went down the wrong path.
The thing I remember most is it’s sheer drinkability
Another very pale beer from the middle of the last century is Stones Bitter.
1979 GBG says you’re right: ‘pale, fruity and well-hopped’.
I suspect that industrial areas like Manchester and Sheffield (where Stones was from) enjoyed the drinkability of pale, light beers.
“I suspect that industrial areas enjoyed the drinkability of pale, light beers.”
Like dark mild, which is usually associated with such areas. Complex old business.
It took me ten years of solid drinking at the Marble Beerhouse to get used to pale’n’oppy beer. I’d had a few beers before I came up here – I cut my drinking teeth in South Wales on Buckley’s, Felinfoel and Brain’s (brown, malty) bitter, before moving to south London at a time when Fuller’s (brown, malty) London Pride was a rarity worth seeking out; I spent some time in East Anglia drinking (brown, malty) Adnam’s & Tolly Cobbold, some in Sussex drinking (brown, malty) Harvey’s, and even some in Edinburgh lubricated by pints of (brown, malty) heavy. Nowhere else in the entire country do they like their beer as pale and dry as they do in west Yorks & south Lancs. I’m not convinced there’s any such thing as ‘drinkability’ – at least, do you suppose that across Sussex people are looking at their HSB and murmuring, “lovely beer, but if only you could drink it!”? (And let’s not even get into Ireland and the whole Guinness thing.)
I have heard the same argument about the drinking preferences of manual workers in industrial areas also used to “explain” the earlier popularity of lager in Scotland. I tend to think it is all baloney.
To me – I’ve said this before – the archetypal “pale North West bitter” was Hartley’s XB, which I see Roger Protz described in 1991 as “a pale and uncompromisingly tart bitter”. That’s cerrtainly how I remember it from sessions in the Golden Rule in Ambleside: mouth-puckering. Other North West bitters described as “straw coloured” or “pale gold” include Yates & Jackson and Mitchells. My impression as a traveller was that North West of England bitters tended to be pale and bitter, as South West of England bitters tended to be (with exceptions) dark amber and comparatively sweet. Not sure I agree with Tandy about industrial areas and dark milds: Banks’s mild is amber, for example, while one very big area for dark mild was East Anglia.
Makes sense that trad bitters in the north west retained more the look and taste of their 1800’s ancestors than elsewhere in the south. The more distant regions tend to change more slowly.
Very well done. On cask 10 years ago in the city it was still good, very good in fact! At least there are alternatives to today’s versions.
Point very much taken about mild.
I still reckon – and I drank a fair bit of them – that the examples you mention were light brown, not golden. Y&J, I remember drinking, but sadly not the colour, but Mitchell’s I do and it was light brown, as was Hartley’s XB. I could probably prove the latter as I have a bottle of Ulverston brewed Hartley’s XB in my house. None (with the possible exception of Y&J were golden like Boddies..
We keep coming back to that description in the GBG — ‘distinctive straw colour’ suggests to us that it stood more-or-less alone.
The problem is, all these colour descriptors are so subjective. If only people had recorded proper Pantone references, we wouldn’t be having this debate…
Best bit of Boddies was Melanie Sykes. She’s a bit long in the tooth these days but you still would.
I was introduced to Boddington’s Bitter in 1973, when it began to emerge as an iconic beer. The pale golden colour was so distinctive, it always appeared so star bright in the glass. Yes, the other local bitters were pale, but they didn’t appear so pale to the eye. Although I reckon Stones Bitter from Sheffield was paler than Boddington’s in the same era. It’s certainly true to say that the beer’s flavour diminished before Whitbread got their hands on it. Me and my peers of the day reckoned it was about 1976 when it started to dumb down, losing it’s wonderful clean crisp refreshing bitterness. At the time there were rumours of an accident at the brewery, in which the yeast culture was destroyed, but I’m not so sure about that myself. It just generally got fuller, softer, and slightly darker in latter years.
In its heyday it was wonderful beer, some folk wouldn’t drink anything else. It brought tears of joy imbibing it, as I shed just a tear now at the very thought.
Thanks for sharing that, Graham. Much appreciated.
Not sure whether this is a fruitful approach but, for what it’s worth, here’s Stone’s Bitter as pictured in a TV ad c.1987 with the basic colour of the beer sampled and used to create a ‘swatch’ at the bottom.
If we can find similar studio shots of Boddington’s et al from books, ads or video, then it might be possible to produce some kind of (heavily caveated, just for fun) comparison table.
Fascinating post. I was only introduced to Boddingtons in 2001 as a young pup drinking legally for the first time. Judging by the comments from older, more experienced real ale enthusiasts it was nowhere near as good as the original, but having said that I absolutely loved Boddies cask at that time and felt proud that a beer from my home city was known across the world. It’s an absolute travesty that such a much-loved beer has been allowed to die. Is there any way that the beer can be brewed again to its original recipe that everyone on here is remembering so fondly? If it was resurrected in its original form then surely there would be demand for it.
Have a crack at Lees’ MPA if you see it.
When I was a student in Greenall Whitley Land (aka Warrington) in the 1970s, we sometimes used to catch a train and go a few stops down the line to the nearest Boddies pub where the beer was better than anything brewed in Warrington, even though the town boasted three breweries at the time. The Barons Bar in Southport also used to sell it, which was handy for when I was on holiday. A friend bought me a four-pint Bodkan in 1979 for my birthday; it was a superior answer to the ubiquitous Watneys Party 4s and 7s. I still have it: it’s been the waste paper bin in my bedroom ever since.
The decline of Boddies in the 1980s coincided with the decline of Liverpool’s Higsons (another favourite) in the same decade. Unfortunately, it’s probably Boddies’ takeover of Higsons for the latter’s brand-new lager plant that left it vulnerable to takeover by Whitbread and the ultimate closure of both breweries.
I still have the ashtray amd pump plaque.for prosterity.
A bit more on Boddington’s from another source — Mike Dunn’s 1986 book Local Brew:
“Boddington’s were one of the stars of the real ale firmament in the 1970s, renowned both for their beautifully sharp and very pale draught bitter and for their rejection of Allied Breweries’ takeover in 1969-70. Today, they are as likely to be reviled as revered — ironically because of their re-emergence as an aggressive regional brewery… Boddington’s are adamant that the recipe of the beer has not changed since 1971, and during 1984 they conducted market research which they say ‘confirmed the high standing of Boddington’s…’; others are less sure, feeling that it is darker, less bitter and less individual in character.”
Yes, Boddingtons always insisted they’d not changed the recipe but I guess that depends on what you mean by ‘recipe’ and of course there are other ways to bugger up a beer. As the old Kevin Buckley report said, I think they messed around with fermentation times and stuff to turn the beer from something slightly thin bodied and astringent to something a bit flabbier all round.
“Boddingtons has not changed since 1971”.
Does this indicate that the recipe/product was first introduced in 1971?
Stones was incredibly pale. Paler than Boddies in fact. But not a North West brew.
Great read thank you
I remember bitters in the Black Country being straw-coloured and well hopped, Batham’s being the most notable example. Again, this was an industrial area, dominated by mild: perhaps the bitter was brewed this way as a contrast – it would have been more expensive, after all.
Now there’s an interesting thought: is there evidence that, in areas where light mild hung on, bitter tended to be unusually light in colour?
(Haven’t checked this at all — just entertaining the thought. Will look at some GBGs later and see if there’s an obvious pattern.)
Batham’s is pale and well-hopped, but it’s also light and sweet – I characterised it somewhere as “like a session-strength Tripel”. (It’s a very fine beer, btw. There’s no hype as yet – thankfully – but do believe the stories.) I can’t imagine there’d be room for a light mild alongside it.
As you know Bob, south Lancs/west Yorks is good territory for light mild (Taylor’s, Robbies’, Hyde’s) so there may be something in this. Come to think of it, the first light mild I ever had – circa 1983 – was on keg, and I’m pretty sure it was either John Smith’s or Holt’s. (For the Mancunian local historians reading this (and I know there are some!) I’m picturing a JS pub and a Holt’s pub next door to each other somewhere in the Withington/West Dids area; it was in one or the other of them I had the light mild. Might there once have been a JS pub next to the Orion at the top of Burton Rd?)
The Waterloo was near the Orion
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