Where the Boddies is Buried

Boddington's keg 'lens', Manchester.

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’.

Boddington's bee logo c.1979.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

Marble Manchester Bitter.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.

Lees MPA poster, Manchester.

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 thoughts on “Where the Boddies is Buried”

  1. 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.

    1. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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!).

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

  3. 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.”

  4. 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).

    1. John,

      With 50 years to cov­er in 300 pages, we had to pick indi­vid­u­als and brew­eries which were either (a) first; (b) par­tic­u­lar­ly influ­en­tialt; or © 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.)


      1. 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.

  5. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.


      1. Sor­ry, that was in reply to Tan­dle­man’s com­ment about Hyde’s Anvil being a brown bit­ter.

        1. 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’.

          1. I’ve been drink­ing Holts since way back when and it was nev­er straw coloured

          2. PS – Hydes Anvil Strong var­ied in stength from year to year for some rea­son.

          3. 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…)

  6. 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.

    1. 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)

  7. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. I sus­pect that indus­tri­al areas like Man­ches­ter and Sheffield (where Stones was from) enjoyed the drink­a­bil­i­ty of pale, light beers.

  11. 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.

    1. 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.)

    2. 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.

  12. 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.

    1. 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.


  13. 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.


  14. Mar­tyn

    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..

    1. 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…

  15. Best bit of Bod­dies was Melanie Sykes. She’s a bit long in the tooth these days but you still would.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.”

    1. 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.

    2. Bod­ding­tons has not changed since 1971”.

      Does this indi­cate that the recipe/product was first intro­duced in 1971?

  20. 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.

    1. 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.)

      1. 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?)

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