Roger Protz confirmed yesterday that Ind Coope Draught Burton Ale, launched by Allied Breweries in 1976, and for some time lately brewed under contract by J.W. Lees in Manchester, is no more.
This seems a fitting moment, then, to share an extract from our 09/04/2013 interview with Richard Harvey, who worked as a PR man at Allied when the beer was launched. Some nuggets of what he told us made it into chapter six of Brew Britannia, entitled ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, but here’s the section on DBA, unedited:
In the spring of 1976, the Marketing Director, Peter Bonham-Carter, came to me and said: ‘Richard, we’re going to be launching a new cask-conditioned beer. It’s going to be national, and we want to adopt the black cat approach.’ The black cat was the logo of Craven A cigarettes which they’d used in very subtle adverts – ‘black cats are coming’ and the logo. Similar to Silk Cut, with the famous slashed purple fabric. ‘Look,’ said Peter, ‘if we start taking big hoardings with “Draught Burton Ale” on them, CAMRA will say “Here’s a big brewery trying to force their latest product down people’s throats.”’ So, we used purely PR, no ads, emphasising the heritage of brewing in Burton-upon-Trent, initially targeting the south of England.
It was a cracking beer. We organised tastings across the south, inviting the mayor, local dignitaries, press and CAMRA branches. It was a hot summer, which meant some of the landlords struggled to present it at its best, but we pulled it off – it was a huge success.
I also organised a trip to Burton-upon-Trent for members of the CAMRA National Executive and a bunch of journalists. I’ve a feeling Richard Boston might have been there, too. There was always a risk that CAMRA wouldn’t behave themselves and would disdain what we were trying to do, but it went off like a dream. They travelled up on the train and were whisked to the brewery in a luxury coach. I think they appreciated being asked along – it felt like a breakthrough to us and them.
There was also a phrase you’d hear in the mid-seventies, ‘chemical beer’, mostly at CAMRA branch level, which we didn’t like at all. There were no chemicals in British beer, keg or otherwise. Engaging CAMRA’s NE at the launch of Draught Burton was a chance to show them that the brewers at Allied were as skilful as brewers anywhere – maybe more so – and that we only used natural ingredients. No chemicals anywhere in the brewery! I was concerned that, when we showed them the huge coppers – actually made of stainless steel – they would scoff at what they’d see as ‘mass production’. In contrast, they liked the cosy, rural imagery, things like wooden casks. But there was no trouble – everybody was as good as gold, and it was a great day.
On the way back, British Rail naturally didn’t serve cask ale on board, and I definitely saw one CAMRA National Executive member drinking four or five cans of Long Life! This was a beer brewed for the can – fizzy, filtered, not especially flavourful. So they were pragmatic if the alternative was having no beer at all at the end of a long day in the brewery tasting room!
Draught Burton Ale was Allied responding to a consumer movement – a mood in the nation. Something had struck a chord, obviously, and many people shared CAMRA’s view that local breweries needed to be protected and looked after, and that the big breweries, corporatism, and so on, was too much. They were increasingly turning back to local and regional products.
We’re sad we never got to try it – by all accounts, it was a great beer in its own right, regardless of its function as a sop to CAMRA.