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RIP Draught Burton Ale

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.

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17 replies on “RIP Draught Burton Ale”

I read this piece about DBA in Brew Britannia (very good book, incidentally) and remember the beer well. It was launched just before I joined CAMRA and available in a few pubs near me in Essex. Had some great evenings drinking it, but never when my turn to drive! One pub in particular, the Marlborough in Rochford (a friend worked in the local hospital so when visiting him this was his local) did a cracking pint. It proved the Big Six could brew damned fine beer, and for some years I never dismissed their beers out of hand. Some were good, some mediocre, but much the same with some independent breweries at the time.
RIP Draught Burton Ale, you were a key player on my beer Road to Damascus.

had a spell of drinking it sometime in the 1980s in my then local in Llandudno. Even though I disdained ale at the time, I remember really enjoying it, I think it was light bodied and refreshing, but most importantly it was easy to drink.

I joined Ind Coope in London in 1980. DBA was a great beer but, at the time, its relatively high strength probably held its volumes back a bit. Just as I joined, Ind Coope had undergonean enormous restructuring in response to consumer dissaffection with the Big 6; instead of branding all pubs the same from Bristol to Great Yarmouth and Cambridge to Chichester, they brought back some old names and launched house cask bitters ( mainly brewed at Romford) for all of them.
If I recall correctly, the relevant bitters were Taylor Walker , Benskins, Friary Meux, Aylesbury and Halls of Oxford, as well as an Ind Coope Bitter mainly available in East Anglia.
A good deal of effort went into these brands and the emphasis on DBA seemed to fall away.
It’s perhaps surprising that it has survived as long as it has, given its peripatetic travels since the formation of Carlsberg Tetley.

Round my way we had Friary Meux bitter at 3.7% as the weak Allied cask beer and Burton as the strong one, like Courage had Best and Directors.

A good piece – and in its day DBA was a very good beer indeed. Struck by this comment though:

“There were no chemicals in British beer, keg or otherwise. ”

A certain Brendan Dobbin had a rather different take on that one I recall.

You can’t miss what you never had. I suspect it tasted of bitter but the geeks never drank it because it was owned by Carlsberg and now like to moan because it’s gone. Cheer up, at least the Carlsberg is still cheap.

Burton was Champion Beer of Britain in 1990. I drank it regularly around that time in the Red Lion in Leytonstone and would do again if it were still around and brewed in the same way – there are several indifferent micro efforts that it would put to shame.

If you are looking into Allied’s cask beer diversification in the 70s and 80s, which might be a book in itself, then Taylor Walker Mainline would be another beer to track down. It came out in the early 80s but I think was sold in only a few pubs before being abruptly withdrawn.

I thought Brew Britannia was a very good book and you should use your talents to document more of our beer and pub history in solid form, before the internet sweeps history out of existence. It’s not a way to make a living but a good outlet in which to channel your obvious enthusiasm for the subject.

Ian

Mainline, I’d almost forgotten about that. It was never supported and , as a dark beer in London in the teeth of the march of fizzy lager (Castlemaine XXXX particularly) , never really had a chance.
At Benskins we had Benskins Pale, a very unpleasant keg light mild, circa 3.2% ABV), for the Watford working men’s club market.

DBA was undoubtedly a fine beer. One which Allied pulled out of the hat to get them out of jail. Although, when you think of its reported parentage, an export version of Double Diamond, this makes it all the more remarkable.

As for chemicals in British beer… hmm well apart from antioxidants, preservatives, head stabilisers etc.

Brew Britannia is a cracking read. Not finished it yet, but an excellent in depth study.

This beer was one of the finest I ever had over many trips to Britain from the 80’s-2000’s. It had an elegant, plum-like fruitiness and a complex hop and malt flavour. IMO it was much superior to the fashionable pale ales of today with their flavours of white pith from and grapefruit or lemon.

I used to drink it at the pub back of Leicester Square with the two names, where a well-known writer had hung out who was pictured in illustrations on the wall. The beer was always best there.

It would be interesting to know who specifically came up with the formulation. Was it new, was it a revamp or renaming of a beer in the arsenal of Allied perhaps from an absorbed old regional?

Gary

Maybe it’s my age (or yours!) but I do find the cynicism of that phrase “a sop to CAMRA” depressing (I said something similar about the book: “the big brewers’ reintroduction of cask bitter is presented in … tit-for-tat style, as a dastardly plot to take the wind out of CAMRA’s sails … [this]obscures a much simpler and more obvious reading, which is that this was a defeat for the Big Six (or, at the very least, an enforced change of direction).”

I mean, here’s the quote –

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.

It’s inspiring stuff – a real, positive cultural shift, which CAMRA helped bring about. And this isn’t Protzie rallying the workers or some Neal’s Yard trippy hippie – this is the PR guy for Allied. “A sop to CAMRA”? There’s hard-nosed, and then there’s just not hearing the music.

OK, so they launched it as part of a strategy of engagement with CAMRA — not cynical, just realistic. Here’s another quote from the same interview:

“The view from the board room at Allied, as at other Big Six breweries, was ‘CAMRA shall not cross this threshold’. That was partly, I think, because the political views of people like Roger Protz were not, shall we say, very compatible with those of the ‘brewocracy’. Allied chairman Sir Keith Showering had a real antipathy to CAMRA and didn’t believe they should be given any credence… My view was that CAMRA had the ear of the press; they weren’t going away; and they had this huge membership; and so we should engage with them — the senior guys from CAMRA in particular.”

They engaged with CAMRA because they had to. They had to because CAMRA weren’t going away; and they had this huge membership. And CAMRA had built up a huge membership because there were lots and lots of people who supported what they were advocating. And, if CAMRA (or something very like it) had never been formed, those people would never have had a voice.

In other words, a big corporation, which had been doing a lot of bad things, did something good as the result of pressure from a mass movement, spearheaded by CAMRA. I’d still call that inspiring.

(And repeat after me: CAMRA Was A Good Thing… CAMRA Was A Good Thing…)

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