RIP Draught Burton Ale

Draught Burton Ale ad from the CAMRA East London & City Beer Guide, 1986.

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.

UPDATES

17 thoughts on “RIP Draught Burton Ale”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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

    1. 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.

      1. Thanks for this and the ear­li­er com­ment, Mal­colm – inside info always very wel­come!

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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.

  10. 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.”

    1. 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 ThingCAMRA Was A Good Thing…)

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