Artyfacts from the Nyneties #4: Meet Pete

Pete's Wicked Ale ad, 1994.
Click to enlarge.

The advertisement above appeared in the Campaign for Real Ale’s monthly What’s Brewing in November 1994.

The year before, ‘Pete’s’ had sponsored the Bieres Sans Frontieres programme and it was on its way to becoming the best-known American brewery among British drinkers.

In the Daily Mirror on 27 January 1995, Nick Kent wrote:

THE coolest beers in America are hitting Britain – and some of them are OK when they’re warm! Microbrewery beers are fashionable in the US but may become an endangered species as hype and big business start to get a hold… Pete’s Wicked Lager is a fine example; hops predominate and it has a clean, sharp, dry taste even though it is on the strong side (4.8 per cent alcohol).

Then, on 21 July the same year, Kent announced an exciting competition:

HE’S loud, proud, thirsty-something, and he could be heading your way… American Pete Slosberg, founder of Pete’s Brewing Company, is coming to the British Beer Festival, and he wants a brace of Mirror readers to go with him… So prepare to be sloshed with Slosberg. It will be a swill party… Modest, quiet, polite, a tasteful dresser — Pete is none of these, as the two competition winners will soon discover… They will accompany Pete as he pint-ificates his way around the festival at London’s Olympia, on Thursday, August 3… Dispensing views on other people’s wares, he will be looking out for any beer daring to rival Pete’s Wicked Lager and Pete’s Wicked Ale for taste… Pete will also take his Mirror guests for a taste of the Belgian beer and food at Belgo Centraal… This top restaurant is the trendiest thing to come out of Belgium since Tintin.

By 1996, Pete’s beers were in Majestic, Waitrose, Tesco, Morrison’s and Oddbins (Independent on Sunday, 17 November).

The flagship beer was a brown ale, Pete’s Wicked Ale, which was reviewed by ‘Sparks’ for the Oxford Bottled Beer Database in around 1998:

This is one of the easier American breweries to get hold of in the UK… The beer is ruby-coloured with a thick, reasonably tenacious head. The nose is quite light, but with noticeable sugary malt notes and a little background hoppiness (aroma hops only). On the tongue, it is quite fizzy and fairly malty, but not as sweet as you might expect from the aroma – in fact it is much drier than many brown ales. There is burnt caramel in the back of the throat, becoming more pronounced towards the finish. The aftertaste is more hoppy, but also with bitter, burnt sugar flavours. This is a pleasant example of a brown ale, with a pleasing dryness not often encountered in the genre.

It doesn’t sound terribly exciting — as Jeff Alworth put it in 2011, ‘In the 1990s, lots and lots of people drank and enjoyed brown ales… I mean really, brown ales. What the … ?’ — but it had a whiff of the exotic about it, and was cleverly marketed with a big personality front-and-centre, e.g.

In the UK, it seems to have occupied a similar space to Newquay Steam Beer, come to think of it — a bit outside the narrative of the ‘craft beer revolution’ (unless we’re mistaken, the last 20 years hasn’t seen a ton of Pete’s Wicked clones among UK brewers, unlike, say, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale) and different without being too different.

13 thoughts on “Artyfacts from the Nyneties #4: Meet Pete”

  1. It’s only not exciting from a revisionist point of view. Sad to break the news to the craft heads but most people were very happy with the malty micros for most of the good beer revolution. We are in a bit of a blip where the winners write the history of craft leaving people with the impression that Sierra Nevada PA was more influential than Pete’s Wicked Ale. It’s really post 2005 thinking. By 2025 the truths from this corner of history will be rearranged again.

    1. Well, maybe, but based on contemporary evidence — reviews from the mid-90s — no-one was having their socks knocked off by how it tasted. It was, we gather, nice, but we already had nice, balanced brown beers in Britain already.

      1. I think Alan’s responding to your quote as applied in a US context rather than the UK context that you presumably meant it in.

          1. Exactly. Until North America switches from micro to craft about ten years ago, it is largely emulating UK styles or any style like alt with a malt forward profile. That’s why describing anything before say 2003 in the U.S. as “craft” is misleading.

  2. From a UK point of view, as I remember, this wasn’t a “nice, balanced brown beer”, it was a distinctly odd-tasting hybrid style unlike anything widely available here at the time: a burnt-sugary dark brown ale with piney US hops. If you hadn’t had SNPA or Liberty and this was your first exposure to those hop flavours, it made a strange introduction.

    1. Interesting — thanks. We were sort of hoping to elicit some more tasting notes from people who remembered drinking it.

  3. One of the oddities of that review is it focuses on the malt and related notes (burn sugar, etc.) but not on the fact that the hops were American and thus presumably new in the U.K.

    I remember this brand well and it had a piney, typically New World hop taste. One would think it would stick out like a sore thumb in Britain then, but apparently not.

    It could be down to the vagaries of that particular reviewer; alternatively, perhaps American hops had already made inroads in U.K. brewing.

    Gary

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