The First British Attempt at German-style Wheat Beer

Vaux Brewery logo

In 1988 a new German-style wheat beer was launched on the British market — the first, its brewers claimed, brewed in the UK.

This post follows on from our contribution to the Session back at the start of July in which we were frustrated in our attempts to pin down when Samuel Smith started brewing Ayinger wheat beer under licence.

As it happens, the August 1988 edition of CAMRA’s monthly newspaper What’s Brewing contains two articles useful for pinning this down:

  1. A double-page profile of Samuel Smith and its head brewer by Brian Glover.
  2. A back-page splash headlined FIRST BRITISH WHEAT BEER!

The former lists all of the Ayinger-branded beers then in production at Smith’s from D Pils to VSL (very strong lager, we think, at about 8% ABV) but does not mention a wheat beer.

The latter tells us that Britain’s first German-style wheat beer was brewed in… Sheffield. It was branded as Vaux Weizenbier but brewed at a Vaux subsidiary, Ward’s.

Vaux beermat.

The operations director at Sunderland, Stuart Wilson, explained the thinking behind this remarkable first:

We have noted the popularity of wheat beers in West Germany and in the USA. Wheat beers are 15% of the Bavarian beer market. So with the increasing interest in speciality beers, we have decided to brew this classic style.

The article tells us that the beer had an ABV of 5% and was served on draught from “ornate ceramic founts” in elaborate branded glasses, with slices of lemon available “for those who prefer to complete the Bavarian picture”. Oddly, perhaps, it was filtered and presented clear — cloudy beer being perhaps a step too far for British drinkers in 1988?

Michael ‘The Beer Hunter’ Jackson blurbed the new product: “[It has] a clean, lightly fruity palate.”

In a follow-up piece for The Times on 11 May 1991 Mr Glover was still crediting Vaux with launching the first UK-brewed German wheat beer (meaning nobody came forward to prove otherwise) and stated that there had been no others since.

But by 1994 Roger Protz was reporting in the Observer (29 May) that Vaux had begun importing Spaten wheat beers, with no mention of their own-label product.

So, there you go: Sam Smith didn’t get into the wheat beer game until the 1990s, and anyone Googling ‘first British wheat beer’ now has a plausible answer. (Unless anyone out there knows otherwise.)

Timeline

  • 1988 Vaux brews the first British take on German-style wheat beer
  • 1988 Hoegaarden hits UK market
  • 1991 Taylor Walker begins selling Löwenbräu across its estate
  • 1993 Hoegaarden in Whitbread pubs
  • 1994 Alastair Hook begins importing German wheat beers to the UK
  • 1994 wheat beer festival at the White Horse organised by Hook and Mark Dorber
  • 1994 continental wheat beers in UK supermarkets

6 thoughts on “The First British Attempt at German-style Wheat Beer”

  1. In MJ’s Beer Companion (1993) he says Vaux made two versions – one with a wheat-beer yeast and one with an ale yeast. He also mentions Bunce’s having a go in 1991. I remember a few micros trying cask versions in the early 90s, (inc. Firkins iirc) but none lasted long – the “summer seasonal” thing was starting at the same time, and golden ales proved more popular in that area.

  2. The mention of Löwenbräu puzzled me – I only ever remember it being A. N. Other ‘continental’ lager. I wasn’t drinking lager at the time, though, so WDIK.

    1. The story on that from 1991 was that it was the first cloudy beer being pushed widely in mainstream pubs. Will the public accept it? etc.

  3. My notes indicate trying Hoegaarden at the 1986 Pigs Ear Festival (then in October) in Bethnal Green – I was one of the organising team and I think it would have been sourced through The Beer Shop (Pitfield). They had a wide range of imported bottled beers but I don’t recall whether we had it as a one-off or they were trying the market for kegs at the time.

  4. Sorry – should have made clear that we had the draught (keg) version, not the beer in bottle – if in fact they did it in bottles at the time?

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