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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