The Secrets of Doom Bar’s Success

This post was made possible by the support of Patreon subscribers like  Nick Moyle and Sue Hart whose encouragement justified us spending several days of our free time researching and writing. If you like this, and want more, please do consider signing up, or just buy us a pint.

How did a beer born on an industrial estate in Cornwall in 1995 become a ubiquitous national brand in just 20 years? And what about it inspires such loyalty, and such disdain?

A few incidents made us really start thinking about Sharp’s Doom Bar.

The first was a couple of years ago on a research trip to Manchester, having travelled all the way from Penzance, when we walked into a pub – we can’t recall which one – to find two cask ales on offer: St Austell Tribute, and Doom Bar.

The second was at a pub in Newlyn, just along the coast from Penzance, where we met two exhausted cyclists who’d just complete the John O’Groats to Land’s End run. They wanted one last beer before beginning the long journey home to the Home Counties. When we got talking to them, one of them eventually said to us: “You’re into your ales, then? I’ll tell you what’s a good one – Doom Bar. Do you know it?”

People love this beer. They really, genuinely, unaffectedly find great pleasure in drinking it.

Sales statistics support that: from somewhere around 12 million pints per year in 2009, to 24m in 2010, to 43m by 2016, Doom Bar shifts units.

So what is, or has been, Doom Bar’s secret? And is there something there other brands might imitate?

Continue reading “The Secrets of Doom Bar’s Success”

A Brutalist Brewery: Arup and Carlsberg in Northampton, 1974

The March 1974 edition of the Arup Journal is an amazing artefact, offering a blow-by-blow breakdown of the design and construction of Carlsberg’s state of the art Danish brewery in Northampton.

You can read the full magazine here in PDF form, and it’s a lovely thing in its own right – all white space and sans serif, as stylish as the buildings it depicts.

Arup Journal, March 1974, cover.

Arup is an architecture firm founded in 1946 by Ove Arup, born in Newcastle  upon Tyne in the UK to Danish parents in 1895, and educated in Denmark. Though he died in 1988 the company lives on, its name a byword for modernism.

In 1970, Arup was commissioned by Carlsberg Brewery Ltd to design a new plant in Northampton in the English Midlands, just as the lager boom was beginning to bite. The cost of the project was £15 million; Carlsberg supplied the brewery equipment and defined the necessities of the space according to production need; and Arup commissioned Danish architect Knud Munk to produce a design that would “express the best in modern Danish architecture”.

As well as lots of detail in the text the magazine also includes process charts…

Process chart of lager brewing at Carlsberg.

…interior shots…

A control panel at the brewery.

…and lots of dramatic black-and-white photography of the brewery building at various stages of construction, set in the flat landscape against dramatic skies…

The exterior of the brewery.
CREDIT: Colin Westwood.

…which are either awe-inspiring or grim depending on your point of view.

It’s fascinating to think of this hulk appearing, with attendant talk of efficiency and automation, at just the exact moment the Campaign for Real Ale was taking off. This is about as far from all that imagery of wooden casks, old inns and pewter tankards as you can get.

And the emphasis throughout on the Danishness of the project – Danish brewers, Danish architect, officially opened by the Queen of Denmark – while canny in terms of underlining the authenticity of the product was also at odds with the growing sense that Local was somehow a sacred virtue.

We’ve been researching this building and Carlsberg’s arrival in the UK on and off for years and this showed up in one of our periodic check-ins. There are times we worry about the state of corporate archives and others when we feel like we’re living in the best possible age, with digitising getting cheaper and companies realising the value of their own history.

Studying Beer History – Hoarding, Stealing, Learning to Let Go

Various books and magazine from the last 40+ years of CAMRA.

Even if you’re the first to share a nugget from the archives on social media doesn’t mean you discovered it, and almost certainly doesn’t mean you own it. And sharing is good for the soul.

We spent a large chunk of Sunday scanning documents from the Guinness collection we’ve been sorting through so we could share their contents with a scholar working on a book about stout.

For us, there’s a thrill in setting this information free, not least because we know that when it comes to technical brewing history, we’re far from being the best people to interpret sources.

But perhaps if this scholar wasn’t someone we sort of know, and admire, we’d feel differently.

In the course of researching two books, only one person refused to share source material with us. Though it frustrated us in the moment, we do understand: serious historians are too used to having years, even decades of research repackaged, and usually misrepresented, by dilettantes, TV production companies and hacks.

Both academia and publishing are competitive worlds, too, so there are all kinds of reasons people might unearth something juicy and want to stake a claim, at least until after the next paper or book is published.

And the internet in particular swims with parasites, saving and reposting and stealing and reposting until there are no pixels left in anything.

Only this week we saw Liam’s hard work investigating the history of Irish brewing exploited by a copy-and-paster and felt his pain.

We quite often notice things we’ve shared here turning up elsewhere with not so much as a ‘via’ or a link, sometimes with the SOURCE watermarks we painstakingly added snipped off or blurred out.

We might tut a bit but we can’t really complain. After all, even if we spent money and time acquiring the source material, and even more time scanning, tidying up and uploading it, we still don’t own those images or words, or the history they encapsulate.

Interpretation, commentary and narrative – those you, or we, can rightly stake a claim to, but the source material ought to belong to everyone.

Even then, we’ve learned to let a bit of pilfering  go, perhaps with a vague belief in the idea of karma: the research we take is equal to the research we make and all that.

So, if you’re sitting on original documents relating to beer and brewing, such as magazines, business papers, original photographs or brewing logs, we’d urge you to do what you can to share some or all of them.

It might just be a blog post flagging their existence, or something more substantial. Just get it out there.

And if you draw on someone else’s research do try to be generous with links and shout-outs and thank-yous. It doesn’t take a moment or cost much, it helps people trace sources back to the root, and, again, that karma thing applies.

Finally, if you think we might have something in our collection that could help with your research, do drop us a line.

A partial list of what’s in our library
  • What’s Brewing, 1972-1977 (partial); 1979-1997, complete
  • A Monthly Bulletin, 1953-1956, 1960-1972
  • The Red Barrel, Watney Mann, various editions 1950s-1970s
  • The House of Whitbread, various editions 1940s-1960s
  • Guinness Time, various editions 1960s-70s, plus scans of individual articles 1950s-60s
  • numerous odd issues of other brewery in-house magazines 1920s-1970s
  • CAMRA Good Beer Guide, 1976 onward

Draught Guinness 1958: Two Casks, One Tap

Draught Guinness™ is something different to draught Guinness. Exactly how it worked, and how it changed over time, has long puzzled us. Now, we at least have a clear explanation from one point in time – 1958.

The edition of Guinness Time for spring that year includes a four-page article, heavily illustrated, on draught Guinness. It clears up some of the confusion we felt when we wrote this piece a couple of years ago based on a similar article from 1971.

Men working with metal casks.
‘T. Byrne and A.E. George cleansing casks under the supervision of Foreman L. Elliott.’
1. Wood gives way to metal

It begins by setting out the political situation around metal and wooden casks:

Although a few Public Houses still serve Draught Guinness ‘from the wood’, is is now normally set out in Stainless Steel metal casks. The development of metal casks suitable for containing Draught Guinness was not as easy as it may sound and it involved the introduction of new taps and other associated fittings. The original inventor of the equipment was Mr J.F.T. Barnes, the founder of Universal Brewery Equipment Ltd… but many improvements in design were effected by the late Mr E.J. Griffiths and J.R. Moore. The transition from wooden to metal casks, which attracted a great deal of criticism during the early days just after the last War, has now been virtually completed and is accepted everywhere.

There are hints of the Society for the Preservation of the Wood yet to arrive, in 1963, and this helps us pin down when ‘beer from the wood’ became a common phrase.

Continue reading “Draught Guinness 1958: Two Casks, One Tap”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 27 October 2018: Brixton, Babies, Beer Festivals

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past week, from financial stories about big beer to blog posts about Dorchester.

Canadian beer writer Jordan St. John came to the UK in August and in typically reflective style, elegantly expressed as ever, has shared some outsider observations:

The next day at the Great British Beer Festival, more change is evident. For one thing, the crowd is significantly younger than when I was there in 2013. It’s a Tuesday and most of  London’s brewery staff has the day off and is in attendance. I run into people from Moor and Windsor & Eton, but really I’m there to talk to the people from Fourpure. They have just recently launched their Juicebox IPA in Ontario, but sadly the beer didn’t clear customs in time for the launch. Even more recently than that, they’ve announced the sale of the brewery to the Kirin owned Lion PTY Ltd. Check it out: Purchased by the Australian subsidiary of a Japanese Brewery to be a cat’s paw in England to compete with Meantime, which is owned by Asahi, another Japanese Brewery.


Bill Coors.

Beer industry magnate Bill Coors has died at the age of 102. Rejecting the reverential tendency Jeff Alworth has written a clear-eyed reflection on Coors’ life and legacy:

Wealth and success have always been enough to launder bad behavior into institutional respect and honor, but we shouldn’t let these statements become canonical. In the decades of his chairmanship, the idea that he had a “commitment to bettering lives around him” would have been greeted with sour laughter by many. Bill Coors had a dark side, and it is at least as important to note as his tenure as chairman.


A baby.

Perhaps picking up on a theme established by Becky last week, Rachael Smith explains how important The Pub has been to her in early motherhood:

Kerthudd! That’s the sound that a half-full infant’s beaker makes when it hits a hard tiled floor, thrown from the height of a highchair with all the gusto and might a fourteen month old can muster whilst sleepy and full of chips. Well, mostly full of chips, I’m sure half his portion were on the floor by the end of the session, minus the one half-eaten fry that was gifted to the staff member who took her time to get to his level and say hello… Whilst I was chatting with a friend, my child had been communicating in his own little way with another little kid on the table next to us. They had their own little language going on and were getting on like a house on fire. At the end of lunch a slip of paper was popped on to my table, as I looked down a lopped-off giraffe’s head looked straight back up at me (it was, I soon realised, the top of the children’s menu), next to it in crayon were names, a number, and the words; play-date?


Keg taps.

An interesting observation from Alec Latham: there is a constant three-way push and pull between supermarkets, craft beer bottle shops and pubs. He writes:

I was put in mind of this over the weekend when I went to visit a new bottle and tap room in Harpenden opened by Mad Squirrel Brewery (Hemel Hempsted)… I noticed how many chillers there were on the shop floor and enquired whether the cans and bottles could be consumed on site – a daft question – of course they could… But then he also mentioned something I’d noted myself subconsciously, but without joining up all the dots: takeaway sales of cans from beer shop shelves are reaping diminishing returns, whereas sales of cans from the fridges to be cracked open in the shop are increasing.


Gary Gillman has been digging into the history of beer festivals  – what filled the gap between Oktoberfest and CAMRA’s 1975 Covent Garden Beer Exhibition? Part 1 | Part 2.


The Dorchester Brewery c.1889.
SOURCE: Alfred Barnard/Hathi Trust.

Meanwhile, Alan McLeod continues his research into the provincial beer styles of Britain with further information on the apparently once legendary Dorchester Ale:

A lady, who had been my fellow passenger, turned to me as we drove up the avenue, and said, “I suppose, of course, you mean to try the Dorchester ale, which is so celebrated.” “Is it very fine?” I asked.

“Dear me, have you never tasted Dorchester ale?” “No, madam, nor have I ever been in this town before.” She looked at me in some surprize, as my speech was not Irish nor Scotch. When I told her I came from the United States, she gazed upon me with the greatest curiosity…

(Read the comments, too.)


An interesting bit of financial newsAB InBev has cut its dividend after a tough year in some markets:

“We can’t remember a more disappointing set of figures from AB InBev,” said RBC analyst James Edwardes Jones, noting that most regions missed analysts’ estimates for volume growth.


And finally, faith in human nature, and so on and so forth: