The Lost Runcorn Mega Brewery

Screenshot from A Round of Bass

The col­lec­tion of doc­u­men­taries about pubs from the British Film Insti­tute we’ve been eager­ly await­ing for some time has final­ly arrived, and our copy turned up this week. (We bought it with our own mon­ey, for the record.)

Quite apart from the aching nos­tal­gia for an age before we born pro­voked by the fad­ed films, there are lots of nuggets which demand fur­ther research.

For exam­ple, there’s the Run­corn mega brew­ery men­tioned in A Round of Bass (dir. Geof­frey Reeve, 1972). We’ve been to Run­corn sev­er­al times and nev­er noticed any sign of the ‘most mod­ern beer pro­duc­ing plant in Europe’. A quick Google turned up this aca­d­e­m­ic paper (PDF) by David W Gutzke which sum­maris­es the sto­ry as fol­lows:

Built by Bass Char­ring­ton, Britain’s pre-emi­nent brew­ery in the 1960s and 1970s, Run­corn was con­ceived as becom­ing west­ern Europe’s largest brew­ery. Even before it opened in 1974, how­ev­er, Run­corn was struck with paralysing labour dis­rup­tions, tech­no­log­i­cal prob­lems, and man­age­r­i­al mis­cal­cu­la­tions that would plague its his­to­ry until its clo­sure until 1991. What gave Run­corn broad­er sig­nif­i­cance was its role in reflect­ing the per­va­sive, but mis­placed, assump­tions about a new cor­po­rate cul­ture, new tech­nolo­gies, the emer­gence of nation­al brands, and adver­tis­ing as a vehi­cle for replac­ing local con­sumer tastes with nation­al mar­kets.

The paper is an inter­est­ing beer-focused com­pan­ion piece to Andy Beck­et­t’s When the Lights Went Out and answers the rid­dle of why we did­n’t spot any sign of a mon­strous­ly huge brew­ery on our trips to Cheshire:

Soon the entire brew­ery plant was dis­man­tled and sold, with some of it shipped to Roma­nia; Bass even dis­posed of the emp­ty brew­ing site. Noth­ing remained to remind the com­pa­ny of a scheme so grandiose but so calami­tous that its true nature was expunged from Bass’s offi­cial his­to­ries.

The Big Red Triangle

Bass is bet­ter regard­ed as an icon of graph­ic design than as a beer.

It’s usu­al­ly found in pubs that seem stuck in a time­warp and, in our expe­ri­ence at least, is rarely drink­able, from either keg or cask. We’ve found it sour and stale every­where from grot­ty pubs with sticky car­pets to gaudi­ly wall­pa­pered ‘style bars’ in south Lon­don.

A cou­ple of weeks ago, how­ev­er, we had a pint that was in tip-top con­di­tion and were remind­ed that at its best, Bass is a com­plex beer which car­ries some inten­tion­al ‘off flavours’ with aplomb. The sul­phurous aro­ma, the hint of cider-apple and a final chalk­i­ness, are not repel­lent but absolute­ly har­mo­nious. It is rem­i­nis­cent of, and bet­ter than, recent bot­tles of Wor­thing­ton White Shield.

Until it tastes this way more often, how­ev­er, while we won’t give up on it, it’ll have to remain on our list of beers of last resort.

Simon ‘Reluc­tant Scoop­er’ John­son seems to know where to find Bass in reli­ably good nick; and those who like to try to find the break­ing point of the term craft beer will find Bass a use­ful bit of ammo.