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.

Can Tatty Old Lager Brands Be Fixed?

SKOL advert, 1962.

We got an email from someone at a public relations firm asking as to share our thoughts about a lager brand they’re working with.

We said no because, frankly, what’s in it for us? But we had to admit, the ques­tions were thought-pro­vok­ing, espe­cial­ly one about how the lager in ques­tion could be made to ‘seem more pre­mi­um’.

Note that word seem: pre­sum­ably, any change in the way the prod­uct is man­u­fac­tured is out of the ques­tion – this is an exer­cise in pre­sen­ta­tion.

In the days when brew­ers could con­ceal the strength, com­po­si­tion and ori­gin of their lagers, imply­ing ‘pre­mi­um-ness’ was a lot eas­i­er: foil, emboss­ing, her­aldry, and the name of a for­eign coun­try on the label.

Increas­ing­ly, how­ev­er, pun­ters want to know why you’re charg­ing them extra for a prod­uct, and have a right to know. Tesco’s  ‘Finest’ pas­ta, for exam­ple, isn’t just in a fan­cy-look­ing pack­et – the blurb makes clear that it was cut with bronze dies (appar­ent­ly that’s bet­ter) and is pack­aged by a par­tic­u­lar fam­i­ly firm in Italy.

If you real­ly can’t  come up with a sto­ry like that – if you’ve spent decades stream­lin­ing any romance out of the process to com­pete on cost, and don’t want to launch a gen­uine­ly decent sub-brand for the sake of the ‘halo effect’ – what options are left? Com­plete trans­paren­cy –embrac­ing the fact that your prod­uct is made in Britain, despite its liv­ery – seems to us to be the only avail­able route.

As we’ve learned while research­ing the career of ear­ly micro­brew­er Bill Urquhart, Carls­berg has been pro­duced in Northamp­ton since the ear­ly nine­teen-sev­en­ties. If we were Carls­berg, we’d hire the bloke who made this to pro­duce a beau­ti­ful film about the build­ing of the then state-of-the-art brew­ery, and its grand open­ing by Princess Benedik­te of Den­mark. We’d get twinkly-eyed retired brew­ers and ex-pat Dan­ish tech­ni­cal experts who came over with the plant to talk about their work togeth­er. Carls­berg, as we in the UK know it, is Dan­ish, but also British – and has been for forty years.

Telling that sto­ry won’t make the beer taste bet­ter, but being hon­est about it might make the brand more like­able, which is half the bat­tle.

The PR firm who approached us aren’t work­ing with Carls­berg, unfor­tu­nate­ly, so they’re screwed.

Sponsored by One Green Lager or the Other

Carlsberg and Heineken logos side by side.

When some­one asked us this week to remind them of the offi­cial beer of the Lon­don Olympics, we couldn’t remem­ber. “One of the lagers that comes in green tins,” we said. “Carslberg, we think. Yeah, that’s it, Carls­berg.”

Hav­ing checked, it turns out its Heineken, the Dutch one.

Or is it Dan­ish? No, it’s Carslberg that’s Dan­ish. The one that spon­sored Euro 2012 last month. Or was that Heineken as well?

It wasn’t Grolsch or Becks, was it?

They should toss a coin and let the win­ner keep green, or maybe play a foot­ball match for it.

Christmas Beer from Norway

It’s always nice when you hit upon a sin­gle word review of a beer: Ore­os would do it for Ringnes Julle­bok, one of a pair of Nor­we­gian Christ­mas beers we were giv­en by Knut Albert a few weeks ago when we met him in Lon­don.

At the time he described it as the most inter­est­ing Christ­mas beer from the big indus­tri­al brew­ers. Ringnes is the Nor­we­gian arm of Carls­berg, he explained, and told us not to expect too much from the beer.

It looked love­ly – trans­par­ent, dark, with an off-white head – but didn’t real­ly have enough going on to jus­ti­fy its strength (9%). Boak didn’t like it much at all, hav­ing an aver­sion to overt sug­ari­ness in beer, but I enjoyed its smooth, lin­ger­ing choco­late flavour.

Now we just need to find an oppor­tu­ni­ty to drink the bot­tle of Nøgne ø Christ­mas beer before Twelfth Night. If it’s bad luck to leave up your dec­o­ra­tions after then, sure­ly the same must go for drink­ing Christ­mas beer?