The Return of Dogbolter

What's Brewing magazine, Winter 1980/81, featuring David Bruce.

When we interviewed David ‘Firkin’ Bruce last summer, he told us about his new role as Chairman of the West Berkshire Brewery.

Last week, that rather belatedly triggered an idea: maybe, with a brewery at hand, he might be convinced, for the first time since the 1980s, to personally brew a beer to an original Firkin recipe.

He responded enthusiastically to the idea and is going to dig out his original 1979 recipe for the famous Dogbolter (all grain, no malt extract) and recreate it in the brewhouse at WBB.

It should be available on draught in time for the launch of Brew Britannia in June. There will also be a nationally-marketed bottled version available at some point afterwards.

UPDATE 23/04/2014: David Bruce says —

The WBB will be brewing 30 brewers’ barrels of my original Dogbolter (full-mash grist at 1060° O.G.) at 7:30 am on Wednesday 21st May.  This will be packaged to produce 40 firkins and c. 6,000 commemorative bottles, all to be available nationally from 2nd Jun.

Having spent so much time and effort researching the rise and fall of the Firkin brewpubs, we’re really excited at the prospect of actually tasting it.**

In fact, with the ‘1970s bitter’ currently being tinkered with at Kirkstall in Leeds, and talk of an anniversary batch of Litchborough Bitter at Phipps NBC, it’s going to be an interesting couple of months for we who lust after long gone beers.

We’ll post more details on availability when we have them.

** We have, of course, tasted the Ramsgate Brewery beer of the same name. Let’s hope this doesn’t turn into one of those trademark disputes everyone hates.

The Death of the English Brewpub

David Bruce's Firkin Brewery advert c.1980.

It’s an early start for us this morning as we’re heading off to interview David Bruce who founded the Firkin chain of brewpubs in 1979.

On the one hand, he’s a very influential figure: there were four pubs brewing on the premises in 1973, but, after Firkin and its imitators came along, that number swelled to reach a peak (we think) of almost a hundred by 1996. Many breweries are currently running on old Firkin kit, and/or with Firkin-trained brewers.

And yet… where did all the brewpubs go? Was it really a dead end? And if so, why?

Now, we happen to live in a part of the world where there are several brewpubs, from the Star Inn just outside Crowlas, where brewing commenced in 2008, to the Blue Anchor at Helston — one of the four survivors that was hanging on back in 1973.

But something interesting is happening right now, up and down the country: a blurring of the lines between brewing, wholesale and hospitality. Distributors are opening bars and breweries; breweries are installing ‘tap rooms’; and pubs are setting up microbreweries. For various reasons, ‘Brewed on the premises’ might be on the return.