The number of breweries in the UK keeps growing every year but, at the same time, a certain type of brewery keeps on disappearing: that is, big old ones.
They have great towers and gateways, their own wells, signs you can see for miles across town, and shelves creaking with dusty leatherbound brewing logs. They were ‘Est.’ between the 17th and 19th centuries. They brew bitter and best bitter and maybe even mild. Their founders might have looked a bit like this:
They are at the romantic end of industrial, you might say, where the whiff of horses and beeswax is potent.
In his 1973 book The Beer Drinker’s Companion Frank Baillie listed 88 ‘Regional (Independent) Brewers’, from Adnams to Young & Co. We’ve just reviewed that list (only quickly, mind) and realised that, in the last 40+ years, something like another 47 of that number has been lost.
(Where ‘lost’ means that the brewery buildings have gone, are derelict, or have been converted to other uses, even if the trading name lives on.)
Here’s the list of casualties as we reckon it:
Boddington’s, Border Breweries (Wrexham), Brakspear, Matthew Brown, Buckley’s, Burt’s (Ventnor), Carlisle and District State Management, Castletown (IoM), Cook’s (Halstead, Essex), Darley’s (Doncaster), Davenport’s, Devenish, Eldridge Pope, Gale’s, Gray & Sons (Chelmsford), Guernsey Brewery Co, Hardy & Hanson, Hartley’s (Ulverston), Higson’s (?), Home Brewery, Hoskins, Hull Brewery, Simpkiss, King & Barnes, Maclay & Sons, Mansfield, Mitchell’s (Lancaster), Morland, Morrell’s, Northern Clubs Federation, Oldham Brewery Co, Paine (St Neot’s), Randall’s (Jersey), Ridley’s, Ruddle’s, Shipstone’s, South Wales & Monmouthshire Clubs, Thwaites, Tollemache & Cobbold, Truman, Vaux, Usher’s, Ward’s, Workington, Yates & Jackson, Yorkshire Clubs, Young & Co.
So that’s about half, allowing for quibbles, some of which have gone as recently as the last five years. That’s something of a counter to the narrative (one to which we’ve contributed) of Upward, Ever Upward, for British Beer!
Yes, we have a lot of breweries now; and we’re still not sure anyone should drink beer they don’t like out of a sense of duty; but this particular type of brewery constitutes a kind of endangered species and that does make us think, well, maybe we ought to force down the odd pint of Wadworth 6X when we see it.