bottled beer breweries buying beer

Doom Bar and the Question of Origin

It’s official: thanks to Lucy Britner at Just Drinks we now know that Sharp’s Doom Bar — the bottled stuff, at least — has been being brewed outside Cornwall since 2013.

From the moment Molson-Coors bought out Sharp’s in 2011 people down here in Cornwall have been wondering how long it would be before production moved to Burton-upon-Trent. Others assumed it had already happened and that there was slyness afoot. One local source even told us they’d heard a Sharp’s brewer dropping big hints about it last year.

Now the cat’s out of the bag, what does it mean?

In a part of the world where the act of buying local is highly politicised it might create opportunities for other Cornish brewers to supply restaurants, supermarkets, delicatessens and bars which have, until now, been happy with bottled Doom Bar.

In reality, though, we suspect it will take months for most people to clock this news and, even then, many won’t care — it’s a popular beer which presumably sells to the trade at a competitive price and it’s still Cornish-ish, right?

But if we ran a business and had for the last two years been buying those bottles on the understanding that the beer was Cornish-made — and probably pitching it to our customers as such — we’d be pretty annoyed.

We came to this story via the Western Morning News and are grateful to Kev Head for pointing us to the original source.

Update 01/07/2015

We asked Sharp’s the following question on Twitter but have yet to get a reply despite prodding:

Update 16 December 2018

We’ve now written a more substantial piece about the history of Doom Bar.

beer reviews Environmental stuff

Beers With a Pinch of Place

For as long as we’ve been pondering what ‘local’ means in terms of beer, we’ve also been interested in beers made with ingredients that evoke the place of their origin.

In the last year, others have crystallised that into a conversation across various blog posts and articles, of which there have been a particular flurry in recent weeks.

The idea that what is at hand — what grows in nearby fields or hedgerows — might shape the design of a beer is alluring and, frankly, rather obvious to anyone who’s ever clapped eyes on, say, bright yellow gorse flowers, or glossy rosehips. Realising that our stash contained a few beers which make a virtue of containing unusual place-specific ingredients, we decided now was a good time to taste them, with a question in mind: does this approach create tastier or at least more interesting beers?

Beer history real ale

Local beer for local people

Beer mat detail: Tisbury Local Bitter -- a Local Authority.

We think we’ve identified one of the earliest examples of ‘local’ being used as marketing schtick for a post-CAMRA ‘real ale revolution’ beer.

In 1980, a Victorian brewery building at Tisbury in Wiltshire was taken over by a civil servant, Alistair Wallace, and an ‘executive’, Christopher Baker. With a former Whitbread brewer, John Wilmot, who also had connections with Godson’s in East London (aka Godson, Freeman & Wilmot), they started turning out a beer aimed at the local market. They called it Local Bitter.

Their marketing, handled by a local agency, emphasised that the ingredients were local (‘except the hops’), and that is was brewed to local tastes, to be drunk in local pubs, at a price local people could afford — they undercut the bigger brewers by between three to five pence a pint.

The problem with making a specific location your ‘unique selling point’, however, is the lack of flexibility that comes with it. Like a lot of breweries founded c.1980, they struggled for various reasons, and, for a time, Local Bitter had to be brewed about a hundred miles away at Godson’s, in Bow. The name, during that period, must have seemed a little unfortunate.

Tisbury ceased operations in 1985.

Sources: ‘The local brew adds strength to the village’, Trevor Bailey, The Guardian, 11 September 1981, p.16; Twenty Five Years of New British Breweries, Ian Mackey, 1998.

The Session

Session #61: Local Beer

The full title of this month’s session, hosted by Hoosier Beer Geek, is What Makes Local Beer Better? Well, that’s a hard question to answer, because we don’t always think it is.

If you’re lucky enough to live in a good beer hotspot local beer can be very good indeed. Even when it doesn’t taste good, it can be Good because it is environmentally friendly and each pint arrives with a halo of community and a ‘sense of place’.

On the other hand, localness can become just another marketing gimmick to help sell really crappy beer.

For example, if we were more cynical, we might think that some of Cornwall’s microbreweries were deliberately targeting the ‘gullible’ tourist market:

Brewer: I thought I’d start a brewery.
Brewer’s chum: But you only make crappy homebrew! Honestly, that last one was undrinkable. And your fermenter’s next to the manure pile.
Brewer: Don’t worry! All I need to do is put something Cornish on the label, say it’s made near a farm, and sell it by the box to cornershops near campsites. The Emmets‘ll lap it up, and by the time they realise how bad it is, they’ll be back in London.

Sometimes, local beer is really about selling the locality, with the beer as an afterthought. And, of course, the same wheeze is practiced, albeit with more gloss, by some bigger breweries too.