The First British Attempt at German-style Wheat Beer

Vaux Brewery logo

In 1988 a new German-style wheat beer was launched on the British market – the first, its brewers claimed, brewed in the UK.

This post fol­lows on from our con­tri­bu­tion to the Ses­sion back at the start of July in which we were frus­trat­ed in our attempts to pin down when Samuel Smith start­ed brew­ing Ayinger wheat beer under licence.

As it hap­pens, the August 1988 edi­tion of CAM­RA’s month­ly news­pa­per What’s Brew­ing con­tains two arti­cles use­ful for pin­ning this down:

  1. A dou­ble-page pro­file of Samuel Smith and its head brew­er by Bri­an Glover.
  2. A back-page splash head­lined FIRST BRITISH WHEAT BEER!

The for­mer lists all of the Ayinger-brand­ed beers then in pro­duc­tion at Smith’s from D Pils to VSL (very strong lager, we think, at about 8% ABV) but does not men­tion a wheat beer.

The lat­ter tells us that Britain’s first Ger­man-style wheat beer was brewed in… Sheffield. It was brand­ed as Vaux Weizen­bier but brewed at a Vaux sub­sidiary, Ward’s.

Vaux beermat.

The oper­a­tions direc­tor at Sun­der­land, Stu­art Wil­son, explained the think­ing behind this remark­able first:

We have not­ed the pop­u­lar­i­ty of wheat beers in West Ger­many and in the USA. Wheat beers are 15% of the Bavar­i­an beer mar­ket. So with the increas­ing inter­est in spe­cial­i­ty beers, we have decid­ed to brew this clas­sic style.

The arti­cle tells us that the beer had an ABV of 5% and was served on draught from “ornate ceram­ic founts” in elab­o­rate brand­ed glass­es, with slices of lemon avail­able “for those who pre­fer to com­plete the Bavar­i­an pic­ture”. Odd­ly, per­haps, it was fil­tered and pre­sent­ed clear – cloudy beer being per­haps a step too far for British drinkers in 1988?

Michael ‘The Beer Hunter’ Jack­son blurbed the new prod­uct: “[It has] a clean, light­ly fruity palate.”

In a fol­low-up piece for The Times on 11 May 1991 Mr Glover was still cred­it­ing Vaux with launch­ing the first UK-brewed Ger­man wheat beer (mean­ing nobody came for­ward to prove oth­er­wise) and stat­ed that there had been no oth­ers since.

But by 1994 Roger Protz was report­ing in the Observ­er (29 May) that Vaux had begun import­ing Spat­en wheat beers, with no men­tion of their own-label prod­uct.

So, there you go: Sam Smith did­n’t get into the wheat beer game until the 1990s, and any­one Googling ‘first British wheat beer’ now has a plau­si­ble answer. (Unless any­one out there knows oth­er­wise.)

Timeline

  • 1988 Vaux brews the first British take on Ger­man-style wheat beer
  • 1988 Hoe­gaar­den hits UK mar­ket
  • 1991 Tay­lor Walk­er begins sell­ing Löwen­bräu across its estate
  • 1993 Hoe­gaar­den in Whit­bread pubs
  • 1994 Alas­tair Hook begins import­ing Ger­man wheat beers to the UK
  • 1994 wheat beer fes­ti­val at the White Horse organ­ised by Hook and Mark Dor­ber
  • 1994 con­ti­nen­tal wheat beers in UK super­mar­kets

GALLERY: Vaux Beer Mats 1970s-80s

Vaux was an important brewery in Sunderland in the North East of England which was founded in the early 19th century and collapsed at the turn of the 21st.

These beer mats all come from the mas­sive bin bag of sev­er­al hun­dred we acquired from Ebay a month or so ago and span, by our reck­on­ing, about a decade from c.1971 to 1982.

Norseman Lager, 1970s.
The slight­ly sin­is­ter Norse­man Lager, 1970s.
"Samson -- Heads Above the Rest"
That’s Jack Charl­ton, right? So there’s a delib­er­ate joke here about Sam­son’s hair, right?

Con­tin­ue read­ingGALLERY: Vaux Beer Mats 1970s-80s”