Monday, January 16, 2012

Greene King and A Brief History of British Beer: Part 3

By the end of the 19th century the British beer industry was scaling up rapidly – the industrial revolution had made it easier to brew at scale and to transport and distribute beer over ever-larger territories. A strong temperance movement had taken root as well which served to prompt breweries to begin investing heavily in their own pub networks to ensure outlets for their products. Eventually consolidation began as well further up-scaling breweries and pub distribution networks. For example Worthington and Bass of Burton-upon-Trent merged in 1926 and Alsopp’s with Ind Coope in 1933. Overall the number of breweries in Britain shrank from over 3500 in 1915 to just 885 in 1939 and then to 524 in 1952.

The Burton Union System -This one still operates at Marstons in Burton Upon Trent

While big, these were still traditional British brewers: they were mostly brewing and distributing real ale. And, despite the consolidation that was happening, Britain we still a land of a vast array of local and regional breweries – 524 breweries on the small island of Britain is a pretty extensive brewery network.

One Brother went big and industrial...

The first big national beer companies came around the time the Canadian EP Taylor arrived in Britain in the early 50s looking for new markets for his Carling lager. Lager was, up till then, a small part of the market but its popularity soared as punters came to like the lighter, easy drinking lager style. It also became associated with the modern post-war lifestyle. Taylor quickly began a series of acquisitions that led to the first truly national brewery. Eventually, by the end of the 1980s there were six major British brewery companies: Allied, Bass, Courage, Grand Metropolitan, Scottish & Newcastle, and Whitbread. These companies had vast brewing empires along with an equally vast network of pubs.

...the other stayed small and traditional

In 1989 the Monopolies and Mergers commission began to investigate anti-competitive practices in the beer industry and the resulting Beer Orders began a radical restructuring of the British beer market. The Orders limited the number of pubs breweries could own and mandated guest beers. Many companies spun off their pub businesses into separate holding companies in response. Eventually many of the national breweries decided that it was the retail pub business that was the profit center and sold off the brewing side, Bass, for example, sold to Coors in 2001.

In the 21st century the worldwide wave in globalization in beer swept over Britain as well, starting with the purchase of Bass by Coors. Now AB InBev, MolsonCoors, Guiness, Carlsberg and Heineken make up the lions share of the British market. But the market inhabited by these companies is shrinking in Britain as are overall beer sales. Pubs are also closing at a rapid clip – so much so that you might be tempted to think that British beer is in trouble. But after decades of hardship traditional British beer is making a comeback and for that you can probably thank CAMRA.

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