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Potted history of brewing in 'Beer Town'

Added: Sunday, February 18th 2018

Burton cover

Brewing in Burton upon Trent, Ian Webster (Amberley, £14.99)

Ian Webster has beer, Burton and brewing in his blood – and blood is not a misplaced description as he works in a senior capacity in the Haematology Department at Queen’s Hospital in the town.

He was born in Burton and has spent several years researching the history of brewing in a town that is not only the brewing capital of Britain but is revered throughout the world as the home of pale ale.

And when he’s not working and researching he repairs to one of the country’s finest pubs, the Coopers Tavern on Cross Street, where he enjoys a pint of Draught Bass, a beer that is rich not only in flavour but also embodies everything that makes Burton special. It says a great deal about the blinkered attitudes of today’s giant brewers that Bass ale has been sidelined and is now increasingly hard to find.

This is Ian’s second book about Burton: Ind Coope & Samuel Allsopp Breweries: the History of the Red Hand appeared in 2015.

I have two problems with his new book. £14.95 is not just a bit steep for a book of just 95 pages but is a veritable Matterhorn. As a result, the fascinating history of Burton – from the monks of the 13th century in Burton Abbey to the present day – is reduced to a skeleton rather than a fully-fleshed subject.

In particular, the 20th century is covered in just six pages. Such a short section cannot do justice to the tumultuous events in Burton that saw the mergers of Bass and Worthington and Allsopps and Ind Coope. Astonishingly, there is no mention at all of Eddie Taylor, the buccaneering Canadian owner of Carling Black Label lager who came to Britain in the 1960s and in a whirlwind of activity stitched together a vast corporation, Bass Charrington. At the same time, Ind Coope & Allsopps joined forced with Tetley of Leeds to form Allied Breweries. These two new giants, Allied and Bass, were to change the face of British brewing forever and dealt a body blow to the long history of family brewing in Burton.

On the plus side, Ian has found a treasure trove of old brewery images that will tickle the fancy of beerophiles. A final section is a useful survey of the new breweries in Burton that, along with Marston’s, keep the ale flag flying in a town now dominated by the Canadian-American Molson Coors that lurks in the former Bass breweries like an alien invader from another planet.

There is also an illuminating tour of Burton that will enable visitors to pick out both existing breweries and buildings that once housed the likes of Allsopp, Bass and Worthington. The tour includes some of the splendid old pubs where a glass or two of ale can be enjoyed and raised to celebrate a remarkable town steeped in brewing folklore.