ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Lost breweries: H is for Hoskins (and Oldfield)

When I was a very young child, my Godparents had a cat named 'Hoskin'. I can't remember an awful lot about him, assuming he was indeed a 'him'. He was probably a tabby, and must be at least 30 years dead by now. (Or he's still alive and kicking Creme Puff's sorry arse out of the Guinness Book of Records!)

In fact the only thing I actually know for certain is that Hoskin was named after Hoskins brewery, which itself has had a fairly confusing and obfuscated history. Indeed when I drank their beers, there were at least two different Hoskins to choose from, though of course now there are none.

Brand of Brothers

Back in the day, when beer culture was more localised, Hoskins was always one of those beers that, according to the received wisdom, 'didn't travel', and consequently was a treat largely reserved for those visiting its Leicester bailiwick.

Established in 1877 during that heady Victorian heyday of brewhouse-building, the Hoskins brewery quietly and uneventfully served the local area and provided slightly quirky names for pets for over a century; until 1984 when the Hoskin family sold the brewery, and promptly set up their own 'Hoskin & Oldfield' brewery (later renamed 'Hoskins brothers') to compete with it - and that's where things get a bit complicated.

When it comes to the ale itself, I know far more about this 1984 version of Hoskins, as they did distribute their beers on a wider basis and indeed were fairly regular sights in London Wetherspoons pubs in the 1990s, meaning that I got to drink them without having to go to Leicester.

Little Matty was a 4% dark mild that was played a pretty significant role in bringing the style back to nationwide attention, and indeed back into cask. It had far more body and flavour than the thin 3% keg milds from the big breweries that had lingered on in Working Mens Clubs and which, for years, were the only types of mild available in London and the South. In the mid-90s this was big news.

Likewise, the Hoskins & Oldfield Ginger Tom (5.2%) was one of the earliest real ales to use ginger, not that it was particularly pleasant. Indeed, I've recorded half a dozen or more of these Hoskins beers that weren't really very good, mostly consumed in various Spoons around the capital, though this might say more about my choice of pub than the underlying quality of the beer...

I'm not taking the piss

A notable exception was the 1998 release of Christmas Pudding Porter, which may well have been my favourite beer of that year. It drank far stronger and warmer than its 5% ABV tag suggested, with bags of rich dried fruit. I recall thirstily downing pints and pints and pints of this in Streatham, in the newly-opened Holland Tringham, after conducting a rather taxing concert of choral music.

(Quite possibly too much information, but I also remember that night because I got half-way through my eighth pint before I needed to visit the facilities... Maybe it was the tight cummerbund?)

So what of the other Hoskins brewery? The original one?

Well, they were eventually taken over and closed by Archer's of Swindon in 2000-1, and given that Archer's themselves have now been taken over and closed by Evan-Evans, and I haven't seen a Hoskins-branded beer on sale for years, it's a fair bet that the brand has long been killed off.

For a beer that 'didn't travel', it was probably unlikely to survive the trip from Leicester to Wales via Wiltshire in the longer term.

Apart from long-forgotten sips from my parents pints as a child, my only experience of the original Hoskins was their 3.7% seasonal Maypole in 1999, which I rated highly at the time. By this time, they were calling themselves 'Tom Hoskins', though the other brewery were using 'Tom' in several of their beer names. Yeah, I know.

To add to the confusion, the newer Hoskins brothers brewery also closed in 2001. Their name lived on in beers contract-brewed at Tower and, latterly, Belvoir, retaining a home in the East Midlands. Some of the beers have been recreations from the original 1877 Hoskins brewery, or have sported 'Tom'-related names, which further befuzzles the issue of lineage.

The brand is probably a good candidate for a 'craft' revival, and the Leicester area has the pubs and the beer culture to sustain it. But God only knows who owns the rights to the various Hoskins names and trademarks and recipes these days.

NOTE: Corrections welcome if I've got anything about the complex lineage of the various Hoskins breweries factually wrong!

Hoskins (and Oldfield) 1877/1984-2001


  1. I'm fairly sure that a family feud led to the closure of the original brewery and subsequent opening of Hoskins and Oldfield. Thankfully I made a visit to the Tom Hoskins before that happened.

  2. I recall when Bob Hoskins did a poo in my garden. Not only did it shut down the entire road, but it also lead to the closure of Bobbington Brewpoo. Sad days they were.

  3. The original Hoskins was made at a brewery/off licence in Beaumanor st, the only brewery/off licence left. Beer was served from two electric pumps on the counter, into your own receryacles. They had one pub, in market Bosworth. The new owners turned the off licence into a pub, and started experimenting with the beers.


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