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!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Lost Breweries: C is for Cains

It's unusual for a Victorian-era regional brewery to simply close. Normally they either keep plodding along, producing nondescript beers for an aging local populace, or they get taken over by someone bigger and run into the ground.

The relatively recent demise of Cains was a truly bizarre case of fiddling while Liverpool burned. Even as brewing ceased, the owners were in denial and 'highly confident' about the direction of Cains, citing a forthcoming modern new microbrewery on the site and a bright future for the brand, neither of which have materialised in the three years since.

This was the latest (and, it would appear last) chapter in a convoluted history of ownership, and exactly what happened to cause its sudden closure remains something of a mystery. When the final ownership team - the Dusanj brothers - took control back in 2002 they were the first Asian owners of a British brewery and certainly talked a fine game. Previously the brewery and brand was owned by Boddington's of Manchester, giving them a presence in Merseyside, before they themselves were taken over by the Whitbread group (and thereafter InBev) and gave Cains back its independence.

But was the beer ever any good?

Certainly the Cains brand had a cult following in its Liverpool heartland, and in its final years gained national distribution via Wetherspoons.

Their flagship Formidable ale was the sort of malty, fruity 5% bitter that was very common during the 1990s, but at which most of us would probably turn up our noses these days, while I recall Dr. Duncan's IPA as very weak and insipid.

Cains did experiment a bit. Their cask lager and raisin beer were attempts to move beyond the traditional British styles. They even came up with a Double Bock in 2008, returning the favour decades after the Beatles played in Hamburg, though at 4.5% it wasn't perhaps the most realistic take on the style.

But none of it was much cop. My heart never soared when I saw a Cains beer on the bar. Their mild and ordinary bitter were both pretty glum and their seasonal specials were worse than their rivals were putting out, even back in the 90s.

I'd love to share a positive memory of drinking Cains beer, but I simply don't have any. The truth is that their mysterious demise and the denial thereof is probably more interesting than the beer ever was.

I've heard that small quantities of some of their beers might still be in production elsewhere to serve the Liverpool clientele and I've little motivation to try and find out if this is the case. If they ever do come back as some sort of micro, I'll try the beers, but I won't be expecting too much.

Cains 1850-2013


  1. "It's unusual for a Victorian-era regional brewery to simply close."

    Well, what usually happens is that they get taken over by someone else and either closed immediately (Gales) or a very few years later (Hartleys).

    But quite a few have simply closed because the owners decided to quit brewing and become a pubco, including Gibbs Mew, Brakspear and Mitchells.

    The Dusanj brothers were always a pair of dodgy chancers who never really had the volume, either from tied estate or free trade, to keep a large brewery going.

  2. Also, FA was a pale, easy-drinking, deceptively strong premium bitter akin to Tanglefoot and Pendle Witches' Brew. I certainly wouldn't have described it as malty and fruity.

  3. I remember the Bitter very fondly; ten years ago most of the Beer Guide pubs in 'Pool sold it at reasonable volumes. The FA wasn't a big feature. The events of 2007 and owners losing the plot are better explanation than poor beer. Even in the city's Capital of Culture year they mucked it up, with supplies to local Spoons stopping in late Summer as I recall.


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