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!

Monday, May 13, 2019

Lost Breweries: I is for Ind Coope

The lists of quarterly Guest Ales in Wetherspoons don't tend to be particularly interesting these days.

In a world where most of us know where to go for limited-release barrel-aged sour or a Bretted Imperial IPA, it might be comforting to know that there's a Spoons somewhere (or rather, there are Spoons everywhere) serving Kelham Island Pale Rider this month, but it really isn't news.

That said, there is something that caught my eye in the April-June, for which I shall keep an eye out. Burton Bridge brewery's Draught Burton Ale at 4.8%.

It's back!

Any ale drinker of my vintage or older will immediately get why this is interesting - it's a recreation of a beer that was very important in the real ale revival, symbolic of it, and, in its original form, was something of a poster child for CAMRA. And - smack my gob slightly - it's actually going to be brewed in Burton-on-Trent, arguably the spiritual capital of brewing in this country. (And indeed a place where lots and lots of beer is still physically brewed, albeit little of it noteworthy most of the time...)

Burton Bridge was one of the first of the 'new wave' of breweries and has been trundling along nicely since 1982, but for the story behind the original Burton Ale, we need to consider the fairly complicated history of Ind Coope. (These brewery ownership histories are always fucking complicated...)

The recreated Draught Burton Ale
Breweries taking over breweries is nothing new. It's been happening since long before any of us were drinking beer.

You know the story: A small local brewery gets taken over by a slightly larger local brewery and becomes a regional brewery, often with the physical brewery sites consolidated - and by 'consolidated' we mean 'closed and turned into housing', obviously. Mergers and takeovers involving the Regional breweries eventually result in 'National' breweries, which are then in a stronger position to take over and close smaller breweries in various parts of the country, consolidating their National status. Which isn't the same as being a National treasure!

But nationwide dominance isn't a barrier to getting taken over. In recent years, we've seen the rise of the Internationals which make the 'Big Six' Nationals we used to moan about appear tiny and almost quaint in comparison. We once lamented the idea that a single company could be supplying 25% of the beer in the country - now AB-InBev makes more than 25% of the beer in the entire world.

Recently we've seen Fuller's taken over by sandal-wearing goldfish tenders Asahi, barely a year after themselves gobbling up Dark Star. These things rarely end well for the drinker.

At least, until the aliens arrive, brewing conglomerates can't now get any bigger! The likes of Asahi are top of the food chain. Surely?!?

Certainly bigger than former Big Six stalwart Ind Coope - a brewery that was once considered large, was taken over by something larger, then ultimately evolved into nothing? And what does this have to do with the beer that Burton Bridge are now going to be brewing?


History lesson

In 1799 Edward Ind acquired the Star Brewery in Romford, over 100 miles from Burton, and the Ind Coope name dates from an 1845 merger with a Mr. Coope. But the Ind Coope brewery as we understand it - the one in Burton - began brewing in 1856.

Once Ind Coope, now Molson-Coors

Obviously there was plenty of competition in the area, with the substantial breweries of Bass and Marston's already fairly well established by the time Ind and Coope rocked up.

The 20th century saw a series of mergers and takeovers, and in 1961, the Ind Coope brewery and its brands became part of Allied breweries, which would eventually evolve into the massive Carlsberg-Tetley.

Allied/C-T were famous for a number of things. Yorkshire Bitter. Bringing a lager that's probably not the best to the UK. Closing smaller breweries and running down loads of brands into non-existence - Taylor-Walker, Benskins, Friary Meux and others. They weren't generally popular with CAMRA types.

And Ind Coope's keg Double Diamond was mocked almost as mercilessly as Watney's Red Barrel. However they did, in the mid 1970s, get into cask in a big way when they launched Burton Ale - which may actually have been loosely related to the version of DD available at the time!

It was 4.8%, just the same as the new version, and was promoted fairly heavily as a super-premium real ale - at a time when 4.8% was still considered fairly 'strong'. I drank many pints of it as a youngster and recall it being a little less sulphourous than Draught Bass and Marston's Pedigree, the other famous Burtonian beers, and had a sort of fruitcakey, bananary character. My 2019 palate possibly wouldn't be overwhelmed, but it was once an iconic beer.

I appreciate that it's entirely possible that by drinking it in the mid-1990s I had missed the boat by a few years and it was already in decline. I caught the tail-end of Taylor-Walker and Friary Meux and Ansell's and Benskin's and didn't really rate any of them either. For me, the only decent thing C-T were doing back then were the Firkin brewpubs, which I still kinda miss.

But back to Burton Ale - which indeed was sometimes available in the Firkin pubs when they hadn't been brewing or were in the process of being converted.

CBoB goes for a Burton

At the 1990 GBBF it was named Champion Beer of Britain and remains the only beer from a 'National' brewing operation ever to do so. Well into the Naughties it remained a common sight in Carlsberg-run pubs, though production was switched to the Tetley brewery in Leeds at some point, probably around 1997 when the Ind Coope brewery site was sold to Bass/Carling who were able to expand operations beyond the existing Bass brewery, and who continue to brew there to this day, now as part of Molson-Coors.

As was so often the case with C-T brands, Draught Burton Ale faded away in a downward spiral of decreasing supply, demand and, almost certainly, quality.

There were occasionally other Ind Coope beers around until the brewery was sold off. Houdini Ale and 'Arctic' Barley Wine were seasonals from March 1997 that I apparently enjoyed at the Grove Tavern in South Wimbledon - a noted late-night live music venue back in the day, but now a fucking Tesco Express.

Unlike the Grove, the Ind Coope brewery lives on, sorta, and the beer is back too.

I'm not really expecting it to be any good, but that's not really the point.

Ind Coope 1799/1845/1856-1961/1997/present (take your pick)


  1. Nice article as well as whole site.Thanks.

  2. So, last week I finally got to try the Burton Bridge recreation of Draught Burton Ale and put it to the taste test.

    Such things are an inexact science, given the years and years since I last supped the original version, but it felt like a fairly accurate reproduction. The colour and body seemed about right (maybe it was a touch paler) and it had that sort of bananary aroma. Did I enjoy it? Not particularly, but then my tastes have long since moved on, but worth it for the nostalgia, which at times it feels like is all we have these days...


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