THOUGHT PIECE the carling team
Does It Matter Where Your Beer Is Brewed? Part 2
Last time we looked at how brewers are able to brew any beer anywhere by trying to match the ingredients and processing. This month we consider some of the successes and conclude that all but one of Britain’s top ten lager brands are now brewed here even though they go under the accolade of ‘World Beers’
Matching the yeast is particularly important when brewing ales as the finished beer has far more fermentation derived flavours than a cooler fermented lager. The old Bass Museum brewed Offilers and Massey’s beer. The old guys nodded sagely that it was a good match, no doubt the grist and the temperatures etc were accurately followed from the archives but were they swayed by the logo and distant memories since the beer had been fermented by Burton ale yeast? Are these revivals cynical attempts at badge engineering ask Boak and Bailey the beer bloggers? Brewers at Lacons in Yarmouth, Trumans in London, Joules no longer in Stone and Phipps in Northampton would probably disagree. There have been several abortive attempts to bring back Higsons in Liverpool and someone is brewing Watney’s again but Magee Marshall always had a rather patchy local reputation so I wonder whether that is worth bringing that beer back?
Guinness makes its stout from maize and sorghum in Nigeria, that beer is even imported back to the British Isles yet its short-lived brewery in Baltimore, Maryland never brewed the black stuff and majored on Baltimore Blonde which is moving to Chicago. Corona is a big import into the States where the brand is owned by Constellation. Most is brewed in the north of Mexico and shipped into Texas. With the Mexican government anxious to save water, it is wanting the breweries to move south. But equally you can easily move the hardware north of the border which El Presidente might not like. Elsewhere in the world Corona is still owned by A-B InBev and brewed in Europe with plans apparently to move some to Germany; an all malt Reinheitsgebot Corona with a slice of lime, I can’t wait!
Some beers cannot move. Kolsch can only be called Kolsch if it is brewed around Cologne, the name Lambic is fiercely guarded by the brewers in the Senne Valley near Brussels, Trappist beers must be brewed by monks and with that vocation becoming less popular, three of the world’s Trappist breweries have closed in the past couple of years. A PGA registration fixes a product to a location so when Newcastle Brown production was moved to Gateshead, the wrong side of the River Tyne, Heineken simply abandoned the accreditation and then promptly moved the beer to Tadcaster!
Some beers will not move. Ceske Budejovice in the Czech Republic will remain the only place that government owned Budvar is brewed. However when South African Breweries owned Pilsner Urquell it had no qualms about installing a gas fired mash cooker with their clanging chains dragging across the bottom at a plant in Poland. The other famous Czech brewery, Staropramen was owned by Bass but passed to Interbrew in 2002 as the former company was carved up, the latter tried brewing the beer in Lancashire. They clearly deduced that as customers do not expect Stella to come from Belgium, Fosters from Victoria or Kronenbourg from Strasbourg but they quickly discovered that heritage was more important and the beer moved back to Prague after a few months. Several carve ups later the brand is back in the hands of Molson Coors and the beer is brewed in Burton on Trent along with its 4%ABV little brother Pravha. Beck’s is no longer only brewed in Bremen by A-B InBev and also has a 4%ABV little brother imaginatively called Vier.
Carling has been brewed in the UK since 1953 when Canadian entrepreneur Edward Plunkett Taylor did a reciprocal deal to sell Jubilee Stout in Canada. The Canadians did not take to a north country stout but Taylor went on to amalgamate a host of UK breweries which eventually traded as Bass. In those early days, many regional brewers climbed on the lager bandwagon with Greenall’s masquerading as Grunhalle, John Youngs London Lager, Everards Sabre, Brock from Badger, Hartsman from McMullen. Marstons had a Pilsner, Matthew Brown had Lion Lager, Davenports a Continental, Vaux had Norseman. Sheps had Faust, Cobbs at Margate brewed Saxon, Tulip came from J W Lees and Golden Heart from Evan Evans. I doubt that any of them were pitched at 8oC! Remember 3.4%ABV Heineken brewed by Whitbread? When Whitbread were bought by Interbrew, Heineken returned to 5%ABV and had to be brewed at Zouterwoude in the Netherlands as Heineken had no UK plant until it inherited Scottish & Newcastle interests in 2008. Remember also Skol, Harp, Tuborg Green, the Hofmeister bear, Labatts and Lowenbrau. Allied Breweries did a deal with Brisbane’s Castlemaine XXXX and had to install Steels mashers on all mash mixers where the beer was going to be brewed in the UK. All are now distant memories and the multinationals continue to rule the roost. Incidentally Hofmeister has been reborn but as a 5% Bavarian style Helles actually brewed in Germany.
There is currently a TV commercial of a party on a Tuscan balcony watching a Tuscan sunset happily drinking Moretti, look carefully and a little flash pops up telling us it is ‘Brewed in the UK’. The label says ‘L’Autentica’ but it isn’t really authentic is it? Moretti is not alone, they all are. Carling, Fosters, Coors Light, Stella, Carlsberg, San Miguel and Amstel. Only Asahi’s Peroni is still brewed in Italy and of course Tennents in Scotland.
Once we had standard lager around 4%ABV and premium at 5%ABV. Now we have standard and ‘world beer’ and presumably for our own good the gravity of the latter now seems to be around 4.7%. The savings in excise duty are of course not passed on to the drinker! Over the last three years according to market gurus CGA, the market share of so-called world lagers has increased from 19% to 29% while standard lagers have dropped from 28% to 21%. It seems that people are going out less often after the Covid, but purchasing more expensive drinks when they do venture to the pub.
Spain is popular, San Miguel always has been but now Heineken have brought in a 4.4% version of Cruzcampo in the same week as it shed the rights to brew UK Kronenbourg to Carlsberg, another complicated bit of the 2008 deal between them to buy S&N’s worldwide interests. Estrella bought the old Charles Wells Eagle brewery from Marstons and will brew in the UK while Molson Coors have a marketing wonder in 4.6%ABV Madri whose only connection with Spain is the first five letters of the name of the Spanish capital, although M-C did consult with La Sagra, a brewery on the road to Toledo.
In these emissions conscious times, we must embrace efforts to provide the beers which consumers want, or think they want, without transporting glass and water half way around the world. Technically beer can be brewed anywhere even from authentic materials. For those seeking an experience rooted in cultural heritage, the place of origin can be important. The country of origin can influence the perceived quality and craftsmanship of a beer brand. Within the craft community, supporting local beer brands may be important for individuals who prioritise local businesses, low food miles and the economic well-being of their region.
It is worth noting that personal preferences and priorities differ from person to person. Some individuals may want to support local breweries, while others may want to explore diverse international beer offerings and be whisked away to foreign climes just for a little while. Ultimately, the importance of the production location of international beer brands is subjective and can depend on individual preferences, cultural connections and other factors that matter to the consumer.
If location does not matter, what about decoction mashing, adding large quantities of low alpha Saaz hops and long periods of maturation at 1oC. Are these time- honoured techniques still essential now we know a lot more about the underlying biochemistry of the brewing process; that is an argument for another time.