Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Shore Brewery, Alloa (part two)

We're back on the banks of the Forth looking at the Shore Brewery. Only in our imaginations, sadly. The site is now covered by a rather tatty industrial building.

Good old Barnard. He paints us a picture of the Shore Brewery in its glory days. Back when Alloa was one of the most important brewing towns in the world.

"Alloa is essentially a brewing town, and from time immemorial has been famous for its beer. Speaking on this subject, an old writer says:

"In eight breweries of Alloa, ale of great celebrity, not only in Scotland, but in distant lands, is made to the amount of eighty thousand barrels a year. During the last thirty years, most of these have been enlarged, and some entirely rebuilt, to meet the increased demand for Alloa ales."


The Shore Brewery-, which has been established about a century, and was carried on, at one time, by Messrs. McNellan & Co., has been for many years in the hands of its present proprietors, Messrs. James Calder & Co. During our visit we were shown an interesting old account book, belonging to the former firm, for the year 1835, from which we could see that a large trade was done at that time with Glasgow, Newcastle, Dublin, and other places, a considerable portion of which was in the rich mild ale of the period, which has now almost disappeared. It is curious to note that Alloa, like the two great pale ale centres, Burton and Edinburgh, originally derived its reputation from its mild ales."
"Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 4", Alfred Barnard, 1890, page 389 - 340.

What an instructive few sentences. Just a shame no date was put on that quote. 80,000 barrels of beer a year. From the whole town. That's only 10,000 barrels each. Bugger all compared to London, no matter what the date. But still plenty for a town that has fewer than 20,000 inhabitants today. There were never enough people locally to sustain much of a brewing industry. Hence the export trade.

That's why Alloa Ale was so famous. Not because of the absolute quantity brewed, but because of the high proportion that was exported. In 1835 the little Shore Brewery (remember, even in 1905 it only had a capacity of 50,000 barrels a year). It also explains why Alloa's breweries suffered so much in the 20th century. As foreign export markets (like Australia) disappeared and larger UK brewers took control of the pub trade, without much of a local market nor large tied house estates, their sales possibilities dwindled.

Glasgow, Newcastle and Dublin may not sound that distant today. But 1835 is before the railways had got going properly. It's no coincidence, I'm sure, that all the three are, like Alloa, ports.

But this is the most telling sentence: "It is curious to note that Alloa, like the two great pale ale centres, Burton and Edinburgh, originally derived its reputation from its mild ales." I'd already noticed the similarities between Burton and Edinburgh. First renowned for strong Ales (Burton and Edinburgh Ales) then excelling in Pale Ales, but never abandonning totally their first products. We can add Alloa to that list.
"The brewery is most fortunate in possessing several wells which yield an inexhaustible supply, all of which are 60 feet deep. One of them, situated in the middle of the paved yard, is tunnelled a distance of 50 feet, and has, for nearly a century, supplied brewing water of the purest quality. The precious liquor therefrom is pumped into a reservoir at the top of the brewery, which commands the heating copper, whilst the supply from the other wells, which is used entirely for cooling, refrigerating, and washing purposes, is delivered by a three-throw pump to a tank at the top of the tower."
"Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 4", Alfred Barnard, 1890, page 340.

Good wells were vital for ambitious brewers. A good supply of the right water could make a brewery. I've still not had any luck finding an analysis of Alloa water. Still looking. The deep wall water remained important even after the brewery had closed:

"The following year, in 1921, Calder decided to cease brewing at the Shore Brewery, where most of the equipment was life-expired, and where all of his wells with the exception of the deep bore were experiencing contamination caused by the collapse of workings in the nearby disused Forthbank Pit, and contract out all his brewing requirements to the Arrol's Alloa Brewery. The Shore Brewery has retained, however, for bottling and storage purposes, and also as a source of water supply, with water for brewing purposes being pumped up to the Alloa Brewery for many years afterwards."
"Alloa Ale", by Charles McMaster, 1985, page 32.

Contamination of wells isn't uncommon. Fullers no longer use their own wells for brewing water for the same reason.

This throwaway sentence totally smacked my gob:

"We were received at the office by Mr. John Calder, who conducted us over the brewery, and arranged for our visit to the maltings."

I assume that's John J. Calder. Son of James Calder, who had bought the brewery in 1862 after McNellan, Sons & Co. went bust. John J. Calder ran the brewery until it was bought by Northern Breweries in 1960. Someone who showed Barnard around in the 19th century was still running the brewery in my lifetime.

There's still lots more to come, as we go inside the Shore Brewery to look at all the shiny things.

2 comments:

Andrew said...

I do believe today is Wednesday, and we were given a challenge to brew Scottish beers yesterday. Where is the "Let's Brew! Wednesday" post?

Arctic Alchemy said...

Barnard would be in my "top 5" of people in the world to have a pint with, I love his writing style and passionate sense of describing what is essentially, a 19th century manufacturing facility.