Sunday, 18 October 2015

Guards Ale

Management consultants – don’t you just love them? Always come up with the right recision.

This is what happened when Hammonds let one pick a sales manager from outside the industry. Unsurprisingly, his decision was bollocks.

“William Tudor Davies {WTD}, who had been seconded to Hammonds by Urwick Orr, the management consultants, was taken on as sales director, and in 1957 Billy Goodwin, Hammonds' legendary free trade sales manager, who almost single-handedly carried the company's beer sales outside its own pubs, died. WTD produced one of the new generation of sales executives to replace him, a Canadian gentleman called Bob Reynolds, who had no previous experience of the beer trade. He came to the conclusion that Hammonds should lead with their Guards Ale product, and a campaign began quite unlike anything seen before in the brewery industry. Guards Ale was a respected very strong beer, sold only in nip bottles and aimed at the winter business, in the days when people drank a high alcoholic content drink under the impression it warmed the body and kept out the cold.”
"The Brewing Industry 1950 - 1990", by Anthony Avis, 1997, page 48.

Picking a strong ale as the company’s flagship product was pretty stupid. Had he ever drunk in a pub, I wonder? If you brewed a large volume that was an awful lot of nip bottles to sell. Barclay Perkins Russian Stout, another strong beer sold in nip bottles, was brewed in small batches of fewer than 100 barrels. While their draught beer mainstays were brewed several hundred barrels at a time.

There was a market for strong bottled beers, but it was a small one. The bulk of customers would be drinking draught beer or a mix of draught and bottled beer. Like Mild and Brown Ale, or Light Ale and Bitter.

This shows how strong it was:

Hammonds Guards Ale 1952 - 1953
Year Beer Style Price per pint d Acidity OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation colour
1952 Guards Ale Strong Ale 45 0.07 1073.7 1016.5 7.48 77.61% 15R + 40B
1952 Guards Ale Strong Ale 48 0.07 1072.8 1016 7.43 78.02% 15R + 40B
1953 Guards Ale Strong Ale 45 0.10 1073 1011.9 8.02 83.70% 15 + 40
Source:
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002.

The colour is dark brown, if you’re wondering.

They even cocked up the label:

“Since it was a prestige product, enhanced by its association with the Brigade of Guards, whose colours made up its label, it was felt that its quality would be readily recognised and appreciated by all classes of society. It would become an all the year round drink, and with lots of publicity and imaginative advertising it would become popular too. Consuming it would give the drinker "that six foot feeling" - a phrase coined by the advertising agents and visually supported by a preposterous cartoon of a guardsman; First, it had to have a distinctive and superior label; foil labels were just beginning to replace paper ones, and the technology had still to be proved. Hammonds however rushed in with them, and Robinsons, the printers of Bristol, were the only firm with the expertise; so they were contracted to print thousands. When the samples arrived they were so poor that the venture was scrapped and Hammonds went back to paper.”
"The Brewing Industry 1950 - 1990", by Anthony Avis, 1997, page 48.

The labels weren’t the biggest problem. That was selling Guards Ale. I assume the experienced hands at the brewery saw it coming. Anyone in the trade would know how limited the market was for such a beer.

“Meantime, there were problems with production; it was a limited brew product and now it had been turned into a mass brew, which was achieved, only to have over-production and storage difficulties because of small sales. The bottling hall at Lockwood Brewery was filled to overflowing with full cases, and the bottling of regular lines became impossible. So every tied public house was given a quota to sell, regardless of demand, and in the free trade customers were bribed and cajoled to take more than they wanted; outhouses behind pubs were to be found crammed with Guards Ale. Reynolds accompanied his sales drive with newsletters pronouncing its success and ended up believing his own propaganda. Every one in Hammonds who could be spared was put on the road selling the product; I personally spent many days going round country pubs hustling reluctant tenants to take huge orders. They wanted to help, but were stuck at the first hurdle - that nips of strong ale were a winter drink, expensive, and limited to a minority of customers. We even packed the beer in three dozen bottle crates to move it - a story I will recount later. The whole affair was a disaster; by Christmas 1957 Hammonds had six months stock of Guards Ale at Huddersfield and the brewery near enough clogged up. This adventure, with the ongoing reorganisation of the free trade sales force, nearly did for Hammonds. Reynolds was made to go in 1958, and the slow haul back to orthodoxy began; just in time to cope with the tank beer farce.”
"The Brewing Industry 1950 - 1990", by Anthony Avis, 1997, pages 48 - 49.

It sounds like a nightmare for everyone involved. At least they kicked out the idiot salesman. I imagine that they had to throw away a lot of beer eventually.

Sadly, in the modern world bringing in outsiders with no knowledge of the business still goes on. It must have been blindingly obvious to the brewing staff that it would all go wrong.

2 comments:

marquis said...

The "six foot feeling" might be more appropriate to Gravediggers Ale.
But it nearly buried Hammonds!

Stephen Johnson said...

Four bob a pint in 1952, I wonder who bought it-the aspirational class, nowt changes lol.