Thursday 25 April 2024

Bass Charrington

The company was formed in 1967 by the merger of Charrington United Breweries and Bass Mitchells & Butlers.  Creating the largest brewing group in the UK. A position it would retain until it eventually sold up.

They started the decade with a bewildering array of breweries, some quite small and many in close proximity to each other. For example, in the West Midlands and Northwest England. Heavy pruning ensued.

Who knows what Bass Charrington could have achieved, if they hadn’t been led by H Alan Walker, a domineering lunatic with no knowledge of the brewing industry? Despite his best efforts, the company became the biggest brewer in the UK and one of the largest in the world. In the hands of someone more competent, they could only have been more successful.

The chairman’s insane plan was to have just two breweries, Cape Hill in Birmingham and the new brewery in Runcorn serving the whole of the UK.  Which led them to closing most of their breweries. Though, when they discovered Runcorn couldn’t brew acceptable versions of some of their Northern brands, breweries such as Stones in Sheffield and the Tower Brewery in Tadcaster were reprieved.

They were one of the worst in terms of pub vandalism. When there was a pub swap in the 1980s, they took over the Little Park from Tetley. It was a lovely little pub, with two distinct rooms. Bass almost immediately fucked it up, knocking it through into a single room. Totally ruining the atmosphere.

The renowned Burton Pale Ale brewery of the 19th century, the glory days of Bass were well over after WW II. Once the largest brewery in England, its beers remained nationally available, making it a tempting target for the ambitious M&B. Even though their tied house estate was quite small.

Despite coming first in the company name, Bass had never been one of the driving forces of the conglomerate. Having lost their independence before the formation of Bass Charrington. Their name remained prominent on account of its historic resonance. Though the company could have promoted the brand better


A classic London Ale brewery, Charrington’s directors seem to have been naïve about what joining the Bass Charrington collective entailed. Hoping for a shiny new plant just outside London, they were greatly disappointed when the replacement for their East End brewery was Cape Hill in Birmingham.

Cape Hill
The original Mitchell & Butler brewery in Birmingham. And, for a while, the largest cask brewery in the world. I can’t say I was that keen on their cask beer. Brew XI was a crap, sweet excuse of a Bitter. The Mild was OK. But no better than that. When in Birmingham, I much preferred Ansells Mild.

One of the group’s three breweries in the West Midlands. They brewed Dunkirk Pale Ale and Springfield Bitter. Both lovely, delicate Bitters. Way better than Brew XI. So, obviously, it was closed and the beers discontinued, though Springfield Bitter was brewed at Cape Hill for a while.

Bass Charrington had a weird variation in the size of their breweries. Highgate in Walsall being very much at the small end. And even weirder, as their only product was a Mild Ale.

It had been scheduled for closure around the start of WW II, but was kept open as each brewery was allocated a certain quantity of materials based on their pre-war usage. Had the brewery closed, M & B would have missed out on the ingredients. In the end, it outlasted all the other former M & B breweries, including Cape Hill.

It’s really odd how all three Tadcaster breweries have managed to survive. There were three substantial breweries in the town in the 1970s. And there are still three now. Back then, they were Sam Smiths, John Smiths and what was the former Tower Brewery, owned by Bass.

I can’t say that I cared for its beers. What was the Bitter? Brew X? Yes, that was it. Can’t ever remember trying it. I usually stuck to Mild, which came in the form of XXXX. A bit thin and insipid. Not a patch on Tetley Mild.


William Stones was a successful Sheffield Brewery, but owing to the large spread in ownership of their shares, they feared a hostile takeover. For a while they managed to play their two potential suitors – Charrington United and Bass M & B – off against each other. Until the two merged in 1967 to form Bass Charrington. And gobbled up Stones.

Their Bitter, which was very pale, along the lines of Boddington, had a strong local following and was a pretty decent pint. At least in the early years. It caused the company lots of problems. They wanted to close it, but attempts to replicate it at Runcorn were a dismal failure and the Sheffield brewery had to stay open.

Hope & Anchor

Another Sheffield brewery, but one which played a weird role in the formation of Bass Charrington.

In the 1950s, they were trying to market their Jubilee Stout to Canada. They came to an agreement with Canadian brewery owner Eddie Taylor. He would brew Jubilee Stout and in return Hope & Anchor would brew Black Label in the UK.   It was a deal which, eventually, gifted one of the UK’s most popular Lagers to Bass Charrington.

This transaction prompted Taylor to take a closer look at the UK brewing industry. And soon he was in the UK trying to put together a national brewery group. Just as he had done in Canada. And eventually led to the creation of the UK’s largest brewing company, Bass Charrington.

In 1960, it merged with Hammonds United Breweries and had started on one of the paths which would lead to Bass Charrington. Surprisingly, given the company’s rigorous pruning of its breweries, it didn’t close until 1994.

Home of Glasgow’s – and Scotland’s – favourite Lager. Tennent got into the Lager game very early, in 1885, importing Germans to build them a suitable brew house, which opened in 1889. Unlike most who got into the Lager game in the 19th century, they were able to make a fist of it.

The brewery was lucky that Lager took off much earlier in Scotland than in England. Despite only being available in Scotland and Northern Ireland, by 1970 Tennents was one of the best-selling Lagers in the UK. Only Harp, a cooperative beer of several large brewers, outsold it.

Welsh Brewers

Formerly Hancock, which was a major player in South Wales before falling into Bass Charrington’s hands.


Chris Pickles said...

<< I never tried Brew Ten >>

If you had tried it, you wouldn't have tasted it.

The pale mild, Extra Light, could be pleasant.

The Beer Nut said...

XI is still a crap, sweet excuse for a bitter.

Any reason you left off Glen Road Brewery in Belfast (1897-2004)?

Ron Pattinson said...

The Beer Nut,

no. Just not got around to it yet. That section of the book isn't complete yet.

Anonymous said...

I remember you describing the Runcorn brewery the Monday before last Monday. Runcorn brewery was the British brewing industry’s answer to British Leyland as was Bass Charrington in general.

bigLurch Habercom said...

In what was the Bass Museaum/National Brewery Centre in Burton was a exhibit which shows the timeline of some of the mergers and take overs of what eventually became Bass PLC. Im assuming you have left out Worthington and Salts as these happened before Bass Charrington came about.

Russell Gibbon said...

Ah, just a single line, right at the end. Probably the best way to cover Welsh Brewers. It was their Allbright that started me off, so it was only one way, uphill, to finding better beers, from there on for me. Hancocks were still visible in my valley when I was a nipper so I have a strange connection cum affection to his smile and friendly outstretched hand offering me, as a 4 year old, no sweets at all.

Compared to you Ron, the emotional damage and carnage that Bass did in South Wales seems tiddly compared with what you describe took place elsewhere.

Mine is NOT a Bass.

Bribie G said...

Allbright was the filtered pasteurised version of Hancock's HB cask. During the process they removed what character still existed in the cask version. I worked in a government office on Newport Road and the only two pubs within easy walking distance for the obligatory two or three pints at lunchtime were Welsh Brewers. Sadly the nearest Brains pub was a bit too far!!