Friday, 25 September 2015

Flowers Breweries Ltd. (part three)

A little background on the Flowers J.W Green merger in the 1950’s.

Why did Flowers sell up? Their brand new brewhouse seems to have been the cause. It’s funny how often you see the same stories at different times and in different places. This story immediately reminded me of the sad end of Home Ales.

Flowers built a new brewhouse in the early 1950’s, but had problems with the quality of their flagship Original Bitter after it was brought online. As the beer had a good reputation over quite a large geographical area, the company was understandably worried. Unable to sort the problem out themselves, they merged with J. W. Green. Who quickly worked out that it was a problem with the drains.

I drank a lot of Home Ales in my youth. Their beer was incredibly consistent. You virtually never had a bad pint. The company was well run, profitable and its beer cheap. Then they built a new brew house. And their beer turned to shit. It was always infected to some degree. Unable to solve the problem, they sold up to Scottish & Newcastle. Without the brew house trouble, they might still be around today.

Flowers were one of the early proponents of keg beer, specifically a keg version of Original Bitter. But their reasons for pushing it weren’t, perhaps, what you might expect:

“Whilst Flowers were not the first to brew keg beer, Watneys already having Red Barrel available, they were the first to promote it on a large scale. Contrary to popular belief keg was not produced as a premium bitter to boost profit margins on draught ales, although it is true that these were always lower than those on bottled beers. It was originally brewed, at least in Flowers' case, to provide a means of introducing Flowers' bitter to small free trade customers. These outlets might be either small in themselves or be in an area where the main demand was for some other, usually local brew, and there was only a small call for Flowers,  insufficient for keeping in good condition beers in traditional casks until they were empty. Keg was not at this time ever intended, and I stress this point, for sale in the tied trade where correct cellar management should have done this job properly. I recall that the first ever Flowers Keg Bitter dispensing unit, outside the brewery, was installed by the writer in the Napier Club at Luton airfield. (Napier aero-engines, for Luton was not then an airport). I do not remember the date but would guess 1955/6.”
Brewery History Number 70, December 1992, page 32.

It wasn’t about pushing out cask beer, but finding new outlets unsuitable for cask. That passage was written by Ivar O'Brien, who worked for J.W. Green and Flowers in the 1950’s. It seems it was the pull of customer demand rather than the push of the brewers that furthered the cause of keg:

“All the plant for brewing, racking and dispensing keg beer, plus the kegs themselves, were expensive and only justified if new draught sales were gained, usually, it was hoped, to be followed by orders for bottled beers. From our customers' point of view, here was a beer with a good profit margin which was easy to look after and dispense in small free houses and clubs. In spite of the future views of CAMRA supporters, Flowers Keg Bitter proved immediately popular and gained a constantly widening circle of consumers. In the course of lime individuals who chose keg bitter in their Working Mens' Clubs, Football, Conservative or other, came to ask for it also in their locals. For several years the brewery resisted this demand except in a few smaller pubs that were unable to keep small quantities of bitter in good condition. Eventually, however, increasing production reduced overhead costs and by 1960 keg bitter was on sale in many tied houses in addition or as an alternative to Flowers Original draught bitter.”
Brewery History Number 70, December 1992, page 32.

That’s a slightly different view from the one usually expressed by CAMRA, that it was evil breweries trying to foist an inferior and more expensive product on drinkers.

Though keg was more expensive. According to this table, around 15% dearer than the cask version of the same beer:

Flowers draught Bitter and Keg Bitter 1959 - 1961
Year Beer Price per pint d Acidity OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation colour Index of Hop Bitter
1959 Keg Bitter 22 0.04 1039 1010.7 3.54 72.56% 23
1960 Bitter 19 0.04 1040.6 1008.8 3.97 78.33% 24
1960 Keg Bitter 22 1039.1 1012.8 3.40 67.26% 33
1961 Keg 24 0.04 1039.3 1012.5 3.35 68.19% 27
Which Beer Report, 1960, pages 171 - 173.
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002.

I’m pretty sure they’re the same beer. The one that appears as OB in their brewing records. Though it seems to have dropped in strength, because in the 1955 log its gravity was 1043º.

Lots more Flowers fun to come.


Unknown said...

Does the author explain what was wrong with Flowers' drains? It seems like something that wouldn't be too difficult to identify as a problem.

Tony Graham said...

With all of the consolidation at this time on the brewing side of things, was there any movement at this time toward consolidation in other ways? For instance, were smaller malt operations getting bought up by bigger companies? Or for that matter, were brewers buying up maltsters or hop farms in an effort to squeeze out a few cents in their costs or limit disruptions to their supplies?

Anonymous said...

Regarding Home Ales, yes, lovely stuff and so easy drinking. It dominated the pubs in my area, we had dozens of pubs selling it and it was indeed rare to receive a below par pint.My love for cask ale must have its roots here; although the pubs served the same beer from the same brewery each landlord managed to serve a pint which was quite distinguishable from that served elsewhere.
I went out for a pint this lunchtime and saw two ex Home Ales pubs, each still with a white wall with "Home Ales" painted on in green. One of the pubs has long since closed yet the paintwork looks fresh.
There are rumours that it's about to reappear;

Ron Pattinson said...


yes, there was also consolidation in the malting industry. But, whereas in the 19th century most breweries owned maltings, most sold them off or closed them after WW II.