Sunday, 26 May 2019

Allsopp’s great gamble

The 19th century ended with one of the most significant events in British Lager brewing: the building of Allsopp’s Lager brewery, which was completed in 1899.

Why was it so important? Because Allsopp was one of the greats of British brewing, second only in size to Guinness and Bass. And they were a Pale Ale brewer. Not just any old Pale Ale brewer, but one of the most renowned. Their move into bottom fermentation must have made some of their competitors stop and think.

The brewery was imported at great expense from the USA. Almost as much fuss was made of its opening as the visit of the Prince of Wales a dozen or so years earlier. A special train was laid on to bring the invited guests to the brewery.

Considering the consumption of Lager in Britain at the time it was huge, capable of brewing 50,000 barrels a year. To put that into context, in 1935 the total output of Lager in Britain was just 114,000 barrels. Though it’s likely that Allsopp, which was a big exporter, also had its eye on foreign markets.

Newspaper reports of the opening were wildly optimistic:

“There is little room to doubt that in a short time the public demand for Allsopp's Lager will be such as to tax to the utmost the capacity of this their newest brewery”.
Isle of Man Times - Saturday 28 October 1899, page 3.

Newspaper advertisements confirm that Allsopp’s Lager was promoted in Britain. The Gloucester Citizen of 4th June 1900 advertised Allsopp’s Lager Beer, East India Pale Ale and Light Dinner Ale. Significantly the Lager appeared first in the list of beers. At 3s 6d for a dozen pint bottles, it was the same price as East India Pale Ale. That’s relatively cheaper than in the early days of the 1860’s, when Lager was double the price of Bass. In the late 19th century it had been expected that Lager beer would massively increase in popularity if it was priced the same as Bass, that is around 4d a pint.

Those expectations were to be disappointed. Despite Allsopp’s Lager costing the same as their IPA, a very reasonable 3.5d per pint bottle, sales didn’t take off as anticipated. It didn’t help that Allsopp was in financial turmoil, with collapsing sales and minimal profits.

Like this? Then you'll love the book it comes from, Lager! (UK):

Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

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