Tuesday 26 September 2023
The Big Six (part four)
The most hated of breweries amongst the CAMRA faithful. For the simple reason that they had moved aggressively into keg beer. Some of their breweries still produced a little cask, but they were deeply committed to keg.
In the 1890s, hey leapfrogged into first place in London after taking part in the first big brewing merger. The result was Watney Combe Reid. A company that was producing over 1 million barrels a year.
They owned several breweries in different regions: Norwich, Webster (Halifax), Wilsons (Manchester), Usher (Cheltenham) and Drybrough (Edinburgh). Some producing cask, others not. Webster’s beers were OK in cask form, but nothing special. Wilsons beers, even though often in cask form, I never cared for.
Very crafty, is how you could describe Whitbread’s route to the Big Six. Under the Whitbread umbrella scheme, they bought minority stakes in smaller brewers. The idea was to make them immune to hostile takeovers by other large companies. In reality, this was often just a first step to Whitbread taking total control.
Initially, many of the breweries gobbled up continued much as before, other than branding their Bitter as Trophy. There were some excellent beers. Wethereds springs to mind. A brewery in the Thames Valley that brewed outstanding beers. Of course, Whitbread fucked it up, but it was good while it lasted.
The seventh member of the Big Six. Somehow excluded from their club, Guinness wasn’t seen as one of the big brewers, because they owned no pubs. Ironically, it was Guinness who brought down the tied house system with a complaint which eventually led to the Beer Orders in the 1980s.
Because they owned no pubs and had a bottle-conditioned beer in every pub, Guinness mostly escaped the ire of CAMRA. And weren’t considered part of the evil Big Six, despite having a market share as large as that of Courage.