When I was interviewed recently by Laura Hadland, who is researching and writing the official biography of CAMRA, ready for their 50th anniversary in 2021, she asked me the question - and I paraphrase - "Why does CAMRA hate Whitbread?" I sort of stumbled through an answer, pointing out its record of taking over and closing breweries, its poor commitment to real ale and a general feeling that they didn't really give a monkey's chuff about beer and pubs, just about making money - which while fair enough - was generally perceived as being done in a more than somewhat uncaring and contemptuous manner. Whitbread was founded in 1742 and was once the largest brewery company in the world. It was a very acquisitive brewery and among others, it took over and closed leading regional breweries such as Lacons, Rhymney, Threlfalls Chesters, Strong, Brickwood, Higsons and Boddingtons. Quite the record. There were plenty others besides, but these were the big ones. The ones with lots of lovely tied houses. CAMRA once sold a T Shirt with the names of the deceased breweries listed. It was entitled "Whitbread Tour of Destruction" I remember having one.
When it came to Merseyside, Whitbread weren't thought of highly. They had many pubs, often large, acquired from the Threlfalls takeover. Threllies was much loved and I believe that this sentimental regard for them didn't stand Whitbread in good stead to say the least. They closed the Truman St Brewery in Liverpool in my time there (1982). This was the old Threlfalls Brewery and while it rarely produced real ale, it was a well esteemed link with the past. As we shall see, Liverpudlians don't like to lose their breweries.
Now, one of the things I've been doing in lockdown, is to publish a piece
of breweriana each day on Twitter, chosen from my modest collection of
papers and artefacts. I have plenty stuff from my Liverpool days, so I had this particular subject in
mind, but felt it needed a bit more than a Twitter post. This piece is
One of the many unseen and unwanted outcomes of the Beer Orders saw the Higsons Brewery
in Liverpool, fall into the clutches of Whitbread. It didn't survive
that experience for long, but CAMRA in Liverpool had plenty to say about
it. Scathing would be an understated and piffling description of their
(As a major aside, the Beer Orders had many unexpected consequences for the British brewing industry, many of which reverberate through time to this very day. If you want a prime example of the law of unintended consequences, look no further than what happened next and is still happening.)
The closure of Higsons was just after I left Liverpool for Manchester. Many of those listed in the Mersey Drinker attached (1990 but undated dammit) were my colleagues in Liverpool CAMRA. The magazine excoriates Whitbread in no uncertain terms and is a paean of contempt for the company and all it stood for. The whole issue is devoted to putting into action the words of the editor with a massive call to arms. Boycott them! Don't drink fake Higsons brewed in Sheffield! Avoid their pubs and beers (including Boddingtons and the Boddington Pub Company too, who owned the former Higson's pubs) and much more. Thousands signed an anti Whitbread petition. It was campaigning in the old-fashioned way and maybe the last hurrah for such direct action
All to no avail of course. History doesn't work that way, but when you need to know why CAMRA hate Whitbread, start by asking in Liverpool. They'll tell you.
Higsons was briefly brewed in Sheffield. I recall it was blended with Liverpool brewed beer, then the Liverpool content removed. A shadow of its former self, it ended up in Castle Eden in Durham, where all pretence was abandoned. It was now just a beer called Higsons. It wasn't Higsons at all.
In the same issue it was noted that Whitbread would also close The Fremlins Brewery in Faversham. Whitbread exited brewing in 2001 and are still going.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
This blog mentions specifics; pubs and beer, good and bad. The opinions will be forthright, but you can always disagree, just don't be offended. Comments from those mentioned are particularly welcome and a right of reply is hereby offered.
Read my information and links and then decide for yourself. You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes.
If you wish to email me you can do so by using this address: tandleman[at]yahoo.co.uk
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Beer samples are welcome, but I cannot guarantee a good review. You, the brewer, on the other hand can.
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