Tuesday 7 May 2024

Two Cheers for Carlsberg Marstons

So, the Burton Unions are saved - well, one of the sets at least. As revealed by Pete Brown, or rather, as followed up by Pete, here in Drinks Business, Thornbridge Brewery, with technical help from CMBC will install a saved set at their Derbyshire Brewery.

Now this is good news for the history buff and for the working preservation of a historical and rather technical aspect of brewing history that looked to be all but lost. I do though note that CMBC are keeping a non-working set at Marston's Burton Brewery, which was news to me.  The CMBC press release can be read here on the British Guild of Beer Writers site.  The gist of the deal is as follows:

According to The Drinks Business, discussions between CMBC and Thornbridge began in February this year, to look for a way to provide a new future for the Union sets at Marston’s Brewery, following their retirement earlier this year. CMBC gifted the set of Union barrels to Thornbridge, and has also provided expert guidance and advice on maintenance and set-up for the Union system being developed at Thornbridge’s Bakewell-based brewery, which is set to be completed in May. The Union sets will be used for brewing special edition cask beers utilising this historic method first created in Burton-on-Trent in the 19th century. 

Emma Gilleland, Director of Brewing at CMBC, said, “This collaboration is a perfect showcase for the ways brewers can come together to deliver something special, for the love of beer and Britain’s incredible brewing heritage. We’ve been proud to support Thornbridge through the process by sharing our time and expertise to help set up their own Union system, and we are confident they will be fantastic custodians for our Union sets.

Pete Brown says in his analysis,  "Occasionally, big and small can work together to achieve something neither could alone. This week, it’s been announced that Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company (CMBC) has given a set of of the famous Burton Unions to Thornbridge, and is helping the Derbyshire craft brewery get it up and running. This has sent some much-needed cheer through the craft brewing world.

Pete goes on to say " But why is it important? Is there anything to this beyond the preservation of a museum piece, important though that is?  Well, here’s where it gets interesting. The reason given by CMBC for “retiring” the Unions is seemingly unstoppable decline of the cask ale market. The Unions exclusively brew cask ale, and there’s simply not enough money in cask ale to justify using this expensive kit in its production. They have become, to quote CMBC, “unviable.” And yet, the reason given by Thornbridge for taking on the Union set is that it will enable them to premiumise cask ale, to do new and interesting things in the space, and make more money from the sector.

If Thornbridge is right, CMBC must be wrong. If Thornbridge can use the Unions to premiumise cask ale and make it more interesting and profitable, why couldn’t CMBC. These are good points.

A further point is why is the history of the Burton Unions being turned over to a small (albeit very well thought of) brewery, rather than being taken forward meaningfully by CMBC? A cynic might just think that multinational brewing companies care little for either history or cask beer, and this is a cheap way to put a slightly embarrassing problem to bed and come out of it looking rather good.

This whole affair, somewhat reminds me of what Churchill said of the Americans during the war, "You can always trust the Americans to do the right thing, but only after they have tried everything else."

Readers of this blog will know that I am not a fan - indeed, I'm a confirmed sceptic of the notion - of premiumisation of cask ale generally, but in this particular instance, a much more convincing case can be made for it. 

Both pieces highlighted are worth a read in full. 

And there isn't a prize for the first to say Churchill didn't say that.  If he didn't, he ought to have.

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