Lamented or not so lamented lost lagers of the last fifty years
If you are able to cast your mind back to the early 1960s, a certain Eddie Taylor was causing quite a stir in the pub scene. In 1961, he bought twelve English and Scottish breweries within a year. He formed a conglomerate known as Northern United Breweries, which later became Charrington United Breweries.
In 1967, he bought the mighty Bass, with the new company being known as Bass Charrington. Choice and local diversity went down the pan, in favour of TV friendly national brands. This was true of rivals Whitbread who also went on a spending spree. In Greater Manchester, this saw Ashton-under-Lyne’s Bents Gartside fall under Bass Charrington. Threlfalls would merge with Chesters in 1966 and became part of the Whitbread empire.
The basis of this nationwide television friendly brand was a beer style often seen in the north as a southerners’ drink. A style which would, till the end of the 1960s often be seen in bottled form next to the barley wines or light ale. One which remains popular on the European mainland and, till recently, was also brewed in Wrexham.
I am referring to lager.
Back then, there’s every chance you would have gone down to your local and ordered a pint of bitter or mild. There would have been different prices for the tap room to that of the ‘best room’ or lounge. Ordering a lager would be met with derision in some public houses. Then came the PR men, and in a transformation supposedly akin to anyone using the Charles Atlas method of dynamic tension, lager became sexy in the late 1970s. Amid all this, we also saw the rise and fall of Watney’s Red Barrel and the formation of CAMRA.
By the late 1970s, most UK homes had refrigerators. With lager being an effective beer style for the take home market, its popularity rose. However, this was also thanks to memorable campaigns for Carling Black Label, Harp, Hofmeister and the like. Which sent out the message it was as much a man’s drink as a pint of Boddington’s Bitter was.
As well as successful national brands like Carling Black Label, Skol and Carlsberg, a lot of regional breweries tried to get in on the act. Some succeeded like Joseph Holt’s Brewery whereas others floundered. Therefore, our Not So Perfect Ten focuses on the lost lagers. Not only from Lancashire as the Shakespearian influenced title implies, but other parts of the UK.
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Our Not So Perfect Ten Lost Lagers:
- Grunhalle (Greenall Whitley);
- Einhorn (Robinson’s Brewery);
- Slalom Lager (Matthew Brown);
- Stein Lager (Thwaites);
- Lamot Pils (Bass, under licence for the UK market);
- Amboss Lager (Hydes’ Anvil);
- Hofmeister (Scottish Courage);
- John Smith’s Lager (Scottish Courage);
- Marksman (Mansfield Brewery);
- LCL Pils (Federation Brewery).
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Anyone with elementary knowledge of the German language would know that Grunhalle literally translates as ‘Greenall’. This was the name of Greenall Whitley’s ersatz German style lager, brewed on the famous part of the Ruhr valley known as Wilderspool. This remained so till 1991 when the reconstituted Greenalls ceased brewing beer and sold its brands to Carlsberg Tetley. They became a pub company with a chain of off-licences, whereas Greenalls’ former houses would later become part of other pub companies like Pubmaster.
A combination of cod-German translation and elementary knowledge of Northern breweries is enough for anyone to fathom out what this translates as: ‘Unicorn’. Robinson’s efforts to break the lager market came in the form of Einhorn, another ersatz German style lager brewed on the banks of the River Mersey. Einhorn quietly disappeared from Robinson’s and Hartley’s houses in the noughties. I last saw an electric Einhorn pump in 2002 in the now closed Spread Eagle opposite the Unicorn Brewery.
3. Slalom Lager
Besides being another lost lager, the name Slalom Lager would be remembered by Rugby League fanatics. There was actually three types of Slalom Lager: the bog standard one, Slalom D, and Slalom Strong. They were brewed in Workington till 1985 when Scottish and Newcastle took over Matthew Brown. The Workington brewery closed in 1988. Today, Slalom Strong is owned by Heineken UK and brewed under licence by Debevit for the Italian market. It is a 9% bottled lager, alas seemingly unavailable outside its home town.
4. Stein Lager
Before Warsteiner and Kaltenberg became Thwaites’ lager brands of choice, the Blackburn brewer’s ersatz lager was Stein. This was a 5% lager available for the take home market as well as in Daniel Thwaites’ houses.
5. Lamot Pils
Today, Molson Coors owns the rights to this brand which is no longer available in the UK. Lamot Pils, far from being an ersatz brand, is a genuine Belgian lager brewed in Mechelen. It entered the UK in the early 1980s as a premium priced strong lager (6% ABV) with an ethereal advert, where you would expect to see Bilbo Baggins instead of Samantha. In the mid-1990s, it was reduced to 5% and later 4.8%. Devotees of North West Counties League football may remember the Lamot Pils Trophy. This being the NWCFL League Cup when Bass sponsored the North West Counties League from 1986 to 1996.
From the little known Bavarian district of Moss Side came Hydes’ Anvil’s answer to Einhorn and Grunhalle. Entitled Amboss, the title is actually German for ‘Anvil’. This was a very lightly hopped ale before Harp Lager became Hydes’ houses made that the lager brand of choice.
Scottish and Newcastle made a fair contribution to sating British drinkers’ appetite for lager. Along with Slalom Lager from 1985 and the introduction of Fosters as a bog standard lager the year before, they also had an easy drinking budget lager. One with a bear called George. George (actually Rusty Goffe in a bear outfit) would be seen playing pool, darts, and trying to make off with the opposite sex. It enjoyed brief popularity in the mid 1980s, but the child appeal of George the Bear seemed to anathema to responsible drinking. So the bear was ditched and the lager followed suit in 2003, last seen in such classy establishments like Quality Save.
Of late, Hofmeister has been given a revival, allowing millennials to Follow The Bear. Like their parents did en route to the local ‘fun pub’. It is now brewed by the Hofmeister Brewing Company in Reigate and won the Best Lager category in the 2017/18 IWSC Beer Awards.
8. John Smith’s Lager
For about two minutes in 1983, Scottish and Newcastle launched John Smith’s Lager, which they hoped would be a Tadcastrian answer to Carling Black Label. It wasn’t, but the advertisements were more memorable (though they didn’t involve the late Gordon Rollings and the performing Jack Russell Terrier known as Tonto). Three male drinkers were seen descending on a John Smith’s public house to an adaptation of Jona Lewie’s ‘Stop the Cavalry’.
For some time in the 1980s, the Mansfield Brewery was part of Northern Foods who also owned Park Cake Bakeries. In 1982, they relaunched the brand with greater success, and won prizes for their lager owing to its improved flavour. One advertisement saw a picture of Ronald Reagan next to a pint of Marksman. At around that time, it was used to sponsor a Rugby League side, the Mansfield Marksman, who played some of their home matches at North Street, Alfreton Town’s ground.
10. LCL Pils
Once upon a time not so long ago, many a town north of Birmingham would have a Working Mens’ Club of some description. Besides entertainment, they were popular because of less restrictive hours and cheap beer. There was even a brewery whose sole concern was that market: the Northern Clubs’ Federation Brewery in Dunston, which was also ran on cooperative lines. Their response to the lager revolution was LCL Pils, no doubt inspired by the then popular Holstein Pils in the mid-1980s. Though the Federation Brewery has long gone, spiritually and physically, LCL Pils has been brewed since 2007 by Daniel Thwaites’ brewery.
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If you can add to or elaborate on the list, feel free to do so. Any reference to the taste of the said lagers is most helpful.
S.V., 06 October 2013.
Updated on the 23 November 2018.