Lancs Lagers Lost: A Top Beer Not So Perfect Ten

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:

  1. Grunhalle (Greenall Whitley);
  2. Einhorn (Robinson’s Brewery);
  3. Slalom Lager (Matthew Brown);
  4. Stein Lager (Thwaites);
  5. Lamot Pils (Bass, under licence for the UK market);
  6. Amboss Lager (Hydes’ Anvil);
  7. Hofmeister (Scottish Courage);
  8. John Smith’s Lager (Scottish Courage);
  9. Marksman (Mansfield Brewery);
  10. LCL Pils (Federation Brewery).

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1. Grunhalle: 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.

2. Einhorn: 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.

6. Amboss: 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.

7. Hofmeister: 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.

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’.

9. Marksman: 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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Your Round

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.

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5 thoughts on “Lancs Lagers Lost: A Top Beer Not So Perfect Ten

Add yours

  1. Ah the days of my misspent youth. I went on a visit to Greenhall Whitleys (GW) brewery in Warrington with a Wednesday afternoon coach party from the University of Salford.Those were the days when quantity not quality was the key performance indicator. However for many years I treasured the free glass ash tray they gave us at the end of the tour although I never smoked.

    My memory is somewhat cloudy now – no doubt bought on by excessive consumption of falling down juices when an acne riddled youth. I vaguely recall that In addition to Grunhalle, I also supported GW’s bottom line by drinking their vodka. Those were the days when Greenhall’s produced “Vladivar Vodka from Varrington”. There is/was a story/urban myth circulating that to launch their new vodka, GW ran a promotion holiday competition.The first prize was “One veeks holiday in Varrington, the second prize was “ Two veeks holiday in Varrington”. As I recall the Varrington new town development authority set up to exploit the junction of the M62 and M6 motorways and the release of the former military bases at Burtonwood and Risley vere not amused. Vi not – I vill never know.

    (Vladivar Vodka is/was a brand of vodka distilled in the UK. Originally made in Warrington by the Greenall Whitley distillery, the brand was sold in 1990 to Whyte & Mackay and production was moved to Scotland).

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    1. Hi Robert,

      Indeed it was. Not only merger mania in the 1960s but also the quantities brewed. It is hard to imagine any part of Greater Manchester without any of their public houses. Same too with Boddingtons.

      Do you also remember the Greenall Whitley Land adverts as well? Always on around the mid-1980s on Sundays, often after the pubs closed for the afternoon.

      You can still get Vladivar Vodka these days, and the Warrington/Varrington adverts were pretty good. (I wonder what Eileen Bilton thought of them?). Courtesy of Flickr, I have just found a picture of a Warrington Borough Transport bus advertising the said spirit:

      Wodka from Varrington

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  2. Stuart,

    I well remember Grunhalle. Einhorn and Amboss. Dire really doesn’t do them full justice!

    in the 1970s and 80s, I used to drink most regularly in a Hyde’s house (the one which was CAMRA’s pub of the year about 10 years ago). The landlord kept a superb cellar, and bitter and mild sold incredibly well. A well remembered evening saw a visiting darts team buy pints of Amboss for their first round.

    Bitter, mild or Guinness were bought for the rest of the evening.

    It’s a curious fact that the quality and variety of beers now available is superb yet pubs are failing daily. But when such dross (as most of these lagers were) was brewed, pubs were thriving. I suppose the days when a pub could rely on its wet trade to survive are long gone, and it is those pubs which don’t adapt that go to the wall. For all that, my favourite time in a pub is a late Sunday evening when no food can be had. There’s a core a fellow drinkers who enjoy the relaxed atmosphere, the good ale and the chance to talk peaceably and intelligently into the quiet remnants of the day. I still like the comfort of a drinker’s pub……..

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    1. Hi Paul,

      I had had heard numerous urban myths about the North West’s ersatzenbrauen, most notably Einhorn. My Dad remembers it as a vile lager, and probably so with Grunhalle. At Maine Road, the scoreboard at the Platt Lane end was sponsored by Grunhalle, given the fact Greenall Whitley ales were available at their social club on Claremont Road.

      I suppose the darts team’s reversion to bitter, mild or Guinness must have spoke volumes about the lager, and the landlord’s cellar keeping skills.

      It seems to be an amazing paradox as to how pubs are closing despite the most vibrant real ale industry to date und die keine ersatzenbrauen in favour of Stella or some fantastic British brewed keg lagers (such as Buxton Brewery’s Polish influenced Moravka and Outstanding Ales’ lagers).

      I think the lack of footfall in ‘proper drinkers’ pubs’ is down to: a lack of disposable income among drinkers themselves; the huge differential in superstore and off licence prices compared with pub prices; and, to some extent, big screen televisions. Owing to the amount they pay in the pub, they now expect something more: often fine food at a good price or live entertainment.

      Furthermore, the late Sunday evening in a pub is a special joy to behold. Closely followed by winter late afternoons or early evenings on the same day too. Tuesday night, particularly after watching The Mighty Stalybridge Celtic, is a pretty good time. Especially so at another excellent Hydes pub: the ideally placed White House (close to the bus station or the taxi rank opposite – you cannot go wrong).

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  3. I came here searching out Lamot. I once found it by chance in a pub just south of Paddington Station. London in 1976, as I recall. It was a fine pint, as hoped. Sadly, the next time I found it, a few years later, the brew was nothing like the original, nor as strong. An excellent Belgian brew, sadly missed.

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