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I decided to accept the offer of a review copy of Chris Arnot’s Britain’s Lost Breweries and Beers (Aurum Press) for a specific reason; it’s the first book of this nature to feature Tetley’s as lost. And by that, I mean physically not there anymore. This was an unexpectedly sobering notion; and one I’ll go into in depth a little later on.
Anyway, I enjoyed the book. Instead of a figure-heavy, stats-based rundown of breweries output, beer brands and staff employed (which, frankly, isn’t for me), Chris takes the approach of finding ex-workers, draymen and tenants to tell anecdotes about their time at the brewery in question. The approach keeps things light and nostalgic, although suitably elegiac. The majority of interviewees are getting on a bit now, and it makes you wonder what will happen to these stories in ten years’ time.
The book did drive home just how many of these breweries succumbed to either Greene King or Watney. Mergers and takeovers did for the majority of the 30 local breweries in the book, and puts the past into stark relief. Did any of these takeovers ever end in progress? Did the board member ever truly think they were going to end up winners in these deals? I’m no expert in the matter by any stretch, but the wave of takeovers-followed-by-closures seemed endemic. Would I be naive as to say that some people ‘should have known better?’ Perhaps.
Again, that’s probably another story for another day. For those interested in the human side of brewery life – and post-brewery life – there’s plenty of stories in here for you to get your teeth into; an S&M meeting in a function room of a Tolly Cobbold pub, herculean drinking efforts of Sailors and draymen, formidable landladies, generations of familes working for the brewery. A job for life, or so they thought. Each chapter is only a few pages long, so you can get through it in chunks – although the format of the book is too big to take along to the pub and enjoy with a pint, which is a shame.
Britain’s Lost Breweries and Beers won’t satisfy the needs of number-crunchers, but if it’s colourful stories told by real people – and a look back at an industry very different from nowadays – you’re after then it’s a pretty good suggestion for that christmas stocking.