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In the third part of my Good Beer Guide retrospective we jump forward 11 years for the turn of the millenium. *The first thing you notice is how much thicker the 2000 edition is, approx twice the thickness of the 1989 book, the second thing you notice is there is a lot more editorial content and comment. *By this time the now renowned beer writer Roger Protz was at the helm as editor and the quality of writing shows his influence on the publication. *The cover is a pretty standard photo of two vessels of beer, still not a patch on the 1982 “Stained Glass” cover, but a huge improvement on the ropey drawing from 1989. *Eleven years on the guide was still sponsored by the open fire fuel industry, this time under the guise of Homefire Smokeless Coal. *The lead concern in this edition was the effect (or lack of) that the Beer Orders Act 1989 had on the industry over the last 11 years.
Not long after the 1989 edition came out the Beer Orders report was published by the Mergers and Monopoly Commission after 3 years of work on behalf of the then government. The suggested changes attempted to break the monopoly that big brewers had over huge swathes of the UK pub estate. *The act which followed limited the number of pubs that could be owned by a brewery to 2000 and required that their pubs were allowed to take guest ales sourced from other brewers than their owners. The act was largely bypassed by the industry who simply split the pub owning side of the business from the brewing operations into separate businesses. *The Beer Orders act effectively created the giant pub owners such as Enterprise Inns, Admiral Taverns and Punch Taverns that we see today.
One of the biggest re-alignments of business interests was between two of the big 6 brewers when Courage and Grand Metropolitan (brewer of Watneys and Websters among others at the time). *All of Grand Metropolitans brewing operations were transferred to Courage, whilst all the pubs under the Courage wing were moved to Grand Metropolitan under a new company called Inntrepreneur breaking the direct tie to the brewer. *This move which was blatantly composed to avoid the consequences of the act, but was still waved through by the Department of Trade and Industry, thus proving the legislature still born. *A year later Allied Breweries brewing operations (inc. Ansells, Ind Coope and Tetley Walker) merged with Danish brewer Carlsberg (creating Carlsberg Tetley) and the pub division became Allied Domecq again avoiding the new law.
Over the next 14 years these new pub companies consistently won legal challenges to their controlling position until the act was withdrawn from the law books in 2003. *As it stood in 2000 when this edition was printed the big four brewers at the time accounted for 85% of beer production, up 10% from the big six brewers output on the same basis when the Beer Orders were enacted in 1989. *Two of those brewers Scottish Courage and Bass accounted for 60% of that figure alone. *In 1995 Scottish and Newcastle merged with Courage to form the aforementioned Scottish Courage who dominated around 33% of the market. *The aftereffects of this merger were significant in Halifax when Websters brewing operation was closed down at Fountain Head, Ovenden Woods in 1996 and the Websters brand was brewed subsequently at Tadcaster and Burtonwood before largely disappearing from most pubs. *The decline of the Halifax brand was not helped by the Scottish Courage owning 3 major Yorkshire beer brands, John Smith, Theakstons and Websters. *One was always likely to be sacrificed to focus on a smaller number of beers.
The other major issue which concerned the team behind the guide was the rise of nitro keg beers such as John Smith Smooth at the cost of cask conditioned real ale. *After Carlsberg Tetley realised that it now had no captive audience to sell their beer to following the separation of the two side of the business they developed a keg version of John Smiths which required less care. *The aforementioned smooth variation which was served via a gas mixture of nitrogen and carbon dioxide which cools the beer “masking lack of flavour and aroma”. *Similar products followed from the likes to Tetley and Worthington trading on those brands cask ale credentials. *Major cash was put behind marketing these “smooth” versions of the traditional ales. *For example in 1998-99 Bass spent £1.2 million on nitro keg Worthington and £462 on the cask product. *That is not a typo, they spent the equivalent of approx 231 pints of sales on the cask products promotion, rather an insult to the product, but showing the owners priorities beautifully!
Thanks must go again to the Sportsman Pub at Ploughcroft for lending me this tome from their library.