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It's been far too long since I last mentioned Alloa. Time to put that right with a description of one of the town's less fashionable breweries.

George Younger was the best known, the Alloa Brewery oddly obscure, Maclay's the last survivor. Calder's was the strangest. I think you'll understand why in a minute.

Here's a potted history, mostly nicked from the excellent book "Alloa Ale", by Charles McMaster, published in 1985.

John McNellan built the brewery in 1816. Unusually for brewers in the town - and as the name suggests - it was on the shore of the Forth. Which must have been pretty handy. As we've already learned Scottish brewers were dependent on imported grain and hops. Those in Alloa, who sold most of their beer outside the immediate area, also needed a way to transport their beer to markets.

Like their neighbours George Younger, McNellan, Sons & Co. were quick to spot the potential of Pale Ale, which they started brewing in the 1850's. They were shipping their beer all over England and Scotland but must have got something badly wrong as they went bust in 1862. The brewery had to be sold. It was James Calder who bought it. McMaster says Calder "had timber importing interests in the neighbourhood". That rings a bell.

There are highly-detailed, and beautiful, old ordnance survey maps of Scotland available on the web. There are lovely maps of Alloa from 1861. I searched out all the breweries on it (which is how I put this map together). There's something I remember. There were two timber yards right next to the Shore Brewery. See:

One of these probably belonged to James Calder.

Before I go any further, here's a quote from the "Oxford Companion to Beer":

" . . little, rural Alloa in the Central Lowlands was regarded as second only to Burton-on-Trent as a British brewing center, due to its bountiful local supply of grain and coal . . . . "
There's a reason I've mentioned this. I probably would have written something similar, had I not looked at the map of 1861. Yes, Alloa isn't a huge town. But rural? The town was stuffed with industry. In addition to all the breweries there were two Woollen Manufactories, a woollen mill, a flour mill, a large distillery, several coal mines, a brass foundry, a pottery, a gas works, a large brick works and an extensive glass works. Hardly what I would call rural. It's easy to forget just how industrialised Britain once was.

Like many British breweries, it Calder's was late transforming itself into a limited company. Even such large concerns as Bass and Guinness remained partnerships until the last couple of decades of the 19th century. Calder's became a private limited liability company in 1905. Which is handy, because the prospectus has some nice details:

"The Brewery has been fitted up within the last seven years with complete modern plant, and has a capacity of 800 barrels a week... The beers made by the firm are well and favourably known, and have commanded a good and increasing sale. The Brewery has an excellent supply of water, the brewing water being derived from an artesian bore 1000ft. deep which yields an inexhaustible supply of hard water of first class quality for brewing purposes, and in addition there are four wells which yield an ample quantity of water for cooling purposes. The present maltings, which were only completed last year, are of the most modern description and have at present a capacity of 140 qrs per week ... A railway siding from the North British Railway has recently been put into the Brewery, and will be a source of great economy ... "
800 barrels a week is 40,000 barrels a year. Remember that's the capacity, rather than the real output. How large was that for the period? I just happen to have a table handy:

Number of UK breweries by output (barrels per year)
500,000 Total
1870 26,506 - 1,809 210 128 23 3 28,679
1875 22,138 - 1,864 260 194 25 4 24,485
1879 17,542 - 1,863 301 217 27 3 19,953
1880 16,770 - 1,768 272 203 23 4 19,040
1881 14,948 14,479 1,677 275 183 24 3 17,110
1885 12,608 - 1,537 270 187 27 4 14,633
1890 9,986 - 1,447 274 255 34 4 12,000
1895 7,213 - 1,162 267 256 34 5 8,937
1900 4,759 - 910 262 308 42 9 6,290
1905 3,787 - 832 232 280 40 9 5,180
1912 2,868 2,663 673 205 266 43 7 4,062
1913 2,700 2,502 615 210 271 42 8 3,846
1914 2,536 2,357 580 197 280 46 8 3,647
1928 Brewers' Almanack, page 118.

In 1905, there were 280 breweries in the 20,000 to 100,000 barrels a year band. And 49 breweries producing more than 500,000 barrels. Calder couldn't have been in the largest 100 brewers in the country. They were probably somewhere aroung number 150. Not particularly large, then.

I still haven't been able to track down an analysis of Alloa water. Given the town's early entry into Pale Ale brewing, you'd expect hard well water to be available. It would be useful to know the exact composition. What was the gypsum content? Having grown up in the Trent valley, I associate it with gypsum and gravel. I don't know if the two always go together. But in the map above you can see a gravel pit (called a put) only a few paces away from the Shore Brewery.

According to McMaster, 1905 was also the year that the firm built a new bottling plant in Glasgow to supply chilled and carbonated beers. This is exactly the period when the more adventurous breweries were abandonning bottle-conditioning and introducing non-deposit, artificially carbonated bottled beers. It took a while for everyone to follow the trend, but over the course of the next 50 years naturally-conditioned bottled beer, with a few notable exceptions, virtually disappreared.

This is where things start getting weird. When Allsopp when bust in 1913, the receiver parachuted in the manager of the Shore Brewery, John J. Calder (son of James Calder who had bought the brewery from McNellan), to run the business. He seems an odd choice for the job, coming from a relatively small Scottish concern*. His appointment had one significant result: the introduction of Lager brewing to Alloa. But that's a story for another time.

John Calder was elected chairman of another Alloa brewery, actually THE Alloa Brewery, in 1920**. A year later and brewing had been abandonned at the aging Shore Brewery, all Calder's beer being supplied under contract by the Alloa Brewery. Calder seems to have got a very good deal, buying beer at little more than cost price. The Shore Brewery was downgraded to just a bottling plant and store.

The arrangement continued until 1951, when Ind Coope and Allsopp, now owners of the Alloa Brewery, converted it to a Lager-only plant. John Jeffrey & Co. Ltd. of the Heriot Brewery, Edinburgh (remember them?) took over the contract to brew Calder's Ales and Stout, while their Lager continued to be brewed at the Alloa Brewery.

In 1960, Calder was gobbled up by Northern Breweries of Great Britain Ltd and soon their brands were just a memory.

I'm surpised at how long - almost 40 years - Calder survived with no brewery of its own. Recent history has shown how fragile brewing companies without their own brewery are and how easily their identity can be lost. I'm thinking of firms like Burtonwood, Eldridge Pope, Gibbs Mew. You have to wonder how long Youngs will hang around.

John J. Calder is one of British brewing's most remarkable figures. He ran Calder from 1890 until the Norther Breweries takeover in 1960. That's even longer than Sidney Nevile was at Whitbread.

There's more to come on Calder. Barnard's description from 1890 and details of their beers. And anything else I can find.

* Allsopp was a much bigger concern. In 1884, they brewed 850,000 barrels (source: Document ACC/2305/8/246 part of the Courage archive held at the London Metropolitan Archive). The 40,000 barrel capacity of the Shore Brewery is tiny in comparison.

** According to the Scottish Brewing Archive website, he was elected chairman of Archibald Arrol & Sons Ltd (otherwise known as the Alloa Brewery) in 1918.