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BODDINGTONS´: The Cream Of The World?

BODDINGTONS´: The Cream Of The World?

by ´Norman Warwick

John Smith´s posing on supermarket shelf in Lanzarote !

My old dad considered himself a scientist and never had much time for what he called ´this arty-farty writing malarkey.´ To be honest, I always thought the term scientist seemed a bit high faluting for what he did. Nevertheless, during Monday night´s Only Connect I was intrigued when one of their infernal link items turned out to be of four deeply disguised ingredients of beer. When the answer was, amazingly, correctly given presenter Victoria Coren-Mitchell laughingly added that there is a secret fifth ingredient that is known as the brewer. I could see my dad up in heaven standing to take a bow for having spent a whole career on the ´science´ he had always claimed to be the secret ingredient at the breweries he worked at. So, come follow your art as we stagger down sidetracks & detours in search of a decent pint. We must warn you, though, its a five thousand year walk to the pub !

I was born in the narrow bit of the A64 in a place they call Brewery Town in Yorkshire, slap bang in the middle of Leeds and York. In fact, to be even more precise I was born in a house in the town´s Brewery Gardens. By 1952, my year of birth, Tadcaster had been famous for hundreds of years for its breweries. The River Wharf at Tadcaster lent itself to the production of good beer, and John Smith´s brewery produced Magnet Ales and Sam Smith´s brewed Tadcaster Ales. Bass Charrington had a place on the edge of town too, but it was the Smiths´ buildings that caused all those traffic jams whenever York Races were being held.

The 4-mile (6.4 km) £8.9 million dual carriageway Tadcaster Bypass opened in September 1978. The A659 (former route of the A64 through Tadcaster) is to the left, with the University of Leeds Headley Hall Farm to the west. On the bypass there is a junction for the A162 (for Towton) near Stutton. View over the Vale of York. The bypass then swerves by the John Smith´s brewery chimney, with letters down its side spelling out Magnet Ales in large, glowing red neon lights, somehow seeming to stand in this part of Yorkshire like a misplaced Blackpool Tower.

Tadcaster  is a market town and civil parish in the Selby district of North Yorkshire, England, 3 miles (5 km) east of the Great North Road, 12 miles (19 km) north-east of Leeds, and 10 miles (16 km) south-west of York. The River Wharfe joins the River Ouse about 10 miles (16 km) downstream. Twinned with Saint-Chély-d’Apcher in France, the town was historically part of the West Riding of Yorkshire until 1974.

The Battle of Tadcaster took place during the First English Civil War on 7th December 1642, when a Royalist force attacked the Parliamentarian garrison of Tadcaster, Yorkshire, which was held by between 900 and 1,500 soldiers under the command of Ferdinando Fairfax, Lord Fairfax. Newcastle marched out of York on 6th December, and split his force of 6,000 into two; he took 4,000 infantry down the main York–Tadcaster road to attack the town from the east, while sending a deputy, the Earl of Newport, with a further 1,500 to circle around and trap the Parliamentarians by attacking from the north-west.

Newcastle’s infantry engaged the town on the morning of 7th December, but after some initial minor incursions, the battle settled into an exchange of musket fire. Newport’s detachment never joined the battle. Fairfax was nevertheless forced to retreat overnight, as he was running short of gunpowder, and Newcastle occupied the town the following day. He subsequently garrisoned a number of nearby towns, and cut Fairfax off from the West Riding of Yorkshire.

My dad and I would often stroll through the town in the second half of the twentieth century and as we paused on Tad Bridge, so I could look down to the swirling waters below, dad told me every time about how this river ran red with blood during those years of the civil war.

When my dad left Tad Grammar School with his science qualifications he went to work as a junior brewer at Sam Smith´s but during my life time several of my relatives have also worked in the town´s brewing industry. These included my dad´s brother in law as a pub cellar inspector for John´s and my step-grandad working in the bottling plant at Bass Charrington.

Sam Smith´s, where dad worked, was somehow the prettier of the two Smith breweries and I have always thought they also had the prettier and more olde worlde pubs. Sam´s is, in fact Yorkshire´s oldest brewery having been formed in 1758 to brew a wide range of quality beers created solely from authentic, natural ingredients. The Brewery still uses natural Yorkshire stone squares to ferment its ales and stouts and the same yeast strain has been used since the seventeenth century.

The brewery uses oak casks for all its naturally conditioned ale. The casks are made by the brewery’s full time coopers. Also known as The Old Brewery, Sam´s has two full-time coopers who make and repair all Samuel Smith’s oak casks. The oak casks are used for hand-pulled Old Brewery Bitter and for maturing Yorkshire Stingo. Sam´s became famous for the grey Shire horses, stabled at the Old Brewery, that until recently were used five days a week to deliver beer in and around Tadcaster, and are still used on ceremonial and marketing occasions today. Although we left Tadcaster when I was only two years old, the drays were a fantastic and frequent sight on all the long summer holidays I spent there as a child with my grandparents.

John Smith´s Brewery still stands next door to Sam´s and they champion everyday, ordinary folks that are actually anything but. Because we know that these guys, just like our beer, are “Only Ordinary By Name”. John Smith’s Brewery in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, England, produces beers including John Smith’s, the highest selling bitter in the United Kingdom since the mid-1990s. The majority of John Smith’s sales are of the nitrogenated Extra Smooth product, although a cask conditioned variant is available nationally. A stronger variant called Magnet is also available in the North East of England. John Smith’s Cask and Magnet are produced under licence by Cameron’s in Hartlepool.

We left Tad, where my grandparents, mum and dad and I had all been born, because dad wanted to, and needed to with my hungry mouth to fees, seek better paid positions, and so accepted the offer of third brewer at Northampton Brewing Company. I always remember being told that our house on Penryn Road was just round the corner from where Des O´Connor lived at the time but I never really verified that myself as within a couple of years I had a new baby brother and dad needed to take another step towards the head of the pint.

He moved back North, and we arrived in Prestwich, just outside Manchester where he took up the post of second brewer at Boddingtons´ which was to become a quite famous brewery in its heyday. We arrived at a house, owned by the brewery, as had been our homes in Tadcaster and Northampton, on Nursery Road when I was almost six years old, on the day of the Munich Air Crash. As we drove towards the new home in dad´s stately, black Hillman Minx, the streets were lined with people crying for reasons I couldn´t understand until dad told me the next day about the crash, and how many famous footballers had died. I was still very young and I´m not sure I had even heard of football then, but the sight of those grieving people determined which side of the blue / red divide I would stand for the rest of my life.

Dad took me to my first football match when I was eleven to see Denis Law make his home debut for Manchester United against West Bromwich Albion and scoring a headed goal I can still see, and ´commentate on, to this day.´ Now living on Lanzarote, all my watching of Man U  is via television but it all seems pretty tame compared to those heady days of George Best, Law and Bobby Charlton, (immortalised now in a statue of the three outside the ground). Somehow, in 1964 dad managed to get hold of two season tickets, after becoming a bit of ´god´ in most men´s eyes when they learned he was (by now) the head brewer at Boddingtons´ and probably was the ´scientist´ responsible for its then constantly improving taste.

I took for granted that Boddingtons´ bitter was a good brew, though I could hardly claim to be an expert at the age of twelve or thirteen. Not for the want of trying, though. Mum and dad had no problems with allowing me and even young Graham to have the odd pint at home with Sunday lunch under their strict supervision. So we were weaned on good stuff: not only Boddingtons´ actually because dad now knew his contemporaries from a dozen or so other breweries who were always willing to swap a keg or two.

So, at fifteen I could clearly identify by colour and taste, a pint of Old Peculiar brewed by Theakston´s and I loved Thwaites from Blackburn and Timothy Taylor´s. However  once I started going in to pubs with my mates those houses would invariably be owned by the local John Willie Lee’s brewery in nearby Middleton. My mates seemed to love the brew, but it was a taste I still haven´t acquired.

Actually, the fact that dad was a brewer never really mattered to me and to this day, although I love a pint, especially here in the hot sun, I have never been any kind of heavy drinker. Nevertheless, Boddingtons’ brewery had a profound influence on my life, if not necessarily in the way my dad might have hoped. Every second Saturday, on the way back home from watching United play at old Trafford, dad would insist on calling in at the brewery to check the mash tuns or some such. I now realise, but sadly can´t talk to  him about it, that he was hoping I would fall in love with breweries and with brewing. I knew I wasn´t a scientist, and my school reports from my chemistry, physics and biology teachers fully endorsed  my opinion. Not only would I never achieve the qualifications to become a brewer but neither would I be able to copy dad in breathing in that strange, heady odour of malt and hops and chimney smoke and soot. The mash tuns always looked like where the Boddies (pardon the pun) might be thrown in a James Bond film….. and to be honest, brewing looked to me like hard physical labour. So that was another no-no.

After the first couple of post-football calls at the brewery which was right on the route from ground to home, dad could see I didn´t want to walk round looking at all the working part of the building. With some resignation he would leave me in his office whilst he went to check and taste. And it was in that office, on an ancient Underwood manual typewriter that my so-called career in writing was born. I learned to produce reports to deadline, because if I hadn’t finished my match report in the ten or fifteen minutes or so dad was away, there was no way he would sit and wait whilst I did, because he wanted to be home in time for Dixon Of Dock Green. We would then buy a copy of the Saturday Pink on the way home, and I would check my report against those published and I learned from Pink writers, like David Meek and James Mossop, how to deliver a football report.

If dad had dreams of me following in his career footsteps those dreams died in the 1963-64 football season when I taught myself to type.

There was yet to be a new chapter written in dad´s career, too. So hard working had he been, so successful had that work been that dad was promoted from head brew to director of brewing and so took his seat, very proudly, on The Boddingtons’ Board. Nevertheless, his own telling of his first ever attendance at a board meeting has gone down in family infamy. One of the first items on the agenda was a proposal from a previous meeting about whether the brewery should take television advertising time to promote dad´s very popular Boddingtons´ bitter.

Bluff, plain speaking Yorkshire man that he was dad tried to boycott the idea with a straight bat, until finally realising the advertising was going to go ahead with or without his approval, he thundered, ´I´ll tell thee now, gentlemen, tha´ll never sell beer on a ruddy gogglebox !´

When Mel Syke´s advert proclaimed Boddingtons to be ¨The Cream Of Manchester´ sales hit stratospheric heights, dad was proved very, very wrong. Melanie Ann Sykes is now an English television and radio presenter, and model. She is best known for co-hosting Today with Des and Mel with Des O’Connor and Let’s Do Lunch with Gino D’Acampo. She also co-hosted Going Out with Alan Carr on BBC Radio 2 from May 2010 until it ended in March 2012.

Boddingtons Brewery a regional brewery when dad joined, owned pubs throughout the North West. Boddingtons became best known for (dad´s brew) Boddingtons Bitter (Boddies), a straw-golden, hoppy bitter which was one of the first beers to be packaged in cans containing a widget, giving it a creamy draught-style head. When the beer was promoted as The Cream of Manchester in that popular advertising campaign credited with raising Manchester’s profile. Boddingtons became one of the city’s most famous products after Manchester United and Coronation Street. Whitbread bought Boddingtons´ Brewery in 1989 and Boddingtons´ Bitter received an increased marketing budget and nationwide distribution. Boddingtons achieved its peak market share in 1997 and at the time was exported to over forty countries.

Boddingtons beer brands are now owned by the global brewer Anheuser–Busch InBev which acquired the Whitbread Beer Company in 2000. Strangeways Brewery, where dad worked, closed in 2004 and production of pasteurised (keg and can) Boddingtons was moved to Samlesbury in Lancashire. Production of the cask conditioned beer moved to Hydes Brewery in Moss Side, Manchester, until it was discontinued in 2012, ending the beer’s association with the city.

Dad died several years ago now and it was almost as if he died of a broken heart. He had enjoyed a happy retirement for some twenty five years plus, but in that time the entire economy and demographics of brewing in the UK had changed. The drinking culture was different and slowly but surely breweries sold out  to land developers and were pulled down. The Tadcaster breweries still dominate their landscape, albeit with fewer public houses than in the past, but Thwaites was demolished and so, too, eventually was Boddingtons´ razed to the ground. The site is now an NCP Car Park next to The Manchester Arena. A building that had withstood World War Two, IRA bombings and the prison riots at its adjacent neighbour, Strangeways, fell to bulldozer and the wrecking ball. For a while, it seemed as if the brewery chimney might be left standing as some kind of landmark or historic reminder, but that came down brick by brick and these days there is not even an apostrophe to signify that Boddingtons´ was ever really there.

All that is twenty years ago now, and so it must be true what they say about how quickly time flies, because it seems like only yesterday I typed my first ever headline, in dad´s office, one finger tapping one key at a time, and created the alliterative headline,… Best Batters Bewildered Burnley.  United 5 Burnley 1.

Dad had died before we came to Lanzarote so the scientist never applied his sense of taste or smell or sight, nor even his mind-set for chemistry to our island brewed beers over here.

We have three Lanzarote breweries; Los Aliibes in Tachiche, Malpeis in Tinajo and Nao in Arrecife.

The Jable, one of the three varieties of beer produced at Malpeis, is a  5.3% ABV golden ale, representing sand and is described as an easy drinking blond coloured brew. The 6.7% ABV Bermeja is a more challenging and complex pale ale, named after the colour of local soil and brewed using double malt, creating a more bitter aftertaste and the Rofe,  a dark triple malt brew, representing the black volcanic picon which covers local fields, packs rich, sweet, toasted flavours and an ABV of 7%..

The brewery wants to make a beer “with Lanzarote cereal”, but at the moment they can only use 20% of local cereal, because the rest needs to be malted and in Lanzarote there are no malting plants to do this. The brewery imports its cereal from Belgium.

I do have vague memories of my dad interrupting my football reporting to explain to a boy who didn´t want to know that malting is a process that moistens the grain until it germinates. It is then roasted to facilitate the extraction of the sugars from the grain and the resulting malt determines the taste of the beer.

The beer is brewed with tap water, which is pH-corrected and filtered in four stages and the grain is infused in the first cauldron,  and the temperature and cooking time, which are key to the extraction of sugar from the grain, must be carefully controlled. Then, the grain is separated from the broth and brought to a boil. Dad would rattle on about sterilising, cleaning the wort of impurities and removing yeasts that couldn´t add anything to the process. This, he would say, was the moment to add the hops, the flower responsible for flavouring the beer and making the final bitterness concrete. The moment matters, he would almost whisper, reverentially, because the beer changes if the hops are added before or after.

Malpeis brewery is open on Thursdays and Fridays, from 10:00 to 15:00 and Saturday from 11:00 to 15:00. They offer a 5 euro tasting (3 beers paired with chips and olives, cold meats, and artisan cheeses from Tinajo. Check out all these details for yourself, because they are, of course, subject to change.

The brewery owners welcome the emergence of new artisan breweries on the island, believing that competition will lead to improvement.

More info https://www.malpeis.com/

The Agüita beer, produced in Los Aljibes de Tahiche was the first craft beer on the island. It is only sold in barrels and in the two establishments managed by the owners in Tahiche and Puerto del Carmen.

Aguita is a darker, more complex beer, being a recreation of an American Pale Ale and packing the same ABV of 4.8%. The brewery´s TEA brand is an Indian Pale ale, and therefore a darker malted beer, very red in appearance with a bitter, aggressively dry hoppy flavour, also 4.8% ABV. Oktoberfest completes the brewery output and is a slightly cloudy, rich, smooth brew with a bitter kick.  It is based on a traditional Bavarian Marzen beer recipe, with a 4.6% alcohol content.

A couple of years ago, Los Aljibes experimented with growing their own barley but it didn’t really work and is unlikely to be repeated until the brewery can invest in an irrigation system, so, for the time being, they have continued to import the grain from Germany.

More info


Nao Brewery, in the neighbourhood of Naos, is where the circuit of artisan beer made on Lanzarote ends for the moment. Behind a sky-blue door, which used to be a fishing net workshop, hardware store and rehearsal room of Cumbia Ebria, are the beautiful casings of the artisan brewery, Nao, which sells its ‘creatures’ from Monday to Friday, from 9:00 to 16:00, in Calle Foque, 5. (again, check the timings here).

They have created two names of beers: La Gloria (3.5% alcohol), is ´a Berliner weis´ with a touch of acidity that my beer-brewing dad might have thought it was as risky as I think it is delicious. This beer, with hops flavoured with passion fruit, is presented as ´artisan, independent and free.´ So says the label, which tells its story in a few words, with a design full of marine references.

Its companion beer is Capitán, and is my own favourite beer  brewed on the island, being ´a  pale ale with 3 malts.´

At Nao brewery, they insist on incorporating as many local ingredients as possible, to give their beers their identity. For the moment, most of the grain is brought in from Germany., with the hops coming from the United States, Belgium and the United Kingdom.

More info https://naobeer.com/

I´m not sure that dad ever thought he´d see one of his sons drinking beer on Lanzarote, though I remember how he smiled when my wife and I returned from our first ever holiday on Lanzarote to tell  him there was a bar selling Boddingtons´ in Costa Teguise. I think that is what made him at least understand that this island we love is ´civilised.´ I think he´d have enjoyed living here and creating The Cream of Lanzarote.

I think he´d also be proud of how my brother, still living in England, certainly does his bit for the local brewing trade, playing the part of the old man in the corner of the pub, dog at his feet and a pint and his fags on the table, and plates of English tapas.

It might also be true, though, that we really do dance to the time warp.

For Paste magazine has now reported that archaeologists in Egypt have announced the discovery of a find that should be of particular interest to the beer geeks and chemists in the house. They have unearthed a huge mass production brewery, writes reporter Jim Vorel, that may very well have been the first of its kind in the world.

At more than 5,000 years old, the mass production brewery East of the Temple of King Narmer in Abydos, Egypt is far larger and more organized than any other brewery known from the time, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.

The site of the brewery was actually initially discovered more than a century ago by British archaeologists, who were seemingly unable to divine its purpose. The site was then lost, until its rediscovery in 2018 by archaeologists from a joint Egyptian-American mission.

Speaking with Matthew Adams, archaeologist and research scholar at New York University, CBS News reports that the site contains at least eight individual brewery structures, each of which contains numerous installations for large scale pottery vats that effectively served as mash tuns for beer brewing. Kilning facilities also existed on site, suggesting that the Egyptians were preserving grain and possibly creating their own malt for beer. Total production at the site could have been more than 20,000 litres in each batch, which is a hell of a lot of beer for 3,100 B.C.

´That’s enough to give every person in a 40,000-seat sports stadium a pint,” said Adams to CBS. “This is Egypt’s, and perhaps the world’s, earliest example of truly industrial-scale beer production.´

Of course, as with most ancient beer stories, we have to keep in mind that the product being produced here would bear little similarity to what we think of as beer today.

For one, it wouldn’t have been hopped because hops weren’t used in beer until at least the 9th century A.D. Likewise, with no knowledge of yeast cultivation, these beers would have been allowed to ferment solely with the live yeast in the air, likely giving them a noticeable tang and fairly modest ABVs. Still, that is one impressively industrial brewing operation, illustrating the wealth of resources available to the Egyptian pharaohs.

Adams and company speculate that while some of that beer was of course consumed, much of it was used in large-scale offerings, sacrifices and funerary rites, with kings being buried with massive amounts of beer.

Nevertheless this would have been a brewery that we could say, as Boddingtons´ once produced ´The Cream of Manchester” in the twentieth century, produced the cream of Egypt five thousand years earlier.

I bet they never thought of advertising it on the telly, but I also bet they knocked the brewery down eventually, and the chimney, and built a camel-house on top of it !

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