A canned history of Carling...by Roger Protz

By Roger Protz

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Related tags Carling Beer

A canned history of Carling...by Roger Protz
I returned home from work to find four cans of Carling in the fridge. "What are they doing in there?" I asked, close to hysteria.

I returned home from work to find four cans of Carling in the fridge. "What are they doing in there?" I asked, close to hysteria.

My son told me he had some friends round and my wife generously gave him cash to get some beer in. "But why Carling?" I asked. "Are you trying to ruin my reputation?"

He explained: "I didn't have much money and it was so cheap that it seemed a good buy." I referred him to my recent column about cheap supermarket lager and how global brewers are driving quality beer out of the market.

He was unabashed and said: "Dad, we didn't finish the Carling. It's terrible. My friends brought lots of Stella and that's much better."

I retired to a darkened room to contemplate the choice between retirement and suicide and, from the recesses of my mind, recalled a curious incident from the mid-1990s that involved Carling Black Label, as the beer was then called. Out of the blue, I received a phone call from a PR firm in London and was told that Bass, still involved in brewing, wanted to discuss a possible project with me. I was intrigued but was told the matter was highly confidential and nothing could be said until I met a Bass executive in Newbury.

I took the bait, assuming that my small talent might be required to work on a project involving Draught Bass or another cask beer. I met the woman from the PR agency and we made small talk on the train to Newbury. A taxi whisked us to an enormous plate glass block where we were taken to a huge office.

The Bass executive sat me down with a

coffee and told me that Carling Black Label was the biggest-selling beer brand in Britain and had such a fascinating history that he felt a book should be written about it. My coffee cup and saucer rattled uncontrollably in my hand as he added the dread words: "And we think you are just the man to write it."

I gulped as I saw a large fee disappearing down the plughole, then said: "There's only one small problem." "What's that?" the man from Bass asked.

"I have never knowingly drunk Carling in my life," I told him. A terrible silence gripped the office. The man from Bass gave the PR woman a look I feared would turn her into a pillar of salt. Then he apologised for wasting my time and asked if I would mind finding my way back to the station while he "had a word with his colleague" - a polite way of saying he was about to administer a right royal rollicking.

He was correct: the Carling story is

fascinating and I would have enjoyed writing about it, though I don't think my conclusions or views on the merits of the product would have been quite what Bass wanted. Back in the 1960s, it was Carling that turned British brewing on its head. All the old certainties of regional brewers were swept aside as Eddie Taylor, the Canadian owner of Carling, arrived in Britain with a mission to switch drinkers' affections to cold lager.

In just 12 months he bought 12 breweries in England and Scotland and added four more in 1961 to form Northern United Breweries. This rapidly became Charrington United Breweries when a famous London company joined the group, followed by Tennents in Scotland and finally mighty Bass in 1967. Bass Charrington, as the group was renamed, owned 10,000 pubs and breweries throughout the country.

Other regional brewers rushed to merge and switch to lager production. The result was Allied Breweries, Whitbread, Watneys, Courage and S&N, with a rash of fake European and Scandinavian lagers. Remember Skol?

British brewing would never be the same again. Meanwhile, there are still four cans of Carling in my fridge. Do you think I could sell them on E-bay?


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