The first real beer I ever drank was Tetley’s. When I was 18 (if asked), together with John Smith’s, these were beers that were not special in any way other than that they were ours. We had no idea what cask conditioning was. We didn’t have a clue about CAMRA. We just knew that in the pubs round our way, if you ordered Smith’s or Tetley’s from the handpull rather than the tap, it was the best beer you’d get.
Every time I left for university, and every time I arrived back home at the end of term, I’d pause at Leeds and have a pint in the pub, a limbo between two worlds, a reminder of my identity. If you’d asked me why it was the best beer in the world, I’d have said, “Well, it’s because it’s brewed in Yorkshire.”
Twenty-five years later I was living in London and not drinking Tetley’s any more. It had changed, and so had I. But I was so heartbroken when owner Carlsberg announced it was closing the Tetley brewery in Leeds that fellow Yorkshireman Steve Wilkinson and I got drunk and hatched a plan to open a Tetley’s Heritage Brewery in the city and carry on brewing the cask version there. The plan never stood a chance but, to their credit, Carlsberg gave us a meeting and actually sat and listened to our mad plan.
A couple of years later I was in a pub in Leeds and someone bought me a pint of Tetley’s. “No, that’s not Tetley’s,” I said, after looking at it and tasting it. “There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just not Tetley’s.”
I wasn’t trying to be an arse. I wasn’t making some snarky point about how it was now brewed by Marston’s. I just genuinely didn’t recognise it as the beer I’d grown up with.
Overjoyed at the news
So I was overjoyed at the news earlier this month that Carlsberg and Leeds Brewery (which was set up in part to fill the void left by Tetley’s closure) are going to collaborate to brew a new – or rather, very old and revived – Tetley’s beer in Yorkshire.
The plan shares strong similarities with the one Steve and I came up with years ago, save for the small, trifling detail that Carlsberg’s partner in this is a very successful, award-winning brewery in the middle of Leeds, as opposed to two blokes with dreams and a few PowerPoint slides.
To its drinkers, it matters where a beer is brewed. Back in the day when I worked on Stella Artois, its drinkers would actively seek out ‘proper French Stella’ rather than the crap that was brewed over here. Funnily enough, the Belgian lager is brewed in France as well as the UK. When we did blind taste tests between the two Continental versions and those brewed in the UK at Salmesbury and Magor, there was no statistically significant difference between any of them. But I still remember the chalkboards outside Oddbins in the brand’s heyday which read, ‘Proper Stella – not British brewed.’
Packaged Doom Bar
A couple of years ago, I was invited on the BBC Radio 4 consumer programme You and Yours to talk about the scandal of packaged Doom Bar being brewed at the main MolsonCoors brewery in Burton rather than the brand’s home of Rock in Cornwall. I think I probably upset both the brewer and its detractors when I said that having seen the two breweries, I suspected the stuff brewed in Burton was actually better quality than that brewed in Cornwall, but that this misses the point: when someone, for reasons best known to themselves, decides to buy a Doom Bar, they’re not just buying a beer, they’re buying part of Cornwall. So they’re going to feel cheated if they discover they’re buying part of Burton instead.
Beer marketeers know this. Provenance has been possibly the most used tool in beer brand-building over the last 40 years. If you spend millions of pounds selling us beer on the basis of where it comes from, how can we be anything other than upset if we find out it doesn’t come from there?
So thank you Carlsberg and Leeds Brewery for bringing Tetley’s home – at least in part. I hope you kick off a trend that you and your peers will follow up – especially with all your so-called ‘world beers’.