Thursday, April 03, 2008

Brakspear, double-dropped again


Forbes reports that large British regional brewer Marston's of Burton-on-Trent has bought out Refresh UK of Oxfordshire, which currently brews Brakspear and Wychwood ("Afraid of a little flavor, lager boy?").

It's a double uh-oh, because Brakspear had been the world's only brewer with a double-drop system. On my few trips to the UK, its buttery beers were some of my search-out favorites.

Brakspear, a nearly 225 year-old tradition in Henley-on-Thames, closed its brewery in 2002 in order to concentrate on real estate.
The double-drop system was resuscitated a couple of years later at Wychwood Brewery, under the Brakspear name.

On a summer evening in 2005, I was on a brews cruise in Annapolis, Maryland. A schooner goes out for a 3 hour sunset cruise; I, as a Clipper City representative, talk about the beers being served. Tough gig, huh?

I sat next to a couple from upstate New York. We began talking about cask ales in the US. "You probably have never heard of our favorite beer," they told me. It was, of course, Brakspear. Small world.

More recently, I met a couple of chocolatiers in South Carolina. Their prior occupation? Publicans of a Brakspear tied house in the UK.

Will Brakspear and its double-drop fermentation system survive now? Will it matter now, ownership being separated from authenticity by several degrees?

The new owner of the brand, Marston's, itself has a storied history and a unique fermentation system: the Burton union.

I have been in several stateside bars, however, in which I have seen filtered, kegged beer pulled through ersatz beer engines as if the beer were from a cask. The beer was Marston's ... even though the arrangement might have been arranged by the importer, wholesaler, or the pub retailer, independent of Marston's.

Such marketing gimmickry does not necessarily bode well for Brakspear.

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