Today is the 50th birthday — the Big 5-O — of Pete Brown, author of Shakespeare’s Pub and Hops and Glory. Pete was also the winner of the UK Beer Writer of the Year in 2010. I had a chance to meet and spend some time with Pete before and at GBBF in 2009. He’s a kindred spirit, especially when it comes to neo-prohibitionist shenanigans, and writes one of the most engaging beer blogs out there. Join me in wishing Pete a very happy birthday.
Today is the birthday of Francis Showering (July 10, 1912-September 5, 1995). Showering was an English brewer. His family company, Showerings, invented Babycham, a light, sparkling perry, launched in 1953 and originally marketed as “genuine champagne perry”.
Here’s Showering’s obituary from The Independent in 1995:
Francis Showering was a remarkable man who achieved extraordinary success in the drinks industry over many years. He was still in harness as chairman of the drinks company Brothers Drinks at the time of his death, aged 83.
Born at Shepton Mallet, in Somerset, in 1912, Francis Showering was one of four brothers whose first employment at an early age was with their parents, who were innkeepers in Shepton Mallet, brewing beer and cider to their own requirements and for sale to other licensed houses in the district. Business was highly competitive. As a small concern they were overshadowed by the regional and national brewers and were also unable to sell their ciders against the national brands. During the Second World War they kept the business going in spite of shortage of raw materials and somehow built up a delivery fleet of mainly elderly vehicles which were sustained by an innovative transport department.
After the war they again suffered the frustration of lacking outlets for their products, and Francis Showering, by then managing director, turned to Perry as a potential for breaking into the brewer-dominated licensed trade. Sparkling Champagne Perry in baby bottles became the brand Babycham, and in due course became the drinks industry’s marketing success of the century.
First, however, it had to be established as a quality product and Showering excelled in the meticulous supervision of the production process to give an attractive sparkling drink well packaged and with a long shelf-life. Marketing and customer service received his equally uncompromising attention, with the result that, after extensive testing in local markets, Babycham was launched nationally in the early 1950s and became a cult drink for women in pubs and clubs. With the sprightly little Bambi deer symbol, Babycham glasses and cocktail cherry, this was exactly the drink that millions of women were waiting for. The simple slogan “I’d love a Babycham” said it all, and they loved it enough to consume over 4 billion bottles in the next 30 years.
The Showerings offered shares to the public in 1959. The issue was over- subscribed. Not only did it increase the wealth of the family but the creation of a public company gave Francis Showering and his brothers the means of acquiring other companies in the drinks industry. William Gaymer, Vine Products, Whiteways, and Britvic fruit juices were among those acquisitions, and the largest came in 1966 with the takeover, after a considerable battle, of Harvey’s of Bristol which brought with it world-wide interests in wines and spirits.
In 1968 Allied Breweries, already much involved in the drinks industry apart from brewing, made an agreed bid for Showerings Vine Products and Whiteways Ltd of pounds 108m. Thus the original shareholders in the Showerings company were rewarded yet again, and Francis Showering could take all credit for that.
Initially, the marriage was not an easy one. The different cultures of the two groups had to be reconciled and that took several years, but in no way inhibited the continued growth of the combined company. Showering’s nephew Keith Showering (later Sir Keith) became chairman in 1975. After seven years in office he died suddenly in 1982, when Francis became vice- chairman and continued to support the company in every possible way.
Francis Showering was a man of great determination and strength of character. The success of Babycham entitled him to have uncompromising views on the production and marketing of drinks generally, and the activities of the group in particular, and he could be relied upon to make those views known. Yet he was also a good listener, and when convinced of the loyalty of his colleagues gave it back in full measure.
He was also generous to the extreme. His loyalty and generosity to Shepton Mallet are evident in the modern development of the town centre, at his own expense. One of his great pleasures was entertaining at his house on the Beaulieu River, and aboard his motor cruiser Silver Cavalier, which gave him further opportunities to pursue perfection in maintenance and navigation.
Showering was appointed CBE in 1982; it was a reflection of his work for the community in West Country agriculture and at Shepton Mallet as well as his success in building a whole business structure on that little bottle of Babycham.
Sir Keith Showering had two daughters and four sons. In his closing years, through the formation with these four great-nephews of a new drinks company, Brothers Drinks, which he chaired, Francis Showering saw and encouraged, the possibility of an experience for them such as he and his brothers had had, and so much enjoyed.
From left; Ralph and Keith Showering, R. N. Coate, Herbert, Francis and Arthur Showering, at the time of the ‘merger’ of the two cider makers.
This is a short history of Babycham from his Wikipedia page:
In the 1940s, the company developed a process to produce perry — a form of cider made from fermented pear juice – and created a low-alcohol sparking drink that was christened Babycham. The new drink was marketed mainly at young women, and sold in small bottles to be served in a champagne saucer – “the genuine champagne perry sparkling in its own glamorous glass”. After disputes with French champagne produces, including a court case in 1978, H P Bulmer Ltd v J Bollinger SA which held that marketing of a similar sparkling cider was not confusing, the reference to champagne was eventually prohibited by EU rules on protected designation of origin.
The drink became very popular, with its advertising slogan “I’d love a Babycham” and logo of a small deer. To serve the burgeoning demand, the company bought pear orchards across the West Midlands, and planted new pear orchards in Somerset. Output in Shepton Mallet reached 108,000 bottles an hour in 1966, and new plants were opened in Ireland and Belgium.
Today is the 66th birthday of Martyn Cornell. Martyn is an English beer writer who writes online at the Zythophile. Martyn is hands down my favorite brewing historian, and among my very favorite beer writers. His scholarship, research and skill are second to none. I had the pleasure of meeting him and sharing a few pints during a trip to Burton-on-Trent a few years ago, where we met up in London before taking the train north to Marston’s. Join me in wishing Martyn a very happy birthday.
Today is the 58th birthday of Steve Parkes. Steve owns and runs the American Brewers Guild, which trains brewers. I’ve known Steve for a number of years now and he’s one of my favorite Brits in the industry. I had the pleasure of writing a profile of him for Beer Advocate magazine a few years ago, from which I learned the following. Steve studied brewing sciences at Heriot-Wyatt University in Edinburgh and worked at several small UK breweries before moving to Maryland to open British Brewing (later known as Oxford Brewing). He then moved to California and created Red Nectar for Humboldt Brewing, which is also where he caught the teaching bug. Eventually buying the ABG school in 1999, several years ago making the leap to running the school full-time. In 2009, Steve was awarded the Russell Schehrer Award for Innovation in Brewing by the Brewers Association at CBC in Boston. Steve said at the time. “It’s gratifying when someone notices what you’re been doing every day. It just feels tremendous, like standing on the shoulder of giants. The willingness to share is the best part of this industry. I love being part of a working community that thinks like that. It makes you a better person.” Join me in wishing Steve a very happy birthday.
Today would have been Michael Jackson’s 76th birthday. I first met Michael in the early 1990s, shortly after my first beer book was published. He is all but single-handedly responsible for the culture of better beer that exists today. He began writing about good beer in the 1960s and 70s and his writing has influenced (and continues to influence) generations of homebrewers and commercial brewers, many of whom were inspired to start their own breweries by his words. There are few others, if any, that have been so doggedly persistent and passionate about spreading the word about great beer. I know some of my earliest knowledge and appreciation of beer, and especially its history and heritage, came from Michael’s writings. Michael passed away in August 2007, ten years ago. I still miss him, and I suspect I’m not the only one. A few years ago, J.R. Richards’ new documentary film about Michael Jackson, Beer Hunter: The Movie, debuted, which I helped a tiny bit with as a pioneer sponsor.
I did an article a few years ago for Beer Connoisseur, for their Innovator’s Series, entitled Michael Jackson: The King of Beer Writers, A personal look back at the man who made hunting for beer a career. I reached out to a number of people who also knew Michael for their remembrances as well as my own, and as a result I’m pretty pleased with the results (although the original draft was almost twice as long).
I’ll again be playing some jazz and having a pint of something yummy in his honor, which has become my tradition for March 27, which I’ve also started declaring to be “Beer Writers Day.” Join me in drinking a toast to Michael Jackson, the most influential modern beer writer who’s ever lived.
At the Great Divide Brewing’s media party in Denver over fifteen years ago.
On stage accepting the first beer writing awards from the Brewers Association with Jim Cline, GM of Rogue, Stan Hieronymus, who writes Real Beer’s Beer Therapy among much else, and Ray Daniels, formerly of the Brewers Association.
At GABF in 2006, still wearing the same glasses. But my, oh my, have I changed. Sheesh.
Today is the 39th birthday of Jeff Bell, whose alter ego was, until several years ago, Stonch, one of England’s best bloggers. He retired from blogging to concentrate on his new job as landlord of a London pub, The Gunmakers, in Clerkenwell, a village in the heart of London. I stopped by to meet Jeff on my way back from a trip to Burton-on-Trent years ago. And several years back, I saw Jeff several times during GBBF week. But later, the blogging started up again, and he moved on from that pub, and for a time he was the landlord of the Finborough Arms in Earl’s Court, next to the Finborough Theatre, but he’s moved on from there, and for awhile was tramping around Italy as an “Englishman living in Tuscany.” But he’s back in England, and has taken up residence in the East Sussex town of Rye as the publican and proprietor of the Ypres Castle Inn. Join me in wishing Jeff a very happy birthday.
Jeff Bell, a.k.a. Stonch, at The Gunmakers Pub in central London.
Today is the birthday of Robert Harry Beale Neame, though he was generally known as Bobby (February 25, 1934- ). He joined his family’s company, Shephard Neame in 1956, and in 1971 became the chairman of the company, a position he held until retiring in 2005, when he was named president.
Shepherd Neame is an English independent regional brewery founded in 1698 in Faversham, Kent. Evidence has been uncovered showing brewing has taken place continuously on the current site since at least 1573. It is the oldest brewer in Great Britain and has been family-owned since 1864. The brewery produces a range of cask ales and filtered beers. Production is around 281,000 brewers’ barrels a year. It owns 338 pubs & hotels predominantly in Kent, London and South East England.
From the Neame Family Research:
The next generation faced the same difficulties in the 1960s. Bobby Neame came to work at the Brewery in 1956. In September 1957 he became a director when Madeleine Finn, due to retire, decided to step down. Jasper, his father was ill at the time, but Bobby was back at work in the following January. By the September 1969 AGM he had widened his range considerably and it was said that he was helping in the Brewery, and was in charge of the free trade, advertising etc.
Laurie’s son, Colin Roger Beale Neame joined the company in October 1959, to help his father in the bottled beer department, a month after Rex Neame had joined in Managing ‘Queen Court’. At the September 1961 AGM after serving a probationary period on the Board, they both became full members. As the production director, he was in charge of the more technical side of the brewing business, making improvements in the bottling plant and keg beer, by utilizing many labour saving techniques. He also introduced a small biochemical laboratory employing a laboratory technician.
Jasper died on 18 Jan 1961 at the early age of 56, Laurie then becoming sole managing director. He survived his brother for another nine years and continued his interest in production.
Following is his father’s footsteps, Bobby took particular interest in the sales side of the business. This became especially important once the larger brewers started investing heavily in advertising, especially on commercial television. Bobby then became marketing manager in charge of “improving the image of the Company in the eyes of the public”, showing greater attention to publicity, with advertising on Southern Television in 1970.
In 1968 the Cobb brewing company in Margate (with its family connection) again came on the market, together with 38 licensed premises. The Cobbs found it increasingly difficult to survive independently after the increasing success of the Butlins hotels group took over much of its trade. It was taken over by the Whitbreads in Januray 1968 and ceased to brew in the following October. This now left Shepherd Neame as ‘the last independent brewery in Kent.’
On 19 Dec 1970, Laurie died suddenly and unexpectedly at the end of the day, after all the excitement when his second son, Stuart, was married. In March 1971 Bobby became chairman and Colin managing director.
I love the stained glass windows showing the brewery’s history.
Today is the birthday of Samuel Charles Whitbread (February 16, 1796-May 22, 1879). “He was the grandson of Samuel Whitbread,” who founded the brewery Whitbread & Co. Samuel C. “represented the constituency of Middlesex (1820–1830) and was High Sheriff of Bedfordshire in 1831. His interests were astronomy and meteorology. He served as president of the Royal Meteorological Society from 1850 to 1853. In June 1854 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.”
Here is a portion of his biography from the History of Parliament:
b. 16 Feb. 1796, 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Samuel Whitbread† (d. 1815) of Cardington and Southill, Beds. and Elizabeth, da. of Lt.-Gen. Sir Charles Grey of Falloden, Northumb.; bro. of William Henry Whitbread*. educ. by private tutor Richard Salmon 1802-7; Sunninghill, Berks. (Rev. Frederick Neve) 1807; Eton 1808; St. John’s, Camb. 1814. m. (1) 28 June 1824, Juliana (d. 13 Oct. 1858), da. of Maj.-Gen. Henry Otway Trevor (afterwards Brand), 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da. (1 d.v.p.); (2) 18 Feb. 1868, Lady Mary Stephenson Keppel, da. of William Charles, 4th earl of Albemarle, wid. of Henry Frederick Stephenson*, s.p. suc. bro. to family estates 1867. d. 27 May 1879. Offices Held Sheriff, Beds. 1831-2.
Whitbread, a member of the brewing dynasty, was raised in London and Bedfordshire, where his father, a leading Foxite Whig, inherited the family’s recently purchased estate of Southill in 1796. His parents’ favourite, he was educated with his elder brother William and sent to Cambridge to prepare him for a career in the church or politics. Little is known of his reaction to his father’s suicide in July 1815. His uncle Edward Ellice*, who now oversaw the Whitbreads’ troubled finances, dismissed the brothers’ private tutor Sam Reynolds, who ‘goes about as an idle companion to the boys’, and pressed their continued attendance at Cambridge. Whitbread joined Brooks’s, 22 May 1818, and became a trustee the following month of his father’s will, by which he received £5,000 and £500 a year from the age of 21, £5,000 in lieu of the church livings of Southill and Purfleet (Essex) reserved for him, and was granted the right to reside at Cardington when the house fell vacant. William came in for Bedford at the general election of 1818 and Samuel was now suggested for Westminster and Middlesex, where he nominated the Whig veteran George Byng* in a speech proclaiming his own credentials as a candidate-in-waiting. Encouraged by his mother, who took a house in Kensington Gore after William came of age, he fostered his connections with the Westminster reformers, purchased a £10,000 stake in the brewery and in 1819 joined their controlling partnership, which was then worth £490,000 ‘on paper’ and dominated by his father’s partners Sir Benjamin Hobhouse†, William Wilshere of Hitchin and the Martineau and Yallowley families. Maria Edgeworth, who now met Whitbread for the first time, described him as a ‘good, but too meek looking … youth’.
Whitbread grasped the opportunity to contest Middlesex at the general election of 1820, when, backed by his relations, brewing partners, the Nonconformists and the Whig-radical coalition campaigning in Westminster (which he denied), he defeated the sitting Tory William Mellish in a 12-day poll to come in with Byng. His lacklustre brother had shown none of their father’s talent and energy, but Samuel impressed with his enthusiasm and appealed throughout to his father’s reputation as a reformer and advocate of civil and religious liberty. Ellice praised his common sense and popularity and surmised that Parliament ‘may save him by throwing him into society and engaging him in politics, although possibly the situation he will occupy will be rather too prominent for either his abilities or experience’. He later informed Lord Grey:
Sam has exceeded all our expectations … He has on every occasion conducted himself with skill and feeling, and shown a quickness and talent, which I did not give him credit for, and if he will only apply himself with activity and industry to the business of the county, he may retain the seat as long as he pleases.
Samuel C. later in life.
While most of the rest of his biography concerns political machinations, toward the end, there’s some more about his life outside politics:
Out of Parliament, Whitbread acted to combat the ‘Swing’ riots in Bedfordshire in December 1830, attended the Bedford reform meeting in January 1831, and addressed the Middlesex meeting at the Mermaid with Charles Shaw Lefevre, 21 Mar. He declared for the Grey ministry’s reform bill, notwithstanding the omission from it of the ballot. As sheriff, he assisted his brother and the Bedford reformers in the county and borough at the May 1831 general election, when both constituencies were contested. He continued to promote reform and the ministerial bill at district meetings in Middlesex, where he turned down a requisition to contest the new Tower Hamlets constituency at the 1832 general election. A lifelong Liberal, Whitbread did not stand for Parliament again, but from 1852 took a keen interest in his son Samuel’s political career as Member for Bedford. His health remained erratic, and he increasingly devoted his time to business and scientific pursuits. As a fellow since 1849 of the Royal Astronomical Society, and treasurer, 1857-78, he built the Howard observatory at Cardington (1850), and became a founder member that year of the British Meteorological Society and a fellow of the Royal Society in 1854. In 1867 he succeeded his childless brother William to the family estates and as head of the brewery and trusts, and in 1868, almost ten years after Juliana’s death, he married into the Albermarle family, making Cardington available for Samuel, who had inherited his uncle’s shares in Whitbreads’. He died in May 1879 at his town house in St. George’s Square, survived by his second wife (d. 20 Sept. 1884) and four of his six children. According to his obituary in the Bedford Mercury:
in the world at large, Mr. Whitbread did not figure greatly. He was fond of sport, but not to a base degree; his caution prevented him making rash ventures, which often end unhappily. As a walker he was rather famous; it was a matter of amusement to his friends to see how in the vigour of his manhood and even of late years he used to walk down interviewers who bored him … The anecdotes of this species of pedestrianism are neither few nor far between, and the richest of them are those in which the bores were portly and ponderous to a degree. It may be imagined therefore that he was humorous; and so he was. He was good company everywhere. Political economists might have praised his habits of economy, for his chief fault was his desire never to waste anything.
His will, dated 30 Nov. 1875, was proved in London, 24 July 1879. By it he confirmed Samuel’s succession to the entailed estates and several family settlements, ensured that the non-entailed estates, including the brewery’s Chiswell Street premises, passed to his younger son William, and provided generously for other family members.
The Whitbread Brewery in Chiswell Street, 1792, painted by George Garrard.
Today is the 39th birthday of Logan Plant, founder and brewmaster of Beavertown Brewery, which he started in 2011. I met Logan first at the Firestone-Walker Invitational Beer Festival a few years ago and have run into a couple of times since both there and at the RateBeer Best Festival. He’s a very friendly and talented person and his beer is great, and it’s always been a pleasure to hang out with him. Please join me in wishing Logan a very happy birthday.
July 13, 1568 is often given as the date that the Dean of St Paul, Alexander Nowell invented the beer bottle. It’s almost certain that’s not correct. If you were writing a work of history you’d ignore what you couldn’t confirm, but if you’re only commemorating the event it’s as good a day as any to do so. The event in question was another fishing trip. Apparently, the theologian was quite the avid fisherman and “a keen angler.” Nowell’s contemporary, Izaak Walton — the author of The Compleat Angler — remarked of him that “this good man was observed to spend a tenth part of his time in angling; and also (for I have conversed with those which have conversed with him) to bestow a tenth part of his revenue, and usually all his fish, amongst the poor that inhabited near to those rivers in which it was caught; saying often, ‘that charity gave life to religion.'”
As for inventing the beer bottle, credit was apparently not given until after his death, by English churchman and historian Thomas Fuller, who wrote. “Without offence it may be remembered, that leaving a bottle of ale, when fishing, in the grass, he found it some days after, no bottle, but a gun, such the sound at the opening thereof: and this is believed (casualty is mother of more inventions than industry) the original of bottled ale in England.”
The best account, as usual, undoubtedly comes from Martyn Cornell on his Zythophile blog, in his article, A Short History of Bottled Beer:
While Nowell was parish priest at Much Hadham in Hertfordshire, around 20 miles north of London, in the early years of Elizabeth I, it is said that he went on a fishing expedition to the nearby River Ash, taking with him for refreshment a bottle filled with home brewed ale. When Nowell went home he left the full bottle behind in the river-bank grass. According to Thomas Fuller’s History of the Worthies of Britain, published a hundred years later, when Nowell returned to the river-bank a few days later and came across the still-full bottle, “he found no bottle, but a gun, such was the sound at the opening thereof; and this is believed (causality is mother of more inventions than industry) the original of bottled ale in England.”
The ale, of course, had undergone a secondary fermentation in the bottle, building up carbon dioxide pressure so that it gave a loud pop when Nowell pulled the cork out. Such high-condition ale must have been a novelty to Elizabethan drinkers, who knew only the much flatter cask ales and beers. However, Fuller’s story is fun, but it seems unlikely Nowell really was the person who invented bottled beer: it seems more than probable that brewers were experimenting generally with storing beer in glass bottles in the latter half of the 16th century, though there is no apparent evidence of commercial bottling until the second half of the 17th century, only bottling by domestic brewers.
Part of the problem was that the hand-blown glass bottles of the time could not take the strain of the CO2 pressure. Gervaise Markham, writing in 1615, advised housewife brewers that when bottling ale “you should put it into round bottles with narrow mouths, and then, stopping them close with corks, set them in a cold cellar up to the waist in sand, and be sure that the corks be fast tied with strong pack thread, for fear of rising out and taking vent, which is the utter spoil of the ale.”
(There is, incidentally, a garbled version of the “bottle as gun” tale which seems to have materialised in the late 19th century, and which conflates the bottled ale story with another about Nowell fleeing England in a hurry in the reign of Queen Mary, after he received a warning that his enemy Bishop Bonner, known as “Bloody Bonner”, was out to arrest him for heresy. For some reason, in this version of the story Nowell is called “Newell”.)
And this account is from Just Another Booze Blog:
It was a pleasant July day in 1568. Alexander Nowell, the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, in London, decided he wanted to do some fishing down by the river. He packed up all his fishing gear and tackle, the wife packed him a ham and cheese sandwich, and he grabbed his night crawlers and the new fishing lure he bought off of the Outdoor Channel. He was all set to go when he realized, what would go great with fishing? A beer! Because fishing without beer is like driving without beer. It’s just no fun. So he stopped by the corner pub on his way to the river and had them fill a glass bottle up with beer for him. He made sure they sealed it up good and tight with a cork so his horse wouldn’t get pulled over for an open container.
When done fishing, he accidentally left the still half full bottle on the river bank. Several days later (July 13th) he returned to do some more fishing, because he needed an excuse to get away from the wife for a while. He saw his old beer on the ground and thought “man, I could really go for some for that right now.” When he went to drink it, the cork opened with a loud bang (the beer had fermented further over the past few days). He found it to be extra fizzy and quite delicious.