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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Bye bye my first beery love

From a press release today that's been posted on the British Guild of Beer Writers website:

"Drinks giant Carlsberg has announced plans to close its historic brewery site in West Yorkshire with the loss of 170 jobs. The company blamed falling consumption, and higher duties for the decision to shut its Leeds site by 2011. Consultation with the workers has started and Carlsberg said it would seek to redeploy staff. There has been a brewery on site in the city since 1822 when it used to produce just Tetley beers. The brewery now produces Tetley and Carlsberg and is one of two owned by Carlsberg. The other site is at Northampton."

I've got little insight to offer here, but I'm gutted. I grew up in Yorkshire before leaving home to go to university in St Andrews. Trips between home and Uni usually involved getting the little local train from Barnsley to Leeds (there was a sign saying 'home of Tetleys' as you pulled into Leeds station), then the train from Leeds to York, then the intercity up to Scotland. Every time I was leaving home I'd stop at Leeds station and go for a pint of Tetleys in the little pub just outside the main entrance (now a M&S Simply Food). Coming back, I'd stop there again for half an hour before getting the train home. There was no decent beer in Scotland at that time and during term I confined myself to Tennents Lager. My ritual was about savouring a gorgeous, nutty, rich pint, and it was about thinking about my relationship with Yorkshire while standing on the point between past and future, my heritage and upbringing and what it meant to be leaving that behind. In other words, the perfect beer moment.

There are brown and white heritage road signs all around Leeds (a city with a thirving craft beer and real ale scene) directing you to Tetleys Brewery Wharf, which conjure up an image of a living, breathing, beer experience - a museum to a much-loved brand almost 200 years old and a powerful symbol of regional identity and pride, not just for me, but for thousands of Yorkshiremen and women. The reality is a development of 'luxury apartments' and identikit chain restaurants, behind which you can stand at a chain fence and watch lorries loading up on beer. The brewery has no visitors centre and doesn't officially run tours.

Tetleys now is a shadow of its former self. It's hilarious for the brewer to blame falling sales when they haven't spent a penny advertising the brand since God knows when, when they dropped the word 'Tetley' from the corporate 'Carlsberg-Tetley' moniker, when http://www.carlsberg.co.uk/ makes no mention of Tetleys whatsoever and when there is no corresponding stand-alone website for the Tetleys brand. None of this suggests Tetleys will be made welcome at its new home in Northampton. We're talking about a top five brand in a multi-million pound market, and it isn't even worth a bloody website - just how much contempt can you show a brand you're supposed to be looking after?

But none of Carlsberg's actions - or lack of them - are responsible for the brand's decline and the resultant brewery closure. Of course they aren't. It's falling consumption and higher duty that are to blame. In other words, it's the government's fault, your fault and my fault that one of the most popular ale brands in the UK takes a giant step closer to extinction.

Thanks for clearing that up, Carlsberg.

(And thanks for making me sound like a die-hard CAMRA fundamentalist. I really appreciate that.)

8 comments:

arthURcaskey said...

The era of inner city Victorian breweries is coming to a close (or has already done so) — like anything that means something to someone it’s the end of another aspect of one’s past, but maybe it’s the equivalent of your passage from Yorkshire to college — we’re at a turning point where a new brewing industry, smaller, less widespread but more innovative and caring, is about to emerge.

Jeff Pickthall said...

Tetley's was ruined for me in '91 when it was lowered in strength and reduced in flavour. I loved it before that. The brand owners allowed it to fall into the "taste convergence" trap.

Fatman said...

Well put Pete. Although I come from the right side of the hill lived in a Tetley pub outside Leeds when I was a young, slim, man. It was great.

All brands/products have a life cycle but it is a shame to see old favourites go.

At least we've got John Smiths smooth.

BLTP said...

It's a big stupid shame, shame on carlsberg, shame on leeds council, shame on the government. Local beer should be protected. more of the same over here
http://teninchwheeler.blogspot.com/

David Jones said...

There is a standalone website for the Tetley's: http://www.dontdothingsbyhalf.com/. If you dig about on the trade section of the Carlsberg site, there is a link to it there.

But, they appear to have done absolutely no search engine optimisation for this site, which is mostly Flash anyway and is primarily focussed on their rugby sponsorship. If you do a Google search for Tetleys, Tetley Bitter, or Tetley's Smooth Flow, this site doesn't appear at all. Way to go Carlsberg marketing people!

Boak said...

I've never had cask Tetley's, so could't comment on decline in standards etc, but I am shocked at the lack of effort put into marketing it, particularly at this point in time when sales of cask are on the up.

Semi Dweller said...

No decent beer in Scotland? I suspect you were at St Andrews at more or less the same time as me (early 90s right?) - surely you came across decently kept niche Scottish beer is great bars like "The Cellar" on Bell Street?

Mr G. said...

The other reason its going is that its inner city location is worth millions. I think I'm correct in saying that Leeds City Council announced in recent plans that 'if' the brewery were ever to go, that the land be earmarked for residential and retail units. Thus probably doubling its value with a single swoop of its thoughtless pen.
The loss is tempered by the fact that the beer itself turned crap a long while back. I live in Leeds and can't remember the last time I bought a pint of the stuff. Always tasted better (creamier) in Sheffield for some reason... can anyone explain that?