Friday, 29 May 2009

Wet brewery

What a great term. I heard it for the first time the other week when being shown around Hall and Woodhouse (right) in Dorset by head brewer Toby Heasden, who said they weren’t one. A ‘wet brewery’ used to be one where there was a barrel of beer (usually the weakest in the range) set up for staff to enjoy — though I don’t know if that was all day or on a special day. Probably not all of them, especially the lorry drivers and fork-lift operatives, but it was one of those perks that are slowly disappearing (one of the bigger breweries used to give their workers a ration of cans). When I went round Palmers in 2001 (I think) there was a barrel of their now defunct ‘Boys’ Bitter’ Bridport PA set up in one area — that’s no longer the case. Meanwhile, the old Wandsworth Young’s brewery had a tasting room where the brewery’s pensioners used to go for a pint or two, and sometimes be joined by the head brewer (the last Wandsworth head brewer Ken Don showed me the place on a visit in about 2001) and probably Sir John Young. And over in the Czech Republic do Skoda car workers still have non-alcoholic beer available, as was related to me in 2005? There are obviously issues about your staff on the sauce all day, but disappearance of the ‘wet brewery’ is yet another sign of the decline of beer at the centre of people’s lives, along with the changing nature of the pub and the marginalisation of mild (btw: which genius thought up May as the ‘month of mild’ — it’s sunny out there and the last thing I want is a mild).


  1. When I worked briefly at the old Holes brewery (then part of Courage) in 1975 that was "wet".

    There was a small cellar with a variety of kegs from which you could help yourself. I'm pretty sure they had both AK and Mild. During breaks (two 15 minute "tea" breaks and 30 minutes for lunch) you could take as much as you wanted. As a bit of a cask purist, I barely bothered with it. The older hands, however, could knock back 3 or 4 pints in a 15 minute break.

    Looking back, I can see the safety issues, but at the time no-one gave it a sacond thought.

  2. Yes, the old-fashioned attitude to health and safety often makes people blanch nowadays. The practice of the draymen having a pint in every pub they delivered to also springs to mind.

    But haven't we gone too far the other way nowadays, with a widespread attitude that you shouldn't let a drop of alcohol touch your lips unless you're in a metaphorical padded cell?

    And isn't this a major cause of the decline of the pub trade?

  3. I remember touring the Cascade Brewery down here in Hobart in 1992, and there was still a "workers bar", where 4 oz glasses of draught were the norm for morning and afternoon tea.

  4. When I worked in Munich we were given a free 'ration' of Augustiner Edelstoff and occasionally Schneider Weisse (though this was unpopular without the 'echt' glasses) . There was always at least one crate of beer on the go in the office kitchen. I was told at the time (in 1998-1999) that if a company had more than a certain number of staff (20 was it?) free beer had to be provided for the workforce, should they want it. Apparently M.A.N and BMW workers had beer vending machines (though this bit may have been a German 'joke' at my expense).

  5. I work for Batemans, and it is a wet brewery, though people dont seem to take it up. I love the tradition.