Monday, April 30, 2012


 Getting back to Manchester and walking into my local I was confronted with a sad loss. Boddingtons bitter is no more. Now that doesn't mean that the bland nitro keg stuff that is available all over the place has gone and the canned beer, including the Boddingtons Pub Ale that I can buy in Volos, is still ubiquitous. It is the real Boddies that has gone.

When I first moved to Manchester in the mid 70s a good Boddingtons pub was the holy grail. The beer was cheap, straw coloured and very bitter with a honeyed after taste from the malt. It was a local brewery, based at Strangeways. And then came the corporate takeovers.

First, the brewery was acquired by Whitbread. They began the process of marketing the brand and changing the beer to make an imitation of the original available nationwide. They still kept making the old bitter, though diehard Boddies fans were convinced that it had changed into something more bland. Then, in turn, Whitbread were swallowed by Interbrew and their interest in a Manchester beer was limited. The Strangeways brewery was closed, but the cask conditioned draught bitter continued to be made at Hydes' Moss Side brewery. When Hydes decided to move, Boddingtons real ale died.

Boddingtons was founded in 1778 and this is the irony of the story. Beer has played a central role in British social history and whilst we lament the demise of a small independent brewery, Boddingtons were one of the predatory giants of the early industrial revolution. Before then most pubs brewed their own beer. Production was small scale, casks were racked above the bar; the hand pumped beer engine, worshipped by real ale freaks, that draws beer up from a cool cellar had yet to be invented. Larger industrialised breweries began to put an end to this and carved up the market, developing networks of tied houses where only their beer could be sold.

And by putting the home brew pub out of business, this revolution in beer production contributed to something else, the decline in women's status and economic independence. Brewing was a female job. Sheila Rowbotham has argued that this shift from home production was one of the critical factors that intensified gender inequality in industrial Britain.

And now, they in turn have succumbed to larger corporate interests. The major difference being that this also marks a decline in the quality of the product. But as to my splendid local, all is not bad news. Now they serve Thwaites.

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