Cream of south Wales? Boddingtons to close its Manchester brewery

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The Independent Online

So farewell then, Gladys Althorpe. Your immortal words "Ere, Tarquin, are your trollies [pants] on the right way round?" uttered in perfect Coronation Street English while holding up a pint of Manchester's favourite beer, will never sound quite the same again.

Their meaning evaporated along with the beer when the owners of Manchester's 250-year-old Boddingtons brewery announced yesterday that it is to be closed down with the loss of 55 jobs. From February next year, "Bodds" - to coin the Manchester vernacular - will become the Cream of south Wales, Glasgow or Preston.

The announcement, by Boddingtons' Belgian parent company Interbrew, surprised Manchester, which successfully campaigned to overturn a similar threat two years ago. It came five months after production of another famous brew, Newcastle Brown Ale, was transferred from Newcastle to nearby Gateshead with the closure of the Tyne Brewery.

Interbrew UK said the decision had been difficult but necessary as British drinkers continue to defect to lager in droves. The production of on-cask ales, 10 per cent of the brewery's output but experiencing a 14.5 per cent drop in sales, is likely to be transferred to the family-owned Hyde Brewery, in nearby Moss Side.

"In a highly competitive environment, it is also just not sustainable to continue brewing keg ales at Boddingtons and then transporting them to our other brewery sites for packaging," said the chief executive, Steve Cahillane.

His words did little to console staff at the Strangeways brewery where acts of commercial wizardry have been keeping local beer production alive since 1778, when its founders, two canny grain merchants, avoided local taxes by selecting a site outside the city boundaries.

Henry Boddington, who was first employed by the brewery as a travelling salesman in 1832, took out a huge loan to buy the business. It was the first of many gambles which have included investment in one of beer-making's first widgets - an in-built nitrogen-flush in Boddingtons cans which has allowed the bitter to be transported as a "draught".

But no one has lifted the beer's fortunes quite like our Gladys, played by Anna Chancellor, and then by the Manchester-born model Melanie Sykes. Her national appeal helped to push the proportion of Boddingtons sales outside the North-west from 5 per cent to 50 per cent.

But despite the city's integral role in the beer's brand development, Interbrew insisted that non-cask ale drinkers did not share real ale drinkers' view that a beer's pedigree depended on it being produced where it has always been produced. The economics were simple, the firm said. Twenty years ago, seven out of every 10 pints drunk were ale. Today the figure is three in 10.

But union leaders attacked the decision as "corporate greed" and recalled that Interbrew was quick to promote the beer as the "Cream of Manchester" when the city hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2002. Brian Revell, national officer of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said: "This is all about the maximisation of profits and demonstrates that the claim to be the 'world's local brewer' is little more than an advertising slogan."

ONLY HERE FOR THE BEER

* Brewing of Newcastle Brown Ale in the city ended five months ago and production is now in nearby Gateshead.

* Carlsberg Export, said to be so good the Danes hate to see it leave Denmark, is brewed in Northampton.

* The "reassuringly expensive" French lager Stella Artois is made in south Wales.

* Budweiser, the king of American beers, is made in Mortlake, London.

* Kirin, Cobra and Red Stripe (Japanese, Indian and Jamaican respectively) are brewed in Bedford.

* Guinness, the Irish tipple, is brewed in Park Royal, London.

* The chic French lager Kronenbourg 1664 is made in Reading by Scottish & Newcastle, who also brew Fosters, the Australian "amber nectar'.

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