The Story of Bass – the story of British beer

While holidaying in Brugge on a family break over Easter it was both an opportunity to sample some of the world’s still-great beers and read about one of the world’s once-great brewers with a copy of The Story of Bass.

Such has been the influence and scope of the Bass business over its multi-century existence that the book could almost be renamed The Story of Beer because Bass as a business brewing beer, and also operating pubs, has lived through every major trend in these industries.

Author and ex-Bass employee Harry White has done a great job mining the archives – particularly with regard to rare and unpublished images – and so the reader gets a good insight through his readable style and impressive imagery.

It’s a modest-length publication, which I managed to easily consume in a couple of sittings between visits to the renowned bars of Brugge. It would, of course, have been a great companion to accompany me in these bars.

It canters through the various iterations and incarnations of Bass as it undergoes myriad corporate activity. This ultimately brings it to its apogee as a mechanised production beast under the name of Bass Charrington with its massive facility in Runcorn, which was built in 1975. Such was the inflexibility of this site that it failed to deliver the expected economies of scale and was closed in 1992.

The story of Bass encompasses many closures sadly as well as the rise of keg and lager. This includes the introduction of Carling that became the best-selling UK beer in the 1970s and has incredibly maintained its position of great power. We also read about duty increases and the rise and fall of temperance.

Bass also, rather reluctantly, moved into pub ownership when it recognised it needed to control its channels to market and its story goes onto involve the improving state of public houses, the rise and rise of the tied house model, and the Beer Orders break up.

The latter-day part of the story is about the ongoing rise of the take-home market and the constant changing ownership of the Bass brand. It should be a pub quiz question – who currently brews Bass?

You’ll find the current answer in The Story of Bass – The Rise and Demise of a Brewing Great – among many other facts that will no doubt enhance your drinking of Bass and the many other beers that have followed in its monumental wake.

The book is published by, and available from, Amberley Publishing.

Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider