Monday, 13 August 2012

Boddingtons – The Way We Were

Mention of Boddington’s bitter, now a thin and pale shadow of the beer once brewed in Manchester and loved by devotees, dictates I pause to survey another sad story in the annals of brewing. I first came across this beer in the late 70s, when I tagged along with a group from the Bradford University Real Ale Society, who had organised an evening trip to what was known as the “Failsworth Mile”.

The Smut Inn, on the A62, and now closed

This was a stretch of the A62 in north west Manchester which at the time had over 20 pubs on or near it which dispensed cask beer. The coach dropped us by the start of the mile, and the first pub, never to be forgotten, was the Smut Inn, a Boddington’s house with separate rooms and, as on every Friday evening, an elderly fellow providing waiter service.

The pale and very bitter beer, not strong but characterful, was never to be forgotten. And neither were other pubs on that mile, like the Old Post Office, an Oldham Brewery house (OB had around a hundred pubs). But, in brewing as elsewhere, nothing is forever, and not long afterwards Boddingtons bought out OB and did away with their beers. It wasn’t all about good guys.

And then Whitbread, which had helped to maintain Boddies’ independence from the late 1960s, took over the Strangeways Brewery and the brands in 1989. At first, the move was hugely beneficial: production increased, Boddington’s bitter went nationwide, and it became a well known brand. But then sales began to decline and Whitbread was taken over by the Interbrew group, later InBev.

Ultimately, the brewery was sold off for a fast buck to property developers, and nowadays the keg version of Boddies is brewed at the former Whitbread plant at Samlesbury, near Blackburn. The cask version was brewed for many years afterwards by Hydes in Manchester, until March this year when the brand was “discontinued”. InBev neglected Boddingtons shamefully.

So that’s why so many in the north west look a little sad when they recall Boddingtons and its well loved bitter: all that remains is an insipid nitro-keg imitation of its former self, a result of the owners selling up for all those pieces of silver, only to see the home of the beer trashed and the brand left to wither. As to that mile of pubs in and around Failsworth, well, that’s not such a happy ending either.

The Smut Inn carried on as a going concern until very recently, but is now closed. And much around that part of the A62 has been flattened to facilitate the building of the M60 around Manchester, so many of the other pubs have gone too. But we can get to our destinations quicker on the new motorway.

To mangle an old quotation, they made a wilderness, and called it progress.

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