‘Thirsty Scots? No, it’ll never catch on’

'Dear Carl, thanks for the letter, but I think I'll pass. All the best, Dad.' (Pic: Carlsberg)

'Dear Carl, thanks for the letter, but I think I'll pass. All the best, Dad.' (Pic: Carlsberg)

There you are at the end of the 1860s brewing away quite happily, when your son sends you a letter saying that he’s found a ready market for your beer in Scotland.

Does the thought of thousands of thirsty Scots send you rushing to the brewery foreman and tell him to stoke up the fires and get another brew on? Not if you’re JC Jacobsen, the founder of Carlsberg.

In 1868-69, his son Carl was spending time at the J.W. Younger brewery in Edinburgh as part of his four-year apprenticeship in breweries around Europe. Through his friendship with Theilemann, a Danish merchant in Leith, Carl recognised the potential of the Scottish market and encouraged his father to dispatch beer to be sold locally.

But while the elder Jacobsen did send over some of his Bavarian dark lager, he wasn’t convinced about this new fangled ‘exporting’. He believed that production  had a natural limit and brewing more to satisfy overseas markets would result in a drop in beer quality. He had little faith in the commercial value of exports, seeing them more as an experiment than a viable commercial venture. In a letter in 1869, Jacobsen wrote that he was sending a few crates of Bavarian beer left over from a batch brewed for Theilemann to the English East Indian ports.

‘I do not expect that Bavarian beer will be a sought-after export article in India, but it is always interesting to discover whether it can withstand the journey,’ he noted.

In fact, Jacobsen prefered to emulate the British brewers of the time and brew ale. He actually built an ale brewery for his son to run in Copenhagen and had Carl send several barrels of Bass to Copenhagen – complete with labels – so he could taste the beer from authentic bottles.

He had no great love of English beer, though. He admitted in a letter in 1855 that his stay in London was made difficult by a ‘lack of decent beer to drink’. But he was a great admirer of English methods of rational production and the advantages gained from the resulting beer’s long shelf-life.

But the sale of ale didn’t go down too well in Copenhagen and the brewery was converted for brewing lager. On the other hand exports, despite Jacobsen’s reluctance rose year by year. By spring 1870, Carlsberg had orders of 2,300 barrels ready to send to Scotland and England and in 1885 sales had reached around 10,000 hectolitres.

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About Andrew

Former Grocer journalist and Carlsberg PR, turning lager historian
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