Balancing a one-sided view of brewing history

From The Scotsman, February 1870. Showing that Carlsberg was not only exported to Scotland, it was also sold there.

From The Scotsman, February 1870. Showing that Carlsberg was not only exported to Scotland, it was also sold there.

If history is written by the victors, then beer history is written by the exporters. That’s what came to me while reading the excellent ‘Hops and Glory’ written by Pete Brown.

Pete has done a sterling job by digging deep into the history of IPA to reveal a depth and richness that has been lacking in beer writing, instead of relying on the same old repeated stories that haven’t really much basis in truth.

Brewing until very recently has been a national industry that became international in scope, without becoming international in mindset. There has been so much focus on the beer leaving a country that no-one seems to have picked up the story of it arriving in a country. ‘Look,’ they say. ‘See how much beer we’ve sent overseas. Aren’t we good?’

The main reason is that for too many years brewers were just that – brewers. They made the stuff but didn’t waste too much time on the bothersome task of sales, marketing and distribution. That was outsourced to locals, leaving the brewers as the captains of industry, the heroes.
That means the history of brewing is skewed to big countries like the UK, US and Germany, who had huge home markets to supply, leading to a overtly national focus. While in the smaller countries like Holland and Denmark, the heroes are the brewers who produced a lot of beer for export. In both cases there isn’t much information on what happened to the beer when it got to its destination.

A case in point – Carlsberg. Carlsberg started exporting to Scotland in 1868/69 (depending on what you consider as an export -a couple of cases or a ship load). There is very little written about what happened to Captain Jacobsen’s beer once it arrived on the dockside at Leith apart from an advert in The Scotsman in February 1870 and a few scattered references to other distributors.

And that’s just Carlsberg. What about other foreign beers like Becks, Holsten and Heineken? There are loads of good stories out there just waiting to jump out.


About Andrew

Former Grocer journalist and Carlsberg PR, turning lager historian
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