Cheap and cheerful or a UK lager classic?

Skol billboard on Avenida Juscelino Kubitschek, Sao Paulo

It's a long way from Burton to Brazil

A strange combination is Skol. One of UK lager’s oldest brands, it has been passed from hand to hand, merrily swapping owners as brewing consolidation caught up with it again and again. From Burton-brewed to cheap and cheerful discount lager in the UK and eastern Europe. Mind you, they sell shedloads of it in Brazil, where it is the best selling beer with around a third of the market.

But it’s a long journey from Burton to Brazil. When the Skol name was introduced in 1959 by Ind Coope, lager consumption in the UK was 500,000 barrels and Skol was on its way towards the growth that was to take it to being the number one lager brand in the 60s. But while the Scandinavian name was coined in 1959 to compete directly with the growing imports from Denmark and Germany, Ind Coope’s lager was a re-badging of Graham’s Golden Lager brewed in Alloa, Scotland – a brew that began its life in Allsopp’s in Burton.

In 1897 an ailing Allsopp’s had gambled £80,000 on a lager brewery from New York. The gamble seemed to pay off as lager became one of the company’s successes. Although not enough to save it from bankruptcy in 1911.  Among those brought in to save it was a Scot, John Calder, who saw greater opportunities for the brewery in Scotland where lager sold better. It was transferred in 1921 to Alloa under the care of Archbald Arrol, where Calder served on the board. Allsopp’s Lager did better under the new management and reportedly was sold in more than 40 countries.

In 1927, Calder introduced a lighter lager called Graham’s Golden Lager that also did well at home and during the 30s was stocked by Watney Combe Reid in London.

By 1959, it was time for a change and the new owners of Alloa, Ind Coope (who took it over in 1934) decided that it was time for a shake-up and a change of name. The change seemed to work as in 1961 The Economist reported that Skol had a little over a quarter of the market, slightly ahead of imports and Eddie Taylor’s Carling. The growth was achieved through increased marketing spend to recoup the investment in capital-intensive lager brewing equipment.

But it wasn’t just to be national expansion for Skol. In 1964, Allied (that had in the meantime swallowed up Ind Coope) created Skol International Ltd. with Canada’s Labatt, Pripp-Brygerierna of Sweden and Unibra of Belgium. The grand plan was to launch Skol as a world-wide brand under license. By 1969,  the number of partners had grown to six with the addition of brewers in Austria and Portugal. The number of licensees was up to 17 as Skol was marketed in 50 countries.

The results of this partnership were varied, but by far the biggest success was in Brazil. More on that later.

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About Andrew

Former Grocer journalist and Carlsberg PR, turning lager historian
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