I have visited several breweries over the last forty years including Adnams of Southwold, Banks`s of Wolverhampton, Hook Norton in Oxfordshire and the St Austell brewery in Cornwall as well as the Heineken brewery in Amsterdam. I had long thought that Britain needed a National Museum to promote and illustrate the history of brewing like that of the National Football Museum in Manchester.
If you are interested in the history of the brewing industry or are just curious about how the beer in your glass is produced then the National Brewery Centre will answer all of your questions.
The tour started by explaining each step of the brewing process but also went on to stress the social history of the brewing industry not only on the people that worked within the industry but on all of our lives. The pub is such an integral part of our lives that the closure of so many of our urban and rural pubs should be of concern to all of us.
My tour guide pointed out that the Centre were receiving plenty of pub artefacts and paraphernalia on a daily basis simply because so many of the countries pubs were closing. It is good that the Brewery Centre is expanding its collection of pub related material but ironic that it’s to the detriment of the brewing community. My well-informed guide also demonstrated the important role that the steam engines and vintage vehicles on display played in the development of the brewing industry.
After being shown the brewing process I entered the original brewery stables and saw a collection of traditional drays that were used to deliver beer locally and more often nowadays for ceremonial occasions in the town.
At the far end of the stables were two magnificent shire horses. Sometimes the horses can be seen outside in their paddock or dressed ready for off-site delivery work. I was fortunate to be able to admire these wonderful horses in their stables. Our guide explained the important role the Shires played in the growth of the brewing industry when they were the mainstay of daily delivery services. Magnificent horses.
Transport played an important part in the evolution of the brewing industry from the horse-drawn drays through to more modern-day vehicles. The centre has an excellent collection of brewery associated vehicles including delivery wagons, fire trucks and a double-decker bus.
The most intriguing of all was the 1920s Daimler bottle car, a special promotional vehicle shaped like a bottle. I remember as child ticking off vehicles like this in my I-Spy Book of the Road. I never did get to tick off the bottle car so this was a first for me!
There was also a recreation of a pub bar in the 1960s complete with fashionable female customer. The décor was a reminder to me of how stark the pub environment could be just over forty years ago. I loved the advertising boards and mirrors displayed throughout the centre. It reminded me of how important the pub is in the fabric of our country whether you spend your time drinking in one occasionally or watch the regular drama of fictitious pubs such as the Rovers Return, The Woolpack and Queen Victoria on television.
There was an interesting section which featured a collection of pub games such a Shove ha’penny, Northamptonshire skittles, bar billiards and darts. I know of several local pubs which have taken out their games area in favour of making more space available for the provision of food which is understandable but unfortunate. Pubs need to diversify to survive and if that means the taking out the pool table then so be it!
At the end of my tour I was shown a steam engine and Bass Directors train carriage coach on a train platform set up to illustrate the importance of the railway to the development of the brewing industry and that Bass Brewery had its own railway network within its site which covered much of Burton. A wonderful scale model of the railway network that existed around the town of Burton was on display on the second floor of the Joiner’s Shop exhibition building. It is a stunning piece of craftwork.
As part of my admission I was given three beer tasting vouchers (equivalent to one pint) which could be exchanged at The Brewery Tap Bar which is where I completed my tour. I thought it was a great way to finish the tour and enjoyed three `tasters` from the bar. We decided to visit one of Burtons oldest pubs for lunch visiting The Coopers Tavern so did not eat at The Brewery Tap.
I was told that The Brewery Tap Bar and Restaurant are open every day and during the evenings from Wednesday to Saturday. They are open to all and no entrance ticket to The National Brewery Centre is required. The contemporary bar offers a great bar snacks menu and a choice of traditional ales including some brewed on site such as White Shield and Red Shield as well as other quality beers and excellent wines.
I had a very informative tour of the museum centre and would recommend it to anyone looking for a stimulating and exciting day out in the area. You don’t need to be a real – ale geek to appreciate the wealth of objects, relics and artefacts of the brewing industry. To simply have an interest about how beer is made and the social importance of the industry on people’s lives is also very thought-provoking.
Burton lies in a shallow valley that has been carved out by the River Trent. The river runs through the town and has been instrumental in its history and economy for centuries. The valley is also home to the Trent & Mersey canal, a major North – South rail line and the A38 trunk road which follows the Roman Ryknild Street for much of its route. All of these travel links pass-through Burton forming a key part of the landscape and geography of the region. Burton has a population of about 50,000 but this increases to over 100,000 with the inclusion of surrounding villages.
The town is officially located in East Staffordshire but lies close to the official boundary of the West and East Midlands. Burton was a prominent market and religious centre during the Middle Ages and several existing buildings owe their origin and foundations to this period. Brewing dominated the economy of the town during the 18th and 19th centuries and it continues to be a major producer and employer to this day.
There are five Ale Trails across Burton guiding visitors to twenty- five of the towns best drinking establishments. Visitors can collect a very helpful pocket sized map from the National Brewery Centre or Tourist Information Office. Almost all the pubs are within easy walking distance of the railway station and centre of the town.
Gone for a Burton – meaning to be missing or to die – My guide told me that many maltsters died an early death because of inhaling the dust from the grain store. It was also pointed out to me that Burton Ales became a generic term and was widely used by local brewers such as Bass, Truman’s, and Marston’s. The word Burton became an elliptical way to refer to a glass of beer. The link was the basis of at least two of the evidence-free suggested origins that have appeared. One held that it first referred to aircraft having to ditch in the sea, to end up in the drink, so the idiom was black humour implying the pilot was in search of a beer.
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