Bass Pale Ale and the cost of growth...

Bass Pale Ale and the cost of growth...

John ShearlockJun 10, '22
I was trawling the beer shelves for something to write about and the Bass triangle caught my eye. I’ll confess, I never got into drinking the stuff when I lived in the UK - but the slogan on the label calling it the world’s first pale ale was enough to pique my interest.

That seems like quite a claim, and It would be fun to do some detective work and put it to the test but, to be honest, life’s too short so we’ll roll with it for now on the basis that surely someone would have made them remove it if it weren’t true.

Upon reading more about Bass I discovered quite a few other claims to notoriety that I had never appreciated and also discovered a slightly sad story of fame, fortune and success. You’ll see what I mean.

The brewery was founded in 1777 by William Bass in Burton-on-Trent in England and the success of the main brand - our world's first pale ale - meant that 100 years later Bass had become the largest brewery in the world. Its success brought imitators in their droves and, in response, the company's iconic red triangle became the UK's first registered trademark. Who would have thought beer would drive this kind of innovation - but brewing was a big deal in the 1800s - especially with an entire empire to ship to.

So, where is the world’s biggest brewery now and why aren’t we all drinking Bass by the gallon?? Inevitably, things get messy when you grow and grow.

The brewery managed to maintain its UK dominance by swallowing up other breweries through the 1900s and a move from rail freight to road haulage sadly saw the repurposing of smaller breweries into depots for storage. This also coincided with the brewery moving away from real ale to kegged beers and lagers like Carling. Eventually the brewing side of the business was bought by Anhauser-Busch InBev - which was then forced to split its holdings by the UK’s Competition Commission. The original brewery continued to make beer under licence by Molson Coors but went on the market for sale in 2020. 

The cost of progress and the endless pursuit of growth I guess - it can ruin things right? Bass is still made at a different site in the UK but, ironically, our iconic British brand from the 1800s is now made locally in Belgium and the US. 

Which brings us back to today’s beer; the world’s first Pale Ale, emblazoned with the UK's first registered trade mark and made in the US of A. The proof is in the pudding I guess so let’s give it a go…

It’s a pale mahogany cedar-like colour in the glass with a cream head. The nose takes me to British ale immediately with biscuity malt and fruity hops combining nicely with some bitter aromas too. Linear and light on the palate with bitter flavours cleaning things up and making for more of a summer ale vibe despite the abv being over 5%.

A beer that does what it says it's going to do on the jar without doubt - so why do I feel strangely sentimental and nostalgic for the original made at the Burton brewery?? Sometimes, we just have to stop looking back through rose tinted glasses and accept that…things grow and things change - but the beer world keeps spinning.