Artillery Row

Allsopp’s: the rebirth of the original Burton IPA

The Allsopp family has revived the original Burton IPA which made its name and fortune more than a century ago

From an early age Jamie Allsopp had wanted to bring back the beer that made his family name. It was his ancestor Samuel Allsopp who made the very first Burton IPA, and created a style that is now a global phenomenon. Hell, there are even brewers in Germany making IPA these days.

Though IPA is most associated with Burton-on-Trent, it was originally brewed in London by Hodgson’s, the nearest brewery to East India Dock. Here East India Company servants would buy beer to sell at a vast profit in India. The beer of choice was a strong, heavily-hopped ale designed to last through the winter months. On the six-month voyage through the tropics, it was found to have matured splendidly, rather like wine from Madeira did. Shipped in the early-nineteenth century, this was the first India Pale Ale, though it wasn’t known as such.

Frederick Hodgson then got greedy and tried to cut out the East India Company by shipping directly. So, Campbell Majoribanks, a director at the Company, approached Burton brewer Samuel Allsopp to make a rival beer. Allsopp brewed a sample in a teapot which met with approval and the beer was shipped to India from 1823.

Burton-on-Trent had an advantage over London in that the water contained gypsum, calcium sulphate, which made the beer brighter and clearer with a pronounced acidic bite. It suited a pale crisp beer, made possible by the recent invention of pale malt, very different to the heavy dark porter that London was famed for.

IPA was the drink of the aspirant middle class

Other Burton brewers such as Bass & Ratcliff got in on the act. This new beer wasn’t just a hit in India; it became all the rage back in Britain. Railways meant that Burton beer could be sent to London cheaply, and the porter that had dominated the capital began to die out, displaced by this new refreshing beer. Some time in the 1830s the name IPA began to be used.

It was the drink of the aspirant middle class. It would have sold for twice as much as ordinary beer. So popular were Burton beers that by 1877 the Bass brewery was the largest in the world. Bass had the red triangle trademark whereas Allsopp’s symbol was the red hand.

The Allsopp family, like many of the great brewing families, moved into politics. Samuel’s son Henry was elevated to the peerage as 1st Baron Hindlip. In fact, so great was the political influence of brewing families that they were known as “the beerage”. Gladstone attributed the liberal defeat in the 1874 election to this powerful faction: “We have been borne down in a torrent of gin and beer”, he wrote.

But the Allsopp’s brewing heyday did not last long. According to Jamie Allsopp, in 1897, the family “built a big lager brewery and nobody wanted lager and it finished the company”. They were pushed out in 1911 when the firm went into receivership. It soldiered on before merging with another Burton brewer, Ind Coope, in 1934. Following waves of mergers and acquisitions, the name and the famous red hand disappeared in 1959.

By then IPA itself had pretty much disappeared too, morphing into pale ale or just plain old best bitter. Proper high alcohol, high hops beer, all but died out, except for holdouts like Worthington White Shield.

The revival began in America in the 1980s where brewers took the old IPA style and amped it up with vibrant fruity hops. From there the revival spread back to the mother country. IPA is now once again a global beer.

But bringing the original Burton IPA back wasn’t easy. Jamie Allsopp said that the firm’s archives “had been destroyed by flood, fire or just thrown away”, as the brand was swallowed up by ever bigger brewing behemoths. Not an uncommon story: the mighty Bass is now a tiny rather unloved part of AB inBev, best known for Budweiser.

The next beer on Allsopp’s list for revival is the original lager that destroyed the family business

He had a bit of luck finding a ledger from the 1930s with over 250 recipes, and the old Allsopp yeast in the National Yeast Archive. Then it was a question of putting a crack brewing team together. He enlisted the help of Jim Applebee, a legendary figure in the industry who kept Worthington White Shield going during the darkest days of British brewing; Pete Brown, the man who wrote the book on IPA, Hops and Glory, and Mark Simmonite from Aardvark brewery in Sheffield.

Between them they took some old recipes, and applied them to modern malts, hops and brewing techniques. Amazingly, Allsopp, whose background is in finance, managed to put this team together during Covid with many of the meetings taking place on Zoom.

The first two beers to hit the shelves are a 4.4% ABV pale ale, and 5.6% ABV IPA. I have no idea how close they are to how Allsopp’s used to taste but they are both delicious, crisp and bursting with flavour. Out of the bottle, for me the pale ale nudges it for sheer exuberance but I’d love to try the IPA in cask. The updated red hand branding looks splendid.

Jamie Allsopp

To complicate matters, Allsopp had to buy that famous trademark back from BrewDog, but the Allsopp brand itself was owned by Carlsberg. Disappointingly for lovers of inter-brewery acrimony, Allsopp told me that both companies were enormously supportive and helpful when he approached them.

The beers are currently brewed in Sheffield, though at some point Allsopp would love to bring the company back to Burton-on-Trent: “The dream is to have my own brewery; the community aspect of Allsopp’s is important to me.” Talking to him on the phone, he could not contain his delight that the family are once again in the brewing business. “My father is thrilled, everyone in the family is happy, most importantly they love the beer.”

The next beer on Allsopp’s list for revival is the original lager that destroyed the family business. But it never entirely disappeared, going through various iterations before emerging as Skol just as lager finally took off in Britain in the 1970s. If only the family could have played the long game. Let’s just hope Jamie’s lager has more oomph than the current 2.8% ABV Skol which you might be surprised to hear is still available.

Empire of Booze: British History through the Bottom of a Glass by Henry Jeffreys is available in paperback, £8.99.

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