It’s a fortunate reflection on the state of the craft beer industry that a report on a good independent brewer operating out of its own premises wouldn’t be that remarkable anywhere, and would be a bit out of place on a blog devoted to vintage ‘stuff’. However, when the building is a former brewery that hasn’t produced a drop since 1919, and the beer is one that became extinct in 1968, the revival of both together is worth a mention, especially when there’s a bit of R&B thrown in for good measure.
I recently had the pleasure of spinning a few discs between sets by Lula and the BeBops, a talented five-piece outfit from Leeds who take their inspiration from the late 40s/early 50s jump-jive scene, but, like the majority of bands of the period, concentrate on the music rather than the show. With a mix of straight covers, rearranged period tunes and their own originals, this bunch of experienced professionals lay down a very authentic sound. With their new album ‘Steady Roll’ out on vinyl (as it should be) and CD on Ace Records, they’re touring hard, so check out their well-constructed website or Facebook Page and get to see them if you can.
Anyway, back to the beer. The occasion was the launch of a reborn 1950s original brew, ‘Bison Brown’ at the Albion Brewery Bar in Northampton’s Kingswell Street (check out the band’s jingle on You Tube). As the title suggests, the Albion is both a brewery and a bar, and the walls are steeped in history. Originally built as a brewery, and deliberately sited on top of one of Northampton’s ancient water courses close to the old castle (the King’s Well, naturally), brewing ceased there in 1919, after which the building was the home of James Brothers grocers, making lemonade, decanting sherry and wines, packing sweets, blending tea etc. In 1954 it became a lesser dressing workshop and then, when Northampton’s city centre became sufficiently developed for that to be unacceptable to the more refined nostril, a leather working factory. When that, too, closed a few years ago, the building came close to redevelopment for executive apartments, until a bunch of aspiring brewers approached the owners and pitched the idea of turning it back into a brewery. Fortunately, the owners were delighted at the chance to save the building, and a long and ongoing refurbishment programme kicked off not only to install the brewing equipment and conditioned storage but also to turn the front of the building into a bar. It’s been up and running for a year now and, after a few pop-up events as the building emerged from its renaissance, it’s now in regular business but with lots of potential for bringing other areas of the extensive property back into use.
Anyway, back to the beer. Quite apart from rescuing a building from oblivion, the Albion team have brought part of Northampton’s brewing heritage back from the dead. Phipps NBC (the NBC part comes from the acquisition of the Northampton Brewing Company early in its existence) brewed continuously for 159 years until gobbled up by the Watney Mann empire in 1960. Despite assurances that the name would live on, their own brands disappeared steadily and the site itself was closed down in 1974, to be replaced by the Carlsberg brewery which still operates there. Their associated pub chain was acquired by Scottish and Newcastle, who toyed with the idea of reviving the Phipps name until themselves disposing of their pubs in 2004.
And so another original British beer would have vanished from the scene completely if it hadn’t been for one of the local Scottish & Newcastle directors who purchased the Phipps name and, with the assistance of his brother and some of the former Phipps brewers, relaunched Phipps’ classic original IPA brew in 2008. Since then, the operation has grown steadily with names from the past rising from the grave every year – Red Star, Celebrated Stout, Diamond Ale, Gold Star extra (like that one, sounds like a BSA) – and now Bison Brown, just the kind of pint the 1950s working man would have sunk after a tough day in one of Northampton’s many boot and shoe factories.
The Albion’s website has a wealth of information (which I’ve plundered mercilessly under the title of ‘research’ to create this article) and a running programme of events to entertain you while you sample their wares which also appears on their Facebook page. Be warned, if you drive there, you’ll find parking easy, but wish you’d left the car at home when you sample that first pint.