Tuesday 13 September 2022


Earlier in the year, I reviewed Harry White’s very interesting and informative book on The Story of Bass. However, I pointed out that wasn’t a history of the famous beer itself (although that would surely make for a very interesting volume) but a survey of the complex history of the giant corporation that came to bear its name. I’m not the person to write that history of the beer, but I thought it would be worth setting down a few personal memories and reflections on it.

The business model of the original Bass company was to a significant extent based on selling its beer into the free trade across the country. Before Draught Guinness, Bass was the first nationally-distributed draught beer. This still lives on to some extent in areas like the West Country and North and West Wales, in pubs like the Seven Stars in Falmouth, the Dyffryn Arms at Pontfaen, the Black Boy in Caernarfon and the Bull’s Head in Beaumaric, none of which have ever actually been Bass tied houses. The late Rhys Jones recalled how, in the 1950s, Stockport brewer Robinson’s bought up a number of free houses on Anglesey that had previously sold Bass, something that was resented locally for decades.

Another aspect of this approach was concluding trading agreements with family brewers to sell Draught Bass in their pubs, giving them another string to their bow and Bass more sales. Most of these were swept away by the merger mania of the 1960s, but one that survived into more recent time was with Higson’s of Liverpool. They owned the now-closed George in the centre of Stockport, and I remember before the takeover by Boddingtons in 1985 being able to drink Bass in what was then a very characterful interior. Another pub stocking Bass was the Carnarvon Castle in Liverpool city centre, which is fortunately still with us.

In the mid-70s, the original gravity (OG) of Draught Bass was increased from 1039 to 1044 so as to be able to compete better with the popular premium beers of the time such as Ruddles County. This was a very rare example of a major beer brand increasing its strength. This was before my time, but there must be some older drinkers around who can recall what difference it made to the flavour and character of the beer. It should be remembered that, across large areas of Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire, Bass was sold as the pubs’ standard bitter, as was its Burton rival Pedigree. This is still true to a limited extent.

In the early 70s, there were only seven cask beers available in the whole of the city of Birmingham and one of them was Draught Bass, which was only sold in six selected Mitchells & Butlers pubs. One of these was the Bull’s Head on King’s Norton Green in the south of the city. This wasn’t the nearest pub to where I lived as a student in the late 70s, but sometimes we would pass the local to go and drink there as something of a treat. Bass was served in oversized dimpled mugs from electric metered pumps.

The cowls for these had a distinctive design reflecting the look of a Bass mirror, used for both metered and free-flow dispense. I don’t think the image is an actual font, but it gives an impression of the general look. I believe these survive in a handful of Bristol pubs where there is a tradition of drinking “flat Bass”, usually direct from the cask, which to some extent sails under the CAMRA radar. I don’t know Bristol well, but I have experienced this in the tiny Myrtle Tree in the Hotwells district, a few doors down from the better-known Bag of Nails “cat pub”.

The Bass company had a scattering of pubs in the Stockport area which had mostly come via the Charrington branch of the mega-merger from Hardy’s Crown Brewery of Hulme. In the late 80s, they decided to promote cask Bass by introducing it into the Bull’s Head and the Reddish Vale in the downmarket suburb of Reddish. While on one level this was an initiative to be welcomed, in practice it seemed to be an experiment designed to fail. The locals tried it, but complained that it was expensive, and gave them a bad head, because it was that bit stronger than the keg Stones Bitter they were used to. Not surprisingly, it didn’t last long. If they had been serious about reintroducing cask beer, it would have made more sense to switch the Stones from keg to cask. Both pubs have long since closed, and of what I think were at one time eight Bass pubs in Stockport only two now survive.

The beer itself has gone through a number of changes in production method and location, with Bass themselves abandoning brewing in the Union system in the late 80s, and contracting it out to Marston’s in the 2000s. Pedigree is still brewed in unions, but not Bass. Inevitably some people will say it’s now a pale shadow of its former self. However, which beers can really be said to be the same as they were forty or fifty years ago, and people’s memories of what beers tasted like back then are inevitably hazy and coloured by memories of their own lives in general.

Bass had always been a beer I quite liked, but I always tended to pigeonhole it as just another brew from the Big Six national brewers. My memory of the old union Bass was that it could sometimes have a rather cloying character that is absent from the current version. It is significant that the great beer writer Michael Jackson considered that Pedigree, not Bass, was the classic of the style.

I’ve given it more attention in the present century when it has become something of an endangered species, and I have to say that to my tastebuds the current incarnation is an excellent beer that preserves its distinctive bittersweet character and does not disgrace its honourable heritage. It stands up very well against its direct competitors. If it’s not the kind of thing you like, fair enough, but if you think it’s a poor beer compared with others in the same category that really says more about you.

It’s also significant that, as it is not actively promoted either by AB InBev or by pub companies, every pub that serves it has made a positive decision to stock it rather than having it foisted on them. Compare this with Taylor’s Landlord, another excellent beer in top condition, but all too often poorly looked after and extremely lacklustre when actually drunk in the pub.


  1. Very nice post Mudgie. I remember very well the Bass sold in Higsons pubs in the 1980s. I remember too when it was withdrawn.I seem to recall that when tenencies came up for renewal, the clause allowing for a best bitter to be supplied by the brewery was withdrawn. Higsons of course had no best bitter and supplied Bass. This was applied to all changes and renewals until all went. I also recall many pubs stock piling it when last orders were placed. Bass was usually served free flow from blue plastic bar fonts if I remember correctly.

    Plenty of Bass houses in Liverpool then, but most sold cask (or sometims keg) Brew Ten. Again often from red free flow fonts, so you had to ask if it was traditional. Bass was a treat in the White Star and a few others.

    Agree it is still a decent pint, but if you never drink it, you wouldn't know. Agree too that those who sell it really want it given the lack of sales push.

    1. Brew Ten really was one of the most underwhelming beers known to man, a lowest common denominator beer brewed to replace all the bitters from the various breweries across the North acquired during the takeover spree.

    2. Brew 10 was the Bass equivalent of Whitbread Trophy - a poor catch-all to replace individual beers from breweries they'd taken over too. That said, there were a few outposts where the original beer lingered on under the new name for a while, like Nimmo's 4X at the Castle Eden brewery.

    3. Some Trophy was excellent. I well remember Wethereds Trophy brewed at Marlow and served from wooden casks.

  2. A lovely read. In 1978-80 I worked for Bournville Village Trust and lived on the estate, albeit on the other side of the A38. The Bull's Head was a very welcome find given the lack of pubs on the Estate. I think Atkinson's real ale bar under the Midland Hotel might have had Bass.

  3. In the summer of 2015 I was in Bag of Nails with my mate and the owner/manager of Myrtle Tree was there too and invited us to his pub next door which was closed. Pub was opened just for us and Bass was excellent and during the drinking session the owner/manager (elderly gentleman, I believe from Port Talbot) managed to sell us loads of old vinyl records for a very high price. Very crafty!

    I believe Half Moon in Durham is the only pub which sells Bass in the area, £3.50 a pint last time I had it, not too shabby.

  4. Brilliant post, full of interesting pub history and I liked the suggestion that people's memories of beers are possibly coloured by the passage of time. I should possibly know, but what are the remaining Bass pubs in Stockport?

    1. The two I was thinking of are the Queens in Bredbury and the White Hart in Woodley. Obviously within the boundaries of Stockport MBC, not in Stockport itself. In fact, another one has just occurred to me, the Norfolk Arms in Marple Bridge. The most recent of the rest to close was the Hope on Wellington Road North, lately better known as a brewpub, which still has its Hardy's Crown Brewery lettering around the roofline. The others were:
      Bull's Head, Reddish
      Reddish Vale, Reddish
      Old King, Portwood
      Bromale, Bramhall
      Railway, Woodley (which was sold to Robinson's, but is now closed)
      No doubt somebody will remember another one.

  5. Nice post Mudge, and it’s good to see the George in Stockport receiving a mention. I visited this imposing Higson’s pub on a couple of occasions, during my first term at Salford University. I was lodging with my aunt at the time, and she lived in nearby Stockport, This would have been in the autumn of 1973.

    I had only just started taking an interest in beer, and after slowly becoming familiar with some of the Greater Manchester ones, was puzzled at seeing a Higson’s outlet, just across the A6 from Mersey Square. I was equally puzzled at seeing Draught Bass on sale, alongside Higson’s own beers. It’s such a long time ago, that I can’t remember whether or not I tried the Bass, but I suspect not, especially as I was quite taken with the Higson’s beers. I can remember the George being a rather characterful, multi-roomed pub, that seemed more than a little intimidating to a slightly wet behind the ears 18 year old.

    I can vaguely remember the increase in gravity of Draught Bass, although as I hadn’t drunk much of the weaker version, I couldn’t really tell the difference. I also remember those fonts with the mirror frontage. Bass did go downhill when the Union sets were first abandoned, although the beer did eventually recover.

    As I said in my article about Harry White’s book, Bass were a good company to work for, despite CAMRA’s dismissal of them as just another “Big Six” brewery. They gave me my first “proper” job after leaving university and looked after their staff in a way that rarely seems to happen in today’s cut-throat business world.

  6. Excellent read, good analysis and as said above you can generally expect publicans selling Bass to have an affinity with the beer.

    At its best, e.g. in the Bath Star, it is distinctive and wonderful.

  7. The Stafford Mudgie17 September 2022 at 14:50

    Bass Charrington had quite a monopoly where I lived from when I started using pubs in 1971 until the Beer Orders properly took effect over two decades later and I therefore remember the company, their pubs and their beers quite well.
    I suspect that properly promoting Draught Bass and increasing it's strength in the mid seventies was a response to the success of the Ind Coope Burton Ale introduced by the next biggest of the Big Six, Allied Breweries who were also based in Burton, the summer 1976 launch of 'DBA' being when I really thought that CAMRA had been successful.
    And in 1977 Bass Charrington proudly opened the Bass Museum, now under threat of closure again, and had leaflets in their pubs selling Draught Bass of a competition for a trip round their Burton Brewery which included return coach travel - I'm not aware of anyone that entered who didn't win.
    I remember the Bass mirror cowls as being introduced around them and used with free flow, rather than metered, pumps. I was very surprised to learn from 'The Wicking Man' eight weeks ago that these cowls are still used in four Bristol pubs.
    I well remember Whitbread's Tiverton Trophy in the Seven Stars in Falmouth back in 1975 and that being replaced by Draught Bass suggests it then was a beer with a good reputation and/or one that was properly marketed.
    I remember Draught Bass from the Burton Unions as dryer and more distinctive yet, paradoxically, richer despite seeming thinner
    Like Higsons, many Burtonwood pubs near me had Draught Bass as their stronger bitter. I think these had been Bass Charrington's Joules pubs that had previously been Bents pubs but have never got round to researching that.
    As for "Bass was usually served free flow from blue plastic bar fonts" I remember the blue ones as being for keg Bass Special which was the same beer as Worthington E - though memories aren't of course entirely accurate.

    1. Thanks Paul. It's before my time, but I had got the impression that the increase in gravity predated the launch of Draught Burton Ale. It's certainly shown as 1044 in the 1977 GBG.

      I never saw a Burtonwood pub with Bass in the North-West, but maybe it was a Staffordshire thing.

    2. The Stafford Mudgie17 September 2022 at 17:04

      Not necessarily one being "a response to" the other but
      June 1976 What's Brewing
      Ind Coope go real in 600 pubs
      A new real ale brewed by Ind Coope at Burton-on-Trent went on sale in 200 pubs in the South-east of England at the beginning of June. By the autumn the new beer - Draught Burton Ale - will be available in some 600 pubs in the south.
      December 1976 What's Brewing
      Bass goes up in strength
      Draught Bass, one of the few nationally available real ales, has been increased in strength. Bass Charrington said last month that the beer's original gravity had been increased from 1039.1 to 1044.
      A spokesman told What's Brewing that the change had been made to "increase the product's superiority". Although the increase in gravity will mean extra excise duty for the brewers, no increase in price is planned.
      The higher gravity also marks a change in marketing policy by Bass Charrington. In some parts of the country, particularly the South-west, Bass has been traditionally sold as draught Worthington E.
      But from now on the beer will be marketed as Bass - although landlords may prefer to turn a blind eye to this policy and maintain their Worthington E pumpclips. Keg Worthington E, a totally different brew with a gravity of 1040, will continue in production.

  8. The Stafford Mudgie18 September 2022 at 13:27

    Further to mentions of Higsons and Burtonwood I've just read in a Spring 1977 edition of North Manchester's "What's Doing" magazine under the "Whitbread Campaign" heading that "...... many Threlfall's houses had a trading agreement whereby they sold draught Bass, and in a number of cases vestiges of those days still remain."
    Maybe your (even) older readers can recall other brewers taking Draught Bass for their pubs.

  9. On Friday the Bass was tip top at Half Moon in Durham. A little bird told me they shift three casks per week.

    1. Pleased to hear that, it wasn't on when I popped in earlier in the year, when supply issues were affecting a number of Bass strongholds.


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