"is this the Indian beer?" - Part One
When Samuel Allsopp sent his first casks of India Pale Ale to Calcutta in 1823 the brewing industry in Burton upon Trent was in a dreadful state. For the half century prior to 1807 the town had thrived by exporting Burton Ale to ports in the Baltic via Hull. As most of the shipping costs were covered by Baltic imports, ale could be transported very cheaply making this a highly profitable affair, even when England declared war on France in 1793, the resulting increased insurance costs still meant there was a lot of money to be made. 1807 however was a pivotal year as Napoleon blockaded all of the Baltic ports, severing the trade routes almost overnight and the lucrative Baltic business ceased abruptly.
At that time Samuel Allsopp was a business partner in a brewery on High Street with his Uncle Benjamin (designated Benjamin Wilson junior to differentiate from his father and founder of the Brewery Benjamin Wilson senior). Wilson junior was the most successful brewer in the town, eclipsing even the efforts of Michael Bass and William Worthington. In 1807 he was 57 years old and had probably been thinking of retiring, the Napoleonic Blockade led him to sell his share of the business to his nephew for £7,000, but he left £4,250 of capital invested for a decent yearly return. The pair then traded as Wilson-Allsopp until Benjamin died five years later.
"In 1808 [Samuel Allsopp] tried his hand at brewing a Pale Ale, thought to be the first such attempt in Burton."
Despite having lost nearly all of his customers the young Allsopp was not a man to give up; he quickly began to develop markets closer to home, something his uncle had never really needed to do. In 1808 he tried his hand at brewing a Pale Ale, thought to be the first such attempt in Burton. He must have been aware of London brewer George Hodgson and the lucrative Indian market but there is nothing to suggest Allsopp’s attempt at Pale Ale was a success, there is no recorded eureka moment where Samuel realised that Burton water was perfectly suited for Pale Ales. This would only become apparent in the 1820’s.
The turning point for Allsopp, and therefore the town as a whole, came in 1822 when he was invited to go to London and dine with a gentleman called Mr. Marjoribanks (pronounced Marchbanks) who represented the powerful East India Company. They had been experiencing trouble with Hodgson, he had been making attempts to set up his own Agency in India to cut out the East India Company. Marjoribanks was looking for another source of India Pale Ale and where better a place to look than Burton upon Trent, the home of both the expertise to produce it and of a number of breweries standing idle.
To be continued ...