The name Burton-on-Trent is synonymous with the production of beer throughout the world with a brewing heritage stretching back to the middle ages.
Once regarded as the brewing capital of the world and to many of its residents it still is. Burton now plays host to a number of very successful Micro Breweries as well as a growing number of Craft Brewers.
The monks of Burton Abbey (now the place of a restaurant and bar), established circa 1002 AD, were the first to discover how peculiarly well-suited the local water was for the brewing of ales. Although it wasn’t until centuries later that the chemical reasons for this suitability were properly understood, the quality of the water drawn from Burton wells was to inspire an industry – which would transform a sleepy Staffordshire backwater into the hub of an industry which would carry the name of the town to the four corners of the globe.
Many inns had been established to accommodate travellers to the Abbey, which housed a shrine to St Modwen, an Irish nun who founded a church on an Island in the River Trent at Burton in the 7th Century and, after the dissolution of the Monastries in 1539, these local inns carried on the production of beer on a small scale.
Brewing as a commercial enterprise didn’t begin until the 18th Century.
Benjamin Printon, the first recorded common, or commercial, brewer in the town, founded a brewery close to Burton Bridge in 1708. Burton’s fledgling brewing industry was boosted by the Trent Navigation Act of 1712, which made the river navigable for trade as far as Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, and later the arrival of the canals, and it was overseas where Burton ales first began to make a name for themselves, as local companies began to exploit a lucrative trade route to the Baltic ports and Russia, via Hull.
The likes of John Worthington (1774) and William Bass (1777) soon followed, opening breweries producing beers which would become household names, and with the arrival of the railways (the main Derby-Birmingham line passing through Burton opened in 1839) Burton’s brewing industry, and the town along with it, began to expand at a rapid rate.
Pioneers in Export, Bass weren’t finished innovating.
Bass’s brewery alone, a single small brewery off Burton’s High Street when William Bass inherited it in 1777, had in the space of one century been transformed into the largest ale brewery in the world, with three breweries in the town, a workforce of more than 2,500, and an output of nearly a million barrels a year by the late 1880’s.
That company’s expansion owed much to the success of a new kind of ale, pale, sparkling and bitter, which became known as India Pale Ale because of it’s popularity for export to India and other British colonies. So renowned was Burton’s superior quality water that brewers from around the UK began to set up operations in the town. Ind Coope & Co, a Romford-based brewery, arrived in the town in 1856, and had soon become the town’s third largest brewer, later merging with it’s neighbour, Allsopp’s, the first Burton brewer to export pale ale to India in 1822.