Friday, 19 January 2007

Wells & Young's Take Courage

There was big news in the British brewing world this week, as Scottish & Newcastle agreed to dispose of 83% of its interest in the old Courage brands to Wells & Young's Brewing Co. The purchasers intend to revitalise the brand, which they see as a "sleeping giant", neglected of late by lager-focussed S&N in favour of fizzy yellow swill like Fosters and Kronenbourg.

Courage was originally a London brewing company founded in the late eighteenth century, which went through a series of mergers and buy outs starting in the 1950s, finally ending up in the grubby hands of S&N in 1995. Until the early 1980s, Courage beers were brewed at the Anchor Brewery near Tower Bridge (see the article on Brewing in London). Most recently they've been produced at the John Smith's Brewery in Tadcaster, part of S&N's evil empire. Consequently, the beers labelled as Courage today have little connection to those of the past. The flagship brands are Courage Best and Courage Directors. I have nothing good to say about either beer - if I walk in a pub and Courage is all that's on offer, I leave. They are just the kind of dull, insipid bitters which put people off drinking real ale, giving the impression that there's just no fun to be had.

As you probably know, Wells & Young's is the joint brewing venture which was formed last year when Youngs left Wandsworth to team up with Bedford brewer Charles Wells. The two pub estates remained separate, but across London Wells' Bombardier has turned up on draught in Young's pubs. This has sometimes been at the expense of a seasonal offering, meaning that interesting beers like Winter Warmer have been absent, and instead fairly standard bitters are all that's on offer. This situation can only get worse now that Courage will be available to landlords. I don't want to walk into a Young's pub and be offered a monotonous choice of Young's Bitter, Wells Bombardier and Courage Best - as far as I'm concerned, that's no choice at all. There's more to real ale than session bitter.


  1. Do you think that now Wells/Youngs have their hands on Courage they might improve the beers? I recall drinking Directors about 10 years ago and loving it, Best to a lesser extent, but now it is loathsome stuff.

  2. I don't hold out much hope of that, to be honest. If this was the old Young's of Wandsworth buying the brands, I'd be more optimistic - for example, when they were contract brewing Mackeson Stout, it wasn't so bad. But it's not Young's - it's WELLS & Young's, and I've never rated Wells beers ... I guess we'll have to wait and see. I guess I'll try a pint of the new Courage Best / Directors when it moves over to Bedford out of curiosity.

  3. All the Kings HorsesFebruary 03, 2007 12:55 am

    I wonder the same as Abbey Stores. Courage is a pretty downmarket and lousy beer now, reserved for rough pubs who can't or won't put on good ales.

    In their current form seeing crappy Directors alongside Young's beers can only taint their whole image. This is especially true as Youngs begin destroying their heritage in the quest for the gastropub demographic (Duke's Head and the horrible Boathouse both in Putney spring to mind)

  4. Young's don't seem to do guest ales, do they? (It doesn't count as a guest if it's a seasonal from their own range). I was in the Spring Grove, Kingston, last night and it was Young's Ordinary and Special, Winter Warmer and Bombardier. As you suggest this (with probably 'Takes Courage to drink it' also) is all one is likely to get in a W&Y pub.

  5. Further to this discussion I have chanced upon this campaign:

    which I feel is worth further investigation and publicity.

  6. Abbey Stores - just spotted your comment which you posted some time ago. I've linked to the Lewes Arms campaign website. Is the campaign still active? If so I will write something up about it.


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