Bass Brewery

Bass is the name of a former brewery and the brand name for several English beers originally brewed in Burton upon Trent at Bass Brewery and still brewed in Burton on behalf of InBev by Marston's. Bass is most particularly associated with their pale ale. The distinctive Red Triangle logo for Bass Pale Ale was Britain's first registered trademark.


The Bass & Co Brewery was established by William Bass in 1777 and was one of the first breweries in Burton upon Trent. Prior to establishing the brewery Bass transported ale for another brewer by the name of Benjamin Pilton; Bass sold this carrier business to the Pickford family, using the funds to establish his brewery .

Early in the company's history, Bass was exporting bottled beer around the world with the Baltic trade being supplied through the port of Hull. Growing demand led to the building of a second brewery in Burton upon Trent in 1799 by Michael Bass, the founder's son, who entered into partnership with John Ratcliff. The water produced from boreholes in the locality became popular with brewers, with 30 different breweries operating in the mid-19th centuries. Michael's son, another Michael succeeded on the death of his father in 1827, renewed the Ratcliff partnership and brought in John Gretton, creating the company of 'Bass, Ratcliff and Gretton' as it traded in the 19th century. The opening of the railway through Burton in 1839 led to Burton becoming pre-eminent as a brewing town. In the mid-1870s, Bass, Ratclif and Gretton accounted for one third of Burton's output. The company became a public limited company in 1888, following the death of Michael in 1884, who was succeeded by his son, another Michael, later Lord Burton. Both Michael Bass and Lord Burton were considerable philanthropists with extensive charitable donations to the towns of Burton and Derby. Early in the 20th century, in a declining market, many Burton breweries closed down. The numbers fell from twenty in 1900 to eight in 1928. Bass took over the breweries of Worthington, Walkers and Thomas Salt. Bass was one of the original FT 30 companies on the London Stock Exchange when the listing was established in 1935. Over the next half-century, Bass maintained its dominance in the UK market by the acquisition of other brewers such as Birmingham-based Mitchells & Butlers (1961), London brewer Charringtons (1967), Sheffield brewer William Stones Ltd (1968) and Grimsby-based Hewitt Brothers Limited (1969) (with the overall company being known as Bass, Mitchells and Butlers or Bass Charrington at various times).

By the end of the 20th century, following decades of closures and consolidation, Bass was left with one of the two large breweries remaining in the town. It also had substantial holdings in hotels, now owned by InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). The Mitchells and Butlers name lives on as the company that retained the licensed retail outlet business when it was separated from the Six Continents plc company (the successor to Bass plc) in 2003.

Separation of beer and brewery

The brewing business of Bass plc was bought by the Belgian brewer Interbrew (now InBev) in June 2000, when the remaining hotel and pub holdings were renamed Six Continents plc.

After the Competition Commission had considered the potential monopoly concerns arising from the deal, Interbrew disposed of Bass Brewers Limited (including the Carling and Worthington brands) to Coors (now Molson Coors Brewing Company), but retained the rights to Bass beer production.

The beer was produced under license by Coors, which retained the Bass brewing capacity. Bass Brewers Limited was renamed Coors Brewers Limited. The production license came to an end in 2005, and the license to brew Draught Bass has been taken up by Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries PLC, who started production at the Marston's Brewery, also in Burton. Keg Bass, the type exported to the USA, is no longer brewed in Burton and is now imported by Anheuser-Busch.

Next to the brewery, the Bass Museum of Brewing, recently renamed as The Coors Visitor Centre, is Burton upon Trent's largest tourist attraction, presenting the history of brewing in the town, which Coors have announced is closing on the 30th June 2008.

Red Triangle logo

Bass was a pioneer in international brand marketing. The Bass Red Triangle is one of the world's oldest logos and was the first trademark to be registered in Britain. The 1875 Trademarks Registration Act came into effect on 1 January 1876 and that New Year's Eve, a Bass employee waited overnight outside the registrar's office, in order to be the first in the queue to register a trademark the next morning. In fact, Bass got the first two registrations, the first being the Bass Red Triangle for their pale ale and the second the Bass Red Diamond for their strong ale.

Bass are the main sponsors of Bristol Rugby for the 2006/07 season and so the red triangle logo appears prominently on both the home and away shirt worn by the team.

Shandy Bass

In the UK there is also a fizzy soft drink called Shandy Bass, introduced in 1972. It is a shandy made with Bass beer, which is mixed such that it contains 0.5% alcohol by volume. It is made by Britvic. Britvic also manufactured Top Deck brand of shandy until the mid-1990s.

Bass in Ireland

Bass was introduced in Ireland in the 1960s by Cork based brewers Beamish and Crawford. The beer proved popular until 1980's when sales began to decline. The Bass slogan in Ireland , "Ah that's Bass !" became part of everyday language in Ireland to describe relief from thirst. Many metal signs bearing the slogan are still visible on many Pubs across Ireland. It enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence in the early 90's under Tennents Ireland but once again fell away possibly due to a lack of any concerted advertising campaign. Attempts to revive the beer under InBev also failed. Bass sold in Ireland differs from the version on sale in Britain in that it consists of a fizzier sweeter ale than the common version enjoyed in England. It is still sold in many bars in Dublin and in Pint bottles in Ireland's South East region.

Bass in art

Although today the Red Triangle has been eclipsed by larger brands, the strength of the logo can be seen by its appearance in art and literature through history. Bottles of Bass Pale Ale bearing the triangle can be seen in Edouard Manet's 1882 painting Bar at the Folies-Bergère. Bottles of Bass can also be seen in over 40 paintings by Picasso, mostly at the height of his Cubist period around 1914. Some of his paintings at the time included collage elements, and the Bass label provided a convenient bold symbol that would have been as immediately recognised at the time (e.g. Ma Jolie, Verre, violon et bouteille de Bass & Bouteille de Bass, verre et journal.)

Other examples are:

  • The Spanish artist Juan Gris followed Picasso's lead and incorporated the Red Triangle into his Cubist paintings of the 1920s, most notably in La Bouteille de Bass of 1925.
  • In the "Oxen of the Sun" episode of James Joyce's Ulysses, the medical students were drinking Bass in a pub near the maternity hospital. Joyce's intersection of various motifs utilises the triangle (Sicily, triangular island, home of Helios and his ox herds from the Odyssey) symbol from the label which represents Taurus (Alpha, a star in Taurus, Alpha also signifying beginning) or the Bull (oxen) a symbol for fertility (maternity).
  • John Emms a student of Lord Leighton became a prolific painter of animals most especially dogs, including Smooth Coated Fox Terrier which shows a bottle of Bass in the background and Vice Regal which also shows a dog with a bottle of Bass.
  • Charles Spencelayh's painting The Steward, depicting a steward opening a bottle of Bass, may have been commissioned by the Brewery to be used in advertising.
  • Morris Blackburn uses it in a woodcut, Still Life (Bass Ale) (1939).
  • Levi Wells Prentice included a bottle in his Still Life with Basses Ale, c. 1890, also shows the Dog's Head trademark of one of Bass' American importers.
  • Arthur Rackham's illustrations for The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, use the Bass logo to represent beer.
  • Quentin Blake showed a bottle of Bass in one of his illustrations for Roald Dahl's book The Twits.
  • More recently Tom Mabon feature Bass ale in Beer and Fruit painted in 1999.

See also


External links

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