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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

There Used to be a Brewery

To paraphrase the old Frank Sinatra tune, "Yes, there used to be a brewery right here." Many a Londoner will be saying that in the years to come now that a property developer has purchased Young's Ram Brewery, a brewing landmark in the Wandsworth section on the British capital.

Young's announced two months ago that it would be leaving its south London home and merging brewing operations with Charles Wells in Bedford. The Young's website still promotes brewery tours and family visits to the stables where Young's famous hitch of horses is kept. If you get the chance sometime soon, go and get a glimpse of a piece of the brewing art about to fade into history. Minerva, a developer that specializes in creating office towers and shopping centers, has swallowed up the Ram Brewery for $131.7 million.

The reasons for the sale are many, beyond the 131.7 million that Minerva is providing. The brewery was older and there was not room for expansion on the 5.5-acre site. With the sale ends a heritage of brewing on the spot that goes back to the 16th Century. Apparently the Brewery Tap pub will remain, but the Ram Brewery will cease to exist. The sale is expected to be completed in 2008. Young's said it will use the funds to expand its growing pub and hotel empire.

While the Young's brand will survive to be brewed again, the end of brewing in Wandsworth is a sad one for all beer drinkers. The first pint of ale I had as a Syracuse University student while spending a semester abroad in London was at The Lamb, a Young's house near the University of London dorm where they allowed us to stay for a few days while we found flats. It was not the last pint of Young's that I would enjoy in the coming months.

Unfortunately, Young's joins a growing list of beers that are no longer brewed in their traditional homes. Rolling Rock is the latest example in the U.S. It is now made in Newark, N.J. No more spring water from the Laurel Mountains around Latrobe, Pa. Since so much of what goes into beer is water, it makes a difference. I also think it makes a difference when you think about the generations of families that took pride in brewing a beer who are suddenly no longer associated with the brand.

Many things go into what we drink. It's not that a sparkling wine from California is inferior to Champagne from France. It's just that they are different. They come from a different place and that is one of the reasons that a product like Generic Beer never got off the ground. Most of us want to know a little bit about what we are drinking and that starts with the place it comes from. You can find cheap 12-packs of Schlitz in grocery stores around the country, but it's not really The Beer that Made Milwaukee Famous.

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