In 1887, the “Gleadow, Dibb and Company Limited” was wound up, and a new company, “The Hull Brewery Company Limited”, was formed. It became a cultural icon of the northern, UK city that it was named after. One of my cycling routes around the city went past the big brewery. If you were cycling blindfold (not advisable), you could almost taste the smell, which was either being blown about by different on-shore or off-shore sea winds, or on particularly foggy and still days, it just hung over the city like a very damp blanket.
The brewery smells ranged from malty and hoppy, yeasty, a bit ‘bready, over-ripe fruit, and in a worst case, like rotten eggs or a bad fart. This last one will have been the high sulphur content of the waste water. Anything being fermented on a large scale is going to smell of several things in the process, and people either love it or hate it. Some people told me that the smell of the brewery made them really hungry, which probably explained the high number of fish and chip shops in the area.
Like all breweries in big cities, Hull brewery had an amazing stable of horses that would haul around the big casks of beer to all of the pubs in the area. According to someone I knew who was around at the time of horse drawn delivery in the city, the brewery horses were looked after as well as any famous race horse. I only remember seeing a magnificent Hull Brewery horse team at a country fair demonstration, and long after their daily service ended. The brewery also owned a lot of the pubs in the city, so when you went into one it them for a pint of the ‘trawlerman’s tipple’, you can guess what you got served.
The Hull brewery had a good reputation as a place of work from what I remember. Someone ‘may have told me once’, that an employee had fallen into one of the big vats of beer and that it took him 5 hours to drown, principally because he had to keep getting out to go for a pee. Incidentally, there are millions of crap jokes about breweries just like this one.
I do remember the Hull Brewery beer being described by a self-proclaimed beer aficionado as having a ‘dishwater’ look and taste, and that it was nothing like ‘real beer’. Not being a beer drinker anyway, I didn’t provide any response or show offence that my local ‘mild’ beer was being severely criticised. However, good sales of the stuff would show that it was highly popular, although if you grow up with something like a beer, it becomes the norm and a special taste anyway, because ‘it’s what people drink around here’. They also had the market covered, so there wasn’t much of a choice for beer drinking folks either.
Being a huge seaport, Hull had a regular and very thirsty group of customers who were all desperate for ‘a pint or ten’ after being at sea for long periods, or had just finished a shift on the docks. Hull Brewery were prolific in their output of beer in bottles as well, and all with really colourful labels attached, which will have all been done by artists and not as today, on a computer. These beautiful bottle labels weren’t the only advertising for the brown beer around the city either. It was emblazoned on buses, on billboards, on their delivery lorries, on every pub and club, on beer mats, and of course, the sports shirts of the many clubs they sponsored, like the Hull Thursday Road cycling club, and the infamous, Hull Coureurs Road club. Each of these clubs were also affiliated to one of the many bike shops in the city as well.
Racing cyclists don’t have a reputation for being big beer drinkers, and whilst it may seem a bit mad to suggest drinking a beer rather than water after a long cycle ride, research shows that a couple of bottles of beer can be just as hydrating as water, and tastes better. Someone in the Hull Brewery marketing department must have figured this out. Some even say, that beer can help to relax tired muscles, which when combined with the right cool down exercises, will leave you feeling relaxed and injury free.
I wouldn’t expect that the Hull Cycling clubs were big beer drinkers, even though they enjoyed many decades of financial support from the company. However, from a marketing point of view, having your brand written all over the back of a cyclists jersey was a great mobile advertising channel and provided the all important brand identity. Imagine being behind a big group of Hull Brewery branded cyclists out on the road. It probably made the drivers thirsty as they waited to overtake the brewery peloton. Interestingly (maybe), the Hull Brewery business was acquired in 1972 and renamed North Country Breweries, and they also continued sponsorship of the local cycling clubs.
Equally interestingly (possibly), there’s a band called The Brewery and they’ve just released a single called ‘Delivery Van’. It’s a good track and the lyrics are very ‘now’ in terms of how our e-retail spending society is developing?
Anyway, back to the Hull Brewery thread. There was one other cycling club in Hull called the ‘City Road Club’ and they weren’t sponsored by the brewery for some reason. This was the club I was in. I guess it’s a bit ironic that a regular ride of mine would go past the brewery and I’d be wearing my club shirt which didn’t have the brewery name emblazoned on it. I also didn’t drink the beer, as I thought it tasted and looked a bit like dishwater, but I would never admit that to anyone.
All photos by the Author