Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Golden Goodbyes: Swindon’s Archers The Brewers Gets Credit Crunched

Archers brewery has gone into compulsory liquidation, making it one of the first of the real ale producers to go under in this recession.

Pub paper the Morning Advertiser tweeted the news yesterday that the Swindon-based brewer, which was created in 1979, was to be liquidated just over a year after a takeover saved it from administration. Now, with an insolvency practitioner appointed, Archers are hoping to find a buyer to keep their beers in production.

When it was just estate agents and bankers, it was funny. Then the Credit Crunch started to chewing up ordinary ‘hard working families’. And me. Now, somehow, watching society slough away like putrefying flesh isn’t the endless source of chuckles it once seemed. Especially after news like this.

Because while the loss of any brewer of ale moistens the ducts, Archers feels closer to home, mainly because it was, a Google Map close. For as someone who pretty much started their ale-drinking career with pints of Golden in an Archers pub only a few hundred metres from the brewery, today my mucus membranes have become almost desiccated.

To guess why and how this 10,000 barrels-a-year plant and its 20 staff have ended up surplus to requirements would be to indulge in wild, pointless speculation based on no inside information whatsoever...

But this is a blog, it’s what we do.

Part of the problem must have been the sheer range of beer, produced in addition to the core four of: Golden, Village, Best and Crystal Clear. Back in 2007, then administrators PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP quoted Archers’ beer range as 190 brews strong. The stupidly comprehensive Beermad also list 274 ales produced, although they have 194 of those down as dead or deleted.

And if you could ever identify an Archers’ beer you liked from this ever-changing range, finding them in the South West seemed to increasingly be a problem.

Despite living in Bath for a decade the amount of times an Archers ale turned up in any pub could be counted on the webbed fingers of one hand. The same goes for that former Archers pub in Swindon in which I did so much of my formative drinking. Never again has a beer from 400 metres away made it across the tracks to former freehouse The Gluepot. Instead various Golden-like pints were spotted and sunk on days out in Stoke, Huddersfield or Oldham, but never seen again in Swindon.

So was it a case of aiming too far and too wide? Who knows but one landlord I spoke too even said that he found the brewery difficult to deal with, with them preferring answerphones to answering calls or answering his questions.

For most beer drinkers Archers were probably a producer of some pleasant but samey straw coloured ales but for some of us, Swindonians mostly, it will be missed. Even if we haven’t so much as seen a beers of theirs in ten years.


jocko said...

The reason they have gone bust is because they have been churning out cr*p beer for years.Just recently their beers have been a lot better but their bad reputation has probably killed them off.

tommy n said...

Archers tried to deliver over the whole country. A few years ago their beer was everywhere; even here in Suffolk most free houses would use them for guests (and as permanent fixtures). There beer was average but cheap (£40 a firkin), but as more small micros started opening and brewing more interesting beers they were squeezed out. A good example is their Mild. A few years ago Archers mild was one of only an handful of dark cask ales available all over the country, now micros all over the place are brewing Mild. Last summer Archers stop having their mild as a permanent.
To compete they sold their beers ridiculously cheaply, and made no money. Sad to see any real ale brewery go though.

Alex Cooke said...

Thanks Tommy N, that's very interesting and perhaps a warning to a few others that even brewers with established number of outlets can lose out to micros if they fail to innovate (and maintain quality).

Benjy E said...

Here's a fond memory I have of Archers: as an American tourist who is fanatical about real ale, I visited the brewery for a tour and to buy some pump clips from their shop. I didn't get a tour and they didn't really have a shop, but in the shed outside the brewery they kept a vast collection of pump clips from Archer's and dozens of other breweries. I was able to buy 30 or more different clips from them, instantly expanding my collection by several times.

I think that was in 2002 or so. The chap told me they were a distribution depot for many breweries in the area, and when delivering the various casks they needed to supply the pubs with the clips for the particular beer.

I went back a few years later but they were no longer a distribution depot and had no pump clips. Can't say I ever saw their beer in a pub, either.

Alex Cooke said...

Benjy. In recent years Archers had done some work to improve this problem and actually sorted out tours and tastings - for their own beers obviously. Not that I ever went on one but then I guess I was part of the problem...

But fair play to you, an American tourist going to Swindon! I wouldn't recommend it to anyone from Chippenham, let alone all the way from the US.

DAVE said...


DAVE said...


Anonymous said...

Having just recently come across this blog/rant re Archers beer never found in Swindon, but just about everywhere else North of Watford I thought I would drop you a few lines.
As an ex-Archers employee (yes, I was there until the bitter end (nearly), it was always extremely frustrating to hear to hear comments such as the above uttered by nearly every CAMRA or real ale drinker I encountered (usually on my day off), when the answer to the question (why are there little or no signs of Archers beer in Swindon) is extremely simple when you think about it......It begins with A....go on....ok, second letter is R....followed by K, yep, you got it, Arkells brewery, who on my last check owned 102 pubs in total, with approx a third of those in Swindon (not to mention surrounding areas such as Wanborough, Purton etc)! And don't get me started on the other ties, such as Enterprise, S&N, Wadworths etc etc.

Whilst I don't quite understand why the Archers Directors at the time decided to sell off the brewery pubs (including the Glue Pot), what I do understand is why so much of the beer was to be found further afield. Simply because we could.

I am still in the brewery trade, in Wiltshire and I still have the same issues here that I faced selling beer at Archers in that the number of Freehouses are on the decline and the number of tied and managed are on the increase.

As for Bath, well, aside from a handful of freehouses (Green Tree, The Bell on Walcot Street, The Raven, Volunteer Rifleman and the Royal Oak spring to mind), guest ales are just that, guest ales and without a permanent placement, an Archers ale would not have been found 365 days of the year within the city walls.

As to the widely held view that Archers produced far too many beers, the main reason for this is simple. Because there was a market for it. How many pubs do you come across who boast of their ever changing range and proudly display hundreds of pump clips across the ceiling and over the bar? And as to the numbers banded about by all and sundry, having actually seen the recipe books and counted them individually, I can tell you it was nearer the 120 mark (when you consider the core range changed from 9 to 6 over the years and seasonals were 6 a month and repeated each year, plus a few extra).

I do hope this answers a few questions for you, and in case you were not aware, the Archers brewery site is to re-open in the near future as a brew-pub-cum-restaurant, taken on by an enterprising local landlord, so hurrah! Beer will once again be brewed in that lovely old building for (hopefully) many years to come.