In a year when Shaggy topped the charts with ‘Boombastic,’ Toy Story was a box office smash and the ‘Rachel’ haircut craze swept the country, Bath Ales opened its doors for the first time with an ethos to produce only high quality, flavoursome beers in response to consumer demand. In 1995, among the many great enterprises that launched – eBay, the DVD, Amazon – Bath Ales brewed its first batch of its flagship ale Gem. Here is the story of how it all happened...
Roger Jones began the company in September 1995 when he rented premises and a brew plant on the outskirts of Wincanton in Somerset, bringing together two other partners, Richard Dempster and Rab Clark. Richard was a brewer like Roger and both had previously worked for Smiles Brewery in Bristol. Rab was a pub landlord willing to sell the beer they produced.
The name Bath Ales was hatched in a sincere attempt to give the brewery an identity and to look to the future, where a move was envisaged at an early stage. They realised the importance of having an identity which customers could relate to and so the hare logo was born. The idea for the hare was inspired by the Westbury White Horse carved in chalk (and not as many people believe by the Watership Down rabbit!) The hare is also believed to be an ancient symbol for fertility. This branding broke the mould of how traditional, old fashioned and established brewers were perceived and has been integral to the Bath Ales success. The device still endures some 20 years on and is used across everything we do, standing as a mark of quality.
The first brew was Gem (4.1% vol) modelled as a best bitter. Gem still accounts for around 60% of all production. This was soon followed by Barnstormer (4.5% vol) a premium bitter named after Bath Rugby player and friend of Roger Jones, Stuart Barnes, known to enjoy a pint or two. Barnstormer was later renamed Barnsey, his nickname. Most of our early sales relied on contacts they had in and around Bristol and Bath and the daily round journey to the brew site and back meant long hours and big commitment.
In September 1997 the three partners purchased The Masons Arms pub in Kingsdown, Bristol. They changed the name to The Hare on the Hill, did a cosmetic refurbishment and started to sell their own beer in their own pub. This gave the business much needed cash flow and allowed the brewery to showcase the beers they produced.
In February 1998, mainly with the monies from the Hare on the Hill revenue - the pub had been very successful - the brewery was purchased and moved to Siston Common, a location in East Bristol which was very handy to supply the main markets of Bristol and Bath. The move led to an upgrade of the brewery plant with a more efficient and more consistent regime and the introduction of a third brew – Special Pale Ale (3.7% vol). A new van was also purchased with the prominent hare logo for all to see.
In the summer of 1998 and with the blue print of The Hare on the Hill (freehold), it was felt necessary to acquire a pub in Bath to re-enforce the name and give a presence to the Bath Ales beers in Bath. The purchase of The Hop Pole (freehold) followed and the subsequent refurbishment in a very similar style to The Hare on the Hill meant that a brand had been established with corporate colours emerging, namely orange and blue, now to be found on everything from our pump clips and beer towels to our trucks, t-shirts and all manner of merchandise.
In November 1999 The Merchants Arms in Hotwells, Bristol was acquired, followed by a Bath city-centre pub, The Salamander in May 2001. The Wellington, a large community pub in Horfield, Bristol followed in November 2001 (all leasehold) before The Swan in Swineford was added in June 2005.
As a result of severe pressure on the brewery plant, being at full capacity for two years, the brewery moved in May 2004 to its current dedicated site in Warmley, East Bristol, about a mile from the old site.
The capacity tripled from 15 barrels to 45-50 barrels per brew and a brand new plant was built. The economy of scale were vastly improved as it involves less brewing labour requirements and a CIP system (cleaning in place) which meant less hands on labour and much more efficiency.
In early 2007, Bath Ales commissioned a state-of-the-art bottling line, installed in new dedicated premises, just down the road from the main brewery. The kit comprises specialist equipment from a number of sources and having brought bottling in-house, it has enabled Bath ALes to greatly improve quality and consistency of bottled beer and offer more of our ales in bottle.
The increased brewing capacity also meant that investment in more pubs would be required to satisfy the demand for more sales. This coincided with a new approach for Bath Ales’ food vision - as customer demands were changing to excellent food at an affordable price, and so the Graze concept was born.
Graze Bar & Chophouse is a fresh and sophisticated take on the traditional British pub, and combines superb ales, wines and spirits with a no-nonsense menu of quality British and European dishes. Graze Bristol was launched in December 2010 on Queen Square, at the former Post Office site. Graze did very well and was soon followed by Graze Bath, Bath Ales' largest site to date, and then Graze Cirencester, both launching in 2012.
In the meantime, a much larger unit became available, still in Warmley and the decision was made to move into Hare House, a stone’s throw from the bottling plant. This is where the head office has been based since 2012, as well as warehousing and distribution and the Bath Ales Brewery Shop. There was room at Hare House to add a 5-barrel brew plant and this was used to do smaller runs aimed at a different target market. Beerd Brewery was born, creating some really innovative, experimental and different styles of beer with a range of unusual ingredients. After quickly establishing a following in the region, we opened Bristol’s first Craft Beer & Pizza Bar on St. Michael’s Hill, close to the centre of town. This concept was easily understood and has attracted a slightly younger customer base, making it an attractive proposition to open in other cities. Beerd Oxford followed in 2014.
Also in 2014, Bath Ales signed a deal to be able to run two additional sites within Bristol’s largest Concert Venue, Colston Hall. In the downstairs lobby, Colston St. Bar & Kitchen, an American-inspired diner and now an additional Beerd on the upper level opposite the box office.
On 1 July 2016 Cornwall-based St Austell Brewery aquired Bath Ales including our brewery, portfolio of beer brands and our 11-strong pub and restaurant estate.
St Austell Brewery, which is one of only 28 independent family-owned brewers in the UK, was founded in 1851 and is known to be one of the oldest businesses in Cornwall. The company owns 168 pubs and inns across the South West. Best known for Tribute Cornish Pale Ale, Proper Job IPA and Korev lager, St Austell Brewery makes its award-winning beers at its brewery in St Austell. The company reached the landmark figure of 100,000 brewer’s barrels (163,659 hectolitres) of its own brand beers brewed in a calendar year in 2015 – equivalent to 28.8 million pints.
All Bath Ales’ beer brands will continue to be brewed at the Bath Ales Brewery where a schedule of investment to expand the brewing and packaging facilities will take place. For further information please refer to our press release.