Samuel Allsopp & Sons of Burton was one of the failures of the late-Victorian and Edwardian brewing industry. City Life magazine published in 1890 cartoon entitled ‘Poor Old Allsopp,’ as despite a clamour to buy the company’s newly issued shares in 1887, its dividends were so unimpressive that shareholders were demanding their money back. Crisis followed thereafter. In 1899 a £80,000 60,000 barrel lager brewery was built, only to be shut down in 1914 because of limited demand for lager. Finally, after failing to merge with Thomas Salt and Co and the Burton Brewery Company in 1907, Allsopp went into receivership in 1911, and only a restructure saved it.
This dreadful performance and rash acts of investment, led Gourvish and Wilson to argue that Allsopp was the “most recklessly run brewery in England.” How delightful therefore that BrewDog have applied to acquire one of its trademarks. Whilst looking for Whitbread trademarks on the UK register, I decided to enter “Brewdog” to see what turned up. To my surprise, the company applied to register FOX & ANCHOR in July and on 21 August Allsopp’s, specifically its “Special Bottling Pale Ale”.
Why BrewDog have done this is a mystery at this point, but a future attempt to use history and/or heritage in marketing a product is a possible explanation floating around on Twitter. Brewers have done so for centuries. Whitbread in the 1890s used a quote from Shakespeare’s The Tempest – “I’ll Swear on that Bottle” (Act 3, Scene III) – to associate their product with an earlier age, and invoke an idea of integrity based on a history. Current breweries do similar; whilst looking forward, Fuller’s’ establishments and beers adhere to a pseudo-historical motif that suggests implicitly that it is an old brewery that can be trusted. And lets just mention the countless new breweries that proudly proclaim ‘Since 2008’ or ‘Since 2015,’ or the such-like. The founding year is deemed important to emphasise, to say to the consumer “we haven’t been doing this since yesterday – trust us”.
By contrast, however, BrewDog has no heritage to draw on. Whilst the company website tells the story (some might say a highly mythologised one) of their founding and development since 2007, in marketing they have always shunned the use of heritage, or the past, or anything that came before them. They were Punk, they were about the present, and hence it is curious that they have applied to acquire Allsopp’s mark. Could this however be symptomatic of problems with the Dog? It is well understood that in times of difficultly companies resort to using their history or heritage to sell products, as it is a stable message that conveys trustworthiness and integrity. Undoubtedly, over the last few years, BrewDog’s share of the overall craft market has been threatened by new entrants, and they have had a couple of bumps in the road, notably the failure to raise the target amount of capital from Equity for Punks USA.
Could it be that to compensate for these and other new challenges the company is looking to expand into the long-established market for traditional beers by using a historic and perhaps trusted brand as a vehicle? Considering we have seen the revival of historic names in recent years – most notably Truman’s and Lacon’s – acquiring and then applying the Allsopp’s mark to a new range of beers might be a way to follow down this road and reach a new group customers outside its established customer base. Indeed, it could do this without imperilling or altering the reputation and identity of the existing business, which it wants to keep growing.
Under normal circumstances, this might actually seem like a logical strategy for an expanding concern. But in terms of reputation Brewdog is not a normal company. If ‘Allsopps by BrewDog’ – if that is what is going to happen – materialises, will beer drinkers just see the red hand, or see what is behind it? Will they forget that heritage has not been a BrewDog attribute up until now, that the company has simply acquired history, or just forget that BrewDog is involved? Only time will tell. BrewDog could give Allsopps its greatest success in over 130 years, or perhaps deliver another Turkey like that £60,000 lager brewery.
20/09/2017 – Edited for clarity.
 T.R. Gourvish and R.G. Wilson, The British Brewing Industry, 1830-1980, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 230.
 Ibid., 177.
 Ian Webster, Ind Coope & Samuel Allsopp Breweries – The History of the Hand, (Stoud: Amberley, 2015), 26-28.
 Gourvish and Wilson, The British Brewing Industry, 177.
 Advert, Southend Standard and Essex Weekly Advertiser, Aug 8, 1895,