On a recent visit home to my parents in Grimsby, my Dad handed me a clipping from the local newspaper’s ‘Bygones’ section.The article, originally printed in 1954, was about the Hewitt’s brewery (1874-1968) in Grimsby, for whom my maternal great-grandfather once worked, at the brewery’s maltings on the corner of Frederick Ward Way and Victoria Street. The article describes the brewery’s rise to prominence under the leadership of William Taylor Hewitt, an ambitious, forward-thinking man, who bought up several other small breweries in the area.
When WT Hewitt started Hewitt Bros Ltd with his brother Thomas Hewitt in the 1870s, many publicans still brewed their own beer on-site. WT Hewitt, with increased brewing capacity, his own maltings and the logistics to deliver across the region, travelled from door to door of the pubs in Grimsby, persuading landlords that it would be more economical for them to simply get their beer from the modern and prosperous Hewitt’s Brewery. His personal approach became his trademark, and made him extremely popular, and probably quite rich. From owning just a few premises in 1874 when Hewitt took over, by the time the article was printed the brewery owned 300 across Lincolnshire and as far as Yorkshire.
From the article, there is something of James Watt to WT Hewitt’s carnivorous business practices, seeking in his own way to change the beer landscape and the way the game was played. Whilst undoubtedly reducing the locality and individuality of the beers brewed in Grimsby at the time, he perhaps (and this is speculation) improved the overall quality, or at least the consistency of the beer available.
The image of WT Hewitt going from pub to pub and arguing that he could make things easier for brewing publicans reminded me of a conversation had in Dublin at the European Beer Bloggers Conference. During the session on the benefits of cask, keg, bottle or can, we learned of mobile canning lines in the US, which, mounted on the back of large trucks, could serve the canning needs of several small breweries in one area.
Several of us looked at each other with very much the same thought in mind: with a growing appetite for the freshest possible beer, and craft beer in cans, could breweries too small to consider the purchase of canning lines (or the space to accommodate them) find a solution in a mobile canning line? If the brewers can provide the cans (admittedly, a space issue in itself), the mobile line could be just the thing to change the rules of the game. I’d be very surprised if something like it doesn’t appear in the UK in the next two years. The question is, who will do it first?
[UPDATE 18/07/14 – 16:42: I’ve just learned of the existence of ThemThatCan, “The UK’s 1st and only mobile canning company to the craft beverage industry” which intends to start canning at the end of this summer. So there you go.]
I‘m going to do some more research into Hewitt’s Brewery for further blog posts and would be really grateful for any help. There’s an out-of-print book called ‘Beer, Hope and Charity’ by Graham Larn that I’m interested in tracking down, and pointers to any other good sources of information would be greatly appreciated.