Whitbread Brewery was one of the great brewing houses of the London porter boom, and later one of the “Big Six” brewers that dominated British brewing in the late 20th century. Samuel Whitbread began brewing in London in 1742, and in 1750 moved to the famous Chiswell Street brewery, which no longer brews but still stands in London. Whitbread seized the opportunities presented by the Industrial Revolution and invested in steam power to create the first purpose-built mass-production brewery in Britain. Porter—the beer that was sweeping London at the time—thrived on large-scale brewing, and the economies of scale made Whitbread the largest brewer in London by the end of the 18th century, when the city was arguably the most influential in the beer world.

Whitbread Brewery went on to produce a range of beer styles and brands, and acquired a large estate of tied pubs. See tied house system. In the late 20th century the company entered licensing agreements with lager brewers such as Stella Artois and Heineken to sell their brands throughout its estate.

When entrepreneur Eddie Taylor precipitated a rapid consolidation in British brewing in the 1960s, Whitbread’s “umbrella scheme”—taking shares in smaller breweries to protect them from being swallowed by Taylor’s empire—eventually saw it become one of the Big Six breweries that between them accounted for 75% of Britain’s beer output.

The power of the Big Six eventually led to legislation restricting the number of pubs (2,000) that a brewery could own. The numbers of pubs they held before that was so vast (around 15,000–18,000) that the British beer and pub industry tends to refer to the legislation as the end of the tied house system. The new limit meant that a national brewer could no longer achieve their accustomed presence. Not a ban, yet because of the legislation, no national brewers own pubs any more.

In 2001 Whitbread sold its brewing operations to Interbrew (now Anheuser-Busch InBev). Today it refers to itself as “the UK’s largest hotel and restaurant group.”

Pete Brown