Samuel Allsopp & Sons brewery in Burton-on-Trent in the English Midlands played a leading role in the development of pale ale in the 19th century. The company dates from the 1740s, when an innkeeper named Benjamin Wilson started to brew beer on the premises. The brewing side prospered and Wilson’s son, also named Benjamin, took over the business and was joined by his nephew Samuel Allsopp. In 1807 Allsopp bought out the Wilsons and turned Samuel Allsopp & Sons into a public company.
Burton was a major producer of strong brown ale that was exported to Russia and the Baltic States. The brewing town faced a major crisis in the late 18th and early 19th centuries when England was almost continuously at war with France. When Napoleon blockaded the Baltic ports against the English, the Burton brewers lost their export trade. Between 1780 and the mid-1820s, the number of brewers in Burton fell from thirteen to five. The remaining brewers, who included William Bass and William Worthington as well as Allsopp’s, desperately looked for new markets. Their salvation was the British colonies, India in particular. Beer had been supplied to “the Raj,” the British rulers of India and their large retinue of servants and soldiers, since early in the 18th century, but dark beers did not satisfy drinkers in the torrid climate of the sub- continent.
Help came to Burton when a small London brewer, George Hodgson, used the East India and West India docks in the capital to export a new, paler beer to India.
The other Burton brewers rushed to follow in Allsopp’s footsteps. They found that the spring waters of the Trent Valley, rich in sulfates, were ideally suited to brewing pale ale; the natural salts in the water enhanced the flavors of malt and hops. Allsopp’s was second only in size in Burton to Bass and in the 1830s the two breweries were exporting 6,000 barrels a year to India. Beer was sent by canal to the docks in London and Liverpool. But as the railway system developed in Britain, it carried Burton pale ale to towns and cities for domestic consumption. India pale ales were strong, between 7% and 8% alcohol, and heavily hopped to withstand the long sea journey to Bombay and Calcutta. Beer for the British market, simply called “pale ale,” was lower in alcohol and less heavily hopped.
By 1890 Allsopp’s was producing 460,000 barrels of beer a year with a workforce of 1,750. Samuel had been succeeded by his sons Charles and Henry but their stewardship of the company was disastrous. In the 1890s, £80,000 was invested in a new 60,000-barrel brewery designed to make lager beer, at a time when there was little demand for lagers in England. The venture failed. As did numerous other brewers, Allsopp’s rushed to build large estates of pubs but became so financially stretched that it went into receivership in 1913 and was rescued only by a merger with Ind Coope, which came from Romford in Essex, close to London. In common with several brewers from London, Liverpool, and Manchester, Ind Coope had opened a brewery in Burton to use the local waters to brew pale ale.
Ind Coope & Allsopp, on firmer financial footing, remained a major presence in British brewing. It was best known for its Burton pale ale called Double Diamond; the name came from a branding mark on casks in the 19th century. By this time, the company was known only as Ind Coope, the Allsopp name having been dropped in 1959. In 1971 Ind Coope became part of Allied Breweries, a company that included Ansells of Birmingham and Tetley of Leeds.
The former Ind Coope & Allsopp and Bass breweries in Burton are now owned by the American brewer Coors. A pilot brewery within the Burton complex, called the Samuel Allsopp Brewery, survives but is currently not in use. It was used in the 1990s to produce an India pale ale for a seminar on IPA organized by the British Guild of Beer Writers. The beer was based on an Ind Coope & Allsopps’ recipe from the 1920s.