Creating Our Beers, Research and Authenticity
At the outset of our project we knew there was only one path to follow in turning Phipps NBC back into a brewer, one based on historical authenticity. To simply attach the name to a modern brew and to pass it off as Phipps would not only be morally bankrupt but probably lead to financial ruin as well.
We began with an investigation of two surviving bottled examples, a 1953 Phipps Coronation Ale Double Crown and an early 1960's can of Gold Star.This was carried out by Prof Usher at Sunderland University's Brewlab.
Over the next few years many people came forward with a variety of hard facts. In particular Geoff Cooper from the Brewers Association was a mine of information. Two original brewer's journals from the late 30's & 40's surfaced which gave is an invaluable insight into the methods and materials used by Phipps. The Northamptonshire County Archives at Wooton Hall also produced some key pieces of the jigsaw as Watney/Grand Met deposited company documents there that they deemed surplus to requirements in 1973.
Another crucial break through followed a article in the Chronicle & Echo in the spring of 2008. This resulted in several ex employees and brewers getting in touch to offer their support for the project. Key man in this process was John Clipston who started with P.Phipps in 1954 and continued at Bridge St. through to Carlsberg days. John was active in the pensioners association and could put names and addresses to many old faces. First Peter Mauldon was contacted, a relative new boy starting as 3rd brewer in 1966, he recommended speaking to Mike Henson, Chief Chemist from 1964.
Mike Henson with his original Phipps NBC notebooks
Mike provided his official Phipps notes on the water treatment used at Bridge Street and recommended speaking to Pat Heron. Pat started at NBC is 1954 but moved on the Hall and Woodhouse in the early 70s as Head Brewer. Pat passed on the recipe for Phipps IPA and has acted as chief consultant for all our revived brews to date. Since the launch, another Bridge St. brewer from the 60s, Bob Hipwell, has made contact and added to our knowledge base. 101 year old NBC brewer Charles Robinson contributed his vast experience to the recreation of Red Star. Next Robin Seward, son of former Head Brewer A.L.Seward, gave us access to his father's brewing notebooks, rescued from the demolition of Bridge Street when Robin was working there in the dying days of the plant.
From here on we knew the wealth of experience on offer meant we could now brew a Phipps beer worthy of its history.
The next step was to identify a brewing partner with the skills and desire to bring Phipps back to life. We looked for a brewer with the depth of experience necessary to turn the dry and dusty recipes back into a living, breathing beer. Pat Heron suggested Tony Davies from the Grainstore Brewery, Tony having worked under Dusty Miller, ex Head Brewer at Phipps, when both were at Ruddles in the 1980s.
We would like to express our gratitude to Tony Davis and the Grainstore Team who helped us relaunch Phipps so successfully, brewing our beer from Nov '08 to March '14.
Tony Davis with Noel "Dusty" Miller at Ruddles in 1983, and in 2008 at the Grainstore Brewery, Oakham
When the time came to move production back to Northampton to a Victorian Brewery once owned by Phipps, we were delighted to appoint Tony's deputy John Smith as our new head brewer. John also began his career at Ruddles and was responsible for the majority of the Phipps Ales and Stout production during our Grainstore years. His role at The Albion brewery now means we have maintained an un-broken line of brewing expertise dating all the way back to 1801 when Pickering Phipps began brewing in Towcester.
Phipps IPA 4.3%
Phipps IPA was the Flagship brew of both P.Phipps, Phipps NBC and Phipps Brewery Ltd from its appearance in the late 19th century until 1968 when all traditional draught beers from Bridge Street disappeared. It continued as a bottled beer until 1972. Phipps perfected the golden hoppy brew at a time when most beers were dark, heavy and bland and its popularity was undoubtedly one of the factors that enabled the company to become the largest brewer in the East Midlands.
This brew was the obvious choice for our first revived beer and its survival well into the Watney era meant we have both detailed brewing records allied to the input of a number of old Bridge Street men who brewed it. In particular Phipps' chief chemist Mike Henson kept all his note books from his time with the company and provided us with Phipps' unique water analysis and treatment procedure. Our consultant head brewer Pat Heron and Grainstore's Tony Davis studied recipes for the beer from the 30s, 40s and 60s and decided to reinstate some of the ingredients discarded in the austerity condition of WW2 and never restored in the postwar era.
Red Star Bitter 3.8%
A NBC recipe, passed on to us by Pat Heron who started at NBC in 1954. Pat's father was Head Brewer at NBC's Phoenix Brewery on Bridge Street before him. 100 year old NBC brewer Charles Robinson also gave us his experience and opinion on this brew. Red Star is made with the traditional Mild Ale malt variety that was a staple of NBC bitters and milds in the 1950s.
NBC was the first brewer in Northamptonshire to introduce the Burton Union system and they always maintained the quality of their session bitters. The company was known for its many catchy slogans such as "NBC beers radiate good cheer" but often used the simple " NBC The Best", emphasising their acknowledged superiority over rivals in the best bitter department. When Phipps NBC first attempted to merge draught Phipps and NBC in 1959, the latter's drinkers revolted and the company was forced to restore the separate and distinct brews. The reprieve was short lived as NBC PA , or Red Star as it was often called, was sold in the same category as the new owner's Watney's flagship brew Red Barrel, was quickly withdrawn to make way for the infamous keg beer.
Ratliffe's Celebrated Stout 4.3%
The old Northampton brewery of Ratliffe and Jeffery was taken over by Phipps in 1899 but Mr Ratliffe stayed on with the company to oversee the continued brewing of his famous stout. By the end of the 30s Ratliffe's Celebrated Stout had replaced Phipps' own brews as the main stout. In WW2 it was the bottled beer sent out to the Northamptonshire Regiment serving with the Desert Rats in North Africa. This was commemorated on the 1940s bottle label by the inclusion of a red rat in front of pyramids and palm trees. After the merger with NBC the joint stout was known as Ratliffe's Jumbo Stout, later shortened to Phipps Jumbo Stout. This was the last Phipps branded product brewed by Watney Mann, bowing out in October 1972.
The beer's long circular journey from the Albion Brewery to Bridge Street then back to its original home in 2014 must surely be one of the brewing industry's more memorable stories of survival.