Posted by: The Prince of Whales | May 7, 2010

The End of the Burton Snatch

The Cathedral of Beer

This week I had a very good Thursday. In the morning I was invited to Marston’s Brewery in Burton upon Trent as the guest of their Head Brewer, Emma Gilleland, who kindly showed me and a handful of other folks from Birmingham Camra around the fabulous brewery. In the afternoon, I caught the train down to London and enjoyed “good bye for now”  meal at Belgo’s (famous for Belgian Beer), as our youngest son Joe heads off to Vietnam for a couple of months.  Even the journey home was not too bad: we said goodbye to Joe at Heathrow and then Max and me herfed good cigars and Diane complained as she drove us back up the M40. Ah family life!

Back to Burton.

As a beer lover, you know you are in for a good time when the air in a town is heavy with the sweet biscuity smell of brewing. Long before my first ever pint, I used to love the smell going past Thwaites and Matthew Brown on the school bus in my home town of Blackburn.

With Burton what you can’t smell is the water. Not from the dirty old Trent but from the brewery’s own wells deep beneath the cricket pitch. Rich in minerals, its the sulphates in the water that give old Pedigree its famed “Burton Snatch” – as you bring a pint up to your mouth and your nose first gets a whiff, it hits you and takes you by surprise.

Once in the brewery, the buildings are impressive. You can almost step back to the hey days of Burton Ale when 31 breweries graced this relatively small town in the 1880’s.

On our tour round, Emma was a great guide with a real love of the old buildings, the process and the beer.

Tthere was a great deal of original equipment still to be seen and marvelled at: in the brewhouse there were the original cast iron lined mash tuns, the old grist mills and a magnificent diving bell copper. These were all a great contrast to the modern stainless steel plant installed in the mid 1990’s, when the brewhouse benefitted from a major overhaul. Now these huge, shinning steel vessels mash and brew silently on a huge scale. Steaming, silent, spotless.

Once the wort’s had its 90 minute boil, it’s goes down stairs to the whirlpools were the trub (solid matter like hops and grains) is filtered off. Then comes the magic.

The Burton Union magic. Marston’s Pedigree is the only beer to maintain this tradition. The fermentation of the wort in large German Oak barrels.

Its better brewed in wood ... the Burton Union Method

Now I reckon the guys who wrote the Matrix must be beer lovers who visited Burton. The scenes in the film of thousands of humans plugged into a massive machine to provide energy from body heat – tubes, pipes and pods everywhere.

The stainless swan neck outlet pipes bubble  up from the barrels into the square open tanks and yeast is everywhere.  A truly unique sight in brewing.

Unfortunately the cooper was on his lunch but my great, great, great grandad would have loved his workshop!

Finally there was just time for a swift half of Pedigree in the visitor centre before dashing off to the station. Gone was the Burton Snatch but the beer was beautiful. A thick creamy head, soft and silky body. Malt, biscuits and a full mouthfeel.  A fine understated pint.

Thank you Emma



  1. My dad was born and brought up in Burton and therefore I spent many a childhood weekend visiting paternal grandparents. Fortunately, at that tender age, this did not involve tasting the beer but, as you rightly say, its aroma infused the air. My mother, not a great fan of beer, still less of her in-laws, was fond of pointing out that it was the beer in the air that made the locals so dopey. To me it smelled only of Marmite, but that is the innocence of youth I suppose.

    • Hello Mark,

      Thanks for feedback. Marmite yes indeed. Much of it starts life in the yeast tanks of Burton Breweries. Once the brewing process has ended, there is always an excess of yeast and this is still collected by Marmite from from the big breweries in the town.
      BTW do you know the origin of “gone for a Burton”?

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