John Smith's Brewery
|Predecessor(s)||Hartley & Backhouse|
|Headquarters||Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, England|
|Area served||United Kingdom|
|Production output||3.8 million hectolitres (1.6 million hl of John Smith's)|
John Smith's Brewery (John Smith Ltd) is a brewing company that traces its origins to the founding of the Backhouse & Hartley brewery in 1758 at Tadcaster in Yorkshire, England. John Smith purchased the brewery in 1847. Following a spate of acquisitions in the post-World War II period, the company became one of the largest regional brewers in the country, owning over 1,800 tied houses and off licenses. The company was taken over by Courage in 1970 who extended distribution of the brewery's products into the South of England. Courage was acquired by Scottish & Newcastle in 1995, and the operations were purchased by Heineken in 2008.
The brewery is known for producing John Smith's Bitter, which has been the highest selling ale in the United Kingdom since the mid-1990s. The majority of John Smith's sales are of the nitrogenated Extra Smooth version, although a cask conditioned variant is available nationally, most commonly around the beer's Yorkshire heartland. Magnet is also available in the North East of England. John Smith's Cask and Magnet are produced by Cameron's in Hartlepool.
Although the company is no longer independent, the John Smith's Tadcaster Brewery site has been maintained, and it remains the location where the majority of John Smith's products are brewed, as well as a range of Heineken products. With a 3.8 million hectolitre capacity, the brewery is one of the largest in the country.
John Smith's became well known for a series of highly successful "No Nonsense"-themed television advertising campaigns, featuring the dour Yorkshireman "Arkwright" during the 1970s and 1980s (shown only in the South of England), followed by the comedians Jack Dee during the 1990s and Peter Kay since 2002. In addition, it is a major sponsor of horse racing in the UK: it was the principal sponsor of the Grand National between 2005 - 2013 and continues to sponsor the Northumberland Plate as well as other events.
John Smith was born in Leeds on 18 March 1824; the eldest of five children of Samuel Smith, a wealthy butcher and tanner from Leeds. In 1847 John Smith purchased the Backhouse & Hartley brewery using funding provided by his father. Smith's timing proved fortuitous; pale ales were displacing porter as the beer of choice, and Tadcaster's hard water proved to be ideal for brewing the new style of beer. The prosperity of the 1850s and 1860s, together with the arrival of the railways, realised greater opportunities for brewers, and by 1861 Smith employed eight men in his brewing and malting enterprise.
The operations became sizeable during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Smith died at Tadcaster on 9 September 1879, leaving an estate valued at under £45,000 (around £3.3 million in 2013 adjusted for inflation), and his assets were jointly inherited by his two brothers, William (a gentleman) and Samuel Smith (a tanner). William purchased Samuel's share of his brother's personal estate, and built a modern brewery in 1883–4 at the cost of £130,000 (£9.7 million in 2013). William Smith died in 1886, and the firm was inherited in partnership by his two young nephews, Frank and Henry Herbert Riley, henceforth known as Riley-Smith under the terms of his will.
The brewery won six gold medals in competitions at exhibitions in Amsterdam (1883), Paris (1884, 1887), Antwerp and two in London (1885). The firm expanded throughout the 1880s by creating an agency network, establishing sixteen offices in nearby settlements such as Middlesbrough and York, and offering discounts on their beer of 20 per cent or higher. By 1889, the brewery was producing 150,000 barrels annually. The partnership became a limited company in August 1892, with Henry Herbert Riley-Smith as chairman. At the turn of the century the brewery was considered to be one of the best-run in Britain, "a byword for first-class management". The company began to bottle its own beer from around 1907.
From 1948 the company exported beer to Belgium where it was bottled and distributed by Tilkens brewery. In 1950 there was a general strike in Belgium, and John Smith's hired two Handley Page Halifax heavy bomber aircraft for a twice-daily air lift of their beers into the country in order to ensure supply. In 1953 the firm became a public company. In 1958 the company began to bottle the Belgian Alken at Tadcaster, in response to growing customer demand for lager. Three years later, Carlsberg lager began to be bottled also. In 1961 the company took over the Barnsley Brewery Company, adding 250 licensed properties to their growing estate. John Smith expanded production at Barnsley, and added production of their own beers. By 1967, after a series of acquisitions, John Smith's was the third largest regional brewer in the country after Courage and Scottish & Newcastle, and had a market capitalization of £29.4 million (£451,821,065 in 2013 adjusted for inflation), with family interests still holding around 10 per cent of the company.
1970-present: Courage takeover and the growth of John Smith's Bitter
In 1970, Courage purchased John Smith's in a friendly takeover worth £40 million (£523,875,015 in 2013 adjusted for inflation). By this time John Smith's owned some 1,800 public houses, hotels and freehold clubs spread throughout the north of England, as far south as Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and parts of Cambridgeshire and Shropshire. The John Smith's-Courage combine held assets worth £137 million. John Smith's bottled Magnet Pale Ale was chosen for nationwide distribution across the group, and the takeover facilitated the wider distribution of Courage brands such as Tavern Keg. Courage closed down the Barnsley brewery in 1976 with the loss of 200 jobs.
In 1974 Courage test marketed keg John Smith's bitter in the South of England for the first time, where it proved popular. The product was distributed in the South of England from 1979 onwards, accompanied by an extensive marketing budget, and was the first Yorkshire bitter to have nationwide distribution. The beer began to be promoted heavily in the South of England after research by Courage found that Southern drinkers considered Yorkshire bitter to be superior, and to capitalise on this it was sold there under the name John Smith's Yorkshire Bitter. Sales of the beer doubled in 1981 owing to the increase in free trade outlets in the South of England stocking the beer. By 1982 it was the highest selling Courage brand and the highest selling canned bitter in the United Kingdom.
In December 1983 John Smith's Cask (3.8 per cent ABV) was re-introduced, seven years after it had been phased out. In 1993 John Smith's Extra Smooth (3.8 per cent ABV) was launched in cans. It is nitrogenated and pasteurised. It was introduced in kegs in 1995.
By 2005 John Smith's was available in 40,000 outlets across the United Kingdom. In mid-2007, Scottish & Newcastle moved production of John Smith's Cask from Tadcaster to Burtonwood near Warrington, and production of John Smith's Magnet (4 per cent ABV) to Camerons Brewery of Hartlepool. In 2008 three limited edition brews were released to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the brewery. They were Winner's Tipple in bottles and on cask in March, Heritage on cask in April and Finest Hour on cask in August. In 2010 Heineken discontinued production of cask conditioned John Smith's Magnet, although it remains available in kegs. By 2011, production of John Smith's Cask had moved to Cameron's. As of 2012, John Smith's is the sixth highest selling beer brand in the United Kingdom and the highest selling bitter in the world. From February 2013, John Smith's Extra Smooth and Original were reduced from 3.8 to 3.6% ABV. According to Heineken, the decision was taken in order to bring the product in line with the strength of its smooth competitors such as Tetley, Boddingtons and Worthington.
The brewery brews 3.8 million hectolitres annually (1.8 million of which is John Smith's beer), and employed around 300 people in 2008. It has two keg lines, two bottle lines and one canning line. It currently brews and packages the ale brands John Smith's Original, John Smith's Extra Smooth and Newcastle Brown Ale, the lager brands Foster's and Kronenbourg 1664, and Murphy's Irish Stout.
Slate Yorkshire Square brewing vessels were used at the brewery from 1913 until 1975. Stainless steel Yorkshire squares were in use by at least 1960, but were removed in the 1980s, and the brewery now uses conical tanks. Wooden casks were still in use in the 1960s. From 1970 until 1984 the John Smith's Brewery produced only keg beer, and no cask conditioned beer. In 1984 the original brewhouse was converted into a brewery museum. In November 1985 a new £5 million brewhouse opened. Production of Foster's Lager began in 1987. By 1989 the brewery had a production capacity of 1.2 million barrels per annum. Scottish & Newcastle used the John Smith's Brewery to brew many of its ale brands. A new bottling facility was opened in 2004, at the cost of £24 million. It was described as the most modern bottling facility in Europe.
The Magnet trademark was first registered in 1911.
The company's association with television advertising began in 1970 with the "Yorkshiremen love it" campaign. From 1976 to 1986 the brand was represented in the South of England by the dour Yorkshireman Arkwright, played by Gordon Rollings. The campaign won a large number of advertising industry awards, and was featured by the comedian Johnny Carson on his popular television programme in the United States. The series was continued until 1991 with Arkwright's successor, Barraclough. Meanwhile, the "Big John" campaign ran in the North of England from 1981, and centred around a re-writing of the Big Bad John country music staple. Courage was able to demonstrate to an independent panel that the £300,000 campaign had resulted in a £5 million sales increase in the North.
The beer owes its continued success to its "No Nonsense" marketing campaigns featuring two comedians. It initially starred Jack Dee from 1992 until 1997, followed by Peter Kay from 2002–5 and again in 2010–11. The Dee campaign was widely credited with catapulting John Smith's from number 16 to number 4 in the UK beer market as sales increased by 65 per cent, and the brand overtook Tetley's as the highest selling ale brand in the world by 1995. The Dee campaign won fifty advertising awards. The advertisements turned Dee into a household name.
Dee quit in 1997, and was replaced in 1998 by a cardboard cut-out known as the "No Nonsense Man". However, No Nonsense Man was found to have less of an impact than the Dee advertisements and a human face was recruited who "in many ways represents a Jack Dee for a new decade." The then up-and-coming comedian Peter Kay was enlisted for a new generation of advertisements for the brand. The Kay ads were an "advertising phenomenon" and introduced catchphrases into the public consciousness such as "Ave it!" and "Top bombing!". Between 2002 and 2004 the Kay advertisements won over fifty advertising and marketing awards, making it the sixth most awarded advertising campaign in the world. Despite the success of the Kay advertisements, they were criticised by rival brewer Interbrew as discouraging female take-up of beer. Scottish & Newcastle replied that "To suggest we all live in a stereotyped world where everyone is tanned, has white teeth and is healthy is simply misleading."
John Smith's is the biggest commercial sponsor of horse racing in the United Kingdom and sponsored the Grand National between 2005 and 2013. One of the first races they sponsored was the John Smith's Cup (originally the Magnet Cup until 1998) at York in 1960, which is the longest running sponsorship in flat racing in the world. It has sponsored the Northumberland Plate since 2003, and more than 90 "No Nonsense" race days are held throughout the year at almost 30 jump and flat racecourses across the UK.
In August 2012 Heineken announced a five-year sponsorship of the Kirklees Stadium in Huddersfield, home to Huddersfield Town football club and Huddersfield Giants rugby league club. It will be known as the John Smith's Stadium until 2017.
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