The East Midlands Packaging Society

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East Midlands Packaging Society Visit to Marston’s Brewery 9th December 2009 - Visit Report

On the 9th December 30 members of The East Midlands Packaging Society visited The Marston’s Brewery at Burton Upon Trent. The Marston's Beer Company is the brewing division of Marston's PLC and is responsible for some of Britain's best-loved beers, including Marston's, Banks's, Jennings, Hobgoblin, Mansfield and Ringwood. Their award-winning ales collected five international brewing medals at the Millennium International Brewing Awards.

Marston's PLC is one of the top 250 quoted companies in the UK. It’s pub estate totals 2,184 pubs - 1,688 tenancies within Marston's Pub Company and 496 directly managed by Marston's Inns and Taverns. They are the largest independent brewing group and pride themselves on the consistently excellent quality of their beers, brewed in the traditional way using the very best quality natural ingredients. In addition to brewing, they also package beers and lagers in kegs, cans and bottles and sell a full range of wines, spirits and minerals to an extensive collection of Free Trade and National Accounts customers.

Brewing has taken place on the Marston’s site at Burton for over a century. Our tour included everything from, Malt Intake, milling, mashing, boiling, and fermentation. During our visit we witnessed the care and attention that goes into making the flagship & premium Marston’s Pedigree brand, itself established for over 100 years, using the ‘Burton Union System’ to brew high quality draught ales. This ‘Union’ system involves a recirculating fermentation system invented in the 1830s. It comprises of a row of casks connected to a common trough by way of a series of pipes. The practical purpose of this is to allow excess barm (yeast foam) to be expelled from the casks without leaving excessive amounts of head space within the casks, separating any expelled beer from the wasted yeast, allowing it to flow back into the casks to continue fermentation.
The Burton site is now the only site in the world using the Union System to brew beer.

Another unique aspect of the Martson’s brewery is the continued use of old-fashioned wooden barrels, known collectively as ‘cooperage’. Traditionally, a ‘cooper’ is someone who makes wooden-staved vessels of a conical form, of greater length than breadth, bound together with hoops and possessing flat ends or heads. Examples of a cooper's work include but are not limited to casks, barrels and buckets. Apparently there are now only 5 Coopers employed in the UK and 1 of them is employed permanently at Marston’s – a dying art in the ‘packaging’ of beers!

The Union System is not widely used in commercial beer production anymore, and the Burton Union principle, together with the use of wooden barrels gives a very wholesome and unique flavour to the Pedigree beer.

Burton upon Trent itself is renowned for it’s beers and breweries over the years. There are a number of reasons for this, not least because of the local water which is unique due to the valley structure and geology.

A couple of unusual & interesting facts we discovered:
Fact 1: Each fermentation produces about three times the amount of yeast used at the start of the process. The best yeast, is then used for subsequent fermentations and the surplus yeast is sold to Marmite (which is produced just ‘down the road’ from the brewery).

Fact 2: Finings are used in brewing to promote the settlement of the yeast and clarification of the beer. The finings that go into Pedigree is produced from the swim-bladders of sturgeon fish! Fascinating!

From the attention to detail throughout the brewing process to the care taken in serving, it's the passion of the Marston’s employees that make their beers unique.

Our grateful thanks go to Lesley Sweeney, Visitors Centre Manager, and her colleagues, who made us extremely welcome, giving us a very enlightening tour and provided a wonderful array of refreshments. The evening soon passed and we all agreed that it had been a most interesting and informative visit.

Chris Penfold
External Relations Officer, East Midlands Packaging Society

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