Garrett Oliver on the Unions

Garrett Oliver on the Unions


As some of you know, I fell in love with beer in the early 80s while living in London, stage-managing bands and going to the pub. The beer I fell in love with was British cask-conditioned ale. Scotland, Belgium and Germany followed later, but England was first for me (except for Guinness, whom I’d put into their own special category).

Years later, I ended up apprenticed to a Yorkshireman who’d brewed for Samuel Smith’s, and for years I brewed cask beer. I ended up judging the Great British Beer Festival seven times over the years. And even though CAMRA cast me out years ago as a heretic, I still think cask-conditioned beer is very special indeed.

Some things are not just historical, but also somehow magical. And magical things are often not practical. Steam locomotives, though I have never seen one in action, strike me as magical things. If there were no steam locomotives ever operating anywhere in the world again, I think the world would be a dimmer place.

I feel the same way about the Burton Unions (if you don’t know what they are, you can go check out Pete Brown’s article through his IG). Once, about 25 years ago, I visited Marston’s and saw the Unions going full tilt under the watchful eye of then head brewer Paul Bayley. They hissed, phutted, foamed, and churned like some great dragon held temporarily at bay. The whole thing looked and felt alive, and I felt as if I was in the presence of a god.

Gods are not practical things; in the real world, they are hard to keep alive. But if you believe in them, gods can be worth something, even if that something is just their spurring you to do your best work, to try to be worthy.

I didn’t save the Burton Unions, but I apparently helped convince Thornbridge and CMBC to save the Unions, and that makes me very happy indeed. Congrats to Jim Harrison, Simon Webster, Emma Gilleland, Rob Lovatt, Dominic Driscoll, Ben Wood, and their respective teams for making sure that this wonderment did not perish from the earth.

Written by Garrett Oliver (Instagram)

Brewmaster, The Brooklyn Brewery

Editor-in-Chief, The Oxford Companion to Beer

Michael James Jackson Foundation for Brewing and Distilling


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