Wednesday 21 September 2022

Drinking up a memory of Bass Cape Hill

Acquired at some memorabilia sale a few years back, this bottle’s been at the back of my fridge pretty much ever since. Until today I pulled it out – and suddenly realised that I was quite possibly involved, albeit peripherally, in what was brewed to celebrate. 

Some 35 years ago, I was invited to visit Cape Hill Brewery in Birmingham. Originally the HQ of Mitchells & Butler, or M&B as it was known in its brewing days, by the time I visited it was part of the Bass empire, and had just undergone a substantial refit. 

That refit included a new computer control system running on a pair of DEC VAX minicomputers, which was the reason for my visit as I was deputy editor of DEC User Magazine at the time. This system allowed them pretty much to program the brewery to brew what they wanted, batch by batch, whether that be Brew XI, Stones Bitter, M&B Mild or whatever. These days you can buy a home-brew machine that does the same and fits on your kitchen work-top, but this was sophisticated stuff back then. 

When Bass bailed out of brewing in 2000 the Cape Hill Brewery was sold, first to Interbrew and then to Coors, who closed it in 2002, just months after they’d bought it. It was demolished in 2005/2006 and housing built on the site. 

Fast forward to today though, and here’s a bottle of Cape Hill Brewery Celebration Strong Mild Ale from June 1987, and yes, it’s still drinkable and fairly pleasant! The cap was still tight, perhaps thanks to the foil cover, and while the beer has only a slight fizz, it’s also only slightly oxidised for its age. 

It’s dark and malty with a touch of gravy – that’s the oxidation – and a little sweet. There’s a slight hop character and not much bitterness, but then this is a Midlands mild, and it’s a little thin. No information on the ABV – the label just says it was brewed to O.G. 1055° – but given the sweetness I’d guess at maybe 5%. 

Anyhow, that's my glass of history for today. 


  1. It's amazing how much computing capability has increased over the years.

    Considering the importance of Cape Hill to Bass, back in the last decades of the 20th Century, what was the brewery itself like?

    1. It's a struggle to remember details that far back - and having visited dozens of others since only serves to blur the memory even more - but I seem to recall it was big and modern, with big steel vessels. Cape Hill was also a major packaging site, so they were canning all these different brands, all made in the same brewery, as well as tankering in beers from elsewhere for canning.

    2. Hi i was employed many years at Bass Brewery Cape Hill , it was a sad day when the brewery closed down....! missed it ever since and Coors made the biggest blinder ever closing the Cape Hill site, it should of closed Burton they even agreed years later.Any thing you would like to know let me know.......

    3. It did seem an odd choice, yes - especially as it had just refitted and was a flexible site. What was it like in your time, Anon?

    4. 1995 - 2002 closure it had just had a 50million smallpack refit and coors still closed it the idiots..fantastic time and place to work enjoyed every minute of it used to work 3 shift then went on to 4 on 4 off continental shifts .. carling cafferys EBPA worthington thistle hooch etc etc we done em all ..miss it and my friends a great deal even 20 years on ........blairs government didnt help either they made interbrew close a brewery due to monopolies comission and they chose cape hill...should of been alton and tadcastor then they could of kept cape and burton ! anyway interbrew played a blinder bought the lot took all the export and sold it on within a month or 2 for what they paid for it originally and coors fell for it basically coors bought a brewery without any product apart from carling lol and that dont taste the same now ( they used to use the well water from cape,they dont now ) hope ive helped a little for prople interested .