Tim Hampson's Beer Blog

The quest for the perfect beer

An old friend returns

with 2 comments

Courage Directors - "actually it's really rather good".

One of the best things about old friends, is that sometimes you don’t see them for years, but when you do meet you immediately feel comfortable in each others company. There doesn’t even have to be lot conversation, you just enjoy the other’s presence.

So it is with Courage Directors. Once the beer was one of the strutting stags of British brewing and stood tall alongside great English ales like Bass and Pedigree. This was in a time when drinkers did not have the lavish choice of style and beers now compete for our attention.

A traditional dark bitter, at 4.8 per cent ABV, it was first brewed (I think) at Alton in Hampshire and so the legend has it was brewed exclusively for the company’s top brass, and not for public sale. For many year’s it was brewed in Courage’s famed ale brewery in Bristol.

The story of the Courage mirrors the decline of the country’s old brewing companies, when takeovers, poor marketing and bad business decisions saw the disappearance of many household names.

Courage & Co was started by John Courage at the Anchor Brewhouse in Horselydown, Bermondsey in 1787. Skipping a couple of centuries, in 1955, the company merged with Barclay, Perkins & Co Ltd to become Courage, Barclay & Co. Only five years later, another merger with the Reading based Simonds’ Brewery led to the name changing to Courage, Barclay, Simonds & Co. This was simplified to Courage in October 1970 and the company was taken over by the Imperial Tobacco Group two years later.

Imperial Tobacco was acquired by the Hanson Trust in 1986 and they sold off Courage to Elders IXL who were renamed the Foster’s Brewing Group in 1990. The following year, the Courage section of Foster’s merged with all the breweries of Grand Metropolitan.

Its public houses were owned by a joint-company called Inntrepreneur Estates. Scottish & Newcastle purchased Courage from Foster’s in 1995, creating Scottish Courage as its brewing arm, which was itself then bought a consortium comprising Carlsberg and Heineken in 2008.

Sadly, during the 1990s and the early years of this century Directors fell on troubled times, it wasn’t promoted as it could have been as different owners concentrated on the sale of lager and how much money they would make from asset stripping and the sale of their shares. But the iconic brand was rescued in 2007 by Wells and Young’s Brewing The Bedford company set up a new joint venture business called Courage Brands, in which it has an 83 per cent stake with Scottish & Newcastle the previous owner of the brand. S&N holds the remaining equity in the company. But enough of the history.

Some old tasting notes of mine describe Directors as a full-drinking and complex ale with a full malt taste and an intense bitter sweet finish.

Comparing a draught beer with its bottled version is rarely ideal. But the current bottled Directors, which was given to me by Wells and Youngs, is a distinguished beer. I don’t trust my on taste memory and our palates change over time anyway, but it has a marvellous bitter sweet intensity and almost a honey flavour. It ends with a satisfying, longish dry salty finish.

My daughter Ruth (aged 24) took a sip of it – ooh that got some citrus, grapefruit flavours, “actually it’s rather good” as she finished the glass. I think that sums it up, it is  indeed rather good.

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Written by timhampson

October 22, 2010 at 2:04 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I had some of that in my local a couple of weeks ago, was pleasantly surprised as wasn’t expecting much!

    Beerreviewsandy

    October 22, 2010 at 2:06 pm

  2. Being a west country lass I was weaned on Directors (and 6X) and loved it, but until recently I found it disappointing whenever I bumped into it (an increasingly rare occurrence as ScotCo put all their efforts into JS Smooth).
    Whether that was to do with the brewer or the cellar I don’t know, but recently it has become one of my favourites again. It seems to have found its way with W&Y…it really is rather good – get some in!

    Cat

    October 24, 2010 at 11:58 am


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