The History of
The Beginnings & Success of Wrexham Lager
In 1882, two German Immigrants, Ivan Levinstein and Otto Isler, set forth to brew lager beer in the UK. Their idea was unlike most of the attempts by other breweries at the time, which was to use the new paler malt, brew it with top-fermenting ale yeasts and store the beer for longer to imitate the keeping properties of traditionally-made continental lagers. This strategy didn’t stand the test of time, as the number of breweries that successfully made these ‘lager-style’ ales couldn’t sell them due to the fact the imported originals were still of much higher quality and so were not selling, despite the competitive price. Therefore Levinstein and Isler sought to engineer a brewery based on traditional Bavarian method, which was to use the naturally cold and stable temperatures inherent in underground caves and cellars as a means to best ferment their beer, followed by the use of ice banks to store their beer cool enough to facilitate lager beer’s smooth flavour and keeping properties. A successful site in Wrexham was chosen, but this method was compromised by the insufficient cooling the ice banks achieved, which led to early runs of Wrexham Lager being sub-par compared to their European competition. A chance meeting with a local German-born Industrialist, Robert Graesser, solved this issue by implementing Graesser’s mechanical refrigeration (used to good effect in his chemical works nearby) at the cost of relinquishing a share of the business. Initially, the dark lager sales rose (no doubt to its similarity and now superior quality to the local ales produced), which gave the fledgling brewers the confidence to brew its first pale lager; and so Wrexham Lager was born!
This success was short-lived, as local ale producers were savvy to the novel style of lager beer and sought to increase the quality and output of their pale ales whilst competing heavily on price, as well as limiting sales of competitors in their brewery-tied outlets. This made their ales fresher, sweeter, smoother and less sour than originally made and, at roughly half the price of domestic lager (Wrexham Lager included) quickly became an affordable luxury to the working and merchant classes. As such, the brewery faced liquidation and would have closed down just years after opening if it wasn’t for Robert Graesser.
Graesser took full ownership of Wrexham Lager Brewing Company and aimed his sights this time to the export market under the Wrexham Lager ‘Ace of Clubs’ brand. Being fully aware of his products superior keeping qualities and Britain’s dominant naval positions across the world, he forged connections with merchants that carried and sold Wrexham Lager all over the British Empire. Wrexham Lager now lays claim to being the first lager imported to far off countries, including India, South Africa, the Americas and Australia. It also boasts to being the only lager available on the infamous voyage of the White Star Line’s Titanic.
The Decline of Wrexham Lager
As a result of Wrexham Lager’s success in the outposts of the British Empire, returning merchants, military veterans and diplomats found a taste for this home-grown lager beer and sought it in the UK. This prompted Wrexham Lager to establish its own set of tied houses across the country, which enjoyed a reasonable amount of success domestically until the start of WW1. Two world wars and anti-German propaganda created a major disruption to export trade; cutting off vital revenue for Wrexham Lager, coupled with austerity measures faced by the drinking classes saw Wrexham Lager face financial ruin. As a result, Wrexham Lager was bought by Ind Coope & Allsopp in 1949 and, through a series of mergers, became the property of Allied Breweries, finally residing with Carlsberg-Tetley (now Carlsberg UK).
This period saw a rising demand in the modern lager style (a lower strength, lighter version of traditional lager), so modernisation of the Wrexham brewery (including the installation of a modern brew house 10x its original size) as well as a major rebrand saw Wrexham Lager change with the times. However, the growing number of acquisitions made by Allied Breweries and Carlsberg saw Wrexham Lager overshadowed by other brands to the point that commercial production at its Wrexham birthplace stopped in 2000 and total production in the UK ceased in 2002. The brewery was demolished and a retail park was built in its place, the only vestige of Wrexham Lager being the original Brewhouse, now a Grade II listed building. All documents and brewery artefacts were razed to the ground save but a few treasured items from fans and collectors alike.
The Future of Wrexham Lager
Martin Jones MP (South Clwyd), a local retiring civil servant and ex-employee (microbiologist) of Wrexham Lager appreciated what the brewery stood for and strived to keep its memory alive at his own expense, negotiating with Carlsberg for the ownership of Wrexham Lager Brewing Company and its subsidiary brands. He managed to procure the rights to all but the Ace of Clubs brand (sold off to Scottish & Newcastle, now part of Heineken) for the modest sum of £1 and with that he set his sights on building a brewery.
The Roberts family, who run a number of local businesses in Wrexham, were interested in investing in a microbrewery as a new venture and were considering brewing ale until they came across Martin in the most ironic of places, at the local pub! Soon a deal was struck and the Wrexham Lager brand was revived once again. With a new premises in the centre of Wrexham, the ex-head brewer of Wrexham Lager, Ian Dale, at the helm of brewing operations with a state-of-the-art German brew house at his disposal and a new logo to modernise the brand, Wrexham Lager can now look to the future with the aim to re-establish itself as the pride of Celts once again!