IT was the first lager brewed in Britain and was brought back from extinction 10 years ago today 

In February 2000 it looked as if 118 years of tradition would come to an end as a Danish firm was set to call time on brewing lager in Wrexham. 

By April that year Carlsberg-Tetley, the UK arm of the Danish giant, would close the Wrexham Brewery – the place where lager was first brewed in Britain - with the loss of 35 jobs. 

But earlier that year the then MP for Clwyd South, the constituency that neighbours Wrexham, was determined to save Wrexham Lager and the business which had employed him before he was elected as a Labour member in 1987. 

During Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons the MP used Carlsberg’s famous advertising slogan, that if it turned its hand to anything else “it would probably be the the world” at it, to turn up the pressure on the brewer. 

The National Wales: Former Clwyd South MP Martyn Jones and Tony BlairFormer Clwyd South MP Martyn Jones and Tony Blair

“I thought it was desperate measures, an attempt at a management buyout hadn’t worked, and I wanted to get the brand from them, so sort of blackmailed them and I asked Tony Blair a question, in the House of Commons, that did he think Carlsberg was probably the worst lager in the world if it closed the oldest lager brewery in Britain? 

“Of course it got quite a lot of attention, quite quickly.” 

For the record the exact wording of the question was: “Is the Prime Minister aware that Carlsberg-Tetley proposes to close the Wrexham Lager Beer Company, which is just outside my constituency?  

“The company was established in 1882 and is the oldest lager brewery in Britain, not much younger than Carlsberg itself. Given that Carlsberg makes great play of its history, does my right hon. Friend agree that if it goes ahead with the closure and does not enter into negotiations with the local council to continue brewing on the site, Carlsberg risks being considered by the people of Wrexham to be probably the worst lager in the world?” 

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Blair showed all of the political nous he was famous for by managing to give a supportive answer without upsetting big business interests, replying: “Of course I am aware of the distress that those job losses may cause, but I know that my hon. Friend is working with others to try to put together a package for his constituents, and I very much hope that it is successful.” 

Jones wasn’t surprised by the non-committal answer but his question had achieved its aim of highlighting the plight of Britain’s oldest lager. Though production in Wrexham would soon cease, and move across the border to Blackburn and on to Leeds, the brewing giants would eventually relinquish control of Wrexham Lager. 

The National Wales: A picture of the workforce from the firm's archivesA picture of the workforce from the firm's archives

Two years later Carlsberg-Tetley signed the rights over to the MP for a pound: “They thought they’d get some publicity out of it and had a big plastic pound coin made and we had a photograph outside the House of Commons and I said I would give the rights to anybody willing to produce a half decent lager in Wrexham.” 

That was in 2002 and it seemed the hopes of reviving the iconic drink may have been waning but when Jones announced in 2009 he would step down at the following year’s general election he reiterated his commitment to bringing lager production back to Wrexham. 

In 2011 the stars finally aligned when Jones, an advocate for lager with a dislike for the favoured status given to real ales and warm beer on these islands, at an event at Gresford Colliery Club ironically hosted by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). 

“I met Mark Roberts there and he said he was trying to get a brewery started in Wrexham, I said don’t bother with this stuff I’ve got the Wrexham Lager brand, we got talking, he wanted to invest in a proper lager plant and I said he could have it.” 

The National Wales: Wrexham Lager has a long association with Wrexham AFC whose squad, including Micky Thomas (second from left) visited the brewery in 1992Wrexham Lager has a long association with Wrexham AFC whose squad, including Micky Thomas (second from left) visited the brewery in 1992

The Roberts family, which already had a food wholesale business in Wrexham and engineering interests, took on the brand and purchased a state of the art German brew house, to begin production in 2011. The by now retired MP got involved, in the former role he’d held at the brewery, micro-biologist, to assist in the brewing process – and remains involved in today. 

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The first pints of Wrexham Lager to have been brewed in the town in more than 10 years were eventually poured at the Buck House Hotel in Bangor-on-Dee on October 29, 2011. 

“Many people over time have said they would bring it back but it just didn’t happen but Mark came back from this conversation and he happened to mention it to myself, our brother Jon and sister Janet and we all got involved and are all still involved,” recalled Vaughan Roberts of how the family became the ones to revive the famous lager. 

There is a matter of local pride in bringing back the product for the Roberts family, said Vaughan: “It needed doing, it is the oldest lager in the UK. The town has lost its steelworks but the lager has got the town’s name on it and it’s good to have it back. 

“We were determined to make a success of it as Wrexham Lager has a massive history from the Titanic to the battle of Khartoum in the Sudan.” 

The National Wales: A poster produced for the Titanic which stated Wrexham was in 'North Wales England'A poster produced for the Titanic which stated Wrexham was in 'North Wales England'

Wrexham Lager’s place in history, which saw it selected to be served to travellers on the White Star Line’s ill-fated Titanic, was due to it being an innovation brought to Britain in the 1880s by German industrialists. 

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Britain was the world’s leading economy and Manchester businessmen Ivan Levinstein and Otto Isler were keen to introduce the new style ale that had been developed in their German homeland some 40 years earlier. 

Though Wrexham’s soft water was ideal for brewing lager the pair were unable to control the temperature, with the Welsh winter warmer than that of mainland Germany, and it seemed their efforts would fail until they met a third German industrialist.  

Robert Graesser had a chemical works at nearby Cefn Mawr and had developed mechanical refrigeration which was the key to unlocking the secret to brewing success. 

Graesser would eventually take full ownership and aimed his sights on the export market under the Wrexham Lager ‘Ace of Clubs’ brand.  

He used connections to take advantage of Britain’s naval dominance and Wrexham Lager was sold all over the British Empire and was the first lager imported to countries, including India, South Africa, the Americas and Australia while Britons returning from abroad also sought out  the lager. 

The National Wales: Skol was brewed in Wrexham while the Ace of Clubs was Wrexham Lager's most famous brandSkol was brewed in Wrexham while the Ace of Clubs was Wrexham Lager's most famous brand

The first World War, anti-German sentiments, austerity measures and the dominance of larger brewers would all play a role in the decline of the independent firm which was bought out in 1949 eventually becoming part of Allied Breweries and finally Carlsberg-Tetley. 

The National Wales: A 1947 advert for Wrexham Lager 'The first and original British lager'A 1947 advert for Wrexham Lager 'The first and original British lager'

The Wrexham brewery continued to thrive and after lager took hold in Britain, from the 1960s onwards, at its peak Wrexham was producing some 1.2 million barrels a year mostly of other lagers with Skol the most popular brewed in the town. 

Around 10,000 barrels contained Wrexham Lager and production matches that now. 

When production was moved from Wrexham regulars complained their favourite drink had lost its distinctive taste but its closure would eventually clear the way for the product to be reborn. Nine people, including the Roberts family and head brewer Ian Dale – who held the position before the brewery’s closure – now work for the firm which has new headquarters in the town with much of the former site, save for the original listed brewhouse, having been demolished. 

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The new firm also launched the yellow on black W X M branding and has innovated with new products including a Bootlegger pilsner named after Wrexham Football Club’s best known supporter on social media, Karl Phillips. 

The National Wales: Wrexham fan The Bootlegger swapped his colours when he delivered his own name pilsner to Newtown FCWrexham fan The Bootlegger swapped his colours when he delivered his own name pilsner to Newtown FC

“Karl came in for a brewery tour and we had a little chat and said we’d do him a trial brew, of only so many bottles, and it took off and his has won gold awards,” said Vaughan of the lager that carries the name of the football fan who describes himself on social media as a “Welshman living the dream on jobseeker's allowance”. 

For the retired MP lager is synonymous with Wrexham and its place as one of the great industrial towns of Wales. 

“Wrexham has always had industrial workers, steelworks, colliers, and they’d get quite thirsty doing a hot, hard job and Wrexham has always been a lager town as its cold refreshment. There were pubs in Brymbo that used to line pints of Wrexham Lager on the bar 12 deep at the end of the shifts.” 

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