When the iconic Brakspear Brewery was shuttered and sold off to create room for a new luxury hotel in 2002, both British citizens and connoisseurs of British beer were shocked. In business since 1779, the brewery was well-known as the home of one of the most renowned Bitters in England, and its closing appeared to be a sign of the times – another in a long string of traditional British brewers to close down as the beer landscape marched on toward “progress.”
Fortunately this is not the end of our story, but rather the beginning. After the brewery closed, Brakspear’s brewmaster, Peter Scholey, set out on his own in order to keep his craft alive. Ridgeway Brewing Company rose like a phoenix from Brakspear’s ashes, in a new location about 30 miles west of London, but not far from Scholey’s old brewery.
Ridgeway Brewing Company was named after a very, very old road that traverses England’s southwest region. Currently passable only on foot or by horse, the Ridgeway was built by Britain’s oldest inhabitants, the Druids, thousands of years before Roman invaders arrived and put down their own roads on the island. In fact, the road is the oldest in the British Isles and is almost 100 miles in length, passing near both Stonehenge and Peter Scholey’s home. Naming the brewery after the road was a symbol of Scholey’s determination to keep Britain’s very rich tradition of brewing alive despite the passage of time and ever-expanding development. With Ridgeway Brewing Company, Scholey manages to successfully join innovative modern brewing techniques with the old-world brewing traditions that find themselves increasingly under attack. We congratulate him for working hard against modern pressures to keep the craft of traditional British beer alive and well in the 21st century.
Peter Scholey has quite the sense of humor, and many of his beers bear tongue-in-cheek Christmas-themed names like this month’s Santa’s Butt and Pickled Santa, as well as Lump of Coal, and a slew of elven names: Bad Elf, Very Bad Elf, Seriously Bad Elf, Criminally Bad Elf, and Insanely Bad Elf. We’re waiting to see what he comes up with for further installments—we could dream up a few even wilder names, but they’re not exactly Christmas-like, so instead of pushing the envelope here we’ll just wait and see what new brews come along in the future.
Despite their harmless humor, several of the names and labels have landed Ridgeway in legal trouble. (How’s that for a sign of the times?) For example, the Seriously Bad Elf label ruffled the feathers of officials in Connecticut in 2005, who banned the beer after deciding it ran afoul of legislation that prohibits marketing to children. What was the problem? On the label, a mischievous looking elf is shooting Christmas ornaments from a slingshot at Santa’s sleigh, in the distance and high in the sky. The little red speck that depicts Santa was apparently the problem; officials claimed that Santa’s image would encourage kids to buy the beer. You know, we’re not sure how it is where you live, but the liquor stores here in California do a pretty good job of not selling booze to kids who are of the age to still eagerly await Santa’s arrival on the roof on Christmas Eve.
Our friends over at Shelton Brothers (the importer) fought back, and eventually the ACLU joined in the defense. According to attorney Annette Lamoreaux: “not only does it violate Shelton's free speech rights, but protecting Santa Claus is a violation of the Constitution's establishment clause, which prohibits government endorsement or disapproval of religion."
Hmmm, well, while linking Connecticut’s stance to an endorsement of religion might be a bit of a stretch for some, the good news is that in November of 2005 (just in time for Christmas), the Department of Consumer Protection in CT decided to drop their case against Ridgeway’s sinister, child-luring label, stating that “…the regulations do not apply to beer labels.”