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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 September 2006, 01:04 GMT 02:04 UK
How brewing beer can get bitter
By Ollie Stone-Lee
BBC News

From left: Stuart, George and Jacqui Bateman
George Bateman kept the brewery as a family concern

They called it The Battle, and being a brewery they had no trouble toasting success with a specially-made Victory Ale.

Bateman's Brewery in Wainfleet, Lincolnshire suffered one of a long line of family feuds seen in the world of real ale.

What makes it different from most is that it has survived as an independent family brewer, fighting off the takeover bids from the big boys.

Bateman's started brewing close to Skegness in the 1870s.

Current chairman George Bateman, 78, is the grandson of the brewery's founder.

And it was on his watch that the storm began.

Bitter

In March 1985, his brother John and sister Helen announced that they wanted to sell the brewery and its pubs - as was their right.

Mr Bateman says he was "devastated", although for months or years he and his brother had held diverging views on how the business should be run.

"It was not good-natured, it became exceptionally bitter," he says.

The planned sell-off meant Mr Bateman, with his slogan "death or glory" was left struggling to raise enough funds to buy out his siblings with their 60% shares.

And all the time, hopeful buyers and their accountants circled the brewery, trawling over the accounts, he says.

"The staff and tenants were obviously concerned for their futures and felt great resentment that their life of working in a happy family atmosphere was being turned upside down," he explains.

Breakthrough

For two years Mr Bateman says he did not know which way it would fall, despite the brewery's premium ale winning the "Beer of the Year" award in 1986.

But he toured branches of the Campaign for Real Ale to help raise funds and found many people in brewing, local farmers, even children, wanted to help out.

One local farmer knocked on the door to offer to invest 3,000.

And by February 1987, with help from a lot of bank loans, he was the "happiest man alive" after securing a deal to buy his brother and sister's shares back into the brewery.

Beer fermenting at Bateman's brewery
Old and new technology is used to brew the beer

So why was it so important to keep the brewery as a family concern?

"This is back to the intangible of being a community," he says.

"In a small town - you might say village - there was a consciousness through the years that I and my father before me and my grandfather before that had depended on the strength of local people."

Other brewers have not been so fortunate.

Fifteen years ago the Family Brewers of Britain group had 64 members. Now it has 31.

And Bateman's is by no means alone in seeing family divisions.

When Scottish and Newcastle took over Theakston's in North Yorkshire, one of the family, Paul Theakston, split from the rest to set up a rival brewery, appropriately called Black Sheep.

The original Theakston's company was sold back to the family in 2004, although Black Sheep remains.

Heritage pitch

Mr Bateman's daughter Jacqui, the firm's marketing director, believes being a family concern can be a real selling-point and a mark of quality, especially now there are fewer of them.

And she says: "The advantage we have, being a family-owned business, is we don't have shareholders breathing down our neck the whole time."

Her brother Stuart, 46, the brewery's managing director, says: "The labels we have talk very much about our brewing heritage and the fact that the brewing is therefore run by brewers, not accountants."

Stuart Bateman in the Victorian brew house
Stuart Bateman says he wants to keep brewing heritage
But there are difficult choices to make in marrying more than a century of brewing with modern technology.

When the brewery's chief executive, finance director and head brewer originally proposed building a new brewing house, it was the three family members who opposed the idea.

But Mr Bateman explains they agreed a trade-off where the old Victorian brew house would still be used for anniversary ales, blending with the "state of the art technology" of the new arrival.

The old adage is that the first generation starts a family business, the second generation manages it and the third generation blows it all, or sells it off.

Mr Bateman thinks his father's problems - and survival - means the brewery is back at the first generation again.

His eight-year-old wants to work in the Bateman's visitor centre kitchen and his 11-year-old wants to be a brewer.

There's hope for the next generation already.


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