Tolly Cobbold

Tolly Cobbold

Cliff Brewery, Cliff Road, Ipswich IP3 0AZ

This business was formed in 1958 with the merger of Cobbold & Co and Tollemache Brewery. These two firms were local rivals for a couple of generations until the merger. The Cliff Brewery was retained for brewing whilst the Tollemache brewery in Upper Brook Street was closed by 1961.

The enlarged company (now with about 385 pubs) was increasingly focussed on beer bottling and keg production during 1960s and sadly for a while their brands included the appalling Husky Lager. This was once reportedly described by John Cobbold (a popular member of the brewery owning family from late 1950s to mid-1980s) as "tasting like dog's piss." Both John and his brother Patrick not only worked at (and later ran) the brewery but also became chairman and avid supporters of Ipswich Town football club during the teams most successful period to date.

According to the first edition of the Good Beer Guide (1974) it was then locally "difficult to find real ale." By then only a few pubs offered any real ale (usually Tolly Bitter on gravity dispense). Fortunately the company did widely relaunch handpump dispensed cask ale in many outlets from late 1979 onwards using their new brand, Tolly Original, which did very well locally for many years. Other brands such as Bitter and Old Strong also enjoyed some renewed success at this time and for nearly a decade afterwards. But with no Cobbold family heirs able to take the historic business forward the future looked increasingly difficult.

After 1978 the company had several new owners including Ellerman Lines (1978-1983), the Barclay brothers (1983-1989), Brent Walker (1989-1990) - a property management company that subsequently closed the brewery and relocated all beer production to Camerons of Hartlepool (which they also bought at that time). Finally after the collapse of Brent Walker a brewery-site only management buy-out (1990-2002) emerged, led by Bob Wales and (the late) Brian Cowie which led to a resurgence of quality beer production.

The management buy-out not only helped to re-established some good quality local brewing after another short, but very disastrous brewing phase, but also saw the introduction of seasonal ales and bottled "Year Beers" soon after. Publicity at that time included two appearances on Sir John Harvey Jones and his popular BBC2 TV programme called "Troubleshooter". In 1995 they built a new (state-of-the-art) "micro" brewery within the existing building complex. This vibrant and growing brewing business was suddenly sold out to Ridley's Brewery (Essex) in 2002 in an attempt to "merge assets and compete more effectively." Ridley's were subsequently bought-out by Greene King (in 2005) and both businesses were closed soon after.

After several years of neglect the old brewery buildings at Cliff Quay are currently being rationalised in anticipation of new business use. The new microbrewery was removed. The main pub estate was broken-up and sold on separately by the holding banks in 1991 (much of it was to became part of the Pubmaster estate and then later part of Punch Taverns).

The adjacent Brewery Tap is now free of tie. Whilst a new (second) microbrewery is now located in a relatively small part of the historic site called Cliff Quay brewery.