How did the fifth bestselling beer in the world come to be the number one best-seller in Brazil? Skol, the "drink that goes down round" according to its advertising jingle, is also one of the biggest beers in Africa, from Algeria to Guinea to Rwanda, and is also sold in Asia, from India to Malaysia to Hong Kong.
However, it's a little known fact among Brazilians that it originated 6,000 miles away 50 years ago in a small Scottish town called Alloa.
According to Martyn Cornell's article "How Brazil's Favourite Beer Arrived from Scotland", posted on his website 'Zythophile: Beer Now and Then', Skol, one of the pioneers of mass-market lager in Britain "is seen in Brazil as so Brazilian that drinking it turns Argentinians into supporters of the Canarinhos".
However, only 25 years ago, Skol was also the biggest-selling beer on the market in Britain, but by 2004 was out of the top 10, and today is a simple "commodity beer, sold in cans", while continuing to enjoy popularity elsewhere in the world. Cornell says, "...in the country where it began, Skol is a sad, tired, brand."
Skol has travelled a long and convoluted path to reach where it is today, with multiple mergers and takeovers calculated to make it popular world-wide but causing it to become a mundane brand in its country of origin in the end. Owned by Carlsberg in Britain and Asia, Skol is also owned by A-B InBev in South America and Unibra in Africa.
But it all started 110 years ago in Burton-upon-Trent, where, in 1898, Samuel Allsopp & Sons, a struggling brewery facing rapidly dropping revenue, made a radical change in their business by a) buying up pubs for more than the market value and b) brewing lager. At the time, they were declared "insane" by 'The Economist', but with a serious over-capacity in their brewery due to lack of sales, something had to be done.
By 1895 Allsopp's was brewing half the volumes it had been selling in the past, and the newly appointed chairman of Allsopp's, the Hon. Arthur Percy Allsopp, 34, seventh son of the first Lord Hindlip, Henry Allsopp, reacted to the extreme drop in revenue by deciding the spare capacity available could be put to use by brewing lager - an unusual option at that time. To that end, he traveled to Germany and the United States investigating methods and types. He came across the Pfaudler Vacuum Fermentation Company of Rochester, N.Y. in his travels, and arranged to have it built into the site of the "old brewery" of Allsopp's to the tune of £80,000 pounds sterling (a cost of $80 million today). He found he could turnout 50-60,000 barrels of lager a year. This was "sufficient ....to supply almost the whole of the country," using "a rapid system of maturing which is greatly favored in the United States," - a turn around of 14 days as opposed to the two to four months in Germany.
By October of 1899, producing both Pilsner and Bavarian-style beers, the new lager brewery "presented 600 dozen pint bottles of their pale and dark lager" to 500 volunteers who were off to join the British forces fighting in the second Boer War. However, the new plan did not produce the results hoped for and Percy Allsopp resigned in 1900. After a year in receivership, John Calder of James Calder and Co. of Alloa, Scotland, was brought in to be the new chairman and that's when things began to change for the better.
By 1920, Calder became the chairman of Archibald Arrol, of Alloa, and a year later, Allsopp's lager brewing kit was moved to the site in Alloa. A new brand was introduced under Swedish head brewer Joseph Lundgren, Graham's Golden Lager, and eventually Allsopp's acquired Arrol's in 1930. In 1934, Allsopp's merged with Ind Coope, the biggest brewery in the U.K. and Graham's remained a leading brand of lager throughout and after the Second World War.
At this time, Canada's Carling's Black Label promoted by Eddie Taylor in Britain, prompted Allsopp's to spend £1 mil over four years rebuilding plants and launching Graham's Skol Lager as a result.
"Skol", derived from Danish/Norwegian/Swedish word "skal", means "cheers" and reflected a trend in Britain to make their lagers sound more Continental. The name Graham's Skol Lager mutated into "Skol Pilsner Lager".
Ind Coope merged with Tetley's of Leeds and Ansell's of Birmingham in 1961 effectively providing Skol thousands of new outlets in the U.K. and, Ind Coope was working towards joining the European Economic Community, or Common Market, to export their lager and branch outside of Britain, but this was vetoed by French President Charles de Gaulle. Ind Coope's commercial director, Robert Eades, told 'The Times' in 1967 in frustration: "Suddenly it went click, Why not an international beer?" - one beer brewed world-wide in different countries, but the same character and standards, called Skol International Beer. This would mean no exporting would be necessary and would effectively allow Ind Coope to market world-wide.
Following Taylor's cue with Carling's Black Label, which was brewed in the U.S., Canada, and Britain, Ind Coope realized drinkers did not care where their brew was made. Typically beers were created in one country and exported, but Ind Coope and Labatt's as well as Pripp-Bryggerierna (the largest brewery in Scandinavia) and Unibra of Belgium joined together in 1964 and formed a company called Skol International. By autumn of the same year, Portugal's Sociedade Central de Cervejas had joined, and they had links with South American brewers.
Cornell states, "By 1967 Skol was being brewed by 20 breweries in 14 countries, including Austria (by Brauerei Schwechat, Anton Dreher’s old concern), Algeria, Australia (by Perth’s Swan Brewery), the Netherlands and Greece, and drunk in 36, with new breweries to make the beer being built in Italy (at Ceccano, 40 miles south of Rome) and “Persia”, as Iran was still known. Talks were going on with brewers in France, Germany (with Dortmund Union), Yugoslavia, Sardinia and Columbia, while three requests from Indian firms to join the Skol consortium were sitting on his desk, Eades told The Times."
In 1967, Brazil announced Skol would be brewed there for the first time by the Caracu group in Rio de Janeiro and Londrina. The lager quickly gained popularity there, so much so, that by 1970, the Skol International consortium announced it would build a new brewery in Manaus, Brazil, costing £500,000 which would brew 600,000 barrels of Skol a year, making the total brewed in South America alone 6 million barrels. Caracu was acquired by Brahma in 1980, which in turn linked up with a competitor Antarctica in 2000 to form Ambev. Ambev has since merged with Interbrew of Belgium to form InBev, which evolved after a takeover by Anheuser-Busch to A-B InBev.
In Britain, the new generation of drinkers were rejecting the beverages their parent's drank and were looking to new, more hip drinks. The Skol brand was modified to try to attract these markets and continued to be a leader in the British market until the 1980s. By 2004, when Skol had more than 30 per cent of the Brazilian beer market, Britain was touting it as "an old-fashioned cheap supermarket brand", owned by Carlsberg by then. Having lost its edge in Britain, Skol gained popularity in Brazil.