Liverpool is a city of migration and movement: Cains is ‘Liverpool in a Pint’, so it’s fitting that the Dusanj brothers, second generation immigrants, and the first Indian family to ever own a British brewery, should be the ones injecting new life into the company. Robert Cain was himself an immigrant, born in County Cork in 1826, and coming to Liverpool as an 18-year old (Queen Victoria’s age on taking the throne seven years earlier).
Liverpool in 1844 was a noisy, rich and fascinating place for a young Irishman. The city had been the dominant port in Britain’s nefarious slave trade (which between 1782 and 1807 traded in around 1 million human lives), and was blossoming under the influence of its many different races and religions.
At the age of 24, Robert entered Liverpool’s brewing industry, buying a small pub in Limekiln Lane, and brewing his own ales: down in London, work was underway on an enormous crystal palace to house Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition of the following year, 1851. Brewing turned out to be the perfect trade for the affluent, vibrant city of Liverpool, and soon Robert Cain’s fortunes were rising with those of his adopted city, and those of Britain itself, which was thriving in the great Victorian era of industrial expansion, economic progress and empire.
By 1858 Robert Cain was able to buy an old established brewery site on Stanhope Street – the site where Robert Cains Beers are still brewed today – and his name rapidly became famous throughout the city for the exceptional quality of his beers.
Twenty-five years later, Liverpool Docks were frenetically busy with cargo ships carrying produce such as palm oil and sugar from West Africa and the Caribbean, and with sleek Cunard and P&O liners, serving between New York and London. (The influence of the musical and fashion tastes of the cooks, stewards and waiters who travelled on these liners would later be felt in the rhythm and shape of the Merseybeat era, eighty years after the first sailings between the two cities.) Robert Cain had by this time built 200 pubs on Merseyside, including three of the most gloriously extravagant pubs in Britain: The Philharmonic, The Vines and The Central. He had also built himself a palatial mansion (featuring his monogram etched into every window arch) set in six acres of grounds.
In 1887 he started work on a new red brick brewery with an ornate tower: the brewery is a Merseyside landmark, still in use today. This was the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee: all over Liverpool, as all over the country, people celebrated the first 50 years of her reign (Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, she went on to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee, marking 60 years on the throne).
Robert Cain died in 1907, 6 years after Queen Victoria herself, and, at 81, just a year younger than the Regent when she died. His was a classic case of the immigrant made good. He had become a legendary brew master by using only the finest malt, hops and yeast to brew exceptional beers, which he advertised proudly as “Superior Ales and Stouts”. He’d made a fortune, been ennobled as Lord Brocket (his great-great-grandson is making a name for himself on “I’m a celebrity, get me out of here”) and married the Lord Mayor of Liverpool’s daughter, and when he died 3,000 mourners attended his funeral.
The name Cains seemed likely to die out at various points in the twentieth century, but, like the ornate Victorian pubs and brewery in Stanhope Street, the Cains name and tradition of fine beer making have turned out to be landmarks, built to last.
In 1911, just four years after the death of Robert Cain, Cains was merged with Walkers of Warrington, becoming Walker Cains, and production was switched to Warrington. The world was changing rapidly: the Great War of 1914-18 brought enormous upheaval and social changes such as the vote for women over 30, precipitated by women’s war work in traditionally male occupations in factories and on the land (women didn’t win equal voting rights with men until 1928).
The economic boom of the Victorian era was by now definitely over, although Cains was doing well: it was one of the top 50 companies in the UK in 1919. By the summer of 1921 over 2 million people were unemployed in the UK and there was widespread suffering and deprivation, culminating in the period after the Wall Street Crash, with almost 3 million out of work by 1932.
In 1923 the landmark Stanhope Street Brewery was sold to Higson's (it is still known by that name by many Liverpudlians), and they continued to brew excellent ales in the tradition of Robert Cain. The brewery flourished all the way up to and during the ‘60s & ‘70s, when Liverpool – with its legendary music and sporting achievements – had so much to celebrate. Higson’s sold out to Boddington’s of Manchester in 1985: when Boddington’s decided to concentrate on pub ownership just five years later, it sold its breweries to Whitbread, and the landmark Stanhope Street Brewery was closed.
However, in the 21st Century something – perhaps the spirit of Robert Cain himself – showed that it wasn’t prepared to allow the name to disappear. In 1990 the brewery had been re-opened by The Danish Brewery Group: back in production, it was re-named Robert Cain & Co Ltd. The brewery produced a lusty and deservedly popular Liverpudlian pint, but tight margins brought it to the brink of closure again in 2002.
That’s when the Dusanj brothers stepped in. Entrepreneurs, who started off in their father’s fish and chip business, the brothers were deeply affected by the story of Robert Cain & Company, and felt that its demise would be a tragedy. Convinced not only that Liverpool could support its ‘own’ brewery but also that there was a wider market for the excellent beers it produced, they decided to mount a rescue operation. This is already proving to be spectacularly successful. Under the stewardship of the Dusanj brothers, Cains is now one of the fastest growing breweries in the country, with a £30 million annual turnover, 150 employees, and more than 120 million pints of beer brewed annually.
The first Asian family ever to run a British brewery, the brothers are building on the fine traditions of excellent quality ales and the entrepreneurial spirit of Robert Cain, whilst using the freedom that being outside the traditional brewing establishment gives them to gently shake up the industry.
In 2003 Cains became the first UK brewer to print responsible drinking advice on beer labels, in response to the Government’s National Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy report. Health advice features on this website, and they’ve also partnered with Liverpool city council on their Christmas anti-drink driving campaigns.
Among the innovations introduced by the brothers are a Fine Raisin Beer, and a new, high quality lager. The Fine Raisin Beer is helping to spread the Cains name further afield: the bottled beer became a massive national seller, on being named Winner of Tesco’s Autumn Beer Challenge in 2003, and more recently has won “Beer of the Festival” at the highly successful 2004 Liverpool CAMRA Festival. Ale enthusiasts can sample Cains Fine Raisin Beer from the cask at 450 pubs owned by Punch Pub Company.