For years, Special Brew was Carlsberg’s ‘dirty little secret’; a super-strength lager that drew public scorn and yet quietly sold by the shelf-load, as such requiring zero advertising spend. Health officials and charities even condemned the ‘potent tipple’, claiming it posed “more harm than crack or heroin” to the homeless.
If you ignore its foul PR, and look at its history, you may change your perception of Special Brew. It was originally produced in honour and tradition of Winston Churchill’s visit to Denmark in the fifties; the brandy flavour is a nod to the Prime Minister’s love of cognac. Churchill returned to Britain with two crates of the tipple, and became so fond of it that he wrote a thank you letter to the brewery, branding is as ‘Commemoration Lager’.
Churchill wasn’t alone; author Kingsley Amis regularly mixed half a Special Brew with standard Carlsberg in a tankard, because it “created goodwill” like no other drink. His son, however, disagreed, labelling it as “vandal-strength lager”.
A further public knock to the product’s reputation happened in 1980, when ska band Bad Manners, fronted by Buster Bloodvessel, took inspiration from the drink and their track “Special Brew” reached number three and stayed in the charts for 13 weeks.