THE founder of Ringwood brewery Peter Austin – widely credited with saving the microbrewery movement in the UK as well as introducing it to America and popularising it worldwide – has died aged 92.
Mr Austin set up the famed brewery in 1978, aged 57. He came from a brewing family; his great-uncle was a brewer in Christchurch and his father worked for Pontifex, which was the leading brewing engineering firm in the country.
After school Mr Austin joined the sail training ship HMS Conway and subsequently went to sea with P&O. He was invalided out in 1938 and convalesced before going to Friary Meux Brewery in Guildford to study.
In 1944 he worked at Morrells in Oxford and in 1945 he went as third brewer to the Hull Brewery, where he stayed for 30 years, eventually becoming head brewer.
But in 1975, disillusioned with the direction of the company after it was taken over by Northern Dairies, he left 30 years of brewing, bought a boat and ran sea-angling trips on the south coast.
Mr Austin was approached by Monty Python star Terry Jones and The Guardian beer columnist Richard Boston, who were looking for help setting up a small brewery with Martin Griffiths, the owner of a medieval manor called Penrhos Court and he leaped at the chance to return to brewing.
The Penrhos Brewery was established and this inspired Mr Austin to launch Ringwood Brewery, starting with small premises in the old station yard.
Business partner David Welsh previously described Mr Austin as “a slave to the mash tun”, often checking his brews in the early hours.
He told The Grist magazine in 1995: “One very hot summer night he went down (to the brewery) in his dressing gown and had to take this off to skim the yeast. There was a knock at the door and it turned out to be the local bobby who was confronted by Peter in his underpants, wielding a yeast scoop. ‘You’re probably wondering what I’m doing officer’, he said. ‘I didn’t like to ask, sir’,” came the reply.”
In 1982 Mr Austin hired Alan Pugsley to train to brew and work with him on brewery start-ups.
They installed more than 120 breweries in 17 countries, including Siberia, China, Nigeria and South Africa. The equipment for the Siberian brewery was lost in the Russian railway system for two years before finally turning up in Dudinka.
Mr Austin also helped found the UK’s small brewers association SIBA in 1980.
Keith Bott of Titanic Brewery in Staffordshire, the current SIBA chairman, told Camra magazine: “Peter Austin was the godfather of the microbrewing revolution in the UK.”
In 1986 Mr Austin moved the brewery to its current location, and retired two years later, aged 67. On July 12, 2007, it was announced that Ringwood had been purchased by Marston’s Plc for £19.2million.
Mr Austin’s son Jeremy said: “The family are proud of dad, who was very modest about all that he had achieved.
“Peter was a determined and colourful character who made an impression on all. He was bright and amusing right up until the end and his family and friends will miss him deeply.”