The story of Mawson's Sarsaparilla begins in 1933, when milkman Joe Mawson came to Oldham and bought a herbalist's shop. The back room of Joe's with its piano, card tables and home-brewed beer was soon a popular meeting place for local people.
Joe brewed up to forty gallons a day of the non-alcoholic beer in the cellar of the shop. A mixture of more than twenty herbs was boiled for forty minutes before being left to cool with a slice of yeast-covered toast floating on surface. The concoction was then worked for twenty-four hours, casked and kept for twelve hours more before being ready to serve. Joe charged 4d a pint.
Suppliers to Joe's came partly from J.Nichols & Co, who kept many temperance bars stocked up with loose herbs, herbal tablets and concentrates for making herbal drinks. These concentrates included gingerette, lime, cream soda, Vimto and Sarsaparilla.
Joe's son, another Joe, devised many an unusual cocktail of different concentrates, including a mixture of raspberry, lime, cream soda and other closely guarded flavours which he dubbed the "Zombie". This was a favourite with the young but its popularity did not match that of sarsaparilla, Joe's best-selling drink, which was taken diluted with plain water, herb beer or in the later years, with soda water.
When Joe's first opened, there were thirty-six herbalists and of which twenty were temperance bars in Oldham, but over the years the numbers dwindled and in 1963 last orders was called for the final time. This was also the year in which, the fourth of young Joe's five children, was born. Growing up in the shop, Nigel was constantly reminded of the days in which drinks had been served in the back room and even thirty years later customers would ask for a glass of sarsaparilla or even enquire whether anyone still made it.
This continued interest prompted us to bring back the herb beer and sarsaparilla to commemorate our 65th anniversary in 1998. This was no easy task - all that remained of the old system was a clutch of granddad's hand written recipes for the herb beer and no recipe for the sarsaparilla. It took many months and much technical help from J.Nichols & Co before we finally managed to reproduce the sarsaparilla in a cordial form, made to the original recipe but in a modern, clinical environment. The herb beer was brewed by a microbrewery and for two weeks in August 1998 we gave samples to many old and new customers in our Oldham shop. Our first batch five thousand bottles of Sarsaparilla made, sold out in just eight weeks.
Over the year the range has increase to include some classic like Dandelion and Burdock, Cream Soda and Ginger.
In 2013 Mawson's launched an alcoholic fruit punch to commemorate its history it was named "Joe's Jingle Berry" and is proving to be a firm favourite on Manchester's Christmas Markets.
The Rise & Fall of the Temperance Bars
The rise of the temperance bar marked a turning point in British social history as, from the 1860's, Britain changed rapidly from a rural society to an urban industrial nation. The growth of urbanised, low-income communities with Free Church attitudes to "strong drink" provides a ready market for the herbalist shopkeeper. Typically, the shopkeeper would have two sides to his business, stocking and selling loose herbs and also running a bar selling soft drinks brewed from those herbs. The flavours and combinations of these drinks quickly multiplied and developed into alternatives, where fruit juice and the essences were mixed to create yet more exotic drinks of which the best known, and still with us today, was Vimto.
By the early part of the Twentieth Century the temperance bar was a firmly established part of the social scene. For members of the free churches (i.e. Methodists, Salvation Army, Missions etc.) it provided an alterative drinking parlour with family appeal. In the USA the same role was played by the "soda fountain" at the local drug store.
The era of the temperance bar came to an end after the Second World War, again as a result of broader social changes. The introduction of the NHS reduced the demand for herbalist medicines, there was a growth in licensed drinking and populations began to disperse out further from the town centres.
Although the temperance bar has long since gone, you can still enjoy sarsaparilla made to the original recipe by contacting your nearest stockist of Mawson's Sarsaparilla, or by mail order directly from us.