You may be surprised to hear that Trooper has strong connections to both Rosslyn Park and the wider world of rugby. This 4.8% Premium British Beer was launched by Robinsons Brewery in Stockport on May 9 last year and has been arguably the most successful ever British launch of a real ale. Over five million pints have been brewed in the first year alone with its popularity spreading rapidly in the UK and worldwide with distribution now in over 45 countries including the USA, Canada, China, India, Brazil, Chile, New Zealand and all of Europe.
Trooper was the brainchild of Iron Maiden manager, Rod Smallwood, and vocalist, Bruce Dickinson, who joined up with Robinsons' brewmaster, Martyn Weeks, to create the beer, adorning the pump handles and bottles with Eddie, the band’s iconic mascot, taking part in the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War.
The fact that Iron Maiden is one of Britain's most successful rock exports ever, selling over 90 million albums and followed by millions of fans all around the globe, naturally assisted this rapid rise in popularity of Trooper, however, the sheer quality of the beer plays a major role in this unique success story. As one of Britain's premier real ale reviewers, Pete Brown, noted, it really is 'a pint that seems to evaporate from the glass'. What many would not know is that the story of Iron Maiden has its roots at Rosslyn Park with Rod Smallwood playing here in the late seventies and early eighties for the Stags and the occasional XXX Club. He is still a member.
" I had a fantastic time at the Park, the glory days of Ripley, Offiah, Warfield and the rest, times when we had many international players," he says. "Many of my friends then are still friends now."
One of those friends, Andy Waller, openside for the firsts, asked Rod a question in April 1979 that would change his life. "Andy asked if I would be interested in hearing a tape by a mate of his at work called Steve Harris who had an unknown part time band called Iron Maiden. I listened to the tape, loved it, went on a four week tour of California with The Muppets, a Sunday side made up largely of Park and London Welsh, got home, called Steve and took on their management".
Iron Maiden and Rod have, by his own admission, been very fortunate since then in having many years of great success all over the world going on to be a real brand in the music world.
"So what do you do when your brand means you can?" asks Rod with a smile, ";why, you make your own beer of course, which we did with Robinsons. They are still a family business after 175 years in the brewing trade and the whole process was a labour of love on both sides to create a great real ale."
Not only was the brewing a family effort, Rod feels he is returning to his family here at Roehampton with our bar being the first in a rugby club to sell Trooper.
"Obviously I am delighted that the first rugby club to stock it is Rosslyn Park," he adds.
Despite many years and his best efforts, Iron Maiden, with the exception of Bruce, remain more fans of the round ball. That's not to say that Rod hasn't been able to enjoy the odd tie up with rugby over the years. He was able to give Eddie a pass with a proper shaped ball on a few occasions, including when the band played their sold out show at Twickenham Stadium in July 2008. The fans were delighted with the art on the special event t-shirts, featuring Eddie scoring under the Twickenham posts, which helped Maiden beat The Rolling Stones' record for most merchandise ever sold at a show at HQ! And for a New Zealand tour in 2009 what better than Eddie copying the training routine of legendary All Black 'Pine Tree' Meads, running up mountains with a sheep under each arm!
Continuing the rugby theme, the first Troopers delivered in NZ were to former All Black fly half and World Cup winning defence coach, Wayne Smith. He and his son are huge Maiden fans and, for his defence training sessions prior to the semi and final of the 2011 World Cup, Wayne used Maiden's Fear of the Dark as a soundtrack to give impetus to the sessions and awarded Maiden Ts to the best defensive player in each of those matches. He says Trooper is his favourite beer now, along with Steinlager of course!
Perhaps if England were to play the track The Trooper, after which the beer was named, as they ran out at the World Cup 2015, they may have an even better shot at winning it! And maybe they can get Trooper on sale in the stadium so the fans can celebrate in appropriate style. Wouldn't it be great if it became yet another rugby tradition that had its roots here at Rosslyn Park? That story starts here!