Bass, the name of a family of English brewers. The founder of the firm, William Bass (b. 1720), was originally a carrier, one of his chief clients being Benjamin Printon, a Burton-on-Trent brewer. By 1777 Bass had saved a little money, and seeing the growing demand for Burton beer he started as a brewer himself. The principal market for Burton beer at that time was in St Petersburg, whither the beer could be sent by water direct from Burton via the Trent and Hull, and William Bass managed to secure a tolerable share of the large Russian orders. But in 1822 the Russian government placed a prohibitory duty on Burton ales, and the Burton brewers were forced into cultivating the home market. William Bass opened up a connexion with London, and established a fairly profitable home trade. A misunderstanding between the East India Company and the London brewers who were the proprietors of Hodgson's India Pale Ale, at that time the standard drink of Englishmen in the East, resulted in Bass being asked to supply a beer which would withstand the Indian climate and be generally suitable to the Indian market. After a series of experiments he produced what is still known as Bass's pale ale.
This new and lighter beer at once became popular all over India, and Bass's firm became the largest in Burton. After William Bass's death the business was carried on by his son, M. T. Bass, and then by his grandson, Michael Thomas Bass (1799-1884). In 1827 a vessel laden with Bass's beer was wrecked in the Irish Channel. A large proportion of the cargo was however salved and sold at Liverpool, where it met with great approval in the local market, and through this chance circumstance the firm opened up a regular trade in the north-west of England and Ireland. "Bass" was, however, little drunk in London till 1851, when it was supplied on draught at the Exhibition of that year, since which time its reputation has been world-wide. In 1880 the business was turned into a limited liability company. Michael Thomas Bass, besides actively conducting and extending the firm's operations, was a man of great public spirit and philanthropy, and the towns of Burton and Derby are largely indebted to his munificence. He took a keen interest in all questions affecting the welfare of the working classes, and was largely instrumental in securing the abolition of imprisonment for debt.
On his death, prior to which he had taken into partnership Messrs Ratcliff and Gretton, two of the leading officials of the brewery, converting the business into a limited company known as Messrs Bass, Ratcliff & Gretton, Ltd., the control of the firm passed to his sons, Michael Arthur Bass and Hamar Bass (d. 1898). Michael Arthur Bass (1837-1909), after twenty-one years in parliament as member first for Stafford, then for two divisions of Staffordshire, was in 1886 raised to the peerage as Baron Burton; by a special patent of 1897 the peerage descended to his daughter, Nellie, the wife of Mr J. E. Baillie of Dochfour, the baronetcy descending to his nephew W. A. Hamar Bass (b. 1879).