Friday, 22 August 2008

Early 18th century British beer styles

I told you I was starting work on the book. The beginning seemed like a logical place to start. Here, in what will probably be the first in a long series of posts, is an extract from a very rough draught of Chapter One: 1700-1750 Stitch, Brown Beer and Pale Ale.

Early 18th century British styles

At the start of the 18th century, increased taxes on malt and hops to finance war with France, induced brewers to move to brewing more beer. Their reasoning was simple: the tax on malt was more than that on hops. Ale used more of the former, beer more of the latter.
"However, at last, it was realised that the duty on malt surpassed by much the duty on hops, from whence the Brewers endeavoured at a liquor wherein more of these last should be used. Thus the drinking of beer came to be encouraged in preference to ale. This beer, when new, was sold for £1/2/- per barrel, but the people not easily weaned from their wonted sweet heavy drink, in general used ale mixed with beer, which they purchased from the Ale draper at twopence halfpenny, and twopence three farthings per quart."
Obadiah Poundage, 1760.
Though, as the Poundage states, drinkers weren't so easily persuaded to change their habits.

Beer and Ale were both brewed at a wide range of strengths. Though the weakest were usually beers, as in Small Beer. Because of the low hopping rate, low-gravity Ales didn't keep well. The very strongest malt liquors, meant to be aged for a year or more, were also Beers. With these two exceptions, there were Ale and Beer equivalents at all strengths and using all three base malts.

There were four factors that determined style: base malt, strength, hopping rate and age when sold. For example, a Mild Stout Brown Beer, was a heavily hopped, strong Beer, brewed from brown malt, that was sold unaged.

Usually just a single type of malt was used. But there were evidently a few exceptions to this:
"At Bridport in Dorsetshire, I knew an Inn-keeper use half Pale and half Brown Malt for Brewing his Butt-beers, that, proved to my Palate the best I ever drank on the Road, which I think may be accounted for, in that the Pale being the slackest, and the Brown the hardest dryed, must produce a mellow good Drink by the help of a requisite Age, that will reduce those extreams to a proper Quality."
"London and Country Brewer", 1736.

You will note that the differentiation between beer and ale had remained unchanged since the introduction of hops in the 16th century. Whilst ales had also adopted the use of hops, the quantity used was so much smaller as to make them readily distiguishable from heavily-hopped
beers. In general, beers were hopped at about 4 times the rate of the corresponding Ale.
"The Proportion of Hops may be half a Pound to an Hogshead of Strong Ale; one Pound to an Hogshead of ordinary Strong Beer to be soon Drank out: And two Pounds to an Hogshead of March or October Beer:"
"Directions for Brewing Malt Liquors" (1700)
Here's an overview of the hopping rates for different styles of beer in the early 18th century:

It's clear that the Pale Ale described here has little in Common with that of the 19th century. The description of brewing "Stock Beer" in "The Brewer" (p.37) is very similar to that of October or March Pale Beer in "London & Country Brewer".

heavily-hopped. The two main subtypes were:

  • Keeping Beer - strong and inteded to be kept for long periods (9-12 months). Different types of keeping beer were:

    • March Beer - a beer brewed at the end of the best brewing season
    • October Beer - a beer brewed at the beginning of the best brewing season
    • Amber Keeping Beer - brewed from amber malt
    • Butt Beer - beer aged in large barrels or butts. Porter and stout were brown butt beers.

  • Small Beer - a low-alcohol drink for immediate consumption

lightly-hopped. It varied in strength, but was always weaker than the strongest Keeping Beers. Ales were usually drunk as soon as they had cleared, after about 3 or 4 weeks in the cask. The main subdivision was on the colour of the malt used:

  • Brown Ale - brown malt
    • Common Brown Ale
    • Strong Brown Ale (Stitch)
  • Amber Ale - amber malt
  • Pale Ale - pale malt

Style overview

  • Yield per bushel my estimate.
  • Assumes making Small Beer with the final runnings of strong malt liquors.
  • Final gravities are based on Richardson's readings from the 1770's.
The strongest and most expensive malt liquors were March or October Beer. They were brewed from a variety of malts, either pale, amber or brown. There was some disagreement as to which was the better month for brewing:
"It is pretended that March is the best Month for Brewing, and the Water then better than in October: But I allways found that the October Beer, having so many cold Months to digest in, proves the better Drink by much; and requires not such watching and tending as the March Beer does, in opening and stopping the Vent hole on every change of Weather."
"Directions for Brewing Malt Liquors" (1700)
There were many different styles brewed from brown malt. Starting Butt-Beer is what would later come to be known as Porter. Stout Butt-Beer became Brown Stout. As Porter became all the rage, Brown Ales lost popularity and by the end of the 18th century had disappeared. The name was not revived until a century later, when it was used to describe a very drink. Even in 1736, proto-Porter was a big success:
"common Butt-beer is at this time in greater Reputation than ever in London, and the Home-brew'd Drinks out of Credit"
"London and Country Brewer", 1736.
Intire Small Beer was not party-gyled with a stronger malt liquor, but brewed from its own mash. It was a new method of producing a higher-quality type of Small Beer. There were versions made from all three base malts.


Dale said...

Interesting classification and terminology.
I always thought Ale to be a type of Beer. My understanding was Beer-> Ale or Lager. Then the various styles under each of those.

Anonymous said...

Who's going to publish your book?

Ron Pattinson said...

Dale, Beer as a general term and Ale and Lager as subgroups is a very recent way of classification. And I would argue not a particularly useful or accurate one.

Anonymous, good question. I'm trying to get the outline worked out and most of one chapter so I've something to show publishers.

Boak said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dale said...


What are the yeast differences between the Beer and the Ale?

Ron Pattinson said...

No difference in the yeast. It's just the hopping that's different.