Friday, 5 December 2008

Governement Ale 1917 - 1919

It's a great concept, isn't it, Government Ale. Sadly, the reality was more prosaic. It was just a watery version of Mild sold at a controlled price. Surprisingly, for something introduced as a wartime emergency, Government Ale lived on until the start of the next war.

This morning, for the first time in the nine and a quarter months I've been catching the sneltram at Amstelveenseweg, the escalator was working. Ascending effortlessly to the platform was such a thrill. Such a thrill that I walked back down the stairs and rode it again. Great timing. I start a new job January 1st.

My life is just one continuous white-knuckle ride. Most of my spare time this week has been spent doing incredibly dull things with brewing records. I won't bore you with the details just now. I'm saving that particular pleasure for further down this post.

Some of those Whitbread "beers" in WW I. Not even 1% alcohol. I wonder what the hell they called it? Then again, in the 1930's Barclay Perkins had a thing called Royal Ale that was a tweaked version of their 4d Ale and only 2.7%. In what way was it "royal", I wonder?

Before I forget. SSS should be on draught in Wildeman sometime next week. At least that's what the barman told me. Not cask, unfortunately. Still very nice, though, if it's like the last lot.

Today's Sinterklaas in Holland. The kids are so jammy here. They get two christmases. Two bloody christmases. Though Andrew and Lexie have it even better. We do the German one, too. December 24th. Weisswurst for me. We got some the other week in Cologne. One of my favourite things.

Now back to piss-weak, government-controlled Mild . . . .

Government Ale or 4d Ale
Emergency wartime legislation created a new style of beer: Government Ale. It was brewed within specified gravity bands (pretty low) and sold at a controlled price. The intention was to ensure more beer was brewed from the same quantity of raw materials and keep down the price to stop unrest amongst the working class. It doesn't seem to have quite worked out as planned, due to resistance from brewers and publicans.

Stylistically, it was like a lower-gravity X-Ale and was often party-gyled with it. When government restrictions on brewing were abolished, Government Ale didn't disappear. Most breweries continued to brew a beer of around 1030º, usually called just Ale. It finally vanished only when the gravity of X Ale dropped to around 1027-1030º at the end of WW II.

Oct. 1 1917: Prices fixed at 4d. per pint under 1036º, 5d. per pint under 1042º.
April 1 1918: Prices fixed at 4d. per pint below 1030º, and 5d. per pint for 1030º to 1034º.

Whitbread dropped their X Mild in 1917 and replaced it with a GA (Government Ale, I assume). They brewed versions in both the price bands, one at 1034º the other at 1042º. In 1918, these were replaced by MA, which came in three different versions: 1038º, 1023º and 1011º. Surprisingly, the strongest had a higher gravity in 1918 than PA, which was just 1036. Whitbread were only able to maintain a decent-strength Mild by brewing large quantities of MA at the weakest gavity, 1011º, something which could scarcely be described as beer. It was barely 1% ABV.

The biggest difference between the grist of GA/MA and X Ale was the use of dark malt. Most versions of MA contained 7 to 11% brown malt, though occasionally crystal malt was used instead. That's enough to make the beer taste significantly different from a beer brewed from just pale malt and dark sugar. Either they had more brown malt than they knew what to do with or they were trying to compensate for the fall in gravity. Barclay Perkins also used brown malt in their price-controlled Milds.

That's another nail in the coffin for the "Porter disappeared because they had no dark malts" theory. If dark malt were in such short supply, would they be using it in their cheapest beers? Whitbread used around 1 quarter of brown malt for every 100 barrels of MA. I make that around 5,000 quarters in 1918 and 1919. To put that number into perspective, in 1923 Whitbread needed around 40,000 quarters of brown malt for all the Porter and Stout they brewed. Remember that in 1918/1919, they were brewing quite large quantities of Porter and Stout as well as MA. They must have been using at least as much brown malt as in peacetime.

After the war, Whitbread continued to brew MA, though just a single version at 1027º. As late as 1947, they were still churning out something similar: XX at 1027.6º. Or maybe that 0.6º made all the difference.

Ale. 4d Ale. Light Ale. A Mild-like beer of 1027 to 1030º. Usually with some darker malts. Crystal, amber, brown. What style is that? Is it just watered-down Mild?


Edmund Schluessel said...

Hm...this actually gives a hint to something I've wondered about. Here in South Wales, Brains has a well-established mild ("Red Dragon Dark Mild", currently sold as "Dark", OG 1037) and a well-established bitter (Bitter, OG 1037).

If you go back several decades, you find a beer, sometimes prepared at the pub but in the 40s and 50s brewed as its own product, which was a 50-50 blend of Dark and Bitter. Its name: Brains MA.

Edmund Schluessel said...

er...Dark is OG 1035, sorry

Anonymous said...

1011! Now that's extreme brewing. One for the enthusiastic US homebrewers out there perhaps?

Andrew Elliott said...

Mmm... SSS. I took a crack at brewing it this past Friday, although I have no idea how close I came to what yours is. I followed the same % grist from the 1914 Whitbread SSS, and hit the gravity of 1.095. I wasn't sure what "sugar" was specifically, so I used Lyle's Golden Syrup. I hopped exclusively with Kent Goldings, 85% of them at the beginning, and 15% in the last 15 minutes. I pitched a Yorkshire yeast strain.

I'm not sure how close I came to yours, but I'm sure it's a lot closer than swimming across the pond. I'll be sure to save you a bottle.