Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Beer code (again)

I've been thinking about that Henry Lovibond advert. It's the sort of thing I do on the tram in the morning. Stare out of the window and think about 19th century brewhouse beer names. That's not weird, is it

These old price lists have a certain fascination. Shall I tell you what strikes me about this one?

The large number of Bitter Ales. Five in all, if you include XXXXB. That's unusual. Most breweries only produced a PA and maybe an IPA. The range of strengths is vey wide, too. The XB, at just 15 shillings for 18 gallons couldn't have been more than 1045º. That's very weak for a 19th century Pale Ale, even a Light Bitter. At the other end of the spectrum, XXXXB at 2 shillings a gallon must have been closer to 1100º I've never seen another beer that strong described as Bitter.

The Milds are pretty much what you would see everywhere. Except that they would usually start at X

It's clear that strength is being indicated by the number of X's. It's unusual to see this system applied to Pale Ales and I can't think of another example where I've seen it applied to AK. The standard method is to add more K's, i.e. AK, AKK

Talking of AK, the term "Intermediate Ale" is an interesting one. I'm not sure precisely what it nmeans. What follows is a guess. The beers are clumped together in four groups: Mild Ales, Pale Bitter Ales, Intermediate Ales, Stout and Porter. I understand what some of the se mean. Mild Ales are unaged, relatively lightly-hopped. The PAle Bitter Ales would certainly have been hoppier and probably had a little age on them. I think we all understand what Porter and Stout mean. So that leaves the Intermediate Ales. The description of AK as "Mild Bitter" implies to me that it's an unaged ("Mild") hoppy beer.

Of course, I could be talking crap again. More investigation is required.

The OG's are an educated guess based on the price, description and similar beers from other London brewers.


Anonymous said...

That XB Light Bitter would be called a "family bitter" or "table beer" on other brewers' price lists, I suspect - I've seen a few others at 10d a gallon, but that's about the cheapest, except for a very few mentions of harvest ale ...

Henry Lovibond is about the only brewer I've seen use the expression "intermediate ale", but late 19th century commentary says that AK was matured in cask for longer than mild, but less time than standard bitter. It was usually described as having a 'delicate' hop flavour, too, which certainly suggests a lightly hopped beer.

Matt said...

Obviously there are breweries today who label their standard bitter XB (Theakstons) or best bitter XXXB (Batemans) but I'm assuming that these are 20th century inventions rather than the labels 19th century brewers gave to their pale ales.

Gary Gillman said...

The 19th century brewers' texts seem not, from what I can gather, to explain brewers' designation codes, or not in any systematic way. Probably it was regarded as a "trade" matter and understood by all concerned.

I wonder though if a different type of source might exist to shed light on these terms. Perhaps e.g., literature was prepared to educate new commercial travellers working for the breweries.

In the ads themselves, often the breweries explain their abbreviations. E.g., next to PA you often see, pale ale. Or next to EIPA, you often see "East India Pale Ale", and Family Ale next to FA, and so forth. But not for AK and its variants. And I've looked at a few ads now using the Historical Directories link you provided, Ron.

AK is rarely defined in the ads and when it is, it is simply as "bitter beer" or "light bitter ale" or some such. Probably the breweries did not know themselves what AK stood for, or AKK or the Ks on their tod.

In one ad, it states again next to AK, "bitter beer". Underneath AK is another beer, AKK, and next to it is a ditto mark - to show it too is bitter beer (just stronger, clearly).

I think in the case you are talking about now, Ron, the X's was used next to AK to show that there were stronger versions of AK available but these were not old ales, and that is why multiple K's were not used. Where multiple K's were used, the beers seem often to have been stock beers, as Zythophile shows on his website dealing with AK (e.g., Barnard sampling a 2 year old multiple-K beer with a Madeira(oxidation/aging) odour).

The question to me is, is the K beer code just another way, maybe regional at the time, to describe bitter and pale ales? Or are the K beers something different? Maybe the traditions were originally separate (if so possibly due to the K beers coming from Ankel and Dubbel Keut), and later merged. Maybe they were never separate.


Ron Pattinson said...

Silly me. I should have looked at the only logs I do have for AK.

Here are the vital statistics of Fuller's X, AK and PA:

Fuller's 1910 AK
hops (lbs/barrel) 1.43
hops (lbs/qtr) 7.50
gravity (OG) 1045.01
gravity (FG) 1008.86
ABV 4.78
apparent attenuation 80.31%

Fuller's 1910 X
hops (lbs/barrel) 1.21
hops (lbs/qtr) 5.50
gravity (OG) 1052.57
gravity (FG) 1014.68
ABV 5.01
apparent attenuation 72.08%

Fuller's 1910 PA
hops (lbs/barrel) 2.15
hops (lbs/qtr) 9.50
gravity (OG) 1054.15
gravity (FG) 1012.19
ABV 5.55
apparent attenuation 77.49%

You'll note that the hopping rate of the AK (in terms of pounds of hops per quarter of malt) is exactly halfway between the hopping rate of the PA and X.

Gary Gillman said...

The K beers seem clearly to be less hopped judging by this data and what Zythophile has said. But were they always just the lower end - in hop characteristic - of the pale ale/bitter range? Or did they have a separate origin and it was just convenient to put them with this other group to which they were somewhat similar (or more similar than to mild ale)?

I incline to the latter possibility because K in AK or K alone clearly can't be keeping (unless a very short conditioning period is meant, but I don't think so). Can it have meant "all correct", the apparent origin of the ubiquitous "OK"? I.e., the "ordinary" bitter of its day? This seems a stretch.

This is why I keep coming back to the idea I first read in Zythophile's writings, suggesting a possible origin in keut beer.