Saturday, 4 July 2009

Yet more C Ale

Reader Geoff Ikin has very kindly sent me some label images of various C Ales. They don't help much about the meaning and origin of C Ale, but they look pretty. I'm a sucker for old labels.

Of course, C could just be a random letter, like Worthington's "E". There were basically three systems of brewhouse code.

  1. The "normal" system: X, XX. XXX, PA, KK, KKK, P, S, SS, SSS.
  2. The Bass system: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, P2, P3, P4 with 1 being the strongest, 6 the weakest and a P prefix designating a Porter/Stout.
  3. The Worthington system: A, M, S, J, E

Maybe Boddingtons can provide a clue. They used these codes for their beers:

A Pale Ale
BB Mild Ale
CC Strong Ale

The JW Lees C Ale is also billed as a Strong Ale. That might explain what it is, if not where the hell the name came from.

There are a couple of other pieces of evidence that point to a Strong Ale. Groves & Whitnall discontinued theirs during the war and brought it back in 1950. Many strong beers disappeared during the war. Also, theirs was bottle-conditioned. Lower-strength beers were usually artificially carbonated.

Any other ideas are very welcome. I don't think I've come up with a very robust theory yet. I wonder if the brewing records still exist for any of these breweries? As Lees are still in business, there's a good chance they might have kept their old logs. Anyone have a good contact within the brewery?

Finding a brewing record would at least settle the nature of the beer, if not its origin.


Matt said...

Having seen the reference to John Lees - and before you'd got the label - I emailed JW Lees to ask if there was any connection to him and whether they had ever brewed 'C' Ale, here's their reply:

"Thanks for your e-mail. I don’t think this is our John Lees. The John Lees who founded JW Lees came from and lived in Middleton, and according to our head brewer, we haven’t produced a beer called C ale, we don’t think. A chapter from a book was passed to me a few weeks ago, if you like, a could photocopy it and post it to you? It may be of interest, as it was all about the brewery history."

I'll reply with a picture of the label and ask them to post the chapter from the book, see if that gets us anywhere.

Barm said...

Was Boddington's "two bees" logo originally a visual pun on the name of BB Mild?

I saw a label from Calder's of Alloa showing that they also had a trade mark of a (single) bee.

John Clarke said...

Tandleman is the CAMRA liaison officer with Lees and has goos contacts with the brewery.

Having said that, I think the explanation might be fairly prosaic. I think it is possible that one of the Manchester brewers had a success with a beer (any old beer, nothing particularly unique on the styel front) called C and the others leaped on the bandwagon.

John Clarke said...


The bees on the Boddingtons logo came from the Manchester coat of arms.

Matt said...

Barm, the bee is the symbol of the city of Manchester, adopted in the nineteenth century to represent its status as a 'hive of industry'.

Tandleman said...

Pity I didn't see this before today. I could have asked the Chairman who is the fount of all Lees knowledge, as I was speaking to him on Friday.

Leave it with me Ronbo and I'll C what I can find out. I'll ask about the old brewing books too.

Tyson said...

According to what I've read, John Henry Lees isn't connected to JW Lees. John Henry Lees Ltd came into existence in 1897 and went through a number of changes before going into voluntary liquidation in 1930.

Ron Pattinson said...

Tandleman, that would be great. If yoiu can get a photo of a brewing record for "C" Ale . . . I'd be in heaven.

Tyson, that's true, but the label I've used as an illustration is JW Lees.

Ron Pattinson said...

Matt, were there two LW Lees?

The current brewing staff won't know much about what was brewed before the start of their careers. That's just the way these things are. However, if they've kept their brewing records, it should be possible to find out for sure.

Matt said...

According to their website, the brewery was founded by a John Lees in 1828 but is named after his grandson, John William Lees, who took charge in 1876.

Matt said...

I've just had a letter from J.W. Lees with a photocopied chapter from a book about the brewery, can't see anything about 'C' Ale on a quick scan. However, on the attached note they say that they've asked the Chairman who's not sure as it was before his time but he thinks 'C' might stand for Centenary.