Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Pure beer is best

It wasn't just the Germans who had a thing about Pure Beer. The Free Mash Tun Act of 1880, which allowed ingredients other than malt and hops, didn't go down well with everyone. The following years saw several attempts to have it repealed or amended.

One of the foremost proponents of Pure Beer was MP W. Cuthbert Quilter. The following is a quote from an article he wrote in 1887.
"As regards the effect upon the health of the nation of so-called beer of the various kinds, I cannot do better than give the following statements of Mr. W. C. Young, public analyst for the districts of Poplar, Whitechapel, and St. George's-in-the-East; and of Dr. Bernays, the eminent chemist of St. Thomas's Hospital.

Mr. Young says:—
1. Barley Malt contains important nitrogenous and mineral constituents, possessing valuable nutritive, digestive, and strengthening properties.

2. Maize Malt, saccharine, and other malt substitutes do not contain these matters, or only in very small quantities.

3. Beer brewed from barley malt differs from that brewed from any of its substitutes in containing the above-mentioned important constituents.

4. Beer brewed from malt substitutes is practically only a solution of alcohol, so that of all the properties a beer should possess, it has only the worst—that of intoxication.

5. The alcohol produced from barley malt is purer than that from maize, rice, &c., the latter containing appreciable quantities of fusil oil.

6. Beer brewed from these substitutes will not keep sound for more than a few days.

7. After a long study of the subject, I have been assured by a gentleman who was for many years a Medical Officer of Health for one of the poorest quarters of the East End of London, that in the majority of cases which had come under his notice of the worst form of confirmed drunkenness, he could trace the effects to the continual drinking of such beer, or what is commonly known as 'fourpenny ale.' He attributes much of the squalor, dirtiness, and wretchedness of the poor in his parish to the use of this 'fourpenny ale.'"
“The Nineteenth Century Vol XXI” edited by James Knowles, 1887, Pages 130.

In case you're wondering "fourpenny ale", or X Ale, was the standard Mild of the day. It was so called because it cost fourpence a quart. I never realised Mild could be so bad for you.


MentalDental said...

Is it just me or is there a hint of the stench of temperance about paragraph 7?

Things haven't changed much.
1887: That nice middle/professional class medical officer telling the proles how evil they are indulging in cheap alcohol.

2009: that lovely middle class chief medical officer telling the yoof how evil they are indulging in cheap alcohol.

Today's news item here in the UK is that oral cancer in increasing amongst the young and this is because they are drinking too much. Only incidentally is it noted that BY FAR the greatest increase in risk is smoking AND drinking alcohol (about a six-fold increase in risk). Oh, as usual, the BBC chose to illustrate the evils of drink with pictures of beer.The whole report gives the impression that beer is the problem. Well yes, the alcohol in beer can increase the risk of getting cancer but beer is a low alcohol drink. Higher alcohol drinks such as vodka are a greater problem. I wonder why the BBC have a downer on beer. Is it because the scum drink it, I wonder?

Pivní Filosof said...

Any idea why malted (or unmalted) wheat, rye or oatmeal (not sure now if they malt that one, too) aren't mentioned?

JessKidden said...

Similar concern over "Pure Beer" was evident in the US during the same period. I've gathered a few articles and quotes at this page http://jesskidden.googlepages.com/howlagerbeerinmade including a link to a Google Books copy of the 1902 Congressional hearings that includes a lot of brewers' testimony.

Even more can be found in this long series of Letters to the Editor to The Sun (NYC) in 1908. http://jesskidden.googlepages.com/19082

Gary Gillman said...

I think the fourth statement today resonates most, in that over-use of adjunct tends to produce a thin, uninteresting palate. At least this canvassing of beer qualities refers to this element.

In 1882, Professor Charles Graham addressed a scientific conference to describe the virtues of lager beer. He predicted its ultimate ascension in the English market. He was right but it took longer surely than he hoped. In this fascinating article, he never once refers to beer palate. If anything, excess hopping (or what he viewed as excess hopping) was a detriment in that he thought hops contained some kind of narcotic which worked an effect on the drinker different from alcohol. He was against dry hopping in particular for this reason.

But his main reasons for preferring lager, which he termed a "discussion beer", (precursor term to session beer which I believe Micheal Jackson invented), was the relative cheapness of its production. In a word, refrigeration supplied the need for part of the hops. He said beer produced this way had a lower ABV (as indeed we have seen). Bitter needed to be 1056 or over he says to be preserved for any time because alcoholic strength, not just heavy hopping, was needed for keeping, but he says this was too strong for session drinking. (Why people could and surely were in many cases satisfied with taking a half or one pint is not explained - not enough discussion time I guess).

There is no reference at all to the traditional palate produced by top-fermenting English beer. He seems to view beer largely as an alcohol delivery system. But one can see from this early article that he was right in terms of the commercial beer market: the industry did ultimately follow his counsel and the ad men did its bidding and finally the consumer, although it took 100 years, not 5, agreed.

Another interesting feature of his article is his table of typical English beers and use of nomenclature. I note he avoids using an X to describe any of the non-mild ales although I recognize usage was loose at the time and this issue can be viewed in different ways. His taxonomy of the Burton beers is interesting, too. The paper begins at pg. 15:



Gary Gillman said...

As sometimes happens, I read too quickly (due to limited time): Charles Graham did use X's in his beer table to describe the higher strengths of porter, i.e., stout, which in 1882 would have been a vatted or mixed product.

I think Ron actually you are right, X refers merely to strength technically speaking. At the same time many brewers did use it at the time (per numerous ads I've seen) to describe only their mild beers.


Mike said...

Hey Ron, Where did you get the Chester's label? Chester's mild is to me what Tetley's Mild is / was to you. I grew up in Manchester and my poor mans Guinness was delicious, although Tetley'S Mild was also pretty damn good.

Matt said...

Mike, as a Mancunian of a later vintage (b. Wythenshawe, 1970) I only remember Chester's Bitter from the late 80's, straw-coloured and quite tasty. I'm pretty sure they'd been taken over by Whitbread by then as my local at the time was one of their tied houses.

Ron Pattinson said...

Pivní Filosof, quite simple: they weren't used. Wheat was just too expensive, rye and oatmeal tricky to malt and brew with. I've only ever seen oats used in tiny quantities, even in Oatmeal Stouts.

Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, thanks for the link.

In the late 1800's there was a big difference in strength between British Ales and Lagers. The low attenuation of much Lager meant it was usually under 5% ABV and often only around 4%. While British beers were mostly 5.5% plus.

There was, in fact, a move towards lower-alcohol beers in Britain. In particular beers such as AK, which were a good bit weaker than Pale Ales and Milds of the day. It was in fact these beers which took the place that was occupied by Lager in many European countries. Ironic that he should include a couple in his table of British beers.

And Graham did have a vested interest. Graham's Golden Lager knocked around for years before finally morphing into that world-beater Skol.

Gary Gillman said...

Interesting about Graham's Golden Lager, thanks Ron.

I think I see now the origin of the shandy: a way to cut the ABV of a stock beer which consumed on its own in summer would be too strong and too strongly hopped. This at a time when the quality of running beer was questionable in hot weather. Graham likens schenk beer to English running beer incidentally, which makes sense when you think about it.