Tuesday, 14 September 2010


I was bizarrely delighted to find records for Mackeson in the Whitbread archive. It's a beer with an odd fascination.

Mackeson has an unusual history. A small smoulder between the wars, which leapt briefly into flame during the 1950's, before being almost extinguished in the 1970's. A beer that became about as unfashionable as it humanly possible. A drink for grannies and grumpy old gits.

On the face of it, Mackeson's popularity is baffling. How could a beer combining strong roast, sweetness and minimal amounts of alcohol ever have been one of the biggest sellers in Britain?

Milk Stout. A funny concept, as a style. It experienced a fleeting popularity, riding the last wave of Porter until it petered out on the beach.

Why have a brought this up now? Obvious really. I've been poking around in the archives again. Mackeson presents a particular problem for forensic beerologists like myself. It's all to do with the lactose. And how Whitbread brewed.

I was a bit surprised, to say the least, to discover that Mackeson had been party-gyled with with Whitbread Extra Stout. How would that work? Surely they wouldn't put lactose in Extra Stout? They didn't. Because the lactose wasn't added in the kettle. Or even in the fermenter. It was used as a priming. It isn't mentioned at all in the logs.

It would be dead frustrating, if not for one fact. The Whitbread Gravity Book has plenty of analyses of Mackeson. Analyses performed in the bottling stores. So I can see the beer as bottled. Between 5 and 7 of the gravity points came from the lactose primings. At least the version as bottled had an OG and FG 5 to 7 points higher than it was as brewed.


Oblivious said...

I presume they where still adding a fermentable sugar as well for bottle conditioning

Ron Pattinson said...

Oblivious, I'm pretty sure Mackeson was force carbonated.

Ant Hayes said...

In Africa milk stout is for sophisticated folk. See this SAB note,

"Castle Milk Stout
In 2008 a new communication for
Castle Milk Stout (CMS) under the
smooth platform was introduced.
This was a multimedia campaign
which included a new TV commercial,
billboards and a series of radio spot ads. This
new campaign emphasised the real benefits associated
with drinking CMS i.e. smooth, easy drinking and with
lactose milk depicted in a manner that associates the
brand with youthful vigour, style and contemporary
culture. This new campaign was well received by consumers
promoting the launch of another Castle Milk
Stout branded TV program – Velvet Life."


Alistair Reece said...

a drink for grumpy old gits? Where do I get me some?

Seriously, though, I might try using lactose in my priming solution when next I make a stout - winter is coming and so the imperial stout needs to be brewed.....

Rod said...

Can you still buy Mackeson? I haven't seen a bottle in years, and I've suddenly got this odd craving for one.......
Some beers get me like that - Gold Label, I can never resist. If I see a few bottles or cans I have to buy them. What I wouldn't give for a few bottles of Courage Bulldog (and don't anyone say, You can buy it in Belgium, it's called John Martins Pale Ale, it's not the same.

Kristen England said...

"...lactose milk depicted in a manner that associates the
brand with youthful vigour, style and contemporary

I didn't know lactose milk was what gave the 'ouths such vigour and style!

Martyn Cornell said...

I'm guessing this was done for tax reasons, since in that period the tax would have been paid on the OG at the time fermenting began, and without the lactose the OG would have been lower, so less tax. Fascinating, Ron - I wonder if this was what Sidney Nevile was talking about in his autobiography over his discussions with the Revenue people after Whitbread acquired he brand in the 1920s.

Antony Hayes said...

You can buy Mackesons in cans at Sainsburys.

Harveys also do a milk stout, which is quite nice.


Ron Pattinson said...

Martyn, that's an interesting point: were gravity points from lactose taxable if added after fermentation?

Primings made from fermentable sugars were taxed.

I have seen lactose in logs. Added during the boil and so part of the OG for tax purposes. Would any brewer have done that if they could dodge the tax by adding it after fermentation?

Paul Bailey said...

"It looks good, tastes good and by golly it does you good!" So the old advertising slogan went, not that I'm old enough to remember it!

However, I am just about old enough to remember the Mackeson Brewery in Hythe, and also remember our old village local having a large wooden stillage behind the bar with the legend "Mackeson's Hythe Ales" branded on it. (Gravity served beer was the order of the day back then).

Surely when Mackeson's Milk Stout was a purely local brand (before Whitbread got their hands on it), the lactose would have been added to the copper rather than just as a primer?

Ron Pattinson said...

Paul, possibly. But I've seen Whitbread examples from the 1930's.

I think it's really all to do with party-gyling. Whitbread span several Porters and Stouts from the same mash. At first, they never brewed just straight Mackeson. It was always party-gyled with other beers. They couldn't have added lactose in the copper.

There's a nice contrast with Oatmeal Stout. Both Barclay Perkins and Whitbread party-gyled Oatmeal Stouts with other beers. Because the amounts of oats used were minimal (2 pounds in a brew of hundreds of barrels is the least I've seen) it didn't matter if it was also in non-oat beers.

From what I've seen, the whole Oat Stout thing was a big con. Brewers threw in the odd bit of oats for legal reasons. Way too little to have any effect on flavour.

Paul Bailey said...

I understand that oats can cause difficulties in the mash tun; add too many to the grist and they literally turn to porridge causing a "set mash" with asociated run-off problems.

I have in the past though, brewed a successful oatmeal stout using one of Graham Wheeler's recipes. The proportion of oats was around 6% by weight, which is considerably higher than the Barclay-Perkins/Whitbread examples you mention.

Jeff Renner said...

Theoretically, at least, the higher gravity of the boiling wort with lactose would decrease the hop bitterness extraction.

Ed said...

I bought Courage Bulldog from an Italian supermarket two or three years ago.

Rod said...

"I bought Courage Bulldog from an Italian supermarket two or three years ago."
Blimey - how old was it?

"You can buy Mackesons in cans at Sainsburys."
Not in my local one on Greenwich Peninsula, you can't - way too poncey for that kind of beer. But thanks anyway.......

Thomas Barnes said...

@Ron: When did stout, especially milk stout, start getting its reputation as a health tonic for invalids and nursing mothers?

@Ant Hayes: Sounds like typical corporate spin to me. Unless they're peddling arthritis medicines, no marketer wants to go for the old and creaky demographic.

@Velky Al: Just as long as you also use a fermentable priming sugar, but you knew that, right? ;)