It's about one of my favourite breweries, William Younger of Edinburgh. Why a favourite? Probably because I've had a look at their brewing records. And because they were such a renowned brewery in the 19th century. Big exporters of beer to the rest of the UK, Europe and the whole world. They were up there with Bass and Guinness, another two of my faves, in terms of worldwide availability.
A beverage to be universally popular should combine the maximum of strength with the minimum of intoxicating effect; and it must be suited to the soil, the climate, and the national temperament. Many of the bitter ales at present sold have either no body and taste, or they are thin and chamomily, and have a ropiness which produces a sickly effect upon the palate.
Ale is now so highly appreciated for its tonic properties, that it is as constantly recommended by the profession of our own country to invalids, as the vin ordinaire is recommended by the medical men of France to invalids approaching convalescence. There is no doubt that pure beer is the natural drink of this country, and is, except in abnormal conditions, peculiarly well suited to the system. People sometimes avoid beer as having a tendency to make them fat. It is far more likely that the quantity rather than the quality of what they drink would have that tendency. What they dread is far more likely to arise from imbibing quantities of tea, or even water, than from drinking sound wholesome ale. Some young ladies drink wine only, and avoid beer as producing coarseness of complexion. We would inform them that a moderate quantity of ale would give them a stamina which no wine will give, and that girls who drink ale have peculiarly good complexions. We can readily understand how such mistakes are made ; and we well remember our own surprise on learning that the most beautiful family of girls we ever saw, and whose complexions were simply perfect, took wine sparingly and fed their beauty on ale.
Whether it is from the peculiar quality of the water, or some secret in their method of brewing, or from both combined, it is certain that the purity, body, flavour, and tonic power of the ales of Messrs. Younger and Co. of Edinburgh stand unrivalled. Many readers will remember the fine Edinburgh ale which, long before this firm had any idea of establishing their stores in London, was looked upon by ale-drinkers as an exceptional indulgence. At that time, doubtless, the Edinburgh ale was brewed to suit the palate of the sturdy Scot, whose misty climate required a firmer tonic and a greater heat-giver than our own. But experiments on southern palates, and the wants of India, have taught this enterprising firm to produce a series of ales exactly fulfilling the requirements we have indicated.
"Belgravia;: A London magazine, Volume 18", 1872, pages 63-65.
Where to start? The beginning, perhaps. Ales, the author says, were once ropy and sweet, but that the new-fangled Bitter Ales were bitter and thin. He's clearly not a fan. Maximum strength, but minimum intoxicating effect? That's rather contradictory. Or am I misinterpreting the meaning?
Then there's some important advice for the ladies: drink beer if you want healthy skin. The image of girls feeding their beauty with Ale is a lovely one. That must be what the girls sprawled in a puddle of their own wee outside Yates's on a Saturday night are doing.
Younger's beers are described in a flowery way, but this is what I take to be the meaning. When they brewed mainly for the Scottish market, their beers were thick and strong. Once they moved into the export trade, they started brewing beers suited to other tastes, such as IPA for the Indian market and Pale Ale for the English market. The Strongest Ale is surely No. 1, which had a gravity of over 1100. Pale, clear and well conditioned were it characteristics.
One little detail often overlooked by those preaching Scottish brewers used few hops, is the large quantity of IPA exported by Younger. But why let irritating facts get in the way of a good story?