Friday, 18 February 2011

How Allsopp got into the Pale Ale business

 You guessed it. We're back with Allsopp. And the story of his first IPA.

 This is by no means the most obscure text. The story has been repeated in pretty much everything ever written about IPA. But that doesn't make it any less important, nor unworthy of our attention. I'm trying to tell the total tale and this is a vital part of it.
"Mr. Allsopp, though a man of high courage, and with a spirit as stanch as ever warmed the breast of a true English gentleman, felt, nevertheless, somewhat daunted by the sudden obstacles that had risen in his path. While in this frame of mind he went to London early in the year 1822, intent, as we have before mentioned, on the advancement of his trade in the metropolitan districts, and with the object of introducing the new ale which he was then contemplating, first in the northern districts, and afterwards generally throughout England.

It happened at this time, that dining with an East Indian Director, Mr. Marjoribanks, in the course of conversation he happened to make some remark on the late occurrences in Russia, the neglect of his remonstrances by the government, and the gloomy prospects of his house from the loss of their European trade.

"But why not, Allsopp," observed Mr. Marjoribanks, " leave the cold climates, and try the warmer regions of the earth? Why do you not make an attempt on the Indian market?"

"I never heard of it."

"There are 5,000 hogsheads of English beer sent to Madras and Bengal every year; and, what is more to your purpose, it is a trade that can never be lost; for the climate is too hot for brewing, unless at a distance so great that the carriage must eat up all the profits; and no tariff can ever affect you. We are all now dependent upon Hodgson, who has given offence to most of our merchants in India. But your Burton ale, so strong and sweet, will not suit our market."

Here Mr. Marjoribanks rang the bell, and directed his butler to bring in a bottle of Hodgson's ale, that had been to India and back. The butler poured out a glass for Mr. Allsopp, who held it up to the light, and then, tasting it, exclaimed, "Is this the Indian Beer? I can brew it."

"If you can, it will be a fortune to you," was Mr. Marjoribank's reply.

On Mr. Allsopp's return to Burton-on-Trent, sitting one morning in his counting-house, one of the men came to tell him, "There's a hamper for you, sir, just come down by the mail from London." On opening this it was found to contain a dozen of ale; and with some joke about " coals to Newcastle" —" a present of ale to Samuel Allsopp at Burton!"—he took up a bottle on which was written "Hodgson's Indian beer." Little did Mr. Allsopp imagine that he had at that moment in his hand the key to a colossal business, and the foundation of the future great prosperity of Burton-uponTrent.

Mr. Marjoribanks' recommendation, and the evident importance which that gentleman attached to it, by forwarding this sample, forcibly impressed the mind of the great brewer; so, setting aside the sample of malt which he was then carefully examining, he directed " Job Goodhead" to be summoned.

Now this Job Goodhead was the maltster of the house; and though apprenticed to Mr. Benjamin Wilson, in 1803, is still alive, as if to laugh to scorn what some have endeavoured to make out—the fatal consequences of drinking much Burton ale. Job Goodhead, too, is as hearty a fellow as any in Messrs. Allsopp's employ, where he still fills his old post; and as he delights to tell the story:—

"Job," said Mr. Allsopp, holding oat to him a glass of the Indian beer, "can you dry your malt that colour?"

"Yes, sir," answered Job, at the same time tasting the beer, and sputtering it out fast, for Job was of the old school, and preferred his ale strong and sweet. "But, sir,"—

"Never mind the taste, Job. Can you dry your malt to this colour ?—are you sure?"

"Quite sure, sir."

"Then do so." The great brewer and his hereditary maltster set to work at once; and the first specimen of the great pale ale and bitter beer trade of Burton, now extending to so many thousand hogsheads, was brewed in a teapot. "
"Burton and its bitter beer" by John Stevenson Bushnan, 1853, pages 100 - 102.

The bare bones of the story - Alllsopp meeting someone from the East India Company, being sent a bottle of Hogdgson's beer, trying to brew something similar - are probably true. The stuff about the maltster spitting out the beer and the first brew in a teapot, I'm not so sure about. Someone could well have embellished the story later.

Now showing a maltster beer and asking him if he could dry his malt to that colour sounds a bit weird to me. Wouldn't he ask one of his brewers? Or does this imply that Pale Ale was noticeably paler than other beers of the day. It's important to remember that in the 1820's, just about everything but Porter and Stout was brewed from 100% pale malt. Which would mean that getting a beer paler in colour would require paler malt.

5,000 hogsheads (7,500 barrels) doesn't sound like a load of beer to me. The five largest London brewers were bashing out more than 100,000 barrels a year. Those 7,500 barrels were about the equivalent of a week's production at Barclay Perkins.As you can see here:

Largest London brewers (output in barrels)

Barclay Perkins (Thrale)
Truman, Hanbury
John Calvert
Meux, Reid (Reid and Co)
Hammond-Gyfford-Shum-Coombe -Delafield
“The Brewing Industry in England 1700-1830”, Peter Mathias, 1959, p 551-552
Whitbread brewing log, document LMA/4453/D/09/016
Whitbread brewing log, document LMA/4453/D/09/017

Hereditary maltster. Sound like a great job.


Neil, said...

enjoyed reading this a lot. I think the texts you've quoted were used by Pete Brown in the writing of his Hops and Glory book as well.

It was the "I've never heard of it" quote which triggered my memory and then after that I recognised quite a few passages.

very much enjoyed this though, the history of IPA is totally fascinating to me.

Craig said...

You missed the opportunity to entitle the post "A Tempest in a Teapot"

Ron Pattinson said...

Neil, there's lots more to come about Pale Ale.

This is a pretty well-known passage. But still part of the overall picture.

I've posted plenty of other stuff that was in Pete's book in one form or another. He did proper research.

Thomas Barnes said...

It's possible that the "pale" malt that went into Burton ale was a shade darker than that which went into the Hodgeson pale ales, perhaps more like the color of modern Munich or Vienna malt rather than modern pale malts.

Regardless of exact color, I think the important thing is that it points out that Hodgeson IPAs were lighter than Burton beers of the time.