Sunday, 20 March 2011

Allsopp conquers India

Allsopp's new Pale Ale quickly won friends in India. First brewed in 1822, it was an immediate hit. So much that shippers clamoured for more.

Yet reading these testimonials more closely, it seems some tweaking of the Pale Ale was needed to get it to match Indian tastes perfectly.

"the following statements from Mr. J. C. Bailton, of Calcutta, in. 1824, are interesting, as showing the changes the Burton ale underwent after bottling in a tropical climate:—

"I have watched the whole progress of your ale, having carefully bottled it in strong English Quart Ketches. I opened some in a month after bottling, and found it much decomposed, of a dark colour, turbid, and the taste quite altered. The third month there was a considerable change for the better; it began to clear, and assume a sparkling appearance, like champagne. At the end of the eighth month it was excellent indeed, of a bright amber colour, clear as crystal, and a very peculiar fine flavour. The only thing it required was a little more bitter, and, if possible, a little less degree of strength. I am ignorant myself of the process of brewing, but I believe I am correct in saying it wanted Hop, and required less Malt."
"Burton and its bitter beer" by John Stevenson Bushnan, 1853, pages 104 - 105.
It's rare to get any description of a beer in texts of this period. The changes in the Pale Ale after bottling follow a well-known pattern: first the beer deteriorates, then comes back into condition.  "Bright amber" - I wonder what that might equate to in EBC numbers? I wouldn't like to hazard a guess, myself. But see the recommendation: more hop, less malt. Seems the early batches, though appreciated, weren't bitter enough. And were too strong. Bu as we all know, IPA wasn't a strong beer.

Here's some more customer feedback:

"Mr. Hodson (Calcutta, Aug. 6th, 1824) assures Mr. Allsopp, that so long as he continues to supply ales of such a quality as those sent, he cannot fail of success; he further informs him that they are in great request, and selling at 90 rupees the hogshead, while Hodgson's are at 75 rupees.

Captain Chapman (Nov. 13, 1824) informs Mr. Allsopp that his ale has turned out well; and advises a larger shipment next season, as a scarcity might then be expected. His brother says that he can speak most favourably of the ale, and expresses his belief that with perseverance Mr. Allsopp will obtain a very considerable portion of the trade; he further states that it is almost universally preferred by all old Indians to Hodgson's; and suggests that it might be made rather more bitter.

Messrs. Gordon & Co. (Nov. 6, 1824) after remarking that at first no offers were made for the beer, go on to state, "after bottling off a portion, which was approved of by our friends, the demand for this article has since been very great, and we have now orders to some extent for this ale. We would, therefore, strenuously recommend Mr. Allsopp to make further consignments of it; and we have every reason to believe he will have a fair competition with Messrs. Hodgson & Co.""
"Burton and its bitter beer" by John Stevenson Bushnan, 1853, page 106.

Captain Chapman agreed that it wasn't bitter enough. I think we can see a pattern here. I can imagine Mr. Allsopp having a word in the ear of his head brewer. "They say it isn't bitter enough. Add more hops."

Here's yet another glowing report:
A letter from Captain Probyn (Oct. 12, 1825) gives a most favourable account of the success of the Burton ale. He states that a large number of passengers invariably preferred Allsopp's to Hodgson's ale; and "many who had been long in India, declared it to be preferable to any they had ever tasted in the East." He remarks that it possesses a "peculiar flavour which, in his opinion, far surpasses that of Hodgson's;" than which, he also informs Mr. Allsopp, it brings a higher price, realizing 1 r. 90, while his competitors but 1 r. 70 to 75.
"Burton and its bitter beer" by John Stevenson Bushnan, 1853, page 107.
"Peculiar flavour". I think the word peculiar is being used in the sense of particular rather than odd. Otherwise that quote makes no sense. Mr. Bailton used a very similar phrase - "peculiar fine flavour" in one of the other quotes above. How very peculiar.

Those prices must be for something other than a hogshead. Earlier in "Burton and its bitter beer" 90 rupees quoted for a hogshead to Allsopp's Pale Ale. So just under 2 rupees looks like the price of a gallon.

But let's not get too carried away. "Burton and its bitter beer" (page 107) lists Allsopp's shipments to India in 1824 and 1825. It's not a huge volume of beer. In 1824, just 349 hogsheads and 12 butts. That's 577.5 barrels. In 1825, it was 318 hogsheads or 477 barrels. To put this into perspective, in 1821 single brews of Barclay Perkins Porter varied between 800 and 1,200 barrels. About the same as two years worth of Allsopp's exports.


Gary Gillman said...

I think decomposed meant the bitter taste fell off in transit to India. That same term is used in some descriptions of aged porter. The implication is, the beer needed more hop to stand the further maturation period in the bottle. The statement about the beer becoming turbid and then clear is perhaps a reference to agitated beer on the lees later gaining clarity and condition.

The idea though of beer in bottle becoming less good and then reaching a new, improved state is an old one for pale ale. Michael Jackson mentioned it for Worthington White Shield in the World Guide To Beer (1978). I have never found this personally, with that or any other beer, but probably I haven't had enough sustained experience with aging bottle-conditioned beer.


Thomas Barnes said...

It's also possible that the turbidity was bacterial infection that subsequently settled, like with an old lambic. The "peculier" flavor could be Brettanomyces funk, since Brett character takes a while to develop.

Obviously, experiments are in order! Who wants to create a replica Napoleonic era brewery, brew up a batch of IPA using a contemporary recipe, package it in authentic Memel oak barrels and then ship it to India on a replica East Indiaman?