Thursday, 14 April 2011

Malt Liquors Sold in the UK - Bitter Ale and Beer

Part three of this fascinating series. And a topic we've touched on more than once recently: Pale Ale.

There are two things I want you consider carefully when you read this text: alcohol content, OG and level of acidity. remember, I'll be asking questions later.



III.—Bitter Ale And Beer.
The samples of beer referred to in the accompanying table were obtained, as stated, partly from public houses, and partly from the brewers themselves or from their agents. The results of analysis show that there are considerable differences in the quality of the beer sold retail by publicans at the same price, and that there are also differences between it and the best kinds of beer supplied by the brewers. Thus, for instance, the variation in the ale sold at fourpence per pint is from 4.08 to 7.10 per cent, of alcohol, and from 3.22 to 7.53 per cent, of extract — a variation which corresponds to a difference in the amount of malt used in the brewing as much as 1.58 bushel per barrel.

In comparing the results of analysis with the object of judging as to the quality of beer, some considerable allowance must, however, be made for differences in those characters of beer which are not clearly expressed by the amount either of alcohol or of extract, nor even by the proportion of malt used in brewing, as indicated by the original gravity. In this respect, the system of brewing adopted in any particular case may be of far greater influence in determining the quality and character of beer, than the mere amounts of alcohol and of extract that it contains; but, subject to this influence, the amount of malt indicated by the original gravity of beer as having been used in the brewing may be regarded as a fair approximative test of quality.

The relative proportions of alcohol and of extract in beer will also have some influence on its fitness in a medical point of view for certain persons; and, in some instances, thin dry beer, that has had the fermentation carried so far as to reduce the amount of extract to a minimum, may be far preferable to beer containing a larger proportion of extract.

In regard to the nutritive value of beer over and above the stimulant and tonic actions due to the alcohol and to the bitter principle of the hop, it is worth notice that a pint of bitter beer contains from half an ounce to an ounce of solid extract.

The amount of free acid in British beer appears to be uniformly larger than in the Viennese or Bavarian beer, and sometimes it is very much larger. This free acid is represented in the tables as acetic acid; but there is reason to believe that only a part of it is acetic acid, and that beer probably contains lactic acid and some substance analogous to glucic acid, which, according to Graham, Hofmann, and Redwood, appears to be produced in the fermentation of beer-worts, as practised in this country.

In most of these samples of beer, the amounts of alcohol and of extract, as well as the corresponding amount of malt used per bushel, were larger than they were found to be* in the Viennese and Bavarian beer now sold in London, but in one or two cases they were rather less. Taking price into consideration, however, the comparison is generally very much in favour of the home-made beer, notwithstanding the late reduction in the price of the Viennese beer.

For the convenience of medical practitioners, the amounts of alcohol, of extract, and of free acid, have been calculated so as to show the actual quantities contained in a pint of beer.

contents per pint
Kind of Ale Obtained from price per imperial pint Specific gravity % of alcohol % of extract acetic acid original gravity of wort malt per barrel alcohol fl. ozs extract ozs. acid grs.
1. Allsopp's Messrs. S. Allsopp and Sons, 61 King William Street 1010.38 5.74 4.89 0.18 1064.16 2.37 1.46 0.98 15.91
2. Allsopp's (bottled) Messrs. J.F. Biggs and Co., Royal Exchange 1013.47 5.75 5.8 0.15 1068.45 2.53 1.47 1.17 13.3
3. Allsopp's Redan Tavern, Farringdon St. 4d 1005.61 5.34 3.6 0.16 1056.27 2.08 1.35 0.72 14.08
4. Allsopp's Golden Lion Tavern, Warwick Place, Holborn 4d 1008.33 4.82 4.19 0.14 1054.3 2.01 1.22 0.84 12.35
5. Allsopp's Ditto 4d 1005.68 4.08 3.22 0.18 1044.17 1.64 1.03 0.64 15.84
6. Bass's Brewed 2nd January, 1869 Messrs Berry Brothers, 3 St. James's Street, Piccadilly 1010.21 5.86 5.05 0.17 1065.89 2.44 1.49 1.02 15.03
7. Bass's Brewed 24th December, 1868 Ditto 1012.51 5.57 5.37 0.16 1065.41 2.42 1.42 1.08 14.17
8. Bass's Brewed 27th January, 1869 Ditto 1011.78 5.76 5.4 0.13 1066.67 2.47 1.47 1.09 11.5
9. Bass's Spiers and Pond's Restaurant, Ludgate Station 4d 1013.2 5.45 5.85 0.28 1067.03 2.48 1.39 1.18 24.82
10. Bass's Brook's, Fetter Lane 3d 1010.13 4.78 4.68 0.29 1056.52 2.08 1.21 0.93 25.63
11. Crowley's, Alton 260 Holborn 4d 1008.36 4.48 4.03 0.14 1050.77 1.88 1.13 0.81 12.35
12. Flower and Sons Bull's Head Tavern, Hyde Street, Oxford Street 4d 1012.53 5.24 5.45 0.16 1063.01 2.33 1.33 1.1 14.17
13. Fowler's Prestonpans Brewery R Porter and Co., 34 Old Broad Street 1013.42 4.27 5.28 0.29 1053.55 1.98 1.08 1.07 23.78
14. Fowler's Prestonpans Brewery Ditto 1012.83 4.3 5.15 0.29 1054.76 2.02 1.09 1.04 25.71
15. Fowler's Prestonpans Brewery Ditto 1006.97 3.96 3.52 0.27 1044.99 1.66 1.05 0.71 25.7
16. Fowler's Prestonpans Brewery Barber, Holborn 1004.68 3.94 2.16 0.28 1039.15 1.45 0.99 0.43 24.54
17. Ind and Coope's Crown Coffee House, Holborn 4d 1009.93 5.27 4.92 0.22 1061.22 2.27 1.33 0.99 19.44
18. Ind and Coope's George Tavern, Brooke Street 3.5d 1010.12 5.3 4.71 0.14 1060.39 2.23 1.35 0.95 12.37
19. Nunneley's Old Bell Tavern, Holborn Hill 4d 1018.71 7.1 7.53 0.27 1086.96 3.22 1.81 1.53 32.98
20. Perry's Brixton Brewery 1.5d 1006.48 3.87 3.65 0.14 1045.82 1.69 0.98 0.73 7.97
21. Usher's, Park Brewery, Edinburgh 22, Waterloo Road 4d 1004.52 5.69 3.66 0.15 1058.96 2.18 1.44 0.73 13.8
22. Usher's (bottled), Park Brewery, Edinburgh Ditto 1005.54 5.31 3.63 0.15 1055.96 2.07 1.34 0.73 13.2
23. Worthington's Prince Albert Tavern, Gray's Inn Road 4d 1011.17 6.5 5.55 0.4 1074.98 2.77 1.65 1.12 35.39

"British Medical Journal 1869, vol. 2", 1869, page 245.

While there's considerable variation in strength, there's one thing all the beers have in common: a high degree of attenuation. Only three are below 80% apparent attenuation. Four are over 90%. All must have been pretty dry.

The Bass and Allsopp samples are very close to the classic Pale Ale gravity of 1065º. Before you say "what about numbers 3, 4 and 5?" you'd best read the next quote:


The analysis of various kinds of malt liquor contained in the reports published in the British Medical Journal during the last few months show, among other things, that there is a great difference in the strength of the beer sold at the same prices. In the case of bitter beer, for instance, one sample* sold at fourpence per pint as the produce of a leading brewery, was no better than table-beer costing only threepence per quart Moreover, the quantity of malt used per barrel, as indicated by the computed original gravity of the wort, was found to bear no uniform proportion to the price of the beer. This is probably in some measure due to the use of sugar in lieu of malt, which is now permitted; but that practice will not account for such a fact as that mentioned above. We have also been informed that some of the samples of pale ale referred to in a former report** were not the produce of the firm whose name they were sold under. Without attaching much credit to the strange forms of adulteration said to be practised with beer, there can be no doubt that in too many cases the quality of beer sold at public houses is far from being in due relation with the price charged for it.

* See No. 5 of the Table, British Medical Journal, No. 452, Page 245.
** Ibid., Nos. 3, 4, and 5, in the Table.
"British Medical Journal 1870, vol. 1", 1870, page 65.

So three of the samples weren't really Allsopp's Pale Ale. So ignore those three. "no better than table-beer" one of them. Fourpence a pint for a beer of 1044º was scandalous. I wonder how many customers noticed? I think even the least discerning drinker might have spotted the 2% ABV difference with the real thing. More confirmation, though, of dodgy pub landlords.

What the last thing I asked you to pay attention to? Acidity. The lowest is 0.13% To put that into context, the acidity of Bass in the 1930's was 0.05 or 0.06%. Quite a bit lower. It's unusual to see any beer after WW I with more than 0.10% acidity. Quite a few of the beers in the table have over 0.25% acidity. That's enough to be quite tart. Yet another clue to the flavour of 19th century Pale Ale.


Ed said...

Good stuff. Since your recent post on Vienna beer I've been doing some calculations on the pH of old beers based on the assumption that beer acidity was measured as if it was all due to acetic acid.

As this post confirms that to be the case I can say with some confidence the pH of the most acidic beer here was 3.58, which is more acid than modern cask beer should be, but not as acidic as a lambic.

Gary Gillman said...

It sounds like most pale ale by the time it reached the market was lightly acidic then.

I doubt it was anything like lambic. British travellers to Belgium in the mid-1800's regularly remarked on the sourness of Belgian beer - not one of them liked any of it. White beer and brown (Peterman/Peeterman/Pieterman), quite apart from faro and lambic, were noted as very sour, one person wrote, "like verjuice" (extract of grapes with no sugar, very sour). British beer, even pale ale, could not have been comparably sour for these remarks to be made.

However, we are talking too here of bitter beer or that style. Mild ale would I believe have had much less free acid.

Also, the authors state part of the acid was lactic, which would have reduced vinegary notes.

Could one of the SUABP experimental brews be designed to produce the average acid level of these beers with some lactic acid content? A taste note would then confirm how "bad" it really is. An 80% attenuation rate is suggested for this brew. Next Wednesday's beer perhaps..?