Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Whitbread Pale Ales 1865 - 1879

You know what I haven't given you for ages? A big, fat juicy table. Dripping with greasy number juice. Whitbread. They seem like a good subject. Whitbread Pale Ales from the late 19th century. That's decided, then.

Did I mention my Whitbread project? I've been busy with it for a couple of years. I'm trying to photograph records from every single one of their brewing books. Quite a task, as there are around 280 of the things. So far, I've got through about 250. All I'm missing are some Ale logs from the 1830's, 1840's, 1850's and 1950's. I've the full set of 141 Porter logs.

It gives me an unrivalled insight into the development of Whitbread's beers over the course of 170 years. A better knowledge of the long-term changes than any of Whitbread's brewers would have had. And being the generous, giving type, I'm going to be sharing that information with you. Whether you want to share it or not.

I would say that this kicks off a series of posts on their Whitbread's Pale Ales. But I've already done one. Part Three. This is the second instalment, but really Part One. If you understand what I mean. These are the early years. Documenting the introduction of Pale Ale in 1865, up to 1879, the year before the Free Mash Tun Act.

Whitbread's first brew of Pale Ale was in 1st November 1865. As I'm sure you're all aware, Whitbread had been one of the big London Porter breweries that emerged in the 18th century. The world's first truly industrial breweries, they were on a scale never seen before. By the early years of the 19th century, Whitbread was producing nothing but Porter variations. The vast majority standard-strength Porter, the numbers filled out by a little Stout. The first big change came in 1834, when they began brewing Ales.

This was the beginning of Porter's long decline. Responding to demand, London's Porter brewers introduced Ales in the 1830's. Mild X Ales, principally, but with some Keeping versions as well. These should not be confused with Pale Ales, a completely different beast. It would be another couple of decades before Pale Ale started to gain popularity and even by the end of the century, it remained a niche product, mostly consumed by the better off.

The table below demonstrates just how insignificant Pale Ale was for Whitbread:

The most Pale Ale they produced in any year in this period was just less than 3,000 barrels. Or a tiny bit more than 1% of their total production. The vast majority of beer they brewed (together accounting for between 72% and 83% of production) were Porter and X Ale. Significantly, this is just the period when X Ale caught, and then outstripped, Porter. A beer which had been the backbone of Whitbread's business for a century at least. The two beers almost exactly swapped positions. The percentage of Porter brewed dropped from 53% to 30%. While X Ale's share rose from 19% to 53%.

Getting back to Pale Ale, it isn't the most complicated beer I've ever come across. Pale malt, sugar, hops. There were plenty of the latter, mind you. Four or five pounds a barrel, which is a fair amount. The sugar content averages about 18.5%, which is a bout what you would expect. Pale Ales tended to contain the largest amount of sugar of any type of beer. Presumably to keep the body and colour light.

As for gravity, PA hovered around 1060, ranging from 1058 to 1065. The weaker Family Ale (FA) was 1052 to 1055º. This was also less heavily hopped, at 3 to 3.5 pounds per barrel. Still a more than reasonable amount, given the gravity. The short-lived HA (no idea what that stands for) seems to have been an early version of FA. To put these into context, X Ale had about the same gravity as X Ale, FA as Porter. I know. Let's have another table to demonstrate the relative strengths. Here you go:

Whitbread beers in 1876
Beer Style OG
FA Pale Ale 1054.8
P Porter 1056.2
PA Pale Ale 1059.6
X Mild 1061.8
XL Mild 1069.5
KK Stock Ale 1072.0
SS Stout 1080.6
KKK Stock Ale 1085.3
SSS Stout 1092.8
Whitbread brewing records held at the London Metropolitan Archives.  
Document numbers: LMA/4453/D/01/042, LMA/4453/D/02/024

As you can see, the two Pale Ales were at the bottom of the strength (though not price) pile.

I promised you a table and look what you got: three. I told you I was the generous, giving type.


StuartP said...

So how did PA differ from X, apart from a teeny bit of extra gravity?

Ron Pattinson said...

StuartP, PA was more heavily hopped - something like 3 times the rate of X - and more highly attenuated.

PA wasn't even always higher gravity than X.

Matt said...

What's the picture Ron? The beer looks very pale, almost the same colour as a golden ale now.

Ron Pattinson said...

Matt, that's Family Ale.

Interesting, isn't it, the colour? I don't know how accurate it is, but that does look pretty pale to me.

Gary Gillman said...

The colour in the poster reproduction caught my eye too. It is always useful to see such depictions, which are relatively rare especially in colour.

The colour of the beer is clearly accurate because the other elements ring true, e.g., the tomato, the aged cheddar.

And the colour accords with the use of pale malt and even with descriptions of bitter (ordinary) in Beers in Britain by Warren Knock and Conal Gregory (mid-1970's). They said bitter was straw yellow in colour.

Modern golden ales are in truth nothing new.

At the same time, some pale ale had a reddish or light amber cast since pale malt was a wide category, as attested by many writers going back to Michael Combrune at least.


Rob said...

Any idea why the recipe changed so dramatically from batch to batch? With a recipe as simple as pale malt/sugar/hops, I would have thought that a consistent recipe would have formed. I could see it drifting over time, but that seems really variable from batch to batch.

Was that standard in the 19th century, to not standardize the recipe?

Ron Pattinson said...

Rob, the recipe didn't change between every batch. Remember you're seeing examples from a period of 15 years.

I can think of two reasons for the changes in the balance between pale malt and sugar:

1. The price of malt and sugar - when one gets cheaper, more if it is used.

2. The quality of the malt. If they were aiming for a pale colour, upping the sugar content would compensate for darker malt.