Thursday, 1 September 2011

It is an old tale

But somehow one I hadn't managed to hear. At least not in this form.

OK, the bit about the loss of the Russian market for Burton Ale in the 1820's I've heard before. It's what comes after that's new to me.

"It is an old tale now, but nevertheless a fact, that the restrictions placed by Government on the Baltic trade, at the period mentioned, induced the Burton brewers to turn their attention to England's metropolis with such success, that it resulted in a complete revolution of the trade, and a new era set in for the town from that date. The cause of all the commotion in the brewing trade was East India pale ale, and many strange tales have been told of its origin, all of which refer to a consignment of beer sent out in a cloudy condition, which, after travelling round the world, came back to the country of its birth, in a condition so excellent, bright and sparkling, that it was said to be superior to a glass of Madeira or sparkling champagne. This adventure led up to much study and numerous scientific experiments, and after expending much trouble, time and money, the Burton brewers succeeded in improving their system, and were able to produce pale ale capable of retaining its peculiar qualities in any climate. Since then, by employing new and more efficient appliances and machinery, together with the acquisition of scientific assistance, the Burton trade has rapidly increased until it has reached its present colossal proportions."
"Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 2", Alfred Barnard, 1889, pages 421 - 422.

See the part I mean? Where a cloudy beer travels around the world and returns crystal clear and delicious. Either my brain had finally turned to mush, or I've never heard that particular tale. What about you?

Funny how when they're trying to say how great a beer is, they always start making a comparison with wine. Cultural cringe I'd call that. Still goes on a lot today. What with all that beer and food paring nonsense. (I look no further than a bag of pork scratchings or a scotch egg when I contemplate solids to accompany my beer. Meals just get in the way of a proper session.) Is Madeira mentioned because of the similarities its method of production shares with IPA's? Or just because it's a posh wine everyone has heard of? Is champagne mentioned because of the pale colour and fine carbonation of IPA? Frustratingly, there's no way of knowing.

I have one question about this story. Well, two, actually. Why did they ship cloudy beer, when all the instructions I've seen say you should let it drop bright first? Why was the beer brought back to Britain?


The Beer Nut said...

It reads to me like a story concocted to explain why an India pale ale would be on sale in England. It fills the same gap as the Scottish shipwreck one.

Bailey said...

I don't think there's any cultural cringe involved in my interest in beer and food matching. I like eating (hence gut); I like liquid to wash grub down with; what better liquid than delicious beer? And if that beer happens to make my dinner taste better and vice versa, all the better.

Did you read this from Leigh, the Leeds-based food and beer blogger? Says it all better than I can.

Ed Carson said...

A third question: who would go to the expense of shipping unacceptable and obviously unsellable ale back from India, when more profitable items such as tea, silks, and various spices were available.

Mike said...

Bailey, I get it: beer is the new wine, eh?

Gary Gillman said...

I have never heard of such a tale either. I wonder if it is a twisted version, ever-skewed as handed down the generations, of how pale ale came to be a stocked and shipped beer. Or maybe someone at the brewery was pulling his leg. :)

On the question of beer being compared to wine, I remember Michael Jackson occasionally did this. In his case, it was not an attempt to borrow glamour from a supposedly higher-status drink. He above all knew that beer is a great drink the equal of any in the world.

He was concerned more just to explain beer better to some readers who might know more about wine. So he might write that thus and such an ale was the Chateau Palmer of ales, and so forth. In Barnard's case, there might be more of a snobbish element at work. Although it could again have been just a genuine attempt to get across better to his presumed audience what he was talking about.


Bailey said...

Mike -- not to me it isn't, because I've never made a habit of drinking wine. I much prefer beer and always have.

Of course, I understand that for centuries, beer and food have been kept very separate, and are traditionally never consumed together. That's why you can't get food in German pubs. Doing so is a pretentious new innovation driven by class anxiety and the sneering of wine drinkers. There is no intrinsic pleasure in it.

(Sorry, unnecessarily sarky, but you started it.)

Mike said...

"That's why you can't get food in German pubs."

Has anyone told the German publicans about this, as I've never had a problem finding food in German (or British) pubs.

I am also perplexed by your comment: "Of course, I understand that for centuries, beer and food have been kept very separate, and are traditionally never consumed together." Perhaps you're familiar with the Bruegel painting "The Wedding" with food and beer being served (together) in the 16th century?

You conveniently brought up the one word which, to me, perfectly characterises this current fad of matching food and beer: "pretentious."

I assume all of us here would be happy to see a greater appreciation of beer. The way to achieve this, it seems to me, is to make beer more accessible and pleasing. The gimmicks and extreme nature of many new beers (particularly from the US) represent the opposite of accessibility and discourage greater appreciation. It is perhaps because of this that alternatives (such as food/beer matching) have had to be implemented.

Martyn Cornell said...

Mike, Mike - go and get a dictionary, and look up "irony". Then look up "sarcasm".

Mike said...

Martyn, I grew up in a German household. I confess that I am somewhat handicapped when it comes to the more subtle types of humour.

If these posts were ironic/sarcastic, I apologise for my responses. If not, I stand by them.