Tuesday 24 April 2012

How can you call that a Stout?

Guinness. Love them or leave them, you sometimes hate them. My own relationship with Guinness is equivocal. Just to prove that, I'm drinking one* right now.

Stout. What did the word originally mean, in a beer sense? Strong. Brown Stout is the name Stout began with, back in the 18th century. It had a brother, Pale Stout. Stout = strong, pale or brown = base malt.

Many things annoy me. My evenings are spent screaming at the TV, while Dolores covers her ears and the kids hide cower behind the settee. Pretty much top, beer-wise, is the assertion that you can't have an IPA under 4% ABV. Because IPA "was a strong beer" in the 19th century.

I've just two problems with that argument. First, IPA wasn't a strong beer in the 19th century. It was about standard strength. I've plenty of examples of a base-level X-Ale Mild that were stronger than Bass IPA (or whatever they called it, I think it was often just Pale Ale) in a given year.

Second problem: assuming beer styles are flies trapped in amber, unchanging. British beer styles have been exceedingly dynamic, in terms of strength, ingredients and even colour. Judging a modern British beer by the style guidelines of 1850 is ludicrous. Surely everyone can see that? Well, no they can't. Otherwise there wouldn't be the repeated, tedious complaint that Greene King commits fraud with their IPA.

I'm going to move this over the Irish Channel. And look at Guinness, applying the same logic that condemns Greene King IPA. Does Guinness match up to its 19th-century ancestors? How strong was Guinness Extra Stout in, say 1870? Or 1880? Or 1914?

Let's take a look at one of my traditional tables (I've deliberately thrown in some FES examples as a benchmark):

Guinness Stout 1870 – 1914
Year Brewer Beer Acidity FG OG colour ABV App. Attenuation
1870 Guinness Extra Stout 0.24 1015.51 1078.06
8.20 80.13%
1870 Guinness Stout 0.24 1015.51 1078.06
8.51 80.13%
1870 Guinness Stout 0.20 1019.56 1078.01
7.75 74.93%
1888 Guinness Stout 0.52 1018.1 1072
7.03 74.86%
1896 Guinness Extra Stout
1017.55 1072.26
7.05 74.43%
1901 Guinness Foreign Extra Stout
1013.302 1075.67
8.18 82.42%
1901 Guinness Extra Foreign Stout 0.243 1013.20 1074.98
7.86 81.34%
1914 Guinness Extra Stout


British Medical Journal June 25th 1870, page 658 http://books.google.nl/books?id=TH1AAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA68&dq=%22mild+ale%22&hl=en&ei=vhSbTeC0OoSeOtqelKMH&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=%22malt%20liquors%22&f=false
"Chemie der menschlichen Nahrungs- und Genussmittel" by Joseph König, 1889, page 839
Wahl & Henius, pages 823-830

Based on that, an Irish Stout should be 7-8% ABV

Guinness Stout 1964 – 1966
Year Brewer Beer Acidity FG OG colour ABV App. Attenuation
1964 Guinness Foreign Extra Stout 0.07 1015 1072.8 200 7.56 79.40%
1964 Guinness Extra Stout 0.04 1007.5 1043.1 225 4.64 82.60%
1964 Guinness Extra Stout 0.06 1007.9 1044.9 150 4.82 82.41%
1964 Guinness Extra Stout 0.06 1007.9 1044.8 175 4.81 82.37%
1964 Guinness Extra Stout 0.06 1007.8 1044.8 175 4.82 82.59%
1966 Guinness Extra Stout 0.05 1007 1043 160 4.69 83.72%
1966 Guinness Extra Stout 0.04 1006.9 1043.5 170 4.77 84.14%
1966 Guinness Extra Stout 0.04 1007.4 1043 190 4.64 82.79%
1966 Guinness Extra Stout 0.04 1007.3 1043.6 170 4.73 83.26%
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002

Look at that. Modern Guinness Extra Stout is barely half the strength that it was 100 years ago.  How can you call that a Stout? Fraud, I call it.

* Guinness Special Export


The Beer Nut said...

At least, with all the hops, no-one would be crass or stupid enough to regard this as some sort of "ale".

Bailey said...

The point we tried to make in a recent blog post is that beers like GK IPA aren't frauds, as such, but that they do fail to conform to the expectations of a certain set of customers about what a beer bearing that label ought to be like.

It's not only a let down because it's comparatively weaker, but because it's also the "wrong" colour, and lacking the obvious hop character of even other weaker IPAs such as Harvey's.

Or, to put that another way, people expect a given brewery's IPA to be paler, hoppier and possibly stronger than its bitter. GK IPA just seems misnamed.

Either that or GK are in the process of redefining what IPA means in current usage, i.e. turning it into a brand.

Marcin said...

From what I read in Martyn Cornell's book it seems, that first recorded usage of expression "stout beer" comes from around 1630. And then another example from 1677.

Ezequiel said...

The first table is not well framed, it goes out of the screen. That said, nice post!

Ron Pattinson said...

Bailey, Harvey's IPA is weaker than their Pale Ale. And weaker than Greene King IPA.

I'd argue that there never has been any consistent definition of the difference between a Pale Ale and an IPA in Britain. That's just as true in the present as it was 50, 100 or 150 years ago.

The main reason some London IPA's were paler than the same brewery's Pale Ale was simple: they were parti-gyled, with the IPA the weaker beer. So it would automatically be paler.

I still find it odd to be defending Greene King IPA this way. Without being given free beer, I might add.

Bailey said...

Ron -- the minute I'd hit submit on that comment, Harvey's came to mind! But it's stiller paler and with more 'raw' hop flavour than their bitter, if I remember rightly.

In modern usage (say, the last forty years) a lot of these 'style' descriptors only make sense within a given brewery's range, I think. A best bitter only needs to be stronger than the same brewery's bitter; and Young's bitter is lighter in colour than some breweries IPAs. All a bit of a headache.

Gary Gillman said...

It should be noted that Greene King IPA comes in two additional versions, apparently both for export:


One is 5% ABV and the other, 7.5%. These two, which I've had, are excellent.

I agree there was no consistent distinction between pale ale and India Pale Ale. There was only the vague idea that the latter was stronger, more attenuated and more bitter than the former. It was vague because each brewer interpreted this difference (if at all) differently. They are the same kind of beer, as is bitter beer or bitter.

It is a fair point though to say that an 1800's IPA, which many American craft brewers sought (and still do) to emulate, was stronger than the typical beer in people's minds. The typical beer in America in 1980 at any rate was approximately 5% ABV but often less, e.g. light beer. Even Bass Ale was 5%, for example (it still is, the export). The emerging craft beers largely stuck to the 5% band until recently (yes with exceptions for barley wines, Imperial Stouts and bocks).

So even a 6% IPA, never mind Greene King's impressive 7.5% version, was rather a step up from peoples' expectation. (20% stronger at a minimum).

Ron, the point about parti-gyling is interesting but I have a theory that many English brewers, in particular, made, or make, a lighter-coloured IPA because they knew that for most of the 1800's, pale malt only was used. The colour of GK's 7.5% historical recreation is noticeably lighter than even their 5% export, for example. I think this is because their own archives, or other research, have told them pale beer really was pale then - or paler than it later became, at any rate.



Anonymous said...

Bailey, many brewers have a Best Bitter as the weakest in the range.Theakstons, Black Sheep and Ringwood are current examples.
Regarding peoples expectations of an IPA perhaps it's through reading about its origin and not realising the evolution which has taken place since then.IPA has long been used as a synonym for Bitter es exemplified by Flowers,Bass Charrington, Charles Wells and Greene King.

Ike said...

When Frank Baillie did his brewery tour in 1973 he listed 10 draught beers called IPA. Darleys 1035, Eldridge Pope 1041, Green King 1035, Palmers 1039, Wadworths 1035, Charles Wells 1036, Charrington 1039, Youngers 1043, Wethereds 1038, and a Courage keg beer. OG is from Camra Guide 1976.

He listed 16 bottled IPA's. 7 of them were weaker than the pale ale the same brewery brewed and 9 were stronger. None of them were described as strong ales, in fact many breweries with an IPA had a stronger beer, often called Export.

Bearing in mind that light or pale bottled ales were usually in the low 3%'s I cannot see any of these bottled IPA's being above 4%.

English IPA's were mainly low gravity beers in the 1970's and I would think that this had been true since at least the 2nd world war.

Martyn Cornell said...

Beers produced by the same brewer under the same name have always drifted in recipe over the years, as Ron has just demonstrated, and sometimes they end up as completely different styles: the example I regularly quote is the former Greene King-owned brewery Rayment's, whose BBA was originally a sweetish Burton Ale, but which became a standard best biter when the then-brewer decided to cut back on the brewing sugars.

And on a parallel theme, what about all the brewers - eg Meantime - who produce a stout weaker than their porter?