Monday, 12 August 2013

Beer in India in the 1860's (part two)

Back to some dodgy bits:

"The change is not to be regretted, and it probably takes its rise in a physiological necessity. A perfectly pure and sound beer, is probably the least objectionable form of alcoholic stimulant, but the attainment of such an article is at all times difficult, and people are beginning to tire of experimenting in their own persons, with every fresh batch of ales coming into the market. The strong beers of Bass and Allsop, contain besides a large per centage of alcohol, a certain amount of saccharine and extractive matter. If the beer so constituted could be taken into the stomach before any chemical change had commenced, it would probably be perfectly wholesome when taken in moderation, but here is the difficulty. If bottled in Europe and drunk within a reasonable time, it is generally perfectly sound, but it soon deteriorates by keeping. If bottled in the country, the sugar, or starchy matter added to make it "get up," induces a secondary fermentation, which renders it an unsafe drink for delicate stomachs."
"Madras Quarterly Journal of Medical Science, Volume 6" edited by Howard B. Montgomery, 1863, page 405.

I'm sure that's wrong about the "saccharine and extractive matter" in Bass and Allsopp. As you can see in the table above, they were notably for how little sugar the contained. But the point about beer bottled in India is intriguing. I'd wondered how they primed beer at bottling. Because with beer so highly attenuated, you'd need to prime it as there was no fermentable material left. Sugar, which was relatively cheap in India, seems the obvious candidate. I don't see how a secondary fermentation can be by definition bad. You need it to get the beer carbonated. It doesn't sound like the author has much knowledge of brewing.

Now here's a funny one. The author claims Tennent's - presumably Tennent's Pale Ale, given the date - was lighter and had less "saccharine and extractive matter". I knew quite a lot of beer was imported into India already bottled, but this is the first mention of a specific brand being exclusively shipped in bottles.

"The most suitable beer for India, according to our own experience, and one which we are glad to see is coming into more general use, is that brewed and bottled by "Tennent's' of Glasgow. It contains the minimum of saccharine and extractive matter, a good deal of hop, and only a moderate quantity of alcohol. A "bad bottle" of this excellent beverage is but rarely met with. So far as we know, this beer is not imported in casks, probably from its being too light to keep for any length of time, except in bottle. We know many persons who are unable to drink the stronger ales of Bass and Allsop, who feel all the better for the use of "Tennent's." Old beer drinkers complain that it has no strength, and a lady once remarked to us that she might as well drink so much water for the effect it had upon her head, evidently under the impression that the worth of good liquor was to be adjudged by its intoxicating power!"
"Madras Quarterly Journal of Medical Science, Volume 6" edited by Howard B. Montgomery, 1863, page 406.

Was Tennent's really that much weaker? I've some information from Tennent's from a little later, the late 1880's. Irritatingly amongst the many export beers, there are only two under the heading "Export India", both from 1888. The gravity is 1051*. So the claim about Tennent's being weaker might have some basis in fact.

Judging beer quality by how pissed it gets you? Now there's something I'd never do.

* Document T/6/1/1/5 held at the Scottish Brewing Archive.

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