Sunday, 10 November 2013

The Lancet and Bass's Barley Wine

Bass No. 1 Ale, the original Barley Wine, is a remarkable beer for many reasons. If only because it's still clinging on by a thread. Another top-class brand that's been abused and neglected by its owners over the last 50 years.

I love the way medical men used to recommend booze to their patients. Even during Prohibition "medicinal" whiskey was available on prescription. This isn't quite as bad as that, but it's still odd recommending a beer of 10% ABV for health reasons.

The beer known "Bass' No. 1 Barley Wine," which the medical profession are now recommending as a sustaining and nourishing food-beverage for the winter months, and for such persons as need a safe pure malt liqueur, is mentioned the pages the '"Lancet" of the 23rd January. After giving the figures arrived at by the able chemists who conduct the analyses for the journal, the following interesting comment is appended. - "It cannot be doubted, therefore, that the beer possesses a decidedly nourishing value, and more so than many so-called nourishing stouts which have examined. The beer was in excellent condition, free from hardness or acidity, and from excess of gas. It a very palatable malt liquor, having an attractively rich malty flavour." We understand that Bass and Co. guarantee that this "No. 1 Barley Wine," like their Pale Ale, is brewed solely from malt and hops, and of the best that can be procured.
Aberdeen Journal - Saturday 13 February 1909, page 3.
I wouldn't be doing my job if I couldn't come up with some numbers to match the newspaper article. And they demonstrate something very unusual about Bass No. 1. Its gravity didn't drop across the two World Wars. That's only true of a small number of very strong beers, for example Barclay Perkins/Courage Russian Stout.

Bass No. 1 1870 - 1953
Year Beer Price size package Acidity FG OG colour ABV App. Atten-uation
1870 Barley Wine 5d pint draught 0.23 1032.3 1114.8 10.84 71.85%
1879 No. 1 pint bottled 1029 1104 9.83 72.12%
1896 Strong Ale 0.288 1034.9 1101.9 8.56 63.64%
1921 No. 1 pint bottled 1032 1094 8.06 65.96%
1927 No. 1 Barley Wine pint bottled 1035 1105 70 9.13 66.67%
1935 Barley Wine halfpint bottled 0.07 1023.3 1109 11.32 78.62%
1952 Barley Wine 21.5d nip bottled 0.08 1035.6 1104.1 10 + 40 8.93 65.80%
1953 Barley Wine 20d nip bottled 0.08 1036.3 1104.6 10 + 40 8.90 65.30%
British Medical Journal 1870, vol. 1, 1870, page 68.
Wahl & Henius, pages 823-830
Thomas Usher Gravity Book document TU/6/11
Younger, Wm. & Co Gravity Book document WY/6/1/1/19 held at the Scottish Brewing Archive
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/001
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002

I can remember drinking Bass No. 1 way, way back in the 1970's in a Bass tied house in Mablethorpe. I can't remember much about it. Though I seem to recall it being amber rather than dark brown. Could be my memory playing tricks.


beer guru, jr. said...

Barley wines must have been terribly hard to find during the wars. Sort of like some of the over-hyped American "white whale" craft beers today.

Jeff Renner said...

Image, please, Ron.

Ron Pattinson said...


there you go.

Phil Clark said...

Surely the reason for doctors recommending alcoholic beveeages in the past is that they are a good source of readily-assimilable claories. It's hard to imagine it today, but malnourishment would have been a real problem in some populations prior to the second world war.

Anonymous said...

Ha, we brewed our Albion no1 at the pub with a recipe of Bass No1 given to us by Steve Wellington, former brewer at Bass, and the gravities are exactly the same as the one from 1927! And Ron, with a 12 hours boil, it's pretty dark. Dark as a St Bernardus ABt.