Friday, 4 July 2014

British versus Foreign Beer

Here's yet another dead handy article I found while looking for something completely unrelated.

What makes it particularly interesting is that in it we hear a London and a Burton brewer speak. As representatives of the two largest English brewing centres, their words carry some weight

It starts with an account of the differences between British top-fermented beer and foreign Lager.

"British versus Foreign Beer.
Statistics prove beyond all possible doubt that we are a beer drinking nation. There is no more popular beverage than the "Glass of bitter"; but people who have patronised the lager-beer saloons of Paris and Brussels, and who in certain parts of London visit the imitations of these establishments which have been set up and are apparently prospering, are beginning to ask whether, in regard to malt liquor, as in everything else, we shall not find very soon upon the labels of the beer bottles the familiar line, in small letters, "Made in Germany." In short they ask, "Is the British article to give way to the foreign ? Are our brewers to admit themselves hopelessly beaten? In order to obtain trustworthy information upon the comparative merits and popularity in this country of home-brewed and imported beers, with other points of interest concerning their production, I sought the views of an expert upon the whole question.

"Are foreign beers making any headway in this country ?" I asked. "Practically none at all," was the confident answer. "I am not sure whether the consumption is not less than it was. I may say that greater attention has been paid to the production of English beer, in consequence of the competition of the foreigner."

"Can you tell me what is the real difference between British beer and its foreign rivals?"

"The great distinction lies in the fermentation. The British fermentation is known as 'high,' the period of fermentation extending to about four days. The German is 'low,' taking place in a very low temperature, and occupying about a fortnight. In the 'high' fermentation the yeast is exuded on the surface; but on the German principle it is thrown to the bottom. Continental beer to be palatable should be drawn through ice. It must be cold or it loses its individual character. English beer, on the other hand, cannot be served in a brilliant condition at a low temperature, owing to the insolubility in cold of some of its properties. All English beer becomes 'grey,' or what is known as 'chilled,' in a temperature under 40°. The essential difference between foreign and English is really more the result of the methods of brewing than in the variation of the gravity and alcoholic strength. These, in foreign and British pale ales, approximate pretty closely to each other; but there is probably some difference in the nature of the alcohols of the two beers, caused by the different methods of fermentation. With regard to palatable qualities, German beers are always disfigured by the garlic flavour which may be distinguished in them."
Isle of Man Times - Tuesday 31 January 1893, page 3.

 The 1890's was when Germany was starting to out-produce the UK industrially. Hence the common occurrence of "Made in Germany" on items sold in Britain. Obviously some were worried that German beer was about to elbow aside its British rivals. We're still waiting for that to happen

 Now this is interesting. Figures for the quantities and origin of imported beer. Just the sort  of thing I love.

"All foreign beers Imported into this country are not German?"

"I should say the German, Austrian, Dutch, and Danish comprise twenty-nine thirtieths of the whole of the imports. No beer comes from France, and very little from Belgium. The following table gives the exact figures, and the significance of them lies in the comparison of the total of 33,000 barrels of Continental beer imported for home consumption with the product of the entire brewing industry of the United Kingdom, which in 1890 was 31,835,574 barrels."

Where from  Barrels. 
Norway 1,498
Denmark 1,667
Germany 14,772
Holland (much of this is German) 14,543
Other Foreign Countries  462
Total Foreign Countries 32,942
Channel Islands and Isle of Man 137
Other British Possessions 11
Total Home Possessions 148
Total entered for Home Consumption 33,090

"Does not the introduction of this light beer however small, point to an alteration in or modification of the public taste?"

"It is certainly true that the taste for heavy beer has disappeared largely, except in some of the provincial districts, and more particularly is this noticeable in London. Pale ale has become the King of Beers. An immense quantity is sold on draught. 'A glass of bitter' is the morning cry of almost five millions of people. The consumption of old heavy stout and of beer has much diminished of late; the light mild ales replacing them to a large extent. Our own ales in the metropolis have increased enormously."

"Have you any idea of the total London consumption of beer?"

"unfortunately, none; and it would be impossible to guess, but the figures no doubt are colossal, and would run to millions of barrels, whereas the total amount of German beer coming into this country it probably about 20,000 barrels. I may say that London is so well supplied with the highest class of malt liquors that there is probably less consumption of bottled beer here than in the provinces."
Isle of Man Times - Tuesday 31 January 1893, page 3.
The amount of beer imported really was insignificant. Especially compared to the amount consumed domestically and that exported. Though you can see from this table that imports more than trebled between 1889 and 1890.

UK beer imports 1860 - 1900
Year Exports imports
1860 3,592
1870 5,058
1880 10,742
1890 502,921 35,081
1895 44,399
1900 510,845 50,875
Brewers' Almanack 1928, p. 115
Brewers' Almanack 1955, p. 57

That the imports overwhelmingly came from Northern Europe is no surprise. That's where Lager was produced and that's all anyone was interested in importing. I am surprised that Austria gets no mention. The first Lagers imported came from Vienna. Is it being lumped in with German beer or had the trade really collapsed to such an extent?

It's around this period where adverts for Tuborg and Carlsberg beers start appearing in British newspapers so I can believe Denmark was a significant source of Lager imports. Not so sure if all the beer from Holland really was German. I'm not 100% convinced people in Britain would have realised Heineken was Dutch.

There's also something about the difference in bottling methods:

"German beer in bottle is a very poor and flabby beverage. It has to be Pasteurised."

The term "Pasteurised" has been adopted by brewers to describe the process of the destruction of germ organisations by the action of heat.

"It is only fair to tell you." added my informant, "that the success of English bottled beer depends upon the generation of its own gas in the bottle by the fermentation therein taking place. No fermentation goes on in the German bottle, for the beer is put into it charged with carbonic acid gas. When first bottled there is scarcely any 'life' in English beer, and the gas is produced in the bottle by the action of the yeast plant."

"There is an appreciable difference in the beer when the bottle is opened, is there not?"

"No amount of gas forced into the beer can give the piquancy and 'style' due to the carbonic acid gas produced in the bottle itself."
Isle of Man Times - Tuesday 31 January 1893, page 3.
Even as this article was being written, British brewers were starting to adopt foreign bottling practices and abandon bottle-conditioning in favour of artificial carbonation. Though it wouldn't be until after WW I that bottle-conditioning went into serious decline. The Burton brewer clearly wasn't enamoured of force-carbonated beer.

That's not even half the article I've gone through yet. Loads more fun to come.


Pivní Filosof said...

The term "Pasteurised" has been adopted by brewers to describe the process of the destruction of germ organisations by the action of heat.

It makes it sound so sinister, so class warfare-y

Gary Gillman said...

Great find. It shows one of the rare contemporary opinions of the palate of lager vs. ale: first, that different "alcohols" are produced in each which probably encompasses the idea that ale is estery (or can be) even though esters are not alcohols, second, that lager has a garlic taste, as noted by some other Britons in this era. The garlic taste, IMO, is still there, in the form of hydrogen sulphide in many Continental lagers (not all, but many). Oddly, some Burton ale has it too, or a taste quite like it, but perhaps then it did not, or alternatively, the English brewers just viewed it differently for some reason. I doubt it was the pitch factor because, a) pitch isn't garlicy, it is a tar or burnt mineral taste, b) bottled lager should have no or less pitch taste since it would not have been stored previously in wooden vessels excepting perhaps tuns that were pitched, but these were much larger than small dispense barrels and the pitch taste would be corresponding less (say, what it was in the old Urquell and no one would call that garlicy I think - plus Urquell never had the sulphide taste).



Jeff Renner said...

What do. You suppose that garlic flavor was in German beer?