I’m a bit surprised at how few examples I have. Light Ale was incredibly popular in the 1950’s, odd as that may now seem. The reason was the dubious quality of much draught beer. Bottled beer was more reliable, but also more expensive. Mixing bottled Light Ale with draught Bitter was a compromise many drinker hit upon.
Boys Bitter, as I called it, averaged out slightly stronger than these Light Ales, but averaged just over 16d per pint – more than 6d per pint less than the Light Ale average. You can see why so many opted to mix rather than drink it straight.
In my East London squatting days I used to drink a rather posher version of Light and Bitter: a half pint of Draught Bass topped up with a bottle of White Shield. I know, I’m a total pisshead.
I’ve one explanation for the paucity of examples. Not that many beers actually had that in their names. And, as there’s no real way of splitting apart a low-gravity bottled Pale Ale and a Light Ale, many beers that were probably considered as Light Ales I’ll have lumped with the Pale Ales.
Of course, in Scotland light Ale meant something completely different, Counter-intuitively, it was a dark beer, the Scottish equivalent of Mild, even though it was parti-gyled with Bitter. And, come to think of it, pre-WW II Whitbread had a beer called Light Ale that was a low-gravity Dark Mild. See how tricky the world of beer classification is?
|Light Ale in the 1950's|
|Year||Brewer||Beer||Price per pint (d)||Acidity||OG||FG||ABV||App. Atten-uation||colour|
|1955||Ballingall & Son||Angus Ale||22||0.04||1028.1||1008||2.60||71.53%||55|
|1955||Tennant Bros.||Light Dinner Ale||18||0.04||1030.8||1006.9||3.10||77.60%||23|
|1953||Norman & Pring||Light Ale||18||0.05||1031||1011||2.58||64.52%||17|
|1953||Duttons||Green Label Light Ale||18||0.06||1032||1006.8||3.27||78.75%||24|
|1953||Flowers||Shakespeare Ale||54||0.06||1032||1006.8||3.27||78.75%||5 + 40|
|1953||Young & Son||Light Victory Ale||17||0.05||1032.1||1007.6||3.18||76.32%||30.5|
|1956||Mitchell & Butler||Cape Ale||30||0.04||1032.7||1008.5||3.14||74.01%||31|
|1959||George's||Georges Light Ale||24||0.02||1033||1008.7||3.15||73.64%||18|
|1953||Mitchell & Butler||Family Ale||15.5||0.05||1033.4||1007.3||3.39||78.14%||33|
|1954||Mitchell & Butler||Cape Ale||18||0.05||1033.5||1007.7||3.35||77.01%||28|
|1953||Mitchell & Butler||Cape Ale||17||0.06||1033.8||1007.3||3.44||78.40%||33|
|1959||W. Butler||Light Ale||24||0.02||1034.7||1009.6||3.14||72.33%||19|
|1957||Charrington||Export Light Ale||30||0.05||1035.4||1008.3||3.52||76.55%||18|
|1959||Camerons||Ebor Light Ale||24||0.04||1036.8||1011.9||3.11||67.66%||24|
|Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002.|
Of course, few breweries brewed something specifically as a Light Ale. Mostly it was just the bottled version of their weakest Bitter. Or maybe a parti-gyle with Bitters. Though I know Courage Light Ale – one of a handful of survivors of the style – was brewed specifically. Because I’ve records from Beasley just before they closed in the early 1960’s and they seem to have spent much of their final days brewing it for their owners.
Light Ale as a term seems to be a abbreviation of an earlier term, Light Dinner Ale, which was much used in the first half of the 20th century. Along with lots of similar terms such as Luncheon Ale, Family Ale, Dinner Ale and many more I can’t quite remember at the moment.
What of the beers in the table? The one common feature is a very low gravity. Colour and attenuation are all over the shop. The combination of low gravity and poor attenuation in some cases making for pretty much non-intoxicating beer. Personally, I consider anything below 3% ABV as shandy.
That’s it for now. Old Ale next, I think. Not too many of those.