Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Light Ale in the 1950’s

I seem to have stumbled into a series on the 1950’s. Not quite sure how that happened. Now what could I call the book? I’ve painted myself into a bit of a corner with one-word titles. What about “Victory!”? Then I can use a Barclay Perkins Victory Stout label on the cover.

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
1959 Flowers Light Ale 20 0.04 1029.6 1003.6 3.25 87.84% 14
1956 Flowers Light Ale 20 0.04 1030.1 1005.3 3.22 82.39% 17
1959 Devenish Light Ale 18 0.02 1030.6 1010.7 2.49 65.03% 23
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
1956 Dunmow Family Ale 20 0.04 1031.6 1010.9 2.68 65.51% 25
1956 Rayments Pelham Ale 19 0.04 1031.7 1006.9 3.22 78.23% 23
1959 Bentleys Eshald Ale 24 0.04 1031.8 1004.4 3.43 86.16% 60
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
1958 Ushers Light Ale 30 0.04 1033.3 1007.2 3.26 78.38% 16
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
1954 Tetley Family Ale 24 0.04 1035.1 1007.2 3.62 79.49% 57
1957 Charrington Export Light Ale 30 0.05 1035.4 1008.3 3.52 76.55% 18
1955 Worthington Dinner Ale 18 0.04 1036.1 1007.8 3.68 78.39% 20
1959 Camerons Ebor Light Ale 24 0.04 1036.8 1011.9 3.11 67.66% 24
Average 22.7 0.04 1032.6 1007.8 3.18 75.94% 27.7
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.


Yalleriron said...

Adnams used to do a bottled beer called Champion Pale Ale, which, in the 1960's, came in pint and half-pint crown capped bottles. I don't know when they first brewed it, but I seem to remember it in the 50's. The label had a horse's head on it, so there were plenty of comments about Champion the Wonder Horse, the horse's waste products and so forth. They were a bit unfair, as it was a pretty good beer; my mother in Suffolk used to get in a dozen or two when I came home for the weekend, and they didn't last long. Some batches were a little volatile, and consignments of exploding bottles weren't unknown.

Phil said...

Here's a question: light ale as opposed to what? The Scottish dark-coloured 'light ales' were almost certainly light as opposed to heavy, not as opposed to dark. ('Light' and 'light' are two distinct words with separate etymologies - compare other languages.) Was 'light (dinner) ale' similarly light in the sense of lacking ponderousness, to quote the OED? If so we'd expect colour to be all over the place.

Ron Pattinson said...


it's light as opposed to heavy. But, Light Dinner Ales appeared when everything except Porter and Stout was pale. And they were types Pale Ale.

David said...

In the Ealing film, Saloon Bar (1940), I remember that whenever someone asked for a light ale, they got a bottle. There were two pubs in the film; it might have been in the more upmarket one where they got the bottles, but I could be wrong here. Most of the action took place in the less fancy pub. They also had crisps as a pub snack, but called them chips.

Rod said...

I had two posh Light and Bitter variants in my younger day -

Ram and Spesh (bottled Ramrod and Youngs Special) and Directors' and Bulldog (Directors' Bitter and bottled Courage Bulldog).

Wish Bulldog was still available - the nearest I get now is a bottle of John Martin's Pale Ale once in a while in Belgium.

BrianW said...

Excellent timing. I was just talking about the history of bitter/pale ale with a friend the other day and he asked me if I had heard of Light and Bitter (which I hadn't). He told me that it was "still popular, at least among the working class, sewer-cleaning, cribbage playing, co-workers I knew in the late 1970s in London."

Ron Pattinson said...


Light Ale was pretty much always a bottled-only beer.