Sunday, 17 May 2015

Bottled Scotch Ale in the 1950's

This series isn’t quite dead yet. I’ve found another relatively small set than my lazy arse can be arsed to sift through.

Scotch Ale – now there’s a topic to set my blood raging. At least when style Nazis are talking about it. Because it’s always drivel, totally unrelated to the real style. Like when they start saying that 90/- was a “traditional” name for Scotch Ale. Or “Wee Heavy” – which really just means a nip of Strong Ale.

The reality is for once much simpler than the fantasy. Have I mentioned how dull most Scottish brewing records are? Yes? Well, I’ll say it again anyway. Most Scottish brewing records are dead dull. Because they just had a single recipe which, through the magic of parti-gyling, they’d spin into 60/-, 70/-, 80/- and Strong Ale. Sometimes they even managed to squeeze out a Stout, too.

So really Scottish Strong Ale, usually called Scotch Ale outside Scotland, is just a beefed up Pale Ale. “How come it’s often dark then?” I hear you say. Because they’d colour it up with caramel to whatever shade they happened to fancy. Which was mostly dark brown. But not always, as we’ll see in a minute.

No, they didn’t use roast barley for colour, as some will have you believe. Where did that story come from? Either from someone who didn’t know, or didn’t want to believe how Scottish brewers got colour. Nor did they boil their beer for several days until it turned into syrup. Even if they ever had done that, the practise wouldn’t have survived two world wars when boil times were cut to save fuel.

I won’t go too much into the technical brewing details here. I’m saving that for another time. Just some bare bone specs this time. Mostly, as usual, courtesy of the Whitbread Gravity Book. I really don’t understand how I managed to live before finding that book.

I’ve two tables for you. First, the ones sold in Britain:

Scotch Ale in the 1950's as sold in the UK
Year Brewer Beer Price per pint d Acidity OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation colour
1953 Gordon & Blair Strong Ale 43.5 0.05 1046.7 1006 5.32 87.15% 9 + 40
1957 Younger, Wm. Double Century Ale 32.5 0.06 1051.5 1018.6 4.25 63.88% 80
1953 Younger, Wm. Century Ale 36 0.05 1056.4 1021.4 4.52 62.06% 71 B
1953 Maclachlan Strong Ale 43.5 0.05 1063.2 1016.2 6.12 74.37% 16 + 40
1953 Jeffrey Strong Ale 43.5 0.06 1064.3 1019.7 5.79 69.36% 11 + 40
1953 Barnard Strong Ale 43.5 0.05 1065.2 1018.2 6.11 72.09% 18 + 40
1953 Murray W Heavy Ale 43.5 0.06 1065.9 1019.2 6.07 70.86% 13 + 40
1953 WB Reid Strong Ale 33 0.07 1065.9 1020.3 5.92 69.20% 8 + 40
1953 Younger, Robert  Strong Ale 43.5 0.07 1066.3 1016.8 6.45 74.66% 16 + 40
1953 Tennent Strong Ale 43.5 0.06 1066.4 1021.2 5.86 68.07% 14 + 40
1953 Deucher, James Lochside Strong Ale 38 0.05 1066.9 1014.9 6.79 77.73% 24 B
1955 Aitken Strong Ale 45 0.05 1067 1020.3 6.06 69.70% 105
1958 Bernard Strong Ale 1067 1021 5.97 68.66%
1953 Younger, Geo. Strong Ale 43.5 0.06 1067.6 1021.9 5.93 67.60% 13 + 40
1955 Younger, Geo. Strong Ale 45 0.05 1067.6 1022.3 5.87 67.01% 100
1955 Fowler Twelve Guinea Ale 45 0.04 1068.1 1016.9 6.67 75.18% 120
1958 Tennent Strong Ale 31.25 0.06 1068.4 1022.7 5.71 66.81% 100
1953 Usher Strong Ale 43.5 0.06 1068.5 1020.1 6.29 70.66% 5 + 40
1955 Maclachlan Strong Ale 45 0.05 1068.6 1023.4 5.86 65.89% 75
1953 Steel Coulson Strong Ale 43.5 0.07 1069.5 1014.1 7.24 79.71% 11 + 40
1955 Deucher, James Lochside Strong Ale 45 0.04 1069.6 1019.6 6.50 71.84% 31
1953 Fowler J Strong Ale 45 0.07 1070.3 1017.6 6.87 74.96% 12 + 40
1953 McEwan Strong Ale 45 0.06 1070.7 1019.5 6.66 72.42% 10 + 40
1953 Younger, Wm. Strong Ale 43.5 0.05 1071.2 1024.2 6.09 66.01% 9 + 40
1955 Younger, Wm. No. 1 Strong Ale 45 0.04 1071.4 1024.3 6.11 65.97% 80
1955 McEwan Strong Ale 45 0.05 1071.5 1020.8 6.59 70.91% 85
1955 Murray W Heavy Ale 45 0.04 1071.7 1021 6.59 70.71% 105
1953 Steel Coulson Strong Ale 45 1075
1957 Jeffrey Dishers Extra Strong Ale 64 0.07 1088.6 1017.1 9.40 80.70% 27
Average 43.15 0.06 1067.3 1019.3 6.20 71.22%
Sources:
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002.
T & J Bernard's brewing records held at the Scottish Brewing Archive
document from the Steel Coulson archive held at the Scottish Brewing Archives


There was quite a history of brewing strong beers in Scotland. That’s what they were famous for internationally. Well that and IPA. These are all, with a couple of exceptions at the start of the table, pretty powerful beers for the 1950’s. And the average gravity of 1067.3º is high. Especially when you consider average gravity of all beer was around 1037º.

For Scottish beers the degree of attenuation is also reasonably high. Though what I’ve noticed with a brewery’s 60/-, 70/- and 80/- is that there often wasn’t much difference in the FG. Meaning the stronger the beer, the higher the degree of attenuation. Scottish brewers clearly liked to leave some body in their low-gravity beers. Even if that was at the expense of ABV.

Colour. I told you I’d be coming back to that. All the above beers are dark brown. With the exception of Lochside Strong Ale and Dishers Extra Strong Ale, which are the colour of Bitter. No idea why these beers should be different to the rest.

Averaging 43d per pint, they’re about treble the price of a pint of draught Mild. So expensive beers. Though you have to take into account the higher price of bottled beer. The vast majority were sold in nip (third of a pint) bottles. Which meant a bottle of Strong Ale cost about the same as a pint of draught. I’m sure that’s not a coincidence. The price of a full pint would have scared customers off.

The second table is of Scotch Ales sold in Belgium:

Scotch Ale in the 1950's as sold in Belgium
Year Brewer Beer Price per pint d Acidity OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation colour
1955 John Smith Scotch Ale 0.08 1072.3 1022 6.54 69.57% 75
1954 John Smith Scotch Ale 0.06 1072.6 1022.1 6.56 69.56% 95
1955 Truman Scotch Ale 0.08 1083.4 1025.6 7.52 69.30% 80
1955 McEwan Scotch Ale 0.07 1088.2 1020.2 8.92 77.10% 65
1955 Younger, Geo. Gordon Highland Scotch Ale 0.07 1090.3 1029.9 7.86 66.89% 55
1954 Younger, Geo. Gordon Highland Scotch Ale 0.06 1090.9 1028 8.20 69.20% 60
Average 0.07 1083.0 1024.6 7.60 70.27% 71.7
Source:
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002.


The sharper eyed amongst have probably spotted that three of the six aren’t even from Scotland. Unsurprisingly, these average a good bit stronger than the domestic examples. They look like the Strong Ales sold in Scotland before WW II. Which is probably what they are in reality.

What is a surprise is the relatively pale colour of the three from Scotland. Around 60 is only just about brown.

I just took a look at the Stouts. So many of the bloody things. I’ll need some special motivation to tackle those.

4 comments:

Bailey said...

"Nor did they boil their beer for several days until it turned into syrup. Even if they ever had done that, the practise wouldn’t have survived two world wars when boil times were cut to save fuel."

I've tended to assume this to be a garbled account of the production of the caramel they were buying in.

Roger Ryman at St Austell, before he went to work at Maclay's, worked for a Scottish firm that specialised in high-colour syrups and extracts, and Scott Williams of Williams Bros worked at another. Was this kind of sugar processing a Scottish speciality, perhaps?

(And that's *all* my research right there -- just thinking aloud, really.)

Ron Pattinson said...

Bailey,

there sugar manufacturers all over the UK. But as in Scotland they didn't use much invert, but did colour their beers like crazy, concentrating of caramel type stuff would make sense.

Barm said...

I tend to think the legend comes from Michael Jackson's account of how the direct-fired coppers at the Caledonian Brewery caramelised the wort.

Oblivious said...

I suspect Traquair house might be the source. They started back brewing in the late 60's I believe. Also the use roasted barley for colour.

One it was picked up by Bjcp and others it became law.