Thursday, 10 September 2015

Coronation Beers (part three)

As promised, if a little later than expected, the best brew since 1914.

Thinking about it, 1953 was only 39 years after 1914. There must have been plenty of older drinkers around who could remember the powerful Ales from before WW I. What an odd experience it must have been to have a few years of drinking full-strength beers, then see them become ever more watery as your drinking career progressed. Not so much odd as depressing, I guess.

But I digress. We’re looking at Coronation beer again. See if you can guess which brewery it is. For some reason the article is coy about naming the name.

Coronation beer, best brew since 1914,
to be 1s 6d bottle
Evening Post Reporter
TODAY, somewhat prematurely. I admit, I drank the health of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II a fully-matured mellow heavy beer, brother to the famed Coronation beer.

While I talked to Mr W. E. Harbord. director of a Tadcaster brewery which has made this taste of "the good old days." the liquid Itself was busy maturing in huge tanks in preparation for the end of February when it will flow into "nip" bottles, ready for distribution to the public during the Coronation celebrations.

Although I was unable to sample the "beautifully fragrant and aromatic" taste of the Coronation beer. I can lay many of the rumours rife about it. Firstly it will be sold in the now familiar, small old-ale bottles, with special Coronation label.

Each contains a third of pint, and will cost 1s. 6d., not 2s. 6d. as was rumoured.

Says Mr Harbord. The Coronation is an opportunity for to give the public something which we are not normally allowed to produce."”
Yorkshire Evening Post - Friday 02 January 1953, page 10.

I’m pretty sure the brewery is John Smiths. Which is dead handy, as we’ll see in a minute. To put that price into context, a pint of Mild would have cost around 1s. 2d. and a pint of Ordinary Bitter 1s. 4d. A nip bottle of Guinness, which at the time was a bit over 5% ABV, was 1s. Making 1s. 6d. not unreasonable for a really strong beer.

The bit about not normally being able to produce a beer like that is a reference to gravity restrictions. I’d tell you what they were, but I’m having a devil of a time tracking them down. There seems to have been an upper limit on gravity that was abolished sometime around this period. I’ll need to do some more digging.

This sounds like something I would have liked:

Victory ale
To get some Idea what Mr. Harbord meant this I was given glass of Victory ale brewed in 1945 to celebrate the end of hostilities.

This, although not as strong the Coronation beer, was brewed in the same way and has a taste and bouquet, after seven years, unknown except to those who were drinking before 1914.

While telling me of the delights of the Coronation beer, head brewer Mr. W. Gall, handling the Victory ale with the touch of an expert wine taster - glass held by the base and sniffing appreciatively — said: "This is a lovely beer and the Coronation beer on the same basis has had a lot of care taken with it.

"It will mature for about two months, giving it its quality and character and then be put into the several thousand dozen bottles awaiting it. It has a fragrant and delightful bouquet and will be half as strong again as the present heavy beer sold as old ale."”
Yorkshire Evening Post - Friday 02 January 1953, page 10.

Two months was quite a long maturation period by then. Very few beers were given any sort of long time to develop, with only a handful of true Stock Ales still being brewed.

The last sentence is dead useful. Because I’ve two analyses of John Smiths Old Ale from that very year:

John Smiths Old Ale in 1953
Beer Price size package Acidity OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation colour
Magnet Old Ale 1/1d nip bottled 0.07 1068.5 1024.5 5.70 64.23% 11 + 40
Magnet Old Ale 1/2d nip bottled 0.06 1072.5 1022.9 6.44 68.41% 11 + 40
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002.

As brewers usually meant gravity when talking about strength, that would make John Smiths Coronation Ale around 1100º. Or about as strong as beer came.

So I believe them when they claim this:

Stronger than all
Mr. Gall was responsible for the final composition of the Coronation beer and has put the best of his 20 years' experience into the final product.

The brewery has made several special heavy beers for special occasions — the last Coronation, victory days, and the brewery's centenary - but this Coronation beer will stronger than any of them.

With the wistful look of a connoisseur, Mr. Gall said. "In the fermenting room there was lovely aroma the whole time we brewed it. It will be a grand beer."

If it is anything like its mature brother, the Victory beer, it certainly will be”
Yorkshire Evening Post - Friday 02 January 1953, page 10.

I’m sure it was stronger than anything they had brewed for a long while.

Next time: another Yorkshire Coronation Ale.


Mike Aaron said...

Do you have any sense if consumption of whiskey, gin and other spirits increased as the strength of beer declined? I'm curious if the market for beer shifted to harder stuff, or even wine, as abvs dropped in the decades after the war.

Ron Pattinson said...

Mike Aaron,

spirit sales dropped in the late 1940's, remained steady in the early 1950's and began to rise after 1955. Wine followed a similar pattern. Beer sales were flat during the 1950's and started to rise in 1960. So it doesn't look like there was a huge shift from beer to other drinks.

Mike Aaron said...

Thanks, believe it or not that's interesting. It suggests to me that a lot of the appeal of drinking beer in pubs was just about drinking beer in pubs and not just about getting drunk. If that makes any sense. At least, that is my interpretation of this data as a 21st century American, long separated from 20th century Britain.