Thursday, 1 October 2015

Good beer in the 1950’s

Time for some more about the beers of Hammonds. Which seem to have been variable in quality.

The two breweries mentioned below were Bentley’s Old Brewery of Rotherham and John Richdale of Sheffield. Both pretty small concerns, with 55 and 25 tied houses, respectively. Well-established despite their modest size, the beers of these two breweries were soon swept aside.

"Both breweries closed soon after, and Tadcaster bitter was rammed down the throats of the locals without any warning; which was a pity, as Richdale in particular still had a good reputation and nostalgic following. But the spreading gospel in the brewing industry was that of central production, with breweries getting fewer and larger; it was more than an article of faith, it was dogma in the canon of the predator companies. After forty years it continues still, as strongly as ever, with its meretricious attraction."
"The Brewing Industry 1950 - 1990", by Anthony Avis, 1997, page 44.

This was generally true of the takeover mania period. The beers from the smaller breweries that the big boys devoured usually disappeared, replaced by a few favourite corporate brands. There were occasional exceptions for particularly renowned beers. Barclay’s Russian Stout, for example. Or Mackeson Milk Stout. But, in general, the purchasing company wasn’t interested in the beers or often even the breweries. Just the pubs the brewery owned.

I wouldn’t have wanted Tadcaster Bitter rammed down my throat. I never rated the beers from that brewery. I assume that’s what was later called Brew Ten. A dull Bitter I avoided whenever possible. Big breweries – I’m looking at you here Whitbread – had an uncanny knack for retaining the worst beers and discarding the best.

It sounds as if Richdale had seen much better days:

"In their day, which was the first half of the Twentieth century, the names of Richdale and Bentley's were well known in Sheffield and Rotherham. Richdale, at the last Brewers Exhibition before the Second World War, achieved a success never before or after repeated by any company, namely, they won at the same time the Champion Awards for the best draught and the best bottled beers. Richdale's brewery had been then equipped to the highest standards and with the most modern machinery - and it was only of modest size. It was sad, in 1956, to walk round it and witness the dereliction and neglect; pumps for circulating cooling brine, when dismantled, were found to be totally corroded and solid with rust. In their last years of independence both breweries cast only the shadows of former local renown."
"The Brewing Industry 1950 - 1990", by Anthony Avis, 1997, page 44.

That’s an impressive victory for a brewery with only a couple of dozen pubs.

Though Richdale’s beers weren’t all that they appeared:

"I recall walking round the brewery with Mr Morris and being astonished at the number of different draught and bottled beers produced, when the weekly output was so small. He took me aside with a "Look you, boyo" style and said they were all the same brew. First, you coloured some with a dose of caramel to darken it, so you had light and dark beers. Then you labelled some strong, some ordinary and some light bitter, and priced them accordingly - "and boyo, the customer never knows the difference". I was impressed; "Richdale's Rich Ales" indeed. Mr Morris sent indifferent beer to his best customers, the tied clubs, as a form of revenge, so there was constant aggravation; he loved it."
"The Brewing Industry 1950 - 1990", by Anthony Avis, 1997, page 45.

Quite a lot of this sort of thing seems to have gone on in the past. Using caramel to make different coloured versions of a beer was common. As was part-gyling – making more than one beer from the same mash. A combination of the two techniques allowed Barclay Perkins to market half a dozen Milds from a single basic recipe.

It still goes on today. Timothy Taylors Dark Mild is just Golden Best plus caramel. It wouldn’t surprise me if other Dark Milds were just Ordinary Bitter coloured up.

Richdale went one step further, pretending the same beer was ones of different strengths. A bit cheeky, but how was the customer to know when beer strengths weren’t made public? Short of taking a beer to be analysed, a drinker’s only clue to a beer’s strength was how quickly it got them pissed.

Plenty more tales from the brew house - and board room – courtesy of Anthony Avis to come.


Ed said...

I'm sure quite a lot of that thing goes on today too. Except there's a wider range of things you can add to alter the beer, and with high gravity brewing you can have different strengths too by adjusting how much water you add at packaging.

Phil said...

I'll have to try a blind taste test the next time I'm in a pub where I feel comfortable doing that kind of thing, and where they serve both TT DM and GB. Might take a while - the only place I've seen the DM is rough as a badger's nethers.

Ike said...

A friend of mine has just moved jobs after working for a very large British brewery for a number of years. His description of the brewing process agrees with Ed's.

He says that basically they only brew 2, high gravity beers, a brown one and a pale one. They then water them down to the correct strength for each type of beer needed and add what amounts to flavourings to give the correct taste.