Its origins go back to the early Running Pale Ales of the late 19th century. The first Pale Ales were all Stock Ales, matured for months before sale. But after 1850 a new lighter, style emerged that was drunk fresh. Cheaper and more accessible, these beers soon picked up a following. Initially draught beers, soon bottled version began to appear under a variety of different names: Luncheon Ale, Light Dinner Ale, Dinner Ale, Light Bitter.
By the middle of the 20th century, Light Ale began to consolidate its position as the standard name for this type, though other terms did continue to be used. Including simply Pale Ale, which makes things confusing. Where does Light Ale stop and Pale Ale begin? It’s almost as impossible to define as the difference between IPA and Pale Ale. Ultimately, I usually go with the brewer’s designation.
That’s not what Which? did, as the table below will make clear. They’ve included beers with gravities almost up to 1040º, which seems too high to me. I’d have placed the cut off at around 1034-1035º. Note that none of the examples over 1035º are actually called Light Ale.
I’m surprised that the bitterness level isn’t that much lower than for bottled strong Pale Ales. They averaged 32.8 as compared to 26.33 for Light Ales. But the average gravity of the Pale Ales was much higher, 1048º. And Hammonds Prize Medal at 38 was just one point behind the most bitter bottled Pale Ale.
The two tables have many similarities. Like the price per % ABV: 6.56d and 6.58d. Remove the expensive Export Golden Mead Ale and the average price per pint is pretty similar, too: 20.0d and 20.8d. It’s odd that, despite both tables having rates of attenuation all over the shop, the average for both isn’t far from the gold-standard 75%.
I saw an American tourist drinking a bottle of Light Ale in a UK airport 20-odd years ago. He looked rather confused. I assume he’d asked for a Light Beer.
|Light Ale in 1960|
|Brewer||Beer||Price per pint d||OG||FG||ABV||App. Atten-uation||Index of Hop Bitter||price per % ABV|
|Ushers||India Pale Ale||18||1031.6||1008.5||3.00||73.26%||25||6.00|
|Friary Meux||Friary Ale||20||1030.6||1009.7||2.70||68.30%||27||7.40|
|Simonds||SB. Light Ale||20||1034.2||1009.5||3.20||72.22%||32||6.25|
|Fremlins||Elephant Light Ale||21||1031.0||1006.4||3.20||79.52%||32||6.56|
|Younger, Wm.||Younger's Pale Ale||22||1032.3||1006.2||3.40||80.96%||16||6.48|
|Greenall Whitley||Champion Pale Ale||22||1038.9||1012.6||3.40||67.61%||32||6.47|
|Tolly Cobblold||Tolly Extra Quality Light Ale||24||1035.3||1010.6||3.20||69.97%||23||7.51|
|Hope & Anchor||Export Golden Mead Ale||30||1037.4||1011.9||3.30||68.18%||17||9.09|
|Which Beer Report, 1960, pages 171 - 173.|
|Light Ale in 1960|
|Brewer||Beer||Price per pint d||Acidity||OG||FG||ABV||App. Atten-uation||colour||price per % ABV|
|Brickwoods||Light Bitter Ale||20||0.02||1031.2||1008.8||2.80||71.79%||22||7.14|
|Cheltenham & Hereford Brewery||Cheltenham Ale||18||0.02||1032.1||1007.6||3.06||76.32%||25||5.88|
|Norman & Pring||Pale Ale||20||0.02||1031||1003.8||3.40||87.74%||15||5.88|
|Starkey, Knight & Ford||Tivvy Pale Ale||20||0.02||1030.5||1005.1||3.18||83.28%||28||6.30|
|Stroud Brewery||Allbright Ale||18||0.02||1030.9||1008||2.86||74.11%||25||6.29|
|Tomson & Wotton||Allbright Pale Ale||20||0.02||1029.9||1005.8||3.01||80.60%||18||6.64|
|Ansell||Triple Gold Light Ale||22||0.02||1039.1||1008.1||3.87||79.28%||24||5.68|
|Fremlin||Elephant Light Ale||21||0.02||1031.5||1005.8||3.21||81.59%||23||6.54|
|Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002.|
Draught Mild next.