Monday, 6 June 2016

Eldridge Pope AK

It seems ages since I last mentioned AK. Not sure why. Been busy with other stuff, I suppose.

This is another piece inspired by a newspaper advertisement. One I found when looking searching for “Mild Ale”. It happens quite often that the most interesting material I come across is when I was searching for something completely different.

Why do I find it so interesting? Because is appears to confirm my main theory of the meaning of AK. Let’s take a look at the advertisement in question:

Hampshire Chronicle - Saturday 25 January 1890, page 2.

There are three Pale Ales, listed in descending order of price and strength. It’s the last two that tell the story.

You sometimes see X’s used for Mild Ales and K’s for Pale Ales. At this time a single X or K beer would have a gravity of about 1055º. Stronger versions would have be denoted by XX, KK, etc. (Though in this case XX is the base level Mild.) Pale Ales commanded a premium, which is why the K is 42/- a barrel (14d a gallon) and XX 36/- (12d a gallon).

AK was a new class of beer in the second half of the 19th century. A light, running Pale Ale, with an unusually low gravity for the period, in the range 1045-1050º. It sold for 36/- a barrel. Here AK is clearly signifying a beer that is weaker than K. A standing for one strength class down from K or X.

I’m gradually becoming more and more convinced of my theory. A indicates a gravity below X, K indicates that it’s a Pale Ale. Pretty simple, really.

Now what I’d love to know is who first used the name and when. It seems to have been commoner in the south (though there are examples from Yorkshire) so my money would be on its origins being there. I must do some newspaper archive searches to see the earliest reference I can find.

One last point: why are there three different versions of XXX? I can get the difference between Mild and Old Ale, but what differentiates something as Burton Ale? It’s the same price as Mild or Old so can’t simply be a different strength.


Bailey said...

My one contribution to this line of research has been digging up what (as far as I'm aware) is the earliest use of AK in a newspaper ad, by Ind Coope of Romford, in 1846. (At the bottom of that post.)

Every now and then I do a bit more searching, in case another paper has come on line or more books have been opened up, and I tend to focus on Romford/Essex because I'm sure that's ground zero. Nothing as yet, but it doesn't help that the OCR struggles with small words in old print badly scanned so 'Ale' is often registered as 'Ak-' or similar.

I reckon you're probably right about the meaning. I've (more or less) given up on discovering a key somewhere that says 'AK stands for...' and was wondering the other day whether the reason it's 'A' is quite arbitrary, i.e. because that's one of few distinctive marks other than X and K you can make with a straight bar branding iron.

Ron Pattinson said...


you've beaten me by 9 years - 1855 is the earliest I'd found. I know what you mean about the OCR of the older newspapers. Very frustrating.

Not sure about exactly why A. I've always assumed it stood for Ale, but it could be arbitrary.

J. Karanka said...

I like the straight branding iron thing. Any similar markings from other industries like sherry or whiskey? In sherry I've seen more chalk being used, with sticks and crossed sticks ("Palo cortado").

InSearchOfKnowledge said...

Hi, Ron, what does the expression 'a light, running beer' mean? Light I can understand, but 'running' puzzles me as a non-native English speaker.

Ron Pattinson said...


in this context it means a beer meant to be consumed young.

J-W Maessen said...

For the "Old or Mild Ale" are they selling the same beer cellared for different amounts of time? Or is there some other distinction here?

Ron Pattinson said...

J. Maessen,

no idea. But usually a Stock Ale would be more heavily hopped than a Mild version.