Saturday, 5 November 2016

Tennant’s Gold Label (part two)

One of the most frustrating features of reading historical documents about brewing is how rarely the flavour of the finished product is described.

Making Frank Priestley’s description of tasting of Gold Label all the more useful.

“I also got into the habit of tasting them to round off my sampling of the draught beer. By choosing a suitably old one, I would find myself with a glass of perfectly matured barley wine. The drinking experience was incredible. The smooth malty, hoppy flavour was wonderful and as it went down, you could feel the warm alcoholic glow diffuse throughout your body. However, when there was still work to be done, it had to be treated with respect. The advice often directed at other drinks, was more than relevant here:

'A glass of barley wine is like a woman's breast - one is rarely enough, but three is one too many.'”
"The Brewer's Tale" by Frank Priestley, 2010, page 20.

It sounds like wonderful stuff. Just the sort of beer I enjoy. You know what it reminds me of? Pretty Things 1832 XXXX Mild Ale. It’s making me even more determined to get it rebrewed to the original recipe and have it properly matured in oak.

Rather disconcertingly the book is sprinkled with slightly sexist comments like that little quote. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the sensibilities of earlier generations were somewhat different to those of today.

It sounds as if those working at the Exchange Brewery were quite partial to a drop of it themselves:

“One day I learned that the head brewer had long since banned anyone else from sampling from these casks as he had come upon one which had been drunk dry. The only other people who had access to the sample room were the brewers and although I knew that they all were partial to Gold Label, one of them in particular was suspected. This was Tom Newton, whom Tennant's had inherited when the Nottingham brewery was taken over. Tom was a large, jolly man who still wore the traditional brown brewers' boots. Whenever he saw me around the brewery, he would call out: 'Keep your bowels open laddie and trust in the Lord' But since I was, by now, embracing the art of drinking with some enthusiasm, the first part of the advice, at least, was superfluous.”
"The Brewer's Tale" by Frank Priestley, 2010, page 20.

The brewing industry was full of colourful characters in the 1950’s. Many of them rather to partial to a drink, like Tom Newton.

Remember me mentioning the small number of 1950’s beers with gravities of over 1090º? I thought you might like to see a few more details.

Strong Ales in the 1950's
Year Brewer Beer Style OG FG Price per pint d ABV App. Attenuation colour
1953 Barclay Perkins Russian Stout Stout 1101 1018 45 10.97 82.18% 500
1953 Bass Barley Wine Barley Wine 1104.6 1036.3 60 8.90 65.30% 80
1952 Bass Barley Wine Barley Wine 1104.1 1035.6 64.5 8.93 65.80% 80
1958 Bass, Burton No. 1 Barley Wine Barley Wine 1106.8 1039.8 63 8.71 62.73% 100
1955 Benskin Colne Spring Ale Barley Wine 1091.8 1011.1 60 10.69 87.91% 75
1953 Benskin Colne Spring Ale Barley Wine 1090.7 1008.2 60 10.95 90.96% 100
1959 Ind Coope Benskins Colne Spring Ale Barley Wine 1092.8 1009.3 47 11.08 89.98% 80
1958 Lacons Audit Ale Strong Ale 1095 1017.8 54 9.65 81.26% 90
1952 McEwan Scotch Ale Scotch Ale 1090.3 1023.1 8.80 74.42% 60
1953 Mitchell & Butler Strong Ale Strong Ale 1106 1026.5 56 10.45 75.00% 63
1958 Tennant Bros. Gold Label No.1 Barley Wine Barley Wine 1102.5 1017.9 57 10.58 82.54% 35
1955 Tennant Bros. Gold Label Barley Wine Barley Wine 1102.4 1020.8 57 10.77 79.69% 45
1954 Tennant Bros. Gold Label No.1 Sparkling Barley Wine Barley Wine 1101.5 1021.1 60 10.60 79.21% 90
1955 Tennant Bros. No. 1 Barley Wine Barley Wine 1097.5 1022.6 57 9.84 76.82% 175
1953 Truman No. 1 Burton Barley Wine Barley Wine 1095.4 1023.6 60 9.42 75.26% 63
1952 Watney Stingo Barley Wine 1090.7 1008 57 10.98 91.18% 125
1954 Younger, Geo. Gordon Highland Scotch Ale (purchased in Belgium) Scotch Ale 1090.9 1028 8.20 69.20% 60
1955 Younger, Geo. Gordon Highland Scotch Ale (purchased in Belgium) Scotch Ale 1090.3 1029.9 7.86 66.89% 55
Source:
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002.


The vast majority are Barley Wines. With one Imperial Stout and a couple of Scotch Ales. Though the two from George Younger were probably exclusively for the Belgian market. Interesting to see how many were called No. 1, presumably in imitation of the original Barley Wine from Bass.

These weren’t cheap beer, with most around 60d per pint, though they were never sold in anything larger than a half pint, mostly in nips. To put that price into context, an Ordinary Mild of around 3% ABV was 14-15d in the mid-1950’s, Ordinary Bitter 16-18d. Bottled beer is obviously more expensive that draught. A pint of bottled 3%-ish ABV Brown Ale was around 20-24d. So, in terms of alcohol for your pennies, these very strong beers weren’t that bad value. A couple of beers – Barclay’s Russian Stout, Lacon’s Audit Ale and M & B Strong Ale look like a bargain.

One last point. Most of the beers come from quite large breweries, either big regionals like Tennant or national brewers like Bass and Truman. Only really Lacons and George Younger were smallish concerns.

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