Monday 26 December 2016

Beer and food pairing in the 1950’s (part two)

We’re getting to the meat now, so to speak. With specific beer and food pairings, sort of. As well as some non-parings.

First one of the latter:

“Bottled beer is becoming too popular at table. To bombard the tongue with bubbles of gas while eating is wrong. For an appetizer, yes: and at least one strong light ale now brewed with a slightly bitter tang, sold in something less than half-pints, makes an excellent aperitif. Beer, while it assists the appreciation of good food, also makes bad food endurable, and by the standards of former rough, farm-worker's fare food to-day is insipid. Mrs. Carlyle at the Frome inn could not stomach the meat, but she ate the bread with the aid of her pint of porter. In refreshment rooms a good frothy ale — and here's every excuse for bottled  — often gives a flattering zest to rigid sandwiches or cardboard-tasting pie.”
"Beer in Britain", 1960, page 105.

I wish he’d named that Strong Light Ale. Even though that’s a bit of an oxymoron. Light Ale was, by definition, not particularly strong. If it were, it would be called a Pale Ale. I guess with “something less than half-pints” he means a nip bottle. Which was a popular bottle size for stronger beers. Probably to save drinkers the shock of the price of a half or a pint.

I’m with him on fizzy beer. But it’s a problem that’s easily solved with a spoon. A minute or so’s agitation knocks most of the CO2 out of a beer.

Beer certainly will liven up crap food, or at least take your mind off it. In 1958 memories of rationing, which had only finally ended a few years earlier, in 1954, were still strong. And the often unpalatable food that was served up as a result. People had plenty of experience of eating rubbish food.

Now for some examples of cooking with beer as well as drinking it as an accompaniment to food:

“Beer has its place in food as well as with it. Welsh rarebit, when the cheese is blended with a little four-X ale, is delicious. The Suffolk farmer's pig absorbed a quantity of old ale in the curing process, being immersed for three weeks in a liquor of it before smoking. The flavours of beer, oak smoke, and barley-fed pork were combined in the result, and the fat was very rich. When a friend, thinking to give me a treat, partnered one of these hams with audit ale, he overdid it, especially as we were in a small sloop on a choppy sea. Mild beer would have been fitter. On the whole, mild is the best accompaniment to a square meal. Bitter has its virtues, and can give the motorist's appetite an edge which the walker's has gained naturally. Old beer is too sweet for a full meal: it is the ale of evening, of a companion rather than a crowd, and its accompaniment should be slight—a biscuit, or walnuts.”
"Beer in Britain", 1960, page 107.

It’s weird that he’s still calling Mild four-X Ale. True XXXX Ale hadn’t existed since before WW I. True, there were still beers called XXXX in the 1950’s, but they were just ordinary strength Mild Ales of around 3% ABV. A proper XXXX Ale was 8-10% ABV.

That marinated pig has me salivating like a dog outside a butcher’s shop. But I can see the author’s point about Audit Ale not necessarily being the best beer to slop back on a sloop. It was powerful stuff, even in the 1950’s:

Audit Ale 1951 - 1958
Year Brewer Price per pint d OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation colour
1951 Friary Holroyd 46.5 1084.6 1022.1 8.17 73.88% 51
1953 Friary Holroyd 45 1084 1025.1 7.67 70.12% 51
1955 Dales (Brewed by Wells & Winch) 36 1062.2 1023.5 5.00 62.22% 115
1955 Greene King 36 1083.2 1017.7 8.59 78.73% 100
1955 Wells & Winch 36 1062.2 1023.3 5.03 62.54% 115
1958 Lacons 54 1095 1017.8 9.65 81.26% 90
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002.

I’m also with him on Mild going particularly well with food. It matches perfectly with hearty pub meals like pies, stews or fish and chips. That’s me drooling again, imagining a crusty pie, covered in rich gravy with a pint of Harvey’s Mild to wash it down.

Not all Stouts were good with food:

“Sweet stout is popular, but to me it is as mawkish as a Victorian ballad. A bitter tonic stout, on the other hand, is the best awakener of the sedentary man's digestion, or stand-by if he is hard-pressed and has only ten minutes in which to snatch a bite. A tonic stout is worth a bushel of indigestion tablets, not to mention tranquillizers.”
"Beer in Britain", 1960, page 107.

Proof, incidentally, that not all Stout other than Guinness was sweet in the 1950’s. Again, I’d have to agree with him. For most English dishes a beer like Mackeson is way too sweet. Though perhaps it might work with pudding. This talk of “tonic” is very 19th century, when doctors often recommended a Pale Ale like Bass to aid digestion.

At first I thought this next paragraph was a mention of the elusive commercial style of Home-Brewed. But I’m sure it’s meant more literally – beer brewed by someone at home.

“Finally, there is — or was — homebrewed. There was a jolly miller once who lived on a hill in Suffolk. The sails of his mill twirled merrily in March, and as often as you paid his bill he celebrated the fact with a pint of his home-brewed. It was cloudy — most home-brewed was — but very good, and an inducement to prompt payment. I remember too on my entry into a farmhouse being met by two powerful mingled odours. One came from a batch of loaves fresh from the oven. As to the other ... I sniffed questioningly. The old farmer tapped his nose, put a finger to his lips and opened a door. In a little room a mash-tub was steaming. He was breaking the law; but his tough old age and his son's and daughter's blooming health demonstrated that they understood the basic principles of good living.”
"Beer in Britain", 1960, page 107.

Home brewing wasn’t necessarily illegal in the 1950’s. It was perfectly fine, as long as you bought a licence. As late as 1960, just a couple of years before licences for home brewing were abolished, more than 1,000 were issued:

Brewing licences 1945 - 1960
Brewers for sale
Year ending 31st March No. Duty paid £ Other brewers - not for sale Total
1945 703 249,637 3,734 4,437
1946 680 255,863 3,512 4,192
1947 648 248,690 3,224 3,872
1948 625 240,265 3,073 3,698
1949 602 229,913 2,998 3,600
1950 567 212,902 2,673 3,240
1951 539 201,909 2,406 2,945
1952 524 199,122 2,225 2,749
1953 501 199,893 2,015 2,516
1954 479 197,056 1,758 2,237
1955 460 192,395 1,523 1,983
1956 426 192,956 1,396 1,822
1957 416 192,387 1,412 1,828
1958 399 198,331 1,317 1,716
1959 378 191,053 1,189 1,567
1960 358 196,675 1,055 1,413
1962 Brewers' Almanack, page 67.


Marquis said...

I am reminded of the occasion when our Branch kicked off the Mild in May campaign at the Marquis of Granby. It just so happened that it was Curry Night so we all ended up eating as well. We were astounded at how well the two matched each other, more than that each improved the other.There were three milds on the pumps and a range of curries and they all went so well together. What a shame mild isn't usually available in curry houses.

J. Karanka said...

"Mrs. Carlyle at the Frome inn could not stomach the meat, but she ate the bread with the aid of her pint of porter"

Porter in 1960? Is the article simply anachronistic?

Ron Pattinson said...


it's a reference to something in the past. Not quite sure what it's referring to. Mrs. Carlyle was a 19th-century figure.

Ron Pattinson said...


it's a shame Mild is more available full stop. Had a lovely pint of Harvey's Mild in the Royal Oak recently. Such drinkable stuff!