Monday 4 December 2023

Barley Wine in the 1970s

Usually, the strongest beer produced by a brewery, these beers were almost exclusively available in bottled form.

A surprising number of breweries still made these very strong beers, which had gravities over 1070º and 7% ABVnd greater. Going to over 1100º and 10% ABV.

Classic beers in this style were Bass No. 1 and Whitbread Gold Label The latter was very widely available, often even in pubs owned by rival brewers. They represented the two substyles of Barley Wine, No. 1 being of the older dark kind, while Gold Label was a modern pale version.

I was pleased to discover that I have examples from six different breweries. Which is a little under half of the breweries in the recipe section. Most of the beers are in the pale style, with only two dark examples.

There are some pretty impressive gravities in there, with Tally Ho the lowest at 1073º. The highest, no shock here, is Hardy Ale at 1124.7º. There were few beers in the world brewed at gravities as high as the stronger versions.

One of the oddities of UK brewing was that its standard beers were some of the weakest anywhere. While at the same time brewing the strongest beers in the world. It’s an unusual split.

Some of the FGs should be taken with a grain of salt, as they are racking gravities rather the true end point. Hardy Ale is a good case in point. After secondary conditioning, it fermented out a lot further.

On the other hand, the Watney FGs, which come from analyses, genuinely reflect the beer as sold. And they show a pretty high degree of attenuation: 77% and 87%. Even with a couple of unrealistically high FGs, the average of both types is over 70%.

The hopping rate per quarter (336 lbs) of malt – which takes the OG of the beer out of the equation – varies from 4 lbs to 8 lbs. Which is from slightly below average to well above. The average in 1970 being 4.9 lbs per quarter of malt.

There’s a large variation in the colour, too. But note there’s a combination of measured and calculated numbers. Watney and Whitbread being the former and all the others the latter. I suspect that Golden Pride is relatively dark on account of being parti-gyled with Bitter.

Most of the others took advantage of being single-gyled by using lager malt as their base. Eldridge Pope parti-gyled their beers and used lager malt anyway.

As all the bitterness values are my calculation, I wouldn’t take them as gospel. Most were pretty bitter by the standards of the day. Something they needed to balance out all the malt. The outlier being Tally Ho, with a bitterness level more typical of a Bitter. 

Barley Wine 1970 - 1982
Year Brewer Beer OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation lbs hops/ qtr hops lb/brl colour IBU
1977 Adnams Tally Ho 1073.0 1026.0 6.22 64.38% 4.04 1.41 70 33
1971 Watney Yorkshire Stingo 1086.4 1019.9 8.80 76.97%     110  
  Average   1079.7 1023.0 7.51 70.68% 4.04 1.41 90.0 33.0
1981 Eldridge Pope Hardy Ale 1124.7 1055.4 9.16 55.56% 7.57 3.73 48 60
1982 Eldridge Pope Goldie 1085.3 1027.7 7.62 67.53% 5.56 2.88 26 63
1968 Fullers Golden Pride 1090.0 1026.6 8.38 70.44% 7.51 2.57 52 57
1970 Higson Stingo Gold 1083.7       8.12 2.71 40 56
1971 Watney Export Gold 1079.9 1010.3 9.21 87.11%     24  
1973 Whitbread Gold Label 1101.4 1014.8 11.46 85.40% 5.48 2.34 30 49
  Average   1094.2 1027.0 9.17 73.21% 6.85 2.85 36.7 57.0
Adnams brewing record held at the brewery.
Eldridge Pope brewing record.
Fullers brewing record held at the brewery.
Boddington brewing record held at Manchester Central Library, document number M693/405/134.
Watney Man Quality Manual
Whitbread brewing record held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/09/141.
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002.


Matt said...

The first pub I drank in as a teenager in the late eighties was a large Whitbread house. I normally drank their draught bitter, Trophy, but there was a wide selection of bottled beers behind the bar, including ones from breweries they'd taken over, like Gold Label and Mackeson's, as well as Guinness Extra Stout. There was also a fairly widespread practice then, especially amongst older drinkers, of mixing bottled and draught beer in "splits", something that has since disappeared as they have.

Anonymous said...

Whitbread bitter mixed 50:50 with Gold Label is a fantastic thing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ron - any idea when Gold Label began its steady decline from a robust 11.46% to its current watery 7.5%? I'm pretty sure it was still double figures in the early 90's, could be wrong.

Ron Pattinson said...


I think it was after 2000, but I'm not sure.

Anonymous said...

Wasn’t Gold label the original “tramp juice”?

Rob Sterowski said...

The cut to 7.5% was almost certainly just a couple of years ago due to the introduction of High Strength Beer Duty which penalises beers above 7.5%. There may have been cuts before that. I definitely remember it still being 10.0% not all that long ago.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Rob.