Wednesday 31 October 2007

Bokbier Festival

Did I tell you that I got a new camera for my birthday? I needed a better one for photographing brewing logs. Until now, I've been borrowing Mikey's.

My new camera takes reasonable videos. On Saturday I let my son Andrew video the Bokbier Festival. He seems to enjoy his role as my cameraman.

I missed the Bokbier Festival last year. We were on holiday in Tunisia. (Where there was a suprisingly good German-style brewpub - Golfbräu just a couple of hundred metres from our hotel. Me and their Dunkles became well-acquainted during the course of the week.) When I'm not off on holiday, I feel obliged to go to the festival. Even though it's often been a disappointment.

What didn't I like about it:

  • loud music
  • clouds of fag smoke
  • lack of seating
  • infected beer
  • beer in just one style

Apart from that, it was perfect.

So my expectations weren't all that high last Saturday. I got there at opening time - noon. Crowds are another thing I don't like. And queueing for my beer. That's why I turn up early. First pleasant surprise: there was a no smoking room! Finally. That's one crossed off the list.

Inside the main hall it was too early for the aural assault of amplified music. But to make up for the lack of a live band, they were pumping out the sort of horrible Dutch pub music you hear on the Rembrandtsplein. Luckily it wasn't audible where we were sitting. There were still far too few chairs, but I didn't care because me and the kids had one each. That's another one sort-of crossed off.

It wasn't just me and the kids. I'd arranged to meet John Clarke (a schoolfriend of my brother, sorry, the schoolfriend of my brother) and John Hein (kind providor of photos for my pub guides). It's always handy to have a few extra pairs of eyes to watch Alexei. I don't want him chewing his glass again.

I like nothing better than reading about what someone else has been drinking. So here's what I tried at the festival:

Jopen Bock: liquorice, dates, raisins. Nice and fruity. Quite tasty. 7/10

De Molen Borefts Bok: very nice. A little roasty and a bit hoppy. 8/10

Phoenix Bok: a bit too fizzy, malty in a nutty Münchner sort of way. I thought it tasted bottom-fermented and it is. Like a traditional Dutch Bok before they were sweetened.

Mahr's Heller Bock: nice change of pace, fiercely hoppy with a biscuity malt base. Drinktastic. 9/10

Polderbok: bit bland and yeasty. It's homebrewed and it tastes like it. Not off, but not very interesting either. 3/10

Schlenkerla Urbock: heaven in a glass. 9.9999999/10

SNAB Ijsbok: like madeira cake without the flour. 8/10

SNAB Ezelenbok: a top-fermented try at a classic Dutch Bok. Tasty but unspectacular.

Molen Winterbok: rich and sweet but complex. Like sweet sherry with added sugar. 8/10

Pelgrim Bok: tastes a bit on the turn. Too cold and too fizzy. 4/10

Beck Bock: amber Bock with fruit and hops. 7/10

Not one infected beer. Most were even pretty good. I suppose that's anther crossed off. Oh yes, and the German beers were quite different in style - pale, amber, schwarz and smoked. Maybe I can even cross off one more item on my hate list.

I've saved the best until last. There was an excellent bookstall at the festival. I didn't realise quite how good until I got home and had chance to look at "A Bottle of Guinness Please" properly. Page 71. Something I've been searching for, but feared I would never find: the Guinness grists from 1883. More about that tomorrow.

Tuesday 30 October 2007


The best ideas come after the fact. One. Word. Titles. I should have insisted on that. At least I forbade oranges.

(Small aside here. There's a prize for explaining the connection between "orange", "Marlon" and "something".)

Brew for me.

That's my dream. And drinking Warwick's Best Mild. Theoretically both are possible. But let's be realistic. Time-travel would be way too expensive.

I have a couple of Whitbread recipes I would love to taste. Do you want to brew them for me? 1,000 litres of each is what I'm after.


My son Andrew is a big fan of "My name is Earl". We watch it together. Father son bonding stuff. It's funny and it has a list.

By accident, we once paused on Earl's list. (Those who haven't seen the programme will just have to bear with me. The important thing is the list. Not Earl.) Two hundred and sixty three entries his list has. Or something like that. I would ask Andrew, but he's upstairs. He would remember the exact number. He has a fresh young brain. He's observant, too. He can recognise the individual wood pigeons in our garden. It's something to do with the colouring of the neck.

Back to Earl's list. Each episode is based around one entry on the list. Whilst paused, you could read what was on the list. Sure enough, each has been the basis of an episode.

I know how American series work. A network show will air (notice how au fait I am with American telly terminology) twenty-something episodes a year. The makers of "My name is Earl" must be hoping for at least a ten-year run. Andrew would be happy. Though, being eleven, his tastes are likely to change alarmingly in two years' time. I may have to watch series 6 alone.

When I saw the freeze-framed list I thought "What a great idea it would be if the makers showed all 200-odd entries now". Why? Because it would be great fun (I try to avoid the word "challenge", excepting job interviews and chats with my boss) to set writers the challenge of thinking up a story around a pre-defined title.

It got me thinking. There's no reason why I couldn't set myself a fun. I could pick some random number - three, say - of titles to put on a list of my own. And then concoct a post around them. Or do you think three is too big a number for me to commit to? What about 19 then? or 53?

You can decide. Unless you come up with something stupid, then I'll revert to Stalin mode. You pick how long my list is and come up with the titles.

In a perfect world, I wouldn't bother limiting your imagination. In our world, AB Budweiser is the biggest-selling beer. (At least I think that's true. Or is it Bud Light? You know what I was getting at, something uninspiring.) Until the Bud keg runs dry, I'll insist on rules:

- nothing obscene
- nothing libelous
- no more than ten words long (unless I think it's funny)
- the words "orange", "Marlon" and "something" are not allowed

I always worry if I'm making myself understood. Send me titles for my blog posts. We'll know how many lucky winners there will be after the close of the poll. Which, for no good reason except confusion, I'll open before I post this explanation.

Monday 29 October 2007


I don't know about you, but my mind dosn't work properly when I'm tired. The thingies just won't whatsit properly anymore. Well that's my excuse for this filler of a post.

I was planning a post about the Bokbier Festival today. But I'm cream crackered. Donald Ducked, even. The perfect time for another poll.

I want to know what you think about my blog so I can try to improve it. Well, not really. The whole fun of having a blog is that you don't have to answer to anyone. Unlike in the rest of life. Chances are, whatever the outcome, I'll stick with what I'm doing. It's me.

Isn't that point of a blog? Communicating something personal. Or have I got everything all wrong again? Tell me if I have. Not that I'll pay any attention. I just like getting reactions.

Sunday 28 October 2007

You are forgiven

It's been a weekend. Interesting, challenging, hellish, October - you pick the adjective.

Bokbier Festival. The books I bought prove I was there. I may tell you more about it tomorrow. But I'm not very reliable.

All the feretting around I like to do comes at a price. That price is work. In a perfect world, each of you would post me a tenner every day. But we live in another, less charitable place.

(Just in case anyone does fancy bunging a few used notes in an envelope, my address is available on request.)

If you don't like what I write, what I do what I think - the title applies to you.

"If I had a hammer . . . "

I did start telling the kids what I would do with a hammer. Then I realised it might prompt inappropriate behaviour. Would you like you know the words to the song? It's very like the dull old folk song, but with a Quentin Tarrantino twist. Again, it's available on application. Remember to stuff your request with used fivers.

Kids . . . no don't go and fetch a real hammer ... no . . no... NOOOOO ,,, NOOOOOOO ,,, ARRRRGGGHHH ...

Friday 26 October 2007

Austrian Lager in the 1870's

The reponse to yesterday's post about British lager was so overwhelming I've decided to stick with the theme. The lager bit, that is. If you've bothered to read the title you'll have realised that I've moved the location to the east.

Austria. That's where I'm looking at today. Austria (which at the time included Bohemia and Moravia) played an important role in the development of bottom-fermenting beers. The samples were taken in Vienna in the 1870's. I don't think the locals could have complained about lack of variety. There are beers from all over Austria-Hungary and from Bavaria.

What interests me most about these analyses are the inclusion of a number for the beer's colour. I'll be honest with you. I haven't the foggiest idea what scale they are using. But fortunately there are a couple of points of reference. Salvator and Porter both have a colour of around 40. We can assume that's pretty dark brown. The palest beer is Pilsner Urquell with 3.5. I can't imagine that Pilsner Urquell has got darker over the years, so I'll take 3.5 as being a golden colour. An English is 10 and Munich Bocks around 15. I'll interpret those as dark amber and pale brown.

Now we've got some idea of what the colour scale is, we can look more closely at the individual beers. Most are in the range 4 to 7. I reckon that makes them between golden and pale amber. Most modern pilsners would be, I reckon, between 2 and 3 on this scale.

But I'm most interested in the Viennese beers. This is the supposed heyday of "Vienna Lager". Now what colour would you expect them to be?

I've just had a look at the bjcp pages. I know, I shouldn't do it. It isn't good for my blood pressure. What I noticed is that the scale used in these analyses bears a remarkable similarity to SRM. That's very convenient. It saves me a lot of messing around.

Now my mates at the bjcp reckon that the colour of a Vienna lager should be in the range 10 - 16 SRM and a Pilsner 2 - 5. That's very intersting. Pretty well all the beers in the table fall in the range 4 - 7. The Bohemian beers (Jaroschau, Napagedl, Leitmeritz, Pardubitz, Medleschitz) are mostly the palest, but are at the upper end of the Pilsner colour range (3.5 to 4.8). The Viennese beers - Schwechater and Dreher, for example - are 6 to 7. Right at the pale end of amber.

I haven't explained myself very well, have I? These are my conclusions: the Vienna beers are paler than I would have expected, the Bohemian beers a bit darker. Rather than there being a strict division between amber and pale, there's a continuum from gold to pale amber. Put simply, Vienna lagers don't seem to have been as dark as we've been told.

(I'll try to improve the quality of my writing tomoroow. This post's been a bit clumsy and incoherent. My apolgies.)

The figures come from the book "Theory and Practice of the Preparation of Malt and the Fabrication of Beer" by Julius E. Thausing, Anton Schwartz and A.H. Bauer, Philadelphia 1882, pages 748-751.

Thursday 25 October 2007

The birth of pissy British lager

A change of pace today as I return to the Whitbread gravity book. Brillarific, I hear you say. (All except Matt, of course.)

One thing struck me about the British-brewed lagers I found: they don't have fake Germanic names. They are called things like Graham's Golden Lager (later relaunched as Skol), Red Tower Lager, Wrexham. Perhaps in the immediate postwar years teutonic branding wouldn't have gone down too well.

In the 1930's, British lagers like Barclay Perkins London Lager had very respectable gravities - in the high 1040's or even low 1050's (in the case of their dark lager). Postwar the decline to Mild-like gravities was soon underway. Imported lagers followed suit. Carlsberg bought in Singapore had an OG of 1049.9, in the UK just 1031.8. There's also a lower gravity version of Pilsner Urquell, at 1038.9. Belgian-bought Stella was 1052.4, the one sold in Britain just 1043.7. The Zuid Hollands Brouwerij (ZHB) lager was, at 1032-1034, also obviously made specially for the British market.

In effect, what you can see is the start of a distinct British lager culture, with strengths far lower than on the continent.

Wednesday 24 October 2007


Eisenach is a town which will always have a special place in my heart, for a multiplicity of reasons. For one, it's where I was married (and the authorities thoughtfully sent along someone to photograph the proceedings, without us even having to ask). It's also a rather charming old place, which despite its many important historical associations, is oddly unknown in the English-speaking world.

Here's a quick crash course in the town's significance:

  • Bach was born here
  • it has one of Germany's most impressive medieval castles, Wartburg
  • it's here (in Wartburg castle) that Martin Luther first translated the bible
    into German
  • it was home to the world-renowned Wartburg car factory (it wasn't exactly
    well-known for the right reasons)
The old town is a significant size and mostly quite well preserved. A few bits on the edge were left to rot then replaced by Plattenbau, but the rest hasn't been fiddled with too much in the last century. Sadly, some of the villas on the Wartburg side of town have been standing empty for years as arguments rage as to who exactly the legal owner is. It has, ironically, caused many similar problems to the ones arising from lack of investment from the DDR authorities - fine buildings crumbling slowly to rubble.

On the west east side of town there's a chunk of the old city wall slicing across Georgenstrasse. But it's nothing that would keep out an agile 5-year old, let alone rampaging Austian/Bavarian/Prussian armies. The only even vaguely convincing section is Karlstor (Karl's Tower), gateway to the town's first significant square, Karlsplatz (formerly Platz der Deutsch-Sowjetischen Freundschaft). The square is one of many spots in Eisenach of which I have eternal recollections. Not many wedding parties leave the reception by bus, but it was a pleasure accorded us. Our own very special wedding bendy-bus left from Platz DSF.

You can criticise the DDR regime for many things, but their stance on drink-driving couldn't be faulted. The legal limit for alcohol in the blood was effectively nil and the penalties (jail sentences in many cases) certainly acted as a deterrent to irresponsible behaviour. No drunken guest stupid enough to drive us home, no taxi to be found (check out the difference now - whole caravans at every taxi stand); what else can you do but take the bus? It looks very romantic in "The Graduate", bride in wedding dress (to be perfectly accurate, jilting bride in the film). Standing amongst the shoppers in our ill-fitting suits (in my wife's case, beautiful white dress) was a far more prosaic experience. Well, it would have been, if Dave hadn't spotted the kiosk just by the busstop.

You can criticise the DDR regime for many things, but the general availability of alcoholic drinks, of all strengths, under their governent couldn't be faulted. Quicker than you could say "we're a bunch of alcoholics" we were all supplied with miniatures, proper Nordhäuser, I think. The journey was an event for my British guests, not only because of the novelty of riding in an articulated bus.


To the left you can see the Lindenhof, which is currently on the market and I am sure will be attracting the attention of astute investors everywhere. Here is one of the many locations in Eisenach that conjure up very personal memories.

It may look a wreck now, but in 1988 it was totally different - all the windows had glass and there was draught beer. Inspirational design and sophistication weren't words that cropped up the HO's mission statement. Lindenhof took this corporate philosophy to the absolute limit. Today it's possible to peep at the bar inside through some of the smashed boards and, despite the vandalism, it's not looking that much worse than when I last had a beer there in 1988. The outside hasn't deteriorated considerably, either. It looks as if someone might have even tidied up the garden since the old days.

If you're thinking that's the grip this pub has on my throat and mind, then you're very wrong. The memory that will never fade is from my wedding feast. Over the road at my in-laws house, we were having an after-reception party. A half dozen of my friends and family were staying there for a few days around the wedding. My father-in-law had bought in a barrel of Wartburg Pils, but was worried that we would never get through it. Early in the evening of the wedding day, we had just finished off the second barrel of Wartburg (an emergency order when the first ran out after two days).

(I've drunk beer from the Eisenacher Brauerei since 1987. In the early days, it was OK. The Helles was a bit thin. Wartburg Pils was drinkable, but very unstable. If properly (and quickly) tapped, it was quite a reasonable beer. Bottled, you needed to buy it and drink it straight away. If you walked slowly, it could go sour before you got home. Perhaps hygiene wasn't all it could have been inside the brewery. )

Lindenhof was just over the road and the only pub in the district open at that time of day. Great idea - we nip over there and buy a couple of crates of beer. After all, this is the DDR and the price of a crate in a pub is the same as in a supermarket. Even in a country where I had learnt to love the charming drabness of of the surroundings, Lindenhof was drably charmless. The landlord - a scruffy, miserable git in the best tradition of publicans totally unsuited for their profession - soon disappointed us: they had no bottled beer. About the only drinks available were draught pils and doppelkorn (and I suppose tap water, though I wouldn't have bet my left shoe on them having running water that was drinkable). What a dilemna: beer a mere 50 metres away from a happy group of revellers, but nothing to transport it in. Suddenly someone - I can't remember who, but he was a man of genius - suggested we fetch a bucket and put 10 litres of draught beer in it.

Now, bar staff could be a fickle bunch in the DDR. Moving a chair from one table to another could be considered as a capital offence. I was once scolded by a waitress for reading a book at the table. Yet being asked to pull 20 beers and tip them into a bucket was seen as a perfectly reasonable request. If you want to appreciate what I mean by this, try doing the same in your local pub. Go in with a bucket and ask them to fill it with beer. I bet you that they won't act as nonchalantly as this bloke did.

Tuesday 23 October 2007


My mate Matt rang last night. He said he'd been reading my blog. "A good insomnia cure" was his verdict. Thanks Matt. It's good to get an honest opinion every now and again.

In October 1975, I drank my very first pint of Tetley's Mild with Matt in the Pack Horse in Leeds. It was the a beginning of a beautiful and lasting friendship. Matt and I have kept in touch, too.

My first taste of Belgian beer was in Matt's company. A bottle of Gouden Carolus that we'd bought in Prisunic on Cour Alsace-Lorraine in Bordeaux. We were living hand to mouth, relying the odd English conversation class to buy the bread, onions and wine we subsisted on. When my tax refund arrived, we splashed out on a sausage and a bottle of Belgian beer. Happy days. Being half-starved and penniless is such fun. Afterwards, that is. When it's become a good story to tell the grandkids.

Of the three breweries whose archives I pore over, Truman's is the only one whose beer I ever tried. Me, Matt, Simon and Tym were living in a squat in Swaton Road in the East End. Just around the corner on Devons Road was a Truman's pub, the Tenterden Arms. It was a well-preserved old boozer that even sold cask beer. Truman's something or other. I can't remember exactly what it was called. Their first cask beer for many years, when they were still a bit tentative about moving away from keg. It wasn't great. I used to mix it with bottled Guinness to get something half decent. I've always been a fussy drinker. Matt wasn't so bothered. He drank the Truman's straight.

About this time, I drank my first Courage Russian Stout (hah! I finally worked in a Barclay Perkins connection). It was in a grotty Courage tied house on the Roman Road. They didn't sell cask beer, but they did have Russian Stout. I can't remember if Matt was with me. He could have been. He was usually hanging around somewhere in the background during the important events in my life.

We last met almost a year ago, at the Argyll Arms, just around the back of Oxford Circus. It's a smashing pub, with all the partitioning intact. The Victorians certainly liked drinking in intimate surroundings. Most of the rooms won't seat more than half a dozen people. I was fresh from an archive visit. My tales from the crypt entranced him almost as much as my blog. I stopped when I saw his eyelids starting to drop. I didn't want him spilling his pint and getting us thrown out.

Later that evening, we were at a surprise birthday party for another university friend. In an odd reversal of custom, the party wasn't a surprise for the birthday boy, but for me and Matt. It turned out to be a memorable night. Though not for the usual reasons. I'm not going to bore you with the full story (I have my numbers to do that job). Matt and I ended up sharing a shed for the night. I've slept in some funny places before, but never in a shed. Now I think about it, it's no surprise that Matt was along for this first, too.

Monday 22 October 2007

Scotch Ale

Carrying on from last week's post about Scottish Ale, here are some Scotch Ales plucked from Whitbread's gravity book.

You'll notice that most don't have a price, which is is usually a sign of the beer not being on sale in the UK. In some entries it specifically says "purchased in Belgium". The only example that was definitely bought in Britain is McEwan's Double Scotch Ale. With an OG of only 1057, it's considerably weaker than all the others.

It's a shame that it doesn't state clearly in all cases where the sample was bought. As it is, we can't tell if the stronger version was sold in Britain. That was certainly the case more recently. Beers such as Gordon's Scotch Ale were brewed in Scotland, but only available in Belgium.

I was susprised at the high degree of attenauation of some examples - over 80% in some cases. Though having looked at the analyses in Scottish Ale Brewer of Scotch Ales brewed in the 1830's, this doesn't seem to be a modern development. If I have time to transcribe them, I'll try to post details if the beers from the 1830's tomorrow.

Sunday 21 October 2007


I went to Belgium yesterday. And I only drank two beers. What was going on?

You may be able to guess the reason for by moderate beer-consumption, if I tell you that this weekend the annual Hasselt Jenever Festival takes place.

I've been to dozens of beer festival but this was my first jenever festival. I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Would there be a hall with a stall for each distillery? Would they be selling jenever at all?

I needn't have worried. Dotted around the old town were dozens of stalls selling a variety of jenevers (most luridly-coloured fruit concoctions). Luckily, they did have some of the nicer straight versions for for hardened pissheads like me.

My son Andrew (always handy to have along at events like this to guide me back to the train station) took some short films of me knocking back shots. But, true Stalinist that I am, I eschew all representations of my physical likeness. If you want to see me sinking jenever, you'll need to drop by Olofspoort one Friday night.

As well as al fresco drinking, the festival also involves qiuite a bit of dressing up and eating. Many of the town's restaurants offer a special jenever menu. (That's food cooked with jenever, if you were wondering). Ours was very nice indeed, but it was Belgium, after all.

The National Jenever Museum had on sale a special jenever they had produced by traditional methods. Along with the 150-odd jenevers its bar usually stocks. It wasn't bad, but the version that's aged 5 years in oak must be exceptional. But that was only on sale by the bottle and 35 euros was a bit rich for me. I made do with a bottle of 1990 vintages Filliers, a snip at just 20 euros. It certainly made the three and a half hour return train journey pass more quickly.

Friday 19 October 2007

Scottish Ale

I've learned to be very suspicious of claims based on speculation or abstract reasoning rather than fact. In so many cases, they've been proved to be bollocks when I got hold of hard data.

Scottish Ale. What's it like?? Let's ask the BJCP shall we? They are the experts on beer styles, after all.

"Traditional Scottish session beers reflecting the indigenous ingredients (water, malt), with less hops than their English counterparts (due to the need to import them)."

"Hops, which are not native to Scotland and formerly expensive to import, were kept to a minimum."

I think I've got that. Because there were no local hops, Scottish Ales had to be lightly hopped. Didn't they?

Now I'm going to be boring. I'm not going to come up with lots of clever reasoning based on Scotland's geography. Let's - tell me if you think I'm crazy - try comparing Scottish and English beers of the same period and see if the Scottish ones really are more lightly hopped. It's a funny method, I know, but bear with me.

The first two beers are examples of his own brews given by W.H. Roberts in his 1847 work
"Scottish Ale-Brewer". The XXX is taken from Griffin Brewery of London's brewing logs. Now, which of the beers is more heavily-hopped?

Here are a couple of quotes from Roberts :

"The majority of the brewers give preference to the Kent hops, which, generally speaking, bring a higher price in the market than those grown in any other county." (page 44)

". . . in Edinburgh, which has long been famed for ale, nine-tenths of the hops which are used in brewing are grown in the county of Kent. " (page 46)

So despite them being the most expensive, Edinburgh brewers still used mostly hops from the most distant English hop-growing region. It doesn't sound to me like they were trying to save money on their hops.

My provisional conclusion: from the evidence I can find, Scottish Ales were hopped at about the same rate as their London counterparts. In the 1830's, at least.

A larger number of examples would be more conclusive. If you have any that contradict mine, feel free to send them to me. As I said yesterday, I dont mind having my opinions changed by facts.

Thursday 18 October 2007

Fredrick Accum

I'm a sucker for tables. What I always look for in brewing manuals or academic books are tables of data. Of particular interest (to me, at least) are tables of analyses of beers.

It's surprising how long ago the first chemical analyses of beer were made. Fredrick Accum detailed in his 1820 work "A Treatise on Adulterations of Food" a method for discovering the alcohol content of beer. The first thing he noticed was the difference in strength between examples of the same beer sampled at the brewery and in a pub.

Brown Stout: brewery 7.25% ABV, pub 6.5% ABV
Porter: brewery 5.25% ABV, pub 4.5% ABV

Looks a bit dodgy, doesn't it. This is what Accum says:

"Whence can this difference between the beer furnished by the brewer, and that retailed by the publican, arise? We shall not be at a loss to answer this question, when we find that so many retailers of porter have been prosecuted and convicted for mixing table beer with their strong beer;"

These are the results of his (and others) analyses:

Ale, home-brewed 8.30% ABV
Ale, Burton, three samples 6.25% ABV

*Repository of Arts, No. 2, p. 74.—1816. p222

Ale, Burton* 8.88% ABV
Ale, Edinburgh* 6.20% ABV
Ale, Dorchester* 5.50% ABV
Ale, common London-brewed, six samples 5.82% ABV
Ale, Scotch, three samples 5.75% ABV
Porter, London, eight samples 4.00% ABV
Ditto, Ditto† 4.20% ABV
Ditto, Ditto† 4.45% ABV
Ditto, Ditto, bottled 4.75% ABV
Brown Stout, 4 samples 5% ABV
Ditto, Ditto† 6.80% ABV
Small Beer, six samples 0.75% ABV
Ditto, Ditto‡ 1.28% ABV

* Copied from Professor Brande’s Paper in the Philosophical Transactions, 1811, p.345.
† Result of our own Experiments, see p.174.
‡ Professor Brande’s Experiments.

Accum also has some interesting things to say about Porter and Entire and the difference between the two:

It is necessary to state, that every publican has two sorts of beer sent to him from the brewer; the one is called mild, which is beer sent out fresh as it is brewed; the other is called old; that is, such as is brewed on purpose for keeping, and which has been kept in store a twelve-month or eighteen months.

. . . . porter is very generally compounded of two kinds, or rather the same liquor in two different states, the due admixture of which is palatable, though neither is good alone. One is mild porter, and the other stale porter; the former is that which has a slightly bitter flavour; the latter has been kept longer. This mixture the publican adapts to the palates of his several customers, and effects the mixture very readily, by means of a machine, containing small pumps worked by handles. In these are four pumps, but only three spouts, because two of the pumps throw out at the same spout: one of these two pumps draws the mild, and the other the stale porter, from the casks down in the cellar; and the publican, by dexterously changing his hold works either pump, and draws both kinds of beer at the same spout. An indifferent observer supposes, that since it all comes from one spout, it is entire butt beer, as the publican professes over his door, and which has been decided by vulgar prejudice to be only good porter, though the difference is not easily distinguished. I have been informed by several eminent brewers, that, of late, a far greater quantity is consumed of mild than of stale beer.

The entire beer of the modern brewer, according to the statement of C. Barclay, Esq. 'consists of some beer brewed expressly for the purpose of keeping: it likewise contains a portion of returns from publicans; a portion of beer from the bottoms of vats; the beer that is drawn off from the pipes, which convey the beer from one vat to another, and from one part of the premises to another. This beer is collected and put into vats. Mr. Barclay also states that it contains a certain portion of brown stout, which is twenty shillings a barrel dearer than common beer; and some bottling beer, which is ten shillings a barrel dearer; and that all these beers, united, are put into vats, and that it depends upon various circumstances, how long they may remain in those vats before they become perfectly bright. When bright, this beer is sent out to the publicans, for their entire beer, and there is sometimes a small quantity of mild beer mixed with it.'

The present entire beer, therefore, is a very heterogeneous mixture, composed of all the waste and spoiled beer of the publicans—the bottoms of butts—the leavings of the pots—the drippings of the machines for drawing the beer—the remnants of beer that lay in the leaden pipes of the brewery, with a portion of brown stout, bottling beer, and mild beer."

Source: Fredrick Accum "A Treatise on Adulterations of Food", pages 197 - 202

Entire sounds delighful, doesn't it? Mmm slops, lead-laden beer and a bit of Brown Stout. "Quart of Entire please, barman, and make it good and leady." I liked the imaginative use of beer engines to mix stale and mild Porter whilst pouring. I wonder if anyone still has a set with four handles but only three spouts?

It's reading passages like this that makes me realise how difficult it would be to truly recreate early 19th-century Porter. Reading the brewing logs is one thing, but as the beer never seems to have been consumed in its pristine state, they don't tell you the whole story. Sadly, I think health inspectors might prevent a faithful recreation.

Tuesday 16 October 2007

Strong Ale

I like to think I can be gracious in admitting my own mistakes. Today it's confession time.

One page of the Whitbread gravity book is filled with entries for Strong Ales. The date is the same, July 16th 1953, for all of them. As Zythophile commented yesterday, this is just after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. I suspect this isn't a coincidence. The beers come from all over Britain and are in descending order by gravity.

A variety of different names are used, but Strong Ale, Barley Wine and Old Ale are the commonest. There are 7 Barley Wines, 5 Old Ales (plus an Old Timothy and an Old John), 26 Strong Ales, 5 with a royal theme (King's Ale, Prince Ale, Royal Ale), 2 with a university theme (College Ale, Audit Ale), and 10 others. I make that 57 in total. All but two - Bulldog Pale Ale and Felinfoel Strong Ale - are dark in colour.

Now for my confession. Until about 15 minutes ago, I had been very sure of the difference between Old Ale and Barley Wine. Old Ale was dark, Barley Wine was amber. Simple. And Barley Wine was stronger at 8-10% ABV to Old Ale's 4.5-7%. Strong Ale had always seemed a very vague term to me, but if pressed, I would have plumped for an amber beer of 6-8% ABV.

Let's take a look at the gravities.

Barley Wine: 1063.3 to 1078.9, 5.0 to 7.49% ABV
Old Ale: 1062.1 to 1080.5, 5.5 to 8.66% ABV
Strong Ale: 1043.3 to 1081.2, 3.68 to 7.4% ABV
(If we remove two unusually weak Strong Ales it looks like this: 1059.4 to 1081.2, 3.68 to 7.4% ABV

So what is the difference between Barley Wine, Old Ale and Strong Ale? Take a look at the specs and tell me what you think.


I love having theories. Finding out what a pile of crap they are is almost as much fun as coming up with them in the first place.

From my recent posts it's easy to guess my current reading matter: the Whitbread gravity book. I'm not exaggerating when I say it's the most important source I've found on British beer in the immediate postwar years. It fascinates me.

Suddenly, I'm able to flesh out the beers behind those old labels. J Hole & Co.'s Strong Ale. I have a reproduction of that on my landing. The label gives no clues to the character of the beer, other than that it was "strong", which in British terms could mean anything from 4% ABV upwards.

I'd been hoping to find some Newark beers in the gravity book. Especially ones from Hole's. That's where I had my very first proper job, way back in 1975. Because the brewery had stopped brewing cask ale before the appearance of the first Good Beer Guide in 1973, it's difficult to find out any details of their beers. It took a good deal of digging to even unearth the OG of their biggest seller, AK Bitter. (Yes, AK Bitter. Despite what may have been written about AK being a Light Mild - "Mild Ale" by David Sutula comes to mind - AK was historically a Light Bitter. Of the dozens of beers I've found called AK, only McMullen's has ever claimed to be a Mild.)

Hole's Strong Ale. OG 1080.7, FG 1021.5, colour 9 + 40, 7.4% ABV, 73.36% attenuation. Brown, strong and reasonably well-attenuated. It's a start.

Sorry, I've wandered off-topic again. Imperial is the title, isn't it?

"The term 'imperial' properly only belongs to imperial stout. The name derives from the fact that it was first brewed exclusively for Catherine The Great." Sounds like me, doesn't it? Having a go at the overuse of the word Imperial in the USA. Actually, it's a quote from Garrett Oliver. It sounded like a pretty reasonable statement to me, when I first read it. So good, that I started repeating it. Historically, Imperial was only used to refer to Stouts, wasn't it?

Errr, not totally. Here are some of the "Imperials" I've found in the Whitbread gravity book:

It shows a somewhat eccentric use of "Imperial" in the 1950's. Calling a Stout of around 1040 - like the Bent's and McEwan's - seems a little bit of an exaggeration. Imperial Barley Wine and Imperial Strong Ale, on the other hand, look more like overkill.

No Imperial Milds or Imperial Pilseners yet, but I'm loathe to completely rule them out . . . Let's wait until I've gone through all the entries in the gravity book. I'm up to entry number 902. Only another couple of thousand to go.

Monday 15 October 2007

Brown Ale

Brown Ale is usually split into two major substyles: Southern and Northern. These are usually typified by respectively Mann's Brown Ale and Newcastle Brown Ale. Or, put simply, Southern sweet and weak, Northern dry and strong.

But when and why were Brown Ales classified this way? The first question is pretty easy to answer: by Michael Jackson in his World Guide to Beer. As for the why, well probably because there were by then a dwindling number of examples and the two best-known beers called Brown Ale were pretty different from each other.

Does this differentiation have an historic basis. Were brewers making two distinct variations of Brown Ale?

Maybe the Whitbread gravity book can give us an insight into what Brown Ales were around just after WW II. There are a lot of Brown Ale entries. They have a good geographic spread, too, ranging from Scotland to the south coast. Here, take a look:

You'll notice that they are a fairly heterogenous bunch. Their gravity ranges from 1025.6 to 1070.6. The degree of attenuation is just a diverse: low 57%, high 85%. As would be expected, two of the stronger, drier examples are from the Northeast: Newcastle Brown Ale and Vaux Double Maxim. But in amongst them are a couple from Portsmouth. It's hard to get more southern than the south coast. Hang on a minute, amongst the weak, sweet ones are northern beers: Sam Smiths and Tennants of Sheffield.

I'm not going to start preaching. Look at the numbers and draw your own conclusions. Yes, there are beers like Newcastle Brown (the beer itself is there) and Mann's. But there's also just about everything inbetween (and even above and below) those two.

Saturday 13 October 2007

Heineken's Amsterdam brewery

Where is Heineken Brewed?
Reading the back label, you could be mistaken for thinking that Heineken operated three breweries in Holland. This what it says:

"Heineken Brouwerijen - 's Hertogenbosch - Amsterdam - Zoeterwoude"

If I tell you that "brouerijen means "breweries", I'm sure that you'll agree that the label sort of implies that they are still brewing in Amsterdam. Without actually really saying it. Because obviously they couldn't, as it's untrue. Isn't it? Don't they brew all their beer in giant factories in Den Bosch and Zoeterwoude?

I thought their Amsterdam brewery closed in 1989. Most of it was demolished and replaced by a sqaure of shops and a crappy highrise block of flats.

A Big Surprise
Last summer I visited the Heineken Experience (what´s left of their Amsterdam brewery) for the first time. Entering the brewhouse, the familiar sweet scent of mashing washed over me.

I was just mentally complimeting them on the excellent quality of the multi-sensory experience, when I realised it wasn´t just a piped in fake. In the middle of the enormous copper mash tuns, a man was stirring something in what looked liked an old-fashioned washtub. They really were mashing!

Conversation with a brewer
Intrigued, I went and had a chat with the guy, who had a name badge with "brouwer" on it.
"Are you really mashing?"

"What do you do with the wort? Do you make it into beer?"
"Of course - what do you think this is?" he said pointing at a couple of glass demijohns that couldn´t have held more than 2 gallons each. Sure enough, they were bubbling away nicely.

"Is the beer available here?"
"Yes, but only about once every six weeks."

"Do you bottom ferment?"
"No. We use a top-fermenting yeast. It´s too warm in here for a bottom-fermenting yeast and we have no way of cooling."

"What style of beer is it?"
"A tripel. It´s safer to brew a high-alcohol beer, given the conditions."

Heineken Amsterdam Tripel
So Heineken do still brew in Amsterdam, but in tiny quantities.

Amsterdam-brewed Heineken Tripel has gone straight in at number one in my beers-I-most-want-to-try hit parade. I wonder how many people have ever tried it?

Seeing someone essentially homebrewing, surrounded by massive industrial vessels, designed to make several hundred hectolitres at a time, was surreal.

Friday 12 October 2007

Dry Stout

The Whitbread gravity book. What an inspiring document. (Two full stops in, nowhere a grammatically correct sentence. Make that three. Bum. . . . . that verb just slipped out.)

You must be getting used to my occasional forays into ranting. I see nothing wrong with the odd rant myself. As long as it doesn't become a habit. Most of my friends are ranters. We gather every so often to mutually rant.

It's at moments like these that I'm glad there's a title at the top of the form I'm filling in. "Titel" it says. I'm not dyslexic. My computer thinks I'm Dutch. I keep shouting "I'm English, you bastard. Stop talking foreign to me." It doesn't listen.

Dry Stout it says. The title. Whitbread gravity book it says in the labels. What's the connection between the two? Isn't it obvious?

Getting distracted again. The kids were making too much noise. My solution was to bung "Live at Leeds" into the CD player. 6 is enough to drown out their questions. Now I'm annoying them by humming the bass part and playing drums on my legs (I can only . . . . . . do the latter while . . . . . I'm not . . . . typing.) Hahahaha now the turn has wormed . . . .

[I've just been helping Lexie construct a visor for his stormtrooper helmet. Or is it a clonetrooper helmet? I can't remember the difference.

My computer isn't quite playing the CD right. I seem to have one channel missing. There's loads of bass, but almost no guitar. Absulutely perfect. Why can't my stereo do this?]

Porter and Stout. Recurring themes on this blog. Like sentences without verbs. When I started drinking, all that was left of Porter and Stout was the odd bottled sweet Stout, the magnificent naturally-conditioned Guinness and bland keg Guinness. It was a surpise to learn that black beers had once been pre-eminent.

What had happened? How had Porter (I use the word here in its general sense, meaning all Porters and Stouts - it was good enough for Loftus, it's good enough for me) come to such a sorry state? I'm a nosy git.

[The kids have started to play jousting. Volume up to 8.]

London Porter. That's the story. The history of the city and the beer intertwine for two centuries. Porter made London the brewing capital of the world and became the first global beer style. Stout has been brewed on every continent (OK not on Antarctica - every inhabited continent, how's that?) for over 100 years. Ignoring the obvious Pils, how many other styles can claim that?

Porter fills the largest volume of any style - if you multiply geographic spread by time. That's what makes it so interesting to study. No other style has been submitted to so many different forces. If you want to study the effect of taxation, government control, economic decline, climate, social unrest and anything else you can dream up on a beer style, Porter is your man.

Questions about Porter prompted me to delve into the archives. Scatterbrain that I am, I've since been distracted. Now I'm only interested in Porter again. I spit on your Ale and Lager logs, Barclay Perkins. Whitbread Porter is my true love. Go away with your silly TT. P, SS, SSS and Imp are my new mates.

Dry Stout. I had to get around to it eventually, or toss this post into the wastebasket of unusable ramblings. Nearly full. Not really room for something this long. I've always been a bit uneasy about the term "Dry Stout". As I said above, I remember the fag end of Stout. There were Sweet Stouts, Jubilee Stouts, Extra Stouts, Russian Stouts, Nourishing Stouts, Oatmeal Stouts, Export Stouts. But nothing called Dry Stout.

The Whitbread gravity book. It has thousands of entries. So far I've transcribed 658. At the moment I'm going through the bottled beers of "Sundry Brewers". A very eclectic selection of breweries. Warwick & Richardson, Sam Smith, Style & Winch, Tamplin, Tuborg, Artois, Pilsner Urquell, Tucher, ZHB, Amstel, Ballantine, Simonds, Brickwood, Wethered, Vaux, Lowenbrau, Spaten, Ansell, Tetley. And loads more. Mnn%n@kd and K?vre&#th, are just two of the illegible.

Stouts are some of the best represented styles. At least in the bit I've looked at so far, which covers the period 1939-1951. I've always been sceptical of the tale that English brewers suddenly swapped over to sweet Stout. The gravity book handily includes details of Guinness, too, so it's easy to make comparisons. There are plenty of examples of sweet English Stouts. Beers with high terminal gravities and 65% apparent attenuation or less. But there's another large group, with a much higher degree of attenuation -75% + - which resemble Guinness in terms of OG and FG.

I would give you precise numbers, but I'm not even half way through the gravity book. You try filling a blog every day. I wouldn't post before December if I waited to process the whole bloody book. Next week I should have all the information in neat little tables. This was just a preview.



Today I came across breweries whose IPA was stronger than their PA. Bugger. Looks like another theory is in need of serious modification. Maybe I should just keep my discovery quiet. Right. Forget what I just said.

Thursday 11 October 2007

Government Ale

You may have noticed that I have an interest in WW I. Not the fighting, that's way too depressing. It's what happened to the brewing industry during the war that fascinates me. The drastic reduction in pub opening hours and the equally severe cut in beer gravities pushed through as "emergency measures" shaped British beer culture for almost 100 years.

Before WW I, Pubs in London could open 19.5 hours a day, elsewhere 16 or 17 hours. This was slashed to just 5.5 hours a day. In 1914, Barclay Perkins X Mild had an OG of 1051.3º. By 1917 it was down to 1046.6º. Production completely stopped in 1918 and it was replaced by 4d Ale, which had an OG of just 1025.9º. Their Government ale mentioned in the article below had an OG of 1036.3º. It was also replaced by 4d Ale in 1918. You can find more details of Barclay Perkins WW I beers here.

(There's this week's obligatory Barclay Perkins reference out of the way.)

I almost forgot. The comment about draught Stout and Porter being the same beer, just at a different price is intriguing. In the case of Whitbread, it was certainly true. Their London Stout and Porter were exactly the same brew in 1919. Though, strangely, the Stout was 110 shillings a barrel and the Porter 120 shillings.

[Zythophile has also posted on the topic of Government ale today.]



Houses once "Dying" Now Sold for Thousands.




Weekly Dispatch, September 9th 1917

The high price of beer and stout, whichsprings in the main from their scarcity, is apparently proving a blessing in disguise to certain elements of the community. The brewers are increasing their profits and publicans , particularly in munition areas, are growing rich, in sharp contrast to their circumstances before the war.

In the Woolwich area the fortunate landlords of good houses openly boast that they are going to retire after the war on the wealth they have accumulated. One host is known to have saved £8,000 since August 1914. Public-houses where it was always a difficulty to make ends meet are now gold mines, and free houses change hands at such prices as £8,000.

The publican´s expenses are much lower owing to the reduced labour and lighting which the modified hours of opening permit. His business, instead of being distributed over a long day, is now concentrated in a short space of time, and it is a quick, profitable trade. Prices vary, but usually it is a case of going farther and paying more. The following is typical:-

Glass of beer, 5d.
Half-pint of bitter, 6d.
Bottle of Bass, 8d.
Bottle of Stout, 9d.
Drop of whisky, 5d.

The 5d. glass of beer is not by any means a half-pint. Six of these glasses instead of four go into a quart, and though glass is scarce the publicans have had no difficulty re-stocking themselves with the war-time measure. The supposed half-pint of bitter has what is known in Woolwich as a "cap band", meaning that between the liquid and the top of the tankard there is a considerable margin.

Government ale, which sells at 2.5d., is hard to obtain. In several London munition areas the excuse is offered that they are out of it. On the other hand, a mixture known as mild and bitter is actively pushed, and unscrupulous tavern keepers are suspected of using Government ale for this purpose. As they charge 4d. a glass, naturally it is more profitable to sell Government ale in mild and bitter than by itself. The suspicion of this sharp practice is so widespread that the authorities are morally bound to investigate the matter.

Porter, apparently, is no longer sold as such, but very often there is no difference between the draught stout sold and the porter excepting the price.

There are complaints that when a bottle of stout is ordered the bottle is not opened in the presence of the customer, but that he is brought a small glassful and that the remainder in the bottle is used as a contribution towards the next order. In this way three bottles are made to serve four customers, although 9d. each is charged.

Bottled beer and stout are so scarce that on a Saturday in Woolwich and elsewhere queues form outside the beerhouses, but less than an hour suffices to dispose of the stock. One or two large public-houses manage to obtain sufficient stock to keep open every day of the week, but the beerhouse keepers have to shut three or four days, during which time they make holiday, motor-car rides being a favourite recreation.

Landlords of fully licensed premises contrive to push as much of their trade as possible into spirits, and 10d. double drops, much less than half a quartern, which is not sold, help to swell their profits and to turn the munition workers from being beer and stout drinkers to whisky drinkers. Furnacemen are very indignant that when they ask for beer they are told that only whisky is obtainable. Rightly or wrongly they consider that beer or stout is, in view of their occupation, a necessity to their health, and teetotal faddists would be surprised at the insistence of well-educated men on the strong character of this point.

there is no drunkenness in Woolwich and the neighbourhood worth speaking about. First of all it is urged that the money will not run to anything like overindulgence with drink at such a price, and secondly it is pointed out that few publicans will supply more than two or three drinks to the same person.

The disparity in prices undoubtedly tends to create resentment. Munition workers who went for a trip to Tonbridge found that the beer for which they were paying 5d. and 6d. in Woolwich was only 2d. there, and they want to know the reason why. The ostentatious wealth of the publicans, their frequent allusions to retiring after the war, and the knowledge that "dead" houses have since the war becone valuable properties cultivate the impression in the minds of munition workers that they are being exploited.

Perhaps the worst feature in the situation in the so-called elusiveness of Government ale. If public-houses in munition areas do not stock it the question may well be asked; Why not? If they do stock it, under what circumstances do they justify withholding it? And what is the answer to the repeated charge that Government ale, price 2.5d., is the basis of mild and bitter at 4d. the small glass?

Wednesday 10 October 2007

The London pub trade in 1897

I thought that you might be interested in this transcript of an interview conducted by sociologist Charles Booth. It provides fascinating insights into the workings of the pub trade in London in the late 19th century.

5th October (1897)
Mr. Bramham. Surveyor and Valuer to the Assessment Committee of the Hackney Union.

During the last 35 years houses have gone up enormously in value. It began by the loan of one million made to the Cannon Brewery by Mr. McCalmont. With this money the brewery set to tie houses. The brewers looked on without minding until they found that their trade was being touched and affected irrecoverably. Then they set to work to buy also. Prices went up with a run. Then came the Death Duties act and increased difficulties about the subdivision of property held by partners jointly for the purposes of taxation. So that brewers found themselves at the same time wanting more money and a simpler method of recognizing their own personal property.

They turned their businesses into Companies in consequence.

Mr. Bramham gave as an example a public house in the parish of St. John´s Hackney. In 1892 this house with a lease of 49 years at a rental of £105 per annum was bought for £9500.

In 1895 £8,700 was stated to Mr. Bramham as the price that had been paid for it.

This year 1897. It has been resold for 23,000.

Another house he mentioned as being sold in 1895 for £20,000 and resold this year for £32,000 in addition to which the buyer paid £4,000 in its redecoration and internal alteration. These are only two out of many instances Mr Bramham could give.

Public houses meet a real want: by some they are needed as a refreshment house, by others as a club, by others as a place of business. The `poney` glass or small half pint glass is the outcome of the use of public houses as places of business. Come and have something is the regular prelude to doing business with some people. Neither side wants to drink much but they want an office. They ask for a poney glass, they get their apology for drink and they get their office. the publican charges the same for a `poney` as for an ordinary half pint and so recoups himself for wear and tear of premises.

One man may not by law hold more than one license, but one man very often is the real proprietor of several houses. But the license is issued in the name of the manager or of his wife or his son.

He confirmed the evidence of others in saying that all classes became publicans and that the best were found in the largest houses and that one man who managed two houses well was more likely to see that 3 or four were well kept. He thought the publican as a rule was a little above the generality of his customers socially but at once gave the instance of a man who found his clientele too rough for him, wanted to get men of his own grade into the house as customers and straightway proceeded to make things very uncomfortable for those below it. At the same time the higher the class of trade the more profitable the business.

The number of licensed houses is undoubtedly very large but "they must meet a want otherwise they would fail". Said there were two policies that might be pursued. Either the number of houses should be increased and very great strictness be used with regard to them or they should be decreased by making several houses in one district combine to buy out a few recouping themselves in so doing by the increased trade that would result. In the first instance you would bring down prices a be able to regulate the rate at which they fell by the rate at which you granted the increase. In the second you would increase the the value of those that remained but at the same time reduce the number of temptations to drink. Some will hesitate to go at all when it is a question of going a hundred yards further.

Wet weather is the worst for drink. Especially wet Mondays and Tuesdays, when working men will make their wives give back to them some of the money they have given them for housekeeping.

With regard to the police - Any policeman who looks as if he would like it is sure to get it, "there can be no question about that". Doubts if it amounts to very much but it would be better if it were not done. Publicans do it wherever they can because they know they will get help in turning out drunken men more easily if they do. A man who makes a noise drives away trade, therefore the publican is only too anxious to get rid of him. A policeman who takes drink is more likely to be near and to come quickly if he is called. "Well at any rate the publicans think so."

I was shocked to see the prices paid for London pubs in the 1890's. £20,000 or £30,000 was a huge sum of money in those days. With beer at just 2d a pint (so £1 = 120 pints) it's hard to see how breweries could get a reasonable return on their capital. This is the period when licensing authorities were starting to actively reduce the number of pub licenses issued. The result was panic buying by the breweries which greatly inflated the price of pubs. Breweries that spent too much later got into financial difficulties.

I can understand the attraction of the pub on a wet Monday. Though there's no way I would get any housekeeping money back off my wife.

Paying the local policeman or giving him free drinks appears to have been standard practice for landlords. It comes up repeatedly in Booth's interviews with publicans. Strangely, the policemen he talked to denied that it happened. Who do you believe?

Tuesday 9 October 2007

Mild and Bitter

It's often assumed that Pale Ale, or Bitter as it was known to drinkers, quickly rose to prominence in the early and mid 19th century, ousting Porter as the favorite of the British public. But hang on - what about Mild? Where does that fit into this story?

There was a big change in tastes around the middle of the 1800's. But it was Mild Ale that was the new object of drinkers' affections. Pale Ale remained an expensive niche product until the introduction of cheaper Bitters towards the end of the century. Only in the 1900's did Bitter really become a drink of the masses.

Let's look at Whitbread's Ale output in the years 1881 to 1933.

In 1881, the three Mild Ales, X, XL and XX accounted for over 90% of the Ales Whitbread brewed. PA was a measly 5%. By 1891, with the help of the lower-quality 2PA and FA, Bitter had doubled its share to 10%. In 1901 the tide was definitely turning in Bitter's favour - it was up to 30%. By 1910 Bitter was snapping at the heels of Mild, trailing by just 11 points. Between the wars, Bitter takes the lead.

Monday 8 October 2007

Porter and WW I

The decline and eventual death of London Porter has always intrigued me. It's one of the things I've been most keen on researching during my archive trips. I think I've found one more piece of the jigsaw.

This is what Michael Jackson has to say on the topic:

"When both Porters and Stouts diminished in popularity in Britain, why did they stand their ground in Ireland?

One reason may be that restrictions on the use of energy during World War I made it difficult for British maltsters to roast their grains.

These restrictions were not imposed in Ireland, where rebellion and independence were in the wind

It sounds like a reasonable theory - brewers in England couldn't get their hands on the right malts and so were unable to brew Porter and Stout. Let's see how well it matches with the evidence from Whitbread's brewing logs.

In 1914 Whitbread brewed an impressive range of Porter and Stout: Porter, ES (Export Stout), LS (London Stout), SS (Double Stout) and SSS (Triple Stout).

Dark malts - brown malt and black malt - made up between 12% and 16% of the grist, depending on the beer type.

What would happen later in the war if, as the theory suggests, dark malts were in short supply? It would seem logical that either Whitbread would have stopped brewing Porter and Stout or that the amount of dark malts employed in their manufacture would have been greatly reduced.

Most breweries pared back their beer ranges in WW I because of government restrictions on beer strengths and shortages of raw materials. Barclay Perkins discontinued their bread and butter beer from before the war - X Mild - and replaced it with the low-gravity 4d government ale. Most stronger ales weren't brewed at all between 1917 and 1919. Whitbread was no exception.

Between April 1917 and April 1918 the Whitbread Porter brewery produced only two beers: Imp (Imperial Stout) and Porter. From April 1918 to April 1919, they only brewed Porter and LS (London Stout). The one beer that they brewed throughout the war was Porter.

Let's take a look at how Whitbread's Porter and Stout shaped up towards the end of the war. Remember that April 1917 is when the goverment began to really put pressure on the brewing industry with emergency legislation.

Well fancy that - the proportion of brown and black malt in the grist increased later in the war. In 1917 it was around 18%, in 1918 and 1919 between 18.5% and 22.7%. You know what, it doesn't look as if they were running out of brown and black malt, does it?

The terminal decline of Porter was well underway before WW I broke out. As for other styles, wartime restrictions forced down the gravity, but they don't appear to have had any more effect than that. Porter's popularity continued to ebb away during the 1920's and 1930's and by the outbreak of WW II it had all but disappeared.

So don't blame Kaiser Wilhelm or Lloyd George for Porter's demise. The answer is far simpler - public taste had moved on.

Sunday 7 October 2007

Cologne 06.04.2007

8:30 Get up.
9:40 Catch number 2 tram.
10:34 Get in ICE train.
11:43 Head for the train's bar.
11:44 Talk to a young Canadian while waiting the 5 minutes it takes to pull a 40cl plastic cup of Warsteiner. Sounds as if he's been on too much wacky backy while in Amsterdam. He's from Regina. I refrain from making the obvious joke because Lexie is with me. I thought they used to sell bottles of Hefeweizen.
13:12 Arrive at Köln Hauptbahnhof.
13:20 Discover that our lunch destitnation, Peter's Brauhaus, has a private party.
13:25 My first glass of Sion. I'm not impressed. Watery and slightly nasty.
13:30 - 14:30 Theyre having Bayeischer Wochen in Sion. Blue and white is everywhere. They have Bavarian food. But the beer is still a pretty dull Kölsch. I remember it as being better last year. Maybe I was just in a good mood. The klose and mashed pototo are out of a packet and the chips are crap, like from a hamburger chain. The Schweinebraten itself is OK. Pretty poor overall for a Brauhaus. I wish Peter's had been open.

14:30 - 15:00 I hang around outside the Lego shop trying not to look like a kiddy fiddler.

15:05 I give Andrew the choice of walking to the Stadsmuseum or going on a pub crawl.

15:06 A typically crappy modern German pub, whose name I didn't bother to look at. I don't plan going back. A cheap glass of top-pressure Gilden Kölsch. Not noticeably worse than the beer in Sion.

15:35 - 16:00 I hadn't realised how close Malzmuhle is to the Lego shop. Seem quite a lot of Americans in. Do they come because Bill Clinton once drank here? By far the best Kölsch so far. A really nice earthy hop touch. But still a bit too subtle, even for a Kölsch. The adjacent room suddenly disgorges several dozen pensioners wearing matching t-shirts. It seem to be some sort of class reunion. Our paths cross again later. They 're on a pub crawl, too.

16:05-16:25 Zum Pfaffen I come here because Andrew likes the statue tables around the bar. Packed outside, vuirtually empty inside. Beer with a good bit more umph to it. Not perfectly clear. I'm not sure if they call it a Kölsch. A lot more character and pleasantly hoppy, if not exactly bitter. Best beer so far.

16:25 - 16:45 Brauhaus in d'r Salzgasse. Can't miss this one. Päffgen Kölsch and a nice pub. Just like last year, they ask Andrew if he wants a beer. He's on Cola Light, lads. He had a heavy one last night. Hoppy, naturally-carbonated aroma. Smells good. Päffgen is still the one to beat.

1700_17:20 Sit in the very cosy taproom of Sünner im Walfisch with a bloke wearing a Tusker t-shirt and his English girlfriend. They are much amused by the beer towers. As always, ordering cheap liquor gets me in well with the locals. Everyone loves a pisshead. The gravity-served Sünner is pretty uninspiring. Vaguely hop-flavoured liquid. Virtually no distinguishing features.

17:30 - 18:30 Eat well in a no smoking room in Früh am Dom. The Kölsch is light, but tasty. Slips down very nicely with the food.

Saturday 6 October 2007

A success

Yesterday's post was a great success. I had Garrett Oliver calling my ideas rubbish. I'm moving up in the world. It used to just be my kids and drunks on the street that insulted me. Don't shoot the messenger is what I say.

Now we're on the topic of style evolution, you know that old one about London Porter dying out in WW I because the government wouldn't let them make dark malts? Well . . . . I had a good look at the Whitbread Porter logs for 1914 to 1919 last time I was at the London Metroploitan Archive. OK, I didn't really look at them there, I just photographed them. Guess what I found? It was quite a surprise, I can tell you.

In 1914 Whitbread Porter . . . . . damn. It's time to go to Centraal Station to catch the train to Cologne. My tale will have to wait until tomorrow.

Friday 5 October 2007

Style evolution

Beer styles are not fixed. They evolve and mutate over time in reponse to fiscal, economic and technological changes in the society around them.

You may have noticed that I'm quite interested in the history of British beer styles. That's why I spend so much time fiddling around with old documents. No-one else can be arsed to do it, so it's up to me to do the research.

English IPA
A common complaint is that modern British IPA's aren't true to style. That brewers have just pinned the name onto an ordinary Bitter. IPA should be a strong hoppy beer, the argument goes.

Like other British styles, IPA has changed considerably over time. In the the 19th century it was 6% ABV or more. Which would make it a strong beer today. But hang on, let's have a look at some other styles in that period. Mild was between 5.5% and 8% ABV and Guinness 7.5% ABV. All British styles are far weaker than they were 150 years ago. IPA is no exception. But in the 19th century, not only was IPA not a strong beer it was actually one of the weakest beers. Its relative psoition in the hierarchy of beers strengths is little changed today.

Take a look in the table. It shows Whitbread Ales for the period 1881-1933. Only two beers were brewed throughout the whole period: X, the standard Mild, and PA, Bitter. IPA only appeared in 1901, when it was slightly weaker than X and considerably weaker than PA. By 1933, IPA was still a good bit lower in gravity than PA but had nosed in front of X. Between 1901 and 1933 the gravity of X dropped 46%, of PA 25% and of IPA 36%. In other words, the decline in IPA gravity was roughly average.

Let's look at the situation today. Mild averages around 1034, Best Bitter around 1042 and ordinary Bitter around 1037. If it were still brewed, you would expect Whitbread IPA to be about 1035. I would argue that a modern IPA's that are around 1037-38 are actually stronger than they should be.

So have brewers deliberately brewed beers that aren't right for the style? One thing's worth considering: beers like Greene King IPA wasn't invented yesterday. It's been around for an awfully long time.

It makes me smile when people accuse Greene King IPA of not being an authentic IPA. In my opinion it is. It's true to the style as it has been brewed in Britain for about 100 years. It's not an authentic 19th-century style IPA. But if you judge British beers by this criterion, then the only authentic beers brewed in Britain are Harvey's Imperial Stout, Sarah Hughes Ruby Mild, Hardy Ale and Whitbread Gold Label.

Why insist that IPA be brewed like it was in 1850 but not other styles? It would be equally true to say that Guinness isn't an authentic Extra Stout, that Young's isn't an authentic Bitter and that Bateman's isn't an authentic Mild.

I could equally argue that American IPA's aren't authentic because they are too bitter, use the wrong sort of hops and aren't attenuated enough. That's if I were to decide that the 1850's English version of IPA is the "authentic" one. But of course that's a ridiculous basis for criticising beers.

Thursday 4 October 2007

Those stupid little Kölsch glasses

Two reasons for this post: I'm off to Cologne on Saturday and Stonch said he enjoyed my travel reports. No numbers today, just a series of crap jokes. I hope you enjoy it. Tomorrow it's back to numbers.

On my last trip to Cologne, I took my son Andrew to the Römisch-Germanische Museum. When we came out, there was still an hour and a quarter before our appointment with the rest of the family. It's not hard to guess my opinion of the best way to use that time. Occasionally, I can be very organised. I had a map, marked with pubs I needed to visit, as well as the map I carry around in my head at all times. How could I persuade Andrew to traipse around them all?

"How many pubs do you think I can get around in 75 minutes, Andrew?" "Four or Five."

It's a happy day for the parents when a child learns the value of money. Then they can be bribed. And often with laughably small amounts of cash. It's embarrassing, really, how little you need to offer. But not quite enough to stop me doing it.

The list of pubs in my head was getting no shorter.

"Pah! I bet I can do eight, no trouble. Five euros says I can."

Andrew is surprisingly knowledgeable about pubs and beer for his tender years. He's seen me knocking back pints in England, liters in Bavaria, 33 cls of Trappist in Belgium. He has a pretty good idea of how long it takes me to drink a beer. It's no wonder he thought that he was onto a winner. Whereas I, for the first time I could see an advantage in the irritatingly minute glasses they serve Kölsch in.

He wasn't looking so cocky after I knocked off Alter Markt Treff and Kulisse in five minutes. That was three more than they deserved. In Pfaffen, Andrew insisted I photograph the statue tables - no easy feat, in the gloomiest corner of the pub, with my camera. It wasted valuable drinking time. He isn't daft.

His optimism was brief. When I cheekily ordered a second in Bierhaus en d'r Salzgass (it is Päffgen Kölsch, straight from a wooden cask, after all), he knew the game was up. A quick exit from Sünner im Walfisch, thanks to a friendly, efficient waitress, took away his last hope. Four down, loads of time left. Confidently, I chose Biermuseum, where all draughts are 40 cl , as our next stop. A couple of minutes were enough to dispatch a Doppelbock (I was in too much of a rush to ask which).

Not even the 10 minutes we hung around in Haxenhaus zum Rheingarten before a surly waiter threw a menu at us, could perk Andrew up. Especially when, pissed off at being made to sit at the bar in a half-empty pub, I downed my expensive Kölsch (1.70, 20 cents more than the most I paid anywhere else) in one. By the time we hit Im Martinswinkel, he had lost interest in our bet. Like me, he's fascinated by history. He was soon drawn to the "look what carpet bombing does to an historic city" photos. You see them a lot in Cologne. I can understand why.

I made it with five minutes to spare. Even after doubling up in en d'r Salzgass and being ignored in Haxenhaus. One of the most pleasurable five euros I've ever earned. I got to drink my favourite Kölsch, visit two places I had never been inside before and find a new pub to add to my guide.

So the next time I begin to burst with frustration at being continually in need of a fresh beer because of those stupid, tiny Kölsch glasses, I'll remember that they can, if only very occasionally, be quite useful.