Saturday, 31 January 2009

AK (another theory)

Some like a challenge. I know I do. When I told Mike that the meaning of AK might never be worked out, he took that as a challlenge. Which is good for me. Because he unearthed some new stuff from the interweb.

The first passage discusses the beers brewed by Phipps in Northampton. The author worked as an engineering apprentice between 1950 and 1956.

"During my time there Phipps were producing:

PA and IPA draught and in bottles
Ratcliffs Stout in bottles
Number 10 barley wine in nip bottles (third of a pint)
Brown Ale in bottles (a blend of PA and Ratcliffs Stout)
Bottling Guinness under contract from Park Royal.AK draught for internal consumption (allowance beer)

AK was the workers allowance beer and of low gravity between 1030 and 1032. In relation to its gravity it was over hopped and very palatable when consumed with bread and strong cheese. It was said to be a product that had been specifically brewed for farm labourers to drink during harvest time! In addition to allowance beer it might have been sold commercially as SPA for special outdoor events, village fetes & galas, etc."Tom Whapples, Phipps' Brewery Engineer describes the Bridge Street plant.

It's interesting that it's called an "allowance beer", that is beer given to workers as part of their employment terms. It was common in the 19th century for farmers to partly pay their workers in beer, especially at harvest time. Harvest beers were weaker than standard pub beers. The ones I've seen in price lists were usually 10d a gallon, which equates to a gravity of no more than 1045º.

A dictionary of Lancashire dialect has this entry:

"Lowance – allowance (Ale drunk at harvest time)"

confirming the use of the term "allowance" for beer given to harvesters.

Not only agricultural workers received beer as part of their pay. Those performing certain types of heavy industrial work got beer, too. This is a recollection written in 1936 by Robert Greenhalgh of Atherton, Lancashire, who had been born in 1855:

"At the period I am writing about, the houses could be open all the hours of the week, night and day. I well remember an incident that occurred in my apprentice days just after the restriction of the 11 o'clock closing time. We were repairing a colliery winding engine which had broken down and, as was usual in those days, the manager sent one of the labourers with a two gallon bottle for the allowance beer to the Bull & Butcher at Dangerous Corner just before closing time."

(I love the idea of a pub called the Bull & Butcher at Dangerous Corner. I wonder if it still exists?)

Here's Mike's basic point: could the A in AK be derived from "Allowance"? It certainly fits with AK being lighter than other beers. And I can't say that I have a better theory. What do you reckon?


Barry M said...

Sounds the best fit based on the evidence. This is like reading a detective story. Great stuff :D

Barry M said...

Just came across a snippit from the Law Times Reports, 1882, that may provide further hints if you can get your hands on a full copy. Something about a chap wanting to get some AK Ale to sell, but being refused, and then trying some sort of middleman to get it for him. If you can find out in that case why they would not sell, it might tell you if it was for allowance purposes only. Of course it could be a wild goose chase.

Anonymous said...

I reckon that "Allowance Ale" would be a great name for a low gravity bitter.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting direction here. It could be true.

The AKK variant doesn't sit though with the theory. A strong beer wouldn't seem appropriate for allowance. Yet some inconsistency in usage may not mean the theory is incorrect, of course.

In Combrune's book at p. 163, the author mentions in passing (in a discussion of old hock), "... keeping pale strong or keeping pale small beer". Maybe AK and K were the designations later given to the latter and XK, KK etc. to the former. It doesn't explain the A but would give further support to where the K comes from.

In looking through the 1800's ads again with the reference you provided, Ron, I found one case where AK is described as a, "stock bitter". It is from Waltham Abbey Brewery in remote (at the time) Colchester. This may be a descendant of Combrune's keeping pale small beer.

A note in the ad states that all the stock beers are guaranteed to last 6 months - thus even for a 36 shilling a gallon brew. It was probably fairly bitter in taste although (once again) ultimately exceeded in preservative quality by the IPA group of beers.

Here is the link but I don't know how to show a picture of the ad here:

Despite that some 1800's ads clearly show AK and even stronger K beers as mild beers, I am now thinking that perhaps all the K family had their origin in the word keeping. And yet, still I cannot discount the theory of the keut beer origin.


Ron Pattinson said...

Adeptus, I wish I could get the full text of that. It appears to be about a publican breaking his tie to a brewery by buying beer from someone else. It also mentions passing off AK as IPA, clearly implying AK was a cheaper beer.

How weird. In Newark you had Hole's AK and Warwick's IPA as rival Bitters.

Anonymous said...

I was able to read the full decision from the link provided (click on page 5 where it begins), an 1881 case. Edwick was a licensee of a tied house. The pub lease stated that Edwick would only buy beer, ale and porter from the brewer who let him the premises. Edwick sold IPA brewed by the brewer but not its weaker AK. The brewer only sold AK to private families and some free houses and would not supply it to Edwick. Edwick wanted AK for sale though so he sent a neigbour to buy it for him, secretly in that the friend did not tell the brewer for whom he was really buying it. Edwick was forced to leave the premises when the brewer found out the deception.

Edwick sued the brewer and claimed a wrongful ejection from the premises.

The brewer argued that (and I must say I read the clause the same way) Edwick could only buy beer from the brewer and such as it chose to sell him.

Edwick argued, i) the clause was more elastic than that and really meant that as long as what he sold was made by the brewer, he didn't breach the covenant (in efect that it covered what today we would call grey goods), and ii) if the clause didn't mean that, it meant by implication that the brewer could not refuse to sell directly to him any of its range if he wanted to sell more than one kind. The judge agreed with both arguments and Edwick won his case.

In terms of A.K. and IPA, the case doesn't really shed much light other than to confirm that both are types of bitter beer (and that sometimes they were sold for the same price despite that IPA was stronger). The brewer said it didn't want AK sold to the public as its IPA in effect, or any mixing done by the licencees, and that this would be a fraud on the public. The court disagreed, stating that both beers were bitter beers and were sometimes sold at the same price, so there could be no fraud.


Anonymous said...

I came across this case when I was researching for my (still unpublished) history of Hertfordshire breweries, since it involved Hawkes of Bishop's Stortford. As I recall,the full report was in the local paper for Stortford - my notes are somewhere in the attic, but here's what I wrote for an article on AK all of 16 years ago:

More light is shown on the AK designation and the difference between K bitter beers and more hopped pale ales by a court case in 1881 involving the brewers Hawkes of Bishop’s Stortford, in Hertfordshire, and one of their former tenants, Mr Edwick of the Bell, Bishop’s Stortford. Hawkes had evicted Edwick from the Bell, claiming he had broken his covenant by passing off Hawkes’s AK (which sold for 36 shillings a barrel wholesale, again 1s a gallon) as their first-quality XXX IPA, 54 shillings a barrel (1s 6d a gallon). Hawkes told the court that it only brewed AK for sale to private customers, and never supplied it to publicans as there would be a temptation for them to sell it to the public as a better liquor than it was, “to the detriment of the brewers”.

Mr Edwick, the landlord, told the court that he had sold three sorts of beer at the Bell, mild or fourpenny (“the staple of the house”, four pence a quart); strong ale; and bitter, as well as porter. The regular beers supplied by Hawkes were all bad, he said, and he had got his next-door neighbour to order AK from the brewery, which he sold not as bitter but “twopenny” (a weaker beer). The judge ruled that it was no fraud to sell AK as a bitter, as it was a bitter, and he awarded damages and costs against the brewery.

So - a court ruling that AK was, indeed, a bitter. A price list for Hawkes from 1881 shows it selling 10 different beers:
XXXK ale 17 shillings/firkin
XXK ale 15s/firkin
XA ale nine shillings six pence/firkin
India Pale Ale 15s/firkin
XK bitter ale 11s 6d/firkin
AK light bitter ale 9s 6d/firkin
K light bitter ale 8s 9d/firkin
DS stout 15s/firkin
BS stout 12s 6d/firkin
Porter 10s/firkin
'6d per firkin allowed or Cash on Delivery'

The cheapest, weakest beer there, as you can see, was just called 'K'. It's examples like that (and there are others) that make me feel that the "K for Keeping" argument, while persuasive when you get beers like Mann's KKKK, which was readyfor drinking at two years old, doesn't completely stand up, when the bottom beer in the 'K" range was sold at a price that indicated it was less than four per cent ABV.

Nor am I convinced by the "A equals allowance" argument, when you get the same brewery (the Tadcaster Tower Brewery in this case) selling both AKK Family Pale Ale at 1s 2d a gallon and AK Dinner Ale at 1s a gallon. They can't, surely, both be alloance beers. But do I have a better suggestion? No ...

Trivia - Hawkes's brewery was taken over in 1876 by James Wigan, who had previously been a partner in the Mortlake Brewery, and his is the 'W' in the P (for Phillips) and W monogram which can still be seen on the brewery wall in Mortlake High Street ...

Anonymous said...

For the sake of clarity, I would first like to point out that there are two destinations for allowance beer (not necessarily AK). Ron wrote about the first, the second was for brewery workers. This was also called "men's beer" and yard tap.

Logically, beer served to workers during a work day would almost certainly be light (in alcohol). In the UK, many breweries "allowed" their workers between two and four pints daily.

Looking at the beer "codes" (apparently called brands or marks during the 19th century), it seems fairly unlikely that they were universal. As the Phipps engineer wrote about AK, for example, it was given a different code or mark when sold for a different purpose.

The fact that A, for example, can mean different things (AK or IPA) is also an indication that this system was very likely personalised by each brewery or region.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting comments Zythophile and Mike.

A little off topic I know but here is a quote from the brewery engineer's (T. Whapple) memoir on the site Ron linked:

"The brewery was designed and equipped to operate a double-dropping system whereby fermentation was started and held for 24 hours in the Fermenting room. Then first dropped to the Tun room for the main digestion profile followed by a second drop to the Cleansing room. When trade was very brisk Phipps were able to dispense with the second drop thus temporarily increasing output up to 17,000 barrels per week".

What does digestion mean? Second, how could the cleansing be omitted? Would this mean the beer was sent out heavily yeasted in the barrels? How does this connect to the use of finings? (Does well-cleansed beer not need finings)?


Kristen England said...

This is a neat little tidbit about the allowance concept.

The book, An Eighteenth-century Industrialist: Peter Stubs of Warrington, 1756-1806.' Talks about it a little.

Specifically that a worker that undertakes a particularly hard chore would be paid in 'allowance ale'. It also goes to point out that at 4d per gallon it would be too tame and familiar to be any sort of reward.

How does this price correspond with the later AK ones?

Anonymous said...

Kristen, I found a book called "Brewing Industry Accounting" by William Harris published in the 1890s which has a fair bit of material on allowance beers.

The only price I found there was for Irish breweries where the beers were a good deal more expensive: "In Irish Breweries the ordinary allowance is two pints per man per day, with the exceptions, as above mentioned, of the men working on the malt lifts who may get three or four pints each per day. In some cases the men in Irish breweries are given the option of taking 2d. per day in lieu of their beer allowance."

The book (in full) can be found here:

Anonymous said...

Interesting book indeed and sophisticated on numerous levels.

A leafing through suggests no light is shed on the AK designation or too much on allowance beer except of for numerical and sales recording. He mentions AK in connection with a system, called Gardiner, to list products for sales computation.

The discussion on taxes and calculation of gravities, extracts, pounds, conversion of these, etc., is very interesting, as is his precis of the brewing process. He states that the fermentation dropping system, still in use we saw at Phipps in the 1950's (but not all the time, see my comment and question above!), was in general use in this period.

Stray tidbits are useful. E.g., he notes in passing that porter is never dry-hopped (consistent with other information we have, i.e., that aroma hopping was province of the pale ale family). He states that beer returns are usually "worked" with consequential little need to adjust accounts (sour beer is recycled, in other words). He states that pale ales are hopped at 10-12 pounds per quarter. Unfortunately the text in this area, even in PDF from the book, seems to contain misprints or missing text. Despite the deficient text, it seems clear that running beers were given 5 pounds per quarter, and porter and stout between this and what pale and stock beers got. Excellent book and one is impressed with the sophistication of big-scale brewing business in the late 1800's and consequent accounting treatment.


Anonymous said...

Short correction: the recording system mentioned in the book is the Garland system, not Gardiner.


Matt said...

It seems the wonderfully named Bull and Butcher at Dangerous Corner is still there:

Ron Pattinson said...

Matt, thanks very much for that. I can't believe there's still somewhere called Dangerous Corner.