Tuesday, 17 March 2009


It isn't true, as some have claimed, that "Imperial" was only used to describe Stout. As with much Victorian beer terminology, it was erratically and inconsistently applied.

I stumbled across this wonderful example today in an 1868 price list: Imperial Table Beer. Let's see, Imperial means really strong and Table Beer means something safe to give to the kiddies. So how on earth can a Table Beer be Imperial? The price, 2s 6d for a dozen pint bottles, implies a gravity of 1060-1065º.

Funnily enough, Imperial Table Beer isn't one of the more than 140 styles officially approved by the Brewers Association. Though "Session Beer" is. Soon there will be more styles than exhibitors at the GABF. Or mybe that's the point: having enough medals so that everyone can win one.

If you're in need of amusement, take a look at the style definitions. They gave me a few good laughs. The Porter and Stout definitions are particularly hilarious. The german ones, too. Where do they get this shit from?


Elektrolurch said...

omg. the german beer styles really made me laugh....how many different types of dark lager aare here, all taste different, different color. And all they have to describe this is ,,german style schwarzbier"???they dont even have the usual ,,munich dunkles"...?
and Zwickel-Ale? Come onthey cant be serious with this

Ron Pattinson said...

Their attemopts at classifying lager styles are truly pathetic. Don't get me started on Czech styles . . . .

Anonymous said...

So Ron are your complaints of the Brewers Association's style guidelines regarding lagers (or in general) complaints around the fringes or substantive criticisms of specific styles?

And is there anything to be said about brewers/the public having settled on modern definitions of historic styles in ways that may or may not reflect the style's original characteristics in either minute or even meaningful ways? While I certainly enjoy your writings on beer styles (as you know and as do many of my American beer writing colleagues), at some point we do need to all agree on what constitutes a particular style or it all devolves into subjective, individual palate driven chaos.

Anonymous said...

Ron, interesting information indeed. Some of the old ads seemed for lack of a better term, carriage trade-oriented. Some were rural/bucolic, and others middle class or town-oriented.

In this ad, I get the sense of products with a top image being sold. Cider is not just cider, it is Champagne cider (sparkling, probably clear). The pale ales are those from Bass and Allsop, world-beaters at the time in this class. The stout was imported, from Guinness, and so on.

So even in table beer and mild beer, the vendor offered the best available and hence the Imperial moniker for his high gravity table beer.

By the 1900's, as you have shown earlier, the term in some cases lost its original significance and may have gotten bound up with Coronation and similar domestic events and associations.


Anonymous said...

Ironic that the URL for this shows it's in a directory called "education." Speaking of which, here's a video someone linked to today in reference to current education in the US: http://shrinkify.com/lq8

Ron Pattinson said...

Andy, there seems to be a complete lack of understanding about lager styles by the the Brewers Association and the BJCP. And their description bear little relationship to lager styles as they currently exist in central Europe.

Export and Märzen are not specific styles, just terms indicating relative strength. Yet individual examples - such as amber Märzen or Dotrmunder Export - have been taken as templates for a general style.

They only recognise a single Czech style, Bohemian Pilsner. While Czechs would only call a beer from Pilsen a Pilsener and have at least a dozen real styles.

It shows a total lack of respect of Central European beer culture to impose a set of flawed and inadequate style guidelines from thousands of miles away while ignoring the way people living in the region classify their own beers. What would Americans think if a German started making up his own classifications of American beers on the basis of a few samples and without bothering to investigate how Americans saw things?

This is my take on lager styles, both past and present:


Ironically, some of my best sources for the 19th century are American.

Anonymous said...

OK I admit it I am confused.

Strong Burton Ale, got it.
Fine Ditto = Strong Burton Ale, Fine.
So what is Ditto ditto?

Maybe its a new beer style to add to the list!

Ron Pattinson said...

MentalDental, the beers are:

Strong Burton Ale
Fine Burton Ale
Fine Burton Ale

"fine" in this context doesn't mean "good" but "clear".

Bill said...

Andy, I have a problem brewing a mild recipe and having the BA tell me it isn't a mild because mild is a weak beer. Modern tastes be damned, I've seen discussions around a Kolsch IPA, seriously is there no civility or rules left in the home brew arena. The 'relax, have a homebrew' only goes so far and eventually you have to shout bullshit.

Bill said...

And furthermore, what kind of beer did I make when I brewed the 1915 Courage Mild???

According to you it's not a mild so what is it? And who is the BA to disqualify a historically correct beer from it's proper classification?

Anonymous said...


What an odd layout!

So that is
Strong Burton Ale, Fine
18 gall at 24/-
Strong Burton Ale, Fine
4.1/2 gall at 18/-
Strong Burton Ale, Fine
9 gall at 21/-

It would have all fitted on one line. Someone should have a word with the jobbing printer.

Ron Pattinson said...

MentalDental, that's actually three Fine Burton Ales at 24/-, 21/- and 18/- for an 18 gallon Kilderkin.