Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Bitter ca 1955

Two stones one bird. Or should that be the other way around? Not to worry. Transcribing sections of Andrew Campbell's "Book of Beer" not only provides me with blog posts, it's also handy research for the rather flimsy 1949 to 1973 chapter of my book.

"Light Beers

Nomenclatures causes some little confusion in the light beer family. What the brewer will call pale or India pale ale (I.P.A.) the consumer will invariably refer to as bitter if it comes from a barrel. The same beer becomes pale, light or I.P.A. to both brewer and customer when it comes out of a bottle. Light dinner ale, family ale, are all of the same type, the lightest having some affinity to the small beer of the 18th century.

There is no relaly satisfactory group name for the higher-gravity pale ales that include the famous quality bottled beers: Bass Pale Ale, Worthington I.P.A., Ind, Coope Double Diamond, Taylor Walker's Reserve, Charrington's Toby, Courage's Alton, Watney's Red Barrel, an increasing number of export ales, and a range of even stronger brews that border on the strong ale family.

. . .

Draught bitter, the staple drink of the saloon bar trade as mild is the staple of the public bar, is brewed from pale ale malts, often with a mixture of of maize and rice flakes to secure a clear and brilliant beer. The higher the gravity the more likely the grist will be all malt, the lower the gravity the more probable there will be additions and probably a little sugar. Although hopped more heavily than milds there is no marked bitter flavour in the lowest gravities, which can on occasion be very insipid drinks. The lower-gravity bitters or pale ales will be similar to the beers bottled as the lowest-priced light ales. In October 1952, Geoffrey Bing , M.P., mentioned in the House of Commons reports from an analyst that showed that four out of five famous London pale ales had original gravities that ranged from 1029.7º to 1032.1º, about three per cent alcohol by volume.

Draught bitter served at the proper temperatures is a refreshing drink and those who have palates attuned to dryer rather than sweet flavours will prefer bitter to mild. Bitter is usually a penny a pint or so dearer than mild sold in the same bar of the same public house, but some brewers' bitters may only be as strong as others' milds. With the products of more than five hundred breweries available, it is impossible to lay down any standard conclusions about strength, price or flavour; all depends on brewing practice, on local trade and on consumer taste.

That a consumer can benefit by thinking before he drinks is proven by a report of the Inspector of Weights and Measures for Kent, which showed that in an analysis of samples of bitter, original gravities ranged from 1029.4º to 1038.9º, all selling at the same price. There is about a £3 a barrel difference in the tax, as mush as twopence halfpenny a pint, which is gained by the brewer and publican selling the lowest gravity over the brewer and publican selling the highest. Other examples have been reported in Hull and elsewhere.

In most saloon bars the customer will be offered bitter or best bitter, and in a free house, not tied to a particular brewer for all draught beers, he may also be offered the draught beer from one of the famous Burton breweries. The practice of stocking a 'foreign' bitter of higher-gravity beer is spreading among tied houses. Best bitters will range from 1037º to 1047º. The Burton bitters will be at the higher end of this range if they are on draught in London and Southern England public houses. In their home areas, the Midland counties, ordinary bitters will be found at gravities around 1033º-1035º. Draught Bass is the national name for a strong quality bitter well up to the 1050º mark, but there are other Bass bitters to be found in the Midlands. In London the Bass associate company, the Wenlock Brewery, provides in most of its tied houses Draught Bass and Wenlock bitter.

The individual has to choose his drink by trial and error until he finds a local draught beer that suits his palate and his pocket. The immense range available should convince him that the effort is worth while, and that bitter beer as a drink should not be rejected just because the first and second that happened to be tasted do not please."
"The Book Of Beer" by Andrew Campbell, 1956, pages 87-89.

Let's see which of the beers mentioned I have details for. Draught Bass, Wenlock Bitter, Red Barrel, Worthington IPA. I think I've got most of them.


Matt said...

It's interesting how bitter in the 50's was seen as a middle-class drink for the saloon bar as opposed to working-class mild in the public bar.

I used to drink in a multi-roomed Victorian pub in Stoke in the early 90's with a group of miners and potters who used to complain if women came along with us because it meant we had to sit in the lounge rather than the vault and they had to pay a couple of pence more a pint!

Holts mild is still slightly cheaper than their bitter as well if I remember rightly.

Ron Pattinson said...

Matt, guess which price was charged when public and saloon bar were knocked into a single room?

Matt said...

Well the breweries were never going to lower the saloon bar price to the public bar one were they? Richard Boston and Christopher Hutt make that point in Beer and Skittles and The Death of the English Pub respectively.

My dad worked in a Manchester pub in the early 60's where the extra cost of a pint in the saloon bar got you waiter service and bowls of crisps on the tables!

Paul Bailey said...

1955 was the year I was born, and whilst it was to be another 16 or so years before I started drinking in pubs it is interesting to note just how weak most ordinary bitters and light ales were back then.
Presumably, quantity, rather than quality was the order of the day. The work done initially by CAMRA in publishing OG's for beers, followed by the requirement to display the abv of a beer, has probably encouraged brewers to brew to a more respectable gravity (possibly some of them were embarassed by the public knowing just how weak their products were). I think there has also been a general trading up to higher strength beers, to say 4-4.5% abv for bitters. Whilst this doesn't quite approach the 5% norm of many European beers, it is getting closer to them.
A most interesting article Ron.

Ron Pattinson said...

Paul, gravities had been even lower in the 1940's. And by the mid-1950's strong beers had reappeared.

But, to be honest, the beers I drank in the 1970's weren't any stronger, mostly 3 to 3.5%.

Anonymous said...

Details? Of Draught Bass? Of Worthington IPA? Brewing recipe details? Material hitherto unpublished on this lipsmacking site? Please allow them to issue forth with all speed.

Ron Pattinson said...

Anonymous, next week. They'll be along next week. Unless I get distracted again.

Barbarrick said...

Hi Ron, "Anonymous" here. Enjoyed following your distraction into the dark arts of porter colouration and Barclay Perkins KK. But those Bass details mm? Swiftly followed by anything more you have up your sleeve on Worthington.
(If I appear, again, as anonymous, apologies, having signing-in trouble again. It's actually Barbarrick here.

Ron Pattinson said...

Barbarrick, funnily enough, I've just been putting the finishing touches to a post about 1950's Bass and Worthington beers. Though, because I'm a week ahead with my posts, it won't be published until next Friday.