Sunday, 16 May 2010

My work is not yet done

I had been getting all complacent. Thinking that writers were fiinally waking up to the nonsense that's been peddled abour beer history. Then my copy of "Beer" arrived yesterday.

"Originally, in the 18th century, milds were a welcome and refreshing alternative to the more intense, darker beers usually offered to the urban workforce. Milds also contained unfermented sugar, which provided a useful source of calories to exhausted factory workers. They were certainly not weak beers: six or seven per cent ABV was common, but around the time of World War II, brewers were producing less potent styles, probably as a cost-cutting measure, ignoring the rule that milds should be light in flavour, not alcohol."
"Beer" summer 2010, pages 19 and 20.

It's enough to make a grown man cry. There's the odd bit that's almost right. But not much. Charmingly fact-free, you could call it.

If it weren't in a supposedly serious beer publication, it would be easy to laugh off. But it isn't. It's in CAMRA's magazine. Mild is the topic of the article, but the author couldn't even get the history vaguely right. My work is clearly not yet done.

Maybe I should send the author a copy of "Mild!".


Barm said...

What's interesting though is that, while it may be nonsense, it's different nonsense to what was being written a few years ago.

Martyn Cornell said...

Mr Holter has misquoted me, too, the fecker: "Martyn’s theory, backed up by a letter published by The Times in 1958 …" - it wasn't a letter, and if he had bothered to read his copy of BTSOTP properly it clearly says: "A study published by the Times newspaper in 1958".

Further to the strength/popularity of (mild) ale in the 19th century, I found a piece in Punch magazine yesterday which revealed that in 1844, a pot (ie a quart) of beer (ie porter) was 4d (four old pence), "half-and-half" 6d and ale 8d. Clearly even though ale was stronger, and may have used better-quality ingredients, it wouldn't have cost twice as much as porter to produce, but could be sold at retail for twice as much as porter: an obvious incentive for the porter brewers to move into ale. (Also clearly, porter's cheapness, comparatively, must have been one of the reasons why it stayed the working class favourite for so long.)

Pivní Filosof said...

The worst thing here is that all those who haven't read you, Martyn or other serious beer historians will take this stuff that's been published by none other than CAMRA as some sort of holy word eroding all the hard and great work you've been doing, because it is you who will have to once again convince thousands that the result of your research is closer to the truth.

Bill in Oregon said...

Although it's aggravating, I have to admit to being slightly relieved by this since it proves that the US doesn't have a monopoly on producing "factless" beer history.

Thanks for your fact based efforts, they are appreciated.

Graham Wheeler said...

Martyn Cornell said...
it wouldn't have cost twice as much as porter to produce, but could be sold at retail for twice as much as porter:

I believe that the whole point of porter was to reduce the ageing and thereby cheapen the beer. It was the ageing of a decent beer that cost the money, or at least tied up large amounts of capital for long periods of time. Running beers turned over the capital much faster.

Even poundage infers that stale was twice the price of the mild.
Some drank mild beer and stale mixed, others ale, mild beer and stale blended together at threepence per quart, but many used all stale at fourpence per pot.

By extrapolation the mild must have been 2d and stale 4d.

Observe that Poundage does not suggest that people drank the mild alone. It was probably regarded as undrinkable without a bit of stale as an "improver". By 1844 the opposite was probably true; the mild was probably drinkable, but not good, and the stale became patently undrinkable because the big brewers pushed the stale to extreme acidity so that much less of it was required in the blend.

By 1844, however, we were not yet into the "running beer" era (apart from porter itself), so the ale would have been aged, albeit for a shorter period than stale, and therefore demanded a higher price.