Monday, 5 July 2010

Harp Lager question

Harp Lager. How interested is anyone in Harp Lager?

Should you be weirdly fascinated by this legendary beer, I have the exact details of how to brew it. And I mean thwicking exact.

Look at these.

Too much detail, or not enough?

Because there's loads more.

Confession time. I only got this stuff by accident. I was after a Barclay Perkins Sanctum Sanctorum. But put in the wrong form. 


Oblivious said...

Interesting they use roasted barley for colour and not a dark sugar. I think the sugar they are using is a glucose syrup. The grist looks very similar to Smithwick's!

An a maximum lagering of 12 weeks, I wonder if any of Diageo modern lager ever get that length of ageing?

Anonymous said...

lots of very nice detail,keep it coming please.

StuartP said...

I'm in the weirdly fasninated category. It's bound to end in me brewing the filth at some point. You never know, a home-brewed version might even be palletable.

The Beer Nut said...

Roasted barley?!

What's "CWA sugar"?

Graham Wheeler said...

I am surprised to see a single decoction specified. I have always understood that Harp was designed to use the bog-standard equipment found in any old British brewery and using local ingredients. A mash cooker would not have been standard equipment. Although there were the handful of big brewers that founded the Harp Consortium, many regional brewers were franchisees and brewed the stuff under licence just using their standard brewhouse.

The specification of the malt is identical, apart from colour, to bog-standard pale malt. The maximum nitrogen content is the same as pale malt; whereas a lager malt would have a nitrogen content of 1.65%. Same modification index as well. A decoction seems quite unnecessary, even a single one.

The grist is fairly basic and British; Malt + 12% sugar by extract. No grits. Colour achieved by roast barley (Not a dollop of gravy browning in sight).

Basically it is chilled and filtered Summer Lightning.

I believed that the yeast was a top-worker too, so that conventional open fermenters could be used by the franchisees, therefore the low initial fermentation temperature specified does surprise me; it will be difficult to maintain a head at those temperatures.

Morlands, I am sure, were once a franchisee. When I visited them they were brewing their own-label lager, but I am pretty sure that it was the same stuff with a different badge. That was mashed and sparged in their conventional mash tuns; fermentation started in their ordinary squares and then "dropped" into conicals out back for the remainder of the process. I can't remember whether or not there was a mash cooker; I wasn't really interested at the time, but I suspect that there wasn't or I would have noticed it.

Of course that sheet is dated early 1961, probably before Harp had hit an unsuspecting public. This was possibly the first of several iterations in the process method; and I feel certain that at least the decoction was dropped at a later date.

This is, of course, a pivotal point in British brewing history. It is where a group of big brewers used their combined advertising clout to shoot themselves in the foot. By persuading the lads that a tasteless pee-coloured drink is cool and manly, it opened the British beer market to just about every brewery in the world, and is, I suppose, indirectly responsible for most of our large brewers and brands being owned by foreigners these days.

Harp, and a Canadian bloke called Edward Plunket Taylor (Carling) have a lot to answer for.

Ron Pattinson said...

Oblivious, the lagering times don't seem that bad. Actually lager-like.

Ron Pattinson said...

Beer Nut, remember that thre recipe comes from Guinness. That might explain the roasted barley.

No idea what CWA sugar is.

Martyn Cornell said...

Up to 12 weeks' lagering? Whodathortit. Wonder how long that lasted once the accountants found out …

Ron Pattinson said...

Graham, you have to rememmber who all this stuff was adressed to: corage, Barclay, Simonds. They had a fully-equipped lager brewery at the Barclay Perkins site.

I think one of the other documents I snapped has yeast details. I suspect, given the fermentation temperature, that they were using a true bottom-fermenting yeast.

Gary Gillman said...

Kind of a different point but stimulated by something Graham said: wasn't SKOL somwhat similar to Harp in persuading many ale drinkers to switch to lager in way that seemed vaguely international (i.e., not too un-British)? There is a famous (to Who fans) picture of Keith Moon lying in a sea of booze bottles, some of which clearly were SKOl lager, and i take it the brand was popular in Britain circa-1970. We had it in Canada too at the time. However, it seems not to have had the lasting power of the lagers which found increasing favour in the U.K. and Ireland in the last 30 years such as Harp, Carlsberg, Holsten and ultimately, Stella Artois. One must of course mention Heineken in this list. Carling too, but I am thinking more of brands that had a foreign image or allure in England and Scotland.


Graham Wheeler said...

Ron Pattinson said...
Graham, you have to remember who all this stuff was addressed to: Courage, Barclay, Simonds. They had a fully-equipped lager brewery at the Barclay Perkins site.

Yes, that may be true, but the whole reasoning behind Harp was that it would be a universal pseudo-lager that did not need a fully-equipped lager brewery (whatever that might be), and could thus be franchised out to any regional brewer who wanted to brew a nationally-advertised lager.

Indigenous British brewing malt is low in nitrogen, fully modified, and does not need a decoction mash or a temperature-stepped mash, unlike that foreign stuff. The malt specification shows that low nitrogen was important to them. It is much lower than typical German brewing malt or American six-row. The 12% sugar will dilute the nitrogen content further for safety's sake, but no grits are required to dilute the nitrogen; no cereal cooker needed, no mash cooker needed.

Most regional brewers would already have had conditioning tanks and chilling and filtering facilities for their non-deposit (non-sediment) bottled beers.

So it can be seen that a national lager could be brewed by a regional with minimal investment in new equipment.

The yeast is a bit of a poser. A relatively bland ale yeast would have done the job just as well as any bottom worker as long as the temperatures were kept lowish. If they did bow in the German direction they might have used a kolsch yeast, I suppose. That is a top worker that does not impart much character of its own. Anything that requires additional equipment or requires the brewery to knocked about, would go against the reasoning behind Harp.

Then we have secret additive NDB3. It could be metabisulphite. It could be an enzyme to "dry out" the beer. It could be a heading agent.

Martyn Cornell said...

The first pints of Harp arrived in the UK from the old Great Northern Brewery in Dundalk in April 1961, so just before this memo, although after an initial trial in the North West of England it only went on national sale in November 1961.

In the UK the first places to brew Harp were the Red Tower Lager Brewery in Manchester, now the Royal Brewery, which was then owned by S&N, one of Guinness's three partners in the Harp venture in the UK (along with Mitchells & Butlers in the Midlands and Courage in the south), and which obviously had experience brewing lager; and Barclay Perkins, by then owned by Courage, which had been brewing lager for more than 40 years. So quite probably the original British brewers of Harp did have the equipment for proper decoction mashing. The yeast for the first brews of Harp came from Weihenstephan, and Guinness hired a German brewmaster, Dr Hermann Münder of the Dom brewery in Cologne )a Kilsch brewery, I believe), who probably insisted on that lengthy lagering period.

This was all bottled lager: keg Harp never arrived until 1965. The OG was 1033, incidentally. In 1963 lager was still only two per cent of the British market, but while the mild drinkers were dying out, most of the 'new entrants' , teenagers going to the pub for the first time, wanted to drink something their dads didn't, and lager hit that spot.

It was possibly Camra's biggest mistake to concentrate their ire on keg bitter, when they'd have done better attacking lager, which took off almost behind their backs: even in 1971 lager was still only 10 per cent of the British market, but lager sales passed 25 per cent of the market in 1976 and accelerated away even as the 'real ale revival' gained pace.

Ron Pattinson said...

You know what's weird? That a beer that none of us would voluntarily drink, has generated so many comments.

I see that as a positive sign. That we can look unemotionally at what was, historically, an extremely important development in British brewing.

There will definitely be more ridiculously detailed posts about Harp. Blame yourselves for showing so much interest.

A Harp festival - wouldn't that be fun.

The Beer Nut said...

a beer that none of us would voluntarily drink
Hark at the beer snob.

Barbarrick said...

Yes, lots of attention Ron but it's surely it's just ghoulish rubber-necking in the same way we find ourselves reading online accounts of Christie or Fred West then catching ourselves, shudder! We can't prevent ourselves lingering with morbid fascination over the Harp story, perhaps glimpsing in the wreckage, the mangled corpse of so many British ales.

Rob Sterowski said...

It's crucial not to be side-tracked by the Dr. Münder connection. Cologne breweries, including Dom, brewed a wide range of beers in the 1950s, mostly bottom-fermenting, with Kölsch as a minor speciality, and some didn't brew Kölsch at all. There's no particular reason to assume a Cologne brewer in 1960 would favour a top-fermenting yeast.

Jeff Renner said...

I wonder if NDB3 might be a chill haze enzyme. Not really necessary with those long lagering times, but perhaps good insurance.

Graham Wheeler said...

There will definitely be more ridiculously detailed posts about Harp. Blame yourselves for showing so much interest.

Well, don't go too mad, then. It was an important time in brewing history, but it has occurred to me that there must have been some serious politics behind the Harp story that is probably as interesting as the technicalities of brewing it.

My guess is that Harp was a reaction to the machinations of E. P. Taylor. Carling had been brewed in Britain since 1954, and Taylor was flexing his financial muscles in his quest for domination and went on a spending-spree buying pubs and breweries - 16 breweries by 1961.

I am sure that the big six or seven breweries could see where this was going and had to react to it. It is the only reason that I can imagine why five major brewers would "gang up" to produce a common brand; a brand that is no more than a lagered British ale. A beer that any one of the consortium members could easily have done on their own without any help from Guinness or German brew-masters. A beer that almost any regional brewer could brew without having to build a new brewery.

Taylor was rapidly buying up breweries to get the pubs and thus gain national coverage of his brand. Taylor had his "Northern United Breweries", all selling Carling.

The Harp idea seems to have been to unite breweries in a different way. Both big and small breweries would launch Harp in their own regions and thus gain national coverage instantly and well ahead of Taylor. The big boys used their financial muscle to handle national advertising and promotion, and the smaller brewers could brew it themselves under licence for their own outlets - so called franchisees - so they were not tied to buying something from another brewer.

I cannot see how that would stop Taylor buying breweries, but it would prevent him gaining a market dominance, a lager monopoly, that would be difficult to challenge later.

There are two noticeable omissions to the list of consortium members: Allied Breweries and Whitbread. Allied had their own lager brewery and brand: Graham's / Skoll, and I suppose that they thought that they could run with that. Whitbread were engaged in their own offensive against E. P. Taylor by buying substantial shareholdings in large regional brewers and thus preventing E .P Taylor gaining a controlling interest in them; the so called Whitbread Umbrella. I wonder what Whitbread did for a lager at that time.

Guinness involvement is a bit of a puzzle, but no doubt Guinness felt threatened by Taylor in some way too. Perhaps Guinness was being excluded from Taylor-owned pubs, as Bass was discovering with their bottled beers.

The fascinating thing about Harp is that it was a national brand brewed simultaneously by several otherwise unconnected, independent breweries. It would take dire circumstances for breweries, or any industry, to co-operate in that manner and on such a scale. I don't think that it has happened before or since. It could only have been a protective measure - safety in numbers.

The why is sometimes more interesting than the how. It would be nice to know for sure what was really going on.

Ron Pattinson said...

Beer Nut, OK, which few of us would drink voluntarily.

I'm actually rather intrigued by Harp and would love to taste one brewed to the 1961 spec alongside a modern version.

Gary Gillman said...

Whitbread focused on Heineken, a locally brewed weak version which did very well for the company through the 70's and 80's. I must say when visiting England in this period, this was in my opinion the least attractive of the big lagers then available in the U.K. (Although, none of them were that great from a connoisseur standpoint). It always struck me as commercial genius to be able to convert large numbers from mild and bitter to this type of drink. I think the brewers perceived that the palate of beer was something derived historically, not a central feature of the beer drinking culture. I.e., although the English lager often was watery and sharp-tasting, it sold well - given enough advertising for the initial boost - because it provided the true purpose of beer, alcoholic content. The huge success of thinnish, average-tasting lager in the U.K. justified this perception ultimately, IMO. In the spirits world, the analogue was vodka. Harp though is one of the better lagers styled to the mass market. I am not sure who brews the one available in Canada, I think it is from Guinness in Ireland. It pleasant when fresh and well-served.


The Beer Nut said...

Canadian Harp is by Moosehead, I believe.

Martyn Cornell said...

Gary, I'd be fairly confident only a minority of people were converted to drinking lager: every year two per cent of beer drinkers leave the market (by dying) to be replaced by a bunch of "new" drinkers. You only need most of those new drinkers to be lager consumers to account for most of the increase in lager sales post-1971. On the subject of small brewers, I'm going to take the liberty of quoting myself from Beer: The Story of the Pint:

"During the 1960s each big brewer was anxious to get the smaller brewers to stock his national lager brand rather than a rival’s. Little firms found themselves wooed like 18th century heiresses. Bill Kington, managing director of the Border Brewery in Wrexham, was visited on successive days one week in 1961 by EP Taylor, pushing the virtues of Carling Black Label; Edward Guinness, trying to interest him in Harp; and Mr Le Fanu of Ind Coope, courting him with Skol. “It is all going to my head,” he told Edward Guinness.

Much of the drive in the very early 1960s behind creating national lager brands, in a period when there were still no truly national brewing companies (that would take another five or seven years) was to gain the advantages of scale in advertising and promotion: lager was always massively more advertised than any other beer type, and even in 1960 lager took 19 per cent of all UK beer advertising, despite having only one per cent of the market.

Whitbread, incidentally, was quite late into the lager market: it apparently tried to set up a deal with Artois, then still an independent company, but eventually started brewing a lower-gravity version of Heineken in 1968 under licence, moving production to its new Luton brewery in 1969. Watney was even later: the Northampton Carlsberg brewery opened only in 1973.

Of course, a big part of the attraction was the prices that could be charged: Tuborg, brewed by Truman’s in London, sold for 22p a pint in the early 1970s and Carlsberg, with an OG of 1030, for 18p, while even Watney’s Red was only 14p a pint, despite having an OG of 1037. Greene King IPA, my local brew at the time, was 12p a pint, IIRC.

JessKidden said...

re GW's "I don't think that it has happened before or since."

Something similar happened in the US, a couple of times. I've never really done much investigation on them (didn't even Google it before I'm writing this) but, in the late 1940's, there was a nationally advertised brand called "Brewers Best", which was “…brewed and bottled by a country-wide group of carefully selected prominent brewers” and marketed by a “Brewers’ Best Associates” of NYC. (Some magazine ads exist at ).

Again, in the early '60's, a similar concept was announced to brew a "premium" in several breweries, obviously to take advantage of national advertising to compete with the ever-growing national breweries. The group, called "United Breweries of America" included independent brewers Gluek (MN), Jones (PA), Old Crown (IN), Koch (NY) and Diamond Springs (MA). All long closed. Interestingly, the latter two once "shared" the brewing of a former Canadian brand, Black Horse Ale for the US market (along with a third brewery in Trenton NJ better known for "Champale").

In addition, it was common for "hot" beers from smaller breweries to be brewed by others in distant regions in the US. Ballantine, a one time East Coast powerhouse, for instance, also brewed "Meisterbrau Lite" (which evolved into Miller Lite) and Old English 800 Malt Liquor for the northeast market, via deals with the much smaller Peter Hand (IL) and Blitz Weinhard (OR) companies.

Oh, and Gary, in the US, the Harp comes from Canada via Moosehead (one of the two sources of the US's Guinness Extra Stout).

Ron Pattinson said...

Weird. How many comments I get about Harp Lager.

Good to know I'm not the only strange one.

Graham Wheeler said...

Jeff Renner said...
"I wonder if NDB3 might be a chill haze enzyme. Not really necessary with those long lagering times, but perhaps good insurance."

Also they are post-processing by filtering through a sheet filter at close to freezing point. That will take out the protein, the chill haze, so there is very little point in the long lagering time either.

In fact, the whole thing is weird because they are specifying low-nitrogen, fully modified malt, therefore a lot of what they are doing is unnecessary.

A temperature-stepped mash is to deal with high nitrogen malt - again to reduce the protein content- but it is unnecessary with the malt they are using, particularly as they are filtering anyway.

The single decoction is probably to raise the mash temperature from the protein rest 50°C to saccharification temperature. It is was done by decoction because the average regional brewer at the time will not have had the ability to heat his mash tun, but it is unnecessary for the reasons given above and possibly counter-productive because the decoction clobbers enzymes and there are not a busting lot of spare enzymes in low-nitrogen malt.

Lagering at low temperature is again to reduce protein by forcing the protein to come out of solution, combine with polyphenols and then precipitate out. This takes a long time, but there is little point in it if the stuff is point to be filtered out anyway.

It seems that this German bloke (Herman Munster?) could only think in straight lines. They could have made the stuff for half the price if he'd kept his nose out.

StuartP said...

I don't think it is at all weird.
Decoction mash and proper lagering: that's the way to make beer full of lagery goodness.
Hopefully, Ron can testify to the truth of that after his tour of Frankonia.
Herman Munster had it right - he wasn't just trying to make haze-free piss for at the minimum cost. He left that to Uncle Fester...

nothing but limericks said...


'Tis sure I'll be wearing the green,

When the calendar says March seventeen,

I'll drink a few Harp,

"Til my wits become sharp,

Just try some, you'll know what I mean.

Unknown said...

Just drinking a Harp now. Brewed in Ireland. Not too shabby.