Thursday, 23 December 2010

Wm. Younger's Ales in the 1870's

Another random-ish text, meant to amuse you while I ferret away under the covers, like a self-abusing teenager.

It's about one of my favourite breweries, William Younger of Edinburgh. Why a favourite? Probably because I've had a look at their brewing records. And because they were such a renowned brewery in the 19th century. Big exporters of beer to the rest of the UK, Europe and the whole world. They were up there with Bass and Guinness, another two of my faves, in terms of worldwide availability.

"The 'Ale Connors,' however, must have been much more easily satisfied than are the ale-drinkers of the present day, for thirty years ago ale was a sweet ropy mixture that stood little chance beside the wines which were then so popular. The constant improvements which have taken place, during that period, have not only reinstated the wine of our country in its former position, but have secured for it a greater popularity than ever. It must be confessed that, in their endeavours to get rid of sweetness and ropiness, some brewers have run into the other extreme ; and that thinness and want of body are the characteristics of a large proportion of bitter ales either draught or bottled.

A beverage to be universally popular should combine the maximum of strength with the minimum of intoxicating effect; and it must be suited to the soil, the climate, and the national temperament. Many of the bitter ales at present sold have either no body and taste, or they are thin and chamomily, and have a ropiness which produces a sickly effect upon the palate.

Ale is now so highly appreciated for its tonic properties, that it is as constantly recommended by the profession of our own country to invalids, as the vin ordinaire is recommended by the medical men of France to invalids approaching convalescence. There is no doubt that pure beer is the natural drink of this country, and is, except in abnormal conditions, peculiarly well suited to the system. People sometimes avoid beer as having a tendency to make them fat. It is far more likely that the quantity rather than the quality of what they drink would have that tendency. What they dread is far more likely to arise from imbibing quantities of tea, or even water, than from drinking sound wholesome ale. Some young ladies drink wine only, and avoid beer as producing coarseness of complexion. We would inform them that a moderate quantity of ale would give them a stamina which no wine will give, and that girls who drink ale have peculiarly good complexions. We can readily understand how such mistakes are made ; and we well remember our own surprise on learning that the most beautiful family of girls we ever saw, and whose complexions were simply perfect, took wine sparingly and fed their beauty on ale.

Whether it is from the peculiar quality of the water, or some secret in their method of brewing, or from both combined, it is certain that the purity, body, flavour, and tonic power of the ales of Messrs. Younger and Co. of Edinburgh stand unrivalled. Many readers will remember the fine Edinburgh ale which, long before this firm had any idea of establishing their stores in London, was looked upon by ale-drinkers as an exceptional indulgence. At that time, doubtless, the Edinburgh ale was brewed to suit the palate of the sturdy Scot, whose misty climate required a firmer tonic and a greater heat-giver than our own. But experiments on southern palates, and the wants of India, have taught this enterprising firm to produce a series of ales exactly fulfilling the requirements we have indicated.

In the Belvidere-road, reached in five minutes from the Strand over Hungerford-bridge, are the London stores situate, where we became acquainted with a totally new sensation in the matter of ale. We had often drank the pale ale, so admirably adapted for ' a big drink,' and the India ale, the praises of which had been chanted loudly by our Indian friends; and we found them both in perfection here. We tasted ale which was clear and bright, though little more than a week old, and with the delicious aroma of the hop pervading it; we tasted ale which had been long in bottle, straw-coloured and clear as the driest sherry, and yet sparkling and lively as the finest champagne ; and we tasted what it is impossible to forget—the finest and strongest ale brewed by the firm, one of the greatest luxuries of the Russian nobility to this day, and sold in St. Petersburg and Moscow at from four to five shillings a bottle. This latter ale is extraordinary, and in perfection it would be difficult to distinguish it from a glass of fine brown sherry, while it is vastly more invigorating."
"Belgravia;: A London magazine, Volume 18", 1872, pages 63-65.

Where to start? The beginning, perhaps. Ales, the author says, were once ropy and sweet, but that the new-fangled Bitter Ales were bitter and thin. He's clearly not a fan. Maximum strength, but minimum intoxicating effect? That's rather contradictory. Or am I misinterpreting the meaning?

Then there's some important advice for the ladies: drink beer if you want healthy skin. The image of girls feeding their beauty with Ale is a lovely one. That must be what the girls sprawled in a puddle of their own wee outside Yates's on a Saturday night are doing.

Younger's beers are described in a flowery way, but this is what I take to be the meaning. When they brewed mainly for the Scottish market, their beers were thick and strong. Once they moved into the export trade, they started brewing beers suited to other tastes, such as IPA for the Indian market and Pale Ale for the English market. The Strongest Ale is surely No. 1, which had a gravity of over 1100. Pale, clear and well conditioned were it characteristics.

One little detail often overlooked by those preaching Scottish brewers used few hops, is the large quantity of IPA exported by Younger. But why let irritating facts get in the way of a good story?

1 comment:

Flagon of Ale said...

It is very wonderful language. My only interpretation of his phrasing is that perhaps by "strength" he's referring to flavor rather than alcoholic strength, but that's just a shot in the dark. I don't know if either of those words have a different 19th century connotation.

I also like the part about "People sometimes avoid beer as having a tendency to make them fat. It is far more likely that the quantity rather than the quality of what they drink would have that tendency." Nothing new there.