Friday 19 August 2011

AK mistakes revealed

I'm back from a brief holiday in Newark. Making this an approriate time to reveal the mistakes in that description of Snake River's AK Session.

To remind you, here's the quote:

"AK Session is traditional English mild ale. Mild refers to its low hopping rate. Mild is an ale intended to be consumed in quantity, thus the name “session”. AK is thought to stand for “Ale Kyte”, Flemish for “small ale”. This is a tawny colored brew that was a favorite among the farmers and laborers of the West Midlands. The alcohol content is 3.9% abv. This beer is a collaboration between Chris Erickson and Cory Buenning."

The first is pretty obvious: AK is a type of Pale Ale, not Mild. Bloody McMullens, by badging their AK as a Mild for a while they've led many to believe AK = Light Mild. An error repeated in David Sutula's Mild Ale book. It's another example of people not understanding what "mild" meant in the 19th century. As you can see from the table below, in no case is AK described as Mild Ale. The closest is "mild bitter Ale", where mild is clearly referring to the fact that it's unaged. "Bitter" or "Pale Ale" appear in the vast majority of the descriptions.

Brewery Place year beer price per barrel (shillings) price per gallon (pence)
Ind Coope Romford 1871 AK 36 12
Daniell & Co., Donyland Brewery Colchester 1884 AK 36 12
Bedford Brewery Bedford 1870 AK (a mild bitter Ale, very celebrated) 36 12
Hodson & Baverstock, Sun Brewery Godalming 18?? AK (Pale for Families) 36 12
John Bird  Westerfield, Suff. 1883 AK Ale 36 12
Shakespeare Brewery Cambridge 1889 AK Ale
Langton & Sons Thorpe End, Leics AK Ale
George Stibbs, Steam Brwry Cheltenham 1871 AK Bitter 42 14
John Murton Croydon 1867 AK Bitter Ale 36 12
Battersea Park Brewery (S.G. Mason & Co.) London 1869 AK Bitter Ale 38 12.67
Hodges and Ritchie, College Brewery Brighton 1884 AK Bitter Ale 42 14
Walcot Brewery Bath 1884 AK Bitter Ale 36 12
Goodwin Bros. Newark 1885 AK Bitter Ale 36 12
Charrington Nicholl & Co Colchester 1885 AK Bitter Ale 36 12
Roger's Bristol 1889 AK Bitter Ale 36 12
Rogers' Ales Bristol 1890 AK Bitter Ale 36 12
Arnol, Perret & Co Wickwar, Gloucs 1895 AK Bitter Ale 36 12
Henry Collett Chippenham 1870/90 AK Bitter Ale
Adey and White St. Albans 1884 AK Bitter Beer 36 12
Eltham Brewery Eltham 1874 AK Bitter Dinner Ale 36 12
Thomas Gundry Redhill, Surrey 1878 AK Family Ale 42 14
Flower & Sons Stratford-on-Avon 1890 AK Family Ale 30 10d
Northampton Brewery Northampton 1880 AK Family Pale Ale, a sparkling and agreeable Tonic 36 12
Major Lucas & Co Northampton 1893 AK Light Amber Ale 36 12
Major Lucas Northampton 1893 AK Light Amber Ale 36 12
Waltham Bros. London 1898 AK Light Biitter Ale  36 12
Reffell's Brewery Bexley, Kent 1888 AK Light Bitter 36 12
Ind Coope Romford 1890 AK Light Bitter 42 14
Epping Brewery Epping 1898 AK Light Bitter 36 12
A.E. Druce & Sons, Hans Town Brewery Chelsea 1855 AK Light Bitter Ale 34 11.33
E. Greene & Son Bury St Edmonds 1887 AK Light Bitter Ale
Fuller, Smith & Turner Chiswick 1893 AK Light Bitter Ale 36 12
Humby & Baillie Stafford 1896 AK Light Dinner Ale 36 12
Godsell & Sons Stroud, Gloucs 1902 AK Light Dinner Ale 36 12
Byles & Co Henley 1876 AK Light Pale Ale 36 12
James Hole & co. Newark 1890 AK Luncheon Ale
Leney Wateringbury 1884 AK Pale Ale 42 14
Daniell & Son Colchester 1894 AK Pale Ale 36 12
Wordsley Brewery Stourbridge 1897 AK similar to above but lighter 36 12
Waltham Abbey Brewery Waltham Abbey 1882 AK Stock Bitter Ale 36 12
19th-century price lists

I've already explained what's wrong about the second sentence: Mild doesn't mean lightly hopped. It means unaged.

There are no real errors in sentence three. But session is a very modern was of describing low-gravity beers. And I've most often seen it associated with Bitter, i.e. Session Bitter.

"AK is thought to stand for “Ale Kyte”, Flemish for “small ale”." Good bit of garbling there. I think they mean "ankel koyt" (though there are many different spellings of koyt: keyte, keut, kuyte). This is Martyn Cornell's theory of the derivation of AK. It doesn't mean small ale, but single Koyt. The standard form of Koyt as opposed to double Koyt. Personally, I don't believe this theory for a minute. There's a couple of hundred years gap between Flemish brewers settling in England an the name AK appearing. But that's another argument

"a tawny colored brew". I'm not sure what colour they mean with that description. But it sounds darker than the pale colour of AK.

"a favorite among the farmers and laborers of the West Midlands" Er, no. AK was mostly brewed in the South. As the map below shows. I can only see three that could possible be describes as West Midlands: Stafford, Stourbridges and Stratford. I think they're getting confused with Dark Mild, which still retains some popularity around Birmingham.

View AK distribution in a larger map

Note that Newark is the most northerly outpost of AK.

I'll make no comment about the ABV. It seems about right for a Light Bitter.

Give yourself a pat on the back if you spotted them all.


Rod said...

I think I drank McMullens' AK in the late '80's in one of their tied pubs in Loughton, Essex - would that be right?
Otherwise, growing up in Dorset, going to college in Birmingham, and living in London since 1978 I can't recall ever seeing a beer called AK - what was is normally called, or what brands might I have seen?

Ron Pattinson said...

Rod, Hole's/Courage AK is the only other one I ever saw. That was sold as Bitter.

Rod said...

So what were AK's normally sold as? Ordinary Bitter?

Ron Pattinson said...

Rod, yes, ordinary Bitter. Or LIght Bitter, if you go further back.

Rob Sterowski said...

Do AK and the other beers with K in their names pre-date PA/IPA? Is it right to lump them together with Pale Ale?

Ron Pattinson said...

Barm, the X and K systems only appear to have developped in the first couple of decades of 19th century. Of course, Keeping Berrs had been around longer than that.

I classify AK as a Pale Ale because that's what they did in the 19th century. As during this parliamentary committee:

Kristen England said...

I really don't think a lot of this is the individuals who regurgitate most of this tripe. It does perpetuate falsities though. I know a lot of people that have talked to me and emailed me about the Lets Brew stuff feel almost betrayed that what they've originally learned from books and such is that they are wrong. Having been one of those people its entirely frustrating. However, I think once people realize they have nothing invested in false histories, the do a good job of trying to help people learn about the facts.

dana said...

Ron, I've been reading along for a bit, recreated some of the AK's you & Kristen have posted. So I'm sorry to bring up Wikipedia into this. I'm really not trying to troll.

But are you and Martyn Cornell in agreement about this or is there a nuance I've missed in your posts & comments? His 2008 post is the citation that the Wiki writer uses to justify AK as a mild. And I must confess that I don't know whether he's weighed in more recently about this.

I swear this is a legitimate question.

Ron Pattinson said...

Dana, all the evidence I have says that AK is a Light Bitter.

dana said...

I can see that - and I'm also convinced from what you've published and the brews I've made. Is the confusion that these are served mild but not technically 'milds'?

Ron Pattinson said...

Dana, yes. Running Bitter, sold "mild", or young.

Spargealot said...


Thank you for clearing that up, it was very confusing to have the AK listed as a mild, but it was reinforced by the BJCP listing the bottom end of the SRM range at 12. McMullens fresh is great having had copious amounts in St Albans, but I could never understand why a "light" mild wouldn't get classified into the huge range of beers called "bitters". Can you offer an opinion based on historical record as to the correct SRM range for proper milds?

Ron Pattinson said...

Spargealot, Mild has been every colour at one time or another. Dark Mild is a relatively recent development. During most of the 19th century Mild was pale in colour.

Martyn Cornell said...

At one point in the 1950s or early 1960s McMullen's was selling AK as "mild bitter" - I am in possession of a pumpclip to prove it.

Unknown said...

Hello, could we say that the Fuller's beer called Chiswick Bitter is the new AK?

Ron Pattinson said...


Chiswick is really PA - the original Pale Ale that Fullers brewed, but which had the stuffing knocked out of it by two world wars.

Bob Thorp said...

Hi Ron Newark was the most northerly point for AK. I've just spent a week in Scarborough and spent the evenings looking at the history of brewing in the town and found E H Gawne, originally from the Isle of Man with previous family brewing history, advertising "A.K., Bitter". Gawne sold out to a rival firm (G & H Hudson) ~1895. Gawne was probably brewing in the town at the "Old Brewery" from the mid-1870s. Check this image on Brewery History Society Hoping to have a stab at Tetley's 1945 mild this weekend. Cheers. Bob