Sunday, 27 May 2012

Barclay's London Lager

War. I just keep finding new ways it's influenced British brewing. Sometimes very subtly. This one is particularly subtle.

Barclay Perkins were the first of the large London brewers to take a plunge into the Lager pool. Fittingly, it was Lager that helped to keep the brewery afloat in the 1950's. In 1956 Lager was their biggest seller, accounting for 20% of sales*. Very unusual for the time. And when most of their Park Street brewery was closed in 1969, the Lager brewery remained open for several more years.

"The interesting announcement is made by Messrs. Barclay, Perkins & Co., Ltd., that they have taken a new departure in brewing a lager beer termed "Barclay's London Lager." We understand that the firm have experimented over a number of years with this type of beer before feeling themselves in a position to attach their name to the new product. The most up-to-date plant is being installed, and the services of the world's acknowledged experts have been commanded. Apart from the delay occasioned in completion of the plant, attributable largely to the industrial unrest of the last few months, it was anticipated that the beer would be ready at the beginning of the present summer. As it is, the output of a temporary installation has been exported to all parts Of the globe, and its reception has we understand, boon remarkably gratifying. English brewers, on the whole, are prone to look askance at lager beer. They believe that the climate and public taste are against it. They are not unmindful, also, of the fact that large sums of money have unprofitably been sunk in like enterprises. On the other hand, it must he recognised that some two-thirds of the total world-consumption of beer is of the lager or bottom-fermentation type. We are, indeed, the only large beer-drinking country that exclusively produces top-fermentation beers. Another factor is that Germany and Austria, who ranked predominant before the war as exporters of lager beer, have lost their markets, and America — third on the pre-war list of exporters of this article — is to-day prohibited from manufacture. Anything which can be done to increase our beer exports is a work of national utility, and the enterprise upon which Messrs. Barclay, Perkins & Co., Ltd., are embarking will he watched with keen interest by the whole of the trade. Quite apart from the export trade, in which they have always specialised, the firm are determined to give to the people of London an opportunity of tasting draught lager beer under the ideal conditions of its being brought directly from the brewery to the cellars of the retailer. Doubtless they do not imagine that any large trade in this type of beer can at present be looked for from the working classes. The potentiality of trade lies with the middle and upper classes, and with that floating population from the ends of the earth which the Metropolis always embraces."
Brewers' Journal 1921, Page 275.

I have evidence of some of those experiments in Lager brewing. Barclay Perkins had a small brewhouse that they used for the less fashionable beers. On March 10th 1915 they brewed there something with the lovely name of Experimental Lager (Dark)**. It had an OG of 1052º and was made using a decoction mash. Two days later they brewed it again, but this time with an infusion mash. They must have enjoyed playing around with the decoction method because in April 1915 they used it to brew an experimental X Ale. Decocted Mild - what a crazy idea.

"large sums of money have unprofitably been sunk in like enterprises" who could they mean? Allsopp, perhaps. This could be one of the reasons British brewers were so late to adopt bottom fermentation. It required a large capital outlay and there was no guarantee than the investment would prove worthwhile in the long run. The happy time for British brewing ended with the outbreak of WW I. Increased taxation and falling consumption had knocked much of the profit out of the industry. Who would want to take such a gamble as building a new Lager brewery when money was tight?

It's odd to read that Barclay Perkins specialised in the export trade. Because I've come across precious little evidence of it, save for the odd mention of Barclay's Stout in Australia. It certainly looks as if it was matters of beer trade that prompted their foray into bottom fermentation. The date of that experiment - 1915 - is significant. During WW I when the normal suppliers of Lager to Britain - Germany and Austria - were no longer able to deliver. The vast majority of British beer imports up until 1914 were Lager from these two countries. As they  were out of the game, it created an opportunity for Barclay Perkins. One they seem to have embraced whole-heartedly. Once the war was over, there was a second opportunity: exports. With the three biggest exporters of Lager incapacitated for various reasons, it was a good time to enter the market. Would they have been so keen on Lager without the war? Probably not.

You have to smile at the part about there being no market for Lager amongst the working classes. How wrong that claim has proved to be.

The choice of name is also revealing and I believe influenced by the war. Barclay's London Lager. Not a fake Germanic name as you might expect, but something clearly and proudly British. The war had provoked a great deal of anti-German sentiment and no-one wanted a German name. Even the royal family changed their surname.

Here's a second article with some details of those early London Lagers:


The Lancet of the 17th ult., reporting on two samples of Messrs. Barclay, Perkins and Co's Lager Beer, "Light" and "Dark" respectively, states that, when analysed, the following results were obtained ;—

(1) "Light." (2) "Lager de Luxe."
Original gravity  1052° 1057°
Present gravity 1010.3° 1017.4°
Alcohol by volume (per cent 5.37 5.1
Proof spirit (per cent.) 9.35 8.9
Extractives (per cent.) 4.66 6.35
Acidity as acetic acid (per cent.) 0.09 0.11
Colour (Lovibond 1 in. cell) 47°

"Both these beers, which are stronger than the continental lagers," remarks our contemporary, "were brilliant, in excellent condition, and contained no sediment. They possess the true lager characteristics, are most palatable and refreshing beverages, and have evidently been brewed with the greatest care and skill. Messrs. Barclay are to be congratulated on their enterprise in placing a true "lager" on the market, the more so as such beers are held in great esteem by beer-drinkers with a "refined" palate who can appreciate a sound and wholesome beverage brewed by a method hitherto but little exploited in this country. Medical men have every confidence in recommending these beers as they are fully fermented and matured.""
Brewers' Journal 1922, page 291.

The strength is weird. At a time British beer averaged around 4% ABV, they chose to brew their Lagers not only stronger than that, but stronger than Continental versions. No sediment? Can't be a real beer then.

* Document ACC/2305/1/675 held at the London Metropolitan Archives
** Brewing record held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number ACC/2305/1/605/1.


Bill said...

Hopefully there will be more information on Wednesday.

Gary Gillman said...

The high alcohol, relatively, for the time is noteworthy especially as no argument could be made that the original gravity was being restored - lager was generally of quite low gravity in the 1800's, to the point where many U.K. observers noted this and as a point in its favour (something I've never understood).

E.g. Urquell is still only 4.4% ABV. Perhaps though by the 1920's, German lager had edged up in average ABV, either that or Barclay's felt it had to offer a "premium" ABV level to attract people to something essentially foreign to their beer tradition.

It is amazing that in the 1950's Barclay's were heavily reliant on lager sales, I'd never have guessed that.