Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Headington and Sons beers in 1903

More Mild Ale. Sort of. In an odd oblique way. We'll be looking at a price list from 1903 to see what it tells us about changes happening in British brewing.

Here's the price list:

Reading Mercury - Saturday 21 March 1903, page 10.

I'm going to take the beers that cost 36s per barrel as my base line. They should have been around 1050º at this time. And you know what's dead interesting? That there are two beers cheaper than 36s per barrel: Harvest Beer and X Light Dinner Ale.

The Harvest beer can't have been over 1040º at that price. The X Light Dinner Ale can't have been much over 1040º. But what sort of beer was it? A very Light Bitter, would be my guess. Though it could also have been a weak Mild.

Mild is where this price list fascinates. Because there's only one (perhaps two if X Light Dinner Ale is one as well). Yet yesterday we learned that Mild was about two-thirds of all beer brewed in Britain. It seems hugely under-represented in the price list. Especially if you know what a price list from the 1860's or 1870's looked like. You don't? Well here's one:

Bucks Herald, Saturday 6th July 1867, page 8.

Look at all those Mild Ales. Six in total. The Pale Ales and Stouts look very similar. Just the Porter is missing.

It highlights a strange paradox. Usually when a style becomes popular, more varieties of it appear. The opposite happened to Mild at the end of the 19th century. The number of Milds a a brewery's range declined, even though the style was gaining poularity.

I've already written about this phenomenon amongst London brewers, who went from brewing four - X, XX, XXX and XXXX - to just one Mild Ale  between 1840 and 1890. Stronger Milds disappeared and only the weakest X Ale remained, reigniong supreme in the public bar. Though you could argue that Burton took the place of stronger Mild.

Another point is the disconnect between bottled and draught beer names. Cooper, Nourishing Stout and Double Brown Stout are obviously the same beers as Porter, Single Stout and Double Stout. Why the change in names? Cooper is especially interesting. That's really the name for mixed draught Porter and draught Stout.

That leads me on to another point. Why popular beers like Porter and Mild were rare in bottled form. Either they weren't bottled at all, or like the Cooper above, were given different names when bottled.

Finally the Pale Ales. As you've probably already noticed, the IPA is the strongest of the bunch. My guess would be that Family Pale Ale was about 1050º, Pale Ale 1055º and IPA 1060º.


Martyn Cornell said...

It's my suspicion, based admittedly on not very much evidence, that most country brewers made just two milds, eg X and XXXXX, and the rest of the range as advertised was actually a mixture of those two in varying proportions.

Ron Pattinson said...

Martyn, I've not seen enough records from that type of brewery to know what they were up to.

London brewers, when they brewed several X Ales, just parti-gyled them in whatever combination was required. Which is sort of like blending different strength beers, just before fermentation.

Wait until I get onto Robert Younger's brewing techniques in the 1950's. A way of brewing I've not come across before. I'll be posting about it in a day or two.

Gary Gillman said...

This makes me curious what extant mild there is in London today, I mean, from old-established brewers, which seems down to Fuller. Its London Pride, albeit never labelled (IIRC) a "pale ale" or IPA, is in fact a bitter surely.

Would its hock qualify, therefore? I mean here not the strong ales, but the medium-gravity range.

Or can we say in effect London Pride and even Chiswick Bitter are milds because their hop rate is the same or less than Fuller's milds in the early 1900's? Apart from hop rate, there seems nothing essentially to distinguish mild and bitter today since bitter isn't stocked any longer. And colour, always relative, isn't material since mild ale in its heyday was pale, so...


Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, old London Pride labels say "Special Pale Ale" on them. Bitter and Pale Ale are essentially the same thing.

Hock was Fuller's Mild. It's only brewed occasionally.

Comparing modern hop rates with pre-WW I ones is pointless. Too much has changed since then. Start judging modern beers by the standards of 100 years ago and you end up in a total mess.

Gary Gillman said...

Ron, thanks, but I can't agree at all with your last paragraph. If a total mess would result, there would be no point to create historical beers. The same uncertainty that attends the latter due to the changes you referred to, attends a comparison of modern Fuller ales and its pre-WW 1 pale milds, but that doesn't mean the exercise is pointless.

What was mild? An ale with a predominantly sweet character, not a highly attenuated, very bitter beer often described as a "tonic". Modern English bitter (excluding APA influences), including Fuller's, generally meets the former description, not the latter.
Accordingly, I would argue they are milds today except for their name.


Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, saying a modern Bitter is Mild by 1900 specs is a ridiculous exercise. It gets you nowhere except confused.

By the same reasoning modern Guinness is a Table Beer. Or modern Barley Wines are really strong Mild Ales.

I'd call London Pride a Light Bitter. It's too weak to be a pre-WW I Mild.

Gary Gillman said...

Ron, it is important to emphasize that I am talking about taste, not alcohol as such much less nomenclature (the least important metrics in the comparison). My question was, is there any regular production mild in London today, or in England if one wants to cast further, that really resembles 1800's mild? And I think I have concluded that there is, but it is called pale ale now.

But let's go with stronger bitter for the sake of argument: take Fuller ESB then, or Landlord, or Director's, or Ruddles County, or any other premium bitter. 5.0-5.5% ABV is close to pre-WW I ale strength for many English X ales. Charrington's and Allsopp's regular ales as reported in the British Medical Journal's 1870 mild ale analysis didn't quite reach 5% and even if that was by weight (which I don't think it was), that is pretty comparable.

And so what do you have? Beers that are attenuated (surely) not over 75% whereas 1800's bitter quite frequently went to 80% and 90%. Beers without - especially - a sharp hop bitter from 4-5 lbs leaf hops per barrel. Beers without a stocked character: no brett, no port-like oxidation, no lactic acid. You have something very close to a, 1800's X, I'd say.

According to Fuller's website, 110 kgs of hops are used in production of 640 barrels of London Pride. That is, if I calculate right, about 1/3rd a pound of hops per barrel. If they use pellets, add 20% to equate better to leaf, so say a half-pound. Maybe ESB uses more, say even a pound if you want to boost for supposed modern higher AA content. In 1869, Barclay Perkins's X ale, OG 1060, used 1.94 lbs hops per barrel. Discount half if you want for the effects of storing some long-term. So one pound, the maximum (surely again) that an ESB-type beer would use and I'd guess it uses rather less.

So that is how I came to my feeling that bitter drinkers are basically drinking 1800's-style mild today.


Ron Pattinson said...


they aren't. I've had enough 19th-century Mild recreations and they don't taste like London Pride.

Gary Gillman said...

Well, taste is subjective but also, London Pride was but one example and Fuller definitely has a house taste. Did the recreations taste like no premium British pale ale of today? And if so, why would that be?