Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Let's Brew Wednesday - 1972 Whitbread Gold Label

Today is a very special day. Not because it's Christmas, but because I'm finally publishing a recipe for a beer that's fascinated and intoxicated me for years: Whitbread Gold Label.

Though that isn't the name it started out with. It was originally brewed by Tennant in Sheffield, who were later taken over by Whitbread. When introduced in the 1950's, it was something of a sensation. Why? Because of its colour. At a time when Barley Wines were a dark shade of brown, Gold Label was, er, golden. Or at least a pale amber. About the colour of Bitter.

The Mermaid, the pub on the caravan site in Mablethorpe where I spent most summer weekends as a child was a Tennant's pub. Come to think of it, probably the first pub I went in. They used to allow children in the lounge, something not exactly legal at the time. I can remember they had horizontal cylinder diaphragm electric pumps. Something that was pretty common in the Midlands in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Was it cask or bright beer they dispensed? No idea, I'm afraid.

The Mermaid must have sold Gold Label. Funnily enough I can remember drinking another Barley Wine in Mablethorpe: Bass No. 1. In a Bass pub whose name escapes me. It's now closed, so it doesn't really matter.

"Strong as a double scotch less than half the price." was a slogan I can remember seeing on posters as a teenager. They wouldn't get away with that now. It certainly got my attention as a 14 year old. Sounded like the perfect drink.

Sadly, the ABV has been dropped and Gold Label is only available in cans.  Do you know what it reminds me of? A strong, early 19th-century Mild. Something like an XXX Ale or XXXX Ale.

You can't believe how excited I was when I first spotted it in the Chiswell Street brewing records. They must have been churning out a lot of it in the early 1970's because I believe that Whitbread made it in more than one brewery. They brewed it reasonably frequently at Chiswell Street and it decent-sized batches of around 350 barrels.

Let's have a look at the beer itself. By the early 1970's Whitbread had gone all proprietary in the their sugars. In Gold Label it was SLS, a sugar not used in any of their other beers. What was it? No idea, really. It could stand for "Special Liquid Syrup". Not that that really helps much in working out what it was like. Kristen has gone for a combination of No. 1 and No. 2 invert, which looks like a pretty good guess to me.

The hopping is interesting. All the examples I have contain Styrian hops and all but one Hallertau. Styrian hops turn in many of their beers, but only one other beer used Hallertau: Brewmaster. The thing that looks quite like a Lager. Taking into account the hop extract, I make the total weight a little more than Kristen, about 5.5 ozs in all.

I think it's actually pilsner malt that Whitbread used. A bit tricky to tell for sure as they mostly used funny abbreviations, in this case FPM. It's a malt that was only in two of their beers, Gold Label and Brewmaster. I've guessed that FPM is pilsner because on one of the logs for Brewmaster it's specified as pilsner.

That's me done, over to Kristen . . . . .

Kristen’s Version:

Notes: This beer really did change my life. Heading to my cousins wedding in ??? I took the boat from Calais to Dover. Sat in Dover harbor getting turned into a milkshake for 3 hours because it was to rough to dock. Feeling queasy I made it to the train and was out of sorts, which is unusual traveling for me. Then the old drunken git gave me a gob of something magical. I don’t mean magical in the sense that it was amazingly ‘good’. I mean that it was something I had never had before…something so different it made me question everything I ‘knew’ about beer. Plus, what looks cooler than luggin around a jar of Gold Label. “Hey ladies, yeah, Gold Label, that’s right, you know I’m classy.” It wasn’t until later I was told it was plonk for the drunkards…I still like it.

Malt: A single pale malt of your choice. I’d choose Optic or something meaty for this baby for sure. A decent amount of maize is used that would be missed if you left it out. The sugar is another blend of some sort so I used a combination of #1 and #2 invert to get the SRM listed in the log by using the percent sugar and their colors.

Hops: Lots of German and Austrian hops. Pretty sweet. Goldings work really well for bittering in that you’ve got to use a good amount of them and will get the greenery that’s required from low alpha hops IMO.

Yeast: Whitbread yeast. Two choices. Wyeast 1098 (more tart and dry) or Wyeast 1099/Safale S04 (more fruity and malty). Which ever you’ve done before, do the other.

Sundries: This beer is a Christmas beer if I’ve ever seen one. One you can get proper pissed with…Familial obligations be damned…you’re not running for Jesus anyway…

Cask: Standard procedure:
1) let the beer ferment until finished and then give it another day or so. For me right around 5-7 days.
2) Rack the beer to your vessel of choice (firkin, polypin, cornie, whatever).
3) Add primings at ~3.5g/L
4) Add prepared isinglass at 1ml/L
5) ONLY add dry hops at 0.25g/l – 1g/L.
6) Bung it up and roll it around to mix. Condition at 55F or so for 4-5 days and its ready to go. Spile/vent. Tap. Settle. Serve at 55F.


Rod said...

"horizontal cylinder diaphragm electric pumps. Something that was pretty common in the Midlands in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Was it cask or bright beer they dispensed? No idea, I'm afraid."
These were still fairly common in Brum in the mid-70's, dispensing M+B tank bitter if memory serves. So bright beer.

FPM = Fine Pale (or Pilsner) Malt?

I love Gold Label.....

Paul Bailey said...

I believe that back in the late 1970's/early 80's, Whitbread were brewing Gold Label at their Wateringbury Brewery, just up the road from here. You will obviously be aware Ron, that this was the old Frederick Leney plant, which was one of the first breweries outside of London acquired by Whitbread; sometime during the 1920's.

I never got to go round it, but I do remember calling in there to collect some yeast on a number of occasions, back in my home-brewing days. On my first visit I was told that the light ale yeast would be much more suited for my brewing, than the one used to ferment Gold Label!

David said...

"horizontal cylinder diaphragm electric pumps. Something that was pretty common in the Midlands in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Was it cask or bright beer they dispensed?"
These were very common in Banks's and Hanson's pubs (Wolverhampton and Dudley respectively) in the late 70's and early 80's (and possibly many years either side), dispensing cask mild and bitter.

Ron Pattinson said...


a lot of the Courage pubs in Newark used them, too, but for bright not cask beer. As the former Holes brewery made to cask beer, it had to be bright or keg.

Lady Luck Brewing said...

Is there 2 pounds of English malt missing from the recipe? The numbers don't add for the gravity without them. said...

Hi some friends are having an argument. One of them maintains he saw gold label on tap. Was this so. Just curious.

Ron Pattinson said...

I never saw it served draught. Doesn't mean it never was. I doubt it was, but I have no evidence.

Anonymous said...

Yes it did go on draught!
I worked for Whitbreads.
In the early '80s a refurb of the Ladysbridge pub, under Exchange Brewery Sheffield put Gold Label
on draught.
The pump dispensed in thirds of a pint.
The pub had reopened as 'The Brewer on The Bridge'.

Ron Pattinson said...


thanks for passing that on. I'd love to have tried the draught version.

Anonymous said...

My dad worked for Tenants and Whitbread

Yes and I have still got some old full bottles of gold Label