Friday, 28 October 2016

Tennant’s draught beers in the late 1950’s

I love memoirs of brewery life. Two of my favourite books are Sydney Nevile’s “Seventy Rolling Years” and Anthony Avis’s "The Brewing Industry 1950 - 1990".

So I was delighted when Ed Wray gave me a copy of "The Brewer's Tale" by Frank Priestley. The author started at Tennant in Sheffield in 1959, before it became part of Whitbread. He then moved elsewhere in the Whitbread empire.

These inside views are so handy in fleshing out brewing records and analyses. I just wish there were more of them. Priestley usefully gives a brief sketch of the range of beers produced by Tennant.

“An important part of my duties as laboratory assistant was the analysis of the finished products. Samples were taken from every brew and tested for colour, clarity and gravity. At that time, Tennant's produced four draught been and five bottled beers. The draught beers were: Bitter Beer (BB), Best Bitter Beer (BBB), Rock Ale, which was a dark, mild ale and Queen's Ale. Rock Ale probably originated at the Nottingham Brewery (see later). The Nottingham cellars had been excavated out of the solid rock on which the old town stood. Beers stored in the cellars were known as Rock Ales. Queen's Ale was a premium draught beer. It was a pale, hoppy beer with a good body. Its perfect balance of malty sweetness and the bitterness of the finest hops ensured that it was the best draught beer that I have ever tasted (and that is saying something).”
"The Brewer's Tale" by Frank Priestley, 2010, page 11.

Here’s an odd thing. There are plenty of analyses of Tennant’s beers in the Whitbread Gravity Book. Which I would have expected. They seem to have had an unhealthy interest in the beers of breweries they later bought. But there are only analyses of bottled beers, none for draught. Fortunately, a couple were analysed by Which? magazine.

Tennant draught beers 1960
Year Beer Style Price per pint d OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation
1960 Best Bitter Pale Ale 16 1038.3 1006 4.20 84.20%
1960 Queen's Ale Pale Ale 18 1041.7 1009 4.30 79.38%
Which Beer Report, 1960, pages 171 - 173.

I’m very pleased to see Queen’s Ale in there after Priestley’s high praise of it. My guess is that it was a new beer introduced in 1952 or 1953. The name is a bit of a giveaway. It’s not as strong as I had expected from his description. You’ll note that it’s barely stronger than the Best Bitter.

I’ll have to guess about the other two beers. My guess would be that both Bitter and Rock Mild had an OG in the low 1030s. And that the three Bitters were probably parti-gyled.

I would have ended there, but I did manage to dig up some more information. About the Nottingham Brewery’s beer. It looks like Rock Mild really did come from them:

Nottingham Brewery beers
Year Beer Style Price per pint d package OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation
1931 Rock Bitter Ale Pale Ale bottled 1036 1009.6 3.41 73.26%
1931 Rock Mild Ale Mild bottled 1037 1011.5 3.35 69.25%
1931 Oatmeal Stout Stout bottled 1053 1020.1 4.27 62.22%
1931 Mild Mild 6 draught 1042 1011 4.06 74.00%
1931 Bitter Pale Ale 6 draught 1041 1011.5 3.85 72.09%
1931 Best Draught Ale Strong Ale 8 draught 1054 1008.5 5.94 84.26%
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/001.

Note how the bottled version OGs are 5 degrees lower than the draught equivalent. That was pretty typical between the wars.

I do find it odd that they should have adopted the Mild Ale of a brewery they had taken over. Especially such a core beer as their Mild, which would have been their biggest seller. I can only assume that Rock Mild had a good reputation. Or Tennant liked the branding and just applied it to their own beer.

Bottled beers next time.


marquis said...

Ron, the Nottingham Brewery flourishes! The present owners bought the name and I believe the brewing records. Rock Bitter and Rock Mild are available in the city and are very drinkable.

Ed said...

Glad you liked the book Ron. Thanks for inviting me to your birthday do, I had a great time.