Thursday, 20 January 2022

London X Ales 1880 - 1899

In the 1870s Mild replaced Porter as London’s favourite beer. At least if Whitbread are anything to go by. Their X Ale outsold their Porter for the first time in 1875.   Within a decade it had pulled far ahead, outselling Porter almost two to one.  X Ale remained Whitbread’s best-selling beer at the start of WW II. That’s quite a stint as top dog.

The big London Porter breweries didn’t even brew Mild Ale until the 1830s. Before that, they had concentrated exclusively on Porter and Stout. This might have been for purely logistical reasons as until 1829, Beer (i.e. Porter and Stout) came in different-sized barrels to Ale. Though the beginning of a wane in Porter’s popularity might well also have played a role.

In the 1830s and 1840s, London brewers produced a full range of Mild Ales, from X to XXXX. Gradually the stronger versions, of which only modest quantities were ever brewed, were discontinued. A few stronger Milds were still around in the 1880s, but a decade later pretty much only X Ale survived. Albeit being brewed in massive quantities.

Late 19th-century X Ales look ridiculously strong to modern eyes, often weighing in at over around 1060º. Believe it or not, gravities had declined. In the 1850s, most London examples of the style had been over 1070º.

It wasn’t just in terms of gravity that these Milds differed from modern versions. The rate of hopping was much higher. Averaging around 8 lbs per quarter (336 lbs) of malt, my calculations leave some at over 50 IBU. A crazily high level of bitterness to today’s eyes.

London X Ales 1880 - 1899
Year Brewer OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation lbs hops/ qtr hops lb/brl
1880 Barclay Perkins 1060.7 1013.6 6.23 77.63% 10.29 2.69
1886 Barclay Perkins 1055.0 1010.0 5.96 81.87% 6.42 1.61
1886 Barclay Perkins 1064.0 1015.0 6.49 76.63% 8.00 1.97
1887 Barclay Perkins 1059.0 1016.1 5.68 72.77% 6.07 1.34
1890 Barclay Perkins 1058.0 1016.9 5.44 70.87% 9.06 2.19
1899 Barclay Perkins 1054.7 1009.4 5.99 82.78% 8.85 1.98
1881 Whitbread 1061.2 1015.8 6.01 74.21% 7.35 2.05
1885 Whitbread 1063.2 1019.9 5.72 68.42% 8.04 2.21
1891 Whitbread 1059.6 1016.0 5.76 73.13% 8.03 2.14
1895 Whitbread 1059.6 1016.0 5.76 73.13% 8.01 2.17
1898 Whitbread 1058.4 1017.0 5.48 70.91% 6.92 1.86
1887 Fullers 1050.7 1013.6 4.91 73.22% 6.64 1.41
1893 Fullers 1050.4 1010.0 5.35 80.22% 6.86 1.49
1898 Fullers 1049.6 1012.7 4.87 74.30% 6.58 1.42
1880 Truman 1061.8 1015.2 6.16 75.34% 10.8 3.35
1885 Truman 1059.0       8.0 2.12
1890 Truman 1058.2       8.9 2.30
1895 Truman 1056.5       7.6 2.03
  Average 1057.7 1014.5 5.72 75.03% 7.91 2.02
Barclay Perkins brewing records held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document numbers ACC/2305/1/579, ACC/2305/1/584, ACC/2305/1/583, ACC/2305/1/586 and ACC/2305/1/593.
Whitbread brewing records held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document numbers LMA/4453/D/01/047, LMA/4453/D/01/050, LMA/4453/D/01/057, LMA/4453/D/01/061 and LMA/4453/D/01/064
Fullers brewing records hels at the brewery.
Truman brewing records held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document numbers B/THB/C/161, B/THB/C/166, B/THB/C/171 and B/THB/C/175.



Phil said...

This is the one style (or style/period) I don't feel I've got any handle on at all. It was 5-6%, it was 'mild' (new/fresh), it was pretty bitter, and it was the most popular beer style by volume... but what was it like?

Is there any contemporary analogue? One or two strong milds reach the 5-6% area (e.g. Sarah Hughes') but none of them are particularly bitter. Most of the old-school 5-6%ers I can think of hark back to old ale, not mild (although I suspect that nineteenth-century old ales would have been a lot more bretty than e.g. Old Peculier or Fuller's 1845). Also, if this was the high-volume seller, how were people drinking it - surely not in pints? Certainly not in sessions...!

We tend to think of the pre-Lloyd George beerhouse as something pretty much like a 1960s pub, only with stronger beer, but I don't think it can have been.

Anonymous said...

"This might have been for purely logistical reasons as until 1829, Beer (i.e. Porter and Stout) came in different-sized barrels to Ale."

What was the lofgistical issue? And why not just switch the logistically more convenient size for both?

Unknown said...

You can see exactly the same change at Truman – see Terry R. Gourvish and Richard G. Wilson, The British Brewing Industry 1830-1980, p81. It would be very interesting to see comparative figures for the original ale brewers, Manns, Charrington and Courage, who had, of course, grown enormously over the previous 40 years on the back of rising sales of mild ale. They all had started brewing porter and stout too, but I'd be confident in saying that they, too, saw porter sales drop away from 1870.

Ron Pattinson said...


the logistical issue was having two sets of barrels, one for Ale, the other for Beer. There was a tax per barrel at the time. If you filled Ale into 36-gallon barrels you'd be dodging some of the tax. While if you filled Beer into Ale barrels you'd be paying more tax that necessary.

Ron Pattinson said...


the closest modern beers would be things like Harvey's Old Ale.

I think people really were having sessions and drinking pints. I've seen comments from the 1920s remarking how much more sober people had become since beer had been reduced in strength.