Sunday, 26 June 2016

Things going well at J.W. Green

The early years of the 1950’s were good for J.W. Green. The company was expanding through acquisitions and it was starting to build up some widely-known bottled beer brands. All under the enthusiastic leadership of Bernard Dixon, one of the figures who, like Eddie Taylor, woke the British brewing industry from its lethargic slumber.

That their sales were increasing at a time when national beer sales were falling, was a measure of their success:

The Adjourned Fifty-sixth Annual General Meeting of J. W. Green Limited was held Luton on the 26th January, 1954. Mr. Bernard Dixon, chairman, presided. The following are points from his Statement:

Whereas during the winter months of the year under review had weather conditions hampered trade to some extent. I am pleased to report that this was largely rectified by improved sales during the second half of the year, which finished on a strong note. Last year, in common with many other Breweries, found that the steady increase which had taken place in Bottled Beer sales was beginning to ease. During the year we have successfully launched a number of new brands of Bottled Beer which already have achieved considerable popularity and our Bottled Beer sales have regained impetus and are steadily increasing in volume.”
Grantham Journal - Friday 29 January 1954, page 2.

There was a boom in bottled beer sales after WW II. It looks as if the growth was starting to level off. We’ll be seeing later more details about those bottled brands.

The company was also investing, both in its pubs and its plant:

“Throughout the Group the expenditure on properties have been exceedingly heavy. This is inevitable in the early stages where new groups of properties have been brought in. There will, of course, be a gradual easing of this expenditure, and this should have a beneficial effect on future profits.

I am glad to report that we are now the end of our programme for the rehabilitation of the plant at the Luton Brewery, where every department is thoroughly up-to-date and should give the Company many years service.

It is anticipated that the by-products plant will be in operation the early part of the new year. Considerable delay has been experienced in obtaining the equipment for this department.

At our Sunderland Brewery we have practically completed a large well-equipped Bottling Store, which should be fully capable of handling our requirements in that area for some time to come.”
Grantham Journal - Friday 29 January 1954, page 2.

Those investments show that the company was looking to the future. Of course, the Luton Brewery didn’t last that much longer, being replaced at the end of the 1960’s by a brand new brewery just out of town. By then Whitbread were in control.

Now more about those bottled beer brands:

“During the year the Company brought into operation a fleet of articulated vehicles for the purpose of supplying some of our better-known brands such as "Brewmaster", "Dragon's Blood" and "Poacher" to wholesale customers and other Breweries in the Group. This move has been entirely successful, with the result that these brands are becoming popular over an ever-widening area of the country.“
Grantham Journal - Friday 29 January 1954, page 2.

It sounds as if they were supplying not just their own pubs and off-licences with these bottled beers, by independent customers, too. A sign they were serious about building up their brands.

And what were those three beers like? This:

JW Green bottled brands 1953 - 1962
Year Beer Style Price per pint d OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation colour
1953 Dragon's Blood Old Ale 48 1073.4 1024.5 6.34 66.62% 4 + 40
1953 Dragon's Blood Old Ale 45 1073.6 1028.1 5.88 61.82% 56 B
1956 Brewmaster Ale Pale Ale 30 1045.8 1009.7 4.70 78.82% 18
1958 Brewmaster Export Beer Pale Ale 36 1045.4 1008 4.68 82.38% 16
1959 Brewmaster Pale Ale 34 1041.1 1009.2 4.14 77.62% 15
1960 Brewmaster Export Pale Ale 30 1047.4 1011 4.55 76.79% 17
1960 Brewmaster Pale Ale 30 1047.3 1011.15 4.70 76.43%
1962 Brewmaster Export PA Pale Ale 36 1046.6 1015.6 3.87 66.52% 18
1955 Poacher Ale Brown Ale 22 1034.9 1014.2 2.67 59.31% 115
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002.
Which Beer Report, 1960, pages 171 - 173.

Dragon’s Blood was  pretty strong beer by early 1950’s standards. And Brewmaster a decent strength Pale Ale. But they weren’t cheap. To put the price into context, in 1953 a pint of draught Mild cost 14d, pint of Ordinary Bitter 17d and Best Bitter 20d.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Bottled beer in the 1950’s – Bright Bottled Beers (part seventeen)

I’ve renewed enthusiasm for this never-ending series. Especially when we’ve got to the fascinating subject of devices for closing beer bottles. I’m never going to get bored with that.

Stoppers and Crown Corks
because the closure forms an apparently minor part of the bottled beer equipment, it often does not receive the attention which is its due. What is the good of producing a good beer, and going to the further expense of bottling it, if it is to be spoilt at the last stage by the use of an inferior closure? There can be no doubt that the introduction of screw-stoppers and crown corks have contributed largely to the present-day popularity of bottled beers. But it is upon their use or abuse that the quality of the article depends. Stoppers as made to-day differ considerably from those originally turned out.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 348.

It’s pretty obvious that a cheap stopper than doesn’t seal properly is likely to bugger your beer. The triumph of the crown cork is a surprisingly recent development. Screw stoppers predominated from the late 19th century until around WW II. They were a huge improvement of corks, the earlier method of sealing bottles. Corks were porous and liable to jump out if the pressure inside the bottle became too great.

Flip-top stoppers, as used by Grolsch never seem to have been that popular in Britain. While in Germany they were the preferred format until at least WW II. And have made a comeback in the last 20 years.

Here’s what you should look for in a screw stopper:

“Early stoppers had the appearance of compressed charcoal, and the heads parted easily from the threaded portion. This fault is still to be found in cheap grades. Better class stoppers to-day are made from vulcanite, with a hard and smooth external appearance. The milling round the head is better defined, and tougher, so that it will not wear off as was formerly the case. A rubber band of good quality should be insisted upon, as upon it depends the final seal. With stoppers as with bottles, the makers can now supply a quality which will stand the strain of pasteurization with a minimum of damage.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 348.

I get the feeling that pasteurisation of bottled beer wasn’t that common before WW II. I assume that because makers were only just starting to deliver bottles that were up to it in the mid-1950’s.

Oddly, the type of stopper depended in the bottle size:

“For half pints the crown cork has entirely replaced the screw stopper; for pints the screw stopper still largely holds the field and for quarts, when produced, it is universal. The main advantage of the screw stopper over the crown is that if only part of the contents are to be consumed the remainder can be kept in good condition, whereas a crown cannot be replaced as an airtight closure, hence the retention of the screw stopper for pints and quarts. There is the necessity for a special opener for crown corks, but this is not serious as the crown corks opener seems nowadays to be usually available. The crown cork has two very great advantages over the screw stopper. For quick trade in the bar, where the crown can be easily and quickly removed this type of closure is unequalled. There is not the necessity of recovering the stopper and the bottler is not faced with the rather troublesome job of cleaning the screw-stopper and ensuring that the rubber rings are in good condition."
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 348.

I was wondering why half pints had all gone over to crown corks. Simple – you were unlikely to want to reseal a half pint. You don’t really need a special opener for a crown cork. Ask a Czech. They have dozens of methods of getting a crown cork off without a bottle opener. Even I can do it.

As well as being difficult to clean, screw stoppers could easily become separated from their bottle and get lost.

It’s worth noting that by the 1950’s most bottled beer in pubs was sold in half-pint bottles. Though there were still plenty of pints in the take-home trade.

More details about crown corks:

“At one time difficulty was experienced with porous corks in the crowns and often beer would come into contact with the metal crown and cause discoloration of the cork. A backing of lacquered paper or a layer of lacquer between cork and metal will prevent this trouble. Many crowns are furnished with an aluminium spot in the centre of the cork, so that the cork itself only comes into contact with the lip of the bottle. The use of a slice of natural cork has largely been superseded by a composite of cork particles bonded together with a synthetic resin. As received in their cartons crown corks are usually practically sterile and if care is used in their handling between carton and the hopper on the filling machine no serious trouble of infection need be anticipated. In fact such trouble is extremely rare. The use of ordinary corks as closures for beer bottles is to all intents and purposes obsolete. Polythene stoppers and caps are being developed, but have not yet come into use to any extent for beer in this country.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 349.

The seals are all of plastic now. I can remember when they were still little disks of real cork.

Bottle washing next.

Friday, 24 June 2016

William Younger hop usage in May 1885

This is a short piece inspired by something in a brewing record that stuck out its leg and tripped me up. One of the little monthly summaries that you quite often see.

This is it:

Notice something strange? Almost three-quarters of the hops came from outside the UK. It’s more obvious in table form:

William Younger hop usage in May 1885
year hop lbs % of total
1884 Kent 2,070 24.64%
1884 California 990 11.79%
1884 Alsace 190 2.26%
1884 Wurtemberg 1,190 14.17%
1884 Spalt 1,410 16.79%
1884 American 1,960 23.33%
1883 American 350 4.17%
1883 East Kent 240 2.86%
Total 8,400
barrels brewed 5,670
William Younger brewing record held at the Scottish Brewing Archive, document number WY/6/1/2/31.

Here’s a table with percentages per country of origin:

Germany 33.21%
USA 39.29%
UK 27.50%

Do you know what surprised me? The amount of German hops. Note that it’s greater than the quantity of UK hops. I’d have expected more US hops, to be honest. 50% of the total, at least. The UK was totally dependent on hop imports at this time, UK production nothing like covering demand. London brewer, close to the hop gardens of Kent, tended to use more British hops.

It didn’t really matter that hops weren’t grown in Scotland. All UK brewers had to use imported hops. As most Scottish breweries were in places like Edinburgh or Alloa, close to the sea, importing them from abroad wasn’t a problem. Doubtless easier than for some English country brewers.

You can see that I calculated the quantity of hops per barrel. Just under 1.5 lbs. How did that compare with English practice? Here’s the hop usage from Whitbread for the year ending July 1885:

Whitbread hop usage in 1885
barrels lbs hops lbs/barrel
Ale 199,849 498,097 2.49
Porter 122,291 336,297 2.75
Whitbread brewing records held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document numbers LMA/4453/D/01/050 and LMA/4453/D/09/079.

You can see that Whitbread, on average, used significantly more hops than William Younger. Which hadn’t been the case earlier in the century. Hopping rates seem to have diverged between England and Scotland towards the end of the 19th century, particularly when it came to Pale Ales and Porter and Stout. Fascinating, eh? I must look into it more closely sometime.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Bottled beer in the 1950’s – Bright Bottled Beers (part sixteen)

Whoops. I’d forgotten about this. Not sure what distracted me. There are distractions galore in my life.

In this endless series on bright bottled beer we’ve finally got to the bottles themselves. And I must admit that the first paragraph here surprises me. I’ll let you read it first before I tell you why.

It would be of enormous advantage to all concerned with the bottled beer trade if it were possible to adopt a standardized bottle. This perfect bottle would be universal in regard to quality, size and shape and it would have an agreed design of neck and opening. Such a state of affairs would obviate the present unsightly collection of bottles of every description which may now be seen in bottling stores. Considerable labour costs are involved in sorting out the bottles, as well as expenses connected with the various bottle exchanges if a firm desires to use only its own bottles. In order to make sure of so doing it is necessary to have some means of identifying a bottle; at present, this is done by having the firm's name and address embossed In the glass. This embossing holds dirt, and adds to the difficulty of washing the bottle. The standardization suggested above would put an end to all these troubles.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 347.

My surprise is that the bottles weren’t standardised. Because my memories from the 1960’s and 1970’s is of total standardisation in beer bottles. You had the sloping imperial pint bottle, the round-shouldered half pint and the occasional nip. And even more rarely, quart bottles. Hang on. I can think of one exception. Newcastle Breweries had their own design of clear bottle.

I’d assumed – and this is the sort of assumption I get angry when others make, namely that present practice stretches far back into the past – that bottles had been standardised around the time of WW II. It seems to have been later than that.

Wondering what a bottle exchange was? It was a way of getting bottles returned through the retail trade back to brewers. Remember that these were all returnable bottles. There were no single use bottles at all back then. A mechanism was needed to get bottles back to where they belonged. Especially non-standard ones.

The bottle I remember from my youth were something called London Brewers’ standard. Which is what I believe Jeffery is discussing here:

“This uniformity in bottle design has been brought about to a considerable extent especially in the London area. Fewer firms have their names embossed on their bottles and hence the difficulties arising in sorting out the different kinds do not often arise. Although there are still differences in shape, the heights of the bottles are more standardized. Whatever the type of bottle preferred one thing is quite definite, that it must be of good quality and of a shape which renders it easy to clean. A beer bottle has to stand a great amount of knocking about and on that account it should be made of a material which will not chip readily. It should also be so designed that, if used in connection with crown cork, a chipped bottle is incapable of further employment. The glass must be tough and not liable to crack easily. For cleaning purposes a sloping neck is far to be preferred to a square shoulder, which is difficult to get at either with a brush or by liquor under pressure. A cushion of air forms in the shoulder and prevents contact with brush or liquid.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, pages 347 - 348.

If a shouldered bottle was harder to clean, it seems odd that that design was chosen for the standard half pint. He says: “if used in connection with crown cork” because there were still beer bottles with rubber stoppers and an internal screw thread. In fact those bottles were still around in the 1970’s. Bizarrely, national brewer Whitbread still used such bottles in their Kirkstall brewery in Leeds.

Next we’ll be looking at stoppers and crown corks in more detail.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016


I once scribbled 30 pages of notes on the way beers styles evolve. A lot of it bollocks. I've had access to brewing records since. But one assertion I still in a steely grip around the throat: beer and beer styles evolve in reaction to their environment. Just like living creatures.

Tax is the apex preadator of the brewing environment. It's mostly responsible for the difference in strength between modern American and British versions of the same style. The US flat-rate tax makes high-ABV beers much more economical than in most European countries, where the tax is higher on stronger beers.

With a similar tax system, I'm sure the modern US marscape would look very different. That's why lower-strength beers are such bad value in the US. The difference in the cost of ingredients in brewing a 4% compared to a 7% one are minimal, compared to other costs.

A flat rate tax per barrel was a British thing in the 18th century. Up until 1830. When the tax was shifted to malt and hops alone. An important date for the divergence of the British styles brewed in the US from the originals.

It wasn't just in tax alone that the brewing traditions grew apart. But money screams.

Tracking the transformation of British styles transplanted elsewhere would be my thesis. If I had the arsing in me. But I'm all belly and no backside. Peter Symon's Bronzed Brews does the job for Australia. I can't recommend it enough. Properly researched from brewing records.

Did the US stick with the colonial system of taxing beer after independence?  I don't know. Sounds plausible, but I prefer facts. It's probably more complicated.

My belly outbulging my buttocks, can someone save me arseache?

1891 Barclay Perkins KKK

Since I’ve already given you the recipe for KK, I may as well let you have the one for its big brother, KKK, too.

Not that it’s very different. Just a little bit more of everything than the KK. But the same basic grist of 75%, 12.5% flaked rice and 12.5% No. 2 invert sugar. I can tell this is going to be a short post. That’s already pretty much everything I need to say.

I know something I can tell you. Unusually, Barclay Perkins continued to brew really strong K Ales after WW I. In the 1920’s they brewed a beer called KKKK, which had an OG of 1079º. It was only available in the winter and from adverts I’ve seen, appeared to be served from a pin on the bar.

I’ve just had a look at my spreadsheet of Barclay Perkins brewing records and was surprised to see that KKK, which was discontinued during WW I, did reappear in the early 1920’s, and with an OG of 1082º, just about at pre-war strength. And, with batch sizes of a little over 100 barrels, it was being brewed in decent quantities. Unlike Fuller’s OBE, a similar beer, of which there were usually fewer than 10 barrels brewed at a time.

I’m not sure in which form KKK was sold. Probably on draught, as was most beer in the 1890’s. That’s really about the start of bottled beer as a real mass-market product.

That’s me done. I told you it would be short.

1891 Barclay Perkins KKK
Mild malt 12.50 lb 69.44%
crystal malt 60L 0.75 lb 4.17%
flaked rice 2.50 lb 13.89%
No. 2 invert sugar 2.25 lb 12.50%
Hallertau 90 min 3.75 oz
Goldings 60 min 3.25 oz
Goldings 30 min 3.25 oz
Goldings dry hops 1.00 oz
OG 1085
FG 1024
ABV 8.07
Apparent attenuation 71.76%
IBU 112
SRM 15
Mash at 152º F
Sparge at 168º F
Boil time 90 minutes
pitching temp 60º F
Yeast Wyeast 1098 British ale - dry
Wyeast 1099 Whitbread Ale

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

London in March (part two)

More stuff from real-time notes made during my trip to London in March. Really just notes made during a long afternoon session in one pub. What a boring twat I am.

Museum Tavern
Ah, heaven - sitting with an Old Peculier in front of me, Stone Roses on the stereo, sun shining. And no stupid Good Friday closing, the landlord tells me.

I ask if I can run a tab. No problem. I don't even have to leave a card.

"I can't run very fast. And you're younger than me." I quip.

"The last bloke to leave without paying was on crutches." He replies.

"That's how quick we are." the Polish barmaid chips in.

A bloke about my age says: "Can I push some tables together? I've some students joining me later."

"No problem."

"How much will a round for eight cost?"

"It depends on which beer you want. The Ales are the cheapest." The landlord says pointing to the seven handpulls. "Stay away from the craft Ales at the far end if you want to keep the cost down." That says it all for me.

Me, paper and a pub. And a day full of no appointments.

Yesterday's conference was fun. Even if I say so myself, I'm getting pretty good at this talking lark. Not surprising, really. I've always liked talking about beer. This way, people have to listen. Unlike my miserable family, who just wander off or switch on the telly.

Two weeks of geeking out. And it looks like Tim Hampson might  get me a look at the Bass archive. Finally met miles Jenner, too. What a gent. And got an invite to look at their brewing records. It's all like a dream.

The landlord's a friendly bloke. This is like a proper, despite its highly touristy location opposite the British Museum.

"Did this use to be a Watney's pub?" I ask because of the Watney's Imperial Stout mirror."

"I don't know. Could have just been a beer they sold. Though that must be the miror Karl Marx broke, as it's in a different font from the others."

Of course. Marx used to hang out at the British Library.

Hop Stuff Renegade IPA, 5.6% ABV
Oh no - London Murky. (Note the bar gun behind my pint in the picture. This is for Martyn. Bar gun - device for dispensing carbonated soft drinks.) Really nice hop aroma, but unappetising appearance. I take that back. The landlord just apologised for its appearance

"The cellar cooling is working too well and it's only 8-9 degrees. it's thrown a chill haze. It'll clear as it warms up." I'm dead impressed.

Horribly bitter in the mouth. Doesn't live up to the aroma, sadly.

I've gone back to Old Puke. It comes in a dimpled mug this time. When did I last drink from one of those?

Really love this pub. Proper beer, proper landlord, proper pub.

It's strangely quiet in London. The landlord confirms that "It's slow today."

I'm happy it's a bit slow. Room, time to chat with the barstaff. That pint of Puke looks so pretty in a straight sleeve. The way god intended Yorkshire beer to be served.

This really is a well-run pub. Last time I went to the bog, the toilet seat was all shitted up. Clean this time. I keep getting more impressed. There's an obvious gaffer, working hard and chatting. What a pub is all about. This could be my new London local. Surprised that it's managed, not tenanted.

Quite a few people just asking for "Two beers" when they have 20 draught/keg beers.

And that's where my notes end. You can probably spot when the puke started to kick in.

I got talking with the student bloke. English and teaching in the US. Somewhere in the Midwest. None of the students looked 21, but were well legal in the UK. They mostly drank Lager, cider or wine. I hope the round didn't cost him too much.

My main reason for going there was the Old Peculier. Always on and in good nick. The landlord told me that he tried rotating off when he first took over. And got some pretty negative comments from regulars. Well worth a try if you're in London, their Old Peculier. Especially if you've only ever had the bottled version. 

Museum Tavern
49, Bloomsbury House,
74-77 Great Russell St,
Bloomsbury WC1B 3BA.
Tel: +44 20 7242 8987

Monday, 20 June 2016

Want to hear me talk?

I've gradually been building a portfolio of beer talks, as I get invited to lecture by various groups.
 And as I try to promote my book.

I think I've come up with some fascinating little chats. If you're a hard-core beer history geek. Not sure how many of those there are. A few, judging by the size of some of my audiences.

If you'd like to hear me pontificate on a beer history topic, just get in touch. My rates are very reasonable. These are the talks I currently have written:

title length
Brettanomyces in British Brewing 45 minutes
The Home Brewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer 45 minutes
The Home Brewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer 60 minutes
British Beer Styles: A Short History 60 minutes
The History of British Lager 60 minutes
Dutch Lager Styles 45 minutes
German Sour Styles 45 minutes
18th Century English brewing 75 minutes
Berliner Weisse 60 minutes
International cooperation in the 19th-century brewing industry 45 minutes

Or if you've a topic you'd like me to cover, I can be persuaded to write a new one. If you ask nicely and flutter your eyelashes.

If nothing else, my talks are a good chance to flog a few books.

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer

Random Dutch beers (part thirty-three)

Here we are again at the weekend. It's 21:30 on Friday and I've beem writing since I got home.

Apart from my 30 minute walk. Slightly shitting shale about my talk a week on Saturday. Only started the slides this evening. Though I did get the wordy things done earlier this week.

No sulky comments from Andrew this time. He's at his mate's, as always on a Friday. Now I think about it, I rarely see him unless he's short of dosh. Mostly he's as lethargic as a sack of sedated sloths. Dolores bought him two slabs of 24 half litre cans of Amstel recently, which is why I haven't seen much of him. Only 8 cans left. I expect he'll be chattier tomorrow.

I'm puckering off with a beer from a well-respected Dutch brewer. Kees whatshisname (I'm crap with names), who used to work at Emelisse. Where he brewed some pretty liquid beers.

Brouwerij Kees Session IPA, 3.5% ABV
Now there's a thing. It's really session strength (according to the strict UK definition), unlike some US examples. Unlike some, I do like a Session IPA, when the circumstances are appropriate. Like a long afternoon session with a need to stand upright at the end of it. For example, my farewell session in Boston on the appropriately-named All Day IPA. Pours pretty clear, despite being bottle-conditioned. The aroma is spot on, a heady mix of peach, mango and passion fruit. Really dead good. Its not as fruity in the gob, but surprisingly bitter and a bit tobbacoey at the end. The body is decent for the ABV. I don't judge body by a standard of Imperial Stout or Barley Wine, as some seem to. Probably because my standard drinking beer used to be Mild.

"Do you want to try my beer Dolores?"


"Do you want to try my beer Dolores?"

"No." (With a touch of annoyance in her voice.)

She's watching Gardener's World. Not a good idea to disturb her.

I was amazed when someone told me while I was in the UK last weekend that they really liked this series. The tumblewood blowing through the comments had me thinking everyone hated it. I've only continued out of contrariness.

. . . .

It's now Saturday. I've just finished my presentation for the Brettanomyces festival next week. Glad that's out of the way. Time for a beer.

It's another from Dutch brewing superstar Kees. Another IPA, to be precise.

Brouwerij Kees Just Another IPA, 6.5% ABV (2.60 for 33cl. from Ton Overmars)
Smells much like the Session IPA, but is even more intense. Unlike its session sister, the tropical fruit is present in the mouth. But shares a pretty deep bitterness. Quite nice, but I don't think I'd want ten pints of it.

"Can I have thirty euros, Dad?" Andrew asks.

"I see inflation is kicking in. You usually ask for twenty. Do you want to try my beer, Andrew?"


"Not even after the thirty euros I gave you?"

"It's not very good for my health if I drink beer straight after I get up." It's 14:05. That counts as early morning for a teenager like Andrew.

"Do you want to try my beer, Dolores?"

"Not now."

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Not the NHC

Last weekend I was in the pretty little town of Market Bosworth. For the Home Brew Festival, where I had been invited to speak. It sounded like a good laugh so why not? I might even get to flog a few books.

I’d been invited last year, but declined because it clashed with the NHC (American Homebrewers Association National Homebrewers Conference) in San Diego. Not that I went to the NHC – I was blackballed for the second year in a row – but I was in San Diego at the same time. It’s a long and slightly depressing story that I won’t go into now.

Having attended the NHC in 2014, I was able to compare and contrast the two events held either side of the pond.

The most obvious difference was the scale. The NHC draws hundreds, if not thousands of attendees, to big, flashy convention centres. The Market Bosworth event is held in a rugby club pavilion and a marquee. That’s partly a function of the relative popularity of the hobby in the two countries. After a burst of popularity in the 1960’s and 1970’s, home brewing fell out of favour in the UK, though there has been a recent resurgence. While in the USA it’s massive.

The NHC is a full-blown home-brewing exhibition, with manufacturers filling a hall with tempting shiny things. In Market Bosworth it was more about people swapping surplus bits of kit with each other.

And while the Americans have seminars in multiple theatres, the Brits have a tent with a few odd chairs for those listening.

But I have to say that in many ways I enjoyed the Home Brew Festival more than the NHC. Its smallness meant I had chance to talk to pretty well everyone there. At least anyone who wanted to talk to me. And a very friendly bunch they were. Neither I nor Dolores – whom I’d dragged along – lacked company at any point.

Then there was the beer. You don’t see much Mild at the NHC. While here there was plenty. That particularly impressed Dolores. She’s almost as big a fan of Mild as I am, which is quite an achievement. And there were plenty of other styles there, too, both fashionable and unfashionable. So as well as the inevitable IPAs, also Brown Ales and Ordinary Bitters.

Wine and cider, too. Dolores was particularly interested in the former, as she makes it herself. She’s been struggling to avoid oxidation and she managed to get some good tips from the winemakers in attendance. And to drink some of the surprisingly good wines that were available. Maybe she wouldn’t have drunk quite as much if they hadn’t been so good. For once wearing my sensible head, I just stuck to beer.

The only downer was the weather. I’d planned on dropping by on the Friday evening, but it absolutely pissed it down. I didn’t fancy walking a mile along a country road in the pouring rain. So we sheltered in the Ye Olde Red Lion, the pub where we were staying. Warm, dry and with several cask beers in pretty good nick. It could have been much worse.

We didn’t completely manage to avoid the rain, as it was raining when we left on Saturday evening. The walk was a little scary as well as damp. Country road with no pavement, at night, in the rain. Where were all those cars going to/coming from? I’m glad I wasn’t staying in a tent like many who attended. Must have been murder keeping dry.

Oh, one last difference with the NHC. The Home Brew Festival paid me travelling expenses. All I got from the NHC was free entrance to the conference.

The Home Brew Festival
Market Bosworth Rugby Football Club
Cadeby Lane,
Market Bosworth,
CV13 0BA

Ye Olde Red Lion Hotel
1 Park Street,
Market Bosworth,
CV 13 0LL
Tel.: +44 (0) 1455 291713

AHA National Homebrewers Conference

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Stock Pale Ale talk

My talk for the Brettanomyces Festival, on Stock Pale Ale is all finished. Words written, slides created. And am told there will be beer. For definite. I do hope so.

Because the second half of the talk won't make much sense if the beer isn't there to taste. And I really, really want to try it. Based on the description of the brewer, Mike Siegel, it has a really long lasting bitterness recorded in 19th-century texts. I think he's really nailed it.

1877 Truman P1K* is the recipe. 11 months in wood, Brettanomyces secondary fermentaion. I'm nearly wetting myself just writing about it. Can't wait until next Saturday. When I'll discuss Stock Pale Ale in general and Goose Island Brewery Yard in detail.

I think a few tickets for my talk are still available, but I wouldn't leave it too long.

Stock Pale Ale: Barrel-aged IPA
Saturday 25th June 12:30
Proeflokaal De Prael, Amsterdam.

* A beer that was later known as Ben Truman. initially a posh bottled beer, later a keg beer.

Let's Brew 1891 Barclay Perkins KK

Here’s another recipe that will feature in volume II of Strong! Though who knows when that will come out. It’s behind vol. II of Scotland! in the queue. The queue of books I have to finish, that is. I’ve several in various states of completion. I still plan a huge update of Decoction! when I can be arsed.

It’s amazing to think that this KK was an everyday drinking beer. One of the standard features of a late Victorian London bar. Also amazing to think that in the 20th century draught Burton, which is what this is, went from on sale everywhere in London to totally forgotten in just a couple of decades (1955 to 1975).

Even I wouldn’t be able to put away many pints of a beer this strong. Victorians must have been made of stronger stuff. Or just total pissheads. Having read plenty of newspaper reports of drunken disorder, I suspect the latter is true.

The grist is typical of Barclay Perkins grists after the 1880 Free Mash Tun Act: 75% malt, the rest split evenly between an adjunct and sugar. Initially, they preferred flaked rice as an adjunct but switched to flaked maize around 1900. My guess would be because of the price. Flaked maize was used by most breweries in England, an exception being Whitbread which only used malt and sugar. Many Scottish brewers preferred their maize in the form of grits.

The hops are an interesting mix of English and German. As is often the case, the foreign hops are named by variety, while the English hops only mention the region where they were grown. In this case Mid Kent. So they could be Fuggles, but my money would be on something classier, such as a form of whitebine. Of which Goldings are the most easily available modern variety.

At this time KK was almost certainly aged for a couple of months before sale. Probably in trade casks, i.e. the cask in which it would be shipped to the customer. This seems to have been the usual practice for K Ales. While Stouts still tended to be aged in vats.

You’ll note that this Burton is still relatively pale. That changed around 1900, when, like X Ale, KK started to become darker. Don’t ask me why. I have no hard evidence, just half-arsed guesses.

1891 Barclay Perkins KK
Mild malt 11.00 lb 69.84%
crystal malt 60L 0.75 lb 4.76%
flaked rice 2.00 lb 12.70%
No. 2 invert sugar 2.00 lb 12.70%
Hallertau 90 min 3.50 oz
Goldings 60 min 2.75 oz
Goldings 30 min 2.75 oz
Goldings dry hops 1.00 oz
OG 1074
FG 1019
ABV 7.28
Apparent attenuation 74.32%
IBU 106
SRM 13
Mash at 152º F
Sparge at 168º F
Boil time 90 minutes
pitching temp 60º F
Yeast Wyeast 1098 British ale - dry
or Wyeast 1099 Whitbread Ale

Friday, 17 June 2016

Brettanomyces, FG and me

Busy writing my chat for the Brettanomyces Festival. I wouldn't usually leave it this late, but I've been a busy bunny. It's my third gig this month.

One of my dreams will be turning into liquid reality. Like that dream about drinking Holes Mild in 1940, but being awake. And really drinking beer.

I finally persuaded someone to brew a beer that's intrigued, tempted and tantalised me since I learnt of its craziness: Stock Pale Ale. The original IPA style. Beers not sold young, but properly aged until the hops were well rotted, as they said in the 18th-century. A beer with a firm, persistent bitterness, that lasted past throwing out time, the chip shop and crap late-night TV, right through until the next day's lunch.

Not sure how coherent I'll be, given the pants wetting excitement of the beer. A bit like slurping down C Ale on Monday. Hard to not do an involuntary happy dance.

Stock Pale Ale, 1870's recipe, 11 months in wood, Brettanomyces secondary fermentaion. My liquid dream.

If you've bought a ticket for my talk, you'll get a chance to to try it, too. You haven't? I can sort you out for an appropriate fee.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

London in March

Here are some notes I wrote while in Lodon for the historic beer conference thing. Been too busy to post them until now.

That pub on the way to Tottenham Court Road*

Almost walked straight back out again until I spotted the Truman Scorcher. I really dislike the way Taylor Walker pubs are replacing London Pride with the deceptiveley-named London Glory. It's 16:10 and pretty empty. Just me and a bloke in the spell of his phone.

Mmm. Something not quite right about the beer. A touch of sourness. Doubtless the pub's fault. Don't think I'll be finishing it.

Bree Louise
Still stinky. I'm taking advantage of being in London by myself to drop by. Dolores isn't a fan.

Sambrook's Candle Maker IPA 6.8% ABV.
Black IPA that is. And it's pretty damn black. As dark as midnight down a well at midnight on the dark side of the moon. Opaque in a good, not orange juice sort of way. Not that you'd notice from the taste. Well, maybe a little at the back end, where there seems to be a touch of non-hop bitterness.

I managed to get a highly-desirable seat by the gents. Handy when you're as old and weak-bladdered as me. As for the smell - it doesn't really make any difference here.

Quite liked that black IPA. So I got another. Could be the ABV talking, mind.

Had a crazily-scheduled beer appointment at noon yesterday, just a few hours landing back from the US. Turned out to be as much a business meeting as a piss up. I think. Being a bit confused at the time, I'm not 100% sure.

London has its own particular atmosphere. Busy, not not quite in such a concentrated, frantic way as New York City.

Why did I suddenly start humming "No Fun"? Because it has a catchy riff? Because I am having fun. Of the sat in a pub with a nice beer and nothing I fucking need to do sort of way.

"You're crazy, Ronald." has been a recurring theme in my chats with Dolores. I understand what she means. But it's a mortality thing. Where once there was an endless horizon, the earth has turned flat. At one point, I'm going to drop off the edge. And the drop gets closer every day. I'm getting shit done while my legs, guts and brain are still working reasonably well.

Regrets?  Not having better handwriting.

Need a wee. Thank Stalin** the bog isn't far.

Reading the Evening Standard - all fluff, puff and bluff.

* Marlborough Arms  
36 Torrington Pl,
London WC1E 7LY.
Tel: +44 20 7636 0120

** That's for Jeff. Know you don't like taking the Lord's name in vain,. So I substituted the red/dark lord's.

Bree Louise
69 Cobourg St,
London NW1 2HH.
Tel: +44 20 7681 4930

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Let's Brew Wednesday - 1879 William Younger 160/-

Here’s the top of the range Shilling Ale from William Younger, so you can compare and contrast it with their No. 1 Ale.

Obviously, this being 19th-century Scotland, the recipe isn’t very complicated. Just pale malt and a load of hops. Strange how they used so many hops, despite them not growing in Scotland. (That’s irony, by the way.) It’s not quite as heavily hopped as No. 1. But it’s still stuffed with hops.

The biggest differences I can see with No. 1 is the degree of attenuation (lower) and the dry hopping rate (much lower). It’s not a massive difference. Then again, I struggle to understand why Younger brewed more than 20 different beers, many that look extremely similar to each other. They’ve easily the largest beer range of any brewery that I’ve studied. And not just part-gyled from the same worts. Most of Younger’s beers were brewed single gyle.

The combination of heavy hopping and high FG must have resulted in a thick, bittersweet beer. I did brew one of the weaker Shilling Ales recently. It turned out really, really nice. I brewed it SMaSH: just pale malt and lots of Goldings. It had the wonderfully hoppiness that you get from huge quantities of Goldings.

Shilling Ales were meant to be drunk young. Which makes sense, as they are really a form of Mild Ale. Which means the FG in the log must have been pretty close to the FG when the beer hit drinkers’ lips.

1879 William Younger 160/-
pale malt 25.25 lb 100.00%
Cluster 90 min 3.50 oz
Cluster 60 min 3.50 oz
Cluster 30 min 1.75 oz
Goldings 30 min 1.75 oz
Goldings dry hops 0.18 oz
OG 1109
FG 1049.5
ABV 7.87
Apparent attenuation 54.59%
IBU 132
Mash at 158º F
Sparge at 161º F
Boil time 90 minutes
pitching temp 55º F
Yeast WLP028 Edinburgh Ale

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Changing taste

More stuff about the increasing popularity of bottled beer in the 1950’s. Along with an explanation of why it was occurring.

As it was a landlord addressing a group of landlords, you’d like to hope that he knew what the hell he was talking about.

Changing taste
Victuallers find people today are drinking more bottled beer
ADDRESSING the annual meeting Grantham and District Licensed Victuallers' Association yesterday week, Mr. G. K. Gordon, of Nottingham, representative of the National Trade Defence Association, said that there was a considerable decline in the consumption of draught beer, almost certainly because people today were drinking more bottled beer. He associated this with the fact that the habits of the public were changing — people were becoming more hygienically minded and demanding packed goods. Another reason he offered was that bottled beer was attractive to the eye, and, further, that it was easier to handle.”
Grantham Journal - Friday 17 December 1954, page 3.
He gives two reasons: bottled beer looks prettier and was perceived as more hygienic than draught . The reasoning being that because it was presented in a sealed container it couldn’t be tampered with, as cask beer could be. The liking for factory-packaged goods went back to the 19th century, when the dodgy practices of unscrupulous grocers made consumers wary of loose produce. After the war, the public’s love of packaged goods only grew.

This prediction was pretty wide of the mark:

“"People like their refreshment to be gaily dressed, and the suppliers, who are acutely aware of this, must satisfy the contemporary feelings." he said. "I think the time is coming when all beer will be bottled."

Mr. Gordon humorously pointed out that, should many more different types of alcoholic drink invented, the publican would need more space behind the bar than in front! Price adjustments had been a much-debated subject for some time, but he was confident it would eventually sort itself out.

He advised retailers to sell some alternative refreshment to beer, being certain that this would aid the sale the latter. as did television. Laughter accompanied the conclusion Mr. Gordon's address, when, perhaps as a solace to the retailers, said: "Probably in 100 years’ time our drinks will be produced automatically, and the products of our age unearthed from the museum!"”
Grantham Journal - Friday 17 December 1954, page 3.

With the rise of keg beer in the early 1960’s, bottled beer began to fall out of favour again and drinkers returned to drinking mostly draught beer, at least in the pub. Though with the degree of automation now occurring, he’s probably not so wrong about drinks eventually being made automatically.

I don’t understand this last bit. Why would you want to open at 10:30 rather than 11:00? Surely there would be little custom that early in the morning. I’d expect trade to be better between 14:30 and 15:00 than 10:30 and 11:00. 

The committee's annual report recorded that during the past, year effort had been made to change morning opening hours to 10.30 a.m. until 2.30 p.m. instead of 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., but in view of the fact that all members did not return their postal ballot papers to give 100 per cent in favour, the licensing justices declined to make any change. They were also against a market-day extension to houses in the vicinity of the football ground. However, Sunday music had been allowed from 8 p.m. to closing time.”
Grantham Journal - Friday 17 December 1954, page 3.

Nice of them to allow music on Sunday evening. I remember Sundays when I lived in the East End in the late 1970’s. I found it a nightmare because almost every pub had horrible cockney music in the Sunday lunchtime session. I used to hunt out the rare quiet pubs.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Newark airport

I much prefer Newark airport on the leaving side. No will-they-let-me-in angst. And the chance to indulge in a few final Americaney beers. Before I finally fuck off.

An 11-day geek fest. That’s the only way I describe this trip. Non-stop geeking of the best beery kind.

I’m sitting at a bar in Newark airport with a giant Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in front of me. A fitting way to cap any trip.

“What’s the beer with the dwarf on the tap handle?” a woman two seats down asks. My god – they’ve got Chouffe on tap. How times change.

I’ve just rattled along the NE corridor from D.C., with a landscape of rust and collapse, neat lawns around idealised US homes, soaring city centres and even the occasional countryside.

They’ve just shown an advert – on the inevitable TV – for a video doorbell that lets you answer your door remotely. I’d be happy with a doorbell that just fucking rang every time.

This the longest I’ve been in the US – other than for work – for decades. Williamsburg the last couple of days was amazing. Loads of my fave beer people in the same place. And the thrill of standing on stage not once, but twice. They say applause is  addictive. For me that’s far outweighed by getting laughs. I’m exhausted. Totally Donald Ducked. But happy.

Got Lexxie his sweets and Andrew his bourbon. I’m all set.

It’s not just about meeting old friends. Met loads of firm new ones. And discovered why I was black balled for the NHC. Looks like the Papazian Cup may return after all.

One of the best bits – being able to give Mitch Steele confirmation of Brettanomyces in Bass Pale Ale. Must remember to send him the reference.

I’ve not been taking notes. Who know which beers I’ve had? A few Devil’s Backbone IPAs. A couple at Right Proper in DC. A lot of IPA, if I’m honest. I am in the US, after all.

I hope they have a conference at Williamsburg again next year. I know even more people to geek out with now.

They’ve an intriguing set of beers in the fridge: Reissdorf Kölsch, Schneider Weisse, quite a few Belgians.

A couple of double bourbons in, and the edge of the day is not so much blunted as hammered into submission.

They bloke sat next to me is writing in a notebook. His handwriting is even worse than mine. Why Have I written so few notes this trip? I’ve rarely been alone. I’m too polite to write in the company of friends.

Time to drink up and get on the plane.