Historical Nugget: ‘Pitched’ English Lager from Leeds, 1888

Eshald Well Brewery.
‘The Eshald Well Brewery’ SOURCE: The Noted Breweries of Britain and Ireland, Vol 1.

We’ve just stumbled upon an 1888 newspaper article which gives us a fascinating account of the production of another early British lager.

The piece was published in the Leeds Times on 9 June that year under the heading ‘Breweries in Leeds and District’ and was credited to ‘A Rambling Reporter’. It is quite substantial even if it reads as something like advertorial and includes profiles of Tetley (Leeds), John Smith (Tadcaster) and Bentley & Co of Woodlesford, Leeds. The latter is by far the most interesting:

To meet different tastes and requirements ten different kinds of ale are brewed. First comes ‘Timothy’, which is exactly of the same character as the brew known in the old seats of education as ‘College ale’. Then there are X, XX, XXX, and XXXX, the number of Xs simply denoting the quantity of materials used, the strength, and price. But, after all, the distinctive features of Eschaldwell [brewery] are the Pale Ale, Light Bitter, and English Lager qualities, which differ from the X series, inasmuch as the chief element is hops, not malt.

That’s almost a tasting note, and quite a useful one. Fortunately, there is also a bit more information about the brewery’s lager in particular:

The latter only requires to be passed through a chip cask and thus obtain the pitchy flavour to serve as an admirable misrepresentation of German Lager. The English Lager has found much favour in high quarters, it is popular in the saloons of passenger steamers, and follows one of the judges about on circuit.

Gary Gillman has researched pitch, and especially the flavour imparted by pitch, over the course of many blog posts but you might start with this one if you want to know more:

Readers will recall that early court cases I’ve discussed for the Budweiser trade mark refer to pitch being imported from Bohemia to line A-B’s casks. Presumably the characteristics of Bohemian pitch were liked and its contribution to flavour wanted, no doubt an acquired taste but all tastes are in beverages. I think I can recall the taste in Pilsner Urquell from the 1970s and 80s, when the brewery still used pitched wood vessels to store the lager. It was a slightly musty taste but pleasant. Today it is absent from the beer since no wood is used in its production now.

Something about the newspaper article made us wonder if the pseudonymous author might actually be Alfred Barnard, author of the four volume Noted Breweries of Britain and Ireland, published between 1889 and 1896. Sure enough, Bentley’s is profiled in Volume I, with a passing mention for the lager:

The cellarman produced many other specimens of ale, beer and porter, among them the firm’s English lager Beer, a light, aromatic drink, quite equal to the Continental Lager, and equally sparkling.

Oddly, though, none of Bentley’s newspaper advertisements from this 1880s or 1890s mention the lager, only its bitter tonic ale, EIPA and stout. Perhaps the experiment fizzled out?

Martyn Cornell’s Amber, Gold & Black mentions a lager brewery operating in Bradford in 1877; Younger of Alloa began producing lager from 1879; Knights Stocks & Co. of County Durham at around the same time; a dedicated lager brewery was launched in Tottenham in 1882; and in Wrexham in 1883. It sounds as if Bentley was brewing faux-lager of the sort popular among British breweries a century later but, still, it’s probably worth adding to the timeline.

Finally, as a little bonus, the article also contains a note on Bentley’s drive to premiumisation:

Throughout it is evident that while commoner tastes are not neglected, a leading idea is more particularly to cater for fastidious palates.

How 21st Century does that sound, as established UK breweries make their plays for the less price-conscious craft beer market? It’s certainly one for our file of evidence that there were beer geeks around before anyone was calling them that.

There’s a detailed history of Bentley’s by Brian Benson at the Woodlesford Station website. There’s information on how to find Alfred Barnard’s book and other useful texts here. If you want to know more about lager in Britain in the 19th Century check out Ron Pattinson’s mini-book and/or blog; the Martyn Cornell book mentioned above; and, of course, our own Gambrinus Waltz.

Magical Mystery Pour #21: Cloudwater DIPA Version 10

The third of series of beers chosen for us by Rebecca Pate (@rpate), who blogs at Brewing East, is Cloudwater Double IPA Version 10.

We had a bit of a time getting hold of this, too, because being a limited release, and much in demand, it tends to sell out pretty quickly. We ended up buying several bottles direct from Cloudwater via Eeebria as part of a mixed case of six bottles of DIPA and IPA which cost us £20. Individual 330ml bottles of DIPA from other retailers tend to go at around £4.50-£5.

Rebecca says:

I’d be lying if I denied being on the Cloudwater bandwagon and haven’t systematically tracked down every version of their evolving DIPA; however, this great DIPA adventure represents the first time I’ve found myself caught up in hype surrounding a beer. I’ve stepped back slightly since, stumbling upon all versions following v5 more naturally and without a frenzied hunt as it became more readily available around London. Regardless of the hype, Cloudwater have done incredible things for the Double IPA. When I enjoyed my half pint of this v10, I noted that the aromas took on a more savoury edge than previously, but the intense fruitiness in the body – likened by many to a fruit cup – was still present without much to indicate its 9% ABV. It’s almost magical how easily this goes down.

This is a really tricky beer to write about for various reasons. As we hinted at here in our non-review of a previous version there is so much talk about Cloudwater, and this beer in particular, that you either end up sounding like a wilful contrarian, or part of the cult. And with the announcement that it is to cease producing cask ale the other week Cloudwater has only become more political.

Then there’s the fact that each version really is a different beer. As we write this, Version 11 is just being launched, at which point Version 10 becomes an irrelevance.

Finally, of course, there’s the fact that if you don’t drink a DIPA as fresh as possible — ideally before it has even been brewed — then you can’t possibly have an informed opinion. This one is weeks old, for goodness sake. Or perhaps it needs a bit of time to mellow. It’s usually one or the other.

What follows is our best attempt to ignore all of that and to give our honest reaction to this specific bottle of beer, asking, first and foremost whether we liked it, before unpacking the whys and how comes.

Cloudwater DIPA in the glass.

This beer was not designed to be clear. From the first splash in the glass it was dirty and only got dirtier. There were no lumps or clumps — just something like a mango lassi or smoothie. It did not look unappealing to us but it might to you depending on your programming with regard to suspended yeast.

The smell was close to the ideal for an IPA, a jumble of freshly-picked, under-ripe tropical fruit, and mysterious, exotic aromas that brought to mind the alien plantlife of the Eden Project’s rainforest biome. Very exciting. Just wonderful.

Unfortunately, what we tasted was garlic, crisp green leaves and (to a much lesser degree) that same musty note that marred Verdant Headband. Pushing on, that faded somewhat, bringing to the fore suggestions of pineapple and unrefined sugar. The problem is we just don’t get this kind of flavour profile, where salad dominates over sweet fruit. It does not make us happy. We can, however, tell that this is a good example of the sub-style — it is 90 per cent clean-tasting, without the rough edges that mar many similar beers, and is crammed full of flavour.

Lettuce, spring onions and pineapple.
Adapted from public domain images at Wikimedia Commons.

We did not, when push comes to shove, like it, but we didn’t exactly choke on it either. It’s constantly interesting, if nothing else, and, oddly, going back to the haziness, one of the things we liked best was the rather milky, silky texture.

We’ll no doubt give Cloudwater DIPA another go in a few versions time. It will have been through a few more regenerations by then and might well be much more to our taste.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 21 January 2017: Bucharest, SIBA, Tasting Beer

This week we have been reading various bits of what may or may not be clickbait, notes on beers from Romania and Norway, and ponderings on the nature of taste. There’s also been some less sexy but nonetheless important industry news.

For the Guardian Victoria Coren-Mitchell expressed a seldom-heard point of view: pubs are terrible and beer is disgusting. This caused some irritation either because the very idea struck people as offensive, or because they perceived it as a deliberate attempt to bait beer- and pub-lovers for the sake of driving traffic. We were just interested to find put into words (with humorous intent, by the way) how a lot of people must feel:

People really love the pub. I say people. I mean my husband. Nothing makes my husband happier than settling down in the corner of some reeky-carpeted local boozing house for a good old sit. Maybe a chat. And, obviously, a beer. A sit and a chat and a beer. Beer and a chat and a sit. Sit, chat, beer. Chat, sit, beer. Sit, sit, beer beer, chat chat chat, sit sit sit… And nothing else is happening! It’s a different matter if you’re having some lunch or playing a pub quiz; that makes sense. I’m happy if there are board games or a pool table… But just sitting there, doing nothing, just slurping away at a beer and waiting for the occasional outbreak of chat: this is the pastime of choice for literally millions of people!


Beer O'Clock, Bucharest.

The Beer Nut has been on holiday again, this time in Bucharest, Romania, and has done his usual thorough job of tracking down all the beer of note from supermarket lagers to brewpub IPAs:

[The] other Hop Hooligans IPA, by the name of Shock Therapy… looks the same as the beer next to it, except for that handsome mane of pure white foam. It doesn’t smell fruity, though; it smells funky: part dank, part old socks. That’s how it tastes too, with a kind of cheesiness that I don’t think is caused by old hops. When I look up the varieties I discover that Waimea and Rakau are the guilty parties, and I’m not surprised. I’ve picked up an unpleasant funk from those high-end Kiwi hops before

Part 1: Craft Beer
Part 2: Big Indies/Contract Brewers
Part 3: Mainstream Brands

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 21 January 2017: Bucharest, SIBA, Tasting Beer”

They Have Beards, Don’t They?

Beardo and Mojo beers from Robinson's.
SOURCE: Robinson’s/Beer Today

Yesterday news broke of yet another traditional brewery, this time Robinson’s, launching pointedly craft-style beers outside the main range. Like several others that have preceded it, this sub-brand featured perhaps the obvious signifier of 21st Century hipsterness: facial hair.

Our reaction to this was to think it was a bit obvious rather than to be annoyed by it but many others were.

Why? Well, for one thing, there are the general problems that come with established brewery craft sub-brands: the sense of desperation, the cringe-inducing self-consciousness (‘How do you do, fellow kids?’ as the popular meme has it), and also one thing that really does bother us: the fear that this is an attempt to trick people into buying what will turn out to be little more than bog standard bitter. That’s a wheeze that will work once but probably not twice, and can feel like a breach of the contract between brewer and customer.

(But we haven’t tried these beers and who knows, maybe they will live up to the promise of ‘craftness’ that the packaging makes.)

This kind of exercise also suggests to us that someone up on high thinks craft beer is a fundamentally superficial trend — that it is primarily about appearance and image rather than the quality of the product.

We also wonder if this particular approach betrays something more — actual disdain for craft beer drinkers. Not only are they superficial, it seems to say, but they’re vain: if they see a picture of themselves on the label, or perhaps of the person they want to be, they won’t be able to resist it.

Even if none of that bothers you, you might feel that this approach has become a bit hackneyed, like skulls and faux-graffiti. A case might be made for contract-brewers Flat Cap having started this back in 2012 we reckon this spate of hipstersploitation really started with Bath Ales’ craft offshoot Beerd back in 2013, which we don’t recall causing much annoyance — perhaps a bit of eye-rolling?

Beerd Brewery pumpclips from 2013.
SOURCE: @beerdbeers on Twitter (29/05/2013)

Charlie Wells Dry-Hopped Lager turned up in 2015 and seemed to rile people more, perhaps because the gulf between the stuffy parent company (Charles Wells) and the aspirations of the sub-brand seemed wider, even though the relationship itself was more transparent. The design, too, is more overt — not just a beard, which could mean anything, but also tattoos. And just call me ‘Charlie’? Sheesh. By all accounts (we haven’t tried it) the beer isn’t great either so that’s a full house of annoyances.

Charlie Wells Dry-Hopped Lager.
SOURCE: Charles Wells.

Later in the same year Yorkshire brewery Black Sheep came out with Pathmaker which has several positive things going for it. First, that’s supposed to be a portrait of brewery founder Paul Theakston on the label rather than a lazy caricature of a 21st Century hipster — that’s a first-time-round real ale beard! Secondly, it’s actually a pretty great illustration into which someone has clearly put a bit of thought and effort, unlike the effort above which looks like it was doodled on an iPad.

Pathmaker poster 2015.
SOURCE: Black Sheep.

But, still, that’s probably two beard-based sub-brands too many, and we suspect there are other examples we haven’t noticed or have forgotten about. (Let us know below and we’ll add them.) And that’s before we even get to the bona fide craft breweries with beards on their labels, of which there are many.

Anyway, if we were a bigger and/or established brewery trying to impress younger drinkers, this is not how we’d do it. What we’d do is pay up-and-coming designers to create something genuinely interesting and genuinely original — something which style-conscious drinkers might actually find visually appealing in its own right, even if we didn’t get it ourselves. Labels are only a tiny part of the equation but it is probably best, on balance, if they’re not patronising or insulting.

Was Meantime the First UK Craft Brewery?

Alastair Hook's editorial.

In a Tweet Meantime Brewing stated their claim to be (paraphrasing): ‘The only craft brewer in the UK when it was founded in 1999.’

It’s paraphrased because, after prodding from disgruntled beer geeks, the Tweet was removed. The thing is, we don’t think that’s an outrageous claim, even if it is a bit bigheaded, and requires a lot of disclaimers.

But first, the case against: how do you define ‘craft’ in a British context? (Groan.) If it means using aromatic American hops and brewing pale ales and IPAs then Brendan Dobbin (West Coast/Dobbin’s) and Sean Franklin (Franklin’s, Rooster’s) got there first, and that was fairly widespread by the late 1990s.

If it’s about fancy, expensive bottled beer with sexy packaging then look at Newquay Steam. (Thanks for the reminder, Jackie.)

If it means eschewing real ale and real ale culture then Meantime’s Alastair Hook was beaten to that by, er, Alastair Hook, at his own earlier brewing ventures Packhorse (1990), Freedom (1995) and Mash & Air (1997). He was raging against CAMRA and the strictures of cask ale culture, as he saw them, from around the same time.

Freedom Pilsner, a British lager.

If craft in your mind is synonymous with microbrewing then you can look back to the boom of the 1980s, or 1974, or 1972, or 1965.

If it means not being a national or multi-national giant, brewing interesting beer, employing traditional methods, and so on, then take your pick — Young’s, Adnams, almost anyone.

So, yes, we get all that, but it’s a bit like the debate around who invented the hot air balloon, or the radio. Guglielmo Marconi is generally credited with the invention of radio as we know it today but there is a long line of inventors and innovators, all with their champions, who either contributed to the technology or somehow nearly got there much earlier. In fact, Marconi was just the bloke who pulled it all together, perfected the technology and, crucially, managed to make a commercial success of it.

When it comes to craft beer in the UK, then, as per our definition 2 — cultural as much as anything, dismissive of CAMRA, bitter and mild, and looking overseas for inspiration — Alastair Hook is Marconi. He’s the man who made it work.

Meantime was gaining headlines by falling out with CAMRA about access to beer festivals when James Watt of BrewDog was still at school. The range of beers Hook brewed at Meantime at the beginning featured multiple types of lager and wheat beer but not one British-style pale ale or bitter (as far as we’re aware), and it was all brewery-conditioned, served either from bottles or kegs.

And Meantime was a commercial success in a way that Franklin’s, Dobbin’s and Mash & Air weren’t. Where others, however innovative or interesting, remained the preserve of geeks, Meantime went mainstream. It was the brewery that, when we first started paying attention to beer, had its bottles in stylish bars and restaurants, showing that beer could dress up and cut it with the cool kids. Meantime also worked out a way to get people to pay something like £4 a pint when most people were still boggling at half that price.

You might find all of that repellent but, for better or worse, that’s what craft beer means in the UK now, and Hook pulled it all together half a decade before anyone else.

Of course we’re playing devil’s advocate a bit here and, to be honest, we think Thornbridge and BrewDog both have claims that are about as strong. But we really don’t think it’s ridiculous of Meantime’s PR people to make that statement. It is, however, daft of them to think they could get away with it without being challenged.

Needless to say if you want more detail on any of this there are lots of bits and pieces here on the blog and we tried to pull it all together in Brew Britannia, the central argument of which is something like (a) alternative beer culture didn’t begin in 2005 but (b) real ale, world beer and craft beer are distinct waves of the same overarching 50 year event.