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.