Alternate History: XXXX instead of IPA

Imaginary keg font with 1977 Food Standards labelling recommendations.

The UK Government’s 1977 Food Standards Committee Report on Beer is a strange but illuminating document. It records how certain words and phrases relating to beer were being used at a certain point in time and, in its recommendations, most of which were ignored, presents a vision of what might have been.

After representations from CAMRA and others, the Committee agreed that beer needed clearer labelling. Their proposals were that draught beer point-of-sale information (pumpclips) ought to contain:

  • A declaration of the amount of the amount of malted barley used.
  • An indicator of strength based on the ‘XXX’ system, referring to original gravity rather than alcohol percentage in the finished product.
  • Disclosure of carbonation above 1.5 volumes.

Their proposal for the gravity bands and acceptable (but not compulsory) text descriptions was as follows.

  • Up to but not including 1035 — Light — X
  • 1035 up to but not including 1041 — Special, Heavy — XX
  • 1041 up to but not including 1047 — Export, India Pale Ale (IPA) — XXX
  • 1047 up to but not including 1062 — Strong — XXXX
  • 1062 and above — Extra Strong, Barley Wine — XXXXX

In the explanatory notes, they say this of IPA:

“India Pale Ale” (“IPA”) was originally brewed to have sufficient stability for export by sea to India and “export” probably came into use as a modern equivalent. These beers were originally stronger than those brewed for the home market and our impression is that consumers expect them to be rather stronger than ordinary beers. We recommend that the use of these two descriptions should be restricted to beers in the third band (XXX). We realise that there will be some beers which have been called “export” which are stronger than is given by this band. Any limitation of names must create anomalies, which are the more to be regretted if the claim to the name has a reasonable basis in terms of the original meaning of export.

They also suggest banning the use of the words ‘best’ and ‘premium’ on beer packaging. If they’d reported this year, they’d probably have added to that list ‘craft’, ‘crafted’, and so on.

On that basis, a pumpclip for a keg IPA with an original gravity of more than 1047 (that is, stronger than about 4.5% ABV) might have looked something like the one we’ve mocked up in the picture above. Weird, huh?

4 thoughts on “Alternate History: XXXX instead of IPA”

  1. This was a way of getting round explicit declaration of alcoholic strength which, it was widely believed, would simply encourage drinkers to go for the strongest. As we now know, as drinkers of any kind of alcoholic beverage are not solely interested in inebriation, it doesn’t actually work like that.

    I have actually speculated that, as a way of concealing strength reductions, in the future we may see a return to strength banding rather than precise % ABV figures. Not a prediction, but stranger things have happened.

  2. Carlsberg Special Brew 9% is much maligned, and a lovely flavour to my taste.

    Special Brew was originally brewed by the Danes for Winston Churchill. His visit to Copenhagen in 1950 was commemorated with a ‘special’ brew produced in his honour.

    The drink followed the Danish tradition of producing a new beer to celebrate outstanding events such as a royal occasion or European coronation.

    Churchill’s favourite drink was cognac, so in brewing him a commemorative beer, the brewers at Carlsberg created a stronger lager with cognac flavours among its tasing notes.

    And yet I feel I almost need to explain myself at the check out at Asda.

    Yet a body of good men (and lasses perhaps) enjoy it :-

    http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2012/03/in-defence-of-special-brew/

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