Pimlico Ale – update

We found another book that mentions Pimlico Ale, which I spoke about in this post a few days ago.

William Carey, in his weird, limited edition history of the area, published in 1986, writes:

The most popular ale drunk in London between 1570 and 1700 was ‘Pimlico Ale’ otherwise known as ‘Derby Red Cap’ from the pink tinge of its frothy head. At first produced only in Derbyshire at a farm location named “Pimlico”, it was brought to London in huge barrels down the Watling Way.

This is very interesting. What makes the head pink/red? Fruit could, but the head on some imperial stouts is reddish brown. More research needed – in books on Derbyshire, perhaps…?

Pimlico Ale

UPDATE 15/12/2013: we wrote this post not long after we started blogging and it has at least one embarrassing historical error (re: Henry VIII). We’ll have to revisit the topic now we’re older and wiser.

Did you know that Pimlico, a district of London, is named after a beer that was the Special Brew of its day?

The official history of Watney’s brewery, published in 1963, talks briefly about “Pimlico ale”. It tells us that Pimlico was brewed from the middle-ages to the tudor period, but doesn’t give much of an idea how it would have tasted. So, we consulted a couple of other books (listed below).

We found out a few interesting things.

1. Pimlico ale was strong – strong enough that it was considered “wicked”. It was associated with real drunkards – the hardcore, if you like. The poem “Pimlyco, or runne Rec-cap” from 1609 is the most famous mention of the beer:

Strong Pimlyco, the nourishing foode
To make men fat, and breed pure blood;
Deepe Pymlyco, the Well of Glee,
That drawes up merry company.

It was served at a pub in “Hogsdon” (now Hoxton, in east London), run by Elinour Rummin, “the Ale-wife of England”. A pub in Westminster, in south west London, borrowed the name to cash in on Mrs Rummin’s fame. And the area where the pub stood came to be known as Pimlico – it’s actually named after the beer!

2. The beer itself was probably very lightly hopped, if at all, and had lots of unfermented sugar. It would have been sickly sweet. It would also have been dark and probably slightly smoked, given the primitive methods of malting at the time.

3. The Watney’s book suggests (probably erroneously) that it was “brewed by the monks of Westminster [Abbey]”. So, it might have been a British abbey beer!

If a historically minded brewer wanted to recreate it, I’d advise them to throw authenticity aside and add some hops. Henry VIII hated them and banned them from beer, but their addition could be justified, as they were growing in Britain from 1428, and were a recognised ingredient in continental beers from the 9th century. And it would certainly make the stuff more drinkable…

Sources:
P. Mathias, The brewing industry in England, 1700 1830 (1959)
A. Stout, Deep Well of Glee (1997)
H. Janes, The Red Barrel: A History of Watney Mann (1963)

Links

Medieval/Renaissance Brewing page

Curry and beer

The British Guild of Beer Writers reports on a recent “tasting event” at the Bombay Brasserie in London. Eminent beer experts got together for a curry and tried to work out which beers went best with spicy foods. Their recommendations are here.

Rupert Ponsonby, co-founder of the Beer Academy comments:
What this tasting hopefully shows is the potential for Britain’s 8,500 curry restaurants to look seriously at developing beer lists to inspire their customers and to match with their cuisine. This is a fantastic commercial and marketing opportunity for them. Top Michelin-starred restaurants such as Le Gavroche, Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons and Aubergine have already taken the lead in creating inspired beer lists, and it will be wonderful to see top Indian restaurants doing the same.

On a visit to the Cinnamon Club last year, I was appalled to find that the only beer they had available was Cobra lager. Cobra’s OK – nicer than you’d expect, is what I mean, for a mass-produced lager made in Bedford – but surely not anywhere near as posh as the food, the wine or the waiters? Ms. Boak visited one of Gary Rhodes’ restaurants in the City of London last year, too, and was similarly disappointed by the lack of any beer, never mind a beer list.

Of course, my local curryhouse, which is very cheap and cheerful, is run by Sri Lankans, and they sell wonderful Lion Stout. It’s not a perfect beer to drink with a curry, but it’s a great one to have as a dessert. So, posher isn’t always better for beer lovers.

The Anglo-Bavarian Brewery

William Henry Hudson’s Afoot in England (1909) is a memoir/guide book, which takes a snooty tone in places. This passage (from the Project Gutenberg etext) caught my eye because it mentions the Anglo-Bavarian brewery in Shepton Mallet, Somerset:

I went on a Saturday to Shepton Mallet. A small, squalid town, a “manufacturing town” the guide-book calls it. Well, yes; it manufactures Anglo-Bavarian beer in a gigantic brewery which looks bigger than all the other buildings together, the church and a dozen or twenty public-houses included. To get some food I went to the only eating-house in the place, and saw a pleasant-looking woman, plump and high-coloured, with black hair, with an expression of good humour and goodness of every description in her comely countenance. She promised to have a chop ready by the time I had finished looking at the church, and I said I would have it with a small Guinness. She could not provide that, the house, she said, was strictly temperance. “My doctor has ordered me to take it,” said I, “and if you are religious, remember that St. Paul tells us to take a little stout when we find it beneficial.”

“Yes, I know that’s what St. Paul says,” she returned, with a heightened colour and a vicious emphasis on the saint’s name,”but we go on a different principle.”

The Anglo-Bavarian brewery opened in 1864, making pale ale, but is really notable as the first brewery in Britain to make lager. It employed German brewers from 1873 onward, and won awards worldwide for it’s German-style beer. Of course, when World War I kicked off in 1914, they changed the name to “The Anglo”, but it was too late: the Bavarian flags and symbols all over the building led to it being trashed. It closed in 1920. The building is still there, but in bad shape (read more at English Heritage).

Nowadays, the most famous drink being made in Shepton Mallet is Babycham.