Category Archives: Beer history

World Beer Style Guide 1901

Beer styles of 1901 diagram.

The diagram above is a representation of text from a 1901 book called One Hundred Years of Brewing publish by H.S. Rich & Co. of Chicago as a special supplement of The Western Brewer.

The passage in question is most interesting as a reflection of how things looked at the time — which types of beer had people heard of? And how were the relationships between them perceived?

It is quoted almost in full below, with our own emphases, but you can (and should) take a look at the original here:

There is one typical, strongly pronounced distinction to-day, and… between the beers of Germany, England and America. The German beer… is expected to be made of a more dextrinous wort, rich in extract, of full-mouthed taste, moderate in alcohol, mostly of dark colour, and possessing a rich and permanent head of foam.

The Bohemian beers have more of a vinous character and possess a fine and strongly noticeable hop flavor, a pronounced bitter taste, and are light in color.

The English beers are divided into two classes, the light colored beers — ales — the dark or black colored ones — porter and stout.

The ales have chiefly a vinous character and possess a good percentage of alcohol and extract, strongly marked hop flavor and bitter taste, and are rich in carbonic acid. The bottle ales and stock ales, especially the last named ones, possess a characteristic fine wine taste, produced by a peculiar and prolonged secondary fermentation. Porter, with a rich and very heavy foam, was in former years a very heavy beverage, but at present is brewed in [sic] lighter, and has, as a result of its composition, a characteristic bitter and dry taste.

The American lager beers taste more like wine than the German ones and in character are nearer related to the Bohemian or Austrian beers, have very much effervescence, and combine the quality of preserving the foam with a more or less full-mouthed taste. Their color, with the exception of special brands, is light throughout.

Besides these there are a number of provincial or local character… To count up their names only would fill several pages, and for that reason we can only mention the principal ones

The weiss beer (wheat beer originally) are strongly effervescent beers, produced by top fermentation and going through the second part of fermentation after being bottled…

“Broyhahn,” also a historical beer, is a very light colored, winey beverage, of a sweetish-sour taste. “Gose” is a beverage similar to “Broyhahn”. Both are made by top-fermentation.

Too numerous to mention individually are the herb beers, receiving their flavor by the addition of herbs of the greatest variety…

Among the celebrated Austrian beers, the already mentioned “Pilsner” stands at the head of the list. They all have a similar winey taste, and are of light color.

Among the English beers, Burton ale takes the lead… Side by side with the same we find as type of the dark colored beer Dublin stout. Scotch ale was at one time a very celebrated beverage, its vividness and fine winey taste being especially praised.

In Belgium there are to be found certain beers of local celebrity possessing all the qualities produced by the process of self fermentation to which they are subjected, their names being “Lambik” and “Faro”.

One of the most celebrated beers in its day was “Strassburger,” which, for a long number of years, controlled the Paris market to the exclusion of the Bavarian beer. It has a characteristically winey taste…

The American breweries produce, besides lager beer, ale and porter, the so-called “common” beer and “steam” beer, the last named on the Pacific coast.

That’s not very far off the style framework put forward by Michael ‘Beer Hunter’ Jackson’s in his World Guide to Beer 77 years later, is it?

But what does ‘winey’ mean in this context?

Record Where You Drink For Posterity

"Traditional Country Ales" window livery.

Thank goodness for Nathaniel Newnham-Davis and his eye for detail.

An early food writer — the Jay Rayner of his day — ‘The Colonel’ wrote reviews for the Pall Mall Gazette as well as several books such as Where And How to Dine in London.

We are especially grateful to him for having taken the time and space to write at length about one of London’s 19th century ‘lager beer’ saloons. He described what was seen on entering, the light, the clientèle, the glassware, the food, the pictures on the walls, the floorboards, seating, taxidermy, staff, proprietor, food, and, most importantly, the beer itself.

Many other such establishments were beneath the attention of writers and so might as well never have existed for all that we can find out about them beyond their street address and the date on which their owners went bankrupt. (They always went bankrupt.)

It was much the same in trying to find out about pubs from the 1970s while working on Brew Britannia, Becky’s Dive Bar being an exception as it was too bizarre not to write about.

If you’re stuck for an idea ahead of ‘going long’ on Saturday (30 August), why not look long and hard at a pub or bar of your acquaintance — especially if it doesn’t get much attention — and write an excessively detailed description of it?

Zoom in. Get out your microscope. Examine its pores.

Future historians will thank you.

The World on your Sofa

It can sometimes feel as if drinking anywhere but the pub is a betrayal of ‘proper beer’, but it’s actually played a huge part in developing the culture Britain has today, and has broadened the palates of many.

That thought was prompted by this Tweet from Zak Avery, who runs legendary bottle-shop Beer Ritz:

In conversation recently, we said that we didn’t particularly enjoy beer festivals because they aren’t ‘how we like to drink’, which prompted the question, ‘Well, how do you like to drink?’ The honest answer is either (a) in the pub (once or twice a week) or (b) in the front room (more often).

Unless you live conveniently close to a good multi-pump real ale pub or a craft beer bar, then home is the only place to satisfy a spontaneous craving for a bit of strange. As we’ve said before, we like St Austell Tribute, but we don’t want to drink it every night, which is where a case of oddities from Beer Merchants or Beer Ritz, or even a few things from Tesco, fill the gap.

The majority of our most profound beer experience have, as it happens, occurred in pubs or beer gardens, but, for example, the first really aromatically-hoppy beer that ever made us say ‘Wow!’ we drank at home — Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, from ASDA, in, we think, around 2005.

Drinking fancy-pants beers at home is a fairly recent phenomenon which arose alongside the Campaign for Real Ale, meeting a demand among newly-assertive consumers for better beer.

Belgian beer didn’t start appearing in Britain in any great variety until the 1980s with ‘bottle shops’, run by enthusiasts for enthusiasts. One of the first, and perhaps most famous was the one on Pitfield Street. The founding of Cave Direct (Beer Merchants) is covered briefly in our book. Another such shop we read about but didn’t look into in great detail was Grog Blossom in Notting Hill, which was profiled in the Financial Times in 1989.

As for bottled British beer, here’s how Richard Morrice, a long-time industry PR man, put it when we interviewed him last summer:

You have to remember that, in the seventies, ‘premium bottle beers’ didn’t exist. Bottled beer was Mackeson’s, Bass, Forest Brown, that kind of thing, and usually came in 550ml returnable ‘London pint’ bottles, or in ‘nips’. There was a limited choice of regional brands and that was it.

In the late eighties, Shepherd Neame released a range of 500ml bottled ales, which was a risky enterprise, and there was a limited take-up by supermarkets. These ‘PBAs’ (premium bottled ales) sat in a price gap between the very cheap drink-at-home lager and draught beer in the pub, on a pence-per-litre basis, and the supermarket buyers just weren’t convinced. When Marston’s launched their range of PBAs as late as 1991, there were still no retailers really willing to take them.

[But, fairly] quickly… you started to get things like Marston’s Head Brewer’s Choice series, and seasonals, until there was quite a lot of choice.

If you want to experience the Michael Jackson vision of a world where beer comes in every shade and strength, from the beefy blackness of imperial stout to the barely-intoxicating pallor of Berliner Weisse, your own front room remains the place where you’re most likely to find it.

Klink

Old fellers drinking in a pub, from an illustraton c.1914.

There’s a ghoulish glee in reading about the grotty brewing practices of the past, especially when the product in question has a catchy brand name.

According to a correspondent of the Lancet in 1865, the people of South Staffordshire were particularly prone to getting legless on a by-product of brewing known as ‘klink’:

In the larger breweries there is always a varying amount of… strong ale which has become so tart or acid as to be unfit for ordinary sale. This strong ale is modified in various ways to make it palatable, and is then reissued at a very low price… In the district this liquor, known as “klink,” is sold at the low rate of twopence per quart, and being exceedingly strong, the above quantity is enough to intoxicate most men… It is not, however, the intoxicating power of klink beer which is its only bad property; but, from the development of certain acids, the effect upon the mucous lining of the stomach, upon the liver and kidneys, is most injurious, and those who are in the habit of drinking it are well aware of the effect. Unfortunately, too, this kind of beer has got largely into use as harvest drink… Probably neither brewers nor employers are aware of the amount of injury inflicted by this drink.

Every other mention of klink we’ve been able to find with an admittedly superficial search, including  a piece in the British Medical Journal from 1869, seems to derive from this source.

So, it’s not very reliable. It might also be temperance campaign misinformation, or simply a misunderstanding about some aspect of the brewing process.

But, in the context of 19th century brewing practices, it doesn’t sound at all unlikely to us.

It made us wonder what it might taste like but, mostly, it reminded us how lucky we are that this kind of practice has all but died out…

Hasn’t it?