Heather Ale, 1900: ‘…the brewery caught fire…’

Digging through copies of Brewing Trade Review looking for information on pubs last week we couldn’t help but get distracted by, for example, a 1900 article that offers an intriguing footnote to our long piece on Williams Bros from last year.

It’s entitled ‘Heather Ale’, the author isn’t named, and it almost has about it the bones of an H.P. Lovecraft or Arthur Machen story — why did the brewery catch fire? To conceal the diabolical secrets unearthed by Dr. Maclagan who has since gone quite mad? (No.)

And, 116 years on, the practical information might even still be useful to anyone keen to brewer heather ale themselves this summer.

Here’s the article in full:


As there are many legends about the abnormal virtues of heather ale, Dr. Maclagan has been at great pains to investigate the whole subject, and his results quite fail to support the wonderful reputation which centuries have woven around this beverage. So far as documents go it appears to have been brewed with great success by the Picts, who, however, refused at all times to tell the Scots how to brew it, and the secret was supposed to have died with them. There are one or two recipes in existence, but all require a good deal of malt or sugar. Dr. Maclagan had some heather bloom analysed, and found that it yielded 17 per cent of a substance which reduced Fehling’s solution and appeared to be a sugar, but every attempt to ferment it was was unsuccessful. Recourse was then had to a practical brewer, Mr A. Melvin of Edinburgh, who made an extract from 4 lbs of pure heather bloom with 6 gallons of water in a steam jacketed copper. Yeast was added to extract (Sp. Gr. 1001.5) in a cask which was kept well-rolled, but no fermentation took place. Wort and heather flowers alone when mouldy in a short time, so the following experiment was tried: Four gallons of wort, Sp. Gr. 1100, with four gallons of water, were boiled with heather flowers, the total quantity used being 2½ lbs. The mixture was strained and the filtrate boiled for another half-hour. The fluid smelt strongly of heather and had an agreeable taste. It was next rapidly cooled, and, when at a temperature of 69º F, was poured into a six gallon cask, topped up with boiled wort, and a pint of yeast well roused in. As it fermented the cask was kept topped up and the beer properly cleansed. The beer thus produced was bottled, and the result was a fairly palatable liquid with a rough woody flavour. A further experiment was made with more heather, and a highly satisfactory sample was obtained, but unfortunately the brewery caught fire, and the heather ale was destroyed. The result of the inquiry, however, was precised, though disappointing; heather may be all right as a flavouring for those who like it, but it is useless for producing beer by itself. As two ounces of bloom measures about a pint and a-half, and take over an hour to collect, it would be an expensive ingredient, and its loss is therefore not to be regretted.

We forgot to note in which month this article appeared (probably April) but it’s certainly on p.373 of the collected volume for this year if you want to look it up.

The Mystic Power of Guinness, 1959

There’s been a fair bit of Guinness chat around in the last week what with Ron Pattinson’s series of posts on Park Royal, our filleting of a 1971 article about draught in the UK, and Gary Gilman’s series of posts on various aspects of its flavour and history.

Now we’ve come across a short piece by humourist Paul Jennings published in The Times on 10 November 1959 which provides, first, further evidence of the status of Guinness before it became ubiquitous and (in the view of many or even most beer geeks) bland:Guinness smile advert, 1939.

It seems that Messrs. Guinness are convinced that the most widely remembered of their famous posters is the one with the workman carrying off the girder. Well, that is not the first image that comes to me… I think first of those great big glasses of Guinness with a moony smiling face in the froth… This smile is the nearest they have got to expressing the true mana of Guinness — that great Irish mystery and paradox, the light froth from the unimaginable dark heart of the liquid, the light from darkness, like the laughter and wit that well up from the Irish soul itself… I, like any other non-Irish consumer of Guinness, drink it because it is there… [in] the sense in which Mallory said that Everest was there. I might drink beer automatically, but Guinness is a thing, it has to be reckoned with. Drinking Guinness is a conscious act, like playing the piano or reading poetry, only much easier.

(Note, by the way, what looks almost like an early example of saying ‘a thing’ being a thing…)

In addition, he also provides some observations on packaging and public perception that bring to mind the present-day chat around contract brewing and transparency:

It is a fact that three-fifths of the Guinness drunk in this country is brewed at Park Royal, that great functional-looking place that looked like an atomic power station before atomic power was invented when it was opened in 1936. It is full of vast stainless steel vats and marvellous pipes and machines and science graduates… [and] has had a head brewer a world-famous statistician — but all this was kept very dark because, as everybody knows, or thinks he knows, the special quality of Guinness comes from the waters of the Liffey… Now that they have started selling some Guinness in cans, for instance, it is reported that in pubs in Wales they think the cans have come from Dublin, whereas the bottles contain rotten old English Guinness.

Finally, he goes on to suggest that, even though St James’s Gate brewery was just as hi-tech and sterile as Park Royal, there was some truth in the myth because export brewing (that is, for hot countries) did take place there:

[The] science graduates have worked the amount of ‘x’ you must put into a bottle of Guinness for it to taste as a bottle of Guinness would taste to a man in the Red Lion, to a man in a tin shack in Borneo, after it has been humped and banged half-way round the world. If you can manage to get some of this Export Guinness before they have exported it, you will find that this means quite a lot of ‘x’.

That’s a nice way of putting it and makes us think that Guinness today really could be saved if they turned up the X dial.

Draught Guinness in the 1960s

1970s photograph of two men in horn-rimmed glasses inspecting beer.
Tommy Marling takes the temperature of draught Guinness watched by Mr Bill Steggle, licensee of the Cock at Headley near Epsom.

When we picked up a few editions of Guinness Time, the brewery’s UK-focused in-house magazine, one thing that leapt out at us was an account of the roll-out of draught Guinness after WWII.

It appears as part of an article called (rather long-windedly) ‘The Men Who See That Draught Guinness Runs Smoothly… The Service Representatives’ from the Spring 1971 edition.

First, there are some helpful numbers:

In 1970 we sold more than 16 times as much draught Guinness as in 1956. Fifteen years ago the number of outlets could be counted in hundreds. In 1962 there 3,200 and now in 1971 there are over 40,000 pubs and clubs where devotees of draught Guinness can get their favourite brew.

By way of context, in those mid-1960s Batsford pub guides we’ve been trawling through draught Guinness is frequently mentioned as a sign of an interesting pub in much the same way, say, BrewDog Punk IPA might be today. That is, by no means obscure, but still noteworthy, and a welcome sight for many beer geeks.

Continue reading “Draught Guinness in the 1960s”

Pakistanis in the Pub, Bradford, c.1965

We came across the passage below in Graham Turner’s 1967 book The North Country a few months ago and have been sitting on it because, frankly, race and immigration tend to be rather toxic topics.

The North Country, Graham Turner, 1967.It comes as part of a chapter called ‘The Burma Road’ about immigrants to Bradford. The author (who is still about, by the way) was aiming for something like objectivity, letting people tell the story in their own words, although by modern standards the locals seem to come off poorly, exploiting migrants by renting them property, for example, while moaning about them behind their backs. He might nowadays at his own choice of words in places, too — ‘benighted’!

Anyway, the section below struck us as interesting in the context of the argument put forward by some commentators that pubs have suffered in certain towns and cities whose populations include a substantial number of Muslims:

It was almost lunchtime and the pubs looked inviting. In one of them, the man behind the bar had a broad Lancashire accent, but the warm, dusty interior felt like part of the one of those benighted tropical places which Graham Greene evokes so well, where on the priest and publican are white. The publican here was serving a group of Pakistanis and all the faces in the ‘best’ room were dark.

‘We’ve been here two years now,’ he said, ‘and it’s beginning to drive the wife crackers. Wednesday afternoon, she had a drink, there were so many Pakistanis in here by ten she started crying. At two in the morning I was still trying to comfort her. This last month, at least ninety per cent of my customers have been Paks. I’ve about six whites apart from the girls, you get them of course. The whites have just drifted away. When we came, there’d be twenty or so.’

Now, that sounds to us like evidence that people from (probably) Muslim backgrounds (clearly not especially religious in practice) did attempt to make the pub part of their lives — they attempted to ‘integrate’ in the language of this particular debate — but were made to feel unwelcome.

It’d certainly be interesting to talk to some of those Pakistani pub-goers today, or to their children and grand-children.

Main image: ‘Lumb Lane’ from ‘Changing Bradford’, 1969, via Bradford Timeline on Flickr.

Bits We Underlined in… Kent Pubs, 1966

This is the last of the 1960s Batsford pub guides we’ve be digesting over the last few months and it’s a good one.

Unlike some of his colleagues on this project, D.B. Tubbs (Douglas Burnell ‘Bunny’ Tubbs?) attempts some humour in his writing, apparently inspired by Alan Reeve-Jones’s first entry, London Pubs, from 1962. Where Reeve-Jones featured his fictional Commander Xerxes McGill in every other entry (frankly, rather tediously), Tubbs has an equally fictional tome of pub lore, Hogmanay’s  Etymology of the Bar (unpublished). He also uses some interesting turns of phrase, a couple of which we might nick, e.g.:

  • Beermanship — to be brushed up on in any pub with a choice of draught bitter.
  • Neo — self-consciously modern pub design or decor.
  • Loungery — when Neo goes bad.
  • Oldworlderye — e.g. a buffet bar described as ‘Ye Snackerie’.
  • Hinterlanders — people from the outer edges of London.
  • Wooden bitter/wooden beer — beer from the wood, AKA traditional draught, AKA ‘real ale’.

And if you can finish this book and not find yourself thirsting for a pint of his favourite bitter from Tomson & Wooton of Ramsgate, 1634-1968, ‘with a real bitter tang’, then you’ve got a stronger will than either of us. (Their X India sounds interesting, too.)

Preface — ‘[Some pubs] have been left out for reasons that you would understand if you had been there with me. Sometimes it was the beer, sometimes the welcome and occasionally the quote food unquote.’

Crown & Sceptre, Acol — ‘[The landlord] has adopted a parrot… This polychromatic bird lies on its back, crosses his (or her) legs to order, and can pick up a beer bottle with his (or her) beak.’

Walnut Tree, Aldington — ‘The pub has an almost untouched example of a medieval kitchen.’ The pub website today has no mention of an historic kitchen.

Malta Inn, Allington Lock — ‘The beer is served not from the wood but from the bottom of the cask by “by computer”.’ No further elaboration is given but we assume he means they used electric pumps.

Blue Bell, Beltring — ‘A Fremlins house opposite Whitbread’s main farm… There is still a good deal of knees-up-Mother-Brown but far fewer hop picking customers than there used to be because machines don’t drink. At one time the landlord used to shut the public bar, fill a bath with beer and pass the pints out through the window.’ Somewhat reminiscent scenes can be seen at the Blue Anchor in Helston on Flora Day when beer is served direct from the cask at the door of the cellar via plastic pipe.

The Old Cellars, Tenterden, as drawn by Alan F. Turner.
The Old Cellars, Tenterden, as drawn by Alan F. Turner for Kent Pubs.

Woodman’s Arms, Bodsham — ‘The landlord, Mr Bob Harvey… understands beer. Eight years ago, when he first arrived, a retired publican friend said: “The secret of keeping beer and ale, my lad, is to order it in advance so it can lay for two weeks before you tap it.” This hint he has taken ever since…. Only one brew is stocked so that it is always in condition… If you want a testimonial as the Romany regular called Bill. He drinks 22 pints of bitter every Saturday night then bicycles soberly home.’

Prince Louis, Dover — ‘The walls are fastened together at present by pictures, photographs, postcards, pennants, pistols, lifebuoys, model ships and aeroplanes, cartridges, tracts, beer-mats and incendiary bombs, nailed, pinned, screwed, glued and otherwise attached, rather in the fashion of Dirty Dick’s.’ Dirty Dick’s is arguably the original ‘collection pub’, a precursor of the 20th century theme pub.

George, Egerton — ‘in winter mulled ale’. A living tradition in this part of the world, or a bit of affected ‘oldworlderye’? (Also at the Smugglers Inn, Herne.)

Vigo, Fairseat — ‘Do you play Daddlums?’ Googles Daddlums; no. ‘If so, you may be running short of opportunities because there aren’t many Kentish pubs where it is still played; if not, start at the Vigo.’ Bad news: though the link above says the Vigo still has its Daddlums table… it is now closed pending a planning decision to turn it into a private house.

King’s Head, Crafty Green — ‘Having been a tea and rubber planter in Ceylon Mr R.E. Jackson makes a speciality of Ceylon curries, which are cooked by his wife with spices specially imported from Ceylon and vegetables in season from Bombay.’ Yet another curry pub — this, it turns out, may have been ‘a thing’.

Bell, Ivychurch — ‘and fried chicken on Saturday nights’. So this wasn’t something introduced to pubs by trend-chasers in the last decade or so?

Three Horseshoes, Lower Hardres — ‘Grills and a good dish called Beef fondue… a good gobble.’ Has fondue made a comeback in hip pubs yet, or is still 70s Dinner Party naff?

George & Dragon, Speldhurst — ‘How about that drink, though? Star (Eastbourne) light mild and old ale; Fremlins’ Three Star Bitter, Worthington on draught. By pressure Flowers’ Keg, Whitbread Tankard, Watney’s Red Barrel, Double Diamond, and draught Guinness, plus Tuborg lager. Two draught ciders, four draught sherries, six malt whiskies…’ And so on. A quick glance at a couple of 1970s editions of CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide suggests it didn’t retain its reputation as a beer destination.

Northfield House, Speldhurst — ‘The mild and bitter are well kept, and served straight from the wood, and if you don’t know the difference that makes you shouldn’t be drinking draught beer at all.’ Oof! A hard line, that.

Hole in the Wall, Tunbridge Wells — ‘[A] very special case, being not an ordinary pub but the back room of Mr Allman’s tobacconist’s shop. It used in Vic. times to be called “The Central Cigar Divan”, and still has its mahogany and black leather divans and a brass gas-jet lighter on the wall for gentlemen wishing to partake of the weed.’ (a) Central Cigar Divan — hipster bar name! (b) Not that type of weed. (c) Sounds fascinating but… it’s gone.

Pepperbox, Ulcombe — ‘Inns with an unusual name are often good.’ Discuss, 12 pts.

Victoria, Wye — ‘[In] the beer-drinking contest at the Victoria… the brisker drinkers achieve a four-second pint, and acrobatic frolics are to be seen with a double-decker counterbalanced beer mug mounted in gimbals.’ Responsible drinking! We’re struggling to picture this steampunk-sounding contraption.

Hooden Horse [sic], Wickhambreaux — ‘One of the regulars is a one-eyed swan named Nelson who lives down the road. It is quite respectable to see him, even after a long session.’ A friend of Lucifer the alcoholic donkey, perhaps? And who was asking a few years ago about the origins of the phrase ‘session beer’?