Category Archives: Beer history

Supped it Like Bloody Wolves

Detail from the cover of Working Class Community by Brian Jackson, Pelican, 1972.
Detail from the cover of Working Class Community by Brian Jackson, Pelican, 1972.

We’ve found more evidence in our efforts to understand the extent to which British people were discerning in their choice of beer before the Campaign for Real Ale came along in the 1970s.

Brian Jackson’s Working Class Community was first published in 1968 and reprinted by Pelican in 1972. It belongs to the ‘working class people as aliens’ genre of academic writing so popular in the 20th century, though it is rather more readable than most examples, and occasionally even funny.

Amongst chapters about brass bands and bowling greens there is one called ‘At the Club’, which includes generalisations based on observations of several working men’s clubs in the north of England. It contains a fair bit about pubs, which were apparently considered expensive and ‘stuck up’:

Ah never go into a pub at all now. Clubs are much more sociable, like. Look at this. Ah couldn’t rest me legs across a chair in t’pub. Here it’s like being at home. As long as Ah don’t put me feet on t’seat, Ah’m all right.

But we were mostly intrigued by the section called ‘Drinking’. Unlike pubs, which were mostly tied to breweries and thus offered a limited range…

Working men’s clubs are a cooperative venture in the purchase and sale of beer and spirits. Each offers a choice of several draught beers, and the brews are changed ruthlessly as members demand…

Club members, it seems, were ‘discriminating and demanding’ in their choice of beers, and so, despite competitive pricing, it often had the best ale in town:

There is an excellent draught beer brewed which is sold in surrounding Yorkshire. But it cannot be obtained in Huddersfield public houses because the pubs are in possession of rival concerns. The beer, though good, is blocked out. Except for the clubs. In almost every one a pint of this ale could be bought. The beer was chosen and sold on its merits, quite regardless of the major brewery strategy which limits the range of the pub drinker.

(What can it have been…?)

There is also an amusing worm-that-turned narrative in the clubs’ resistance to advertising and salesmen from big breweries. They would, according to Jackson, take loans and gifts from breweries, without feeling any obligation to then buy beer from them. Here’s an account of an attempt by a rep from Yarnold’s to win over punters at one club:

Ah remember a traveller bringing a barrel. It were free while he was here, he paid for t’lot. They supped it then, y’know. They did that! They supped it like bloody wolves! But when he were gone nobody would touch it. It’s like lead in y’belly is that stuff. When Ah had some, Ah felt as if Ah’d swallowed yon plumb-line from t’window there.

So, they were discerning, but what did it mean, in this context? Were they interested in flavour, strength, or something more abstract? Unfortunately, that’s where the book lets us down, though who knows what more detail might lurk in the original field notes.

Innocuous Fluid, 1856

“The respectable man of the lower order is a clerk undoubtedly… He lives in a small, eight-roomed house, in a terrace with a high-sounding name, ‘Adeliza’ or ‘Navarino’, in Camden-town or Dalston. He lets the drawing-room floor to a single gentleman… Pewter pots are never seen hanging on the area rails; for, in his respectability, he looks upon public-houses as the favourite baits of the devil, and has a four and a half-gallon cask of the mildest and cheapest bitter beer from the Romford brewery always on tap in his coal-cellar. It is with this innocuous fluid that the single gentleman and his friends are occasionally supplied, and charged at the rate of fourpence per pint.”

From ‘Respectable People’ by Edmund H Yates, The Train magazine, 1856.

(We think he’s describing what we’re beginning to suspect was the original AK, brewed by Ind Coope in the mid-1840s.)

Coals to Newcastle?

global_beer

There has been an interesting reaction to the news that influential American brewery Stone are opening a brewery in Berlin.

‘Craft beer’ cheerleaders are whooping; cynics are… well, cynical.

Instinctively, it does seem arrogant (though ‘on brand’) to attempt to evangelise about beer in Germany, of all places.

But we can’t help thinking of the mid-19th century when Germans* were taking their newly-perfected and fashionable ‘lager beer’ around the world, investing in breweries everywhere from Budapest to Boston.

Stone aren’t doing anything Anton Dreher wouldn’t, are they?

German was then a ‘concept’ rather than a nationality, and included Austria.

Vienna Beer Today

Piccadilly Johnnies, 1904.

As the 1860s turned into the 1870s, absolutely the trendiest thing to drink in London was Vienna beer, aka Vienna lager — the pricey imported ‘craft beer’ of its day.

It seems to us that it was not so much a ‘style’ as the product of a single brewery — Dreher, of Klein-Schwechat, Vienna — with a few imitators trying to muscle in on the market it had created.

It appealed to Piccadilly Johnny — the hipster of his day –because:

  • It was served cold.
  • It had higher levels of carbonation.
  • It was paler than Munich Dunkel. (Though not as pale as Pilsner.)
  • He believed it wasn’t ‘intoxicating’. (We think this was psychological.)
  • ‘German’ stuff was fashionable, while English stuff was considered inherently naff.

Now, almost 150 years later, though there aren’t many descendants of Dreher’s Vienna beer, they are at least relatively easy to find, and not just in the West End of London.

Even near us, in deepest Cornwall, there are several pubs selling kegged Brooklyn Lager (5.2%), while bottles can be found in your local Wetherspoon, and most supermarkets. It’s one of the first self-declared ‘craft beers’ many people drink — it certainly was for us. Is it a convincing Vienna beer? Without going back to 1870, we can’t be sure, but we can’t believe its flowery hop aroma is remotely authentic. It is Dreher’s beer, via the 19th century New York beer hall, via the ‘real ale revolution’, via US ‘craft beer’.

Another widely available example is Negra Modelo (5.4%) from Mexico. In production since the 1920s, it is a lingering reminder of the country’s historic connections with Austria. It’s been a while since we drank one but our recollection is of a lager already lacking bitterness into which someone had then stirred a teaspoon of refined brown sugar. The brewery themselves sometimes call it a ‘Munich Dunkel’ — it is certainly darker than amber.

Finally, there’s Thornbridge’s Kill Your Darlings (5%), a case of which we have been working on for a couple of months. Smooth and clean almost to the point of blandness, it certainly tastes authentically Continental, and makes a change from pale lager while offering a similar kind of straightforward refreshment. It, too, is perhaps rather too Munich-dark to be quite authentic. Still, we’d like to drink a pint or two of this at the Craft Beer Co in Covent Garden, which isn’t far from the Strand – epicentre of the original Vienna beer craze.

On balance, the least authentic of the three, Brooklyn Lager, with its distinctly English dry-hopping regime, is probably the tastiest.

One of the projects we’re working on now is about lager in London in the 19th century — probably for a short e-book. In the meantime, we wholeheartedly recommend Ron Pattinson’s book Lager.