A Day at a London Brewery

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In the early 1840s, George Dodd trolled around all kinds of different British industrial establishments, writing up his adventures for the Penny Magazine.

I bought a copy of Penny Magazine No. 577 today. It includes “A Day at a London Brewery”, the brewery in question being Barclay’s in Southwark.

I was going to scan it, but instead, I’ll link to Google Books, where there’s a perfectly good scan of Days at the Factories, the 1843 anthology containing all of Dodd’s factory memoirs.

Of particular note:

“The distinction between ale and beer is well known by the taste, but it is not easily described in words: ale is of a great specific gravity, lighter coloured, more transparent, and less bitter than porter.”


Picture credit:

Days at the Factories Or, the Manufacturing Industry of Great Britain Described, and Illustrated by Numerous Engravings of Machines and Processes. Series I.- London By George Dodd

Dimple Glasses

dimple.jpgIn yesterday’s post, what I didn’t mention was that the Old Monk is serving its real ale in old fashioned handled dimple glasses. I gather that a couple of would-be trendy pubs in the Islington area have started to do the same thing.

This is an interesting affectation which seems designed to appeal simultaneously to the old school beer fan and the retro-ironic hipster. I suspect we’re going to see a lot more of it about.

I gather the reason for their demise was that they were relatively expensive to make, prone to breaking, and hard to stack. Those arguments hardly hold up now that fans of German wheat beers or Belgian obscurities are getting their favourite tipples served in ever-more elaborately shaped and printed glasses, some of them a foot tall, others as delicate as egg shells.

Mild in particular tastes a little bit nicer out of a dimple — well, it does to me, anyway, because that’s how my grandad used to drink it. Let’s hope that by May, when every decent pub in the land will have a mild on, the dimple has made its triumphant comeback everywhere.

Picture from h-e-d.co.uk, who also sell dimples if you fancy a few to use at home.


The Old Monk Exchange

umbelale.gifYet another halfway decent if slightly charmless Westminster pub, the Old Monk Exchange usually offers a biggish range of foreign bottled beers. Recently, though, they’ve also upped their game on real ale.

This month, they’re having a “real ale festival’. In practice, that means they’ve got a rotating selection of ales, with four or five from cask at any one time, with another ten or so in bottles.

Tonight, I drank Nethergate Umbel Ale, Nethergate Suffolk County and Sharp’s Doombar (which is fast becoming ubiquitous). All were in good condition — it’s depressing that that’s noteworthy in London — and the first two were really quite interesting.

Umbel Ale in particular struck me as a well-made beer. The pump-clip makes much of the presence of toasted coriander seeds, but I’m sure there are some American hops in there too. Citrus and coriander is a classic combination. Would C-hops would work in Belgian-style wheat beers?

Brewing lager: what’s all the fuss about?

landbier.jpgNow our first-born lager is but a distant and bleary memory, time to look back on the experiment.

It took us a over a year and a half of all-grain brewing to pluck up the courage to do a lager, mostly because our books and the guidance make it sound so damn complicated. The implication seems to be that if you can’t mirror the water quality of Plzen and don’t have lagering capacity of a cavern in the Alps, it just ain’t worth the bother.

This, coupled with a rather narrow definition of what a lager should taste like, makes the process rather daunting. However, having now had a go ourselves, we’d say that you don’t need to worry about things as much as the books suggest to get something very drinkable, and yes, even “authentic”.

More details of the homebrewing lager process after the jump. And maybe some gratuitous pops at the BJCP guidelines…

Continue reading “Brewing lager: what’s all the fuss about?”

First they came for the Special Brew…

diamond-white_lg.gifIt’s been all over the London news today that several supermarket chains will be removing “super-strength” cheap beers (and ciders) from their central London shops.

Brands such as the 9% Carlsberg Special Brew and Diamond White will no longer be within the reach of the gentleman of the road, at least not if he walks the beat in Westminster.

Before I go into paranoid ranting, I should point out that this is a voluntary scheme, not the result of any legislation, and that it is localised to several areas within Westminster which are particularly known for “street-drinkers”.

However…this is a move that has been discussed as potential government legislation, and the results will no doubt be monitored closely by policy wonks.

So now for the paranoid ranting. While I’m no fan of Special Brew or any of the other brands mentioned by name in the article, you do have to wonder how this scheme or any potential future legislation will distinguish between “tramp-juice” and, say, your average Belgian ale.

I like to think it would be obvious that something like St Bernardus Abt 12, at 10%, should not be outlawed, but how about some more subjective brews? What about Guiness Foreign Export Stout, one of the finest Imperial Stouts available, and a hit with the vagrant of distinction? Or even some of the Polish “mocny” beers available now – I don’t like ’em much, but other beer lovers do.

Yes, this is all hypothetical – I’ve been in pretty much every off-licence in the Victoria area and they never have anything exciting that might fall foul of a ban. But come on, let’s have your thoughts. How would you define rules that would allow you exciting exotic treats from Belgium while simultaneously banning tramp brew? Some kind of equation based on percentage and price? Percentage divided by Beer Advocate rating?

Anyway, will this really be effective? Surely hard-core alcoholics will move on to cheap strong red wine or counterfeit vodka instead. We already have laws and Asbos to stop people thieving, begging, pissing in the streets and other anti-social behaviour. Why not enforce them, instead of picking on a few derided brands?


You’ve got to love the Carlsberg blurb about Special Brew on their website. After claiming its links with Winston Churchill, they remind you that to drink responsibly, a man should drink no more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day, and then point out that a 500ml can of SB at is 4.5 units.