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

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