Beer history Beer styles

Session #64: Pale Ales

Beer Mat advertising St Austell Extra c.1960

Phew. The Beer Babe has chosen a Session topic we can address without hunting high and low for exotic imported bottles: she wants us to write about pale ales. In Britain, pale ale, under its other name, bitter, is the staple offering of almost every pub in the land.

Yes, John Smith’s, Bass and all those other ‘brown bitters‘ are pale ales. In the small town where we live, we’ve got a choice of about thirty cask-conditoned pale ales/bitters at any one time, but we’ve written about most of them before, or have made a decision not to do so for diplomatic reasons.

But there are plenty of Cornish pale ales we haven’t tried and never will.

Throughout World War II, St Austell brewed nothing but PA (pale ale), ceasing production of mild, stout and porter altogether. In 1944, their PA used Tucker’s English malt, a little invert sugar (No 2), a big slug of caramel for colour and (we think) English hops — ‘Wickham’ being the producer. (A letter from the hop merchants tucked into the log promises at least a small allowance of best ‘East Kents’ for dry hopping.) All this produced a beer with an original gravity (OG) of 1.030 — about as weak as English beer ever gets, probably equating to less than 3% ABV.

In 1960, they were making beer intended for kegging and called Extra. It used Tucker’s English malt as its base, just like the 1944 brew. It also  included a small proportion of  ‘enzymic’ malt (acid malt?) and glucose alongside invert sugar 3 (darker than 2). In fact, it had three times as much sugar in as the 1944 brew — would it have been drier? Its OG was 1.040, so a bit stronger, but not that much. The name is pure marketing.

We’re still learning to read old brewing records (literally the handwriting is terrible) and interpret them, hence the rather reticent descriptions of the two beers above. We’ll probably come back to them at a later date.

3 replies on “Session #64: Pale Ales”

Do you guys have that 1944 PA recipe? I’ve got a mild obsession with WWII vintage brews and I’d love to see the fine details.

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