News, Nuggets and Longreads, 8/2/2014

Detail from 'Beer in Britain', 1960.

It’s Saturday, one of the fifty-two holidays in the slow-turning Big Wheel of the year, when piled up passions are exploded, and the effect of a week’s monotonous graft is swilled out of your system in a burst of goodwill. But before you go out to pour beer into the elastic capacity of your guts, here are some bits of news.

→ Thornbridge’s offer of free delivery on their web store in January turned out to be not only a nice treat for consumers, but also an extremely effective punter-driven advertising campaign: our Twitter feed in the last few days has been full of shots of newly delivered boxes and proudly arranged bottles, along with excited proclamations of the wonderfulness of Halcyon and Jaipur. It’s certainly why we’ve been focusing more than usual on the Derbyshire brewery.

→ This year sees the 40th anniversary of the launch of the late Bill Urquhart’s Litchborough Brewery, one of several breweries with a good claim to be the first ‘microbrewery’. We were excited to hear that the revived Phipps’ NBC has plans to mark the moment by brewing on of Mr Urquhart’s beers to an original recipe, and with the direct involvement of Frank Kenna who worked with him in the 1970s.

→ Those looking for something beer-related to hang on the wall might be interested in the 1960 Times book Beer in Britain (Abebooks | Amazon). Compiled from an April 1958 special supplement of the newspaper, the book is fascinating in its own right, but also includes a A3+ size fold-out map of breweries then in operation. (Detail above.) Our copy cost a bit less than £20.

→ One of our favourite blogs, Pubs of Manchester, has come across a fresh supply of photographs from the 1970s and is sharing them on Twitter. Here’s one beauty, but do check out the rest:

→ Our suggestion for a long read to save to Pocket this week is a 1967 essay by H.A. Monckton, a director at Flower’s brewery of Stratford-upon-Avon and beer historian, entitled ‘English Ale and Beer in Shakespeare’s Time‘.

7 replies on “News, Nuggets and Longreads, 8/2/2014”

Looking back from the perspective of almost 50 years, it’s instructive to see how much Tony Monckton got wrong in that essay on Elizabethan brewing. Most importantly, he repeats the belief, common, it appears, among historians at the time, that “the unhopped drink [that is, the original ale] had disappeared by the sixteenth century”, which is simply not true. Gervaise Markham wrote in 1615 (that is, the 17th century) that “the general use is by no means to put any hops into ale, making that the difference between it and beere”, and it is clear that unhopped ale was being brewed right through to the end of the 17th century, certainly in the North of England: Daniel Defoe mentions it, and John Taylor, the “Water Poet” (1578–1653) praised unhopped ales incessantly and, conversely, had nothing but insults for beer (“Beer is a Dutch boorish liquor”).

The idea that everybody was brewing with hops leads Monckton to declare that “In Shakespeare’s lifetime the difference between [ale and beer] was probably represented by the quantity of hops used. Thus, a mild brew would be called ale, and a bitter brew beer.” Again, this simply isn’t true – and misunderstands what “mild” meant, imposing its 20th century meaning of “a lightly hopped brew” on the 16th century, where it would have meant (if indeed “mild” was being used at all – I suspect it’s more an 18th century usage) “a freshly made brew” which would have contained hops if it had been a freshly made beer, and would not have contained hops if it had been a freshly made ale.

It also means that he fails to spot that in Shakespeare’s references to ale and beer, all the comments made about beer are insulting, while ale only receives praise (something I pointed out in a piece I wrote in Beer Connoisseur magazine in 2009, and which I think I’ll recycle onto the blog).

Monckton repeats the story that “many orders were made over the country against the use of ‘the pernicious weed, hop’”, but while brewers of ale were sometimes ordered by the authorities not to use hops, there is no evidence anywhere, at any time, of a general and complete ban on hops. Even Henry VIII’s famous prohibition against the royal brewers using hops applied only to the ale brewers, not the beer brewers.

He also quotes the alleged letter from Lord Burghley to the Earl of Leicester about Queen Elizabeth’s beer, which pops up frequently in histories of beer: I have spent more than 20 years trying to find an original source for this quote, and I haven’t done it yet. I’m not saying the letter from Burghley to Essex doesn’t exist: only that it seems suspiciously hard to find.

Another quote from the article is worth commenting on: “In London it was laid down that double beer was to be 4½ barrels drawn from one quarter of malt, and single beer to be 8½ barrels from a quarter.” This would be the declaration by the mayor and corporation in 1552, during the reign of Edward VI, regarding the amount of malt that should go into double and single beer. For “doble beare”, they said, a quarter of “grayne” should produce “fowre barrels and one fyrkin” of “goode holesome drynke”. To make single beer, twice as much drink should be brewed from the same quantity of grain. According to my calculations (which may very well be wrong), this would have produced double beer with a strength of around 1047 OG at the bottom end, perhaps 1058 at most (barely five per cent ABV), while the single beer could not have been stronger than around 1025 OG, less than two per cent alcohol.

Both these strengths seem far too low – indeed, they seem to use exactly half the malt one might expect, given a recipe for 60 barrels of single beer printed by Richard Arnold in 1503, which called for 10 quarters of barley malt, two quarters of wheat and two quarters of oats, to make 60 barrels of single beer. It is very unlikely this would have produced a beer of anything less than 1045 OG. Recipes from the 17th century show beers of around 1035 to 1045 OG being described as “small beer”. Gervase Markham, called a beer of approximately 1045 OG “ordinary beere”. Perhaps the London authorities in 1552 were deliberately trying to force the city’s brewers to make weaker beers, by halving the usual quantities of malt used. But this is just speculation.

We did think about putting a health warning with the link based on its age — ‘More recent scholarship’, etc..

We are finding his History of English Ale and Beer useful mostly for the later chapters where he provides an industry insider’s view on post-war developments.

The earliest printed source for that quotation is in Thomas Wright (ed.), ‘Queen Elizabeth and Her Times: A Selection of Original Letters, Selected from the Inedited Private Correspondence of the Lord Treasurer Burghley, The Earl of Leicester, The Secretaries Walsingham and Smith, Sir Christopher Hatton and Most Distinguished Persons of the Period’ 2 vols. (London: Henry Colburn, 1838), vol.2 pp.11-13. Online at The exact quotation used by Wright is on p.12 – note that, despite his assertion that ‘the quotation is given in full’, what he gives is a somewhat edited version of the original!

This book cites the quotation as being from MS. Harl. 6992, 6. This is in the British Library: (sadly, the catalogue is not online, except via Google Books). The catalogue states ‘6. Earl of Leicester to the Lord Treasurer of the Queen’s Entertainment at one of her Houses in her Progress; killing Bucks with her Bow; and delight in all the Cheer but the Ale, which was as strong as Malmsey; also thanks his Lordship for his Aid in procuring the Patent aforesaid [this is a reference to the preceding item in the catalogue], 28 June, 1575’ [from ‘A Catalogue of the Harleian Manuscripts in the British Museum: With Indexes of Persons, Places, and Matters’ 4 vols. (London, 1808-12), vol.3] – see

For ‘Wright’ in the last sentence of the first paragraph of my previous comment, read ‘Monckton’.

The letter was also earlier transcribed (with some variations compared to Smith’s version) in John Nichols,’The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth’, 3 vols. (London: John Nichols and Son, 1823), vol.1, pp.525-6 – see He seems to have referenced this as being folio 5 of the MS, rather than 6 – presumably an error on his part. (Nichols also published this as a postscript to a letter in April 1822 to the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine & Historical Chronicle’, vol.92/1, p.328 –

It is also transcribed in Edward Nares, ‘Memoirs of the Life and Administration of the Right Honourable William Cecil, Lord Burghley’ 3 vols. (London: Colburn and Bentley, 1831), vol. 3 pp.55-6 – The text here seems to be a modern-ised version of Nichols (with a short section removed). All other versions of the text I can currently find seem to be referenced to Nichols’ or Smith’s versions; Nichols’ is clearly distinct from Smith’s and Nares is, I think, merely a modernised version of Nichols (certainly he references him extensively).

Interestingly, there appears to be some confusion over the exact text. Comparing Monckton’s version (‘There is not one drop of good drink for her. We were fain to send to London and Kenilworth and divers other places where ale was; her own beer was so strong as there was no man able to drink it.’) to that of Smith (‘But at her fyrst coming, being a marvelous hott day, at her coming hither not one drop of good drynk for her, so well was she provyded for, notwithstanding her oft telling of her coming hither. But we were fayne to London with bottells, to Kenelworth, to dyvers other places, where ale was, her own here was such strong, as there was no man able to drynk it, you had bene as good to have Malmsey, and yet was it layd in above three days before her Majesty came.’) and Nichols (as Smith – except for some minor spelling and grammatical changes and replace ‘well’ with ‘ill’, ‘to London’ with ‘to send to London’, the full stop after ‘hither’ with a semi-colon, the comma after ‘ale was’ with a full stop, and ‘above’ with ‘about’), it is interesting to note that Monckton’s ‘her own beer’ is given by the other two as ‘her own here’ (i.e. referring to ale) – as to whether this is a result of a typo at some point down the line, misreading or ambiguity in the original, it isn’t really possible to say without checking the manuscript. However, as I’ve yet to come across any quotation using ‘beer’ or ‘bere’ which seems to be directly referring to the MS as a source, I’d suggest that ‘here’ is most likely to be the correct reading. This may particularly be the case as H. C. Hart’s edition of Shakespeare’s ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ (for Arden/Methuen) uses this quotation in its notes with ‘bere’ but cites Nichols as his source!

This is rather longer than I’d intended, sorry!

“The beer that William Shakespeare drank was not far removed from the beer we drink today…..”

Apart from the smoke, Brett and lactic acid, that is?

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