Is Golden Ale Really White Ale?

Straw Hat by Wicker Paradise on Flickr, under Creative Commons.
SOURCE: Wick­er Par­adise on Flickr, under Cre­ative Com­mons.

Continuing a train of thought from Friday’s blog post, we’ve been considering another common beer colour descriptor – ‘straw’.

We read David Swift’s fas­ci­nat­ing arti­cle about Devon White Ale some months ago at the blog he co-authors, but its re-appear­ance in the lat­est issue of the jour­nal of the Brew­ery His­to­ry Soci­ety was for­tu­itous. First time round, this 1939 obser­va­tion from Sir Gar­rard Tyr­whitt-Drake (!) did­n’t leap out at us, but with gold­en ale on our minds, it cer­tain­ly did:

When I was a pupil at Messrs Fox’s Brew­ery at Farn­bor­ough, Kent, in 1900 the firm was cel­e­brat­ed for its white ale. This beer was brewed the same as any oth­er beer, but from the very palest coloured malt and sug­ar, it was the colour of pale straw, but tast­ed just like any oth­er ale of sim­i­lar strength.

Now, believe it or not, there is a colour stan­dard for ‘straw’, from a 1930 Dic­tio­nary of Col­or by Maerz and Paul, which Wikipedia ren­ders like this:


For com­par­i­son, here’s 4 SRM from that beer colour chart (a lit­tle paler than Hop Back Sum­mer Light­ning):


And this is Maerz and Paul’s ‘gold’, via Wikipedia:


Final­ly, while we’re at it, let’s have a look at their rather lurid ‘amber’:


We would­n’t want to read too much into all of this, but could it be that Sum­mer Light­ning, had it been pro­duced before the First World War, might have been con­sid­ered a ‘white ale’? Per­haps it would have been con­sid­ered too dark.

At any rate, we’re cer­tain­ly going to have to attempt to devise a home brew­ing recipe for a c.1908 Ken­tish White Ale.

8 thoughts on “Is Golden Ale Really White Ale?”

  1. I think the “lurid “amber”” is get­ting very orange and even deep­er orange than that is sim­i­lar to Kruger rand gold coin – cer­tain­ly gold­en although the coin does con­tain cop­per which makes it orangey cop­per coloured.

  2. We have to dis­tin­guish between two kinds of very pale ale, or rather three. One type was the tra­di­tion­al pale ale/bitter, made in a range of shades with some brew­ers pre­fer­ring a straw colour, which would be typ­i­cal of today. Ind Coope has an ad in the 1800’s (east to search) for this kind; sec­ond type was made from slack malt which was only light­ly kilned and pos­si­bly (or in some cas­es) par­tial­ly ger­mi­nat­ed, this type seems to have die out and the one rec­ol­lect­ed from 1900 was sure­ly a throw­back. Slack malt tend­ed to be unsta­ble and often was redried to be able to use it; and final­ly Devon White Ale, which had died out by all accounts, at least com­mer­cial­ly, by 1900. I’d guess Sum­mer Light­ning was clos­est to the first of these.


  3. Bod­ding­tons bit­ter was a pale as any­thing around today and speak­ing to old­er drinkers it seems that oth­er Man­ches­ter bit­ters (Wilson’s, Chesters etc) were also very pale beers.

    How­ev­er I think the dif­fer­ence between those beers and today’s gold­en ales is more down to the hop pro­file rather than colour. So I think the answer to your ques­tion is “yes” in appear­ance and “no” in oth­er respects.

  4. Here is the Ind, Coope ad:

    Inter­est­ing that the first tes­ti­mo­ni­al states pale straw, the sec­ond one, pale amber. This can be explained by dif­fer­ing con­cep­tions of colour but also, like­ly the beer was not con­sis­tent in this respect. That a very pale colour was prized, which some oth­er accounts cor­rob­o­rate, seems beyond doubt.

    John, what would be dif­fer­ent about Sum­mer Light­ning for hops (oth­er than sure­ly a lot less than 1800’s bit­ter used)? Did it use Amer­i­can hops?


    1. Gary – yes I’m sure it did / does. What made it stand out was the aro­mat­ic hop­pi­ness rather than just being bit­ter.

    1. Those sound Eng­lish in tone, but maybe it changed over the years.

      By the way note the insis­tence in the first Ind, Coope tes­ti­mo­ni­al about the best pale ale also being “clear” and “bright”. At times the ide­al (we know) was not attained. But it’s doubt­ful that before about 2005 U.K. brew­ers put out a murky pale ale inten­tion­al­ly, unlike today. Today, Mon­ty Python’s old joke about pond life in beer would be incom­pre­hen­si­ble to the typ­i­cal con­sumer in Isling­ton, Bat­tersea, etc.

  5. They are Eng­lish, Chal­lenger was very pop­u­lar with West Coun­try brew­ers about 10 years ago, as far as I know Hop­back haven’t gone US on SL.

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