Beer history


Old fellers drinking in a pub, from an illustraton c.1914.

There’s a ghoulish glee in reading about the grotty brewing practices of the past, especially when the product in question has a catchy brand name.

According to a correspondent of the Lancet in 1865, the people of South Staffordshire were particularly prone to getting legless on a by-product of brewing known as ‘klink’:

In the larger breweries there is always a varying amount of… strong ale which has become so tart or acid as to be unfit for ordinary sale. This strong ale is modified in various ways to make it palatable, and is then reissued at a very low price… In the district this liquor, known as “klink,” is sold at the low rate of twopence per quart, and being exceedingly strong, the above quantity is enough to intoxicate most men… It is not, however, the intoxicating power of klink beer which is its only bad property; but, from the development of certain acids, the effect upon the mucous lining of the stomach, upon the liver and kidneys, is most injurious, and those who are in the habit of drinking it are well aware of the effect. Unfortunately, too, this kind of beer has got largely into use as harvest drink… Probably neither brewers nor employers are aware of the amount of injury inflicted by this drink.

Every other mention of klink we’ve been able to find with an admittedly superficial search, including  a piece in the British Medical Journal from 1869, seems to derive from this source.

So, it’s not very reliable. It might also be temperance campaign misinformation, or simply a misunderstanding about some aspect of the brewing process.

But, in the context of 19th century brewing practices, it doesn’t sound at all unlikely to us.

It made us wonder what it might taste like but, mostly, it reminded us how lucky we are that this kind of practice has all but died out…

Hasn’t it?

6 replies on “Klink”

If ive got my history right tax in the period was on barley used not the beers actually strengh. Presumably this means batches thrown away still have tax paid. Makes saving a dodgy batch more important. I had pint recently with a brewer commented beer was good but not a patch on his award winner. Reply was – it is the award winner, batch went wrong far too low abv so renamed it. Nothing bad or dangerous going on but not one the lad was proud of. Of course some brewers can simply take their disasters, dry hop them and sell as experimental limited editions, allegedly! 😉

Would that brewer be a certain brewdog? I had the watt dicke . Small jar bottle big abv about 35 % if memory serves me well. Tasted like stale beer mixed with vinegar. I’m convinced people are fooling themselves these beers are a great drink. To me it was no better than the slop tray. I’m all for innovation and creative beer but not at the compromise of quality and flavour .

I recall in my student days wondering how nightclubs could do “70p a pint” nights (I may be old, but that was still incredibly cheap in the mid-90s!).

Subsequent discussions with a brewery rep implied that it was the almost out of date (and we’re talking john smiths smooth and dead-keg Flowers here) stuff nowhere else would take…

Klink sounds appalling but mythical – I’d love to hear if you find any other references, though. If it was a thing, I wonder if it was a generic term, & if so whether it had variants – klink/clunk, like spingo/stingo….?

As an aside , I like the phrase “dead-keg” – quite a useful way of differentiating rhe industrial rubbish from the rather good modern stuff. Not thought this through yet but it might have legs.

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