Historical Nugget: ‘Pitched’ English Lager from Leeds, 1888

Eshald Well Brewery.
‘The Eshald Well Brew­ery’ SOURCE: The Not­ed Brew­eries of Britain and Ire­land, Vol 1.

We’ve just stumbled upon an 1888 newspaper article which gives us a fascinating account of the production of another early British lager.

The piece was pub­lished in the Leeds Times on 9 June that year under the head­ing ‘Brew­eries in Leeds and Dis­trict’ and was cred­it­ed to ‘A Ram­bling Reporter’. It is quite sub­stan­tial even if it reads as some­thing like adver­to­r­i­al and includes pro­files of Tet­ley (Leeds), John Smith (Tad­cast­er) and Bent­ley & Co of Woodles­ford, Leeds. The lat­ter is by far the most inter­est­ing:

To meet dif­fer­ent tastes and require­ments ten dif­fer­ent kinds of ale are brewed. First comes ‘Tim­o­thy’, which is exact­ly of the same char­ac­ter as the brew known in the old seats of edu­ca­tion as ‘Col­lege ale’. Then there are X, XX, XXX, and XXXX, the num­ber of Xs sim­ply denot­ing the quan­ti­ty of mate­ri­als used, the strength, and price. But, after all, the dis­tinc­tive fea­tures of Eschald­well [brew­ery] are the Pale Ale, Light Bit­ter, and Eng­lish Lager qual­i­ties, which dif­fer from the X series, inas­much as the chief ele­ment is hops, not malt.

That’s almost a tast­ing note, and quite a use­ful one. For­tu­nate­ly, there is also a bit more infor­ma­tion about the brewery’s lager in par­tic­u­lar:

The lat­ter only requires to be passed through a chip cask and thus obtain the pitchy flavour to serve as an admirable mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Ger­man Lager. The Eng­lish Lager has found much favour in high quar­ters, it is pop­u­lar in the saloons of pas­sen­ger steam­ers, and fol­lows one of the judges about on cir­cuit.

Gary Gill­man has researched pitch, and espe­cial­ly the flavour impart­ed by pitch, over the course of many blog posts but you might start with this one if you want to know more:

Read­ers will recall that ear­ly court cas­es I’ve dis­cussed for the Bud­weis­er trade mark refer to pitch being import­ed from Bohemia to line A-B’s casks. Pre­sum­ably the char­ac­ter­is­tics of Bohemi­an pitch were liked and its con­tri­bu­tion to flavour want­ed, no doubt an acquired taste but all tastes are in bev­er­ages. I think I can recall the taste in Pil­sner Urquell from the 1970s and 80s, when the brew­ery still used pitched wood ves­sels to store the lager. It was a slight­ly musty taste but pleas­ant. Today it is absent from the beer since no wood is used in its pro­duc­tion now.

Some­thing about the news­pa­per arti­cle made us won­der if the pseu­do­ny­mous author might actu­al­ly be Alfred Barnard, author of the four vol­ume Not­ed Brew­eries of Britain and Ire­land, pub­lished between 1889 and 1896. Sure enough, Bentley’s is pro­filed in Vol­ume I, with a pass­ing men­tion for the lager:

The cel­lar­man pro­duced many oth­er spec­i­mens of ale, beer and porter, among them the firm’s Eng­lish lager Beer, a light, aro­mat­ic drink, quite equal to the Con­ti­nen­tal Lager, and equal­ly sparkling.

Odd­ly, though, none of Bentley’s news­pa­per adver­tise­ments from this 1880s or 1890s men­tion the lager, only its bit­ter ton­ic ale, EIPA and stout. Per­haps the exper­i­ment fiz­zled out?

Mar­tyn Cornell’s Amber, Gold & Black men­tions a lager brew­ery oper­at­ing in Brad­ford in 1877; William Younger of Edin­burgh began pro­duc­ing lager from 1879; Knights Stocks & Co. of Coun­ty Durham at around the same time; a ded­i­cat­ed lager brew­ery was launched in Tot­ten­ham in 1882; and in Wrex­ham in 1883. It sounds as if Bent­ley was brew­ing faux-lager of the sort pop­u­lar among British brew­eries a cen­tu­ry lat­er but, still, it’s prob­a­bly worth adding to the time­line.

Final­ly, as a lit­tle bonus, the arti­cle also con­tains a note on Bentley’s dri­ve to pre­mi­u­mi­sa­tion:

Through­out it is evi­dent that while com­mon­er tastes are not neglect­ed, a lead­ing idea is more par­tic­u­lar­ly to cater for fas­tid­i­ous palates.

How 21st Cen­tu­ry does that sound, as estab­lished UK brew­eries make their plays for the less price-con­scious craft beer mar­ket? It’s cer­tain­ly one for our file of evi­dence that there were beer geeks around before any­one was call­ing them that.

There’s a detailed his­to­ry of Bentley’s by Howard Ben­son at the Woodles­ford Sta­tion web­site. There’s infor­ma­tion on how to find Alfred Barnard’s book and oth­er use­ful texts here. If you want to know more about lager in Britain in the 19th Cen­tu­ry check out Ron Pattinson’s mini-book and/or blog; the Mar­tyn Cor­nell book men­tioned above; and, of course, our own Gam­bri­nus Waltz.

Update 01/02/2016: We got our Youngers con­fused; now fixed.

18 thoughts on “Historical Nugget: ‘Pitched’ English Lager from Leeds, 1888”

  1. The men­tion of pitch flavour seems inter­est­ing. I remem­ber that some 19th cen­tu­ry Ger­man brew­ing lit­er­a­ture dis­cuss­es the spe­cif­ic dif­fer­ences how wood­en casks were treat­ed in dif­fer­ent parts of Bavaria: in Munich, they were pitched and the beer was filled in when the pitch had cooled off, in (IIRC) Augs­burg, the casks were pitched and the beer was filled in while it was still hot, and in Bam­berg, casks were not pitched, but burnt out with sulpuhure instead. The Munich method seems to have been stan­dard, while the Augs­burg and Bam­berg meth­ods were described as local spe­cial­ties that alleged­ly had a great impact on the unique flavours of beers from the respec­tive cities. I should prob­a­bly blog about this.

    1. That’s dead inter­est­ing. No sur­prise real­ly though that the han­dling of casks hould have var­ied as each of those towns had their own method of decoc­tion mash­ing.

  2. That’s just down the road from me. We looked at hous­es to buy in Woodles­ford about 12 years ago, one of them being on Eshald Place. All the ref­er­ences to the brew­ery I’ve seen have called it Eshald­well? Is that an old or a new typo?

  3. There were oth­er Lagers brewed in the 19th cen­tu­ry in tra­di­tion­al Ale brew­eries. William Younger brewed a Pils in 1880 that was bot­tom-fer­e­ment­ed (I think with Carslberg yeast) and fer­ment­ed cold. Don’t know if they lagered it or not.

    Not heard of the Bentley’s Lager before. I can remem­ber pass­ing by their brew­ery in Woodles­ford when at uni­ver­si­ty in Leeds. Sad­ly not brew­ing, but obvi­ous­ly a brew­ery. Weird how few pubs Whit­bread had in Leeds con­sid­er­ing they had two brew­eries in the town.

    The Bentley’s were a dead inter­est­ing fam­i­ly with brew­eries in sev­er­al York­shire towns.

    1. Yes, we realised we were just skirt­ing the edges of the Bent­ley sto­ry when we saw the dis­cus­sion about them under one of your old blog posts.

  4. Not so fast on the geek front. If we knew that Bentley’s had made a go of cater­ing for “more fas­tid­i­ous palates”, then we’d have evi­dence of late-Vic­to­ri­an beer-geek­ery. The fact that they aimed to do this only tells us that they thought the exis­tence of such a mar­ket was worth a punt.

    1. Cheers, AP – had missed this. Prob­a­bly worth us includ­ing in the epi­logue if we ever get round to revis­ing Gam­bri­nus Waltz.

      1. How many ded­i­cat­ed “lager” micro­brew­eries are there in the UK?

        I always for­get about Morov­ka, who must have been around for a while. And I’ve had Geipel in touch recent­ly. Both tak­ing on a very tra­di­tion­al east­ern Europe posi­tion­ing sim­i­lar to these new ones in Lon­don, but nei­ther of them new.

        I guess we may be able to count the shiny new Lost & Ground­ed in this cat­e­go­ry too – albeit whilst lager is at their core they’re not exact­ly *ded­i­cat­ed* to it (but nei­ther was Cam­den or Mean­time). So then there’s Red­well in Nor­wich, but they do pale ales and cask too. There’s Wrex­ham Lager, who real­ly are just lager I think? Calvors? Free­dom? Think most do stuff oth­er than lager/euro styles though.

        Cam­den and Mean­time too but they don’t real­ly count in the indie/craft spec­trum any more. Plus do a load of pale ales and oth­er things.

        A Google search finds me Cotswold Brew Co too (nev­er heard of).

        It’s an inter­est­ing and per­haps under-rep­re­sent­ed niche that quite like­ly has sig­nif­i­cant poten­tial. And I mean prop­er lager, not the bol­locks “craft lager” many are mak­ing… even when they vague­ly wave the word “kölsch” around.

  5. Chip cask” made me thing of some­thing com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent – Amer­i­can Bud­weis­er and their beech­wood chips. Which made me won­der what the beech­wood chips actu­al­ly do and led me to this link (though you may say it is an unver­i­fied source) https://www.reddit.com/r/beer/comments/2ujzwa/serious_what_exactly_does_budweiser_do_with_beach/co9bkci/

    I won­der if both things (pitch­ing and use of wood chips) were going on at the same time? (Hop for­ward pale ales? It’ll nev­er catch on.)

    (And then, at the bot­tom of the page: Wal­mart “craft” beers http://tinyurl.com/jhpfson )

  6. I remem­ber the Bent­leys brew­ery at Woodles­ford. Although it was long defunct, the orig­i­nal build­ings were pulled down in the mid to late eight­ies and a hous­ing estate built on the site. A col­league moved in to one of the hous­es when they were new­ly built – late eight­ies. The loca­tion of the brew­ery is now prin­ci­pal­ly Juniper Avenue, Woodles­ford, and the streets off it. The ‘Eshalds’ a pre­vi­ous com­men­ta­tor refers to are the streets on the West side of the rail­way line bisect­ed by Aber­ford road (A642). The brew­ery was on the East side of the rail­way line just under the bridge, on the right. The site is bor­dered by the rail­way line to the West and the cut (Aire & Calder nav­i­ga­tion) on the East. The logo ‘BYB’ (Bentley’s York­shire Bit­ter) is still a com­mon one and can be seen on brew­e­ri­ana in many pubs across the West Rid­ing. This local site is quite inter­est­ing http://www.woodlesfordstation.co.uk/Pages/BentleysBrewery.aspx .

  7. Hmm, I’ll have to take a look at the Bentley’s (Eshald­well) records I pho­tographed recent­ly I know there are two dif­fer­ent IPA recipes in the 1893–3 ledger

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