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. Henry VIII banned his brewers from using sulphur to fumigate the casks, so it was obviously an ancient practice

  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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