UPDATE 15/12/2013: we wrote this post not long after we started blogging and it has at least one embarrassing historical error (re: Henry VIII). We’ll have to revisit the topic now we’re older and wiser.
Did you know that Pimlico, a district of London, is named after a beer that was the Special Brew of its day?
The official history of Watney’s brewery, published in 1963, talks briefly about “Pimlico ale”. It tells us that Pimlico was brewed from the middle-ages to the tudor period, but doesn’t give much of an idea how it would have tasted. So, we consulted a couple of other books (listed below).
We found out a few interesting things.
1. Pimlico ale was strong – strong enough that it was considered “wicked”. It was associated with real drunkards – the hardcore, if you like. The poem “Pimlyco, or runne Rec-cap” from 1609 is the most famous mention of the beer:
Strong Pimlyco, the nourishing foode
To make men fat, and breed pure blood;
Deepe Pymlyco, the Well of Glee,
That drawes up merry company.
It was served at a pub in “Hogsdon” (now Hoxton, in east London), run by Elinour Rummin, “the Ale-wife of England”. A pub in Westminster, in south west London, borrowed the name to cash in on Mrs Rummin’s fame. And the area where the pub stood came to be known as Pimlico – it’s actually named after the beer!
2. The beer itself was probably very lightly hopped, if at all, and had lots of unfermented sugar. It would have been sickly sweet. It would also have been dark and probably slightly smoked, given the primitive methods of malting at the time.
3. The Watney’s book suggests (probably erroneously) that it was “brewed by the monks of Westminster [Abbey]”. So, it might have been a British abbey beer!
If a historically minded brewer wanted to recreate it, I’d advise them to throw authenticity aside and add some hops. Henry VIII hated them and banned them from beer, but their addition could be justified, as they were growing in Britain from 1428, and were a recognised ingredient in continental beers from the 9th century. And it would certainly make the stuff more drinkable…
P. Mathias, The brewing industry in England, 1700 1830 (1959)
A. Stout, Deep Well of Glee (1997)
H. Janes, The Red Barrel: A History of Watney Mann (1963)
Medieval/Renaissance Brewing page