Pimlico Ale – update

We found anoth­er book that men­tions Pim­li­co Ale, which I spoke about in this post a few days ago.

William Carey, in his weird, lim­it­ed edi­tion his­to­ry of the area, pub­lished in 1986, writes:

The most pop­u­lar ale drunk in Lon­don between 1570 and 1700 was ‘Pim­li­co Ale’ oth­er­wise known as ‘Der­by Red Cap’ from the pink tinge of its frothy head. At first pro­duced only in Der­byshire at a farm loca­tion named “Pim­li­co”, it was brought to Lon­don in huge bar­rels down the Watling Way.

This is very inter­est­ing. What makes the head pink/red? Fruit could, but the head on some impe­r­i­al stouts is red­dish brown. More research need­ed – in books on Der­byshire, per­haps…?

Pimlico Ale

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


In Charles Dick­ens’ 1850 piece “Three Detec­tive Anec­dotes”, the police­man Inspec­tor Wield reports this attempt to get infor­ma­tion from a wit­ness:

When the play was over, we came out togeth­er, and I said, “We’ve been very com­pan­ion­able and agree­able, and per­haps you would­n’t object to a drain?” “Well, you’re very good,” says he; “I SHOULDN’T object to a drain.” Accord­ing­ly, we went to a pub­lic-house, near the The­atre, sat our­selves down in a qui­et room up-stairs on the first floor, and called for a pint of half-and-half, apiece, and a pipe.

What’s half-and-half? I asked myself.

Mod­ern ref­er­ences (Beer Advo­cate, amongst oth­ers) say that half-and-half is a cousin or a vari­ant of “black-and-tan”, and that it’s made by mix­ing pale ale and and stout. In fact, they spec­i­fy a mix of Guin­ness and a “mild or bit­ter beer”. Dick­ens’ char­ac­ters prob­a­bly weren’t drink­ing Guin­ness, though.

An even ear­li­er source – an 1820 trea­tise against the adul­ter­ation of food (Project Guten­berg e‑text) – cov­ers half-and-half in more detail. The author says that “every pub­li­can has two sorts of beer sent to him from the brew­er… ‘mild’, which is beer sent out fresh as it is brewed; the oth­er is called ‘old’ ”.

Half-and-half is a mix­ture of the two. So, instead of pay­ing for a full pint of the “good stuff”, the con­sumer could shave a lit­tle off the cost by vol­un­tary adul­ter­at­ing their beer. Pre­sum­ably, they might also choose to do so because the aged beer was sour, and so a bit much to take on its own.

And it was in try­ing to come up with a quick­er and eas­i­er way to serve mixed beer that Lon­don land­lords invent­ed “entire butt” (beer pre-mixed in the bar­rel, and com­ing from one tap) which in turn became the famous Lon­don Porter. Roger Protz and Gra­ham Wheel­er, in their excel­lent if eccen­tri­cal­ly type­set Brew Your Own British Real Ale at Home argue that “the orig­i­nal Lon­don Porters were sim­ply brown ales that were delib­er­ate­ly soured”.

So, how to sim­u­late a pint of Vic­to­ri­an half-and-half? I’d guess that get­ting two sim­i­lar beers (brown ales), sour­ing one, and keep­ing the oth­er fresh, is the best way to start. Fail­ing that, a dash of some­thing lam­bic in a brown ale might do the job.

I came across “Three Detec­tive Anec­dotes” in A Trea­sury of Vic­to­ri­an Detec­tive Sto­ries edit­ed by Everett F Bleil­er (Har­vest Press, 1980), but it’s also avail­able at Project Guten­berg for free.

1918 anti-brewing tract

I can’t find out much about Adolph Kei­t­el, but in 1918, he wrote “Gov­ern­ment by the Brew­ers?”. It was pub­lished in Chica­go, and is an anti-brew­ery/an­ti-beer tract. It’s avail­able from Project Guten­berg, the free etext archive.

His argu­ment is a bit odd – he’s not anti-pro­hi­bi­tion, but he’s annoyed that brew­ers were try­ing to con­vince peo­ple beer was less harm­ful than whisky. He says that beer is a habit form­ing drug (“It’s not a drug – it’s a drink” – Chris Mor­ris) and not fit to be in the home. Brew­ers, he argues, are a sin­is­ter force for evil.

This point re: the qual­i­ty of Amer­i­can beer is par­tic­u­lar­ly amus­ing:


In the well known Euro­pean beer drink­ing coun­tries noth­ing but hops and malt are per­mit­ted in brew­ing.

Here beer is a con­coc­tion of corn, rice, hops, malt, glucose,preservatives and oth­er drugs–and, in most cas­es, it has noth­ing in com­mon with real beer oth­er than its arti­fi­cial foam and col­or.

A leader of pub­lic opin­ion made the state­ment in the Unit­ed States Sen­ate that “Beer that is brewed in this coun­try is slop. They say it is ‘good for the health.’ I nev­er saw a man who drank it who was not a can­di­date for Bright’s dis­ease or paral­y­sis.”

The Anglo-Bavarian Brewery

William Hen­ry Hud­son’s Afoot in Eng­land (1909) is a memoir/guide book, which takes a snooty tone in places. This pas­sage (from the Project Guten­berg etext) caught my eye because it men­tions the Anglo-Bavar­i­an brew­ery in Shep­ton Mal­let, Som­er­set:

I went on a Sat­ur­day to Shep­ton Mal­let. A small, squalid town, a “man­u­fac­tur­ing town” the guide-book calls it. Well, yes; it man­u­fac­tures Anglo-Bavar­i­an beer in a gigan­tic brew­ery which looks big­ger than all the oth­er build­ings togeth­er, the church and a dozen or twen­ty pub­lic-hous­es includ­ed. To get some food I went to the only eat­ing-house in the place, and saw a pleas­ant-look­ing woman, plump and high-coloured, with black hair, with an expres­sion of good humour and good­ness of every descrip­tion in her come­ly coun­te­nance. She promised to have a chop ready by the time I had fin­ished look­ing at the church, and I said I would have it with a small Guin­ness. She could not pro­vide that, the house, she said, was strict­ly tem­per­ance. “My doc­tor has ordered me to take it,” said I, “and if you are reli­gious, remem­ber that St. Paul tells us to take a lit­tle stout when we find it ben­e­fi­cial.”

Yes, I know that’s what St. Paul says,” she returned, with a height­ened colour and a vicious empha­sis on the sain­t’s name,“but we go on a dif­fer­ent prin­ci­ple.”

The Anglo-Bavar­i­an brew­ery opened in 1864, mak­ing pale ale, but is real­ly notable as the first brew­ery in Britain to make lager. It employed Ger­man brew­ers from 1873 onward, and won awards world­wide for it’s Ger­man-style beer. Of course, when World War I kicked off in 1914, they changed the name to “The Anglo”, but it was too late: the Bavar­i­an flags and sym­bols all over the build­ing led to it being trashed. It closed in 1920. The build­ing is still there, but in bad shape (read more at Eng­lish Her­itage).

Nowa­days, the most famous drink being made in Shep­ton Mal­let is Baby­cham.