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Brew Britannia breweries

A pale’n’hoppy timeline

Yesterday we re-shared an article we wrote back in 2015 about the emergence of the pale’n’hoppy style of ale in the UK. As you might expect, people had plenty of other suggestions for pioneering contenders; we’ve used that info to pull together a list.

You’ll note that we have also thrown in some notable IPAs because the line between the two styles is pretty fine.

It’s not exhaustive – these are just the names that popped up on Twitter yesterday. There are some here we don’t think count as PNH (e.g. Tribute, which isn’t especially pale) but we’ve included them for completeness.

Various relatively pale bitters e.g. Boddington’s | < 1980
Franklin’s Bitter | c.1979 | Cascade (US)
Goose Eye Pommie’s Revenge | 1984 | Fuggles, Goldings (UK)
Exmoor Gold | 1986 | Challenger, Goldings and Fuggles (UK)
Hop Back Summer Lightning | 1989 | Goldings, Challenger (UK)
Dobbin’s (West Coast) Yakima Grande Pale Ale | 1989 | Cascade (US)
Deuchars IPA | 1991 | Willamette, Goldings, Fuggle (UK, US) (source)
Butterknowle Conciliation | c.1991 | Challenger (UK)
Roosters Yankee | 1993 | Cascade (US)
Oakham JHB | 1993 | Mount Hood and Willamette (US)
Kelham Island Pale Rider | 1993 | Willamette (US) (source)
Durham Magus | 1994 | Challenger, Goldings (UK)
Dark Star Hophead | c.1996 | Cascade (US)
Ossett Silver King | 1998 | Cascade (US)
St Austell Tribute | 1999 | Fuggles, Willamette (UK/US)
Crouch Vale Brewers Gold | 2000 | Brewers Gold (UK)
Pictish Brewers Gold | 2000 | Brewers Gold (UK)
Crouch Vale Amarillo | 2003 | Amarillo (US)
Castle Rock Harvest Pale | 2003 | Cascade, Centennial, Chinook (US)
St Austell Proper Job | 2004 | Willamette, Cascade, Chinook (US)
Meantime IPA | 2005 | Fuggles, Golding (UK)
Thornbridge Jaipur | 2005 | Chinook, Centennial, Ahtanum (US)
BrewDog Punk | 2007 | Chinook, Ahtanum, Crystal, Motueka (US/NZ)
Oakham Citra | 2010 | Citra (US)
Fyne Ales Jarl | 2010 | Citra (US)
Brodies Citra Pale | 2011 | Citra (US)

As we said in the Twitter chat yesterday, it’s not about who got there first or ‘invented’ the style – it’s more a matter of a slow evolution.

In general, it’s interesting how often people assume a beer is older than it actually is – and how often people remember as pale and citrusy beers that evidence suggests were brownish, with UK hops. (As far as we can tell – brewers are often coy about this stuff.)

If you’ve got suggestions, feel free to comment below – and if you can provide a reliable (referenced) ‘first sold’ date and info on hops, that would be great.

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Brew Britannia

The evolution of ‘pale’n’hoppy’ ale in the UK

This piece first appeared online at the now defunct All About Beer in 2015. It’s collected in our book Balmy Nectar but, as there’s been some chat lately about when and how the UK got the taste for the perfume and flavour of US hops, we wanted to share it here, too.

Some of the best beers being made in Britain today belong to a style that has no name. They are the colour of pilsner, usually made with only pale malt, but they are not mere ‘golden ales’ – because ‘golden’ is not, after all, a flavour.

They have extravagant, upfront New World hopping suggesting tropical fruits and aromatic flowers but they are not US-style India Pale Ales because their alcoholic strength is likely to be somewhere between 3-5% ABV.

Though this might sound like a description of US session IPA, beers of this type have been around in the UK for more than 20 years. If they are given a name at all, as in Mark Dredge’s 2013 book Craft Beer World, it is usually a variation on the simply descriptive ‘pale’n’hoppy’.

In the mid-20th century there were several British beers noted for their pale colour, Boddington’s Bitter from Manchester being the most notable. That particular beer was also intensely hopped although the hops were English and were used to generate a bitterness that ‘clawed at the back of your throat’ rather than a delicate aroma.

As the 1970s and 80s wore on, strong dark beers such as Theakstons’s Old Peculier and Fuller’s ESB became cult favourites among beer geeks, while pale yellow lagers became fashionable with mainstream drinkers. Boddington’s Bitter darkened in colour and gradually lost its bitter edge.

As a result, when, in the late 1980s, the first golden ales emerged, they seemed positively and refreshingly innovative. Exmoor Gold from the Somerset-Devon border can claim to be the first of this new breed but it was really Hop Back Summer Lightning, first brewed in 1989, that triggered a trend.

Summer Lightning

Conceived by former big-brewery man John Gilbert as a cask-conditioned lager, it instead became an ale that merely looked like lager, which he hoped would lure drinkers back from then highly fashionable brands such as Stella Artois. It won a string of awards and, before long, any brewery hoping to appeal to connoisseurs had to have a golden ale in its range.

That cosmetic trend coincided with another new development: the arrival in Britain of American and New Zealand hop varieties, along with US beers such as Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Anchor Liberty, which showed those hops off at their best.

Sean Franklin first experimented with American Cascade hops as far back as the early 1980s. Having worked and been trained in the wine industry he was an expert in the characteristics of different grape varieties and believed similar subtlety could also be drawn out of hops. His first brewery didn’t work out, however, and he ended up driving a taxi for five years. When he returned to brewing in 1993, he had, in effect, conceived a new type of beer, as he explained in an interview we conducted in 2013:

I’d had Summer Lightning and that was a great inspiration, a lovely beer. Flavour is about competition, the different components coming up against each other. So, when you use crystal malt and Cascade, you get orange and toffee. When you use Cascade with just pale malt, you don’t get orange – just that floral, citrusy character. The plainer the background, the better. It allows the essential character of the hops to show much more clearly.

The flagship beer of his new brewery, Rooster’s, was Yankee – straw-coloured, hopped with then-obscure Cascade and, though still essentially a golden ale, a touch more aromatic than most UK drinkers were used to at the time.

At a mere 4.3%, however, it also fit comfortably into British pub and beer festival culture, which then, even more so than now, required beers to be drinkable by the pint and, ideally, in multiple pints over the course of several hours. Along with a range of stronger beers brewed by Brendan Dobbin in Manchester at around the same time, it turned many British real ale drinkers into confirmed hop fanatics.

Oakham JHB pump clip.
SOURCE: Oakham website.

A contemporary product developed quite independently was Oakham’s Jeffrey Hudson Bitter, or JHB, also first brewed in 1993.

Despite its name, which suggests something old-fashioned and varnish-brown, it too was inspired by Summer Lightning and has always been golden with extravagantly fruity late-hopping (a combination of Challenger and Mount Hood) suggestive of elderflower and lemon peel.

Hopping levels have been constantly nudged upwards over the last 20 years to accommodate the palates of drinkers spoiled by double IPAs – head brewer John Bryan estimates that there are about two-and-a-half times as many hops now as in 1993 – but it still seems relatively restrained compared to some newer iterations of the style.

Oakham’s own Citra, for example, was the first UK beer to use that hop variety, in 2010, and is even more flamboyantly pungent than its older sibling.

Nigel Wattam, Oakham’s marketing man, says that the majority of Oakham’s range is ‘very light, or really dark, with not much in-between’. On the appeal of ‘pale’n’hoppy’ beers more generally he says, “I think we’ve converted a lot of lager drinkers because it’s the same colour, but it has more flavour.”

Kelham Island brewery

There is a similar logic behind Kelham Island’s Pale Rider, which was first brewed in 1993 in Sheffield, the northern industrial city made famous by the film The Full Monty. The brewery was founded by the late Dave Wickett, an influential figure on the British beer scene with a hand in several other breweries, and whose former employees and associates include many of the current generation of UK craft brewers.

Writer Melissa Cole credits Pale Rider with arousing her interest in beer and in her book, Let Me Tell You About Beer, records that it was initially conceived to appeal to female drinkers, with restrained bitterness and ramped-up aroma.

Popular among northern real ale drinkers for a decade, it became nationally famous in 2004 when it was declared Champion Beer of Britain by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). It is best enjoyed in Sheffield at the brewery tap, the Fat Cat, where its feather-light body and punchy, peachy perfume makes it easy drinking despite its 5.2% ABV. Nonetheless, the brewery has also produced Easy Rider, a similar beer at 4.3%.

A perfect pint of Dark Star Hophead.

Another cult favourite is Hophead from Dark Star, a brewery in Brighton, a fashionable coastal resort an hour’s train ride south of London. Mark Tranter, recently voted the best brewer in the UK by the British Guild of Beer Writers for his work at his own brewery, Burning Sky, worked at Dark Star from the 1990s until 2013.

He recalls that, at some time after 1996, one of the owners of the Evening Star pub where the brewery was then based went to California and came back with Cascade hop pellets.

These, along with other US hops available in small quantities via hop merchants Charles Faram, formed the basis of ‘The Hophead Club’, conceived by Dark Star founder Rob Jones. At each meeting of the club members would taste a different single-hopped beer.

“Cascade was the customers’ and brewers’ favourite, so it was not long until that became the staple,” recalls Tranter.

When he took on more responsibility in the brewery, Tranter tweaked the recipe, reducing its bitterness, and, in 2001, dropping its strength from 4% ABV to 3.8%. 

Today, with the brewery under new ownership and with a different team in the brew-house, the beer remains single-minded and popular, giving absolute priority to bright aromas of grapefruit and elderflower.

If the style isn’t officially recognised, how can you spot a pale’n’hoppy on the bar when out drinking in the UK? First, turn to smaller microbreweries.

The larger, older family breweries have not been hugely successful in this territory, perhaps being too conservative to embrace the fundamental lack of balance that  characterises the style. (There are exceptions: Adnams Ghost Ship, for example, has been a notable success both among beer geeks and less studious drinkers.) 

Secondly, look for a conspicuous mention of a specific hop variety on the hand-pump badge, along with names that include ‘Hop’, ‘Gold’ and sometimes (but less often) ‘Blonde’.

Pointed mentions of citrus are another giveaway.

Finally, a very broad generalisation: breweries in the north are particularly adept — we once heard the style jokingly referred to as ‘Pennine Champagne’ after the range of hills and mountains that runs from Derbyshire to the Scottish border.

Salopian Oracle (Shropshire, 4%), Burning Sky Plateau (Sussex, 3.5%), Marble Pint (Manchester, 3.9%) and Redemption Trinity (London, 3%) are among the best examples.

Rooster’s Yankee, Kelham Island Pale Rider, Oakham JHB and Dark Star Hophead are all available in cans or bottles, though they are best tasted fresh and close to source.

From US brewers, the nearest equivalents are among the new breed of session IPAs and pale ales, such as Firestone Walker Easy Jack.

These two distinct traditions – UK pale’n’hoppy is traditional session bitter with a glamorous makeover, whereas American brews are big beers reined in – have ended up in a remarkably similar place.

For all of those who like to wallow in hops over the course of hours, both are good news.

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Brew Britannia

FAQ: What was the first UK microbrewery?

This is another in our new series of short posts attempting to give straight answers to direct questions.

In our book Brew Britannia, we dedicate a chapter to mini histories of a number of breweries that we think have a claim to be the first modern microbrewery.

We specify ‘modern’ because most breweries began as microbreweries.

For much of its history, beer was brewed in domestic settings – either in ale houses for sale to the public or within country houses, colleges and other larger institutions.

Withi in the 19th century came bigger breweries, and then consolidation and mergers led to the situation where in the mid-1960s, most beer was being produced by one of the ‘Big Six’.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, a number of pioneers began to brew their own beer, independently of each other but all finding a niche and space to operate within an increasingly homogenised market.

The first of these, by a long way, was Traquair House, Scotland. Beer had been brewed on site for years, and at sufficient volume to warrant purchase of a 200 gallon boiler in 1739. In the nineteenth century, the house and brewery fell into disrepair. In 1965, the then Laird, Peter Maxwell Stuart, found the brewing equipment as part of his renovations, and started to brew Traquair House Ale. What began as an experiment became a product sold on site and then shipped elsewhere. It’s still available, and brewing continues under the lady Laird Catherine Maxwell Stuart, who grew up brewing alongside her father.

The next brewery that we cover in Brew Britannia is the Selby brewery, which had fallen dormant but survived into the 1970s as a bottling outlet for Guinness. Martin Sykes was living there when his uncle decided to close the business, and persuaded him otherwise, “mainly to safeguard my living accommodation”. He had the idea to restart brewing, and was fortuitously approached by Basil Savage, then second brewer at John Smith’s Brewery in Tadcaster, who was looking for other opportunities. Sykes and Savage began brewing in November 1972, and enjoyed some success selling to student bars and local pubs.

Both Traquair and Selby operated on existing sites, although with newer equipment. The first microbrewery to open in a new location was the Miners’ Arms at Priddy, in Somerset. This was the brainchild of an eccentric scientist, snail farmer and restaurateur, Paul Leyton. In 1961 he took on the running of the Miners’ Arms. In 1973 he decided to add beer to his list of home grown products and brewed beer in 40 pint batches, which he bottled in nip bottles and sold alongside meals.

So, in conclusion:

The first of the modern UK microbreweries was Traquair, which began (or rather, re-started) brewing in 1965, and is still brewing today. The first microbrewery to produce beers for the wider market was the Selby Brewery, which began brewing in 1972, again, on an established site. The first ‘new’brewery microbrewery, that is the first one to be established in a new location was the Miners’ Arms in Priddy, in 1973. 

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20th Century Pub Beer history Brew Britannia

Brew Britannia: new evidence in the case – CAMRA Branch Bulletin

The monthly newspaper What’s Brewing has been the semi-public face of the Campaign for Real Ale since the early 1970s; but the Branch Bulletin, intended to be private, tells the same story without any PR gloss.

We were lucky enough to come into possession of a near-complete set of these newsletters, sent from CAMRA HQ to local branches, thanks to Sue Hart, a veteran of The Ring and a long-time CAMRA activist.

We’ve spent the past couple of weeks digging and digesting which gave us the urge to go back to our 2014 book, Brew Britannia, and 2017’s 20th Century Pub and fill in some gaps with new information.

Pub preservation

In 20th Century pub, we wrote about the birth of the pub preservation movement as the rhetoric of Christopher Hutt’s 1973 book The Death of the English Pub turned into practical action.

We focused on the Pub Preservation Group and the work of Jenny Greenhalgh, Peter Lerner and crew, from the late 1970s onward, but here’s evidence that the work began in earnest a little earlier.

The earliest of the branch newsletters we have, from May 1975, includes a paper by Mike Dempsey of the East London Branch, a lawyer by profession, setting out what looks like the basis of much of the pub preservation activity that followed.

The paper establishes how the listing system works, how it might apply to pubs and how CAMRA members might go about using the system to prevent brewers (and especially the Big Six) from demolishing or altering pub buildings.

Here’s his concluding argument:

Pyrrhic Victories
The fact that you may have succeeded in having a building included on the statutory list does not mean that your battles are over. The first thing that the owner of the pub will do when he learns of the Secretary of State’s decision is to apply to the local authority for Listed Building Consent to carry out the works which he intended to carry out in the first place. This means that you have got to put in hand the suggestions made in paragraph 4 above, and make sure that representations are submitted to the local Council at the appropriate time. Do not, therefore, be lulled into complacency as a result of your initial successes. You will only have succeeded when the pub reopens for business, unspoiled and preferably serving real beer, but there are, of course, many pubs which are worthy of preservation even if their beer is not. In these cases, the beer will have to be the subject of your next campaign.

Categories
Beer history Brew Britannia

When did ABV labelling begin in the UK?

We wrote this post because we wanted to know when brewers started declaring ABV for something else we were working on and assumed a quick Google search would turn up the answer. It didn’t.

Even searching through the excellent British Newspaper Archive, the Guardian, The Times and the Economist didn’t unearth much at first.

We knew that the practice of declaring alcoholic strength on pumpclips and packaging began at some point in the 1980s but we couldn’t work out exactly when.

And the harder it was to find out, the more we became interested in why we couldn’t find it out. Was it just not considered important at the time? How can such a seismic change for consumers have happened under the radar?

Part of the problem, we realised, was that ‘ABV’ didn’t mean much to anyone at the time so changing our search criterion to the full ‘alcohol by volume’ helped a little bit.

From this, we are able to establish that a change in the law was proposed in 1987 by the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) in response to an EEC (European Economic Community) directive.

And that was our first surprise – we had assumed it happened as a result of either consumer or CAMRA pressure, or as a result of one of the many government enquiries going on at the time. But it looks like it was actually just an all-but automatic implementation in the UK of European wide legislation.

Here’s the statutory instrument from 1989 in full which specifies that the new requirement to display ABV would become effective from 17 July 1989.

This instrument also specifies that the ABV should be shown to the nearest one decimal place and gives tolerances for acceptable differences between the figure displayed and the actual strength.

So that’s the when – pubs had to start communicating alcoholic strength to customers from July 1989.

We’re still none the wiser as to the politics (or lack of politics) around it, though.

We went through editions of CAMRA’s newspaper What’s Brewing for the relevant period and found one brief reference in October 1987, which was presumably when the move was first announced. The then chairman of CAMRA, Jim Scanlon, commented:

“This is something we have been working on for a long time. The effects will be very interesting and I look forward to a great many drinkers being surprised by the actual strength of their session lagers.”

We haven’t been able to see much evidence of this as a CAMRA priority for the preceding period, although there were plenty of digs at lager, tied pubs, brewery takeovers, additives…

In chapter three of our book Brew Britannia we tell the story of how in 1974 the early Campaign used a sympathetic chemist to compare the original gravity of Big Six beers to independent producers. But we haven’t noticed this translating into a coherent campaign to make breweries or pubs display this information.

A March 1988 follow up article made reference to CAMRA making a submission in response to the MAFF proposal but we haven’t been able to find any consultation documents with our various Google searches.

That piece also quotes a MAFF spokesman saying that strengths would not have to be displayed on handpulls “because we were informed that it would be prohibitively expensive”. The statutory instrument suggests that as long as ABV is declared somewhere, e.g. on a price list, it doesn’t need to be on the pumpclip. So it’s interesting that this is now almost universally how it is done.

In July 1989 when the legislation came into effect, CAMRA marked this momentous occasion with a couple of paragraphs on page six, below a story about Tetley’s providing south east pubs with special dispense mechanisms to recreate a proper northern head.

We couldn’t dig up much industry comment either, which again surprised us – given the general accusation in the air at the time that breweries were systematically making beer weaker, we had assumed they would resist the move.

But perhaps they had been expecting it for a while, or assumed that making a fuss about it would just draw attention to it.

It could also be that with changes in licensing and the 1989 report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, AKA the Beer Orders, that they had other things to focus on.

It’s quite hard to pull together evidence of things not happening, though, so if we’ve got anything wrong here, or you remember debate at the time, please do let us know.