Half-and-half

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.

Polish beer – why isn’t it good? (Polish beer history part 1)

I’ve got a great fondness for Poland and the Poles, and starting this blog has finally motivated me to try and answer a long-standing question – Why isn’t Polish beer very good? Why are brewing traditions so strong in the Czech Republic and Germany but not (it seems) in Poland?

Zywiec

Zywiec – ubiquitous in Poland, now available in Wetherspoon’s pubs in the UK

Don’t get me wrong – Polish beer isn’t bad, it’s just that the big brands are not particularly impressive or original. I’ve tried most of the major Polish brews in my time (Zywiec, Lech, EB, Okocim, Tyskie to name a few) and have barely been able to tell the difference.

I thought this might have been my unsophisticated tastebuds, but a quick bit of internet research confirms that the vast majority of Polish brands are owned by 3 breweries, who are in turn owned by foreign multinationals who tend to specialise in bland lager;

  • SABMiller own Kompania Piwowarska, who make Lech and Tyskie (also Zubr and Debowe Mocne, which seem ubiquitous in London cornershops)
  • The Zywiec group is owned by Heineken, who also own Elbrewery (EB) and Warka
  • Carlsberg produce Okocim

Following the fall of communism, state-owned breweries were rapidly privatised and were a good target for merger activity, a process which is described in an academic paper by Michal Gorzynski – which accounts for the current position.

But were the breweries any good before this? I would love to find out more about this, but it would seem that the old state-owned breweries were even worse. Michal Gorzynski states that breweries in the early 90s started to produce beer of better quality. There has certainly been a huge growth in the beer market in Poland since privatisation (according to Rafal Tarnowski, “Industrial Relations in the Brewing Industry” beer sales rose 135% in the 1990s. Is this down to a triumph of marketing (check out the Zywiec link to see their award winning campaigns) or a better product?

Beer is certainly a young person’s drink in Poland – the over 30s tend to prefer vodka. Is the lack of excellent Polish brews down to the fantastic range and quality of the vodka?

An even more interesting question – given that a lot of modern day Poland was part of Germany, what happened to all the breweries?

More research to come on this (if anyone has some good sources of information, please let me know!).

In the meantime, here’s a link to a very informative site (in English) about the types of Polish beer, including a fascinating piece on the one “native” Polish beer, “grodziskie” or “Gratzer”, a top-fermented smoked wheatbeer. It also includes a list of Polish breweries, including some of the new exciting brew pubs. European beer guide – Polish breweries

Boak

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:

WHAT IS BEER?

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.”

Curry and beer

The British Guild of Beer Writers reports on a recent “tasting event” at the Bombay Brasserie in London. Eminent beer experts got together for a curry and tried to work out which beers went best with spicy foods. Their recommendations are here.

Rupert Ponsonby, co-founder of the Beer Academy comments:
What this tasting hopefully shows is the potential for Britain’s 8,500 curry restaurants to look seriously at developing beer lists to inspire their customers and to match with their cuisine. This is a fantastic commercial and marketing opportunity for them. Top Michelin-starred restaurants such as Le Gavroche, Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons and Aubergine have already taken the lead in creating inspired beer lists, and it will be wonderful to see top Indian restaurants doing the same.

On a visit to the Cinnamon Club last year, I was appalled to find that the only beer they had available was Cobra lager. Cobra’s OK – nicer than you’d expect, is what I mean, for a mass-produced lager made in Bedford – but surely not anywhere near as posh as the food, the wine or the waiters? Ms. Boak visited one of Gary Rhodes’ restaurants in the City of London last year, too, and was similarly disappointed by the lack of any beer, never mind a beer list.

Of course, my local curryhouse, which is very cheap and cheerful, is run by Sri Lankans, and they sell wonderful Lion Stout. It’s not a perfect beer to drink with a curry, but it’s a great one to have as a dessert. So, posher isn’t always better for beer lovers.

Keeping a head on your pint – here comes the science

Scientists have carried out research into how a pint keeps (or loses) its head (BBC News Online). One of the scientists involves speculates that the long-lasting creamy head on Guinness might be the result of “a little surfactant“. Eugh.

Ochsenfurter Kauzen

The article also asserts that “the foam on a pint of lager quickly disappears”. Well, perhaps on a pint of Fosters in a dirty glass, but the head on a glass of lager in Germany sticks around for quite some time. And they’re not using “surfactant” – the sinister and secretive arbiters of the German Beer Purity Law wouldn’t stand for it.

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.

Design your own beer label

Big Danish brewery Tuborg now offer a service where, as long as you order more than 30 bottles, you can design your own label.

Din Tuborg

I wonder if Tuborg are just particularly confident about their brand, or if we’ll see more breweries following suit, given how easy it is to manage this kind of thing online now?

At any rate, I’d love to customise the labels on Fuller’s London Pride for my Dad’s birthday present.

Via Cherryflava.