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…?

How to order a beer in Spain

Bai­ley and I said we’d try to keep this blog pos­i­tive, so I’m not going to start with a rant about the poor qual­i­ty of Span­ish lager. Tempt­ed as I am.

Instead, some cul­tur­al notes on order­ing beer. “Dos cervezas, por favor” will work, but you won’t sound like a native.

First­ly, the Span­ish rarely say “por favor”. They’re not being rude, we’re just over­ly polite.

Sec­ond­ly, as in Eng­land, you don’t order “a beer”; instead you spec­i­fy the mea­sure, or rather, the type of glass.

To con­fuse things fur­ther, there’s no such thing as a stan­dard mea­sure, and the var­i­ous glass­es have dif­fer­ent names, depend­ing on what part of the coun­try you’re in. In Andalu­cia, the fol­low­ing gen­er­al­ly works;

  • Una caña – (CAnya)- a mea­sure of around 200 / 250 ml, can be small­er;
  • Un tubo – (Too-bo)- a tall glass, usu­al­ly holds around 330ml;
  • Una jar­ra – (HAr­ra – the “j” sounds like “ch” in “loch”, and you should roll the “r“s) – if they have them, this will usu­al­ly be a pint mea­sure, some­times in a dim­pled mug.

Dos canas
Dos cañas

There is no shame in order­ing a caña, even if you’re a bloke.

Also to note – bot­tled beer is more expen­sive than stuff from the tap (de gri­fo), and it’s more expen­sive to drink out­side on the ter­race than inside. Sit­ting at the bar itself can be even cheap­er.


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.

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 – 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