The Magic Guinness Blend c.1939

Cover of the Guinness brewing manual.

When a colleague of mine told me that her father had been head brewer at Guinness’s London brewery and wondered if I might be interested in seeing his papers, I got a bit excited.

Final­ly, months lat­er, we got round to vis­it­ing to check out what was in her col­lec­tion. Based on a quick audit the answer is: every­thing.

We’ve agreed to take pos­ses­sion of the whole lot, cat­a­logue it, copy bits we might be able to use for our own research, and then help with arrange­ments to have the impor­tant bits tak­en into appro­pri­ate archives.

For now, though, here’s a nugget from the hand­ful of doc­u­ments we brought away with us on Wednes­day night: insid­er info on how Guin­ness gained its once leg­endary com­plex­i­ty at the blend­ing stage.

This comes from a typed doc­u­ment in a plain brown wrap­per writ­ten in 1939 and updat­ed to take account of wartime brew­ing restric­tions. The copy we have seems to come from around 1943 but was in appar­ent­ly still in cir­cu­la­tion in the 1950s.

The first page bears the title ‘The Process of Brew­ing Guin­ness’ and the 46 pages that fol­low offer detailed notes on the basics of beer mak­ing (how hops are dried, for exam­ple) as well as specifics about Guin­ness.

Section header: "making up".

Here’s the sec­tion on ‘Mak­ing Up’:

Beer in stor­age vats [after fer­men­ta­tion] is quite flat and is cloudy and bit­ter and unin­ter­est­ing to taste. Before it is ready for sale it must be ‘Made up’… Beer from say six dif­fer­ent brews forms the basis. These are cho­sen in such pro­por­tions that when mixed with unfer­ment­ed beer (i.e. wort that has been pitched but not allowed to fer­ment) known as gyle, their residues added to the fer­mentable mat­ter of the gyle will give a suit­able ‘Prime’. ‘Prime’ is the fer­mentable mat­ter in beer after mak­ing up just as ‘Residue’ is the fer­mentable mat­ter as the beer enters the stor­age vat. It is mea­sured as the dif­fer­ence between the present grav­i­ty of the beer and its per­fect pri­ma­ry.

In addi­tion to these beers there are added:–

  1. Barm beer: this is the beer which is skimmed off from the skim­mers with the yeast and is sep­a­rat­ed from the yeast in a fil­ter press. It is intense­ly bit­ter but adds very mate­ri­al­ly to the flavour of the flat, unin­ter­est­ing stor­age vat beer.
  2. O.B.S.: old beer stor­age is old acid beer that, like barm beer, improves the flavour of the fin­ished beer although it is itself very unpleas­ant.
  3. Draw­ing: these are residues of made up beer which was not bright enough to put into the trade with­out fur­ther treat­ment. It is exact­ly sim­i­lar in com­po­si­tion to made up beer.
  4. Fin­ings: this is a solu­tion of isin­glass in stor­age vat beer. Only minute traces of isin­glass are required but it brings about the very rapid sed­i­men­ta­tion of all the float­ing par­ti­cles which make the beer cloudy.

All the con­stituents of the make up are pumped into a ‘Rack­ing Vat’ togeth­er and there allowed to stand for 24–48 hours.

So, there you have it. We sort of knew the gist of this but this is the most explic­it expla­na­tion of the process we’ve seen in writ­ing from a pri­ma­ry source, we think.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 7 April 2018: Tap Rooms, Masculinity, The Luppit

Here’s all the writing and news about beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from Chicago to Rochdale. But we’ll start with some bits of news.

Detail from an advert for Skol, 1960.

For Punch Gray Chap­man takes a deep look into atti­tudes around gen­der in rela­tion to beer, inspired by Helana Darwin’s research that we men­tioned in one of these round-ups a few weeks ago. The arti­cle is called ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About “Bitch Beer”’:

Beer is inex­tri­ca­bly tan­gled up in gen­der, and no one under­stands this bet­ter than the women who choose to drink it. Much of its his­to­ry is root­ed in a blue-col­lar, can­vas cov­er­alls-tinged vision of mas­culin­i­ty that’s still evi­dent in almost every aspect of its sup­ply chain; label art com­mon­ly recalls Axe Body Spray at best, car­toon porn at worst. Less aggres­sive but more ubiq­ui­tous is the prac­ti­cal­ly algo­rith­mic aes­thet­ic of craft beer bars, with their ware­house-indus­tri­al inte­ri­ors and a Ron Swan­son-esque pen­chant for rough-hewn wood and leather, evok­ing a nos­tal­gia for a time and place where Real Men and their work-cal­loused hands made things.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 7 April 2018: Tap Rooms, Mas­culin­i­ty, The Lup­pit”

H.E. Bates Evokes a Country Pub, 1934

It must be forty years since my aunt began to keep the pub of which I am writ­ing; and less than five years since she ceased to be the land­la­dy of it… It was not prim, and I am pret­ty sure it was not always prop­er, but it had about it a kind of aus­tere home­li­ness. The floors were of pol­ished brick, the tables were scrubbed like bleached bones, and the lamps shone like alter brass­es. There were three rooms – the bar, the smoke-room, and the par­lour – and they had char­ac­ters of their own. And just as I see my aunt in per­pet­u­al black, so I nev­er think of that pub with­out remem­ber­ing the mild beery smell that all her scrub­bing could nev­er wash away, the odour of lamp oil and the faint fra­grance of old gera­ni­ums sun-warmed in the sum­mer win­dows.

From ‘A Coun­try Pub’ by H.E. Bates, New States­man, 25 August 1934

Partial Pub Preservation: Hermit Micropubs?

Many historic pub building are too big to be sustainable but could micropubs be the answer to their salvation rather than, as now, merely added competition?

We’ve been think­ing quite a lot about the prob­lem of big old pubs in recent years. Many of them, espe­cial­ly those built between the wars, were con­struct­ed on the prin­ci­ple that one smart new pub replac­ing five old beer­hous­es was the way for­ward – eas­i­er to man­age, eas­i­er to police, brighter and more airy. In prac­tice, that wasn’t con­ducive to cre­at­ing atmos­phere, and they were both dif­fi­cult and expen­sive to main­tain as build­ings. Which is why so many are now branch­es of Tesco or McDonald’s or what­ev­er.

In 2014, we sug­gest­ed this might be prefer­able to aban­don­ment or dere­lic­tion because at least the build­ing is occu­pied and cared for, and can be appre­ci­at­ed in its set­ting, even if you can’t get a pint. But, in emo­tion­al terms, it is sad to see, and we kept won­der­ing if there might be some way to keep at least one part of those pubs oper­at­ing for the ben­e­fit of booz­ers, behind a prop­er pub-like facade.

Then research­ing the new book (all good book­shops, always be clos­ing, etc. etc.) we vis­it­ed the Fel­low­ship in Belling­ham, south Lon­don, and heard about the cur­rent own­ers’ prag­mat­ic plans to divide the vast build­ing for use not only as a pub but also as a music rehearsal space, a micro­brew­ery, a cin­e­ma, and so on.

At the same time, we’ve got to know microp­ubs – in fact, our new local, the Draper’s in Bris­tol, is a notable exam­ple of the trend. At their best, they can feel more pub­by than many echo­ing, emp­ty, over-grand pubs, focused as they are on beer and not much else. And, as pas­sion projects, they often come with a warm glow and unique char­ac­ter miss­ing from cor­po­rate, man­aged estab­lish­ments, hark­ing back to the days of Thompson’s Beer­house.

So, putting two and two togeth­er, here’s our sug­ges­tion: devel­op­ers in the process of con­vert­ing pubs for oth­er uses should be encour­aged to make one part of the build­ing avail­able for use as a microp­ub, even if the rest becomes a fast food out­let, super­mar­ket or nurs­ery. After all, most of the pubs we’re talk­ing about have, or had, mul­ti­ple rooms and cer­tain­ly mul­ti­ple doors, so the sep­a­ra­tion between res­i­den­tial occu­piers and/or shop cus­tomers ought to be quite easy.

The Greenford Hotel, west London.

Quib­ble #1: ‘Devel­op­ers are mer­ce­nary cyn­ics – why would they ever do this?’ Per­haps for the same rea­sons they chose to include a brew­pub at the West­field Shop­ping Cen­tre in Strat­ford. (DISCLOSURE: Boak’s lit­tle broth­er works at Tap East.) That is, part­ly because beer is cool and hav­ing a pub/bar/brewery on site sells the ‘expe­ri­ence’; and part­ly because it helps with plan­ning nego­ti­a­tions – a con­tri­bu­tion to the com­mu­ni­ty in exchange for the right to invade its space and change the char­ac­ter of the area. In oth­er words, it’s a PR exer­cise, but that’s fine by us if the out­come is any­thing oth­er than no pub at all.

Quib­ble #2: ‘Microp­ubs are awful – mid­dle-class, mid­dle-aged, not prop­er pubs.’ This would be some­where in between, wouldn’t it? It would prob­a­bly – hope­ful­ly – keep the old name and sign; and might even, if we’re lucky, retain at least part of the pub’s orig­i­nal inte­ri­or, even if the rest has been turned over to self-ser­vice cus­tomer inter­ac­tion nodes. And the per­ceived mid­dle-class­ness of microp­ubs (debat­able) helps with the plan­ning nego­ti­a­tions as what is thought (right­ly or wrong­ly) to be a respectable type of pub replaces pubs that have invari­ably become the very oppo­site.

Quib­ble #3: ‘This is Quis­ling col­lab­o­ra­tion with the ene­my! No com­pro­mise!’ Skilled, deter­mined cam­paign­ers with the sup­port of her­itage organ­i­sa­tions and local gov­ern­ment can win this kind of bat­tle to keep pubs going, and it seems to be hap­pen­ing more and more often, but there are still places where forc­ing a huge old pub to remain a huge old pub, though it might feel like a vic­to­ry, is just pro­long­ing the mis­ery. A pub with room for 300 drinkers, but where 300 drinkers are not be found in the sur­round­ing streets, is going to strug­gle even if it is saved. But there might be 30 poten­tial reg­u­lars, if not in the imme­di­ate area then per­haps a lit­tle beyond, such is the allure of the microp­ub to a cer­tain kind of drinker. This is a way of keep­ing a foot in the door.

But, any­way, this is us think­ing aloud again in the hope that (a) peo­ple might tell us if and where this has already hap­pened or (b) point us to, say, plan­ning doc­u­ments which explain why it hasn’t. So, go for it!

It Is Even Worse in England: Mild, Bitter & Lager, 1933

Detail from the cover of The American Mercury.

In 1933 the conservative American journal The American Mercury published an article on the state of British beer and pubs by English journalist H.W. Seaman, who lived and worked in the US and Canada for some years.

We stum­bled across it look­ing for con­tem­po­rary accounts of ‘improved pubs’ but in its 15 or so pages there’s plen­ty of oth­er gold to be mined. We’ll let you explore the rest for your­self but want­ed to put the bit specif­i­cal­ly about the state of our beer under the micro­scope.

First, Mr Sea­man makes clear that he found no evi­dence of British beer being adul­ter­at­ed:

Hop sub­sti­tutes are used, I regret to say, but the roots of duo­de­nal ulcers are not there. Eng­lish ale is prob­a­bly as clean and as hon­est as ever it was. But it is unhealth­ily weak.

Then he says some­thing which coun­ters the roman­tic view of Eng­lish ses­sion beer:

Ale to be whole­some must be strong. The Ger­man- and Bohemi­an-type beers which Amer­i­ca favored in the old days and will now favor again exert their human­iz­ing influ­ences not vio­lent­ly but grad­u­al­ly, and the patient pass­es through an infin­i­ty of plea­sur­able states before attain­ing the final, beatif­ic anes­the­sia. Ale, how­ev­er, is intend­ed by the Almighty to deliv­er its mes­sage at once. Its appeal is unsub­tle.  Three half-pints, and you know you have had it. If it is strong, it has vast­ly sweet­ened you and your sur­round­ings. If it is weak, it has soured your stom­ach and your out­look.

In oth­er words, chilled lager chills you out while British ale ought to knock you out.

Anoth­er star­tling state­ment comes next though per­haps we might write it off as pan­der­ing to an Amer­i­can audi­ence:

My present home­sick­ness, in fact, is less for good ale, on which I was weaned, than for the soft­er, kind­lier brews that were lat­er revealed to me—the light Amer­i­can beers of the Pil­sner and Munich vari­eties, that came up cold and clear, with a creamy col­lar that clung to the glass. Their going down was as love­ly as their com­ing up.

Yes, Amer­i­can beer, which even now some British drinkers take to be uni­form­ly awful with Lite Lager in mind, was more enjoy­able than British mild or bit­ter. He reck­ons that’s part­ly because it was cold but points out that British ale doesn’t work when chilled – it just turns ‘thick and flat’.

Patzenhofer Lager advert, 1937.

Next, he men­tions the avail­abil­i­ty of Con­ti­nen­tal lager beers in Lon­don, pro­vid­ing fur­ther evi­dence for our argu­ment that lager was the ‘craft beer­’ of its day:

It is true that Münch­en­er Lowen­brau and Pil­sner Urquell, per­haps the noblest brews of their respec­tive orders that are obtain­able today, are on tap, in good con­di­tion, in cer­tain dis­pen­saries of the West End of Lon­don, but their high price, thanks to the tar­iff, puts them out of reach of more than nine-tenths of the peo­ple.

(Con­sid­er the tra­jec­to­ry of lager in the decades that fol­lowed and think for a moment about what that might mean – moral pan­ic over Hop Hooli­gans off their faces on licence-brewed Amer­i­can IPA in 2086?)

PUB SIGN: 'Public Bar'.

He also pro­vides a handy key to the class sta­tus of the var­i­ous styles, as well as some telling tast­ing notes (our emphases):

Call for ale in the saloon bar of a Lon­don pub, and the bar­maid will say, ‘Oth­er side, please,’ jerk­ing her wet thumb in the direc­tion of the pub­lic, or four-ale bar; for ale in Lon­don is a vul­gar word. The mid­dle-class­es there drink bit­ter, a pale, gold­en beer so sharply hop-fla­vored that for­eign­ers find it undrink­able. Bur­ton, in Lon­don and cer­tain oth­er cities that have come under the Cock­ney blight, is a gener­ic name for a dark ale of stan­dard strength or less, whether it is brewed in Bur­ton-on-Trent or else­where. Its social sta­tus is above mild and below bit­ter; although its price is that of bit­ter, it is rarely seen in a West End saloon bar. In the North, beer of sim­i­lar char­ac­ter is called strong mild. Bit­ter is unpop­u­lar in Scot­land; the ale of that coun­try, dark and sparkling as Miinch­en­er, is excel­lent, and is com­mon­ly kept and dis­pensed at a low­er tem­per­a­ture than Eng­lish ale.

Sea­man, being a pro­fes­sion­al man, drank bit­ter, of course. There’s anoth­er nugget there for those of us track­ing the evo­lu­tion of gold­en ale, and sharply hop-flavoured sounds very appeal­ing. It would be good to find lat­er com­ments from him – he died in 1955, as far as we can tell, so would cer­tain­ly have had chance to try the ear­li­est keg bit­ters, for exam­ple.

Final­ly, there is this state­ment which seems to be spo­ken direct­ly to 2016 through some kind of Time Tun­nel:

[The] words can and growler, in the Amer­i­can sense [are unknown in Britain]. Nobody above the rank of chim­ney sweep could afford to be seen car­ry­ing home the sup­per beer.

There is a red her­ring here, which has caught out a cou­ple of peo­ple late­ly: men­tions of cans in sources from the 1930s and ear­li­er often refer not to sealed tins as we know them but to small pails or jugs, i.e. can­is­ters. That men­tion of growlers still works though, except that nowa­days car­ry­ing a take­away con­tain­er of draught beer is an almost exclu­sive­ly gen­tri­fied behav­iour, isn’t it?

N.B. After World War II The Amer­i­can Mer­cury ceased to be mere­ly con­ser­v­a­tive and became ‘vir­u­lent­ly anti-Semit­ic’ so watch where you step if you go wan­der­ing off through the archive.