Retro Bottles from Harvey’s

A £37.50 mixed case from Harvey’s of Lewes brought us a selection of 24 gloriously old school beers in tiny 275ml bottles.

They look as if they’ve been pulled from a dusty shelf behind the bar at a pub that closed in 1983 – not ‘faux-vin­tage’ but evi­dence that, if you wait long enough, most graph­ic design starts to look cool again. Here, we’ve focused on four that belong to styles pop­u­lar in the mid-20th cen­tu­ry but which have long been aban­doned by most oth­er brew­eries.

Blue Label (3.6%) sends all the sig­nals of ‘light ale’ – a type of beer that all but dis­ap­peared with the arrival of ‘pre­mi­um bot­tled ales’ in the 1990s. Being based, how­ev­er, on the almost uni­ver­sal­ly adored Sus­sex Best – the brown bit­ter even the most des­per­ate hop-hounds con­ced­ed isn’t bor­ing – turns out to be rather good. The car­bon­a­tion is arguably too low – get­ting a head on the beer was tough and it slipped away instant­ly – except that this seems to give it a hop-oily, tongue-coat­ing rich­ness. The core flavour is tof­fee, yes, but it’s heav­i­ly sea­soned with dry­ing, grassy hops that leave a final twist of med­i­c­i­nal bit­ter­ness on the tongue. In short, it’s good beer in its own right, and much bet­ter, or at least more inter­est­ing, than many over-cooked bot­tled bit­ters avail­able in super­mar­kets.

India Pale Ale (3.2%) is sim­i­lar – amber-gold, caramelised sug­ar, stewed tea hop­pi­ness – but watery with it. We reck­on it’s a pret­ty good exam­ple of what IPA meant to British pub drinkers 30 or 40 years ago but how many beer geeks trained on Goose Island and Brew­Dog Punk have been let down by it in the last five years? It was­n’t any effort to drink but we’ll have anoth­er Blue Label next time, thanks.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Retro Bot­tles from Harvey’s”

Kegronomicon: Watney’s Brown, 1965

The 1965 Watney’s quality control manual we’ve borrowed contains recipes for two brown ales: Watney’s and Mann’s.

Both have rather dif­fer­ent recipes, per­haps sur­pris­ing­ly, giv­en their sim­i­lar spec­i­fi­ca­tions: for exam­ple, Wat­ney’s con­tained black malt for colour, while Man­n’s got most of its from caramel. The water was also treat­ed very dif­fer­ent­ly. (And, by the way, bot­tled Wat­ney’s Brown was also quite dis­tinct from their draught mild.)*

Because Man­n’s is still in pro­duc­tion, we’re a bit twitchy about shar­ing the details, but the fol­low­ing infor­ma­tion should enable you to pro­duce at home some­thing resem­bling Wat­ney’s Brown as it was in 1965.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Kegro­nom­i­con: Watney’s Brown, 1965”

Starkey, Knight & Ford Family Ale, 1938

Detail from Starkey, Knight and Ford brewing log, 1938.

We’ve been meaning for some time to formulate a recipe for mild based on the 1938 Starkey, Knight & Ford brewing log we photographed at the Somerset local history archive.

The recipe is below, but get­ting there proved rather frus­trat­ing.

SK&F Brown Ale label, 1948.1. Which one was the mild?

We spent a lit­tle while work­ing on some­thing we thought was logged as ‘M3’ only to realise, with help from a few peo­ple on Twit­ter, that it was actu­al­ly ‘MS’ – Milk Stout. (The inclu­sion of lac­tose ought to have been a give away. D’oh!)

Based on the ingre­di­ents, anoth­er called some­thing like ‘JA’ looked more like­ly. That some of each batch was also bot­tled as ‘brown ale’ made us feel more cer­tain.

Then we worked out that it was actu­al­ly ‘FA’ (stu­pid old-fash­ioned hand­writ­ing…) which prob­a­bly stands for ‘fam­i­ly ale’ – not exact­ly mild, but close enough.

2. Ingre­di­ent puz­zles

Pro­pri­etary brew­ing sug­ars – grrr! How are we sup­posed to know what ‘MC’ is? Our best guess is that it’s some kind of caramel… or is it ‘mal­tose caramel’? Or ‘mild caramel’? Or some­thing com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent? For the pur­pose of our recipe, we assumed it was a dark sug­ar with some fer­mentabil­i­ty, which got us to the cor­rect orig­i­nal grav­i­ty (1036). We’ll prob­a­bly use some­thing sim­i­lar to Invert No. 4.

The orig­i­nal recipe used some ‘Ore­gon’ hops: we’ll try to get hold of Clus­ter, but, for the small amount used, Cas­cade will prob­a­bly do the job.

3. Too bit­ter?

With around 1lb of hops per bar­rel, this beer seemed to be too hop­py ‘for the style’, but there are milds in Ron and Kris­ten’s 1909 Style Guide (notably Fuller’s X ale) which appear sim­i­lar­ly heav­i­ly hopped.

* * *

So, with those caveats, and with ques­tions and cor­rec­tions very much wel­come, here’s what we’ll be brew­ing next time we fire up the ket­tle.

Recipe: SK&F ‘FA’/Brown Ale

[beerxml recipe= metric=true]

  • Assumes effi­cien­cy of c.85%.
  • We don’t know much about Starkey, Knight & Ford’s yeast so we’re going to use whichev­er stan­dard British ale yeast we have at hand.
  • Though this was brewed in Tiver­ton, we do know that the sis­ter brew­ery in Bridg­wa­ter used water blend­ed with stuff from a well at Taunton which was hard­er than any­thing from Bur­ton.

Light Split at the Fountain, Mevagissey

Light split (HSD and Light Ale).

We’ve got quite good at working out which pub in a Cornish town or village we’re likely to enjoy the most.

Where there are mul­ti­ple St Austell hous­es (there often are), we avoid the man­aged, over-pol­ished, pla­s­ticky places, and, instead, look out for the signs – ‘Bil­ly and Lynn wel­come you to the Foun­tain!’

Cov­ered in foliage and claim­ing to be the old­est inn in Mevagis­sey, the Foun­tain cer­tain­ly looked cosy. Duck­ing inside, we found all the indi­ca­tors of a ‘prop­er’ pub, includ­ing a knack­ered piano.

Hop­ing for a pint of Prop­er Job, we were dis­ap­point­ed, at first, to see only Trib­ute, Dart­moor and HSD on the bar. While we wait­ed, how­ev­er, we began to notice oth­er pleas­ing details, from bot­tles of brown and light ale in the fridges, to Gold Label Bar­ley Wine on a shelf beneath the optics.

It’s one of those time trav­el pubs,’ we mut­tered to each oth­er.

And, as it hap­pened, the Trib­ute was at its best, and HSD bet­ter than we’ve ever tast­ed it – dri­er, with that unbeat­able com­plex­i­ty that (we think) makes itself evi­dent in many cask ales about twen­ty-four hours before they turn to vine­gar.

With plen­ty of time before our bus was due, though we did­n’t fan­cy the look of the Gold Label, we could­n’t resist try­ing both brown and light splits, prompt­ing the vet­er­an land­lord to share a bit of insight:

No-one buys light ale any more, but all I ever used to drink was light splits. The West Coun­try was nev­er mild-drink­ing ter­ri­to­ry, so brown split was nev­er that pop­u­lar.

Greene King Light Ale was sur­pris­ing­ly decent on its own – a nice whiff of Eng­lish hops – but tast­ed, we both agreed, exact­ly like the nine­teen-eight­ies. That is, it remind­ed Boak of sip­ping beer from her Dad’s glass in a pub gar­den when she was lit­tle; and trig­gered Bai­ley’s thir­ty-year-old mem­o­ries of ‘help­ing’ with the stock-take in the cel­lar at the pub where he grew up in Exeter.

A time trav­el pub indeed.

There’s a small gallery of images from the Foun­tain on our Face­book page.

Mann’s Brown Ale and a call for suggestions


UPDATE APRIL 2013: Appar­ent­ly, ASDA and Mor­rison’s sell it, if you’re look­ing to buy some, as appar­ent­ly many of you are!

Man­n’s Brown Ale is not some­thing you see many peo­ple drink­ing in its own right. Tra­di­tion­al­ly, it’s used in a ‘brown split’ with ordi­nary bit­ter – in oth­er words, to give a bit of oomph to that half a pint of flat, brown keg beer you’ve been think­ing about aban­don­ing for fif­teen min­utes.

But Michael Jack­son lists it in his 500 Great Beers book and, at 2.8%, we won­dered if it might not fit be just the trick for school nights, when a hang­over is sim­ply not an option.

As you can see, it looks nice in the glass – very dark brown, almost black, with an off-white head. The body is remark­able for such a weak beer, and there are some nice aro­mas of malt and roast­ed grains.

The taste… well, nice in some parts of the mouth, if that makes any sense. Too sweet at first, with a harsh burnt trea­cle flavour, but rather pleas­ant going down, when the slight­ly bit­ter choco­late flavours come through. Rem­i­nis­cent of the sweet­er vari­ety of mild, we thought.

On bal­ance, I sus­pect this would taste won­der­ful with choco­late cake, which tends to make most beers taste too dry, but it’s not some­thing we’d drink too often.

So, over to you. Any sug­ges­tions for oth­er beers under 3% which are worth a go…?

Bonus fea­ture: here’s an old post with an advert for Man­n’s fea­tur­ing Sher­lock Holmes.