Monday, 31 October 2011

Howard Street: the story of a pub and a grocery store

This post is only tangentially about beer; it’s mostly about a pub and a supermarket on the the same city-centre side street in Glasgow.

This was a branch of the Co-op, previously Somerfield. It finally closed last week. I don’t know what will come afterwards. The 1960s Aer Lingus building is looking very tatty these days and was earmarked to be demolished, though the plans for a hotel and retail development to replace it are pre-credit crunch, so who knows whether they will go ahead. We have a habit in Glasgow, even in good times, of demolishing buildings and leaving the vacant site for a while, say thirty or forty years, until someone figures out what to do with it.

What is planned to replace the supermarket. By the looks of things we'll
have better dressed junkies too. Image from Farrell & Clark

Ironically enough this tatty 1960s block replaced a previous Greek Thomson effort on the same site. To be fair, the Thomson building wasn’t one of his greatest, and the concrete office block was a handsome building in its time. My fascination with this store started when I found out how long it had been trading. It was like the retail equivalent of the brush that’s had three new heads and two new handles. Think about it; the business has been operating here longer than the actual building it’s in. It’s changed ownership too, several times. But until last week it was still in the same place selling groceries where it had been for 130 years.

Let’s jump to the other end of the street for a moment.

This is the Imperial Bar. It’s not much to look at from the outside, though there is some interesting stained glass and the carved wooden frontage appears to date from the 1930s. More interesting is that there appears to have been a drinking shop on this site continuously for at least 150 years.

In 1850 George Malcolm was trading as a “spirit dealer”, in the language used at the time, at 14 Howard Street. By 1851 he appears to have moved down to No. 6 and has acquired an “& Co.”

Mrs G. Malcolm (possibly George’s widow?), was a spirit dealer at 6 Howard Street in 1857. The shop at No. 14 was occupied by J. McCulloch, a tea merchant.

In 1876–77, JB Turner is trading as a spirit dealer at No. 6. Cooper & Co are a tea merchant at No. 12.

Eighteen years later in 1894, Turner’s still trading in the same place. Cooper & Co., tea merchants, have expanded to occupy No. 8, 20 and 22.

By 1902 some well-known names had moved in: Coopers have expanded further to take on No. 28 as well, and Lipton, a rival tea merchant and grocer at No. 2 on the corner of Jamaica St. A. G. Malcolm is listed at No. 4. A descendant of George and Mrs. George?

1904 4-6 Turner. Cooper & Co have opened a café at 30-32. Blackwood & Co at 36-38.

By 1907 Turner’s over thirty-year occupation of the shop is over. No. 4 has a new occupant, James Maitland. Possibly he was related to one or both of William Maitland, a wine and spirit dealer in Wallace St, Tradeston, or Archibald Maitland who had plied the same trade at 171 Cowcaddens, fifty years earlier.

Cooper & Co already occupy a good chunk of the block, at 8, 38, 36–38 with their café at 30–32. The Lorne Restaurant, another famous Glasgow boozer which can be seen on one of the photos below, is also present by this time. Today it trades as Hootenanny.

Cooper’s did very well and by the time the 1960s rolled around it had grown into a successful chain of supermarkets.

Maitland didn’t end up with a chain of pubs, but the pub stayed in the family through the better part of a century. It’s still listed as Maitland’s in the Post Office directory of 1973-4. I don’t know when exactly it changed its name to the Imperial Bar but it must have been in the late 1970s or as late as the mid 80s.

Cooper’s operating as a supermarket, still in the Greek Thomson building in 1964.
By 1966 the west side of the supermarket has been replaced by a modern 1960s building.

Then the east side was also replaced

When Coopers merged with Fine Fare it was presumably the same sort of consolidation that affected the brewing industry in the 1960s. It didn’t stop there. Fine Fare became Gateway which became Somerfield before the store was eventually sold to the Co-op.

Looking west down the street:

Maitland’s can just about be seen next door to Coopers and Ross’s Dairy is on the corner

Looking west today, the block with the Imperial Bar is the only constant

Let’s have a look from the other end of the street, the corner of Jamaica St.
We can sort of see a bit of the pub frontage in this 1930 picture
By 1939 the corner building was Ross’s Dairy and tea-room.

By 1961 surprisingly little has changed except the cars. We still can’t see the front of the pub very well.

Today the Imperial is a typical old pub that still sells McEwan’s-branded beers. I’d wager it’s done so ever since 1960 when Scottish Brewers swallowed up T & J Bernard, the Edinburgh brewery which had owned the property and rented it to the Maitlands for decades. In February 1958 James Maitland wrote to Bernard’s as follows:

Dear Sirs,
As you know, my Father was your tenant at the premises at 6 Howard Street, Glasgow, from October 1906 and that I succeeded to the tenancy on his death. Originally Father had a lease but for many years now the tenancy has been on a yearly basis.
While I have the assurance of your present mangement [sic] that there is no intention of disturbing the existing arrangement and have every confidence in that assurance, I feel that the present arrangement is somewhat unbusiness like and of course liable to give rise to anxieties in the event of changes of management. Under the circumstances I should be glad to learn that you would be prepared to grant me a Lease of the premises for say 10 or 15 years. Should you prefer it I should be most willing to consider purchasing the property and if a sale is in your mind I should be glad to have your views as to the price.
Once you have had an opportunity of considering the matter I should be glad to hear from you.
Yours faithfully, James C. Maitland.

Bernard’s did not have a sale in mind; they had in 1954 refused an approach from a third party who was interested in purchasing the whole property together with the adjoining Ross’s Dairy. But they did agree to give Maitland a 10-year lease, “subject to the usual conditions”. At the time, the pub comprised a public bar, two sitting-rooms and a cellar. Today it’s open plan, but it’s not a big pub, so the sitting-rooms must have been quite small, what we would call a snug.

James Maitland was evidently a confident negotiator and talked the brewery into removing a clause in the standard agreement which would have forbidden him from holding any other licences. His position strengthened by having a secure lease, he approached the brewery again in December the same year for help with repairs to the floor of the pub, which had been damaged by wet rot. Bernard’s agreed to pay half the cost. As the repairs cost roughly half his annual rent, Maitland was recorded as being very pleased with the settlement.

What beer might James Maitland have sold? Funny you should ask that:

T & J Bernard beers in 1958
Trade nameBrewery nameOGFG
Strong AleStrong10671021
Double Brown AleD.B.Ale10431013
Special ExportSp Exp10431012
No. 3Pale 1/110311010
No. 2Pale 1/210361011
Special No. 1Pale 1/410461013

Don’t take these as gospel yet; the range isn't complete. I haven't looked at the grists in detail but No. 2 and No. 3 are the two main draught beers and they are very different. No 2 has maize flakes, invert sugar and Avona, which I guess is some sort of proprietary sugar, while No. 3 has maize grits and all invert sugar. And ten times as much black malt. And No. 3, the weaker beer, has 50% more hops. But more on Bernard beers soon.

In this 1946 image, frustratingly, the pub is just out of shot on the right. But I like to think the casks are empties just collected from Maitland’s. By the look of them, they are barrels, or even hogsheads.

One last pub-related bit of trivia: in the city’s West End (genuinely in the West End, that is: west of the river Kelvin) is a bar which was also once a Cooper’s store. It must have been one of the earliest outposts of the empire as it was already there in 1904 shortly after Kelvinbridge railway station opened. After operating for years as Chimmy Chunga’s and Bar Oz, it now trades under the name Cooper’s once again.

I couldn’t have written this without the images from the Virtual Mitchell, and as ever the Scottish Brewing Archive.

Friday, 28 October 2011

The Oxford Companion to Beer: wait for the second edition

To lay people, the Oxford University Press is possibly one of the most prestigious publishing houses in the world. Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery, is undoubtedly one of the most well-known, charismatic and articulate brewers in the United States, and is also gaining a higher profile everywhere where people are taking a greater interest in beer.

So it was a big deal when OUP announced the forthcoming publication of the Oxford Companion to Beer, described as “an absolutely indispensable volume for everyone who loves beer as well as all beverage professionals”.

The book has been received with something approaching rapture in the media, described variously as “a book every beer lover must have” and “the world’s most comprehensive book on beer, to date”.

It’s a good-looking book: the deliciously legible Adobe Minion is very readable on the smooth, creamy paper. The spine looks flimsy but appears designed to flex rather than crack with repeated reading. I understand it has already sold out its first and second printings, meaning tens of thousands of copies will be thumbed and taken as authoritative in beer discourse for years to come. Dozens of respected beer authorities, and, unnervingly, the odd beer fantasy peddler, have contributed entries on subjects ranging from amylase (enzymes which convert starch to sugar) to Zentner (unit of weight for bulk hops).

There’s even an entry on aphids. Their potential to ruin hop crops notwithstanding, perhaps this entry at the beginning of the alphabet reflects early ambition for the book to be even more comprehensive than the finished version. But in view of the number of substantial topics which have been passed over, the inclusion of topics on tangential interest often seems bizarre: how many beers really include mint, or nutmeg? Is the old tradition of wassail notable enough for half a page? There is a bizarrely short article on stout, a quarter of the length of the one on cheese. This latter can be explained as an eminently forgivable piece of whimsy on the part of the Editor-in-Chief, whose passion for cheese is evidently on a par with his love of beer.

Manhattan, manioc, but not malt liquor. It’s a shame the latter is omitted; a very old term which, in Britain, once referred to all fermented malt beverages. Such a term was necessary when people still needed to distinguish between heavily-hopped Beer and lightly-hopped Ale. Nowadays the expression is extinct in Britain, but has gained a new lease of life in America where it refers exclusively to high-strength lager made with a large proportion of adjuncts.

Any book of this size will contain errors, and there are plenty of small mistakes, of the type one would expect: there is no town of Kulmbacher in Germany (it’s Kulmbach; Kulmbacher denotes something from Kulmbach, as Pilsener is something from Pilsen), nor was there ever a “Scottish & Newcastle Brewery”. The picture caption that claims “mashing out” is the term used for removing spent grain from the mash tun is a howler, though. Löwenbräu does not mean “lion’s brew”, it means “the brewer at the sign of the lion”; and so on. Keith Villa moves the foundation of Belgium back in time to the Middle Ages in the article on witbier (and devotes a suspicious, though arguably legitimate, amount of space to his own take on the style, Blue Moon). In an otherwise decent piece on coaching inns, Roger Protz writes the 174 years of independent existence of the London brewery Barclay Perkins out of history and has its merger with neighbour Courage take place in the late 18th century rather than the late 20th century it actually was. These do not spoil the narrative too much in themselves, but one wonders how errors like these, which betray a lack of fact-checking, ever got into an ostensibly authoritative work on beer in the first place.

One might also quibble with the chosen style which renders Pilsner, Altbier and Kölsch in lower case; even two formerly venerable Kulmbach breweries are named sandlerbräu and reichelbräu. But these can be placed alongside other minor annoyances, such as the lazy American use of “ale” to describe all top-fermenting beers, which occurs throughout, depending on author.

The entry on “ale” itself does sketch some of the problems with this usage; however, the article implies that it is now generally accepted, which is true only in the United States. This is a shame, since it misses an opportunity to tell the full story of how the meaning of the term has shifted over time.

An overly short section in this article comes close to suggesting that pale ale and brown ale have existed in their current forms in England since the 16th century; judicious editing could have given us a more succinct and clearer description of the way the word “ale” has been understood in different times and places. We learn that ale in Britain originally meant the unhopped beverage, distinct from the Flemish hopped “beer”, and the article on Britain repeats this, but we are not told that although the ale-brewers eventually started putting hops in their brew, ale and beer still continued side by side as distinct malt liquors, ale being lightly hopped and beer more heavily so; a distinction crucial to understanding British beer even today.

What happens when such an understanding is lacking? Well, you get a piece like Val Peacock’s piece on English hops, which conflates beer with ale and repeats the canard (refuted by Martyn Cornell) that Henry VIII “banned hops”. You get the confused and woffling piece on brown ale, which describes mild as a variant of the same. Certainly, not a few British breweries once took the short cut of bottling their mild as brown ale; but the types have completely different origins and generally enjoyed a (mostly) separate existence. The naive reader is left with the impression that any top-fermenting beer which happens to be brown can be called brown ale; we learn that Altbier, dubbel and oud bruin are “rarely referred to” as such, but not why they are not: because they come from different brewing traditions and the people who actually brew and drink them don’t think of them as “brown ale”.

When it comes to pale ale, the same problem arises. Terry Foster manages to leave the reader more confused than when he started. Belgian pale ales are mentioned, but since he does not mention any by name, it is difficult to figure out which beers he is talking about. “Pale ale originated as a catch-all term for any top-fermented beer that was not dark”, he claims. It would be more accurate to say the term has been increasingly misused for that purpose since the 1990s. We are missing a crucial bit of information: that pale ale is (along with Porter and Ale) one of the major strands in the British brewing tradition and those derived from it; again, it doesn’t just refer to any old top-fermented beer that is light-coloured.

One kind of beer that definitely is a Pale Ale, albeit in a degenerate form, is not mentioned but gets an entry to itself: “Irish red ale”, which at least admits “the term is rarely heard in Ireland”, though the entry could still benefit from heavier usage of words such as “supposedly” and “alleged”. It is amusing to note that one popular brand of “Irish red” in Ireland is — Bass brewed in Glasgow. Glenn A Payne’s general article on Irish beer is so jam-packed with information that one can only hope it is all accurate, since the sheer density of factoids is a deterrent to checking their veracity.

Scotland fares worse than Ireland. Some incredibly inaccurate things have been said before about the subject, but Horst Dornbusch has produced the most egregiously wrong claptrap ever written about Scottish beer. In a long and confused article on the shilling system, which would bewilder the naive reader even if the information contained in it were correct, terms like “wee heavy”, “twopenny” and “80/–” are thrown about seemingly at random. 60/–, a low-gravity beer derived from 20th century Pale Ales, is conflated with Two-penny, a beer from a different historical period which hasn’t existed in any meaningful sense since 1802. The shilling system is described as unique to Scotland, which it wasn’t. We are treated to a detailed description of the beers that American homebrewers create under the name of Scottish or Scotch ales, but little more than fantasies about the beers actually brewed in Scotland.

Dornbusch doesn’t know what heavy is. He thinks it’s a strong ale brewed exclusively from the first runnings of a mash. This alone ought to have disqualified him from writing the article on Scotland. However, at least he brands the drivel about Scottish beer being made with peated malt as the legend that it is; though we can probably be grateful for that to the late Greg Noonan, whose book Scotch Ale Dornbusch uses as his sole source.

Tim Hampson, who should know better, tells us in the entry on drinking vessels: “In Scotland, strong Scotch ales are sometimes served in a pint-sized tulip glass known as a thistle, named after the Scottish national flower... ” Replace “sometimes” with “never” and you’d be accurate. Scotland gets a raw deal in general: the air pressure dispense system has no entry, although every other common dispense system does (it should be noted that air pressure was not only standard practice in Scotland, but also in what was then Czechoslovakia). There is an article on “wee heavy”, i.e. the beer that Americans think the Scots drink, but none on “heavy”, the beer they actually drink (or, since we are being sticklers for accuracy, the one they drank a generation ago).

Dornbusch is no better on German beer. In one entry, in which he quotes three articles from his own website as sources, he places Franconia in “central Bavaria” (it is in the north). One can only guess how reliable the rest of the information is. This uncertainty spoils the whole narrative of his piece on Germany, as one is never quite sure which parts are true and which are invented, and the final assertion that German beer today is in as poor a state as American beer in the 1970s is laughable. It does, however, fit in with the rather sinister sub-text expressed in several places in the book: that Old Europe’s brewing is stagnant and needs rescued by “craft brewers”.

The cod history of Kölsch produced by Karl-Ullrich Heyse reads like it was copied off the back of a beer bottle. No doubt the marketing departments of Cologne’s breweries would like us to believe that “the history of kölsch goes back to the year 874 AD”. It’s complete rubbish, as Cologne has had a long history of brewing ranging from early “red” beers, gruit beers and hopped beers, jumping in the 19th and 20th centuries from top-fermentation to bottom-fermentation, and only within living memory back again.

By the early 1900s the city was dominated by bottom-fermenting beer with top-fermenting beer the speciality of tiny brewpubs. In the 1920s the proportion of top-fermenting beer was in single figures. The triumph of what we now know as Kölsch took place in the 1950s and 1960s, when largely due to the efforts of Hans Sion of the Sion brewery, Kölsch was reinvented as the ubiquitous beverage of the city with its market share rocketing from around a third to over 90%. This remarkable story of the Kölsch revival is not mentioned, sadly, for it deserves to be more widely known. It would be, after all, a splendid case study for the self-same marketing people.

Conrad Seidl, in one of several competent and informed articles, says pretty much all that needs to be said on the subject of German Pilsner beer. Unfortunately his article is immediately followed by Dornbusch woffling on about Germany, and one is left wishing that Seidl had been asked to write it all.

The book includes a surprisingly vast amount of information on hard-core brewing technology, including such packaging practices as “jetting”, and one fears that such articles may be too esoteric for the beer drinker, but too simplistic for any brewer who needs to know about the subject. The parti-gyling entry is too short, garbled and not much use unless one already understands the basic principles. However, at least it countenances that worts may be blended, in contrast to the peculiar idea expressed several times elsewhere that parti-gyling just means making one beer from the first runnings, another from the second runnings, etc. Similarly disappointingly, a mere quarter of a page is devoted to the fascinating subject of priming sugar, and barely scratches the surface.

Garrett Oliver’s own breezy writing style contrasts with the drier prose of the other authors who write on the technical side of brewing, which is no real surprise. It is a relief to see a name like Bamforth or Stempfl underneath an article and know that the information therein is reliable … until the dreadful suspicion arises that perhaps it has been mucked about with later. One certainly hopes that the technical articles are more scrupulously reviewed than the historical ones evidently were; after all, if you can’t trust Charlie Bamforth to get things right, who can you trust? — but the layman has no way of knowing.

In general (and perhaps inevitably given the target market for a book in English of this nature), most entries are heavily skewed to the Anglo-American view of things – and American more so than Anglo. Thus brewpubs, a vital part of the American beer renaissance (over half of currently operating American breweries are brewpubs), are also credited with more importance than they really deserve in the British real-ale revival (which is not to diminish the efforts of David Bruce and others), yet the huge array of brewpubs in Germany and other countries are barely mentioned.

It may have been in an effort to achieve a level of objectivity that contributors appear to have been asked to write about countries other than their own: thus we have Tim Hampson writing about German rye beer, Roger Protz on Czech lager, Horst Dornbusch on Scottish beer, Pete Brown on Prohibition. I am not sure this was such a good idea; an extended peer-review process might have been better for clarifying crucial points and eliminating subconscious bias. Those articles from the horse’s mouth such as Keith Villa on his own creation, Blue Moon, are much more successful.

Matthew Brynildson of Firestone Walker uses a third of the space devoted to the Burton Union fermentation system to present the oak fermentation system at his own brewery; this subject, interesting in its own right, should be somewhere else, as the set-up at Firestone Walker does not share the essential characteristics of the true Burton Union: that cleansed beer flows back into the casks, leaving fresh yeast for harvesting. It’s a shame that Brynildson did not get the chance to discuss the Firestone Union in a separate article, since it is apparently unique even in the hugely diverse brewing landscape of the United States.

Poking around in the book, as one does in a volume of this size and in fact as one is encouraged to do by the editor, one often wishes that Oliver had been more heavy-handed with the red pen. Contributors get to promote their own hobby horses at will and often contradict each other; thus we find Pete Brown defending weak British session-strength IPAs as a legitimate branch of the family, while elsewhere Tim Hampson dismisses one such, Deuchars IPA, as not an IPA at all. Mark Dorber uses a disproportionate amount of his short article on “real ale” to vent his frustration at the more bone-headed members of the Campaign for Real Ale who reject cask breathers on principle; this criticism (irrespective of its merits) is also brought up in the entry on CAMRA and in the one on cask breathers themselves, which seems a bit over the top for an argument that in actuality is dead and buried, at least in the UK. On the other hand, the much more intense debate on whether CAMRA should accept or promote kegged beer is not mentioned, for which we can perhaps be grateful in the short term.

Other redundant sections appear several times over: for example, three separate articles bemoan the supposed reluctance of American consumers to buy returnable beer bottles. The decision to have separate articles for bottles, bottling and bottle sizes seems odd in itself; Martyn Cornell’s meagre half page on bottle sizes could have benefited from being longer and including more details of common bottle sizes around the world, and some illustrations of bottles might be more useful to the reader than the photograph of a 1910-era bottling line. The phenomenon of one article contradicting another comes to a head here, with Dornbusch/Oliver asserting, wrongly, that the imperial pint remains a common size in the UK, only to have Cornell refute this further down the same page.

Pete Brown’s long and reasonably balanced piece on Britain (there is a separate article on Scotland, but none on England as such) has only one serious deficiency, when he misses out the long reign of mild ale as the drink of the working class in the 19th and 20th centuries – which is a shame because his writing is otherwise some of the most careful and meticulous in the book. If every contribution in this tome were up to the standard of Brown’s magnificent IPA article, it would be a worthwhile investment.

Ian Hornsey’s article on the English pub is heavy on history and has too little on the distinctive culture and etiquette of the pub. Presumably there are no pubs in Scotland; actually a discussion of the difference between English pubs and Scottish dram-shops could be interesting, but alas there is no room for it. It ends on a melancholy note which implies the pub (as opposed to the contemporary “bar and kitchen” type establishment) is in terminal decline. Only time will tell whether he is right. One feature of the pub which has vanished, but might have been worth mentioning, was class segregation of the pub, as seen in the common separation of public bar and lounge: this phenomenon is something of which younger drinkers today are often completely unaware.

No book however weighty can possibly cover every brewery that exists, but one is forced to the conclusion that the selection has been made to cover topics of interest to American beer nerds. So Traquair House is mentioned, but not Tennent’s. Of other Scottish breweries, a short, dull piece tells when Belhaven was built and who now owns it (a further snub to Wellpark is that Belhaven, established 160 years later, is named as the oldest brewery in Scotland), and an entry on Caledonian focuses on its changing ownership with just a few words about its beer. Russian River, on the other hand, is a tiny US brewery that makes some very good beer but, as far as I can tell, is not particularly more notable than hundreds of other breweries either for its past or its present. It is included presumably because it is so revered by a small number of people that they would howl in outrage if it were not. Does Boddington’s deserve a mention? Since it is sold in the US in huge quantities in widget cans, it seems it does.

Several European beers are described with the British term “session beers” despite there being no entry for that term in the book. One cannot help wondering whether the absence of an entry on the topic is a wise decision or a cowardly one, given the heat that is inevitably brought to this argument by those determined to apply it to beers of 5, 6, even 7% alcohol, rather than the “under 4%” generally accepted in Britain.

There is progress. Even Dornbusch no longer claims that Mumme and Broyhan were the same thing, as he once did (they were extinct north German beers, neither of which gets an article, and as different from each other as beers can be, Broyhan being light, pale and highly carbonated, and Mumme thick, treacly and barely attenuated). And some long-standing beer myths are rejected or at least called into question. The ale-conners-sat-in-puddles-of-beer story is, at last, treated as legend rather than fact, and Hodgson and Harwood are no longer feted as the “inventors” of India pale ale and of porter respectively, as they were for so long in beer literature. In the long and rambling entry on porter we get half a page retelling the story of how Harwood invented entire butt to replace three-threads, before the author rather grudgingly admits the tale is “probably” not true. Unfortunately, later in the same article there is a spectacular piece of Dornbuschian revisionism which implies that the term “Baltic porter” dates from the period when British brewers exported porter to the Baltic, rather than being a retrospective term coined by Michael Jackson, who in the 1980s needed to find a name for the locally-brewed descendants of those beers. Pure invention is also the notion that Victorian England had an upper-class drink called “robust porter”; it almost certainly originates with early beer style guidelines for the American Homebrewers Association, not with the Victorians – the American beer writer Stan Hieronymus has been kind enough to verify that the Great American Beer Festival did not distinguish between “brown” and “robust” porter until 1995.

Nevertheless, there is some very good stuff in the book: for one, Oliver’s own eminently sensible article on the concept of beer styles. With the words “The great musician does not resent the sheet music; the great baker does not resent the baguette”, he neatly encapsulates the joy of brewing in the discipline of a well-defined idiom and defends the notion that a beer style, to be any use, should actually mean something. But he really comes into his own when describing the flavours of beer; in the article on Belgium his prose, Jacksonesque at its best, describes beer in such detail you can almost taste it: “Wonderfully complex aromatics, very high carbonation, attendant voluminous rocky foam, and a scintillating pinprick mousse on the tongue.”

There is valuable information in the Companion, lots of it. But as the layman cannot be expected to distinguish the valuable, accurate stuff from the nonsense, the presence of the latter devalues the whole volume. Some of the genuine experts who have contributed might rightfully be annoyed at having their own works printed along the large gobs of poorly researched hack work.

Is all this important? Well, yes it is. The buyer who’s forking out £35 in the belief that he’s getting the most authoritative book possible on beer is being had. It’s foolhardy in the extreme to suggest that errors can be fixed later: they’re in the wild now and will reproduce.

Jeff Evans, for example, says in his own review of the Companion, “There are some books you trust more than others, certain writers you know you can rely on to deliver accurate facts.  When you write about beer as much as I do, it’s important to know who these people are and which are the books you can turn to to check obscure details, bolster failing memory or provide a genuine insight into some arcane aspect of the brewing process.” So even people like Jeff who themselves are regarded as experts will be using this flawed volume as a source for years to come, perpetuating all the errors that it contains.

So many questions remain. Why there is an entry for leichtes Weissbier (competently enough written by Schneider Weisse brewer Hans-Peter Drexler) but none for any other Leicht beer? Do we really need an article on beer labels that tells us such insultingly basic information as that labels “are attached to various parts of the bottle, most commonly the front”? Are we actually looking at a finished book at all, or has it been rushed out in time for Christmas?

Garrett Oliver writes in his foreword that he hopes the Companion will not be the last book of its kind. I hope so too. Beer lovers deserve better than this.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Milk stout prosecutions, 1944

From the British Food Journal, January 1944:
At the Newcastle Borough Court, on December 22nd, James Calder & Co. (Brewers) Ltd. were summoned for selling a bottle of stout labelled “Milk Stout” and bearing the design of a dairy cow. The prosecution submitted that the picture on the label was misleading. Pleading guilty for the firm, Colonel A. D. S. Rogers said the labels had now been withdrawn. Before the war ingredients for the stout came from New Zealand, but shipment had now stopped. There was no attempt to mislead the public.—Defendants were convicted and find £5 and ordered to pay £4 19s. costs.
In a similar case, Tennent’s of Glasgow decided to plead guilty to avoid bad publicity:
It was reported that a prosecution has been raised against the Company at the instance of the Chief Inspector of Weights and Measures at Newcastle-upon-Tyne alleging that a sample of Tennent’s Milk Stout purchased at Tweedmouth in November last did not, upon analysis, contain constituents justifying this description, and that consequently an offence had been committed under Section 6 of the Food and Drugs Act, 1938. The complaint is due to be heard before the Petty Sessions at Berwick on 17th February 1944.
The Board gave careful consideration to the whole circumstances, including the fact that prior to any intimation being received from the Inspector the use of the name “Milk Stout” had, in fact, been discontinued, as a result of correspondence with Messrs. Boake Roberts & Co. Ltd., the suppliers of the lactose incorporated in the Milk Stout. The Board were satisfied that it was obvious the Company had throughout acted in good faith, but they felt that, in the circumstances, the course least likely to involve unwelcome publicity and thus be detrimental to the Company's interests would be to plead guilty to an offence under Section 6 of the Act; this plea should, however, be submitted with an explanation of the position as described by the correspondence between the Company and their suppliers of lactose, making it clear that the Company does not regard the product being sold as ordinary Stout; that it had all along acted in good faith; and that in any event the necessary steps had been taken to discontinue the use of the label complained of, prior to any communication being received from the Inspector. It was decided to instruct Messrs. Wright Johnston & Mackenzie accordingly. (17/1/44, Tennent’s board minutes held at the Scottish Brewing Archive)
Judging by the closeness in time of these two cases, it looks like a case of a particularly zealous weights and measures department at Newcastle town council. It would be interesting to find out if there were any more prosecutions, or in other cities.

The legislation in question, the 1938 Food and Drugs Act, does state that food products may not be sold under misleading designations:
A person who gives with any food or drug sold by him a label, whether attached to or printed on the wrapper or container or not, which falsely describes that food or drug, or is otherwise calculated to mislead as to its nature, substance or quality, shall be guilty of an offence, unless he proves that he did not know, and could not with reasonable diligence have ascertained, that the label was of such a character as aforesaid.
A particularly strict reading of it might indeed infer that you couldn’t call a beer milk stout if there were no milk in it, and as we have seen this is what appears to have happened in Newcastle. It also seems likely that producers would be able to defend themselves on the basis that milk stout drinkers knew full well that it was a beer, not a milk drink, just as nobody mistook milk of magnesia for milk either.

The usual received wisdom in the beer world is that the term “Milk Stout” was banned in the UK shortly after the Second World War. Michael Jackson wrote in his New World Guide to Beer: “Within Britain, it may no longer be identified as Milk Stout, as it once was”, and I, like everyone else, took it for granted. Roger Protz states baldly in his Ultimate Encyclopedia of Beer: “the government instructed all sweet stout producers to remove the world ‘milk’ from labels and advertising”.

The story is, as you might have guessed, repeated in the new Oxford Companion to Beer, describing the words as ‘an illegal label designation in the UK’ in the entry on Mackeson, and telling us in the entry on milk stout itself: ‘During a period of food rationing following World War II, the British government ordered its brewers to delete the word “milk” from their labels and advertisements’.

But if it was banned, when was it banned?

I took a trip to the library to try to find evidence of a ban at the end of the war. I've now been through all the Statutory Rules and Orders from 1944 through 1947 and can’t find any mention of Milk Stout. There is actually very little mention of beer of any type.

This is, remember, a time when food rationing and extensive state control of the economy were in effect, in a way that is hard to imagine today, and the government was grimly regulating everything—from the composition of mayonnaise, to the number of fasteners permitted on women’s underwear and the maximum price of fountain pens. But they did not seem to think it necessary to interfere with Milk Stout.

It’s certainly true that the biggest Milk Stout producer, Mackeson, had removed the word Milk from its label by the early 1950s at the latest. And, as we have seen above, the lack of a formal ban didn’t prevent brewers from facing occasional prosecutions — and convictions — on the grounds that the name was misleading. Perhaps in the circumstances breweries were running scared and decided to avoid the potential risk.

Nonetheless there is some surviving evidence that several breweries were still producing and selling Milk Stout well into the 1960s. It was the predominance of Mackeson’s and the general decline of Milk Stout’s popularity that did for them, not a ban of the name.

If anyone has some hard evidence that breweries were forbidden by the government from calling their beer Milk Stout, I’d love to hear from them.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Oxford Companion to Beer: the clouds gather

Over at Zythophile Martyn Cornell has been ripping the Oxford Companion to Beer a new arsehole. I’m trying to avoid reading his piece until I’ve finished writing my own review of the book (and yes, it is a bizarre experience to have a book in my hands that the contributors haven’t seen yet).

There is already a wiki devoted to the book’s many errors.

My review will follow soon, honestly. I’m still only in the N’s. So far I can say: although there is plenty of good stuff in the book, it is so sloppily put together and so patchy in quality that I cannot in all conscience recommend a purchase unless you have money to burn.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

A visit to Tennent’s (1859 version)

A visit to a gigantic Brewery, especially when the palate requires moisture, will please most of our readers, and we have no hesitation in recommending them to see The Well Park Brewery of Messrs. J. and R. Tennent & Co., Duke-street. These consist of five splendid cellars, their ramifications extending in five directions, and containing an enormous quantity of beer, the greatest stock in Scotland. (We have under notice a similar establishment at Burton, in the companion volume.) In the vat-room are 30 vats, each 37,000 gallons. We have seen no room like this in any similar establishment we have visited. Our readers, especially our friends from Australia, must not quit Glasgow without seeing this extensive establishment. In another part of the premises, are hundreds of thousands of barrels. Several bores for water exist on the premises, one 381 feet deep; we also noticed several cisterns and filters, one 10 feet deep, 50 feet by 50 feet.
In the large bottling and corking-room, we see as many as 420 hands, all bottling for export only; the quantity of sheet-lead and copper wire used for this purpose is enormous; the bottles are packed in casks, and are then ready for removing to vessels lying in the Clyde; from 400 to 500 casks are used in a day for packing. Now we pass into a large vault, where we see hundreds of bins, containing from 11,000 to 16,000 hogsheads in each bin; the store vaults appear to be endless. The casks are seasoned by steam; an engine of 40 horse power, capable of working up to 55, being employed for this purpose. From the mashhouse ascend to the mill, and on the same floor is the fermenting-room. We next reach the hop-room, and ascend to the boiling-room or copperhouse, enter cooling-room, descend to another tun-room, where we see 21 tuns each containing 100 barrels. Entering the “square” room, we pass from thence into the yard and ascend to the Cooperage, where scores of men are continually employed in manufacturing casks and barrels; there is nothing like this department elsewhere: we counted Seven Rooms All Full Of Busy Workers. We are stunned with the noise of the ceaseless hammer. As the several parts are formed and the barrels completed, they are branded. We now enter the sawmills, where steam-power is in action to move circular saws; here too we notice a very extraordinary machine invented by one of the employés of the firm for opening the “flags,” thus saving a great deal of labour. Descending to another room, we see the planing-machine in full action, and pass over the new cooperage now being built, a sure evidence on the part of the public of their appreciation of the productions of the firm; thence to the store-shed for wood, which contains an enormous stock. New stables have been built for 32 horses. These erections are supposed to be the finest in Scotland, having magnificent slate fittings. Should further information be required, Mr. Nelson, “the brewer,” will be happy to forward it.

We forgot to mention that the new church, which we perceive on entering the works, was built at the cost of Mr. Tennent. We annex the following extract from “Chemistry, Theoretical, Practical, and Analytical, as applied and relating to the Arts and Manufactures,” by Dr. Sheridan Muspratt, F. R. S. E., &c., founder of the College of Chemistry in Liverpool. “The peculiar excellence of the ales of the Messrs. Tennent, like those of Burton, is their remarkable keeping quality, and their retention of that delicate flavour of the hops, so often lost by the pale ale brewer, notwithstanding his utmost effects to secure it.”

From the “Times,” of 12th October, 1854. “From our own Correspondent.”
“California, San Francisco, August 31, 1854. For malt liquors the demand is not so active as it was a month ago, although it is at all times considerable, and on the increase. Large sales of J. & R. Tennent’s bottled ale have been, during the last fortnight, at 3 dols. 62 cents to 3 dols. 75 cents per dozen, and a sale of about 300 hhds. of the same brand in wood, to arrive, at 60 dols. per hhd. This brand has a larger sale, and is more sought after than any other in the market, from its being peculiarly adapted to the warm climate of the interior, and is much used in San Francisco also.”

From the “Glasgow Herald,” of 6th August, 1858.
Glasgow Porter. — The following extract from the Calcutta Exchange Gazette, of 18th June, has caught our eye, and as it relates to an important branch of the manufactures of this city, we think it right to insert it:—‘The Messrs. Tennent’s Porter has been equally successful. It has been declared to be second to none for hospital purposes—a proof of which is its increasing reputation among commissariat officers. It is a pity that our soldiers should not be supplied with such strengthening and nourishing liquor, instead of the acidulated trash which is too frequently contracted for.’” 

As some of our readers may probably wish to be informed of the prices at which the best beer brewed in Scotland may be obtained, we have added a list of the charges :—

Terms—Net Cash on Delivery.Short Prices—No Discount.

Seven Guinea Ale120s.60s.
Six Guinea Ale10452
Five Guinea Ale8040
Four Guinea Ale6733 6d.
India Pale Ale7035
XXX Porter or Double Brown Stout7839
XX Porter or Brown Stout6030
X Porter3015
Table Beer Superior4824
Ditto Ordinary3015
Beer157 6d

The high reputation of the liquor for its keeping quality has now been long established, and in this respect it cannot be surpassed, as will be seen from the annexed certificates.

Casks should be spiled and bunged whenever they are empty, and immediately returned. Purchasers must be liable for the risk of fermentation, and for all other risks in the transit. Returns of liquor alleged to be defective are not admissible unless received at the Brewery within fourteen days after the date of the invoice.

Purchasers will be charged for the value of all casks not received at the Brewery, free of expense, within, one month from the date of invoice, according to the prices undermentioned:—

Standard Measure of Capacity.
Hogsheadsof54 Imperial Gallons17s.
Barrelsof36 Do.14
Half-hogsheadsof27 Do.12
Half-barrelsof18 Do.10
Firkinsof9 Do.6 6d.

The transmission of casks and the conveyance ought to be carefully advised by post.

(George Measom, The Official Illustrated Guide to the Lancaster and Carlisle, Edinburgh and Glasgow, and Caledonian Railways, London 1859)

Readers unfamiliar with Glasgow should note that Tennent’s is next to the city’s Necropolis, which should explain the Hammer Horror-style gravestones in the foreground of the illustration.

It’s a pity they just walked through the actual brewing areas. The vast scale of the bottling and storage operations were more impressive. Nonetheless there are a few snippets worth commenting on.
  • Bottled beer was packed into casks. Why casks not crates? You could roll them, I guess, important in the days of manual labour on the docks.
  • They had a huge demand for casks, and were expanding their cooperage.
  • Tennent’s porter was popular in India and their ale popular in San Francisco. 
  • Their pale ale retained “the delicate flavour of the hop” and was equal to those from Burton.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

A visit to Tennent’s

Thanks to Doors Open Days I got the chance to go on a tour of Tennent’s Wellpark Brewery a few weeks ago. I was looking forward to it because although I’ve been round a fair few microbreweries, I’ve never been in a proper industrial brewery the size of Wellpark, and they don’t usually do tours. So all the tours were booked out a couple of weeks before the event, with people, presumably at least some of them keen Tennent’s drinkers, eager to see where the brew is made.

We cross the courtyard and our first stop is so that the guide can proudly point at the display that shows the number of days since the last notifiable accident on the site. It’s a four-figure number, which is good. Then we pass the laboratory and the rows of huge fermenting tanks before entering the brewery itself. Visiting a big place like this really makes you aware that big breweries necessarily must devote more space to warehousing than to production. It was a clever brewer who first hit on the idea of siting fermentation vessels outside, rather than having to build vast halls to contain them all.

The brewery itself is cramped and stairs lead up to the control room. There’s a bank of computer screens running fairly old-looking software, a huge mash filter and the top of a copper. Here we are told a bit about the brewing process of Tennent’s lager. It is brewed high gravity from a mash of malt, wheat and maize to reach around 7.5%.

Tanks and kegs

Fermenters outside
Fuzzy picture of the control room, from which surprisingly primitive-looking
software controls unimaginable amounts of beer

Mash filter

The oldest remaining part of the brewery, this building contains the lab

Real actual hops are used in pellet form, with iso-hop extract to top up at filtration stage. The lager is a little more bitter than its rivals in the standard lager sector with around 20 IBU.

Then it ferments quite warm, between 13º and 15º before getting an incredible two days’ cold conditioning. It’s filtered and liquored back to retail strength. At this stage it has around 2g/L CO2 which is topped up to ~5.4g/L.

Canning line
A new bottling line is awaiting installation and the bottling hall-to-be is still being cleared as we pass through it. Space is at a premium on the historic city-centre site, and this means the brewing and packaging are distributed over several floors; in particular the multi-level canning line is apparently quite unusual.

Despite the renown of the brewery for lager and the decades of neglect that Tennent’s ale and stout brands have suffered, there is still some ale brewed here. As well as Tennent’s Special, Ember, Copper 70/– and the like, there’s a lot of keg Bass that goes to Ireland, and they have recently started brewing for Innis & Gunn. This contract brewing — they also do a lot on the lager side — is presumably one of the reasons for the new bottling line.

I also found out that there is an unpasteurised version of Tennent’s Lager. If you are a super-ticker, you can taste this version only if you go to the T in the Park festival. It’s sold there for the simple reason that it’s delivered and used so quickly that there is nothing to be gained by pasteurising it.

Back at the brewery, we get shown round the Tennent’s Training Academy. This is a new venture, brought into life last year, to provide training facilities for the licensed and catering trades.

One feature Tennent’s doesn’t have is a pilot brewery. You would think they’d have one, but they are so big that any R&D for new brews can just be done at Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh instead.

Then, after a quick look round the lab, the work of which nobody really understands, we finish off with a complimentary pint at the Molendinar Bar. This is a bar on-site which is used for hospitality and not  open to the public. It’s fitted out in the kind of cod-Victoriana that new pubs used to get as a matter of course in the 1980s. Displays of old bottles and adverts make it a combination of pub and museum.

I keep hearing mumblings that Tennent’s are about to diversify with new products. The mumblings are never detailed enough to make any actual predictions.

But Tennent’s aren’t stupid. They know that their standard lager is a sector of the beer market in deep decline, and they know that the growth is in different kinds of beer. They also know that with 60% of the Scottish draught beer market, they have plenty of time to think about it.

With both Tennent’s and McEwan’s now owned by companies for whom they – for the first time in several generations – are an important part of the business, I’d like to think that these formerly ubiquitous behemoths of Scottish brewing will find their way back to making really distinctive beers.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Protz writes Barclay Perkins out of history

I’ve got my copy of the Oxford Companion to Beer and shall be busy with it for some time. I’m 2000 words into my review and I’m only in the Cs. A long, nit-picking review will be along shortly, but I’ve just seen something that is so gobsmackingly appalling that I have to post it right now.

I was in the middle of praising one of Roger Protz’s articles — when he writes on social history, pubs and clubs, he can be very good indeed — when the narrative turns to brewing itself and it all goes wrong:
Thrale’s Brewery, in which Dr Samuel Johnson was a shareholder, dates from the early 18th century. It closed following the death of its owner, Henry Thrale, in 1781 and merged with the rival Anchor Brewery founded by John Courage in 1787. Courage was taken over by members of the Barclay family, who also went into banking with some success. The name Courage was maintained and the Anchor Brewery survived until 1981 when its brands were transferred to a modern plant in Reading.
Roger has managed to disappear the 175-year history of Barclay Perkins. Even though there are entries in the Companion for both Barclay Perkins and Courage which contradict the account above (If you don’t know what’s wrong with this narrative, get yourself over to Ron’s).

Given that beer experts, and Horst Dornbusch, have worked on this thing for the best part of five years, this is unbelievably shoddy. I was expecting some poor stuff but this is just incredible. Especially since Protz has written stuff in the past that shows he did once know Barclay Perkins and Courage were separate concerns and didn’t merge until the 1950s.

How can I trust anything in this book on the subjects that I don’t already know about?

Monday, 10 October 2011

All is lost in Alloa

The final part of my trip to Alloa wouldn't be complete with getting a few pints in, something I try to do in any town.

The Cram Bar, just round the corner from the site of George Younger’s Candlerigg Brewery, claims on the signage outside to be Alloa’s oldest pub. The sound of shouting from inside is so offputting, though, that I don’t bother to go in. I do go into the Old Brewery, but there’s nothing in the way of atmosphere or beer to keep me there.

Round the corner in the Thistle Bar, which judging by its name and location must have been Maclay’s brewery tap, or at least where the brewery workers did their drinking, all eyes are glued to the footy on the wall-mounted television. A reversed Deuchars IPA clip and an operational handpump with Theakston Best Bitter don’t look very promising. But there is Williams Draught from the keg, dispensed from a repurposed Fosters font. A sign on the wall announces in blue felt-tip that Williams Lager “brewed in Alloa” is £2.50 a pint “while stocks last”. Interestingly enough I’m not the only one drinking it. There’s also a lot of bottled Coors Light being drunk for some reason. Most of the customers are pensioners. I’m the second youngest in the pub. The only one younger is the shaven-headed lad who might appear threatening if he weren’t perched at the bar eating a bowl of home-made soup. It’s a friendly enough place. Sweetheart Stout and Fraoch in the fridge are reminders of the past and present of Alloa brewing.

Nice table in the Station Bar
The Station Hotel is up for sale. Once across the road from the railway station, its name has been cruelly mocked by fate, which closed the station in the 1960s and opened a new one in the 2000s some distance away. My attention is attracted by the faded George Younger ‘Y’ logo in the window. Logos were more naïve in the 19th and 20th centuries: Y for Younger, T for Tennent, A for Aitken. F for Fosters is part of a proud tradition, I suppose.

Inside, the once swish interior has seen better days. I order a whisky, which is what I do when I don't want to stay long in a bar. The engraved glass in the window depicting a cocktail shaker is a sad reminder of former glory.

Across the road, the exterior of the Primrose Bar looks promising; I envisage a cosy middle-class pub with a few cask ales and perhaps expensive sausage and mash. No, drinking in Alloa is still decidedly proletarian: a quick look in the door reveals shouting men, linoleum, and Tennent’s on the bar.

I don’t stay. This leaves me with a dilemma because I’ve just missed a train in expectation of spending an hour or so here. Wandering around, I come to the realisation that I’ve already been in the sole pub in the town that sells any decent beer. What to do now?

Mansfield Arms in Sauchie
Ah, hold on. There’s Devon Ales in Sauchie, a village on the outskirts of Alloa. It’s only a mile away and I’ve got my bike. I’ve not thought much of their beers when I’ve tasted them at beer festivals, but since I’m here anyway I have nothing to lose by giving them a chance on their home turf.

Sauchie is easily reached and I soon spy the Mansfield Arms where the beers are brewed. It’s a homebrew pub of the type which is fairly uncommon in Scotland and it looks too as if it belongs more in the Peak District than semi-rural Clackmannanshire. Outside, evidence that it was once part of the Alloa Brewery empire: boards proclaiming that it sells Ind Coope Burton Ale, Tetley Bitter and Castlemaine XXXX, the brands Allied was pushing in the late 1980s.

Inside, a long bar, comfy tables and a faux-retro sign anachronistically advertising Archibald Arrol’s 80 Shilling cask-conditioned ale. On the bar, four of the pub’s own beers are on offer, dispensed from the same fonts as the Carlsberg. I try the 70/–. It’s slightly tart, green and young-tasting, with a bit of toffee and a note of penny-tray sweets. There’s nothing actually wrong with it, so it’s neither bad nor interesting. At least it’s cheap at £1.85 a pint. I suspect the Pride 90/– is the same beer with less water in it; it’s winey and sweetish. I like this better as the tartness is more acceptable in a stronger beer.

No gentrification here; in more affluent areas a pub like this would be all flagstones and lamb shanks. Here the friendly staff are handing out sausage rolls to the regulars, and me (cheers). The Mansfield is homely but there’s nothing here to make me want to visit more often.

On the train back to Glasgow the chap opposite me is swigging Carling from the can. It seems appropriate for a town that has lost its entire beery heart.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Wells & Youngs buy McEwan and Younger

In a move which caught me (and not a few other people) by surprise, Wells & Youngs the other day announced they had purchased the venerable Edinburgh beer brands McEwan’s and William Younger from Heineken.

Heineken has not really known what to do with these brands since they acquired them along with Foster’s and Kronenbourg, the business they were really interested in. The marketing of them was farmed out to a third party in the hope that there was still some mileage in what were clearly seen as declining legacy brands whose customers were dying out.

If the price was right, the move makes sense. Though tired and battered from decades of neglect, these are still strong brands up here, whereas Wells & Youngs’ existing brands Youngs, Wells and Courage are marginal at best. Wells Bombardier, with its flag of St George pump clip, doesn’t sell well in Scotland for some reason. Kegged and packaged McEwan’s beers (Younger’s somewhat less so) are still a substantial, though declining, business, but the clue to W&Y’s intentions is in the announcement that they intend to bring back cask to the brands.

“We want to bring McEwan’s back on cask. We also believe we can offer a wider range of McEwan’s in bottle,” Nigel McNally of Wells & Youngs told The Herald. “We also feel there is a really significant opportunity in export.”

He is right on the latter point. American beer nerds are already clamouring for the return of McEwan’s Scotch Ale. And, although it’s not an option I favour because it’s fundamentally dishonest, speciality beers could be pushed onto the American market under the McEwan’s or Younger’s names, in the same way that Newcastle-branded beers have been launched there that don’t exist in the UK. McEwan’s Heather Ale?

As the Cask Report shows, Scotland is experiencing rapid growth in the cask sector (albeit up from almost nothing), so it’s logical for a southern-based brewer to want a piece of the market here.

Now the question is: who is going to drink the stuff?

S&N had almost completely vacated the cask market (at least with Scottish-brewed beers) by the time I started drinking, so I don’t remember drinking them often. You could find Younger’s No 3 in the Bon Accord and McEwan’s 80/– was much more common in Edinburgh than Glasgow. But looking at old CAMRA publications they don’t seem to have been that well regarded. And that was then, when the real ale drinker had little choice. Now, with fifty-odd Scottish micros and lorryloads of cask ale from south of the border to choose from, McEwan’s will have to be better than it was when the 2002 GBG described it as “thin-bodied with a cloying metallic, caramel flavour … bland and sweet.”

Perhaps the plan is to go head-to-head against the ubiquitous Heineken Deuchars IPA, in which case the well-known McEwan’s brand will be a major advantage. It has to be admitted that the brand is a lot better than the beer is. I saw one commentator speculating that the McEwan’s brand was past its sell-by date and forever branded as old-man beer. I don’t think so. Innis & Gunn has not done too badly with its faux-Victorian packaging attempting to suggest it has some heritage. McEwan’s and Younger’s on the other hand have actual real heritage, which must be worth something. I do hope very much, though, that Wells won’t be dressing any ageing alternative comedians up as the Cavalier and Father William.

The news does shed light on one mystery. This year a couple of Younger’s-branded cask beers appeared in a few pubs, and disappeared as quietly as they had arrived. There was the welcome return of No 3, which I wrote about a few months ago, and an odd thing called 1749 which I haven’t tasted.

I was at a loss to explain what these Younger-branded beers were actually for. Keeping the brand visible? The odd bit of spare capacity at Caledonian and someone said “Let’s just knock out a gyle of Younger’s and flog it in the free trade”? Now I suspect it was covert market research to see what value the brand had.

With W&Y also reviving Courage Imperial Russian Stout, perhaps we could see Younger’s No 1, or even 140/– Ale. With a bit of imagination there could be life in old Father William yet.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Wells & Youngs Imperial Stout

There’s been surprisingly little reaction to the news that Wells & Youngs have revived Courage Russian Stout, with the release happening at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver last week.

Since W&Y salvaged the Courage brands from the rotting carcass of Scottish & Newcastle I have been wondering whether the rights to Russian Stout were included and whether they had any plans to brew any. The stout was formerly aged in the bottle for a year previous to release, so it was quite a surprise to suddenly read that the beer was ready for sale without any indication in advance that they were even brewing it.

I don’t really need to explain what a legendary beer this is, do I? Barclay Perkins brewed it for two hundred years, unfathomable in our age. I had a bottle of what must have been the last brewing while I was a student, shortly after I got interested in beer. It was very nice indeed. Then S&N discontinued it, the bloody idiots. Beer lovers everywhere will surely be keen to try the new edition.

But seriously Wells & Youngs, WHAT IS THIS BULL CRAP ABOUT NOT SELLING IT IN THE UK UNTIL NEXT YEAR?! Get it sorted! I want to be drinking this at Christmas!

Might just have to brew my own.

I don’t begrudge the Americans having the reputation for the finest imperial stouts nowadays, but I have always found it very weird that so little was brewed in the country where it was invented.

Postscript: As I was writing this I heard that Wells & Youngs have also bought the legacy Wm Younger and McEwan brands from Heineken. Heineken (and Scottish & Newcastle before them) never had much of an idea what to do with these brands, as they got in the way of selling Fosters and Kronenbourg. Perhaps Wells & Youngs will show more imagination. McEwan’s also once brewed imperial stout …