Quick Note: St. Peter’s Old Style Porter

This beer from St. Peter’s is a ruby brown ale under an oddly ivory head. I’ve never seen an ivory head: tan plus hints of green-grey. This is old style, like Burton Bridge porter: barley candy plus molasses with lime and green hops. The yeast is sour cream or soured milk or something in between. Yet all well balanced.

Is this the holy grail? A 1750s porter? Likely not sour enough but colonial US farmers drank diluted vinegar so go figure.

A Norwegian Travels South-west

I was in London last week, which is pleasant during all seasons, but this has been the hottest July for 30 years, so there is an extra need to refill the body’s liquid reserves.

I first visited the splendid Pitfield Beer Shop, which sells both a number of bottle conditioned ales from its own micro and a broad selection of beers and ales from Britain and the rest of the world. Friendly staff that know their beers as well, so it is definitely woth seeking out, even if it is a bit out of the way for most visitors to London. I bought as many bottles I could reasonably carry, and walked back through the Clerkenwell area, where I decided to try the new golden ales on offer from Young’s and Fuller’s, the two independent London brewers which both own a number of pubs serving their beers.

Next stop was the Sekforde Arms, a friendly Young’s local on a side street. Young’s have Golden Zest as their seasonal ale this Summer. It is dark gold in color, but while it looks like a lager, it is certainly an ale. Light and refreshing, but not a groundbreaking brew. Served at the proper cellar temperature – what critics of British beer call “warm beer”, this could actually have been served colder on a hot day like this. It was nice to try the Golden Zest, but the next time I will return to their Special. The brewery blurb for this 100% malt brew: Maris Otter pale malt, lager malt, English Fuggle and Golding hops come together to produce a wonderfully light and refreshing golden beer. A few minutes walk to the Fuller’s pub City Retreat, a great place on a hot afternoon (or a cold Winter evening, as I’ve been there before). The new ale from Fuller’s is Discovery, and this was something else. An ale with a depth of flavour. It is fruity, with hints of apple and peach. A splendid summer beer, but I am not sure where it will fit in the market, as it is neither a lager nor a typical ale. According the Fuller’s, this is to be added to their year-round range of ales, along with London Pride and ESB. This was served chilled, and I found that suited the beer well. According to Fuller’s, this is “brewed using a unique blend of malted barley and wheat for a delicious malty taste bursting with rich, biscuity flavours. Liberty hops are added for a distinctive zesty character and fruity bite, whilst Saaz hops add a gentle bitter taste for a clean, refreshing finish.”

It seems like they have both aimed for the same type of beer, with “zesty” being a common denominator. It is worth mentioning that Young’s launced a beer a few years ago, the Triple A, which also aims at the drinkers who dont’t want the full flavour of their bitters. This is not a real ale, and it is served chilled, rather like a Kilkenny, but with a bit more taste. Purists frown on this, of course.

If you stay in the British Museum area of London, these two pubs are just a few minutes away by bus or taxi – if it’s not too hot they are within walking distance. They are much to be preferred to the more busy and touristy pubs in the Covent Garden/Soho area, being frequented by people who live or work in the area. You can look up their addresses on http://www.youngs.co.uk and http://www.fullers.co.uk, where there is plenty of information on their beer range, too. And, if you have more time on your hand, both breweries have tours of their premises and they have brewery taps and souvenir shops. Young’s even have published books on the history of the brewery and their pubs, see a review on my self-named Knut Albert’s Beer Blog.

Book Review: Terry Foster, Beer Writer

Terry Foster is one of my favorite beer writers and the most interesting thing about him as a beer writer these days is he does not have a website. I don’t know how you can exist without a website these days. How else will all the Google bots be able to share your daily musings. Google bots…bots…Google…[Ed.: Giving author a good shake] Oh, right…there is no money and no audience in a website and others are doing it already so why bother. Good point.

I encountered Terry Foster as a home brewer. He is the author titles #1 and #5 in the Classic Beer Style Series published by the Association of Brewers, a US company promoting the homebrew industry. Pale Ale is the first in the series and Poer the fifth. These books are now over a decade old but recently I noticed that Foster has been writing articles for Brew Your Own magazine regularly as well. These sorts of writings as well as my years of one hundred gallons of output have convinced me that the appreaciation of beer is uniquely advanced by learning about and undertaking its production.

A number of the early homebrewing authors started me on that path and it would be my suggestion that Terry Foster is a continuation of that line of thinkers and writers about beer. In April 1963, month of my birth, the British Government ended the taxation of homebrewing under the Inland Revenue Act of 1880 which required records to be kept and a one ound license to be paid. As W.H.T. Tayleur states in his text Home Brewing & Wine-Making (Penguin, 1973) at page 15:

This legislation reminaed in force for eighty-three years, but although at first many thousands of private brewing licences were taken out the number of home brewers steadily declined over the years until by the middle of this century, and after shortages of the necessary ingredients caused by two world wars, hardly any of the few that were left bothered to take out licences.

By removing the need to license, the government created an industry and changed brewing, to my mind, for two reasons. First, self-trained home brewers became self-trained micro-brewers as the opportunities to make money with the skill became apparent. Second, consumers gained access to well-made home brews which were much cheaper and much tastier than the standardized industrial kegged beer the 1960s were foisting upon people. Without men like the 1960s authors C.J.J. Berry and Ken Shales as well as David Line in the 1970s, all writing primarily through Amateur Winemaker Publications, many a brew-pub or craft brewery on both sides of the atlantic would simply not exist.

C.J.J. Berry, Ken Shales and David Line

Foster is perhaps the last of this tradition of British home brewing writers – and not just because his slicked back hair, styled in common cause with them. His two books, Pale Ale and Porter each provide a history of the style, a description of the elements, a guide to making them and a discussion of the commercial examples. Like those earlier authors he provides the context of the style and also deconstructs the mystery of how the brews can be made. Context and technique are two things modern industrial commercial brewers would like to shield from their customers – they more they were to know about what is out there and what it costs, the less likely the concept of brand loyalty might hold the customer.

Foster’s recent articles in Brew Your Own magazine continue this tradition. I have copies of the following articles:

“Pale Ale”, BYO September 2003, page 30.
“Old Ales”, BYO, September 2004, page 27.
“Anchors Away – A History of Malt Extract: Part 1”, BYO October 2004, page 30.
“Let’s Get Rid of the Water – A History of Malt Extract: Part 2”, BYO, November 2004, page 34.

As is the mandate of the magazine, Foster provides context and technique, showing how historical styles can be recreated with confidence. For example, in the third article he discusses how the British Navy invented malt extract in an effort to provide beer to sailors as a necessary food while in the fourth he describes how later extracts were used to avoid the stupidities of prohibition.

Foster’s style is attractive in that he is a plain speaker. In a world of where reputation and brand is all important, he can write of Yuengling’s Pottsville Porter:

…this is in some sense a classic porter, although it is bottom-fermented. Unfortunately, although it has many adherents, I am not one of them as I find it a little disappointing.

Not only is he not looking for the next PR opportunity when he writes, he is a bit folksy while also well researched. He is a trained chemist and has been a professional brewer for over 40 years, according to his BYO bio. He is interested and as a result interesting.

Stouts: Freeminer Deep Shaft, Gloucestershire, England

dss1Who can resist when one reviewer says: ” Very possibly the darkest beer in the world.” Well…I suppose lots of people who do not like dark or black beer. But for people who understand that Guinness is actually red, this kind of line makes an ale very attractive.

Freeminer Brewery is one of the small brewers in the Wessex Craft Brewers Co-operative, a shadowy group that appears to make – or perhaps only bottle – fine traditional West Country English ales through some sort of equipment sharing. RCH Brewery, Ash Vine Brewery, Hand Brewed Beers and Freeminer Brewery all appear to have been part of the co-op. Ash Vine, makers of the excellent Hop and Glory pale ale which the LCBO carried in the spring of 2001, went under a couple of years ago. RCH started in a Hotel serving only the clientele. Small timers.

But small is good. The advocatonians rate it 4.31 out of 5 which is the only stout ahead of Guinness at 4.27. Which is all very nice but I have yet even to open the bottle, so verklempt I am over the Sox and Yanks going into the 10th inning as I type. The head is mocha and below, inky. The stout fan I married…yet did not buy a second of these for…equates a good stout with a good chocolate and that is there, fine graininess like espresso or dark chocolate. Raisins from dark crystal malt. Like Shipyard IPA, it only uses the woodsy Fuggles hop, so less minty than Guinness which uses Northern Brewer. The brewer says:

Guardian Bottle Conditioned beer of 1996. Not for wimps! Everything a BCB should be. Packed solid with malt, hops, and oats. Possibly the darkest stout of all time, a single varietal beer, made only with Fuggles hops, packed with bitterness, and brimming with aroma hopping, a deep and complex beer, worth taking some time over, and exploring the Hampton Court like maze of complex flavours. Initially, the dry, biscuit flavour of roast barley attacks the palate, soon to be replaced by the soothing Fuggles balm of rich smokiness, and then layer upon layer of malted oats, rich dark malts, and an unidentifiable eutectic¹ finish of pure stout character. The definitive stout for the discerning drinker, dive in and explore!!

Expensive at 4.99 USD for a single pint but this is pretty much the premier grand cru classé of stouts. If you were to look for a more available comparable stout you could try Royal Extra from Trinidad but you have to remove its sweetness and replace it with about 27 other layers of flavour. And that is impossible.

—–

¹Loverly word. “The lowest temperature at which a mix of two materials will melt. Often the temperature is an anomaly, that is, it is much lower than the melting temperatures of only slightly different mixtures. Lead-tin solder is an example. Lead melts at 327C, tin at 231C. The lowest melting combination is 67 lead, 33 tin (180C). Non-eutectic mixtures have a melting or softening range. Such mixtures do not flow well until thoroughly heated past the softening range. This softening phenomenon is what makes glazes hang onto the ware.”

More English Pale Ales

bomb2In the spirit of the post that had to end, I picked up two world classy pale ales from Engherlant – Charles Wells Bombardier and Shepherd Neame Spitfire, both bought at the main LCBO in downtown Kingston. Bombardier is pretty much available year round now while the Spitfire is part of a seasonal selection they bring in each autumn. While that is great, I wonder why they need to rotate and also why do they only bring in one Shepard Neame product. Clearly they have access to the distributor and clearly there is a market for this sort of quality. Sometimes the beer buyers of the LCBO amaze me. Fifteen types of identical eastern European lager for sale every day. Dribs and drabs of quality unique ales. As the single largest buyer of alcohol products on the planet – fact – the LCBO should do better, given that a corner store in the ‘burbs of Syracuse, NY State, can put it to shame for variety, price and quality. I invite the LCBO to take up my call and ask me to lend a hand.

Charles Wells Bombardier: left, is at the limit of pale ale and old ale due to its mahogany hue and rich raisin dark crystal malt profile. This is a standby for me in the winter when I need an ale…”need”…it is all about need. Christmas cake rum rich, it also has a good balanced hop bite but one that is subdued compared to the malt. For all that flavour, the body is not heavy compared to other pales we have lived through together, either from the USA or England. As a result, it is quite refreshing – not stodgy. Like me. Anyway, it comes in a 586 ml bottle, a full Imperial pint. Empire! The Beer Advocatonians approve, this review being typical:

The taste. Ooooh, the taste? There is a distinct bitterness matched with a solid body right from the start. There are notes of dried fruits, nuts, diacetyl and a gentle touch of alcohol develops into a cream-like mouthfeel and a very complex bitterness with flavours of lemon, bitter almonds, raisins, cocoa and gunpowder. The aftertaste lasts for ages, and keeps on developing well after ten minutes.

Ummm….dried fruits. Sound weird but never tastes weird. Diacetyl is a butterscotchy thing that can be an error in the brewing of one beer and a blessing in the next. Here, good. For the record, due to events prior to my high school graduation involving thoughtfully made rockets and reasonable explosions over certain make-out parking areas of Truro, I can personally confirm the gunpowder comment.

Shepherd Neame Spitfire Kentish Ale: right, is made by England’s oldest brewery dating from 1698 out of Faversham, Kent. Hoppy but given what I have been able to sup this summer, the hops are not out in front by any respect compared to, say, Tröegs Pale Ale. The hops are citrusy but to my palate are more orange and lime as opposed to the lemon and grapefruit a lot of US varieties will give you. It is a nicely refined bitter and, at 4.5% more of an Extra Special Bitter than an India Pale Ale. Not heavy in the mouth and not overwhelmingly malty. It actually just whelms rather nicely. A very civil ale. Fine where the Bombardier above is fullsome. Well received by the advocatonians. Very subdued toffee, unlike Old Speckled Hen but definitely similar in style. The brewer says:

Tasting notes: Crafted from traditional varieties of English malt, this golden ale combines an underlying depth of maltiness, tinged with a subtle hint of toffee, with the bold citrus and fruity spiciness of Kentish hops, to produce a well-balanced, thirst quenching, popular drink…Containers: 34 pint Polypin, 9 gallon Firkin, 18 gallon Kilderkin, 500ml Bottle, 440ml can and 25cl Stubby.

Ahhh…to be able to pop around for a firkin or quarter keg. I have the 500ml version, by the way. As with wine the volume and construction of the container can make a difference. You would not lay down a polypin or can but a firkin or kilderkin of any brew over 6% would do very well being buried three feet down away from frost for a few months.

Both very worthy additions to any cellar.

Five…Seven…err…Eight English Pales Ales

Unlike my recent exposé on Belgian whites, this collection took at seven minute trip to the local LCBO and cost between $2.75 and $3.00 CND per 500 ml bottle. The seasonal selection of beers they bring in is quite good and you can find some nice choices in a single style to compare. These are all English pale ales of a strength that might qualify them as extra special bitters (ESB) rather than the weaker ordinary bitter (3-4% roughly) or the higher test India Pale Ales (7% and over). As I crack them open, I will add to these reviews.  The beers should reflect four things – quality grains, pure water, intellegent yeast selection and a balancing bite of top notch hops. Beyond that there are some characteristics that go to the brewer’s technique.

Later: Further research funds have been located and two more examples acquired from the LCBO, Black Sheep and Old Speckled Hen. I know Ale Fan is a fan of the latter, it being from his home town but it would be interesting to get some thoughts on the Black Sheep and other the other pale ales.

Later Still: …and how could I leave out Fuller’s London Pride?

Here are my comments:

Hopback Summer Lightning – The first beer in the group I have tried is Summer Lightning by the Hopback Brewery of Downton, Salisbury, England. At 5% it is not a huge beer by Canadian standards – where 5% is our norm. It is, however, as lovely as your average Molson’s or Labatt’s product is not. A hopback is a vessel used in the brewing process before kegging which is basically a bucket of hop blossoms which the beer is allowed to wash over. I would have though with this name, the beer would be a massively bitter ale. It is not. The first thing you smell is the grain – “best Barley malt” says the label. I am used as a lapsed homebrewer to actually knowing the strain of barley malt being used. Have a look at the grain selection at Paddock Wood, Canada’s great Prairie homebrew supply shop. I would like to think that the lads at Hopback would like to tell me if this is Maris Otter pale malt or not. The Summer Lightning label, however, tells me more about Zeus for some reason. Nice enough but still somewhat lame branding. And completely unrequired as the CAMRA and other brewing awards on the label proves. A lovely rich ale which would serve anyone well as an introduction to the style.

Marston Pedigree. Such a interesting beer but as this graph tells, it is a different world since Maggie held the reigns. “Brewed in wood” the cap says but there is little to recommend this ale in light of the other options. Stale? Over manufactured? Bland? It may be brewed in the wood but there is so little of the wood left in the ale that there may as well be a line on the label that says “a tad of caramel added”. There should be more than a slight astrigent tang and some caramel to justify the claim to wood brewing. Am I too harsh?

Later: I think I have been too harsh and wonder whether a wood brewed and aged ale is too different an animal to compare.

Wychwood Brewery Fiddler’s Elbow. Hoppy hoppy hoppy but not Burtonized water – below the hops it is fairly soft. It says on the lable that it is a blend of barley and wheat malt hopped with Styrians. I don’t know what “hopped with Styrians” means to non-beer-nerds but it is a variant of Fuggles, an early UK hop, which is grown in the Czech Republic. Tangy and with the lack of acidified water fairly green and organic. If you think that Smithwicks is a classic pale ale, you will find this like drinking ice tea that the 20 bags per litre have been left in overnight. Great on a hot day.

Old Speckled Hen. If Wychwood is a hop fest, OSH is an elegant expression of the same theme. The malt is biscuity, like in some champaign. Then the sweet of the crystal malt and the sweet of the alcohol add up to a butter toffee thing. The hops are pronounced and green on top with a rough bitter edge as well leaving a sour grapefruit tang. The water is not as soft as the Wychwood and there is a faint smokey thing in there, like Islay malt whisky over apple fruit yeast. This is a fine ale with many levels. It must be amazing on tap at Bury St. Edmunds where it is brewed by Greene King. If in Ontario, splurg on the bottle rather than the can. If you can only get the can get the can.

Black Sheep Ale. This is fairly austere, not unlike a richer version of a Canadian pale ale, perhaps what Molson Stock Ale or Moosehead pale ale red lable might have tasted like 50 years ago. Drier with rougher hops than the Old Speckled Hen. The bitterness has no green to it and it is more grainy than malty – pale malts with maybe a little rolled barley or rolled wheat even. Black Sheep is a yorkshire pale ale so wheat would not be unexpected. Very well balanced and if you are looking for something to start into the English ales from Canada and wanting to avoid the brown crayon water called Smithwicks or whatever, this is a good one to try.

St. Peter’s Summer Ale: The first thing that strikes you, after you have opened the distinctive flask like bottle, is the big body. It is a surprisingly big as Black Sheep was lighter than expected. The hops are very herby – not just grassy green but heavy like basil can be. Every beer I have had from St. Peter’s is a revelation and I think this one is the use of liquorice. I had an ale a few years ago called Hop and Glory which had liquorice in it. It creates body and enriches the hop complexity. Both Al Korzonas in Homebrewing, Volume One and Dave Line in The Big Book of Brewing treat it as a background ingredient in big beers like stouts or dubbles. In this case, with a lighter style, it creates a sort of salad in a glass effect through wise hop selection. It might make a great chaser for Pernod or even a poaching liquid for salmon.

Fuller’s London Pride. Balance between hop and malt, sweet and dry, real body and refreshment. Fuller’s flagship brand. David Line wrote in his 1978 book Brewing Beers Like Those you Buy

If I had to select just one beer to drink the rest of my days it would have to be “London Pride”; a classic example of a true English Bitter Beer.

Twenty years later, Roger Protz in Brew Your Own British Real Ale wrote:

An astonishingly complex beer for its gravity, fine for drinking on its own or with full flavoured food. A multi-layered delight of malt and hops and a deep instense finish with hop and ripening fruit notes.

Gravity is the measure of a brew’s potential for alcohol. In the bottle, it comes in at 4.7%. What else to say? The placement of the edge of bitter mimics a much higher alcohol ale while the malt display a real fruitiness that is amazing when you know it somes from the manipulation of a grain. I am fairly confident in saying it is Maris Otter pale ale that gives the apple and caramel background. Worthy without a doubt.

Hook Norton Haymaker. Haymaker is a great name for a pale ale. We think of it in North America as a euphamism for a knock-out punch but it was also a trade, a person who made hay. This ale is evocative – only sold in summer, full of fruit and hop, a reminder that beer, like wine, is a means to store the harvest. At 5.0%, for the UK market it would also be seen to pack a bit of a punch. The brewery’s web site states it is only available in July and August. The aroma and first flush in the mouth is rich and floral but not cloying, with a hint in the background graininess that reminds me of Moosehead products like their Ten Penny or Red Label Pale Ale as they were brewed in the 80s, with a bit of the smell of an attic in an old house, slightly stale old wood. Somewhere in there is sweet old stored winter apple as well. Again, it puts me in the hayloft of an old barn when the cicadas buzz late on a hot August Saturday afternoon. I think of all the pale ales I have reviewed this is my favorite, an excellently balanced celebration of good pale malt.

For now I will leave this post at the eight reviewed above. If anything, this is confirmation for me of the excellence of the LCBO and its ability to place great product on the shelves. Perhaps this is only my years on the barrens of PEI speaking – which to be fair drove me to homebrew well, examine my love of beer closely and form a library of now pushing 40 books on the subject. Last night after soccer in Belleville, I drove back with a few beer lovers who were amazed to know there was much to know about beer other than how to find the opener. Halfway through life, I can say that I look forward to knowing more.

Book Review: Beer -The Story of the Pint by Martyn Cornell

Last July, I wrote a review of Pete Brown’s book Man Walks into a Pub. Over 7 weeks later, A reply was posted by Martyn Cornell:

I had better declare a massive interest before I begin, since I’m the author of Beer: The Story of the Pint, which came out two months after Pete Brown’s book. I’ve met Pete, he’s a nice guy, and his book contains, in its second half, an excellent analysis of where the brewing industry in Britain is today. It’s a pity the first half does not seem to have had as much research put into it, as it repeats all the old myths about the history of beer my own book attempts to correct – myths which add up to rather more than “a few” factual errors. I wouldn’t ask you to take my word for it – read both books, and let me know what you think.

Before I knew it I shelled out 18.92 Euros through amazon.co.uk and a few weeks ago the book arrived. Paying the $2.20 or so for GST [and the most cursed $5.00 more for the Canada Post GST collection charge – a money grab worthy of Aliant] I ran right home and started into the read.

Now, I have over 30 books about beer. Some are style guides about the history of and how to make, say, Stout or German Wheat Ale. Others are technical works like the ever popular The Biotechnology of Malting and Brewing by J.S Hough (1985, Cambridge)while others are layperson homebrewing guides like the classic 1970’s The Big Book of Brewing by David Line (12th ed, 1985, Amateur Winemaker). Some, like Beer: The Story of the Pint are histories of the phenomena of beer drinking and the brewing industry. I have three or four of these now which focus on the history of the English industry:

Beer and Britannia: An Inebriated History of Britain by Peter Haydon (2001, Sutton)
Beer: The Story of the Pint by Martyn Cornell (2003, Headline)
Man Walks into a Pub by Pete Brown (2003, MacMillan) and
The English Pub by Michael Jackson (1976, Harper & Row).

The latter text is the ish-ish one as it is largely a photo essay on the elements of the pub but it contains as much historical information as any so I include it here. So where does the most recent text fall in?

Let’s just say from the outset that I am biased myself as I will buy any book about beer and find something useful in it. In that sense I am speaking as a a collector more than as a book reviewer. Further, I was particularly pleased to be contacted by the author and even more pleased by a continuing email correspondence we have shared. At one point in my reading, I wrote to say that I was somewhat frustrated by the lack of footnoting, to which Mr Cornell replied:

Mmmmm – trouble is, the general feeling in the publishing world is that footnotes equal elitist-looking equals lost sales, except if they’re jokey asides as per Pete Brown’s book. This may be wrong, but it’s what publishers think. The aim of Beer: TSOTP was to try to appeal both to people, like yourself, who already knew a lot about beer and brewing, and also to people looking for a Christmas present for Uncle Ernie (since by getting them to buy the book, I and the publisher make more money …), hence no footnotes so as not to put off the Uncle Ernie crowd. However, to make up for this a little, I tried to make the bibliography as complete as possible, and also chapter-specific, to help people track references down.

Cheers, Martyn Cornell

He is, of course, right…and even knows I have an Uncle Ernie, who lives in the Scottish Borders (blessedly near Traquair House) and who would, indeed, like these books for Christmas. The bibliography provided by Mr. Cornell is extensive, running 14 pages, and wil add muchly to my hunt for more books to buy.

That all being said, it was the first half of the book I enjoyed the most – the history of brewing to very roughly 1850. The latter part I found became a recitation of corporate mergers in the English brewing industry. In the first part a compelling argument concerning the history of porter is set out, the meaning of the XX and KK system described and the pre-1500 story set out more clearly and supported by more extensive research than in any other book I have read. He is, however and for example, lighter on the place of mild from 1850 to 1950 than the others, yet does the best job in explaining Burton. They all, however, miss the best reference to that latter strong ale in Wind in the Willows when Rat and Mole in the chapter “Dulce Domum” discover it in Mole’s old pantry as they prepare a winter night’s feed:

The Rat, meanwhile, was busy examining the lable on one of the beer-bottles. “I perceive this to be Old Burton,’ he remarked approvingly. “Sensible Mole! The very thing! Now we shall be able to mull some ale! Get the things ready, Mole, while I draw the corks.”

Old Burton can be enjoyed in Ontario every winter with the supply of Samuel Smith’s “Winter Welcome” or Young’s “Winter Warmer”, the latter renamed as such in 1971 from the previous “Burton Ale”, as we learn on page 206 of Cornell.

When I compare Cornell’s work to that of Haydon, I find the latter has the better description of 1800 to 1950. Similarly when I add Brown to the mix, he has the best explanation of 1950 to now. What Haydon and Brown achieve is contextualizing the place of beer in English society during those periods, the former in terms of the political and regulatory overlay, the latter in terms of consumerism and marketing. Cornell’s success is setting the greater social context better than the others before 1800 and especially before 1500. My verdict? Buy all of them – and find an old coffee table sized copy of Jacksons The English Pub for more illustrations. Each will add to the others both in terms of the overall timeline and interpretation of particular facts.

Beer: The Story of the Pint

Last July, I wrote a review of Pete Brown’s book Man Walks into a Pub. Over 7 weeks later, A reply was posted by Martyn Cornell:

I had better declare a massive interest before I begin, since I’m the author of Beer: The Story of the Pint, which came out two months after Pete Brown’s book. I’ve met Pete, he’s a nice guy, and his book contains, in its second half, an excellent analysis of where the brewing industry in Britain is today. It’s a pity the first half does not seem to have had as much research put into it, as it repeats all the old myths about the history of beer my own book attempts to correct – myths which add up to rather more than “a few” factual errors. I wouldn’t ask you to take my word for it – read both books, and let me know what you think.

Before I knew it I shelled out 18.92 Euros through amazon.co.uk and a few weeks ago the book arrived. Paying the $2.20 or so for GST [and the most cursed $5.00 more for the Canada Post GST collection charge – a money grab worthy of Aliant] I ran right home and started into the read.

Now, I have over 30 books about beer. Some are style guides about the history of and how to make, say, Stout or German Wheat Ale. Others are technical works like the ever popular The Biotechnology of Malting and Brewing by J.S Hough (1985, Cambridge)while others are layperson homebrewing guides like the classic 1970’s The Big Book of Brewing by David Line (12th ed, 1985, Amateur Winemaker). Some, like Beer: The Story of the Pint are histories of the phenomena of beer drinking and the brewing industry. I have three or four of these now which focus on the history of the English industry:

Beer and Britannia: An Inebriated History of Britain by Peter Haydon (2001, Sutton)

Beer: The Story of the Pint by Martyn Cornell (2003, Headline)

Man Walks into a Pub by Pete Brown (2003, MacMillan) and

The English Pub by Michael Jackson (1976, Harper & Row).

The latter text is the ish-ish one as it is largely a photo essay on the elements of the pub but it contains as much historical information as any so I include it here. So where does the most recent text fall in?

Lets just say from the outset that I am biased myself as I will buy any book about beer and find something useful in it. In that sense I am speaking as a a collector more than as a book reviewer. Further, I was particularly pleased to be contacted by the author and even more pleased by a continuing email correspondence we have shared. At one point in my reading, I wrote to say that I was somewhat frustrated by the lack of footnoting, to which Mr Cornell replied:

Mmmmm – trouble is, the general feeling in the publishing world is that footnotes equal elitist-looking equals lost sales, except if they’re jokey asides as per Pete Brown’s book. This may be wrong, but it’s what publishers think. The aim of Beer: TSOTP was to try to appeal both to people, like yourself, who already knew a lot about beer and brewing, and also to people looking for a Christmas present for Uncle Ernie (since by getting them to buy the book, I and the publisher make more money …), hence no footnotes so as not to put off the Uncle Ernie crowd. However, to make up for this a little, I tried to make the bibliography as complete as possible, and also chapter-specific, to help people track references down.

Cheers, Martyn Cornell

He is, of course, right…and even knows I have an Uncle Ernie, who lives in the Scottish Borders (blessedly near Traquair House) and who would, indeed, like these books for Christmas. The bibliography provided by Mr. Cornell is extensive, running 14 pages, and wil add muchly to my hunt for more books to buy.

That all being said, it was the first half of the book I enjoyed the most – the history of brewing to very roughly 1850. The latter part I found became a recitation of corporate mergers in the English brewing industry. In the first part a compelling argument concerning the history of porter is set out, the meaning of the XX and KK system described and the pre-1500 story set out more clearly and supported by more extensive research than in any other book I have read. He is, however and for example, lighter on the place of mild from 1850 to 1950 than the others, yet does the best job in explaining Burton. They all, however, miss the best reference to that latter strong ale in Wind in the Willows when Rat and Mole in the chapter “Dulce Domum” discover it in Mole’s old pantry as they prepare a winter night’s feed:

The Rat, meanwhile, was busy examining the lable on one of the beer-bottles. “I perceive this to be Old Burton,’ he remarked approvingly. “Sensible Mole! The very thing! Now we shall be able to mull some ale! Get the things ready, Mole, while I draw the corks.”

Old Burton can be enjoyed in Ontario every winter with the supply of Samuel Smith’s “Winter Welcome” or  Young’s “Winter Warmer”, the latter renamed as such in 1971 from the previous “Burton Ale”, as we learn on page 206 of Cornell.

When I compare Cornell’s work to that of Haydon, I find the latter has the better description of 1800 to 1950. Similarly when I add Brown to the mix, he has the best explanation of 1950 to now. What Haydon and Brown achieve is contextualizing the place of beer in English society during those periods, the former in terms of the political and regulatory overlay, the latter in terms of consumerism and marketing. Cornell’s success is setting the greater social context better than the others before 1800 and especially before 1500.  My verdict? Buy all of them – and find an old coffee table sized copy of Jacksons The English Pub for more illustrations. Each will add to the others both in terms of the overall timeline and interpretation of particular facts.

Po-Tree

About twenty years ago right about now, I was entering the third year of my four-year slacker-paced BA in English Lit. I can’t say I have carried the literary banner high since about then, especially as law just about killed my ability to read books – as being an usher in a playhouse just about killed my ability to sit through a play or a movie. But, this being the first summer since 1991 that I have not spent September picking beans, digging up spuds or braiding onions, one poem kicks tricking its way into my mind: Keats’s Ode to Autumn. [Once, when absent mindedly signing up for seminars, one of the others, all-female in romantic poetry, tuned and said – “sorry, I took the last Keats”. I couldn’t recall when I had been aleing with her. I had thought she said “Keith’s”]   So, in honour of three years of English Lit classes, the impending season and our planning for the next garden plot in, maybe, 2005, here you are, copyright-free ’cause he’s a long time dead.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,–
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Hmmm… full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn… time for the mint sauce.

Man Walks Into a Pub, by Pete Brown

manwalksI bought another beer book. I picked up a copy of “Man Walks into a Pub” by Pete Brown on Thursday after noon and it was done by Sunday. Not bad for guy with kiddies. The Guardian said:

So, as well as the irreverent approach Brown takes to beer’s history, he has a refreshingly sensible take on its present.

Sensible is an interesting word. Most beer books are written by nerdy homebrewers or self-appointed gurus like Michael Jackson. Both have a technical interest or at least the desire to impart a reverence for the subject. …I hope the bag of chips are for him…Brown is an advertising executive who has handled both the Heineken and Stella Artois accounts and a someime talking head for TV in the UK on things beery. It shows. He treats fans of real ale as hobbiest and treats them with slightly less contempt than temperence unionists and government regulators. But most of the time not without reason.

That being said, the book is easily accessible, funny and, but for a few factual errors you would only know after having a collection of books and subscriptions to a couple of magazine about beer, a pretty good history of the subject from a 2003 English, rather than even British, perspective. Unlike any other book I have read, Brown focuses on why and how people in England actually drink beer, how they are affected by advertising and changes in pub ownership, and how lager has come to dominate the market while being vapid bubble water – even if from something of a natural apologist’s point of view.

Find a pint of Hook Norton Haymaker or Old Hooky and have a giggle at the expense of lager drinkers.