Postwar Cellaring Practice by H & G Simonds

A descendant of the Simonds family of Reading, U.K., has placed a great deal of company archival material online to assist research into the history of H & G Simonds Ltd. and the family. I’ve mentioned this brewery a number of times, including in connection with testimony by Louis Simonds in 1903 before an inquiry on army canteens.

The Simonds website includes 1950s and early ’60s price lists covering not just draught and bottled beers but wines imported by a branch business. Activities of affiliated breweries (three in the 1950s) are included, and a history of dealings with the army both in Britain and foreign locales (Malta, Gibraltar, Egypt, etc.). There are scans of the house or employees’ magazine as well, mid-20th century era.

To all this (just a partial description) must be added academic dissertations on the brewery; a number are reproduced.

Here, I want to draw attention to a guide on cellar management issued for pub tenants, especially new ones. It bears no date, while a guide to bottling and pasteurizing beer that appears just above it bears a 1951 date. Based on graphics and lay-out I’d place the cellaring pamphlet about 1955.

Things had evolved it appears in British brewing from circa 1900 when the army (for its part) had detailed guidelines for cellaring different beer types. I discussed this earlier in a series of posts. One may start here.

By 1955, at least for H & G Simonds, its guide does not distinguish between different types of beer. The closest treatment between the army guide and Simonds’ is in relation to bitter, and true, Simonds’ appears to have produced draught bitter only (no draught mild) by the late 1950s.

Compare Simonds’ price lists from 1953 (p. 24) and 1960 set out on this page from the site. In ’53, mild and strong draught ales were still supplied along with the pales. By 1960 it’s only pale ale, designated East India Pale. Perhaps though some of Simonds’ affiliated breweries supplied mild ale.

Taking all with all, I think that by the 1950s, generally in British practice, mild ale was being cellared the same as bitter, and older refinements were abandoned.

But even if the guide should be considered specific to pale ale, things were still different from 1900. Instead of seven days to rest, spile, tap, and dispense as in the army chart, it’s now two to three days. There might be numerous reasons for the evolution, including refinements in production and consistency. It’s also possible things were simply “rushed” more in later years, under pressure of more competition and saving time and money.

 

 

Notable also is the rationale stated in Simonds’ guide for spiling (insertion of wood pegs to allow a controlled venting of carbonation). There is no reference to palate, to the slight bubble and extra taste or texture today regarded as gastronomic virtues for cask ale.

Rather, we are given a rather clinical explanation. Three reasons are offered up for venting before dispense by spiling:

– the finings in the cask, meant to clarify the beer, are enabled to work

–  the reduced pressure will avoid damage to (evidently wood) casks

–  beer will not be lost in tapping (presumably through spraying out and such).

Can it be that the thin carbonation of cask-conditioned beer, a badge of honour to cask enthusiasts today, had purely practical origins? I think it is entirely possible. It is not as if fizzy beer was ever rejected in British brewing. Bottled and canned beer were always fizzy. Of course today draft lager (and keg ale) is as well, available in almost every British pub.

We saw earlier too that the army’s chart stipulated no venting for porter and stout, suggesting all things equal, drinkers preferred a fizzy body and creamy head. The one thing they didn’t get is clarity, but clarity isn’t necessary in a black-hued beer! It was always a desideratum for pale and mild ales in British practice (with some relaxation under craft protocols in recent years).

Yes, Simonds was one brewery in one period, but necessity often is the mother not just of invention, but pedigree. Those early beer critics in the 1970s who grumbled that keg beer was “all piss and wind, like a barber’s cat”* may have been (sorry) conditioned by generations of practice more than anything else.

The guide was written by Simonds’s head brewer and I think likely he expressed the matter in practical terms as handed down within brewery precincts for generations. It’s different now, but we’ve had decades of beer critics lyricizing the virtues of cask ale.**

Note re image: image above was sourced from the entry on H &G Simonds Lt., at the Brewery History website, here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to lawful owner. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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* From an early book by Michael Jackson.

** Make no mistake, we like it too. It should be said as well, connoisseurship of this sort is relatively new.