This is roughly the era when the ads of 1849 and 1850 came out that I discussed yesterday.
As I wrote in a comment to the post, I shouldn’t have presumed what Bass and Allsopp were exporting without checking. The Lancet piece (and other Lancet analyses of beer including pale and bitter ales) is useful because it focuses on stars of the India Pale Ale market. By then, the Bow Brewery of London was much reduced in influence. It came under different ownership about the time this Lancet article appeared, as Smith Garrett, and was absorbed finally by a large brewer and disappeared.
The beers reviewed were exhibits at a grand exhibition. This made it easy for the Lancet to secure samples, especially perhaps as some draft beer was analysed. The Bass numbers do tally with my recollection of Victorian Bass Pale Ale as generally a 7% abv beer. The numbers given for Bass, which appear to be by weight, are 5.31-5.59 (different samples). This equates to 6.7-7.03 abv. Today, Bass Ale as available on draft in Toronto is 4% abv. I believe the American-made version (both are licensed production) is 5% abv. Bass was strong then, by that comparison.
It was not strong compared to the next group though, an admittedly small sample, but still.
The single pale ale of Salt was 7.76 abw, or 9.8 abv. The Lancet called it “very strong”. In my view, there is some reason to analogize this language to “rather heavy” and “prodigious strength” that I discussed yesterday in relation to Hodgson Pale Ale. But even if you knock a point off to be conservative, a 9% abv Hodgson Pale Ale was pretty strong stuff. That was stronger than double stout was generally in the 1800s.
Allsopp’s range came in at 6.15-8.46 abw, or 7.70-10.71 by volume.
This is all some 100 years after Hodgson’s started to seek a market in India. Was Hodgson getting the same yields, or extract efficiency, in the 1760s that brewers were getting 100 years later? The assumption of 80 pounds per quarter of malt (see my second comment yesterday), a contemporary rule of thumb, may have been optimistic for the late 1700s. Yet, brewing writers speak of such yields, sometimes 78 pounds per quarter, then. Many factors impact including how the hops were handled. They can absorb a lot of wort and there are a lot of hops in IPA.
Roberts’ average of 1068 OG for export IPAs, a group of 10 beers he analyzed, needs to be considered as well. Maybe a way to look at it is to take a mean between 7% abv and 9% abv, giving 8% which I suggested yesterday was a minimum strength for Hodgson Pale Ale.
We can’t know for certain. But using the reasoning in my last notes, e.g., comparison to an “October” beer in 1849, and factoring the known high abvs of some IPA in the mid-1800s, I think Hodgson’s Pale Ale had to reach at least that 8%. Maybe it was stronger still, and Salt was its successor in this regard, or Allsopp’s top end in the sample above.
The narratives of “very strong” and the “special reputation” surely were connected to high strength, whatever else the India Hodgson’s had going for it. Ancestrally, “good” in beer meant strong. The more alcohol, the better beer was, in taste and value. Many factors worked against selling beer strong, everything from brewers’ margins to concerns about alcohol abuse (leading to Temperance campaigns, finally).
If Hodgson’s was prized you can be fairly certain, or I am, it was no washy stuff.
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