1903 Cellaring for Cask Beers vs. Today

In the last two posts, I’ve discussed the 1903 Report of the Committee, presided by Albert Grey 1st Earl Roberts, that recommended improvements to the Army Canteen and Regimental Institutes system.

I’ll return to this subject later, in particular regarding the importance of Lord Frederick Roberts in this history, and the recommendations the Committee made.

For now, I want to bring forward the chart included in the Report on how to treat malt liquors. This was a formal way to describe how the canteens cellared their cask-conditioned beers. All draught beers then were cask beers, the type which the Campaign for Real Ale (founded 1971) later defended ardently from the onset of filtered and pasteurized beers as well as lager.

I’d like to solicit commentary, from CAMRA members or others interested, how the recommendations in this chart relate to current best cellaring practice.

Comment generally by all means, but some questions I have: why was mild ale treated differently than bitter? Why is there no (apparent) reference to hard pegging, but just a soft or porous peg? Why were porter and stout not vented?

To the extent it matters, bear in mind that under Queen’s Regulations mild ale for the army was OG 1045,* bitter, 1053, porter 1053 but 1058 in Ireland, and stout 1065. These were minimums that sometimes were exceeded by two or three degrees by brewers careful to ensure they didn’t miss the target mark (although some did when tests were done).

Cellaring has been addressed in British beer history in various ways since the 1700s but I can’t recall seeing anything this detailed that early, certainly.

N.B. See the Comments for further discussion, as well as our next post.


*It appears a few years earlier the rules enacted under the Regulation had different minimums for porter and mild ale, see here in 1898.


3 thoughts on “1903 Cellaring for Cask Beers vs. Today”

  1. Here is another period resource, from 1902.

    This is a narrative, by W.H. Blake, written from a brewing technician’s standpoint in a brewing journal. It focuses on areas not addressed in the army’s chart, e.g. adding finings, or certain local practices that have since (even then to a degree) died out.

    As one might expect from a technician, a colder range is specified than the army approved, verging more toward what Peter indicated applies today.

    Most significantly IMO, the 1902 article does not distinguish among beer types. No space? Or the writer didn’t think different beers warranted different treatment? Some other reason? Hard to say. Some 19th century commentary on cellaring referred to pegging for porter (hence venting) without mention of special rules, seeming to treat all beer the same.

    This is where the 1903 chart really shines, IMO. The plain truth seems to be, what we now regard as vital cellaring treatment to dispense all cask-conditioned beer simply didn’t apply to porter, and applied to mild ale quite differently than now, at least as regards a major consumer of beer, the British Army. However, I will continue research to see if further light can be shed.


  2. Had a look at this again Gary. One or two things are inconsistent with what I’d do now.

    Tilting backwards to ensure hops don’t go into the keystone is a new one on me. Nowadays even dry hopped beers are usually in pellet form and hop filters sort that out anyway.

    I’m guessing here that porter and stout should not be vented as they would be served with more condition to allow a decent head. Not venting would help carbonate the beer more.

    Cellar temperatures are on the warm side. I’d say 51F to 56F (11-13C) at the outside is what we’d like to see now.

    On the whole though – not much different – and I like the remark that it applies “generally”. In other words it is guidance or best practice, not rules.



    • Thanks Peter, this is very helpful. Your long experience in cellaring practice and with CAMRA adds greatly here.

      I think for bitter or pale ale, the position is substantially the same as 1903, setting aside cellar temps as you noted, and perhaps no hard pegging meant they liked it quite flat.

      But to my knowledge mild today, as well as porter and stout, are cellared the same way as bitter and pale ale. Not so under army canteen practice then, which in part I think reflects their greater importance in the market then.

      Hence, more “fine points” were devoted to their dispense, meaning a different treatment. High condition for porter as you suggested, and also I think, a short cellaring for mild because i) weaker than the other beers, ii) less hopped. For mild, a shut and open case we might say..



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