A Macardle Makes his Case in Pall Mall

Among the nuggets in the War Office Report of 1903 on managing army canteens is the testimony of an evidently ebullient and witty Thomas Callan Macardle. He represented the Macardle Moore brewery of Dundalk, Ireland. Dundalk is in the northeast, just below what became the border with Northern Ireland.

The inquiry was presided by Albert Grey, 4th Earl Grey, a name well-known in Canada due to his service here as Governor-General (appointed 1904).

Macardle’s testimony is both instructive and entertaining. After explaining why he wanted to speak the Earl asked him – unfairly I think but probably with a smile – if he had an “Irish grievance”. Macardle’s neat riposte: “You never saw an Irishman who had not”.

Macardle argued before the committee that the army should not be solely guided by price when choosing a brewer. Other considerations applied, he said, including quality, reputation, and the fact of being a local business.

He suggested Britain could boost the popularity of its troops in Ireland if it dealt with local firms. He also noted that Irish brewers bought Irish malt made from Irish barley. He said if Irish malting declined the fields would “turn to grass”, with yet more emigration.

He was prepared to offer in his line beer from Bass (England) as well as Scotch Ale so his range would not be considered too narrow.

The Committee continually reminded Macardle that its mandate was solely to decide how to manage canteens in the best interests of the soldiers.

But the discussion wended. Asked if Irish brewers bought a lot of malt in England Macardle agreed they did, especially Guinness given its size. But he insisted that Irish barley accounted for a majority of the malt used in Ireland. Pressed to provide barley acreage figures, he countered: “I suppose this does not come within your scope”. Touché.

Macardle pointed out he had lost contracts through a small price difference. Explaining that on one occasion a “Burton brewer”, probably Bass, trumped him he noted the oddity of Burton sending porter and stout – and even “Irish whiskey” – to Ireland. (Where the whiskey came from, I don’t know).

Macardle stated baldly an opinion held by many then: nowhere was better stout and porter brewed than in Ireland. The implication was, the army was overlooking quality.

Asked why he didn’t sell his beer in England Macardle retorted that transport costs made it impracticable: the price would rise by a third.

An interesting exchange occurred concerned beer gravity. The army in England stipulated OG 1053, or a little over 5% ABV, as the minimum strength to supply porter. In Ireland, the starting gravity was set at 1058, about 6% ABV, I believe under the same garrison regulations. Macardle thought 1058 too strong, likely because (or how I read his remarks) soldiers drank less strong beer than weaker.

Asked why a difference of five degrees, which only applied to porter, existed, Macardle offered a reason connected to Guinness, but I don’t find it persuasive. More likely, I think the difference was explained by Irish porter having a higher average strength than English porter before WW I, although I need to check further on this.

Macardle wanted to sell the army porter at 1045 OG, so about 4.5% ABV. That was the level in England to supply army mild ale, the weakest beer for which tenders could be made. In his testimony (see my earlier post) the Reading brewer Louis Simonds argued that even 1045 was too high.

As brewing science became more sophisticated, and with excise taking an ever-larger share, brewers soon understood it was in their interest to lower beer strength. It’s a story familiar in the beer history of Britain and Ireland and for many other countries.

Macardle’s is an excellent case study in business adaptability. The firm thrived under both British and Home rule notwithstanding its close association with HM forces for decades which continued through WW I. Indeed a son of Thomas was killed at the Somme.

The brewery continued into the 1960s when it formed a grouping with Smithwicks and Guinness. By the 1980s Diageo had taken over completely. Diageo still produces an Irish red ale under the Macardle name.







Report of the Committee Appointed to Consider the Existing Conditions under which Canteens and Regimental Institutes are Conducted; Together With Minority Report and Appendices (1903)

Cellarmanship a la 1903 – and More

The military and alcohol is a vast subject. There have been hundreds and perhaps thousands of specialist, often academic, studies. They look at alcoholism rates, health and mortality, alcohol policy in peacetime or specific wars, and so on. Most of my examinations have involved the reaction of the soldiery, including when stationed in another country, to types of beer available.

The subject comes up incidentally in many other types of studies including general military histories.

As far as I know, there are few book-length studies. Brian Glover wrote a book on beer and WW II (Brewing for Victory: Brewers, Beer and Pubs in World War II). Ron Pattinson’s two books on the world wars, which study beer recipes and other aspects of wartime beer policy, should be noted as well. At least one book was written on the history of the naval rum ration.

A complementary area is drug use and the military. Norman Ohler wrote a well-received book some years ago on drugs in the German army and officialdom during the Nazi regime. He stated that alcohol is little addressed in the book simply because it deserves a separate study.

Today I will draw attention to a document of great interest as regards the British military and alcohol. It is the Report of the Committee Appointed to Consider the Existing Conditions under which Canteens and Regimental Institutes are Conducted; Together With Minority Report and Appendices.

The 400-page Report was published in 1903 in London by Eyre & Spottiswoode. It was part of an increased focus since the 1860s on soldiers’ leisure options to improve their health and fitness for duty. The Report deals with every conceivable aspect of beer consumption and supply to canteens, the detail is superb. Aldershot was often the source of witnesses, but some came from as far as Ireland.

A first stage of reform was creation of the Regimental Institutes in the prior 20 years. This was an initiative of Frederick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts, V.C. (and many other honours). He first implemented the plan in the British Indian Army where he had long served.

Under the Regimental Institutes, the liquor bar was adjoined to a coffee and meals room, recreation area, library, and a retail shop, to lessen the focus on drinking. But various problems arose in this regard too, which led to an inquiry at Pall Mall. After extensive hearings and consultations, the Report was issued. Soldiers of all ranks were examined including private and other non-commissioned ranks.

My interest for present purposes is the parts that deal with beer as such. There is considerable detail, including a chart of cellaring practice, “The Treatment of Malt Liquor”. Quite a fascinating document, I think.

Minimum gravities, deriving from garrison regulations, were stipulated in contracts to supply beer, or in tenancy contracts to manage canteens or Institutes.

Mild, bitter, porter, and stout are the main types mentioned, in ascending strength, although stronger beers were sometimes purchased. It appears that in 1903, 1045-1065 OG was the range, 1045 was for mild ale, the top end for stout.  At least one contract form is included that requires all-malt brewing, no “substitutes”, and I believe all-malt brewing in fact was required by the rules, deriving from Queen’s Regulations, that governed the tender

There is much learning imparted, say, on the proper size of head. For dry-hopping: testimony suggested it was typically .5 lb, for bitter ale, of course.

Various swindles are described, regimental stewards managing canteens would feather their nests according to some testimonies. This took a number of forms, including receiving payments (“perquisites”) from brewers supplying the canteen. Stewards had ways to make brewers compliant. Kicking a settled barrel to distribute the sediment, and then complaining of muddy beer, was an example.

Brewers are sometimes mentioned by name for particular quality. Many regiments followed a practise of designating men from the ranks to vote blind on beers proposed for tender. A witness familiar with these tasting panels named one brewer whose performance was consistently outstanding: Warwicks & Richardsons of Newark. For a timeline on this firm, see here.

Many men preferred a mix of beers: mild-and-bitter especially, with concomitant complaints that there was too much mild, not enough bitter (more expensive) in the glass! A “quart of four” was a pint each of mild and bitter mixed, so fourpence the quart, mild ale was threepence and the bitter fivepence.

Generally, prices at the bar were under public house prices but high enough to render a profit to the bar. The money was used for regimental sports, and various other social purposes.

Different supply arrangements were canvassed including the role of Lipton, Ltd. a household name today. It would lease canteens for management and subcontract the beer supply. Simonds Brewery in Reading sometimes dealt with Lipton, sometimes directly with the canteen or Institute.

Louis de Luze Simonds (1852-1916) was a particularly good witness, evidently very capable and a good steward of this venerable firm. It supplied pale ale to India early on, hence probably its military connections.

Simonds in an amusing parenthesis was confounded by the Scots regiments – almost without exception they would drink only Scotch beer! But he kept trying to sell them. A good businessman, his American upbringing may explain some of this.

The cellaring guide, to return to that, is extremely interesting. Porter and stout evidently were treated to be gassier than pale ale and mild ale – no venting. To favour a good head, surely. Bitter ale practice is pretty clear, too.

The kept in and out headings are somewhat unclear though, to me. And the mild ale part seems singular, compared to bitter, that is. Perhaps CAMRA or other cellar specialists reading can enlighten?

The Report’s recommendations for improvement were implemented but finally, after WW I, a new system was put in place – the NAAFI.

Anyway, peruse at your leisure, quite a lot there. I will return soon to Lord Roberts, a compelling figure on numerous accounts.

Note re images: the source of the first image above is the Report linked in the text, via HathiTrust. The second image was sourced from the website of the Brewery History Society, here, and is copyright The Stilltime Collection – www.stilltimecollection.co.uk. All intellectual property respectively therein belong solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.






Amsterdam 1870 AK Bitter, 2020 Edition

The third annual brewing of 1870 AK Bitter, from Toronto’s Amsterdam Brewery, is being released this week. It’s part of the limited edition Adventure Brews series. Available in cans at Amsterdam’s two retail shops: at main brewery on Esander Street, Leaside, and at Barrel House downtown, 245 Queen’s Quay West.

It can also be ordered for delivery, at this site. It’s not yet listed under Adventure Brews but will be shortly.

I’ve discussed the genesis and first two brews in depth earlier. It’s a recreation of an 1870 English recipe using all-English malt, hops, and yeast. I collaborated with Amsterdam on each brew. Each year we tweak the approach a bit. See bottom-right corner, para. 4991, for the original recipe by “Aroma” (the brewer’s pseudonym).

This year, we used Paul’s Maris Otter malt, a classic pale ale variety, and equal quantities of Minstrel and Ernest leaf hops. The hops were added in stages, from start of boil through to whirlpool, with no dry-hopping this year. There is no crystal malt as the recipe called for pale malt only, a practice of the time.

We felt the hops conferred a largely English character but perhaps with some New World impact, particularly from the Ernest. The latter was an early, open pollination cross by famed UK hop breeder Ernest Salmon – hence its name. Salmon worked at Wye crossing English varieties with a wild hop from Manitoba intended to confer hardiness, especially. Brewers Gold and Bullion are other well-known hops he evolved using this approach.

Trialled finally in the 1950s Ernest was felt at the time too assertive for standard English beer but combined (at any rate) with the Minstrel, I find it confers substantial English character.

Minstrel is an own-brand of Charles Faram, the well-known UK hops supplier. The exact make-up is not revealed but to my mind it has similarities to Golding, hence a clean herbal taste with notes of lemon and tea.

We used two yeasts blended for us by Escarpment yeast, two English strains. The idea was to hark back to a time when multi-strain yeasts were common in the brewhouse. No Brettanomyces though, we didn’t want the wild yeast tang, as AK was a beer – essentially a lower gravity IPA – meant for relatively quick draught, and the Brett would need more time to manifest.

We got 40 IBUs, 4.9% ABV, with good, bready malt sweetness, I think 1012 FG. The flavour is very full: honeyed, herbal, tangy, orange-spice. No guava, grapefruit, or “dank” notes as often characterise craft American IPA/pale ale. A touch “bramble” in the finish, maybe.

We tried to hew as closely as possible to the temperature and other requirements of the recipe, although we didn’t mash as long – one hour, as for earlier recipes. We boiled about an hour and quarter. We didn’t use wood barrels – maybe some day, if I can get Memel oak. Of course the modern brewhouse must differ in many respects from the 1870s, but I think we got close to the “Spirit of 1870”.

This year, without the possibility to sell any draft much less cask-conditioned, it’s all been canned. Hence the beer was centrifuged and this year it’s pouring quite clear. But I’ve had few beers, from any source recently, that has as much flavour.

A classic English pale ale – buy some, I’m sure you will like it!




Science and Craft in Collude in Cairns

As an update of our post on mid-century brewing in Cairns, Queensland, a press story of December 1930 described a neat marketing gambit of the brewery.

Northern Australian Brewery had an exhibit that year at the local “Townsville show”, an agricultural and commercial exhibition still running. The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), held every August in Toronto at the waterfront, is our equivalent here.

Brewery managers hit on the idea to place the exhibit in the show window of a local hotel before moving it to the fair. Hide’s Hotel was selected, still a major attraction in Cairns. The handsome, galleried building, built in 1928, is now a listed heritage property. For good history on the hotel and bar, see here.

The story starts by noting the tendency of Queenslanders to prefer the imported product to local, but expressed the hope the brewery would reverse that trend. Imported here meant, from other states in Australia, particularly New South Wales and Victoria.

The lure of the import is ever powerful. The craft brewing and winery resurgence of the last 40 years has done much to modify – not eliminate – that trend.

Also from the account:

At one end of the array is a bowl of pure Cairns water, which is offset by another of pure malt extract which, although having been in the window for several days, retains its bright clear color. Bowls of Australian golden malt alongside that of crushed malt denote the purity of that particular process. To obviate the necessity for using artificial coloring in the Cairns stout the malt undergoes a process of roasting and although of a very dark hue the bowl of “stout” malt is attractive.

A skilled journalist knows how to make the workaday sound pleasant, even inviting. Not “pale” malt, golden malt you see. What resembles a bowl of ground coffee is suddenly “attractive”. And the drumbeat of purity. Perhaps the writer was a maven of malt liquor, but we suspect good journalism explains more the matter.

The malt extract was probably not the concentrated wort used as an adjunct in some brewing, but likely a sample of (unfermented) brewery wort. There is a good description of pure yeast culture practice and other aspects of brewing as well.

A full range of the beers was also exhibited. Unfortunately no photo accompanied, but clearly the display was the type seen in many craft breweries today.

It is unlikely similar exhibits were shown in the 1930s in the U.S., Canada, and probably Britain – or if they were, to report on them in this fashion. Until quite recently, public affairs in these places displayed a jaundiced attitude to alcohol, induced by generations of anti-saloon and later public health campaigning.

Australia always carved its own path in such matters, and the press published stories on beer from earliest days quite unselfconsciously. By this I mean, things that would interest consumers, not just business stories as such.

(I must state though, to the credit of our CNE, that in the seeming dark days of 1949 it put on display a traditional English pub. Oyster stout and honey ale – yes – from an English brewery accompanied, all avidly drunk up by thousands of good Torontonians. See my account, here).

Modernity was not quite relentlessly emphasized in the 1930 account. It described with pride carved wood bowls holding the ingredients of brewing, from a local timber firm.

Craft and the latest science were vaunted together as a Queensland twain. We saw something similar in the 1951 account by the Jane column, again relating to the wood of Antipodes.

Note re images: the first image was sourced in Wikipedia account on Hide’s Hotel linked in the text. The second was sourced from a Queensland government website, here. All intellectual property in such images belongs solely to the lawful owner. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


Brewing in Postwar Cairns

In the wake of WW II, Australia’s economy enjoyed good expansion, assisted by postwar planning focused on industrial growth. Britannica has a good overview.

Increased immigration was a key component, with some 1,000,000 immigrants arriving in the decades following 1945.

Most new manufacturing was concentrated in Victoria and New South Wales, but Queensland also benefitted. The expansion of brewing in Cairns provides a good illustration.

Cairns, a harbour city, has a tropical climate – always good for the beer business. And tourism grew steadily after the war – always a good market for beer.

Northern Australia Brewery Ltd., originally the Cairns Brewery, first sold beer in Cairns in 1925.* It had shareholdings connected to Tooth’s brewery in Sydney. This 1925 press report provides an overview.

The main brands were “NQ” Lager, Cairns Bitter Ale, and Cairns Stout. Before the war NAB was purchased by the powerhouse Carlton & United Brewers.

Starting in 1948, fermentation faculties were modernized. A new bottling plant was completed by 1952, as during the war only draught beer was produced.

The technological focus is reflected in this press story of 1948 that mentioned adoption of steel kilderkins, or 18 gal. barrels, to replace traditional wood barrels. This was claimed as a first in Australian brewing. The new containers were lighter, and while not stated, less liable to bacterial contamination than those of wood.

There was no romantically expressed regret at abandoning the venerable wood container. This is the postwar era, a time suffused with optimism in science and the prospects for growth and progress.

A generation would pass before the loss of wood casks in brewing would be rued – and even then they have made only a very limited return.

In 1951Jane’s column in the Maryborough Chronicle described the brewery. The “industrial tour”, of breweries or other plants, and mines, was a staple of journalism from the 1800s through the 20th century.

The genre seems to have withered by now with the multiplicity of media, and green focus.

Yet, the old reports are of good interest, both inherently and to show how business growth and especially job creation were considered vital to society. A regional brewery such as NAB could, in 1951, employ 400 people. And the complement would rise by 50%, said the article.

The story combined facts and figures with engaging observation. As often for beer reportage then, there is no focus on beer styles. Still, it appears the brands I mentioned were typical of Australian brewing then.

Sugar is mentioned, a longstanding ingredient in Australian brewing, is mentioned. Via Trove Newspapers, as all references herein:

Huge stores contain the bags of barley and the 160 lb. bags of sugar — 200 bags of barley and 120 bags of sugar are the basic daily consumption. In following up the processes, we were ushered into rooms of 112 degrees and then into another about 30 or 35 degrees.

Note how temperature control is a given. This is only 50 years after basically frontier conditions applied in marginal, rural breweries.

I calculate a use of sugar to malt in proportions of 1:2. This is consistent with F.G. Ward’s report in the 1890s, see my previous post.

I suspect since the “country” brewing days of John Farrell, the sugar percentage had climbed. One-third was likely settled on as the best combination of efficiency and taste.

“Jane” described well how glass-lined aging tanks and the kilderkins were becoming the industry standard. In this case, though, we do see some regret for the old practices. Jane explained how the furniture in the hospitality room was made from what we call now re-purposed wood:

What attracted me was the beautiful furnishings including tables and chairs, which had all been made from discarded wooden vats which had done service in that capacity for 25 years before being made into really handsome and solid furniture. The timber was Kauri Pine from New Zealand.

Kauri pine was favoured for some production uses in older breweries, and not just in the Antipodes. Here, it was given a new, aesthetic life, by an imaginative designer.

The ensuing space age intensified use of gleaming metals, molded plastic, and toughened glass – but older traditions were recalled with nostalgia, in this case.

For our follow-up, see here.

*For more detailed information pre- and post-1950, see the remarks in 2010 of Dr. Brett Stubbs, an Australian brewery historian, here.


Poetry and Pints: John Farrell

Versing the Public on Ale Brewing

I don’t think many brewers have also been fiction or poetry writers. Some have writen on beer or brewing for academic journals, or consumer or trade media.

Graham Greene, a pre-eminent English novelist of the last century, did have a connection of sorts to brewing. From Wikipedia:

Greene was born in Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire into a large, influential family that included the owners of the Greene King Brewery.

To my knowledge, he did not work in brewing at this storied brewer. In contrast, Australia has produced the novelist-brewer Justin MacCartie, whom I discussed here. I‘ve just learned there was a second brewer-writer in Australia, John Farrell.

Farrell, who died in 1904 at 52, was important enough to have earned an entry in the Australian Dictionary of National Biography. In one of the many memorials printed on his passing, the Adelaide Critic noted:

His parents were Irish, but he was born at Buenos Ayres on December 18th, 1851—twelve months before his parents emigrated to Victoria. There, after an invigorating, if rough, youthful experience, in early manhood he worked at farming, mining, and bullock-driving in the Loddon district. He even had some brief experience as a sailor. Eventually, above all things, he became a brewer, and served an apprenticeship to the art at Bendigo, Albury, and Goulburn; then started as a brewer on his own account at Queanbeyan … I fear that he gave more attention to books than to business. I remember him saying to me once: “Some of my best stuff was on the head of a cask. No—you need not say anything about my fountain of inspiration—I rarely drank my own beer.” Farrell was the most undeviatingly sober man of letters I ever met.

Most of his brewing career was in New South Wales, where he worked in small country breweries. He decided to leave brewing in his early 30s for a career in journalism and writing. For a time he was editor of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, and remained connected to it until his death. His poetry collection How He Died and Other Poems was published in 1887. It made him known throughout Australia.

Self-made to a “t”, Farrell was sometimes called “the people’s poet”. His place in Australian literary history is assured albeit not considered a major figure in Australian literature.

It is for poetry and public campaigning, especially for a “Single Tax” and land reform, that he is remembered, not the brewing.

I want however to point up his contribution to Australian brewing literature, not hitherto examined it seems. It took the form of a three part article, in 1887, in the Daily Telegraph, linked at the foot hereof. The title is “Brewing Colonial Beer”.

It is clear Farrell had learned practical brewing in-depth. He is careful to note that the scale he worked on differed from the large breweries in Sydney. Temperature control was a key factor to differentiate the two approaches. He states wort in Sydney was rapidly cooled with the new heat exchanger vs. the wood or iron open cooler still used in the country, with the greater risk the latter entailed.

Despite numerous challenges Farrell asserted he was able still to make excellent beer. By my calculation, on the lower end of his range his wort was about 1055 OG, finishing close to 7% ABV. A strong beer with very minimal body.

In Farrell’s terms: 20-22 lbs OG, 1-3 lbs FG. Half-English malt, half-Antipodean (NZ, Tasmania, Victoria). 2-2.5 bushels malt, 30-40 lbs cane sugar, added to kettle. 2.5-4 lbs/hhd hops, so something over 1.5 lbs per barrel.

Sugar, at 40 lbs average for a bushel of malt, is 25%+ of the mash.*

In today’s terms, that’s an unusually dry pale ale.** Perhaps the low attenuation was meant to minimize the risk of acetic or other fretting (re-fermentations). Of course too, more alcohol can be produced at less cost this way. He states the staple beer of Sydney was even stronger.

Sometimes the temperature for fermentation was too high in summer – hot days and short, warm nights. He would shorten the primary fermentation and transfer beer to casks in cellar to complete the working.

In Part III Farrell refers to brewing a 17-18 lb gravity beer, so he had a weaker class as well, perhaps around 5%. Its finishing gravity was likely higher than for the other. This makes sense given the light bitter then emerging in the English-speaking world.

Farrell’s directions are worth comparing with statements in testimony by F.G. Ward of Tooth’s in 1899 in London, see here. They are largely consistent but Ward adds interesting details. He states the proportion of sugar is 37.5%, which seems higher than Farrell used. It seems more a third by the figures Ward gives in the same testimony, e.g. 20 lbs sugar to a 40 lb bag of malt, but I think Ward likely intended to indicate an average for Australia, as he indicated some brewers used more sugar than his firm.

Farrell occasionally used gentian, an herb, to supplement hops, an improvement, in his view, not an expedient. He invoked the same rationale to add salt or lime sulphate to brewing water, so denying an intent to increase the drinker’s thirst. In general though the beers, for 1899 and 1887 no less, were malt, sugar, hops, yeast, as discussed by these men.

Farrell is refreshingly bluff on water in brewing, stating that almost any type will do, and water merits are exaggerated by mendacious brewers.

Part III is a melancholy plaint about the travails of country brewing. There was the need constantly to “shout”, or pay for drinks, often for cadgers, when taking orders. The lack of care given to casks in the cellar by grasping hotelmen, especially in smaller centresm was noted. He comments on the tied house as the preserve of large city brewers, with its concomitant of excessive rents. This led in turn to other abuses.

Farrell felt the tied house contributed to drunkenness through combining the wholesale and retail aspects of beer distribution.

Added to these pressures was a recent, burdensome tax law.

From Part III:

The average migratory hotelkeeper regards the brewer as his prey. When that unhappiest of men calls round for his weekly order, tow-headed and sticky miscreants surround him, and he has to “shout” for the crowd in a royal manner, although the iron is in his soul. Unexpected strangers and improbable ruffians congregate as if by magic in each bar, and he meets the same faces, grown beerier and more swollen, in other bars, for they follow him up. He has to “shout” everywhere, and generally for all who come in each bar. Then the hotelkeeper wants donations towards several different objects, and he has to shell out liberally. The hotelkeeper’s wife has a bazaar in hand, and he has to shell out again towards clearing the debt off the Presbyterian Church or
helping to build the convent. The hotelkeeper’s daughter, who is a daughter of the horse leech, also cries “Give!” At Christmas piratical levies called Christmas boxes are made upon the brewer, and, with a smile on his face and black malice in his heart, he presents a silk dress or a gold watch to someone whose good graces he must preserve. In addition to this, he is at the mercy of the retailer in the matter of “returns.” If beer in rendered unsaleable by the stupidity or gross carelessness of the hotelkeeper it has to be allowed for in the bill, just as though the fault were the brewer’s. Owing to all these things and the imposition of the beer duties, brewing is no longer profitable in the country districts.

Part III forms a pensive tale, one that resonates through the modern history of brewing to our very day.

Farrell had to confront the hard realities of a difficult business. For the poetic, literary soul, that he was, thismade it all the harder. Brewing good beer was something John Farrell understood well; the business of brewing was a matter best left to the less sensitive.

In a final passage, he actually expresses the wish that society one day will altogether banish alcohol. This is surely, or in part, an index of the frustration he experienced in his bootless years at brewing.

Posterity has the gain, if not of a brewery or brands descended from John Farrell, then his poetry and social campaigning, for which he is still remembered.

At Trove Newspapers, see  Farrell brewing series, 1887, Part I, Part II, Part III.

*See 1899 testimony by Wade, infra in text. Even in recent decades see Briggs, Hough, et al. in their Malting and Brewing Science, here.

**Brut IPA, you can call it.




The Dream of Exiles

A Picture of the Pub in Two Eras

Pub-goers in Britain and elsewhere are today ruing the – hopefully short-lived – disappearance of something they took for granted – the pub.

It still exists of a fashion, yes, for delivery and take-out only. The essence of the pub – ordering a drink at the bar, some food, meeting friends, playing a game of some kind, is just a memory, for the moment.

So let’s look back to when the bar was real, via my occasional series on English pub history. I’ll give two examples, one from 1946, the other from 1962, both as revealed in the Australian press.

The 1946 piece was authored by Irish-born Patrick Campbell, the 3rd Baron of Glenavy. The peerage was created for his grandfather James Campbell early in the 20th century, preceded by a baronetcy. Due ultimately to a lack of male issue in the line this peerage is now defunct.

Campbell was a noted journalist who later enjoyed popularity on Irish television.

The evocative title of his piece is Sunday Morning in an English Pub. (I wonder if the novelist Alan Sillitoe ever read it. I believe he was in the Far East then, with the RAF).

And so we can add Campbell’s flourishes to what is an enduring – so far – genre of U.K. and international journalism: reportage on the pub. The subject has also been treated in full-length studies and chapters in books on travel, some of which we have also surveyed.

The field is vast covering themes such as public house origins, its role as a social centre, the pub in wartime, building styles, and pub signs. Oh – I shouldn’t forget: the beer.

Campbell focuses on the patrons – the everyday people who are heart and soul of the pub. He paints them as (mainly) measured in habits, accepting of authority, and stoical viz. the great sacrifices they made in the recent war and were still required to make. He notes that Britain was exporting food for example while Britons were still deprived of many items.

Of the beer he offers brief yet interesting comments, for both colour and taste. The bitter is “bright orange” – which indeed it still can be. The mild was reddish. There are numerous little details that create a picture: two women drinking “unescorted” (although it was Sunday, when some women did traditionally frequent the pub); men in forage caps being demobbed; the physical layout with its glass partition; the Bass Ale sign on the wall.

The second article, from 1962 by John O’Hare, is less literary in style but full of factual information. Port and sherry were still staples in the pub. Beer was still drawn “from the wood”. In perceptive architectural comments, O’Hare points out that the mahogany and mirrored Victorian pub, the typical pub in public imagination, was going out. Newer styles, from the airy 30s roadhouse with parking to the 60s-70s concrete block, answered to newer needs.

In a winning line that will resonate with many today, O’Hare stated: “A pint of bitter is the dream of exiles”.

And how.

Little would O’Hare have thought, or anyone at that time and until very recently, that the UK citizenry would form the body of such exiles.







“Old Speckled Hen”

Morland of Abingdon was bought over 20 years ago by Greene King of Bury St. Edmunds, itself taken over finally by a Hong Kong-based financial powerhouse. While these old regional brewers have lost their independence, and the Abingdon brewery was closed long ago, the beers continue. This is, at final reckoning, what counts for most consumers.

In 1979 Morland’s issued a new beer, “Old Speckled Hen”. Bill Mellor, a former Morland’s brewer, told the story of beer and brewery in this piece, archived on the website of an Abingdon historical society.

It’s salutary when brewers are interested to write on history. Mellor has the knack for it, fittingly so, as one of the founders of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). CAMRA, founded 1971, is of course the consumer group that did so much to kick-start the small brewery revolution, in part through its influence on the first generation of American craft brewers.

I’ve tasted the beer since the 1980s off and on. I’ve had it on cask, on keg, in cans, in bottles. The pint shown is as good as it ever was.

The canned version, bought at the Beer Store in Ontario, has that metallic note characteristic of English yeast – I recall it so well from the bitters at Great British Beer Festival two years ago, but in just measure, for me. The yeastiness of the cask version (all those years ago) seemed more pronounced, but cask can be like that.

Perhaps the degree of filtration canned beer gets explains the difference. I like it when the yeast is an undertone.

The maltiness is quite pronounced. The non-citric hops gather in the aftertaste, more an accent, in the latter-day British way with bitter. When it’s done well I’m fine with it. In historical terms I think it’s more a mild ale, but it’s an excellent beer, so enough said.

Beer like this reminds me more of good red wine than craft pale ale much as I like that too. British bitter and pale ale today have evolved into a different animal than 19th century pale ale. Craft ales connect more to the latter than the former, IMO. But again, when well made, it’s all beer, it’s all grand.

The sample shown is certainly fresh, canned January 31 of this year, which helps too.

A good, sustaining beer, with subtle fruity and other accents.

It’s quite different to the Greene King line, Abbott and all those, and preferable by my lights.

I’d like to try the current cask and keg versions; but when can I get to Britain next?


A Dresden Beer Tour, 1870 (Part I)

Dresden Beer Culture via an American Lens

The son of the famed writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, Julian Hawthorne, was himself a well-known writer. By most accounts not greatly accomplished, he was longer-lived (1846-1934) and certainly covered a broad range of writing: poetry, fiction, travelogue, biography, reformist tracts, journalism, and more.

There was an odd interlude as well where he spent a year in prison, a few years before WW I, for his role in a (Canadian) mining stock swindle.

The Hawthornes were old American stock, descended from Puritans in New England. (For any interested, most Puritans emigrated from Lincolnshire and the eastern section. They were mainly farmers with a sprinkling of professional men and of course clergy).

Resuming journalism after release from jail, Julian moved finally to California, and continued working there until his death at 88. His travails in life related partly to constant money needs. In some measure this arose from what at times was a complicated romantic life. And, like many writers, he found it difficult to raise a family on the inconsistent and often derisory income from writing.

Saxon Studies

In 1876 Julian’s Saxon Studies appeared, a lengthy account of his years in Dresden. In 1868 he travelled with his mother and siblings to the city to study engineering, Nathaniel had died four years earlier. It was not Julian’s first experience of Europe. Before the Civil War Nathaniel was appointed the American consul in Liverpool. This afforded the family the opportunity to tour England as well as France and Italy.

By the time of Saxon Studies Julian had moved to London where he lived for a number of years (Twickenham) and hobnobbed with the literati.

The book, published in England and the United States, received poor reviews, including from an anonymous Henry James. Saxon Studies was continually critical of Saxony and its customs, and by implication of Germany. This intensity of focus (although not invariable, see below) displeased the reviewers, both American and of course German.

As the phrase goes, it fell still-born from the press. Still, he earned some additional money from excerpts in literary reviews.

In an unlikely development, part of the beer chapter, discussed below, was printed in England in the Brewers Guardian. A trade journal, it was rather removed from the literary circles a Hawthorne frequented. One can only imagine how Julian’s nuanced phrases struck the careworn, practical brewers reading them – especially when he compared English ale unfavourably to German beer.

A modern scholar, James Retallack, has argued, persuasively in my view, that Saxon Studies was meant as satire. Julian actually asserted this in a piece written not long before his death on the poet Heinrich Heine.

See Retallack’s perceptive chapter on Julian in Localism, Landscape, and the Ambiguities of Place: German-Speaking Central Europe, 1860–1930, co-authored with David Blackbourn (2009, University of Toronto Press). Gary Scharnhorst’s Julian Hawthorne: Life of a Prodigal Son (2014, University of Illinois Press) is also excellent to understand Julian’s achievements and limitations.

I am not saying Julian felt a kinship with Dresdeners, but there are many indications in the book that he exaggerated to lampoon both standard travelogue and stock impressions of Germany.

A few lines on music in the beer chapter illustrate this. He is critical of a music performance in a beer garden, arguing the music is spoiled by the often bothersome people around him, and the need to see the exertions (puffy red cheeks) of the musicians. He states it is much better to hear music without seeing the orchestra, and completely alone.

But in 1876 that was surely impossible for orchestral music, so the satirical element seems obvious. Either this went over the head of the reviewers, or perhaps the effort was recognized but not felt successful. In any case, I found the book of good interest historically, especially the said beer chapter, called “Gambrinus”.

Gambrinus in Dresden

At some 50 pages, this chapter may be the longest treatment in English of German beer habits up to that time. There are a couple of others later in the century, one by an American diplomat in Berlin I wrote about earlier, but Hawthorne’s work is of special interest. After all, he was a professional writer and son of a famous one.

Certainly as journalism or general reportage, the chapter works well with detailed social and cultural commentary on the beer scene then.

The one disappointment, and I’ll mention it upfront, is a failure to describe the beer types encountered. That he enjoyed the beers at their best is clear, but except for mentioning strong Nuremberg and milder Bohemian beer, he concentrates on people and places. In a second part, I’ll discuss other beer types he likely encountered, based therefore on other sources.

A choice part of the chapter is his suggestion that ultimately Germany would benefit from producing one type of beer. He states this can be accomplished by ensuring the same climate, soil, and water everywhere, or by having beer brewed only in Berlin, so that any German wanting beer must go there. As beer is vital to German character (he says), they would all drink the same beer, and this would help make uniform the German character and nation.

This was clearly an arch commentary on German political unification, which took place during his residence. Perhaps also he was remarking on disappearing regional beer traditions. By 1871 Bavarian lager was being produced in Dresden, for example.

Julian makes clear that beer tastes best in its area of production, and seemed to rue the looming standardization, or perhaps wide distribution is a better term, of beer. He remarks on this viz. the U.S. as well.

Ironically, his predictions came largely true in that lager became, not just the standard beer type in Germany, but of pretty much all the world. His fabulist comment about equalizing growing conditions was prophetic in that malt and hops became standard commodities shipped everywhere, and water can be adjusted today by chemistry.

Needless to add, his interest in the importance of localism has been echoed by the small brewery renaissance of the last 40 years.

I’ll let you read the piece for yourself, but there are many interesting observations, e.g. on the servers, beer glasses, and the style of the beer gardens and pubs. The charming views described over the Elbe river and bridges to the old town, of its towers and rounded buildings, can still be seen judging by the online tourney I took last night.

(I’m aware of course of the 1945 fire bombings and extensive reconstruction, but it seems the original look has been recreated in many cases).

There were, in other words, positive opinions expressed, directly or between the lines, including of course on the beer.

Traces of Hawthorne’s Beer Dresden, 2020

Julian stated that pubs in the old city were filled with brown square tables and chairs and had chest-high, dark oak panelling on the walls. On my online tour I saw pub interiors that looked very similar.

Some of the beer gardens and at least one brewery mentioned by Julian still exist including Waldschlösschen. The original brewery of that name is now a hotel, I believe, but images in the website correlate to Hawthorne’s description, and beer is still brewed on the property.

The brewery dates from 1836, so had existed for a generation by the time Hawthorne arrived. Per the website, Waldschlösschen was founded by a Bavarian (the next state west). Hawthorne may well have savoured the top-fermented wheat beer and dark lager described on the site.







Pukka Pale Ale* in the British Far East

This post reports further on India Pale Ale as assessed by Britons travelling or residing in the Far East. I have not seen these references addressed elsewhere, and mention this simply because so much has been written on India Pale Ale history: at this point it seems useful to highlight material of a novel nature.

My previous post discussed comments on Bass Pale Ale by a long-serving soldier in India, Fitz William Thomas Pollok, recorded in 1896. He thought that famous pale ale brands – Bass, Allsopp, Hodgson – were “far superior” when shipped by sail around the Cape of Good Hope.

About mid-way through his Eastern years, which covered c. 1850-1895, the much shorter Overland Route replaced the old Cape Route for commodities such as beer, or so we can infer from his comments. (A systematic study of outbound beer shipments during IPA’s heyday – the modes of transport, the cost, time to destination, handling, etc. – seems lacking in IPA historiography – a good topic for an economist to examine, in particular).

Of the two accounts below one is from Burma and the other, Indian Bengal, seemingly. Both pertain to circa 1900, as Pollok’s report.

The first is in a travel account, Burma, authored by Robert Talbot Kelly, published in 1905. He stated that on a camping trip with a Mr. Sulman, a mining engineer, in the Shan States, they saw over a shop door “Bass’s Pale Ale” and the “familiar red label” (the famous Bass triangle).

Sulman, who did not know Chinese, asked “John” for the Bass in English, pointing to “cobwebby and dusty” quart bottles. The Chinese storekeeper sold him a few bottles. The Shan kingdoms adjoin China, so then and now a significant Chinese presence characterizes these areas even as they are within Burma’s polity, today.

On return to camp they opened the bottles – no reference to chilling – and deemed the beer an “unaccustomed luxury”, “a glass … such as we never had before”.

The Bass was probably was the classic, bottle conditioned India Pale Ale, not the newer, lighter Bass introduced in some Asian markets in the late 1880s. Drinkers such as these surely represented the consumer norm, unlike Colonel Pollok who prided himself as a beer connoisseur. In other words, they liked beer no less than Pollok but likely had no particular knowledge of its make-up or the perils of the distribution chain.

Kelly, who had Irish roots, was a professional traveller based in England, and also a noted genre painter. Clearly he knew British beer, including surely draught and bottled beers in their fresh state. Still, he and his companions greatly admired the warm-stored, old Bass they found in a remote corner of Empire.

A report published in 1931 in an army medical journal, but relating probably to the last part of the 1800s, is similar, see here.

In this case, bottles of “Bass’s India Ale” had languished on a shelf for 12 years! At least the purchasers, a detachment from a hill station, asked about the age, but no qualms are conveyed on that account. If anything, it seems the antiquity added to the beer’s appeal, as the writer noted, “I never tasted such nectar in all my life”.

I cite these references as typical of the beer enthusiast without technical knowledge. Pollok understood differences between imported bottles of Bass and India-bottled beer. He knew skill was needed to bottle pale ale in optimum condition. He knew pale ale shouldn’t be sour, and even knew that German beer in India was “lager”.

Kelly’s Burma party and the Bengal station would have known little or none of this. Were they seduced into loving heavily oxidized, sourish beer by the romance of seeing a familiar label far away from home? The “travel” factor in food and drink appreciation – of being on the move in exotic locales – has often been remarked to ascribe unrealistic qualities.

Long-travelled Madeira, sherry and other alcohol (some whisky, for example) had a reputation for quality after circling the Cape or other long sea voyages. Perhaps some of this rubbed off when old beer was espied in the late Victorian Empire.

As well, in Britain a fashion, even mania, had existed for well-aged beer, for “vatted” porter and the squire’s cask of “old October”. Indeed aging was built into IPA from the get-go, it was built to last by definition, versus today, when people cavil from drinking IPA more than a month or two old (one of the oddest inversions you will find in a field replete with them).

Beer studies suggest frequently that such alleged gastronomic virtues were built up to justify hard-headed business practices. In the pre-refrigeration, pre-pasteurization era, beer needed to be long-stored to be available year-round and also to produce it economically. Much of the “old is gold” aura was as much commercial design as epicureanism, if not the greatest part.

And yet, think of Orval Trappist Ale, or some modern barrel-aged beers. The Belgian Orval bears many resemblances to 19th century pale ale including the Brettanomyces tang. Many love it when it is not new, but three years old, five, even more. They drink it when they can get it, in other words, not because they have to.

Or maybe it’s more simple than all this. Maybe our colonial Britons revelled in the bedraggled, superannuated Bass simply because it was beer.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from Wikipedia’s entry on the Shan States, here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*Pukka is an Anglo-Indian term that means authentic, genuine, top-quality.