Bass Light Bitter Ale aka Oriental …

In an earlier post, I mentioned Bass Austral Ale, marketed in Australia during the first decade of the 1900s. It was a pale ale but less strong than Bass I.P.A. It was seemingly unrelated to a strong Bass Austral Ale shipped fifty years earlier to Australia that Martyn Cornell identified.

The Austral Ale of 1900-1910 was probably similar to another, lighter form of Bass pale ale I’ll discuss below.

There are a couple of references, early 1900s vintage, to a “Bass light pale ale” in David Hughes’ A Bottle of Guinness Please. The beer was possibly the same as the Bass light bitter ale (or the second Austral ale) discussed below. Perhaps varying nomenclatures were used in the different markets.

The same perhaps applies to a Light Pale Ale that Bass advertised, seemingly c. 1900, in Calcutta. See the ad reproduced in Mitch Steele’s IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes, and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. Finally, c. 1900 Bass advertises a “table ale” in England, e.g. see here. The latter may have been a light bitter ale but perhaps was a low gravity, mild ale (so a different class of beer).

In 1884, the British Trade Journal and Export World, Volume 22, stated:


Germany was exporting lager in the late 1800s including to India and Australia. One response of Bass, and other U.K. brewers who exported, was to brew a lighter style of India Pale Ale. IPAs – Bass’s and most others – were typically strong by today’s mass market standards and certainly lager standards before WW I. They were, barring some exceptions, 6-7% ABV depending on brand and final attenuation.

The onset of world-wide interest in lager led to the well-known family of dinner, brilliant, and light ales. As a class, these have been well-documented but it has not been known to date, to my knowledge, that a Bass light pale ale was marketed for export before 1900.

It appears that the bottler Porter & Co. trademarked the name Oriental, as for its more famous Bull Dog mark (for Bass IPA), there seems no doubt Bass brewed Oriental. In January 1901 the Kenya Gazette carried this advertisement by local agents of the bottler, clearly showing two brands from Bass, the standard IPA and this light bitter ale, subtitled Oriental.



This beer, as the Austral ale of 1900-1910, was surely lower gravity compared to regular, Red Triangle Bass IPA. Possibly it was lighter in both colour and flavour, as well. Likely it was similar to the large number of light, dinner, sparkling, AK, running, etc. new-style ales that proliferated starting in the 1890s.

These became, in filtered and often pasteurized form, the standard ale of the mid-20th century. They were about 5% ABV depending on the period and other circumstances.

In 1889 The Board of Trade Journal confirms U.K. brewers were evolving light pale ales to compete with German and Austrian lager exports.

Also in the Board of Trade Journal, in 1893, M.B. Foster’s, another shipper of Bass to world markets, advertises the light bitter ale of Bass.

In a William Whiteley price list that included Bass and other prominent breweries, Worthington, Ind Coope listed both IPA and light bitter ales. No light beer is shown for Bass for bottled or draught beer. Bass’s nos. 1-6 ales were apparently all strong ales (old or mild), and regular mild ale, not any form of its pale ale: see Ron Pattinson’s ascribing of the styles as at 1879 in his book Bitter!, here.

Maybe Whitely’s in the period mentioned, just before WW I, had the domestic market in mind for its light bitter ale was not a factor, or (what is saying the same thing) didn’t mention a form of its bitter ale handled by export bottlers for specific markets under their names and capsules.

While I have no evidence of export of Bass light bitter to India, based on all the above, I think it quite likely some was sent there.

Also, the following may provide indirect evidence.

Colonel Fitz William Thomas Pollok authored books on his decades soldiering in the far east. In his Fifty Years Reminiscences of India published in 1896, an paragraph appears on beer in India:



The Colonel implies that the longer voyage by sea improved the beer. A shorter canal trip became usual after 1869, about mid-way during Pollok’s service in the east. The Suez route took perhaps a third of the time of the old Cape Route.

Because beer is less likely to deteriorate during a shorter voyage than a longer one, what explained a difference in quality noted by Pollok?

Bass IPA seems to have remained all-malt through the century, so I don’t think it was any change in the mash. Perhaps the hopping rate declined between the time Pollok shipped out from Southampton and his latter service in India. No data exists for Bass pale ale (vs. other beers) over that period, as far as I am aware.



But we know Bass light bitter ale was marketed from the 1880s. Could the Colonel have been drinking that in the late 1880s and 90s, and not realized it was a different beer to Bass East India Pale Ale? I think it quite possible.

Ironically, in this context, Pollok liked lager. “Beer, especially lager, is the best for the tropics”, see pg. 316. But maybe it was a case of, when I want Bass I want Bass.

Pollok knew pale ale well including his mention that the messes deployed special skills to bottle beer properly. A book published in 1878, The European in India by Edmund Hull, noted how “country bottled” pale ale, i.e. bottled in India from imported casks, was superior to bottled imports. The bottled, Hull wrote, was “apt to become … somewhat sharp and tart”.

Beer was exported to India both in bottle and cask. The connoisseurs clearly preferred cask beer bottled in situ. Perhaps one reason, apart from the tendency to be less acid, was a higher finishing gravity of cask vs. bottled.

Terry Foster’s modern study of pale ale states that American analysis of bottled and cask Bass (hence imported) in the 1880s-90s showed a cask sample at 1014 FG vs. a maximum 1007 for the bottled. If this pattern was similar in India and I don’t see why it wouldn’t have been, no wonder bibbers preferred country-bottled. It would have had a richer flavour from the greater residual extract.

That said, by the late 1800s the British Indian army, at any rate, drank beer mostly brewed in India. See (in part) the 1889 Board of Trade source cited above. The reasons included both quality and price.

For a continuation of this post, see here.

Note re images: image immediately above is draft Bass Ale, as poured in a Toronto pub not long before local (licensed) production ceased a couple of years ago. The other images are drawn from the volumes identified and linked in the text. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*Further searching disclosed a couple of references from the early 1900s to “Bass light pale ale” in David Hughes’ A Bottle of Guinness Please. This beer was quite possibly the same as Bass light bitter ale and/or the second Austral ale. Perhaps varying nomenclatures were used in the different markets. The same applies viz. a Light Pale Ale brewed by Bass advertised, seemingly c. 1900, in Calcutta. The ad is reproduced in Mitch Steele’s IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes, and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. Finally, again c. 1900 Bass also advertises a “table ale” in England, see e.g. here. The latter may have been, as well, the light bitter ale, but perhaps was a low gravity mild ale.








Malt and Myanmar (Part III)

I will address an instance of brewing, of a sort, in Rangoon during the three-year Japanese occupation, 1943-1945. As well, I discuss a traditional pale ale made in Myanmar today. But first, George Appleton.

Rangoon, the Cathedral, the Japanese

Appleton was a long-lived Englishman, a Cambridge-educated, Anglican cleric and later a noted author. From the mid-1920s to the immediate post-war period he ministered mainly in Burma, one of the many missionaries who combed the East under the British flag. Once the Japanese were pushed out of Burma (1945) he returned to his fold in Rangoon, at Holy Trinity Cathedral.

The design and construction of Holy Trinity, a neo-Gothic, red brick pile completed in 1894, are explained in this informative précis at Archiseek.

Appleton wrote an account in 1946 of the depredations visited on Burma’s churches during the war. He also imparts interesting social background on Burma. This included the wide ethnic mix that existed, especially the significant Indian and Chinese populations.

Of the Europeans he writes:

12,000 Europeans, mostly British, completed the quota of foreigners in the country. These were in Government service or industry and trade. The latter class had a large share in overseas trade, shipping and organised industry. They contributed much to the life and wealth of the country, but naturally were under control of boards at home, whose chief interests were profits.

On the whole there was not enough friendship between British and Burmese. In many a British home in Rangoon no Burman had ever been entertained as an equal, and the powerful and exclusive Gymkhana Club aroused much bitterness by refusing to admit people of Asiatic birth as members, even if they were the equals of Europeans in social and educational standing. It is much to be hoped that at least one first-class international club will be organised in the new Burma, which will be open to members of all races.

The Jews, not mentioned by Appleton, counted some 3000 in Rangoon just ahead of the war which included members of the famous Sassoon family. They left in 1942 knowing Japanese rule would hardly favour them, and never returned, a few families apart. See this Times of Israel report in January 2019.

Before the war the Gymkhana and Pegu clubs were the most exclusive in Rangoon, symbolizing at the extreme the inequities of the colonial system. The British clearly were on the way out by 1946, although their sacrifice to liberate the country were appreciated in Burma.

Burmans, in the older terminology, had found that the Japanese were not preferable as overlords, at any rate. For some background on this see Donald Seekins’ JPRI Working Paper No. 87, August 2002. He points out that the arbitrary and harsh conduct of the Japanese military police, and army officers who had previously served in Korea, were resented in particular.

In 1945 the Burma Independent Army, established by the Japanese in conjunction with the puppet regime, switched sides to fight with the British.

In preparation for Japan’s invasion its fliers bombed Rangoon in 1942. Parts of the centre were destroyed with much loss of life. Added to the damage was later Allied bombing, including by American B-29s in 1945. Despite this, Appleton states that the city was largely intact.

A contemporary press report (May 1945, West Australian) suggests more extensive damage than Appleton suggests. Still, his account deserves credibility given his long familiarity with the city.

The Cathedral During Occupation

A news story in the Sydney Morning Herald graphically explained the fate of the church. For “wine” (sake) production, a large trench was dug in the floor to hold the vats. Various accounts of this episode employ different terms: brewery, distillery, saki or toddy factory, but it is clear that sake was being manufactured.

Other parts of the church were used to stable mules and for a cow-shed. The place was in a shambles, with large rats on the loose, when the British came back.

Anne Carter’s 2012 Bewitched by Burma gives a more thorough account of the condition of the church on the Japanese exit. The exterior was hardly affected, but inside it was pretty bad and substantial cleaning and restoration were necessary. She refers to “presses”, which suggests quite clearly sake was made.

Appleton explains that British funding, and volunteer labour by sojourning British troops, helped restore the church’s condition. Enough patching was done that the church was re-dedicated in July 1945 in a ceremony that attracted 1000 people. It may be noted the wider war had not yet ended; that came September 2, 1945.

Why had the Japanese desecrated the church? An early-1930s trade study of Burma by the U.S. Department of Commerce mentions no brewery or other fermentation facilities in Rangoon. So, the church was selected for this. I’d guess its sturdy walls insulated the fermentation to a degree, or maybe it was simply that the building was available and convenient.

The Pegu Club

Where was the sake consumed? No doubt in soldiers’ messes, and by businessmen and other civilians associated with the occupation. It seems likely sake was poured at the Pegu Club, made by the Japanese into a brothel, one of the notorious “comfort stations” they established in territories of conquest.

After the war the premises were used for various public purposes but moldered, finally, and were mostly abandoned. A few years ago a multi-state consortium, anchored by a prominent Myanmar family, acquired the property to create an events space. A complete and remarkable restoration was done. This Nikkei Asian Review piece fills us in.

The new Pegu website describes the history and current uses of this storied property. Much of the old teak was intact and has been perfectly restored. Where necessary, fresh marble was secured from the quarry near Mandalay that supplied material for the original construction.

The website gives what must be the definitive version of the Pegu Club Cocktail.

The Cathedral, Burma, and Pale Ale Today

Today, Holy Trinity Cathedral looks pristine, you may take a wide-screen tour via this YouTube video. Still, Christianity is much reduced in the country. The military government – ethnic Burma is Buddhist – periodically represses practitioners. A Province of Myanmar nonetheless exists, six churches by my reading, staffed entirely by local ministers and other personnel. Since the mid-1960s foreign Anglicans are not permitted to minister in the country.

Anglican congregants in good part derive from ethnic minorities, the “hill people” in particular and especially the KarensThe website of the Diocese of Yangon describes Anglicanism in the country today with an informative timeline.

Parenthetically, I was intrigued to learn (from other sources) that in the 1870s Bass Pale Ale was used by remote churches for Communion. Numerous accounts attest to it such as in Vanity Fair, 1876.

Man’s spirit will improvise where necessary, and it shows certainly the great penetration India Pale Ale had in the Far East. Still, Rangoon itself was not itself among the Asian cities graced with a brewery, as seen above.

Myanmar today is obviously very different from the era of British tutelage, yet traces of the former time subsist, physically and otherwise. To this day Yangon is considered the oldest repository of colonial-era buildings in Asia.

In Yangon, the Burbrit Brewery (from Burma-Britain, I like that) offers among its range a pale ale. The description on the website suggests the beer adheres closely to the lineage of British pale ale. It is 6% ABV and 35 IBU. The formulation in toto (see website) suggests the beer is closer to early India Pale Ale than the mass-market beers currently styled ale in Myanmar.*

The website states that India Pale Ale must have entered Burma early on. Certainly true, but there is yet more since Mandalay Brewery made beer labelled as India ale and pale ale before World War II. (See my Part I).

One day I will visit old Rangoon, today’s Yangon. I will take in Holy Trinity Cathedral, traces of the old Jewish community, and much else.

I will taste of Burma’s past and Burma’s present, not least via the Burbrit pale ale.

Note re images: The first image above is drawn from this Wikipedia entry on Holy Trinity Cathedral, Yangon. Believed in public domain. The second image is from the Burbrit website, see here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*This page describes the management and brewing team of Burbrit, and gives the impression of a well-planned, first-rate operation. Burbrit is the first and I believe so far the only modern craft brewery in the country.





Malt and Myanmar (Part II)

Beer on Wheels

These notes will record a further story of beer, Burma and World War II. (For Part I, see here). It’s a matter of delivery of beer by truck to the field. Not just any beer, mind, but beer brewed en-route.

The arrival of the British in Burma, now Myanmar, in the 19th century was the consequence of three wars with a complex history.

Suffice to say that by 1885 Upper and Lower Burma, the lower part having been secured by mid-century, were under British fief. The usual colonial pattern followed. Establishment of British trading houses and banks. Plantations. Garrisons. Clubs – the Pegu Club in Rangoon, famously. Cricket grounds, breweries, churches. Etc.

Turning to the Second World War, beer again produces a story so outré one thinks only a novelist could have conceived it.

It is the so-called mobile brewery introduced by Lord Louis Mountbatten (1900-1979). Mountbatten was the Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command between 1943 and 1946. This brewery is specifically associated with Burma, although it may have been fielded elsewhere.

The beer was intended for forward fighting units, not rest and recreation centres or other rear areas. This contrasts, say, with the American brewery in Nice, France in 1945 I discussed earlier.



These mobile mini-plants were first publicized in 1943. Burma had been lost by then. Allied raiding, bombing and other harassment were in progress, with planning for a land invasion underway. This started in late 1944 and culminated in April of the following year.

A story in November 1943 in Australia, originating in Britain the same year, states that a 15-cwt truck carried a mash tub, boiler, cooler, and fermenting tub. It took three days to make the beer, and it would last as long. It was said the yeast contributed vitamin B. This probably softened the message for readers who might view askance the provision of beer to soldiers!



Further details appear in an article “Mobile Brewery at the Front” by Edwin J. Kirschner, a retired U.S. Army officer and historian. It was published in August 1991 in Defense Transportation Journal, Vol. 47, No. 4 (via JSTOR, so paywall or institutional access).

Kirschner first gives an impressive, concise account of Japanese military conquest in Southeast Asia post- the Pearl Harbor attack. He then explains:

At this juncture, the Allied forces in Southeast Asia were not winning. Mountbatten’s first offensive was to instill a winning frame of mind into his men by putting some fresh morale-building activities to use, such as films, theatrical shows, news bulletins, periodical publications … and a mobile brewery.

Kirschner states that Lt. Gen. Sir Reginald Denning was entrusted by Mountbatten with execution of the “traveling brewery” plan. Reginald Denning was a decorated, long-serving soldier who by this time had an administrative command. He was of the famous family that included senior members of the Bench and Royal Navy.

Getting the mobile brewery into the field appears to have been the immediate responsibility of Major-General Hugh “Alf” Snelling. See this Australian news account in 1945, one that addresses the great importance of supply and services in warfare. It makes sense that the man directly responsible to provide food and drink to the forces would get beer on wheels to the troops.

Published histories of the 14th Army in Burma, and of Snell’s outstanding work in logistics, confirm his role in the breweries. See e.g. the biography (2013) of Field Marshal Viscount Slim by Russell Miller.

No taste notes of the beer seem to have survived, or perhaps lurk in an obscure archive. Similarly for the design, testing, and implementation of the scheme.

A dossier deep in a Ministry of Defence file cabinet probably has the full story. A reasonable supposition though is that the army took technical advice from British brewing ranks on how to make drinkable beer on truck. Maybe the breweries on HM ships, and other wartime devices to provide beer in the field, were planned by the same small group.

The only advantage I can think of for mobile brewing in the tropics is, the beer would ferment fast, hence the three days mentioned. If drunk as quickly, probably it didn’t sour.

For Part III, see here.

Note re images: the first image was sourced from the Wikipedia entry “India in World War II”, here, and is in the public domain. It pictures Indian infantry in Burma. The second image, of a 15-cwt (3/4 ton capacity) Bedford truck, is from Wikipedia as well. It was sourced here, and believed also in the public domain. All intellectual property in both belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

*Many thanks to my friend Gary Hodder in Toronto for drawing my attention to this story.












Malt and Myanmar (Part I)



The Mandalay Brewery in Mandalay, Myanmar, the former Burma, is of great interest. It was founded 1886 in the aftermath of the Third Anglo-Burmese war by Dyer Breweries, creation of English brewery entrepreneur Edward Dyer.* Dyer established early breweries in India and expanded elsewhere in Asia. Later, his storied company, through merger, became Dyer Meakin and finally, in 1949, Mohan Meakin.

Burma was first a province of British India, and from 1937, a separate administration of Britain. The Japanese took over in WW II, and by 1948 Burma became independent.

On the website of an Asian-based investment advisor, there is striking display of labels from the brewery’s history, and other labels pertinent in the context.

One of the hardest infantry fights of the Second World War was to regain Mandalay, late 1944-April 1945. This was the culmination of a long campaign to retake Burma, preceded e.g., by British and American jungle raiders operating behind enemy lines (Wingate’s Chindits, Merrill’s Marauders). The Burma Road which supplied China was a key strategic objective.

On conquering Burma in 1942 the Japanese, with Thai involvement, set up a puppet republic and a compliant Burma Independent Army.

Most of the city, outside the central administrative and military district of Fort Dufferin, had been levelled by Japanese terror bombing. The Japanese occupied Fort Dufferin as a command centre. The brewery was, and is, north of Fort Dufferin in the city and apparently was not affected in this fighting.

Japanese business interests took over control of local industries. Mandalay Brewery became a fief of the Japan-controlled beer and liquor monopoly in Taiwan, Takasago.

Beer production continued but later the facility switched to soy and miso production according to a number of sources.

A focal point of the March 1945 fighting was to win Mandalay Hill, which directly overlooks Fort Dufferin. That battle was led by the 19th Infantry Division (British Indian Army) with RAF, New Zealand, and U.S. Army Air Force support. Gurkha, African, and domestic British units were also involved in the Mandalay assaults.

Once the hill was taken, heavy bombing and artillery were directed to Fort Dufferin but the last defenders could not be dislodged. The fort was protected, first by a street-wide earth wall, and then a wide moat.

Breaches in the wall were made but the moat proved an effective barrier. One nighttime raid to cross it and scale the walls was abandoned due to deterring fire.

The fort had been built by Burmese rulers before the British won control of all of Burma, and they had done their work well.

After a heavy, B-25 Mitchell raid, with most of Mandalay lost, the Japanese decided to abandon the fort. They escaped through drains built under the moat, straggling south and east. Freed civilian prisoners walked out with a white flag and the Union Jack. By end of March 1945 all Mandalay was back in British hands.

The brewery was still intact, as cinematic reportage on the final assault by the Australian Associated Press confirms.

The fact of the British taking back Mandalay Brewery made the rounds of army scuttlebutt, even reaching America as we will see, probably via U.S. Army fliers in Mandalay.

We know it from a news column by Bob Hope, “It Says Here”, that appeared in the syndicated press in April 1945. That’s Bob Hope, the famous entertainer. The column ran between 1943 and 1951, an outgrowth of his well-publicized USO tours and other war-work.I linked an example linked appearing in Albany, New York on April 13 in its Times-Union.

It seems doubtful the busy Hope actually wrote the series. More likely the team of writers he used for his scripted comedy did. Certainly the columns read like a series of Hope one-liners.

Some jokes fall flat or are obscure – there is an impression of hasty composition – but a wan smile is raised by:

The next phase will be the capture of a pretzel factory in Rangoon.


… the British like their beer warm, too … that’s like seeing Dorothy Lamour and admiring her hair dress [hair style].

The above probably caused a musing smile in Hope. After all, Hope was British-born, not just that, but in Eltham just outside London, where quality beer was once made (now part of Greenwich).

His father had a liking for alcohol, too. Unfortunately, it depressed the family’s fortunes and caused them to migrate to America when Bob was only four.

The capper in the column is when an American flier tells Hope that after seeing the brewery (maybe from his B-25), he “sat down and wrote Forever Amber”.

If any in Toronto get the joke without checking first, I’ll buy you a pint the next time (2021?) such can be arranged. Forever Amber was an American novel of 1944, a Restoration romance, and not a little racy for the time. It made a big splash on release and the young author, Kathleen Winsor, became instantly famous.

At least the joke-writer knew the colour of English beer. Maybe he had attended a celebrity U.S. and British beer contest held in New York in 1937.

The Mandalay Brewery was remembered with wry humour in a different but related context, by the historian of a British tank regiment that fought in Upper Burma earlier in the war. It was 1942, Britain had lost Rangoon and British forces had to evacuate the country.

The book, The Seventh and Three Enemies (1953), recounts the fighting of the 7th Queen’s Own Hussars in that campaign. The author, G.M.O. Davy, states that a rumour developed among the men that the Mandalay Brewery would soon close. Even though the men had seen very little beer since arriving in Burma, this sped them into action. See the book itself for the rest (p. 249).

Quite possibly this was India ale or a pale ale, labels that appear in the collection linked above.

If, as seems likely, Mandalay brewery was dry on recapture by the British of the brewery, those in the victorious forces who wanted a beer were not deprived, indeed due in part to Canada. A few years ago, the Waterloo Chronicle (Waterloo, Ontario) reported on a gathering of veterans. From the story:

Budd, now 89, was in one of two Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons stationed in India during the Second World War and flew Douglas C-47 Dakota military transport planes helping resupply the British 14th Army.

“The day after they took Mandalay back, I delivered 6,000 pounds of beer and whisky,” recalled Budd, who flew a total of 161 missions during the war. “We got quite a good reception.”

While it may sound frivolous to send so much alcohol so quickly in that situation, clearly it was intended as a tribute to those who had well-earned it. It was just one of countless attempts during the war to bring the balm of beer to hard-fighting men and women, in tribute and thanks to their sacrifice.

No doubt in Mandalay, after a Canadian had done his good work, many a glass was raised to brothers in arms who couldn’t be present, in hospital or forever interred in Burmese ground or waters.

Coda: today both the Mandalay and Myanmar breweries in the country are majority-owned by Japan’s Kirin Brewery. A sample label of Mandalay Brewery appears above, sourced from this Ratebeer link. It appears to be an ale, in the old style Dyer brought to Asia.**

Note re image: all intellectual property in image above belongs solely to the lawful owner. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

For Part II of this study, see here.


*According to Ian Colvin’s book The Life of General Dyer, Edward was born in Calcutta in 1831, but apparently was sent to and educated in England, whence he returned East.

**A book written a few years ago by Jeffrey Alexander, Brewed in Japan: The Evolution of the Japanese Beer Industry, states that from October 1942 until 1945, Takasuna Beer, a subsidiary of Kirin, ran the Mandalay Brewery “via Taiwan”, hence for Takasago.  This is an interesting finding, and means, therefore, that when Kirin acquired its current majority holding some years ago, in effect Mandalay Brewery was returned to its fold. I might add, Kirin announced at the end of last year that due to alleged human rights abuses by Burma’s military government, its minority partner, it is reviewing the status of its Burma investments. See details from this Financial Times report. As far as I know at date of writing, the ownership interests have not changed.


Hopsack, Cont’d.

Of Target and Twains

Below are references that deepen the discussion in my first part.

Basically, I show that the terms hopsack and hessian have been used in different senses, sometimes to mean merely a fresh hoppiness, but other times to suggest a separate quality, akin to the odour of jute or burlap.

Where a separate quality is meant, I see three possibilities.

1) The term is just metaphor, so a particular, maybe non-typical, characteristic of hops strikes the reviewer as evoking the earthy burlap smell.

2) The hops in the brew had some odour of jute attached from the hop pockets or bales they had been stored in.

3) The jute communicated some taste directly to the wort, by immersion. This might occur if the pockets, or smaller canvas bags holding hops, were placed whole in the kettle for steeping.

Whether no. 3 was ever done in British brewing I cannot say, but it seems likely that sometimes it was (is?), if only because some craft brewers today use bag steeping to hop the beer (a la teabag to make tea). Where I’ve seen it – actually I’ve done it – the bags are pocket-like nets made of a neutral, man-made material.

The references below also confirm that the aromatic qualities of jute, and some coffee, derive from a compound, phytane, in certain oils. This makes sense as mineral and other oils are used to process jute fibres into sacks. Originally, whale oil was used for this purpose.

In 1997 Michael Jackson stated in his Pocket Guide to Beer that Adnam’s Broadside, a pale ale, “blends hoppy, dryness and hessian notes”…  Use of both hoppy and hessian suggests separate qualities.

Also from the Pocket Guide to Beer, Harwood’s Porter, made then by Guinness in London, had a “hint of hop-sack aroma”.

Again in 1997, an article in Decanter magazine reviewed different hops used in classic British beers. It described the Target hop as having “hemp”, “hessian” and “hop-sack” aromas. (I can’t tell the author from the extract in Google Books).

Woodsy qualities are often associated with traditional English hops, and a mineral or earthy quality seems related.

A 1990 book by Ian Niall, English Country Traditions, states that cider can be filtered through hessian or straw, with the former being preferable as not communicating an unwanted odour. While ostensibly suggesting jute is neutral, this may not be the case, but rather that country cider makers liked the taste it conveyed.

(This book seems, by some error, to be juxtaposed with another, unrelated volume).

In the 2011 Oxford Companion to Beer, ed. by Garrett Oliver, the entry on dry-hopping defines “hop-sack aroma” as simply a fresh hop flavour, arising especially from the monoterpenoids in hops. This usage again views the term as purely metaphorical. Yet as we’ve seen, writers on occasion have used hessian and hopsack to indicate qualities separate from those usually associated with hops.

In the 1990 text Flavour Chemistry: Thirty Years of Progress, the authors state that some jute sacks feature an “off” mineral oil flavour, from phytane, as does some coffee from India. It is not clear if the coffee tested had been stored in jute bags.

While the phytane is typed as an off-flavour in this perspective, it is consistent with many other accounts that state jute cloth can have a noticeable, characteristic scent. It is this smell some beer reviewers notice in beer as separate from a hop quality, or normal hop quality. Possibly it arises from yeast or malt although we think it more likely the hops carry the taste.

This 2008 entry in the website Science Direct gives more background on phytane, considering it a key characteristic of petroleum oils.

Finally, a recent article by Vincent Ehret on the “Beer Flavour Wheel” is useful in that the terms I’ve considered, hessian and hopsack, are not mentioned. I’ve reviewed a few other wheels, and don’t see them there, either. This may not be a complete survey, of course.

Ehret gives useful background on the origins of this professional tasting tool, which goes back to the 1970s.

I think it quite likely that hessian and hopsack were introduced by landmark consumer beer writer Michael Jackson. They belong, in other words, to the creative or imaginative side of beer writing, not the science side. Not that there isn’t a close connection between the two.

Brewing was ever a twain that met.







Years ago I first read the term “hopsack” to describe a fresh hoppy character in beer. I’m fairly certain it was in the writing of the Briton Michael Jackson (1942-2007), who may well have originated the term. If so it is one of his countless, striking contributions to the vocabulary of beer appreciation.

Off and on others have used the term,  an example appears in The Beer Book: Your Drinking Guide to Over 1700 Beers. The book is multi-authored so I am not sure who wrote this particular entry, but of Tuatara pilsener from New Zealand it is stated, “fresh, hessian-like, hopsack character”.

Now, the term hessian is interesting here, it is one of the British terms for burlap. A scholarly note in Wikipedia fills us in on hessian history, see here. Sisal or jute is usually the base of it, of course vegetative in origin.

So an earthy, vegetable-like smell and taste, I think most know it from burlap bags in our daily life. Jute is one of the strongest natural fibres known, and fully bio-degradable. A benefaction of nature, jute looks ready for revival as plastic packaging is de-emphasized over time.

When Jackson wrote “hopsack”, I assumed it was just a figure for fresh hop aroma, one of his pleasing, allusive terms. He may actually have meant the hops were intermingled with a jute-like smell. Clearly the author of the taste note on Tuatara pilsner intended that.

Hops, once dried in a kiln, for centuries were pressed into long, tubular “pockets” made from sisal or jute. A 1913 study by W.A. Graham Clark, Linen, Jute and Hemp Industries in the United Kingdom, stated the pockets (for bag or sack; think poke) were of un-hemmed 24-ounce (or heavier) cloth sewed with “hemp twine”. Incidentally it seems Italian hemp twine was considered choice for this purpose.

According to Chris Boulton’s (2013) Encyclopedia of Brewing, traditional hop pockets are still used to process English whole hops.

Certainly coffee beans and many other commodities are still shipped in jute bags, we all have an idea of them from displays in specialty coffee shops.

Of the myriad factors that affect beer flavour, has anyone ever investigated methodically whether the taste of jute can get into the beer? Probably not, yet, as we will see, in a past time brewers seemed aware the sacks could affect the taste.

In terms of today, most hops are processed into pellets and oils. These use a different packaging, so the sack factor is moot. Heavy duty foil is often used, with sophisticated nitrogen flushing and oxygen barriers to preserve maximum freshness.

Hop sacks from natural fibres like jute and sisal, not to mention whole-flower hops, hark back to an earlier time, a craft era if you will but in a sense different from today.

A short but informative piece in 1939 on hop usage in the U.K. appeared in the Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative (New South Wales). It stated of hop pockets:

They are extremely susceptible to any alien smell and are themselves liable to impart their aroma to other goods.

Did the writer mean the hops themselves were so susceptible and liable, or the jute material they were packed in was? Not clear, but I’d think perhaps both were meant. Jute can have a strong, characteristic smell. In a former time, any odours this imparted to the beer were just part of the deal, part of the long string of traditional processes that led to a distinctive, mostly natural product called beer.

The same could be true of some coffee we drink. In the case of this beverage, agricultural engineers have studied how different bulk packagings affect coffee beans. A recent article in the Perfect Daily Grind reported on a sophisticated study that examined the impact of different materials.

In part, it considered the effects of oxidation as jute bags are permeable, but presumably the analysis included any migration of compounds from the jute to the coffee. (This kind of detail is not apparent from the news report).

The conclusion was: for the first six months of storage no meaningful differences were detected. For coffee stored in jute between six and 18 months, analytical differences were noted vs. the beans in modern, impermeable packaging. I don’t regard it as fanciful that hop pocket jute could impact beer similarly. This might result not just from oxidation, a well-known risk of hop storage, but from the standpoint of imparting a flavour.

Whether or not the hops in Tuatara pilsner had been stored in hop pockets, the aroma struck one reviewer as hessian-like. If need be those words function as true simile, in other words. Either way it doesn’t matter: the writer gave us an accurate impression of the flavour.

For a continuation of this post, see the next post immediately following.

Note re image: image above, in the public domain, was sourced from this Wikipedia Commons entry.




A pub or not a pub? That is the Question

Defining the English Pub*

Among beer and pub historians, an eternal question is how to define the English pub. What are its essential markers?

Games have often been suggested in this regard. Earlier canvassings might note the presence of skittles, darts, shove halfpenny, bowls, or billiards in the pub.

Do you know tippet? A pub pastime of the West Country, or it was. British Pathé memorialized it along with shove ha’penny in a 1941 sound clip.

Other elements of the pub can be gleaned from three stories on English pub culture in the mid-1900s Australian press (linked further below). These include

  • the idea of community or a “social club” for the everyday man, hence in company of friends and acquaintances
  • Drinking beer
  • liberal drinking hours, in contrast to Australia’s (then) 6:00 p.m. weekday closing and related “swilling”
  • patronage by both men and women
  • entertainment, e.g., piano, a small band, dance orchestra in large pubs (the Midlands cited)
  • differing amenities depending on the “bar”: public, saloon, or lounge,  but with increased “intermingling” blurring the distinctions

It is interesting what is not canvassed: the quality, types, and sources of beer sold, say. This seems to have been relatively unimportant, provided beer of reasonable strength was available.

This really hasn’t changed much either. Cask ale and craft beer are still sub-cultures. While they have some importance socially and economically, they are not general markers of the pub even as the real ale lobby, Campaign for Real Ale, has made strides in preserving the tradition of cask ale.

No particular architectural style is suggested in the Australian stories. Nor is building size although implicit is that most pubs are small-scale, consistent with the notion of a club.

Food is not mentioned. Nor is the landlord’s personality, although this does play a role for many pubs, and is mentioned in other accounts on the nature of a pub.

In 2020, the factor of games or entertainment continues – a quiz night, recorded music, big screens for sports, digital entertainments. Games and other entertainment have evolved.

The Financial Times will update you if you are not up to speed, see this recent account. A wide variety of interactive games and creative apps has rivalled if not eclipsed the games of the 1940s.

Most pubs serve food now, not just in cities as was typical in the 1940s. Most serve lager, and an increasing number serve craft or other non-traditional British beer.

Many pubs are gathered in large, non-brewery-owned groups. Wetherspoons and other large operators exemplify this style, which deploys an operating “system”, often price-driven.

Most hotel bars are not really pubs, I think, due to their changing clientele and status as component of a different, onsite establishment.

Are American-style craft bars in the U.K., such as Brewdog’s, pubs in the traditional sense?Their decor, drinks, food types and target patronage seem to suggest otherwise, at least the ones I know in London. Maybe in time though, 10-20 years, they will be viewed as pubs.

A traditional pub, on the other hand, can serve craft IPA, a beer style that emerged on the American West Coast. Indeed this is routine today. The beer type can vary, or change over time, as earlier noted.

“Micropubs” are usually pubs, here the factor of the manager or proprietor is vital.

What about Flight Club now? Do you know it? It is a highly successful chain of bars, vision of an ex-City worker who started them in 2015. The concept is to update the venerable pastime of darts, which had been declining.

Teams are organized, in larger groups than traditionally, with a digital component for score-keeping and online feedback. It is termed “social darts”, and has taken off.

A 2018 story in the Guardian by Gavin Haynes gave the low-down. Note the trendy menu offering of coal-fired pizza. He set in contrast a part of the country where traditional, non-digitized darts is still a draw, Stoke-on-Trent.

Reading the account, the Stoke pubs seem to exemplify enduring qualities of the pub, while Flight Club seems more trendy, appealing to the upwardly mobile.

The Guardian explains Stoke may be the most working class city in Britain, with a large number of small pubs, heritage of a network of localities that merged long ago in the conurbation. Yet the pubs continue as social hubs, many revolving around a game with deep roots in Britain.

Flight Club is also a hub, but of a different sort, hosting corporate functions and Tinder date nights. Its decor is contemporary, judging by the website, more like a chic hotel or restaurant bar than a traditional pub.

Following are links for the Australian press stories noted above.

The Argus, 1939

Warwick Daily News, 1945

Armidale Express, 1948

The first includes this statement:

What is there about the English “pubs” that creates [the] tradition – what is it that we [in Australia], for example, have not got? The English “pub” is, to begin with, created by the English working man through a characteristic spirit of comradeship, tolerance, and good temper. It is his club, and around it have grown up national institutions such as skittles and darts. It is the village forum – a home away from home…

Urban pubs likely dominate today over rural ones but as one of the articles notes, a city pub provides a social function just as a village pub does, only less intensively.

Allowing for such changes, and the related evolution in gender and societal make-up of the pub, the quotation is a clue to an essential quality of the public house, namely, as resort for a specific socio-economic segment.

The concept of “working” is key – modesty of circumstances and prospects is implied. This does not mean of course the pub is restricted to such circles, to the people, but they form the spiritual centre, is the argument, or how I apprehend it.

N.B. If you put a pub on a train and decked it out as “olde worlde”, is it a real pub? See our treatment here.

*Revised June 17, 2022.







Pubs on Wheels (Part II)

Wouldn’t it be great to see a film of the tavern cars British Rail introduced in 1949? In fact, you can. See here, courtesy British Pathé and YouTube.

It shows clearly the equipment discussed in my Part I. Note the bar where beers are being poured (just bottles here). We see the oak tables and chairs set against the walls, and patterned floor. The floor colours were black and red to simulate a tiled floor in a country inn. The pub sign looks great, too.

You can almost walk in, and chat with the chaps. Scenes are shown in the smart-looking restaurant, as well.

Despite high dudgeon in the House of Commons (“Hollywood mummery“, one MP cried) and letters columns – some of it self-interested surely, from design bodies not consulted – the cars look pleasing and inviting. At least this is so from my vantage point in 2020. That any port in a storm would please, at the moment, just adds to its allure.

Certainly the bar cars on French trains, which I had occasion to patronize recently, aren’t a patch on this, including no doubt the beer.

As for our Via Rail, it hasn’t a bar car at all, not that I ever saw on the Montreal-Toronto run.

The Australian press, the more thoughtful part of it, deployed a stylish wit at the plan, some at Australians’ expense. See here, and here.*

It’s all funny stuff and you need to read it yourself, but here is a sample.

Whatever else this new service may achieve (at the cost of near apoplexy among people of conservative leanings) it should lend variety to that popular pastime, the pub crawl. Up to now the pubs, at least until after the fifth or sixth drink, have stayed still and the patrons have kept on the move. The express taverns will reverse this rule.
Continuing from the same piece:
Moreover, their cunning exterior as well as interior disguise could bring the railways considerable involuntary custom. For example, absentminded or bemused revellers doing the rounds of orthodox hostelries in the vicinity of London’s St. Pancras might run a very good chance of finishing their outing in Scotland.

Although the cars are long gone, their apparent inspiration, the Chequers Hotel in Pulborough, Sussex, still stands proudly. This is their website. Some elements of the building do suggest a connection possibly, especially the warm brick and whitewashed parts. Maybe, too, the sash windows.

Other images I’ve seen show handsome oak beams in the interior. Even the bar looks in its physical aspect somewhat similar although likely it was redesigned over the years.

Looks like a lovely place, I must put it on our agenda, when world circumstances permit.

Note re image above: sourced from Wikipedia Commons, here, indicated as released to public domain. All feedback welcomed.


*Both via Trove Historical Newspapers.



Pubs on Wheels (Part I)

“Puffing Pubs”

Bar scene in the Bulleid Tavern car, c 1930s.

Beer and trains go together – except in the engineer’s cabin. The vaults under St. Pancras Rail station London were sized famously to accommodate the dimensions of beer barrels shipped down from Burton on Trent.

Anheuser-Busch using the rails to ship afar its pasteurized Budweiser, helping to establish a national market.

Beer figuring on club car menus (except during Prohibition) of which I’ve given numerous examples here.

An American railroad, Union Pacific, had between the late 1930s and 1950s a Frontier Shack and a British Pub on its Denver and other runs. See my discussion, here.

The American effort was a careful excursion into the consciously mythic. We were, by this time, in an advanced consumer society. Today the process is called (by critics) commodification if not sometimes cultural appropriation, but these forms are an age-old expression of a commercial society, of free enterprise.

The urban food halls and shiny vintage trucks selling world cuisine bring new experiences to people; how authentic is your call, with the freedom to patronise or not.

In a former time, a faux-Old West saloon in a streamlined steel wonder was the equivalent of our food halls and trucks. The equivalent of “chic-industrial” in the 1980s and 90s. The equivalent of Gay Nineties design in the 1960s. And so it will go forever – once the bars re-open.

Still, for the pub, the one place you wouldn’t expect to see a nostalgic revival of period design was Britain. I mean, they invented the pub, have always cherished it. When necessary, they evolved new forms: the 1930s suburban roadhouse; the 1960s blocky pubs in new tower blocks, and later, the ornate banks-turned-pubs … the cool All Bar One style … the railway arch bars.

A similar but distinct idea was theme pubs in the post-war era, see Boak and Bailey’s 20th Century Pub for a good elucidation. This invested the pub with a motif as a focal point for discussion, maybe some feature of travel, the natural world, sports or entertainment, outer space.

Sometimes a pub was renovated, not to exploit crassly a past vernacular but to restore simply its original look. A good example is the handsome Lamb pub on Lamb’s Conduit Street, Bloomsbury, well-known for its Victorian fittings such as “snob screens”. For some background on the pub, see in “Lottie’s Walk”, an urban geography account. The building predates the 19th century but evidently was rebuilt as “Victorian” then. While not stated in the link, I understand the interior was first restored in the 1950s (and perhaps since).

The original Davy Wine Bars in London were an emulation of the Victorian, City wine bars, yes. The upright barrels strewn seemingly at random, the sawdust, coaching lamps, ranks of empty bottles – all an attempt to get at that. Pretty successfully, too.

For wine, somehow one accepts it, just as 20 and 30 years ago London borrowed the style of French wine bistro. Wine does not have the heritage in Britain of beer, the special status.

Why build a facsimile Georgian pub or Victorian gin-palace when you had the originals – those not splintered by German bombs? At most just a spruce-up was needed, a la Lamb. The nearby (Holborn) Princess Louise forms another example.

So no fake or “olde Englishe” country pubs were built in that era.* Right? Not exactly.

A signal exception was the British Rail creation of “tavern cars”. In the late 1940s a noted railway designer, Oliver Bulleid, created these for express lines going south and east from London. The cars, dubbed “mock-Tudor” in news accounts, were decorated on the outside with painted brick motif and strapwork on cream. Inside they had oak cross beams, a bar area partly enclosed in opaque glass (panes), a patterned floor, and other paraphernalia to resemble a comfy country pub.

There were high narrow leaded windows, apparently to ensure patrons did not loll with their drink enjoying an outside view.

Some have said that Bulleid was inspired by a pub in Pulborough, Sussex, the Chequers Hotel. Others said it was West Country pubs he had in mind. The pubs were given bucolic or traditional names, The Green Man, the Bull, The Three Plovers, the White Horse (pictured above). They even served draft beer, almost certainly the new bright, filtered, “keg” beer. The shaking of the coaches would have demanded no less.

In additional sources listed below you can see images of the cars, outside and in, and read narratives by railway historians explaining this absorbing detail of pub history.

The cars were popular with travellers, and ran for 10 years. Around 1960 they were converted finally to club cars. (The original set up was two cars coupled, one the pub car, one a restaurant car).

So even in the land of pubs, even before the full restoration of the peacetime economy, a commodification if you will of “England’s own” took place. Not that it hadn’t opposition, as the links below explain. Official bodies that hadn’t participated in the design thundered away in the letters columns and the House of Commons.

They regarded the cars as kitsch, an abomination, the “reductio ad absurdum of the mania for the fake antique” (see no. 1 below). A few design changes were made, not many by my study, and life and business went on very merrily for 10 years.

British Rail made the right call. The one the people wanted.

Additional Sources

  1. Article in the Sun, Sydney, June 4, 1949
  2. Wragg, D. The Southern Handbook: the Southern Railway 1923-1947 (2017)
  3. Lovegrove, K. Railway Identity, Design, and Culture (2004)
  4. Bradley, S. The Railways: Nation, Network, and People (2015)
  5. “The Tavern That Travelled On Rails”, Along These Tracks Blogpost (May 27, 2018)

N.B. The caption to the first image above is surely an error or typo from the source; our research, and the photo itself, suggest a c. 1949 date.

For a continuation of this post, see Part II.

Note re images: the first image above was sourced from the Science and Society Picture Library, here. The second image is from the archival Australian news report (via Trove Newspapers) linked in no. 1 above. Each is used for research (educational and historical) purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.


*I speak broadly of the period up to the 1980s. I think the position did finally change, under impulse largely from some pub groups or estates. As well, I exclude the subject of the foreign “English pub” or “Irish pub”, i.e., as successfully commoditized and exported around the world.


Old School

“Schools for Licensees and Barmaids”

“Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”, wrote Percy Bysshe Shelley in his (1840) A Defence of Poetry. This profound statement applies not just to poets but those from many backgrounds who influence society permanently.

Shelley’s statement applies especially to ideas at odds with received notions, but that win acceptance over time.

In a three-part examination last year (starts here) I discussed the career of the English padre Basil Jellicoe. In today’s terms he was a social justice advocate, active in the interwar period. He campaigned among other work to reform pubs, hence, and most unusually, under church auspices. One of his ideas was to create a “College for Publicans”.

Jellicoe envisioned, in other words, a school to teach pub landlords how to conduct responsibly their trade. As reported by the press in 1929, he remarked, in a statement capable of provoking even today:

“We ought to make the publican’s profession great, noble and honorable,” says Mr Jellicoe. “I advocate the establishment of a publican’s college where men can be trained as social workers and subsequently, as first class publicans.”

In that period there was no organized system to train people how to run a pub. Jellicoe’s audacious plan was received with a range of reactions, from incredulity to mockery. A crude example is demonstrated by an Australian cartoon in 1929 (again via Trove Historical Newspapers):



Father Jellicoe died young in the 1930s, with his plans mostly not realized. Two or three pubs were launched under his scheme but they did not meet financial expectations, and reverted essentially to a standard operating model.

Yet, only three years after World War II, a 12-week course was offered in London to train prospective publicans and servers, much as the padre envisioned except without a religious component. The course was described in Tit-Bits, a long-running, general interest magazine today considered a forerunner to the Daily Mail and similar media.

The article was reprinted in the Australian press – ever interested to report on the English pub as I have discussed earlier in these pages.

The piece, published in 1948, shows the training covered a surprising range of topics, with visits to an operating pub and brewery included. The writer, Trevor Allen, employed a lapidary, rapid-fire, knowing style, almost like Dickens. Despite some levity, to a degree reflecting the times, he acknowledged the worth of the program.

The course was offered by the Distributive Trades’ Technical Institute (DTTI) headquartered then on Charing Cross Road. Allen described his visit to an unnamed brewery in Mile End, probably Charrington & Co. He also inspected the bar and cellars at The Three Nuns pub in Aldgate. That pub was next to Aldgate Underground Station in a hotel and no longer exists; in the 1970s the site was cleared for redevelopment.

Allen states that beer glasses were unusually valuable as they were regularly stolen – too many smashed in the latter day bombing, I imagine. He investigates how draught beer was dispensed, and noted too how brewers were producing fewer types than before the war.

And spirits were still short, three years after the war’s end. Allen is mildly discomfited not to get an actual drink during the course tour but was mollified with the prospect of a whisky tasting, to compare single malt with grain or patent still whisky.

An example of Allen’s wit:

The [brewery] men, mostly young, have that confident, expansive look common to those intimately associated with beer (I’ve noted it on almost every face, passing through the brewery, and it makes me think of Falstaff, Merrie England and All That – even in the Mile End road). Then there are the women, all smart and alert – the ace bar-ladies of tomorrow. One I find, is already a manager’s wife – starting at the top and working down to the cellar. The lecturer – mellow, smiling, like a glass of clear ale in sun or lamplight – starts by knocking down all our illusions about ‘Drawn from the Wood’.

Allen’s envoi:

So now you have the layout. Twelve weeks of it – very earnest, scientific and helpful – and no heeltaps. Bill, the embryo-manager, bursting with data; Beattie the barmaid knowing a thing or two – as if barmaids didn’t, anyway!

Based on Allen’s report it seems the DTTI syllabus, innovative for its time, covered pretty much what today’s hotel and bar-training courses offer, and maybe then some. The brewery-sponsored PEAT scheme is a modern example of such training in the UK.

Today, through a series of school mergers the DTTI forms part of University of Arts London.

Envoi of my own: Father Basil Jellicoe was such a legislator as Shelley had in mind, and is remembered in Britain, especially London, to this day.