A Classification of British Beers, 1950

Typology in Beer

The classification of beers ebbs and flows in the affections, or at least attentions, of beer writers.

I’ll flow it a bit further with a chart included in a 1950 article by British brewing scientist George B. Beattie (from p. 81):

 

 

The article, “Gushing Beer Problem”, appeared in Wallerstein Communications, the house journal of the Wallerstein brewing consultancy in New York City.

Beattie’s writing is impressive in length and scope,  I will focus just on the chart. It is a snapshot of British beer classification as viewed by some experts at the time.

Parts cannot be taken too literally, as Beattie would have acknowledged. The document was meant for a sophisticated but trans-national audience, so some simplification was in order.

Bottled Mild

Bottled mild ales had to include brown ale (vs. his “brown beers”), many Scotch ales, some strong ales, and other non-pale ale-type beers that weren’t porter or lager.

This is not to suggest they share the same traits, but for convenience clearly a larger group than “bottled mild” was meant. Ron Pattinson’s book Mild! (2009) lists in 60 pages some 1,200 mild ales, almost all described as “draught”.

I counted five bottled milds: from Worthington, Whitbread, Thwaites Blackburn, Hull Brewery, and Barclay Perkins. Five out of 1,200. And the list covers mainly the 20th century with a good chunk pertaining to ca. 1950.

Scattered examples of beers labeled or at least called, in general narratives, “mild ale” go back to the early 1800s. But there were never that many, setting aside to be sure actual mild beers without “mild” on the label.

Today, there seem comparatively more beers labeled “mild”. See for example this group assessed by Boak & Bailey in 2015. I think because mild in cask is so reduced as a category of cask-conditioned beer, brewers feel obliged to perpetuate the name on the label.

Of course as in the past, many bottled and canned beers are mild ale even though “mild” is absent from the packaging. Numerous ruby ales and dark ales would qualify, and some Scotch ale again.

Sweet London Stout

The chart types London stout, which I take as British in the context, as “sweet”. The description of the filtered, carbonated equivalent is more qualified (still, it says “chiefly”), but this idea of British stout being sweet by comparison to Irish stout seems to go back a long way.

The term “roasted malt” is used to describe Irish stout, not “dry” but I think a dry, acerbic note was meant. An emphatic roast malt taste, or roast barley, would contribute to this character.

The colouring malts of porter early in the 1800s were considered to enhance its dry or acerbic character, vs. simply the hops.

Likely too, Irish stout of 1950 – mainly Guinness – was higher-hopped than British stout (on average). The very high hopping rates for Ireland we saw recently in the 1930s make this plausible.

It does not mean roast malt was not used in British stout, but rather it did not lend a keynote character.

There might be more to it than this, I’m thinking of the use of sugar, and Mackeson Stout.

Yeast Types

The distinction of pure yeasts for lager vs. mixed types for top-fermented beer is notable – British brewing still hadn’t adopted, by and large, pure culture yeasts for ale and stout.

The inclusion of dark lager is notable too, an example of the flagged “Continental” character of British lager.

At that time the international brewing and hospitality industries still associated lager as such with Munich or dark lager, the original type. Hence why frequently on menus one saw both light and dark examples, often from the same brewery.

The Continental influence persisted into the 1960s in the Anglosphere, e.g. Harp Lager at Dundalk, Ireland was likely all-malt in the 1960s, and possibly until 2015 when the brewery closed.

Fermentation Type

The inclusion of closed-fermentation as a last category in “Methods of Brewing” foretold the future of course. The remaining systems described, handed down by tradition in a still-regional brewing culture, would be considerably fewer today, although some examples of each type probably still exist.

Takeaway

When one adds to everything above that British beer used a high proportion of British hops, lager apart, one can see the flavour range was probably very wide, much more so than today.*

Note: source of image(s) above is linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

*Meaning traditional beer, not craft.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “A Classification of British Beers, 1950”

  1. It’s sad, but maybe not surprising, that there is no box for Burtons and various Strong ales, and they all seem to have been rolled up into the “Special” box along with strong stouts. Post war they were probably making too little to be worth classifying any more for this exercise.

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  2. A third point. Guinness stout in 195O still had a measure of old beer added. The proportion depended on the trade type, but Foreign Export Stout certainly used it, and Extra Stout. With vatting mostly having died out in England by this time, and even setting aside Mackeson and sweetened stouts, that alone would enhance perception of sweetness on the UK side of the Irish Sea, and diminish it on the other side.

    That fact remains, Beattie assigned the word sweet to London-type stout, not Irish.

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  3. For an example of a similar binary perception of London porter as sweet-luscious vs. the drier Irish character, see Frank Thatcher in his 1898 brewing text.

    An earlier example, well-known to brewing historians, is a Londoner’s description of “crack” London porter as “balmy” vs the “sub-acid” character of Guinness. In fairness, these observations may apply more accurately to export porter, the type English observers would encounter with regularity. Nonetheless an overall impression is left by these comments, and there are others similar.

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