Yes, that’s Bass purple triangle, not the more familiar red, or less familiar blue polygons of the Bass pale ale family.
The Bass Tradition
Bass Pale Ale is probably, next to Guinness, the foreign beer I have most written about, in numerous blogposts, and scholarly articles for Brewery History.
Bass of Burton-on-Trent made many kinds of beer, but the pale ale, aka East India Pale Ale, was pre-eminent, certainly in the 19th century and for a good part of the next. It wasn’t the first India Pale beer but it was probably the best known and most famous.
The brand still exists, in Britain and elsewhere. A U.S.-made version is pretty good despite anguished despairings of various observers. True, it lacks the “Burton snatch”, the sulphur-like smell and taste the draught version in U.K. still carries by many reports.
But the Yank one has the characteristic nutty-apple taste, based on tastings two winters ago in Florida. We had a Labatt brewed draft in Toronto until about three years ago, I reviewed it here. It was similar to the U.S. one.
A version is brewed in Belgium which I thought excellent, again though different from the funky British draught. That taste derives from gypsum in the water and its complex relationship with the Bass yeast, is the sum of knowledge on it by my gleaning.
A vintage Bass label appears below (source: Brewery History Wiki).
The Special Flavours of Bass
The funk was there in (unpasteurized, bottle-conditioned) Bass Red Triangle c. 1900 in America. Drinkers called it the “Bass stink”, a statement I uncovered and chronicled in my article on “musty ale”. Musty was a fashionable drink in the U.S. Northeast from about 1875 until WW I.
While the mystery of musty is a thicket to penetrate, the best explanation is probably not the sulphate snatch but rather the effect of Brettanomyces. This is the wild yeast component in the former mixed cultures used by Bass and most British breweries until single cell yeasts were finally adopted by most brewers.
Depending how long such beer was kept, and by definition exported beer was long kept in early water shipment days, the Brett effect might show up sooner rather than later. It typically was a horsey or barnyard scent, prized nonetheless by devotees.
I gave an example of such taste in an unnamed English pale ale described in a French novel of 1885, in this post.
So Bass, and many Burton pale ales, had a kind of double shot in the old days: the “struck match” from the gypsum and the horsey notes of Brett. No wonder they called it the Bass stink.
The Bass Style Sans all Guns; the Eagle Brewery
In the American Northeast, some brewers in the Gilded Age went to good trouble to explain to the market that their beer was better than Bass and similar imports. I’ve given examples before, but the explanation below, from an 1885 issue of the Paterson (New Jersey) Morning Call, is of particular interest:
” … being entirely free from those characteristic odors often noticeable in malt liquors after a long sea voyage”.
As the full article explained, the three partners of this brewery, the Eagle Ale and Porter Brewery, were all English-born. Such people by personal connections or their own memory would know what fresh English beer tasted like. And it didn’t have Brett, that would result from the effects of long storage and handling including especially a sea voyage.
While in the 1880s I.P.A. was long-stored before export, much bitter beer was sold relatively fresh. The “B” beer of Eagle was probably of this character, a pale ale but sold relatively young.
Indeed Brett takes time to work, to marshall its character in the bottle or cask. It may have varied from brewery to brewery, even brew to brew, I.P.A. or other, but the general point made in the extract above makes sense.
Bass of Blue and Purple
Bass later devised its bottled Blue Triangle pale ale, marketed from the 1930s as beer historians know, as an alternative to the (concurrently available) Red Triangle.
I discussed a little-known Purple Triangle Bass, advertised in 1920s British Malaya, in my new article in Brewery History, “An Outline on Beers and Brewing in British Malaya: 1827-1957. Part I”.
Below is an image and sample advert for the brand, in this case from the Australia press of the 1920s:
In the new article I considered the likely character of Purple Triangle as compared to a) classic Red Triangle, and b) the later Blue Triangle Bass, a pasteurized, stable version.
Of course, in the fullness of time, Bass Red Triangle became the standard bottled Bass, pasteurized just as Blue Triangle was from inception. When old style Red Triangle was still available, whatever else Blue Triangle had going for it, a Brett flavour probably did not feature. Pasteurization would kill the yeast and preclude the kind of secondary (or tertiary) fermentation that allowed Brett to manifest.
The Eagle has Landed
The Eagle Brewery, for its part, carried on in somewhat altered form (due to merger) into WW I. It was still preoccupied by I.P.A. and took some groundbreaking steps to market it more effectively, which I described in this post.
The war and Prohibition put paid to those plans. For a more granular look at Hinchliffe brewery history, consult the Document Center of the City of Paterson.
American I.P.A. survived Prohibition, barely. Still, it lasted long enough, in the shape of Ballantine India Pale Ale,* to inspire a new generation of brewers.
Below we see, from the Morning Call account, the handsome Eagle Brewery as built in 1867 by Messrs. Shaw, Hinchliffe, & Penrose. Its capacity was 40,000 bbl per annum.
Note re images: Source of each image above is identified and linked in text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.
*Also from New Jersey.