In his thesis of 1992 studying brewing history in Northeast England Brian R. Bennison explained that brewers such as Vaux in the 1870s had a staple of mild ale. This was increasingly under pressure from pale ale brewers, Burton-based and elsewhere.
Hence some Northeast brewers, including C. Vaux & Sons, founded by Cuthbert Vaux in 1837, opted to invest in plant and operations to make this style, as well as stout. See at 98-99.
The first press coverage we can find for Vaux Stout is on December 24, 1894 in the Shields Daily Gazette. It stated: “Ask for Vaux’s Highly Nourishing Stout” (via British Newspaper Archive).
The company, as many at the time, placed analysts’ certificates in advertising to emphasize the purity and health merits of its products.
For about 10 years from 1895 these took different forms. One style, reproduced in the website of the recently founded craft Vaux Brewery, implied that the fermentation of the wort was pursued to the maximum, which normally would produce a dry beer.
(“The digestive action of malt has been pushed in the process of production to the maximum degree”).
A video review of the revived Vaux Stout by Nick Smith and Phil Norman of The Fellowship of Beer does suggest a dry beer. Phil states there is no “cloying” taste. Nick says the palate is dry and quite bitter, with Phil likening the beer finally to an export type.
The beer is 7% abv, and the palate as described by the Fellowship is one iteration of a double or export stout.
One analyst’s certificate employed by C. Vaux & Sons, in the Leeds Times on July 9, 1898, revealed the alcohol level: 6.55% abv, with the lower value by weight stated as well (via British News Archive as noted). It read in part:
The extract amounted to 8.02%, and the mineral matter to 0.33 per cent. On distillation the stout proved to contain 5.25 per cent, by weight of alcohol, or 6.55% per cent, by volume…
In an early canvass of “Beer Names” Ron Pattinson also mentions this number for 1899, 6.55% abv. although I could not tell the source:
C. Vaux & Sons Ltd. Sunderland. 1899 Vaux’s Stout (6.55% vol). Bottled.
The source in the Leeds Times, printed in other newspapers of the time including Yorkshire Evening Post, includes a further vital bit, the “extract”: 8.02%, in other words final gravity of the beer. This permits us to calculate the opening gravity and attenuation or fermentation limit reached.
I get 1082 OG, finishing at 1032 with 59% apparent attenuation. That would entail a fairly rich beer, although other factors might reduce the apparent body, especially hop bitterness and the degree of roast flavour from colouring malt.
As usual, brewer advertising especially in past periods could be ambiguous. The ad above vaunts both a digestible beer from its (implied) dryness yet also a “highly nourishing” character, which was often taken for a rich body. Frequently in brewer advertising but especially in Victorian times one liked to “cover the bases”.
The re-cast Vaux Stout, released at the end of last year, is 7% abv as noted, so half a point higher than in 1898. The “1898” wort might have been further fermented to reach this limit, which would lower the final gravity and raise the attenuation above 59%.
Or perhaps the old recipe was interpreted, or adapted, in a different way, or even that in 1899 C. Vaux & Sons changed the stout, making it an even 7% abv and/or drier than initially it was.
I will be in Britain in late June and will seek out the beer to give my own impression. One thing is clear: heritage brewing is laudable and we need to see more of it.
Whatever approach people take to old records, it is good to see some deference paid to methods of the past. I know too, from brewing collaborations I have been involved in, that the taste results often impress as well.
And one way or another, we learn from the past.
Part II continues this topic.