Alan Tomkins Tipples. Part III.

Tomkins and the Public Bar. Ealing Studios and the Saloon Bar.

I’ve pieced together some bio on Alan Tomkins from his own multi-decade columns in the Sunday Dispatch, and a few other (sparse) sources.

The history of the Dispatch is laid out in this Wikipedia article. Its independence ended by merging in 1961 with the Sunday Express, a victim of changing fashion including the siren of television.

In its time the Dispatch had an impressive roster of journalists, people such as Randolph Churchill, Dorothy Crisp, Gordon Beckles, and Ursula Bloom.

Over a dozen are listed in the piece linked, but Tomkins is absent. This is hard to understand, as he had a long career and wrote well, on a wide variety of subjects.

His columns were not quite the gossip genre, as he does not throw names around, but his style had traits of the genre. He wrote what in the heyday of the legacy press was called the city column.

The absence of his name is perhaps down to the ostensibly light content he dealt in. More likely it is a simple omission. His passing must have been recorded in the British press, but I cannot find an example.

He served in the First World War and by his words took a “Mauser bullet” in the chest. He also suffered injuries in an aircraft crash between the wars as an amateur, licensed pilot.

In the last year of the war (Second) he donned uniform as a war correspondent, reporting from the fields and reporting mixed feelings, when demobbed.

He wrote as an upper-middle-class sort of chap, but of his actual background and living circumstances, I can’t say. The Dispatch itself was headquartered in East London.

Today, historiography reflects the increasing influence of social history and columns like Tomkins’ are gold for this.

A perfect example is his column of June 25, 1944 which describes a visit to an unnamed “saloon”, probably in London.

In Britain, unlike the connotation in North America, the saloon bar traditionally was the well-appointed barroom in a public house or hotel. Drinks sold there for a higher price than in the often adjoining, more sparsely outfitted, “public bar”.

Each attracted a different demographic, to use our terminology of today.

I’ll reproduce a first part below, with the remainder in Part IV to follow. The odd-sounding locutions were Tomkins’ own, for comic effect.

This, Dear Reader, is how I happed upon the most important sociological change of the generation, viz. (as they say), the better elements of the saloon bars are drifting into the public ditto, and the worse elements of the public ditto are doing vice-versa.

Three weeks ago, after a lot of forcing on in trying weather, I guided my hot and tired party into an elegant saloon.

Just inside, we staggered in dismay.

Waves of heat smote us, emanating from a noisy, struggling mass. Chaps and dames were four deep at the bar, clamouring for liquor.

“Force on once again.” I cried, leading to an adjoining saloon, even more elegant than the first. Alas, it was even more crowded. There were more women. The cries were more strident. The queues were even deeper.

But hawk-eyed Tomkins glimpsed, through a door behind the bar, a veritable cool haven.

“About turn”, I said to the dismayed party, who obeyed albeit reluctantly.

Officers and other ranks stared in amaze when I halted outside the bar marked “Public.”

“We are not going in here?” said one.

“l am”, I replied sternly. “You can jolly well please yourself”.

So in we went….

The upstairs-downstairs confronted by Tomkins and his clan reflected an old settled pattern in Great Britain. People recognized differences among themselves, of which pub organization was an index, among thousands.

Britain was still a democracy – an important point – but an evolving one. The old system, including the part that was imperial Britain, started to break down during World War II. In part this arose from diverse groups coming together, often quite literally, to win the war.

The tenacity of pub spatial rules is shown by Tomkins’ friends resisting his suggestion to enter the public bar. Even though their patch was overwhelmed and they could get a quick drink paces away, it did not occur to them to do so, until Tomkins insisted.

This is particularly noteworthy as beer was often scarce during the war, with pubs sometimes closed for lack of supply or other stresses.



In connection with an earlier post (this one), our reader Clark drew my attention to British writer Mollie Panter-Downes. In her wartime diary published in 1971 as “London war notes, 1939-1945″, she wrote:

Villagers may not be hungry this summer, but they are likely to be thirsty for their traditional pint at the end of the day’s work. In many rural districts, beer is so scarce already that pubs only open certain days of the week. This is due in part to the labor shortage and second-front traffic priorities and in part to the presence everywhere of troops who cheerfully drink the place dry before the locals can put on their clean corduroys and toddle round to the Dog and Pheasant.

And further:

Now that the British have got around to revising their food and clothing habits, it looks as though the nation’s drinking habits, already considerably affected, are in for further alteration. Liquor is not officially rationed, but it often seems as if it might as well be, since shops handling it won’t sell more than a bottle or so a month to a regular customer and won’t sell any at all to others. There are, of course, good reasons for this. Distillation of grain for whisky-making was prohibited last September. Gin, which is manufactured from imported spirits, is in extremely short supply. Wines are scarce, and anyhow are so appallingly expensive that they’re way beyond the average pocket. The demand for beer has accordingly grown, and a glass of it is often hard to come by – especially in country districts whose population has been swelled by evacuated townsfolk and the military. Those who like to drink out usually still can do so, although at prices which range from steep to suicidal.

Despite all this, patrons of a saloon bar would wait four-deep in a hot room for a (possible) drink before buying one in a nonce in the public bar. But finally they did.

The division, public vs. saloon bar, would endure for decades. I saw traces of it myself in 1980s visits to England, but its dominion had started to founder during World War II.*

As to visual traces of the 1940s saloon bar, this must vary inevitably, depending on town and section thereof, and other factors. Still, the scenes in Michael Balcon’s 1940 thriller film Saloon Bar give a good idea.

Alan Tomkins no doubt would have felt at home in the film’s bar, which seems the real thing, Watney’s signs and all.

In one scene the landlord orders an assistant who has made an impertinent remark to go wash glasses “in the public”, if I got the crimped Forties’ accents right.

So that is the more basic bar adjoining, which Tomkins & Co. crashed, in our vernacular. Below is a grab from the film, a barmaid serves a light ale. In lots of scenes handpumps are pulled, too. It was still a pub.



Pictured is Judy Campbell, who had a long, distinguished career on stage and in film. She is the mother of actress and singer Jane Birkin.

To her left a tap appears that may have served Watney’s Red Barrel Ale. Red Barrel signs appear among the Watney’s signage.

Maybe Watney, Combe, Reid & Co. contributed the venue as a film set in exchange for display rights.

We continue with Part IV.

*For home-grown insight on the latter-day significance of public vs. saloon bar, see my recent post The Scotia Bar, Aberdeen. The Scottish context is addressed, specifically.





Alan Tomkins Tipples. Part II.

With inimitable (?) Thirties’ drollery journalist Alan Tomkins described testing beers at the 1938 Brewers’ Exhibition, for a column in the (London) Weekly Dispatch.

Part of the article is set out in my Part I, here is the remainder:

….After about another dozen samples, I thought the day was over and drained the glass with the first beer, about one third of a pint. Please note the quantity of my only drink.

But the tutor said “We now come to the strong ales, also known as old ales. They are darker and have a higher alcoholic content”.

These were sweeter and stronger. On went the ritual. More beer, more sawdust. Then we moved to another hall, lined with thousands of bottles of beer.

Instead of waiting nervously, as at first, I ordered bottles from odd places, and found much amusement in my own jests.

Everybody I saw seemed to be an extraordinary good fellow.

A dreadful suspicion crossed my mind.

“Is it possible”, I asked, “even if one does not drink much, that a lot of this testing can sort of…?”

“Oh yes”, agreed my mentor. “If you are not used to it, the fumes, and the taste, of all these mixed beers…”

Well, I thought bitterly, I have not had a single decent drink, and here I am.

“Would you like to test the mineral waters?”

I shuddered at the thought. We parted after mutual exchanges of good will.

I walked very fast round the public part of the show, and, seeing the post office, did a curious thing.

I sent myself a facetious post card. The fact is presented without comment.

An enormous vat, barrel or tub intrigued me. It was like a section of the tube railway. There were lots of funny railways that sent thousands of bottles, beer cases and syphons whizzing about. Heaven knows why.

The clatter did not improve my head so I went out, with a raging thirst, and bought half a bitter. Automatically I took a sip and turned my head –

The innocent on my left will never know what a narrow escape his trousers had.

What do you think his postcard said?

Something like this, perhaps:

Dearest Alan:

What a jolly time I am having, despite the silver-tongued assurances of Mine Host – worthy of a Harry Ellison!

I’m about to leave now, and must mind the gap when entering the Tube. It’s hard enough as it is to reach our stratospheric flat without slipping!

I will pick up some beer on the way, I can malt and hop it with the best of them now. The country curiosities at the Exhibition are all very well, but Whitbread Pale Ale is just the thing.

The Beltring hops, you know, like the placards say at the newsagent.

One can’t be at sixes and sevens for beer in London, dear boy!

Yours always,


*The hyperlink is to a 2009 blog post by Eleanor Cracknell in the blog for The College of St. George, Windsor Castle.

Alan Tomkins Tipples. Part I.

In the (London) Sunday Dispatch of November 6, 1938 journalist Alan Tomkins reported on a visit to the Brewers’ Exhibition.*

The Exhibition was a longstanding annual event, covered with fervour by the press at each appearance. The tasters did not swallow, but ejected the sample in the way wine tasters do stereotypically.

Procedure has changed on the beer side in recent decades; we taste, but small amounts. Even if you get a pint down over an afternoon this is no disadvantage to a proper assessment.

Wine is on average much stronger than beer, which gives the expectoration a justification it doesn’t need in beer circles, but I suspect beer was striving for status, then.

I described one such interwar tasting in my post The Bitter Test.



(Sadly I will miss an upcoming judging in Toronto due to being in France, but at least I’ll be in beer country, the Pas-de-Calais. I’ll send in the odd rapport).

I had no luck in tracing biography on Alan Tomkins. He was a skilled city journalist evidently, with a light-hearted style that is the antithesis of journalism today.

His lines read like dialogue from a screwball comedy except the subject is a stodgy industry event vs. boy meets girl.

Part of the article appears below (via British Newspaper Archive).


Beer Testing Is Thirsty Ritual

Gay, and friendly, that’s me. But I wilted a bit when told to take a course of beer testing at the Brewers’ Exhibition.

Anyway, I duly trotted to Islington, my tutor taking me to a great hall, barricaded from the common herd, and lined with hundreds of barrels.

A chap with a red nightcap produced two small glasses and drew off beer into same, into the glasses I mean, not the nightcap.

At this juncture I did not know a malt from hop.

My tutor held his glass to the light and said, “Examine it for brilliance, also polish”.

I did.

“Examine the head, for creaminess.”

I did.

“Savour the aroma.” (Waving the glass dainty fashion under his nose.)

I did.

“Take a little in the mouth, roll it round.”

I did.

“Now eject it on the floor.”

Well, let people say what they may, Tomkins has a certain amount of culture. He has not gone round spitting since he was a very small boy, and even then he was conscious that it was not quite the thing.

But people have undertaken sterner tasks in the line of duty.

There was a thick layer of white sawdust on the floor. Even so, the act was performed in hesitant, clumsy fashion.

“Did you get the smooth, bitter taste of the hops?”

“Yes. A very good beer.”

Soon the counter was lined with glasses, from each of which a small quantity had been taken. And thick and fast they came at last and more and more and more.

By now I was spitting with a casual skill, in fact a grace, which just goes for to show how quickly man may conquer inhibitions.

Between samples I partook of trifles of biscuit, cheese, bread and an occasional olive, to bring back the palate to its original freshness….

See Part II for the remainder.

Note re image: image above, and as elsewhere may appear in this series, are sourced from British News Archive linked above, except where otherwise indicated. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

*A Pathé reel covered the exact event. Its arch tone complements well Tomkins’ blase style.

**The genre is well-defined at TV Tropes.

A Real Shot of Joe

Alcohol from Coffee

A report June 20, 1882 in the Bangalore Spectator stated a Mr. Bavay at Ceylon Brewery succeeded in distilling alcohol from coffee berries (via British Newspaper Archive).

It noted the idea was not new and that a brewer at Ootacamund – the brewery I discussed recently in Nilgiri, South India – succeeded in the plan, but asserted Mr. Bavay perfected it.

This Bavay is well-known in brewing history. He is Auguste Joseph François de Bavay, and had a long career in Australia, initially in brewing and later in mining and other industries.

He is well-profiled (1981) in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

The 1882 article concluded in this felicitous way, with a little re-arrangement almost as free verse:

If Caffey becomes a fashionable spirit, a new impetus will be given to the planting enterprise in Southern India, which has suffered much from bad seasons, the labor difficulty, the bug, the borer, leaf disease, and, not least, – the Gold mania.

“Coffee-Royale” will have to make way, we suppose, for a “coffee peg”.

Much coffee is grown today in South India, particular the Southwest, but for usual drinking purposes, not alcohol.

A peg in British India was a measure of alcohol, often whisky, the standing drink, along with or superseding brandy, in the late Colonial era. See brief explanation in Wikipedia.

In our time, it seems no commercial application has been given coffee distilling. Yet in 2013 Iberian researchers found a way to make booze from spent coffee grounds. Seemingly a sweet example of sustainable management and recycling.

Sugar in this case was added to bulk out the fermentable base. A report the same year in the Daily Mail has good background.

Maybe distilled coffee alcohol, on this or another basis, will be the rage one day. The hope entertained in 1882 did not come to pass, for that period.

Coffee of course is used to mix with whiskey or other alcohol, either brewed coffee or an extract of some kind. That is different from distilling ethanol from coffee berries though, or their detritus.

Home distillers have discussed the idea, one trying it recently with good success according to a discussion at Home Distiller. He made two batches in Costa Rica using two different yeasts, and blended the liquors.

Coffee-Royal, for its part, is a mixture of brandy or whiskey and coffee, sweetened, sometimes topped with whipped cream.

A modern recipe is offered in the 1993 Black Enterprise, by Eunice Fried. An ancestor of the recipe appears in the 1850 book Coffee as it is, and as it Ought to be by P.L. Simmonds.

The recipes are similar except the older one employs a much larger ratio of spirit to coffee. So particular is Simmonds on its “exhilarating powers” and digestive properties that it seems worth trying, but Fried’s surely is more temperate.

Map image below is via Wikipedia Commons, picturing Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, in 1914.





Colonial English Pub in India Series – Index

Between April 28 and May 5 this year I completed six installments of a series, “British India Greets the English Pub”. These are listed below with a brief description.

1. British Army Engineers Build Replica Pub Near Madras, 1946.

British India Greets the English Pub. Part I.

2. Scholarly Perspectives re Colonial Pubs and Hotels in India.

British India Greets the English Pub. Part II.

3. Soldiers’ Yorkshire-Style Pub in Deccan, India, 1943.

British India Greets the English Pub. Part III.

4. India Pale Ale at Nilgiri aka Neilgherry Brewery, 1883.

British India Greets the English Pub. Part IV.

5. Alcohol Strength and Other Details of South India brewing, ca. 1900.

British India Greets the English Pub. Part V.

6. Tavern Resisted in Bombay Neighborhood, 1862.

British India Greets the India Pub. Part VI.

J. Burnitz Bacon Dates American Lager to the 1700s

Martyn Cornell has authored a new article, ‘Tishonest Prewers’ and Lager Bier Operas — Uncovering the True Origins of American Lager Brewing, published on May 5, 2022 in Good Beer Hunting.

He argues, persuasively in my view, that the generally credited account of lager’s origins in the U.S., that John Wagner introduced it in Philadelphia in 1840, is not correct. It appears another Wagner was involved, and in 1842, going by the confirmable record.

At the very least the traditional account likely is part of a larger, more complex, multi-Wagner story.

Other theories of lager’s origin in the U.S. have been advanced over the years, some placing it in the 1830s. See scholar Maureen Ogle’s canvass in her well-known Ambitious Brew: a History of American Beer.

In the wake of Cornell’s article a Twitter discussion ensued over the weekend among beer historical writers. Alan McLeod and Jordan St. John raised the issue whether lager brewing in North America well preceded the 1840s but has not been traced due to passage of time and early records being in German.

I mentioned I knew a later-1800s magazine article that argued for lager brewing by American German communities in the 1700s, and undertook to find it again.

It is J. Burnitz  Bacon’s Lager Beer in America. How it Came Here, What it Should be. What it is” published in Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly, Vol. XIV, No. 2, August, 1882. I actually tweeted it earlier, in October 2018, so some in the beer community are aware of it.



The Frank Leslie publication was a general interest magazine. The compilation linked includes topics as diverse as the history of shoes, the varying advantages of modern travel, and history of the Gypsies (as then termed).

Bacon sets out different lines of argument for his idea that settler Palatines brewed lager in the Mohawk Valley, New York, in New York City and states beyond.

In come cases he advances unfounded speculation. He states the Bernitz brothers brewed in Pennsylvania and finally Baltimore, Maryland, and surely it was lager since its use was well known in Germany. Not very satisfactory.

On the other hand, he refers, stating building owner’s name and specific location, to a lager brewery in New York City that functioned between 1810 and 1850. It later became a church.

He credits a Rev. Kern and his (unnamed) descendants as source of an oral tradition that winter lager was known and appreciated by early Palatines in New York.

Bacon also states he visited the Tulpehocken Valley near Reading, Pennsylvania in 1836 – 46 years earlier – and was told a man called Fritz (surname, first name?) brewed real lager there in a bark-covered brewery.

What his various accounts share is lack of corroborative evidence of the period – a church document, tax document, book, legal document or other writing. Even when Bacon was writing, late-1800s, I am not aware anyone else advanced or commented on the theory.

Bacon states his idea was discussed at “the late” brewers’ convention in Chicago and derided by those present. They considered a later generation of German-Americans responsible for introducing lager to America. This is generally believed today, and typically the 1840s or sometimes 1830s is cited as the decade of origin.

It would be interesting to find that discussion among the brewers, if it occurred, and was documented.



Bacon further states that 18th century Palatine Americans finally adopted American ale brewing techniques, so their lager was forgotten until re-introduced by later German incomers. That is how he explains lack of knowledge of the tradition in contemporary American brewing.

Settler Palatine records, church and other, many of which have been studied and compiled,* would be a good place to start to test Bacon’s thesis. Likely much of this material is in German.

Another factor to consider is to understand what was brewed in the Palatine regions where the incoming brewing families originated. The German Palatinate included historically a western section, or kreis, of Bavaria but was I understand mostly outside Bavaria, heartland of lager.

Did the Rhinelanders who came to America actually brew lager in Germany, vs. top-fermented beer? Some Palatines however came from other parts of Germany, or from Austria or Switzerland, albeit dubbed Palatines once Stateside.

(Their wending migrations were prompted by war with the French, famine and disease).

Then too, even if 18th century Palatines called some of their beer “lager”, it may not have been lager. It may have been stock ale, also traditionally brewed in one season to drink in the next. Ale can be fermented at 58 or 60 F too, in some cases…

Bacon gives no satisfactory account how his lager-brewers obtained the correct yeast. He rejects the idea that a short (three-week) clipper trip from Europe was necessary to preserve such yeast in living form.

Yet, in 2011 it was determined that lager yeast, or pastorianus, is an early mutation in Europe (c. 1400) of traditional, top-fermenting yeast (for ale, porter) and a wild yeast from Patagonia that presumably arrived in Europe on a trading vessel long ago.

Subsequently, researchers have considered that a related species in Tibet is even closer to the non-European element of pastorianus. See Victor Jiminez’ article in 2020 in Brew & Hub, “Unsolved Mysteries of Lager Yeast”.

So it may have come on the Spice Route, possibly as a wine yeast which acted as intermediary for an ultimate brewing purpose.

Whatever the particular origins, how could pastorianus in viable form, adapted to work cold, have been brought to America in the slow-ship days by migrating Palatines, particularly after sojourning first in England and even Ireland, as many did?

Perhaps in bottled beer, or stored in a stone jug? Not beyond the realm of possibility.

Might the mutation in question have arisen in Northeastern United States, via in part trade with Argentina or the far East?**

Maybe an old Palatine record sheds light, or offers other satisfactory proof of genuine lager-brewing, but much spadework needs to be done to find it.

I might note, a historical conclusion can be arguable without a “smoking gun”, provided enough period indicia point to it. We are not there based on Bacon’s article.

Nonetheless we have it to ponder. A few modern writers have noticed the article. It is cited in a general way as evidence of early German-American brewing in a paper included in (1993) Interdisciplinary Investigations of Domestic Life in Government Block B: Perspectives On Harpers Ferry’s Armory and Commercial District, Paul A. Shackel, Ed.

Andrew Smith in his 2014 Drinking History: Fifteen Turning Points in the Making of American Beverages mentions the article. Due to the restricted view at Google Books I cannot determine what weight he attributes to it.

*See e.g., at Family Search Palatine Records in the United States. It references the many works of Henry (Hank) Jones, a well-known Hollywood actor turned professional genealogist. See Jones’ website for more information. One volume specifically dealt with the Palatine families of New York City, for example.

**See my comment added to post.






British India Greets the English Pub. Part VI.

A Tavern not Greeted by Community, in This Case

Among the plaintive letters on this subject addressed to the Bombay Gazette in January 1862, that on the 17th by Aku Cha Kaku, possibly a pseudonym, starkly illustrates a confrontation of tavern and local community.

A Mr. Low wanted to establish an “American Tavern” in the Girgaum district of Bombay. Girgaum was, then, a largely residential area mainly of gentry including Parsis. Police officials, named as Mr. Crawford and Mr. Forjett, were prepared to consent to the license.

The writer identified more specifically Burrowe’s Lane and Girgaum Pallow Road as the area the pub would locate. Today it is no longer residential, by my checks, but Girgaum is still the district name.

The letter-writer stated the lighting of the pub would improve the street to that extent, but many of the “inmates”, or “Jacks”, were seamen who liked to get drunk and terrorize the neighborhood including attacks on women.

There was possibly a subtext here that selling alcohol was not the problem per se, rather the particular character of the tavern due to its clientele. This made it “disreputable” in the eyes of the community, a place of “odium” .

The letter stated a church official in the city, “Rev. Mr. Fletcher”, had commenced legal proceedings to try to prevent opening of the tavern in this area.

The letter also noted that Low had organized a petition to incline the authorities to permit the tavern. The letter invited Rev. Fleming to investigate the background of petitioners, in his words:

… I would humbly suggest to the Reverend Gentleman to look into the list personally with a view to know if any of respectability have therein shewn their countenance, and whether the persons thus protesting are not likely to be its associates.

The churchman’s full name was William Kew Fletcher, profiled in memoriam in 1868 in The Colonial Church Chronicle and Missionary Journal.

His first wife, Maria Jane Jewsbury, was an emerging literary figure in England who died decades earlier from cholera, shortly after the couple emigrated to India. She is still remembered and has been the subject of a number of studies.

So the native community had a strong ally in William Fletcher, who was Senior Chaplain of Bombay Cathedral. Whether their efforts succeeded I could not tell.

The scholar Dr. Preeti Chopra at University of Wisconsin-Madison, in her first book I cited earlier in this series, referred to an “American Flag” tavern licensed in Bombay, possibly the same pub.

In the early 1870s the Royal Alfred Sailor’s Home was built in the city, which perhaps alleviated the problem of sailors given to wild behaviour. It contained recreation facilities and a library, for example.



British India Greets the English Pub. Part V.

Nilgiri Brewery ca. 1900: Strength, Other Traits of its Beer

This Part V, and Part VI that follows, will complete this series. (Part VI deals with a pub resisted by the native local community).

This Part will elucidate brewing characteristics in 1900 not just for Nilgiri Brewery, but also the Castle, and Rose and Crown breweries, two others in the Nilgiri Hills then. The area formed part of the Fort St. George, aka Madras, Presidency, an administrative unit of British India.

Extracts below are from the Report of the Administration of the Abkari Revenue for the Presidency of Fort St. George, for the Year 1899-1900. It tells us much. The breweries were now either owned or controlled effectively by Messrs. Rungiah Gownden (spelling varies in different accounts).

Thomas Leishman returns to the picture later, capped by the 1915 merger that formed United Breweries.



Starting gravities varied as noted between 1055 and 1065, below the maximum of 1073 permitted by excise rules.

In the table below possibly an average of different beers’ production is shown for each month but it seems not, likely the (India) pale ale is shown for Nilgiri Brewery. One can see the beer was on the dry side, about 1008 final gravity with some months higher, 1010, say, some yet lower.

The table runs from April to March but omitting June and August, the months are stated at the extreme left of the table (see in link above).

I didn’t calculate an abv average for Nilgiri Brewery, but it seems about 7% abv, with the beers lower somewhat in the colder months. Hence strength remained consistent since 1883 but more alcohol was being gained from less malt.

This makes sense considering the financial situation of these breweries, always more parlous than the Himalayan breweries, and resulting after all in the merger of 1915.

Other points of note: some sugar was now being used, glucose, with the malt. Non-European beer produced by these breweries used yet more sugar, the jaggery still known today for some brewing, and comparatively little malt.

The Presidencies might exclude beer from another district if felt inferior – this happened here with Bangalore beer, yet Nilgiri beer was well-liked in that district.

In the 1890s, eg, October 23, 1893 in Bangalore Spectator, Nilgiri Brewery advertised two beers: “sparkling pale ale” and “Continental Pale Ale”, the latter having the “delicacy” of “Continental pilsener” without the “excessive lightness”.

Perhaps the Nilgiri Continental Pale Ale was weaker than its IPA, but this is unclear.

The sparkling pale ale likely is the beer shown  in the table below, descendant of the IPA of 1883.

The 1900 Report states that the end gravities are lower than for Britain, although not necessarily Scotland. Leaving Scotland aside, data for 1890s Whitbread pale ales compiled by Ron Pattinson bears this out. Differences for average starting gravity and alcohol content are apparent as well.


British India Greets the English Pub. Part IV.

Brewing in 1883 at Nilgiri Brewery, Nilgiri Hills, India

I include below the full report in the Madras Weekly Mail, June 7, 1883, of a visit to the Neilgherry Brewery. A more common spelling was Nilgiri Brewery, with Nilgiri sometimes taking an “s”. (This and all press references herein are via the British Newspaper Archive).

The report covers details of operation, including beer starting gravity and other granular aspects, not previously explored in beer studies to my knowledge.

The brewery was located at Ootacamund in the Nilgiri, or Blue, Hills in Southeast India, at an elevation suitable for year-round brewing, unusual in India at the time.

Briefly: the brewery was established in 1879, by Muree Brewery operating in the Himalayas, North India. Thomas Leishman, the Scottish brewing entrepreneur, later acquired Nilgiri, selling it in 1898 to parties who owned another brewery, and distillery in the area.

There were a number of breweries in these hills including Castle (from 1857), Nilgiry, and Rose and Crown (1895), which formed the nucleus for the United Breweries merger in 1915. The merger also took in brewing at Madras and Bangalore.

Once again caution is advised for the period denigrating references.


A few days ago, I inspected the Neilgherry brewery, and was astonished to find the large additions that had been made to the buildings to meet the demands of the Bangalore and Wellington contracts. The main body of the brewery consists of a room one hundred and thirty feet long by thirty feet wide, with a very lofty roof. In this spacious apartment are stored hundreds of casks of beer racked off, and seven huge gyles, one resembling the celebrated tun of Heidelberg holding no less than forty hogsheads. To see the yeast foaming and working in these huge vats is a sight. From the gyle we ascend by a ladder to the refrigerating and cooling floor; above this again are the coppers where the beer is boiled. Again we ascend and enter the mash tun room, in rear of which is the copper for boiling the liquor. It is not etiquette to use the term water when speaking of brewing.

On the left of the centre room, is a side room, some hundred feet long by 24 wide. Here grain and hops are stored. Beneath this is the cellarage, 100 x 24, capable of holding 500 hogsheads of beer. In addition to the main building, there is a vast cooperage and cork-storing shed, where busy coopers make the air resound with their blows, as they cheerfully drive the hoops home. Your native loves a noise. The other buildings consist of a kiln for malting, a large shed for storing beer, and the pretty bungalow of the brewer. The stores are capable of holding over one thousand hogsheads of beer, and can turn out 600 hogsheads a month. There is also an engine room, winnowing room, and last but not least, a cemented well of the most pellucid water, with an iron cover. As none but the best English hops and malt are used, it is impossible that the beer can be otherwise than good, as the water is undeniable.

At Muree [the brewery in Himalaya], native barley is used, and though the beer is excellent, it has a nasty flavour due to the native barley. The difference between the strength of country malt and English is no less than twenty-five per cent. So the Neilgherry brewery finds it more profitable to use English malt. The Burghers of the hills could grow good malting barley if they chose, but they are too idle and cannot understand that an article must be true to the sample. In former days, forty pounds of fair barley could be got for a rupee, now twenty-five, and that indifferent. On a brewing day, the scene is a busy one. First the water is pumped up by the engine into the huge boiler. When the temperature of the water is about 200, it is let into the mash tun, which has already had the ground malt supplied to it.

After sundry spargings, as they are called, the malt is allowed to soak for some hours, the liquor is then run into the coppers and then boiled until of a certain gravity – 25 lbs. is that for Commissariat beer (hops are put in according to contract). Some Edinboro’ ale is as high as 60 lbs. Well 25 pounds is equal to about seven per cent of spirit, so that in a quart of beer our soldiers get about one-fourteenth of spirit, or a very small glass diluted with 13 glasses of liquid. This is far better than the raw arrack ration. When the beer, by the instrument, shows 25 lbs. gravity, it is run into the cooler, where it remains a few hours, and from thence it is run over the refrigerator, which is composed of copper pipes, cold water running through the centre of the pipes the beer running over the pipes and into the gyle or tun.

The beer enters the refrigerator at 90 [degrees] and goes out at 58 [degrees], the cold water having reduced it some thirty degrees. After the beer is in the gyle, yeast is added, and on the strength of the yeast much depends, experts even being divided as to what constitutes good yeast. Some feed yeast with bone dust, but to enter into the question of yeast would absorb a book. At the end of four days, the yeast has done its work, the beer is run into casks or backs, where it settles and finally deposits all its yeast, it is then racked off and placed in the cellar to ripen. Finings are sometimes used to make the beer bright, often at the expense of the flavor of the beer. At the end of three months, the beer is sent away, and is sat upon by canteen Committees. Tommy Atkins [i.e., the soldiers], if he finds the beer taste[s] what he calls “full in the mouth” approves; the beer is passed and paid for. English beer being old is often deficient in that fulness in the mouth which Tommy Atkins appreciates; it tastes thin and sourish, but as the beer has been passed by a Committee in England, it is not so easy to condemn it, so Tommy has to drink it or take to arrack.

We have now seen our beer through all its stages, from the time when it was mere “hot liquor” and malt to when it was deposited inside our soldier’s stomach, not to his detriment, we trust, but rather to his physical well-being ; and that he may never drink worse liquor that the Neilgherry Brewery Company supply him with, is our earnest wish. It must not be supposed from the above short sketch of brewing, that it is all plain sailing. There are the mashing heats to be considered, the state of the water in the well, the heat of the ferments, which should not exceed 65 [degrees] and should average 60 [degrees], the state of your yeast, which is a ticklish plant to deal with; in fact in the present day brewing is a science and requires some chemical knowledge. The Neilgherry Brewery Company have two skilful brewers, and with large contracts before them have every chance of doing uncommonly well. Every contingency seems to have been guarded against, and with good brains, good water, hops, and malt, success if not certain should be very nearly so.

Some takeaways: the gravity translates to about 1070 OG, which (1883) would have produced a 7% abv beer or stronger, especially given typical Indian attenuations, which I will return to later. This was India Pale Ale, advertised by this brewery in the period along with porter. See for example ad in the Bangalore Spectator on October 4, 1881:



Note also in the 1883 account the sparging, a practice developed in Scotland.

The refrigerator only got the beer down to 58 F, much higher than today. The beer got a good three months’ storage, with finings used to clarify.

Generally felt indispensable to beer quality in the 1800s, finings here were thought detrimental to flavour, perhaps a local preference, or one peculiar to the writer. The slighting references to thin and sour ale imported from England tell us much, of course.

Reports through the century attest to this problem, with some beer regularly discarded on importation, but evidently once passed as good on exportation, much had to be taken by “Tommy”.

Fermentation at Nilgiri Brewery was conducted at a lower temperature than common today for ale, perhaps an attempt to secure extra stability.

This India pale ale, later termed (1890s) sparkling pale ale, was supplemented in time by a “Continental pale ale”. This evidently was made to compete with imported lager. I’ll look at this further later, and ditto for a cheaper brew made in the Nilgiri by some brewers, to sell in local taverns for a lower-income population.

As to materials (1883), Sussex and Kent hops were imported,  mentioned in the 1881 Bangalore Spectator story. The latter also mentions “malt”, which was prepared on premises. The 1883 account suggests English barley was being malted.

In time though Indian barley was used, sourced from the Punjab – and sugar. More soon.

N.B. For some fine views of the area today, see in Wikipedia’s entry for Nilgiri Mountains.

Series continues with Part V.


Pensées. Vol. 6

Creemore Urbock

An early entrant in the Ontario craft beer ranks, it was withdrawn for some years, then brought back a few years ago, under aegis of Molson-Coors which bought Creemore Springs Brewery in 2005.

Last year it appeared again in the fall in cans. I don’t know if the draft shown has been aging in tanks since then, if so it perhaps improved the beer.

The distinctive yeast smack most Creemore lagers have – regular lager, Keller, pilsener, etc. – is muted, to the benefit of the beer, imo. The sweet malts come through more. A nice spring reviver, a traditional time for bock.



The Firkin Chain in Toronto

I tasted the Urbock at The Quail on Yonge Street, Rosedale, Toronto, one of the Firkin chain of pubs here. Originally the pubs had a strong English cast but the emphasis today is less so, or so it seems given how craft consciousness has grown.

Firkin Pubs started decades ago, before craft achieved the traction it now has. The current bars have a certainly adequate beer list, something for everyone really.

I always liked the pubs and visit occasionally, today since a couple of craft bars on Yonge Street were closed – many now do not open on Monday.

Coffee, Tea

I’ve experimented but not rigorously with these drinks for a long time, with tea a more recent interest. I remain convinced that Costco coffee, its Kirkwood, all-Columbian brand, is the best overall coffee for me. It has a good deep taste, is always very fresh, and very consistent.

It is one of those products Costco does very well. We are late converts to Costco in this household, and certain things draw us back continually there (I suppose every member has their favourites). For us, it’s some of the cheeses, Jarlsberg, say, some brands of crackers, the chicken, milk in bulk, eggs, bag salads, household products, and so on.

A great merchandising idea, it is not as unique as people often think, but has taken the big box concept further than anyone I know in retail food sales.

Aldi in Europe, and the U.S. where it operates, is not dissimilar. I’d like to see it here, in fact, but Costco is pre-eminent in the field, so far.



In the tea area, the best so far imo is Brooke Bond Taj Mahal Orange Pekoe, a loose tea I put in those filters to make a home-made tea bag. It has a fine fruity-flowery taste, the closest I have found to the orange pekoe I recall from 40 years ago.

Downtown Toronto

The subway is a reliable indicator – today I couldn’t get a seat coming home from downtown at rush hour. Things are returning to normal, but are not quite there yet. I can tell by the food courts at lunch-time, which are never crowded in the way of pre-Covid, although much better than four and six months ago.

We are getting there. Hopefully a recession will not clang down but who knows, the shocks absorbed by the economy have been enormous.

Music Man

I’ve been reading Randy Bachman’s 2011 book, Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap Stories, based on his long-running radio show with CBC. A great book! His voice lurks behind the printed words, you can hear the excited kid he still is, e.g. when meeting his idols, even after all these years.

He tells many funny or instructive stories about the music business and the many artists he has met, everyone from Chuck Berry to George Michael. His stories of how the songs were written are interesting too.

The words “she’s come undun” are from a Bob Dylan song. No Sugar Tonight is a line he heard a distraught wife tell her husband in an argument on the street, in California.

The story how he met Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George Martin – in their chiropractor’s office – is a classic. After which Giles invites him to Abbey Road Studio where he plays him rare tapes, including the instruments that make up the opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night”.

Question Period

A new feature, I don’t know if it will take off: ask me a question, of course in an area I can speak reasonably to, beer, food, rock and roll, etc., and I’ll try to answer. Any responsibly phrased query will be answered.