From Madeira to Mild Stout


A curious corner of 19th century medicine was a seeming preoccupation with beverage alcohol. Throughout the century, articles appeared in both U.K. and North American professional journals analyzing different drinks.

Sometimes, the professed object was to ascertain sugars and other constituents apart the alcohol and water, as in the case here. Sometimes a concern to detect adulteration was avowed. Alleged therapeutic functions were also discussed.

Medicine never really shed its regard for alcohol as therapeutic until the 1930s, when finally it was removed from the Pharmocopoeia.

I’ve read a number of these studies over the years, and analyses by other writers on beer history; here is one I did not long ago, viz. a Lancet survey.

The table above, which I hadn’t seen before, is from the report of a London doctor, Henry Bence Jones. It appeared in an August issue of The Medical Times and Gazette, Vol. 9, 1854. Below we see Bence Jones pictured.



The report is of interest on a number of accounts. First, wines, beers, ciders, and spirits are included, grouped together so one can quickly ascertain and compare their alcohol and other indices. The alcohol figures are evidently by volume percentage, here.

The range, say, for fortified wines is fairly similar to today’s, at least the average, around 20% (with some marked variances again).

For dry wines, the numbers are rather lower than modern numbers, no doubt a function of the era’s fruit, yeasts, and viticulture. Look at the classified estates in France, say.

Champagne though is higher than today’s by a couple of points. Perhaps addition of brandy explained this.

The cider numbers, with an interesting comparison between sweet and dry types, seem quite similar to today’s.

In the beer area, the pale ales exhibit probably the higher end of the average gravity of that period. One strong pale ale is stated at an impressive 11% abv. It may have been Thomas Salty pale ale, which was similarly strong in the Lancet analysis, except here the stated gravity is 1034.6. This makes it doubtfully a pale ale, unless of unusual style.

Maybe it was actually a Burton or Strong Ale; there is an ambiguity, at any rate.

At least to an extent, taken with the Lancet’s strong Allsopp and Salt pale ales, it is some support that some strong East India Pale Ale existed in the 1800s. It should be noted as well that numerous Salt & Co. ads in the period list two India Pale Ales; one as such, and one pre-fixed Export …

Further, in 1840 Hodgson’s was said to be a “liquor of “prodigious strength”, as I documented earlier.

The Arctic Ale was the first of a series sent on polar expeditions by Allsopp of Burton-on-Trent in the 1800s. (Salt was also in Burton).

Its strength is an impressive 12% abv, a strong Burton ale. It has been tasted by a few modern beer researchers as some bottles survived from the 19th century.

This the first analysis I can recall for the first version of Allsopp’s Arctic Ale, and it appears the strongest of the group. The Victorian beer writer Alfred Barnard reported a c. 9% abw sample later issued, but the first evidently was stronger. See at pp. 151-152, here.

The initials preceding some beer names are not easy to decipher. “P” for a pale ale is probably Prestopans, a beer regularly covered in similar analyses.

The selections in the chart have a London, West End flavour. I’d guess the selections suggest the type of products chosen by the doctor and his circle for their sideboard.






4 thoughts on “From Madeira to Mild Stout”

  1. I can’t recall seeing any Canadian examples, beer was just getting started again in that period in Ontario for example.


  2. Hi Gary,
    By 1935 ;
    Allsopp’s Arctic Ale (aaNo1)
    Had dropped to 1.084° , 84 IBU and around 7.25% (Draught) , The bottled version was at the same O.G & IBU but the abv increased to 7.75-8% .
    The Jubilee Ale from 1935 is an absolute monster , and I’d say that it was the original Arctic Ale {Jubilee Ale , Brew No 4/318 Tuesday 2Nd April 1935 : OG @ 1.141° , F.G @1.029° , 108 IBU and, a whopping 13.75% abv !!}
    I’ve not seen any earlier records from Allsopp , (that ledger is from the year after the ‘rescue’ of Allsopp’s by Ind Coope in 1934 )

    • Edd that’s great, many thanks. There is lore about the great strength some strong ale once reached; that Jubilee is certainly an example albeit popping up when you would least expect it (Depression, after general gravities had fallen, etc.).


      • Hi Gary ,
        The Jubilee Ale was a special for the Silver Jubilee of George V in 1935 , quite a few breweries over here in the UK did one ; maybe not at that strength though !!, not to sure if any breweries in the Commonwealth did any ?

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: