Arc of Hallet & Abbey
The James Gray Collection of the Regency Society shows a solid maltings that serviced Hallett & Abbey Brewery in Brighton.
The legend traces the arc of the brewery, from c. 1850 until Charrington Brewery absorbed the successor, Kemp Town Brewery (in 1954, as we saw earlier). The brewery continued in the Charrington group until final closure in 1963.
And so another brewery with its distinctive local range closed, further diminishing the inventory of national beer taste.
Hallet’s had origins earlier than the period associated with Hallett & Abbey. Some of that history is referenced in Richmond’s and Turton’s The Brewing Industry: a Guide to Historical Records.
Henry Hallett was the driving force of Hallett & Abbey. He forms a regional example of the “representative men”, to use a 19th century term, who gained distinction in the business and civic life of Victorian Britain. He was a town alderman, also its mayor in 1884, when the Health Exhibition took place in London. Hallett took an interest in that event, as I discuss below.
He died in January 1892 and received respectful tribute in the Brewers’ Guardian. The biographical detail, short as it is, gives additional point to a otherwise wispy name in UK brewing’s past.
Hallett’s Bavarian Ale Reborn
In that year, what seems indubitably the same beer as his Bavarian Ale was advertised as Brighton Lager Ale, in the Health Exhibition’s catalogue. Henry had a municipal role in town sanitation, managing its sewer works, hence the connection to the Exhibition.
Lager Ale. It’s like the song Linda Ronstadt sang 40 years ago, Get Closer … lager yet it’s not. Had it been the true article, “ale” would not have been mentioned. “Lager”, or “lager beer”, would have sufficed.
It seems unlikely, as I argued in recent posts, that Hallett’s brewed real lager at any time, while the possibility cannot be ruled out.
The no-lager hypothesis is strengthened in that as we now know, Anglo-Bavarian Brewing in Shepton Mallet did not make lager in 1886, or likely at any time either.
Still, the phraseology is worth noting, one that has returned in our day as “lagered ale”.
Hallett’s Christmas Ale
Perhaps drawn to the offbeat, Hallett’s advertised another beer, or rather description of beer, not usual for the time: Christmas Ale.
Two ads attest to it, one in 1857, the other in 1860. The first was in Chamber’s Journal of Popular Literature. The second, in A Sketch of the Natural History of Brighton and its Vicinity. The ales are described as XXX in 1857 and both XX and XXX in 1860, the latter further described as mild ales.
It is relatively uncommon, by my canvass, to see a brewery bill its beers this way at that time. While Hallett’s may not be the first, offhand I cannot think of an earlier instance.
The Amorphous Beer Style: Christmas Ale
Certainly in the 19th and 20th centuries it is common to read in a general way of ale for Christmas, e.g. to supply poorhouses, or of a special beer for the Season, perhaps spiced, sweetened, extra-strong, or extra-old.
But branding beer as Christmas this or that seems only to gain critical mass by the 1930s. A good example is a 1930s poster for Navy Christmas Ale, brewed by the Marine Brewery and Maltings in Brussels. (Image source: Heritage Auctions at this link).
So striking is the advert I’d argue it is the apogee of the genre, viewed as graphical art.
Navy Christmas Ale appears to have been, broadly, a British dark strong ale, about 9% ABV. It seems brewing continued until about 1980, per a page on Untappd. The latter day images shown are also evocative.
The Belgians and northern French took in general to branding beer for Christmas especially after World War II. It was a progenitor to the current widespread practice by craft brewers to label beers for the Season.
Anchor Brewery’s annual Christmas Ale was influential here. Its beer is spiced, a different formula each year, reflecting that part of the Christmas beer tradition.
Christmas ale was never, in other words, a fixed style or type of beer. At best it might mean something special made available at Christmas.
Sussex-based Harvey’s award-winning Christmas Ale, a barley wine (old Burton type), is an outstanding current example in the UK.
Another brewery might do a Christmas strong porter, and so forth. Of course too and more often these days, a similar beer might be branded festive, winter, celebration, holiday. It all gets at the same thing, something warming, special, offpiste to raise a cheer in late December.
Hallett & Abbey, Envoi
I’d like to have tried Hallett & Abbey’s XXX, mild or old. (I think it would chase well the Bavarian Ale aka Lager Ale, don’t you?).
Whether and how the beers differed from the usual sort described as XXX and XX can only be guessed at, now. Perhaps they were a little stronger than normal.
Postscript added Dec. 21, 2020. Author, journalist and blogger Eoghan Walsh, Irish-born but long-time resident of Brussels, just wrote a book on Brussels beer history, see here viz. his work. Eoghan mentioned on Twitter today that with WW II the larger Wiels bought out Marine brewery and the site still stands today for warehousing use. I found this 1954 invoice form from the Delcampe auction site. Eoghan kindly provided on Twitter this highly informative link (in French) on history of the Marine and related breweries.
Note re image: Image above was sourced from the link identified and stated in text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research and purposes. All feedback welcomed.