Hallett & Abbey Raise a Cheer

Arc of Hallet & Abbey

An image in the James Gray Collection of the Regency Society shows a solid maltings appurtenant to Hallett & Abbey Brewery in Brighton.

The legend to the image traces the arc of the brewery, from ca. 1850 until Charrington Brewery absorbed its successor, Kemp Town Brewery (in 1954, as we saw earlier). The brewery continued in the Charrington group until its final closure in 1963.

And so another brewery with its distinctive local range closed, further diminishing the inventory of national beer tastes.

Hallet’s had origins earlier than the time associated with Hallett & Abbey. Part of the 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 was a regional example of the “representative men”, to use a 19th century term, who gained distinction in business and civic Victorian Britain.

He was a town alderman, also Brighton’s mayor in 1884, when the Health Exhibition took place, in London. Hallett took an interest in the event, as I discuss below. He died in January 1892 and received a respectful tribute in the Brewers’ Guardian.

This biographical detail, short as it is, gives some point to an otherwise wispy name from UK’s brewing past.

Bavarian Ale Reborn

In that year, 1884, what seems their Bavarian Ale was advertised as Brighton Lager Ale in the Health Exhibition catalogue. Henry had a municipal role in town sanitation, managing its sewer works, hence the connection to the Exhibition.

Lager Ale. It’s like Linda Ronstadt sang 40 years ago, Get Closer … lager, yet it’s not. Had it been the real thing “ale” would not appear.

It seems unlikely, as I argued recently, 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 advertised another beer, or rather description of beer, also 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 appeared 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 indicated as mild ales.

It is relatively uncommon by my canvass to see a brewery bill its beers this festive way, then. While Hallett’s may not be the first, offhand I cannot think of an earlier instance.

Amorphous Beer Style: Christmas Ale

Certainly through the 19th and 20th centuries it is common to read in a general way of ale for Christmas, e.g. to supply the poorhouse, or of a special beer for the season, perhaps spiced, sweetened, extra-strong, or extra-old.

But branding beer as Christmas specifically seems to gain critical mass only from the 1930s. A good example is an interwar poster for Navy Christmas Ale, brewed by the Marine Brewery and Maltings in Brussels. (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, see a note in Untappd. The latter-day images shown are equally evocative.

The Belgians and northern French seemed to favour branding beer for Christmas, especially after World War II. It forecast the current widespread practice by craft brewers to release a Christmas ale in different styles.

In more modern times, Anchor Brewery’s annual Christmas Ale was influential. The beer is spiced, a different formula is used each year, reflecting the general association of spices with Yule. Spiced beers are a category, not exclusive therefore, of Christmas beer.

Christmas ale was never in other words a fixed style or type. 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.

But another brewery might release a Christmas strong porter, and so forth. Of course too and more often now, similar beers might be branded festive, winter, celebration, holiday (vs. Xmas as such). 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. Whether and how these beers differed from the general sort then described as XXX and XX can only be guessed at. Perhaps they were a little stronger than normal.

Postscript. 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. He mentioned on Twitter that with the advent of WW II the larger Wiels brewery bought out Marine. The site still stands, for warehousing use. I found this 1954 invoice form in the Delcampe auction site. Eoghan kindly provided on Twitter this informative link (in French) on history of Marineand 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.






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