The three-threads mystery and the birth of porter: the answer is …

A Sot RampantOne of the biggest mysteries in the history of beer concerns a drink called three-threads, and its exact place in the early history of porter. Three-threads was evidently a mixed beer sold in the alehouses of London in the time of the last Stuart monarchs, William III and his sister-in-law Anne, about 1690 to 1714. For more than 200 years, it has been linked with the development of porter: but the story that said porter was invented to replace three-threads was written eight decades and more after the events it claimed to record, and the description that the “replaced by porter” story gave of three-threads early in the 19th century does not match up with more contemporary accounts of the drink from the late 17th century.

So what exactly was three-threads? Well, I now believe that enough people have dug out enough information that we can make a firm and definitive statement on that.

It was a tax fiddle.

To understand what was going on, you need to know that from the time when taxes were first imposed on beer and ale, in 1643, during the English Civil War, and for the next 139 years the excise authorities recognised only two strength of beer and ale for tax purposes: “small”, defined as having a pre-tax value of six shillings a barrel, and “strong”, defined as having a value of more than 6s a barrel. To begin with, the tax represented only a tiny proportion of the retail cost, at less than a tenth of a penny a pint for strong drink and not even two tenths of a penny per gallon for the small stuff. But in 1689, when William III of the Netherlands and his cousin, wife and co-ruler Mary had arrived in Britain and pushed Mary’s father James II off the throne, the need to pay for the “war of the British succession” and the continuing Nine Years’ War against Louis XIV of France saw the duty on beer and ale bounced upwards, from two shillings and sixpence a barrel to 3s 3d. The following year, 1690, the tax was doubled, to 6s 6d a barrel on strong ale and beer, more than a farthing a pint, when strong liquor retailed at a penny-ha’penny a pint, or 3d a quart “pot”. The rise in the tax on small drink was proportionate, to 1s 6d a barrel, but still the total tax on small beer and ale equalled only a half-penny a gallon.

The flaw in the system was that extra-strong beer or ale paid the same tax as “ordinary” or “common” strong beer. Unscrupulous brewer, and retailers, could therefore – and did – take a barrel of extra-strong beer and two of small beer, on which a total of 7s 3d of tax had been paid, mix them to make three barrels each equal in strength to common strong beer, which should have paid tax of 14s 3d in total, and save themselves 2s 4d a barrel in tax. This may have been equal to only a fifth of a penny a pot, or thereabouts, but it was still 6% or so extra profit. (Incidentally, for those of you new to this, “ale” at the time meant a drink with less hops in, and generally stronger, than “beer”.)

The excise authorities were certainly wise to this fiddle, and laws banning the mixing of different strengths of worts or beers were passed by Parliament in 1663 and again in 1670-1, 1689, 1696-97 and 1702, with (in William III’s time) a fine of £5 per barrel so mixed. That certainly did not stop people. Some time between 1698 and 1713, on the internal evidence, a manuscript was written, now in the Lansdowne collection in the British Library, titled An account of the losse in the excise on beer and ale for severall yeares last paste, with meanes proposed for advanceing that revenue. It was probably produced by an anonymous Excise or Treasury official, because he had access to official tax data from 1683 to 1698, and it gives a fascinating account of the prices and likely strengths of beers and ales at the time. “Very Small Beer” retailed pre-tax at 3s a barrel, and paid (since 1693) 1s 3d a barrel tax. “Common Strong Beer and Ale”, made from “four Bushells of mault” – suggesting an original gravity of 1075 to 1085 – sold for 18s a Barrel and paid, at the time, 4s 9d a barrel tax. “Very Strong Beer or ale the Barrell being the Strong from 8 Bushells”, suggesting a huge original gravity, perhaps north of 1160, sold for £3 a barrel, but still paid the same 4s 9d a barrel tax as common strong beer or ale.

The fact that very strong brews paid the same tax as “common standard strong drinke” had “begot a kind of trade of Defrauding”, the anonymous author wrote, and he declared that “the notion thereof and Profitt thereby” of mixing very strong ale or beer with small beer and selling it as common strong ale or beer “has been of late & now is generally knowne”, and “the traders therein have turned themselves more and more to the practice of Brewing it,” “very strong Drinke being now Commonly a parte of the Brewers Guiles, and the whole of many who Brew nothing else.” The result, he said, was that “the Consumption of it is everywhere, which you have under several odd names, as Two Threades, 3 Threades, Stout or according as the Drinker will have it in price, from 3d. to 9d. the quarte.”

A Sot CouchantThat “3 threades” was a mixture of ordinary small ale or beer and very strong beer is confirmed by a publication called The Dictionary of the Canting Crew by “BE” (the “canting crew” being those who spoke in “cant”, or slang), published around 1697/1699. This called three-threads “half common Ale and the rest Stout or Double Beer”: both “stout” and “double beer” meant “extra-strong beer”, while “common ale” was the same as table ale or small ale, and brewed at one and a half bushels of malt to the barrel, giving an OG of around 1045. Mix a beer that was perhaps 10 or 11 per cent alcohol by volume with one that was only 4.5 per cent or so, and you’ll have a beer of around 7.5 per cent or so, of course, about the same strength of common strong ale: but one that gave the retailer a better profit that “entire gyle” strong beer did, because it had paid less tax.

In 1697 a tax on malt was introduced alongside the taxes on the finished product, at the bizarre-looking rate of six pence and sixteen 21sts of a penny a bushel. (My best guess on that odd sum is that it works out to not quite 4s 6d a quarter – but six pence and five eighths of a penny a bushel is 4s 6d a quarter exactly, so why the approximately 2% difference? If anyone has a good answer to this conundrum, I’d be grateful …) For the first time, the country’s very large number of private household brewers had to pay tax, if they bought their malt from commercial maltsters, while brewers were also now paying more tax when they brewed extra strong beer than when they brewed “common” strong beer, because of the extra (taxed) malt used. But even on double beer at eight bushels to the barrel, that only came out to around three farthings per gallon more tax, and it failed to stop brewers continuing to cheat the revenue by mixing small drink with extra-strong. A disgruntled former General Surveyor of Excise, Edward Denneston, “Gent”, who had been involved in inspecting breweries since at least the early 1680s, wrote what amounted to a 40-page rant in 1713 with the unsnappy title A Scheme for Advancing and Improving the Ancient and Noble Revenue of Excise upon Beer, Ale and other Branches to the Great Advantage of Her Majesty and the general Good of her Subjects. It claimed that the brewing profession had become rich solely because of the “Frauds, Neglects and Abuses” practised by the brewers to the detriment of the country’s tax take. Brewers, he said, were “Vermine … that eat us up alive” and he told them he wished them “all boiled in your own brewing Cauldrons, or drowned in your own Gile Tunns”.

Denneston was a man with a grievance: he claimed that when he was a General Surveyor of Excise in London, he had spent several hundred pounds of his own money uncovering fiddles at the royal brewhouse in St Katharine’s, by the Tower, which brewed beer for the navy. One such fraud cost the government £18,000 a year, and he had been promised a reward by the House of Commons for stopping it, which, he said, he had never received. He also claimed that the country was losing £200,000 a year in unpaid tax – equivalent, in relative terms, to more than £4 billion today – because of the wider fiddles practised by brewers and publicans, and declared: “before there was a Duty of Excise laid upon Beer and Ale, it was not known any Brewer ever got so much by his Trade as what is now call’d a competent Estate; but since a Duty of Excise was laid upon Beer and Ale, nothing is more obvious, amazing and remarkable, than to see the great Estates many Brewers in and about the City of London have got, and are daily getting.” This, he said, was because “the Brewers in general, ever since there was a Duty upon Beer and Ale, have been more or less guilty of defrauding that Duty in several Methods,” including bribing the excise officers (in October 1708, “T– J–, Brewer” was put on trial at the Old Bailey for allegedly giving 40s a week to four officers of the excise to ignore his mixing of small beer with strong, though he was found not guilty), illegally brewing with molasses rather than malt , like the brewer “lately and remarkably in Southwark”, who was “fined several Hundred Pounds, for using of Molossas in his Beer and Ale”, and, in particular, avoiding the tax on strong beer and ale by mixing extra-strong drink with small.

One such fiddle Denneston claimed to have uncovered when he was working for the Revenue in London as General Surveyor involved the publican at the Fortune of War in Well Close, Goodman’s Fields, just to the east of the Minories, and on the edge of the City. Denneston said that while visiting Well Close on official business, he spotted a sign outside the pub which said: “Here is to he Sold Two Thrids, Three Thrids, Four Thrids, and Six Thrids.” “My Curiosity up on this Subject, led me into the House,” Denneston said. “I call’d for my Host, desir’d to know what he meant by the several sorts of Thrids ? He answer’d, That the meaning was, Beer at Twopence, Threepence, Fourpence, and Sixpence a Pot, for that he had all sorts of Drink, and as good as any in England; upon which I tasted all the four sorts, and found they were all made up by Mixture, and not Beer intirely Brew’d ; upon which I order’d the Surveyor of that Division to go and search that House, where he found only two sorts of Drink, viz extraordinary Strong Beer, and Small, so that according to the Price he Mixt in Proportion; the same Fraud being more or less practis’d through the Kingdom.”

Denneston must have had an extraordinary palate to detect the difference between mixed beers and “intirely brewed” ones, but ignoring that, “Three Thrids” is obviously the same as three-threads, and Denneston confirms that it was a mixture of extra-strong beer and small beer, sold for three pence a pot, or quart, with two-threads costing two pence, four-threads costing four pence and so on. Why “threads”? One definition of “thread” is “a thin continuous stream of liquid”: the Elizabethan author Thomas Nashe wrote of “thrids of rayne”, while another writer in 1723 wrote of “fat Liquor” that when poured out would “go on in a long Thread whose Parts are uninterrupted”.

Three-threads is mentioned several more times during the 18th century, but by 1760 the practice of retailers mixing extra-strong and small beers and ales had evidently ceased, and “three-threads”, if talked about, had to be explained. In November that year a letter by someone calling himself “Obadiah Poundage” (“poundage” being another work for duty or tax) and claiming to be an 86-year-old clerk at one of the great London breweries, living at Newington Green, Islington, was published in the London Chronicle under the title “The History of the London Brewery since 1688″ – “brewery” here being used in the sense “brewing trade”. Poundage was detailing the rise in the tax on beer and ale in the times of William III and Queen Anne, and how the brewers dealt with that. In a passage that was to become famous, he wrote: “Our tastes but slowly alter or reform. Some drank Mild Beer and Stale; others what was then called Three-threads, at 3d per quart; but many used all stale, at 4d per pot. On this footing stood the trade until about the year 1722, when the Brewers conceived there was a method to be found preferable to any of these extremes; that beer well brewed, kept its proper time, became racy and mellow, that is, neither new nor stale, such would recommend itself to the public. This they ventured to sell at 23s per barrel, that the victualler might retail it at 3d per quart. At first it was slow in making its way, but in the end the experiment succeeded beyond all expectation. The labouring people, porters etc. experienced its wholesomeness and utility, they assumed to themselves the use thereof, from whence it was called Porter or Entire Butt.” (“Stale”, here, incidentally, means “matured”, not “off”, and it was the opposite of “mild”, or fresh beer: a mixture of old, matured, sharp beer and fresh, sweet, new beer was a favourite with many drinkers through to the 19th century at least.)

A Sot DormantThis was the first time that three-threads had been linked with the birth of porter, albeit obliquely, and with the two drinks apparently having nothing in common except the fact that they both retailed at 3d a quart. Poundage’s words were quickly plagiarised – they were reprinted, without acknowledgement in The Gentleman’s Magazine the same month, and reappeared in various publications over the next 40-plus years. More recently the pot has been muddied by the former brewer HS “Stan” Corran, who wrote A History of Brewing in 1975 and seems to have had access to a different version of Poundage’s letter, because he printed a lengthy extract from it in his book in which the line “Some drank Mild Beer and Stale; others what was then called Three-threads, at 3d per quart” was replaced by “Some drank Mild Beer and Stale; others ale, mild beer and stale blended together [my emphasis] at 3d per quart.” Corran apparently found this alternative version in the archives of Guinness in Dublin: how it got there is not known and, alas, Guinness’s archivists cannot find it now. It has been suggested by James Sumner, to whom I am grateful for much of the research in this post, that it ended up in Dublin via the private papers of the 18th century Hampstead brewer Michael Combrune. If that alternative version, or another copy, was around at the end of the 18th century, it may have influenced what happened next in the narrative history of three-threads: because suddenly, decades after it disappeared, the drink was given a completely different description to the one Denneston gave it, and it was plugged firmly into the story of the development of porter.

Early in 1802 the Monthly Magazine printed a piece on the history of what was then easily London’s favourite beer which said: “The wholesome and excellent beverage of porter obtained its name about the year 1730 … [formerly] the malt-liquors in general use were ale, beer, and twopenny, and it was customary for the drinkers of malt-liquor to call for a pint or tankard of half-and-half, ie a half of ale and half of beer, a half of ale and half of twopenny, or a half of beer and half of twopenny. In course of time it also became the practice to call for a pint or tankard of three threads, meaning a third of ale, beer, and twopenny; and thus the publican had the trouble to go to three casks, and turn three cocks for a pint of liquor. To avoid this trouble and waste, a brewer, of the name of HARWOOD, conceived the idea of making a liquor which should partake of the united flavours of ale, beer, and twopennyy He did so and succeeded, calling it entire or entire butt, meaning that it was drawn entirely from one cask or butt; and as it was a very hearty nourishing liquor, it was very suitable for porters and other working people. Hence it obtained its name of porter.

There are many problems with that story: porter was actually first mentioned in 1721, and while Ralph and James Harwood were porter brewers in Shoreditch, theirs was a small concern compared to the giants such as Truman, Whitbread and Parsons, and there is no evidence from the preceding 80 years that they had anything to do with the development of the drink, apart from a couple of brief and obscure references which themselves said nothing about three-threads. Porter was indeed also known as “entire butt”, but not because it was a one-cask-only reproduction of a drink that had originally been served from three different casks. It was so called because it was brewed “entire”, the technical term at the time for a beer or ale made from a combination of all three mashes of the malt, instead of the first mash being used to make strong ale or beer and the others standard beer and small beer, as was usual, and it was then matured in butts, 108-gallon casks. There is no evidence at all that porter was brewed to replace three-threads; and most importantly to our story, the description of what three-threads was, a combination of ale, beer and “twopenny” from three casks, is totally at odds with what Denneston described being served at the Fortune of War nearly 90 years earlier under the name three thrids, a mixture of just two drinks, extra-strong and small. Just to undermine the Monthly Magazine‘s narrative some more, “twopenny” WAS ale, according to Obadiah Poundage in 1760, who described it as a pale ale retailed at four pence a quart, or two pence a pint, made by the London brewers in imitation of the beers the country gentry “residing in London more than they had in former times” were “habituated to” at home. So according to the Monthly Magazine, three-threads was a tautological mixture of ale, beer and ale – though, admittedly, if the second was pale ale, the first could have been brown ale.

Unfortunately, within a very short time the Monthly Magazine‘s version of history was being reprinted, first in a guidebook called The Picture of London, also published in 1802, and then dozens – hundreds – of times over the next two centuries. Occasionally there were variations: John Tuck, writing in 1822, in a book called The Private Brewer’s Guide to the Art of Brewing Ale, Stout and Porter, said that “a mixture of stale, mild and pale, which was called three-threads, was sold at four pence per quart as far back as 1720,” which, as we have seen, was wrong on both ingredients and price. But everywhere it became the accepted truth that three-threads was a mixture of three different drinks, and porter was brewed to replace it.

A Sot SaliantI hope I have shown that three-threads was not the drink the Monthly Magazine and almost every other writer on the subject from 1802 has said it was, and also that, fascinating though the story of three-threads is, it has nothing to do with the development of porter. If any beer did, in fact, it was the strong “twopenny” pale ale that the gentry brought a taste for to London. According to manuscript histories of the brewing trade written out by Michael Combrune in the 1760s, this pale ale became “spontaneously transparent” and the established London brown-beer brewers decided to try to match this by ageing their own product much longer than they had previously, adding more hops to help it keep. As it aged, it mellowed, and this mellow brown beer, “neither new nor stale”, as Poundage said, and retailing for 3d a quart, became the beer that porters quickly grew to love above all others.

Not everybody will agree with me. John Krenzke, whose PhD dissertation on the industrialisation of the London beer trade 1400-1750 I have leaned on for much of the information to be found in this post, believes porter to have been brewed specifically to imitate the taste of three-threads. I have the greatest respect for John’s scholarship, which uncovered far more facts about the early history of three-threads than I was able to. But I cannot go along with his conclusion: I see no evidence that porter was anything other than an improved version of London brown beer, and that three-threads was something completely different. No writer until the Monthly Magazine in 1802, in a story demonstrably wrong in many ways, ever said porter was a replacement for three-threads. It looks like my journalistic ancestor missed the true, and much better story – that with every slurp, the three-threads drinker was diddling the tax man

Why Meantime sold up to SAB Miller – the inside story

PrintMeantime Brewing’s surprise sale to SAB Miller, the second largest brewing company in the world, was prompted by a growing realisation at the Greenwich-based craft brewer that it did not have the resources and capability itself to move on up to the next stage of its growth journey, the company’s chief executive has revealed.

Nick Miller, who joined Meantime as CEO in 2011, said that he and Alastair Hook, the company’s founder, and the rest of the board were already looking at a tie-up with a big brewer as one of the strategic options that could be followed to enable the company to grow further. “We were on the cusp of making a decision that partnership was a better route than going to refinance,” he said. “I think we may have gone to a process later this year, could have gone for a float, could have gone for private equity money, could have gone to AIM, though that’s a hugely costly and time-consuming exercise, could have gone for a joint venture with a PE house, could have sold out to a major brewer, could have gone crowd-funding, could have borrowed money from the bank. But it’s a bit more than just a financial requireement. It’s ‘have you got the brewing capability, the engineering capability, the route-to-market capability, the global reach capability?’

“The financial side wasn’t that much of an issue to us, because we’ve got a very good relationship with our bank. They’ve been trying to chuck money at us for a while now. It was more about, ‘how do you sustain the growth, relative to the capabilities within the organisation?’ That was the key strategic challenge for us, and the partnership with SAB really helps with that.”

A chance meeting in March this year began the process that led to the sale, Miller revealed: “A very old friend of mine, who I had worked with, was having his 50th birthday party, and he rang me up and said, ‘I’d like to buy some pale ale to complement Peroni at my party.’ So he came over, and we sat down and had a beer and a bite to eat, and he said, ‘What are you doing with the business?’ I said, ‘Well, we’re coming to a stage where we need to look at capability and resources. We’ve got a number of options, we could do it ourselves, but we might be better off with a partnership with a brewer that gives us the capabilities that we need.’ Four or five days later his boss at SAB Miller came to me and said, ‘Look, here’s an opportunity for you, would you consider it?'”

A board meeting at Meantime took an hour to debate the deal, and Miller and Hook then visited most of the company’s 60-plus shareholders individually. “We’re very close to our shareholders, we know them well, we’ve talked to them, we’ve communicated with them on a regular basis, they know they can pick up the phone and talk to Alastair or myself at any time,” Miller said. “They’re all very happy people They’ve known the company’s journey intimately, and they’re delighted, not just because of what they’re going to get but because of where Meantime is now going. They can see the appetite SAB have for taking it to the next level.” Many shareholders are Hook’s family and friends, and around 40 per cent, Miller estimated, have been shareholders from the start of the company in 1999, while about a quarter of the employees of Meantime Brewing Company are also shareholders.

Looking at further possible takeovers in the UK craft brewing scene, Miller said: “From a modern craft beer perspective, ie keg, cold, unpasteurised, modern styles and genres of beers, there’s not really that many that can be bought, I would suggest, in the UK. Our peer group is essentially Camden, BrewDog, Thornbridge. At Thornbridge, Jim [Harrison] is probably happy doing what he’s doing, I can’t speak for what his next steps or strategy are, but it’s clear what’s happening at Camden and BrewDog, they’re going down the crowd-sourcing route and they’re trying to build their capability incrementally. That’s a thoroughly commendable route, but it’s a tougher one than partnering with a global brewer that will let you get on with it and support you.”

On the possibility of Meantime beers being brewed away from Greenwich, Miller said: “We’ve got plans to take the brewery up to a quarter of a million hectolitres [150,000 barrels] within the next 18 months to two years, and we can go a bit further than that in Greenwich.” The new experimental brewery at Greenwich is due to be commissioned in August, “and then I’m going to have to hold Mr Hook back! Anything that is shiny and goes ‘ping!’, he’ll be on it like a rash!”

There was “a buzz of excitement” among Meantime’s senior managers after the news was announced, Miller said. “We’re all looking forward to the opportunities that partnering SAB Miller brings. This isn’t a deal where we’re putting our feet up, going and lying in the sun. This is, ‘Right, how do we kick on again?’ I know Sue [Clark, managing director, SABMiller Europe, to whom Miller will now report] is extremely excited – she runs all the markets in Europe, and you can see her eyes lighting up. I think this is a great story for British beer. If we can take Meantime around the world under the SAB capability, I think it’s really a great news story for Britain.”

SAB Miller is certainly buying into a success story. Beer volumes at Meantime grew by almost 60% in 2014, to something on the order of 80,000 hectolitres, and the company has grown tenfold since 2010. Turnover was £17m, and that will at least triple if it does hit that quarter-of-a-million-hectolitre target by 2018. (That makes it a very interesting exercise to try to work out what SAB Miller paid, because it won’t have been based on past earnings, but future ones: somewhere around £20 million to £30 million would be my guess, though if anyone wants to tell me I’m totally wrong I’m prepared to delete this comment …) SAB Miller is involved in two big markets in Europe where craft beer is rocketing away, Poland and Italy, and Meantime makes just the kind of stylish, not too far out product that would bee an ideal introduction to people wanting to explore craft beer, but not be frightened by it.

Of course, the haters and sneerers fell upon the news of Meantime’s sale with joy, although typically, they couldn’t get their stories to agree: while many commentators seemed to believe Meantime beers really weren’t up to much, one would declare that “Yakima Red remains one of the most insipid and uninspired beers I’ve ever tried,” while another insisted that “Yakima Red is the only decent one in their line up.” (Both genuine comments, one from Facebook, the other from a commenter on the Guardian‘s story about the takeover.) Come on, haters – do try at least to sneer from the same songsheet.

I also felt sorry for Tom Stainer, head of communications at Camra, who, asked for a comment on the story by the Guardian, felt obliged to parrot the party line and say: “We would urge the brewery to consider returning to brewing real ale in the future.” If he wasn’t a mate of mine, I’d have rung him up and said, “Hey, grandad, you really, really don’t get the craft beer scene, do you?”

I don’t mind admitting I’m a Meantime fanboy, and I’m delighted for everybody there that they’ve now got the strength of a brewing giant behind them to power their expansion. Anybody who knows Alastair Hook will be very aware that he’s not a man to compromise (which is why he won’t do cask ale), and I don’t doubt at all that as long as he still has anything to do with the brewery, its beers will continue to be among the best and most reliable available.

Meantime timeline

1983 Teenager Alastair Hook, a great fan of the cask ales he drank around his home in South London, visits the Hopland Brewery in Mendocino, California, only the second brewpub to be set up in the United States, and is hugely impressed with the flavours he finds in the brewery’s chilled, kegged beers.

1985 Hook, who back-packed across Europe and Asia with Michael Jackson’s Pocket Guide to Beer at the age of 17, realises he has a growing passion for beer and quits his Economic and Social History degree at York University (where he was doing a research project on Guinness) to take up a brewing degree at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.

1988 Hook graduates from Heriot-Watt, learns German and enrols at the University of Munich’s Weihenstephan campus, the most famous brewing school in Germany, for postgraduate study. His first job upon graduating is for a German brewery, Kaltenberg, in Italy.

1991 Hook is asked to set up a German-style brewhouse at the Packhorse Brewery in Ashford, Kent, brewing Continental-style beers including Dunkle (dark) lager, Vienna and Pilsen-style lagers and Dortmunder Alt. The brewery closes in 1994, and Hook turns to importing beers to sell in the UK to make a living, using his contacts in Germany.

1995 Hook helps set up the Freedom Brewing Co in Fulham with property developer Ewan Eastham, making a non-pasteurised, bottled Pilsen-style beer.

1996 Hook is poached by the restaurateur-cum-entrepreneur Oliver Peynton to open Mash and Air, a brewery-and-restaurant in Manchester.

1998 Hook and Peynton open a branch of Mash and Air off Regent Street in Central London called simply Mash.

1999
Hook raises more than £500,000 from family and friends to launch the Meantime Brewing Company on Penhall Road, Charlton, South London, close to Charlton Athletic football club, where Hook is a season ticket holder.

2000 In April, Meantime brews its first beer, Union Lager.

2001 Meantime opens its first pub, the Greenwich Union.

2007 Output at Meantime hits 13,000 hectolitres a year,. A further £500,000 has been raised from shareholders to install a modern packaging line.

2008 Hook is named the Brewer of the Year by the British Guild of Beer Writers.

2010 Meantime opens its new brewery in Blackwall Lane, Greenwich at a cost of £2m. At the same time it opens a six-barrel microbrewery and restaurant at the Old Brewery in the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, costing £200,000.

2011
Meantime announces it wants to increase production fourfold from 25,000 hectolitres a year to 100,000hl in the coming five years. Nick Miller, former managing director at SAB Miller UK’s operating company, Miller Brands, becomes the brewery’s new chief executive.

2013 Meantime launches Brewery Fresh, the UK’s first tank beer, delivering its London Lager unpasteurised and without extraneous carbonation from specially installed five-hectolitre (880-pint) cellar tanks.

2014 Meantime builds an “urban hop farm” on the banks of the River Thames directly on the Greenwich Meridian Line. Meanwhile the brewery closes in on 70,000 hectolitres a year.

2015 Meantime is acquired by SAB Miller for an undisclosed sum, to spearhead the brewing giant’s assault on the European craft beer market.

Why Welsh beer blogger Simon Martin is a superstar in Poland

Two of the more than 300 bronze dwarfs to be found on the streets of Wrocław. They commemorate the surrealist anti-Communist Orange Alternative protest movement of the 1980s, whose symbol was a dwarf, and which started in Wrocław. 'Opiłek' means 'metal chip'

Two of the more than 300 bronze dwarfs to be found on the streets of Wrocław. They commemorate the surrealist anti-Communist Orange Alternative protest movement of the 1980s, whose symbol was a dwarf, and which started in Wrocław. ‘Opiłek’ means ‘metal chip’

Wandering around the Festival of Good Beer outside the football stadium in Wrocław, southern Poland last weekend with the Welsh beer blogger Simon Martin, it was quickly clear I was in the presence of a genuine superstar. A stream of young Poles – mostly male, but including the occasional female – were rushing up to Simon, greeting him by name, shaking his hand warmly and asking if they could have their picture taken with him. During a break in the flood of fandom, Simon wryly told me that he wished he was half as famous back in the UK as he is in Poland. His YouTube video blog, Real Ale Craft Beer, has just under 10,000 subscribers and gets around a thousand views a day – respectable numbers. But while, clearly, many of those viewers come from the UK – after all, Simon is based in this country, and speaking in English – a surprising number come from Poland. The reason seems to be that in the past four years, Poles have developed a growing thirst for craft beer, and an equal thirst for information about the subject, and access to easily digested, enthusiastically delivered knowledge about new craft beers. That is what Simon’s beer-reviewing video website brings them, and they love it – and him.

Poland, you may be surprised to learn, is the third largest brewing nation in the EU, and looking to soon overtake the UK and move into second place. It produced around 40 million hectolitres in 2013, from 155 breweries, 96 litres per head per year, up 10.4% in four years, against 42 million hectolitres a year in the UK from 1,490 breweries, 66 litres per head per year, down 7.1% since 2009, and 94.3 million hectolitres a year in Germany, 107 litres per head per year, down 3.8% in four years, from 1,350 or so breweries.

From those figures you would be guessing that the Polish brewing scene is dominated by big concerns, and it is. SAB Miller has around 38% of the market through Kompania Piwowarska, including the Tyskie and Lech brands. Heineken has another 35% through Grupa Żywiec, and Carlsberg has 14% through its Polish subsidiary, which includes Okocim, leaving just 13% for the independent sector. But that independent sector is thriving: Tomasz Kopyra, the Polish beer blogger who invited me to the Wrocław festival (and who is even more of a superstar among Polish craft beer fans than Simon Martin – Tomasz has 50,000 followers on his own video beer blog and could not walk two yards across the festival grounds without being mobbed by people wanting selfies with him) told me that there were 500 new beers launched on the Polish market last year, a number that will certainly be exceeded by a considerable margin in 2015, when 100 new beers were launched in April this year alone.

Poland now has some 30 newly built craft breweries, and around 30 or 40 other craft brewer concerns contract-brewing their beers on the plant of older-established businesses. The beers they are brewing, just like the beers made by craft brewers elsewhere, largely reflect what is happening in the United States, with big, hugely hoppy IPAs and thumping stouts (though Poland has had a long tradition of very strong porters dating from the 18th and early 19th centuries, when London brewers such as Barclay Perkins exported porter and stout to the Baltic region and local brewers were forced to compete with their own versions).

Atak Chmielu

Atak Chmielu, the most influential beer in Poland’s craft brewing scene, and another brew in the Pinta line-up, a ‘rice IPA’

However, the Polish market for really hoppy beers only started in 2011, when a couple of home-brewers, Ziemowit Fałat and Grzegorz Zwierzyna, upgraded from running a home-brew supplies shop, started a concern called Pinta and launched a commercial brew called Atak Chmielu – “Hop Attack” – with 58 IBUs and 6.1% abv. It was the first commercial beer in Poland made with American hops (Citra, Simcoe, Cascade and Amarillo, since you ask) and it absolutely revolutionised the Polish craft beer market, stunning drinkers with its flavours the way Sierra Nevada Pale Ale once did British beer drinkers, spurring all the other craft brewers in Poland to produce their own American IPAs.

Pinta is a contract brewery, its beers made at Browar na Jurze (“the Jura brewery”, based near the Polish Jura) in Zawiercie, to the east of Wrocław, itself founded only in 1997. Tomasz Kopyra told me that the success of contract brewers making more “modern” brews has persuaded the old-school brewers whose kit they use to start brewing their own craft-style beers, instead of continuing solely to imitate the bland euro-lagers made by the multinational concerns that dominate Poland’s beer scene. Ironically – some might say inevitably – Atak Chiemlu is regarded today by many Polish craft beer drinkers as not hoppy enough any more, with accusations that as it has grown more popular, so its quality has, allegedly, declined, though I found it a fine beer, darker than American IPAs normally are, with deep and mellow fruit flavours and not (comparatively) overly assertive.

Pinta, which also now has its own bar, in Krakow, called Viva La Pinta. makes a large range of beers – more than 30 in the past four years, including several “collaboration” brews, one with Simon Martin, named Call Me Simon (you can see him making the latest version here) and one with O’Hara’s in Carlow, Ireland, with the pleasing name Lublin to Dublin. This is a “robust milk stout” made with the two most popular Polish hop varieties, Marynka and Lubelski, the latter named for Lublin, the city in Eastern Poland that is the centre for Polish hop growing. It comes with lovely chocolatey aromas and flavours, and at 6+ per cent abv, makes Mackeson look like an eight-stone weakling.

The Wrocław Festival of Good Beer – “Festiwal Dobrego Piwa” – attracts around 60 or so brewers, mostly from Poland, though a few are from Germany, the Czech Republic and elsewhere, including one, as we shall see, from England. They occupy open-air stalls in the huge space outside Wrocław’s football stadium, on the edge of town, which was built for the 2012 European football championships, and more often than not the brewers themselves are on the stalls, pouring their beers: why British brewers rarely seem to do this, I don’t know. Food is provided by a dozen or more stalls and trucks offering everything from burgers to traditional Polish szaszłyk (kebabs) to herring and carp to huge open-faced sandwiches, and it’s extremely good: vastly, vastly better than the “there to soak up the beer” stodge you’ll be offered at the average Camra festival. The  Wrocław festival also attracts a vastly more varied crowd than you’ll see at a British beerfest, with Poles of all ages, including some with very young children, along to see what is happening.

One of the food stalls at the festival: 'Pajda chleba' means 'chunk of bread'

One of the food stalls at the festival: ‘Pajda chleba’ means ‘chunk of bread’

I arrived at the festival about noon on the Friday, and Tomasz very kindly whipped me round the breweries, in his opinion, that should not be missed. Doctor Brew, like Pinta, is a contract operation started by experienced home brewers, Marcin Olszewski and Łukasz Lis, who are based in Wrocław, though their beers are made by Browar Bartek in the village of Cieśle, about 20 miles east, a small brewery that opened in 1992. Doctor Brew began in 2013, which makes it positively ancient in Polish craft beer terms, and like almost all the brewers I tried in Poland, its beers are exceedingly well-crafted and very worth drinking. The Kinky Ale, for example, is made with Equinox, the latest hot American hop, which was released to huge excitement last year, and the beer was filled with deep orangey flavours. As well as a line-up of keg brews on its stall, Doctor Brew also had two Jack Daniels barrel-aged beers, still in their barrels, one a barley wine made with American hops at 10.5% abv, which had spent three months conditioning in the brewery and then four months in the barrel, and the other a Russian Imperial stout. Each was tapped for the first time at the festival – “it was a scary moment,” Łukasz Lis admitted. But for a first attempt at barrel ageing, each was remarkably fine, with huge amounts of coconut and vanilla from the oak and considerable remaining sweetness making for dangeriously drinkable beers.

Jarek Domagalski of Browar Nepomucen

Jacek Domagalski of Browar Nepomucen

Next up was a brewery only two months old, Browar Nepomucen, which had been built from scratch in a former bakery in the village of Szkaradowo, just over 30 miles north of Wrocław, by home brewer Jacek Domagalski and the brothers Piotr and Mariusz Musielakówie. Jacek had been a home brewer for eight years, and again this experience has translated with impressive ease into a professional set-up. As well as the usual line-up of beers, Nepomucen (named after a local saint, Jacek told me) brews its own version of the newly revived Polish smoked wheat beer style Grodziskie – Grodzisk Wielkopolski, the town where the style originated, is about 50 miles north of Szkaradowo (and about 80 miles from Wrocław). Nepomucen’s Grodziskie is made from smoked barley malt, smoked wheat malt, and Saaz and East Kent Goldings hops, to a strength of 3.9%, and as my first introduction to the style I thought it very fine.

A genuine Grodziski from Grodzisk

A genuine Grodziski from Grodzisk

Soon after I was drinking my second example of a Grodziskie, this one from Grodzisk itself, made from 100% smoked wheat malt, 3.1%, beautifully drinkable, not over-smoky, brewed by a man with the excellent name of Aleksander Chmielewski (chmiel is the Polish for ‘hops’) and his colleagues at the Browar w Grodzisku Wielkopolskim and served in a lovely old-skool Grodziskie glass, which is also embossed on the bottle. Although Grodziskie is an ancient style, this was from an even younger brewery than Nepomucen. Albeit a revival in original brewery buildings, using the original recipe and the original malt, the first “genuine” Grodziskie for 22 years only hit the bartops this month. The brewery is also making three other beers, including a very fine redcurrant-flavoured one and a stronger, more smokey, leathery Bernardyńskie, named for a 16th century saintly monk who allegedly blessed a dry well in Grodziskie that then began flowing again, supplying water for the brewery..

Other beers I noted:

● A double oatmeal stout, aged in Jack Daniels oak barrels again, but only for a few weeks, from the Artezan brewery in Błonie, near Warsaw (and nearer the other Grodzisk, Grodzisk Mazowiecki). This was the first “purpose-built” craft brewery in Poland, as opposed to contract craft brewing set-up, opening in June 2011. The oak had supplied vanilla again, but dialled down compared to Doctor Brew’s beer, with coffee, a touch of chocolate and just a sniff of sourness.

● Hard Bass Stout from the Fine Tuned Brewery in England. Pawel Kubinski, the Polish head brewer at Glastonbury Ales in Somerton, Somerset also produces beers as Fine Tuned, and was in Wrocław to promote his English-brewed beers to fellow Polish drinkers. This is a good 6% abv stout, hopped with British and American hops – Challenger, Northern Brewer, Chinook, Cascade, Fuggles and Citra – and alarmingly smooth, with a nice, slightly liquorish-ish, follow-through, possibly from the rye that is one of the seven grains used. Once again, dangerously drinkable

Michał Saks of AleBrowar

Michał Saks of AleBrowar

Two of AleBrowar's striking bottles

Two of AleBrowar’s striking bottles

 Rowing Jack from AleBrowar, another contract-brew collaboration by three home-brewers, led by Michał Saks, in 2012 and using the Gościszewo brewery in the village of the same name in Pomerania, northern Poland, 30 miles from Gdańsk. Many of Poland’s craft brewers have clearly grasped the importance of stylish branding, and AleBrowar’s bottle labels are among the best: individualistic and striking. (The name, incidentally, appears to be a bilingual pun: “ale”, pronounced “ALay”, means “but” or “however” in Polish, and certainly Poles pronounce the name of the operation as “ALayBROOar” rather than “ail-brooar”.)

● A minty wheat beer from Browar Trójmiejski Lubrow in Gdańsk called Kolender z Miętolina, “coriander and mint”, 4.2% abv. This could easily have failed as a product, especially for me, as I’m not fond of mint flavours generally, but it works very well – I really wanted some mint ice-cream with it …

While the Polish craft beer scene is still tiny – Tomasz estimated craft beer sales at only around 1% of total beer sales in the country – it seems clear craft beer will get bigger, with a rush of new brewers into the market, while the rise in the number of beers is being matched by the rise in the number of what in Poland are called “multitaps” [sic], craft beer bars. Thanks to Tomasz, I got to see three new small breweries in and around Wrocław last Saturday morning. One, Widawa, in a restaurant in a small village 20 minutes outside Wrocław, was opened in March 2012, but of the other two, one, Browar Stu Mostów, started only last November, and the other, Browar Profesja, opened its doors just two months ago.

Inside the Widawa restaurant brewery in Chrząstawie Małej – a small village outside Wrocław that Google Translate suggests would be called 'Little Horseradish Pond' in English. On the left is the combined mash tun and copper, on the right the lauter tun.

Inside the Widawa restaurant brewery in Chrząstawie Małej.  On the left is the combined mash tun and copper, on the right the lauter tun.

All are already producing excellent, impressive beers. The Widawa brewery, in Chrząstawa Mała (which means “Little Horseradish Pond”, unless Google Translate is lying to me), is run by Wojciech Frączyk, who installed the beautiful copper-coloured brewing kit, plus conditioning vessels, all made by Kaspar Schulz of Bamberg, Germany, at the family restaurant two years ago. The kit being designed for a small version of your standard continental brewing operation, the vessels are a combined mash-tun and brew kettle “heater/boiler”, and a lauter tun – so mash in the heater/boiler, everything into the lauter tun for separation of grains from wort, and back into the heater/boiler for boiling with hops. It was only brewing a standard line-up of beers – pils, hefeweizen – when Tomasz Kopyra turned up on the doorstep to find out what was happening. Tomasz quickly told Frączyk his beers were boring, and persuaded him to brew a stout. Since then the pair have brewed an extensive range of beers, including a coffee pale ale, a wood-aged IPA and a milk stout.

Michał Gref in the brewhouse at Browar Profesja

Michał Gref in the brewhouse at Browar Profesja

The kit at Profesja in Wrocław, which must be the only brewery based in a former Nazi parachute factory (for the high ceilings) was made and put together by the founder, Michał Gref, and his head brewer, Przemysław Leszczyński, simply because they couldn’t afford to pay large sums to buy ready-fabricated vessels. “Profesja” means “occupation” or “profession”, and the brewery’s bottle labels and beer tap handles all show a dwarf who is following an occupation linked to the name of the beer: Bursztynnik, for example, an amber ale, from the Polish for “amber”, bursztyn, shows a long-bearded amber jeweller holding a fishing net to haul the amber from the Baltic, where it floated onto the shore. (Dwarfs are one of the symbols of Wrocław, from the Orange Alternative, an underground protest movement which started in the city during Communist times in the 1980s, and which sprayed pictures of dwarfs on walls where the authorities had covered up anti-government slogans. On one occasion ten thousand people marched through the centre of Wrocław wearing orange dwarf hats. Now, in commemoration of the Orange Alternative, there are large numbers of small bronze statues of dwarfs found around Wrocław.)

Przemysław Leszczyński and Michał Gref of Browar Profesja

Przemysław Leszczyński and Michał Gref of Browar Profesja

Bursztynnik is hopped with Willamette hops and bittered with Hallertau. Alchemist, a “Brettanomyces IPA”, which has a drawing of a mad-looking dwarf chemist on the bottle labels, is made with Brettanomyces bruxellensi trois, a comparatively mild variety of Brett, fermented very warm, at around 28C/82F, hopped in the kettle with Chinook, Cascade, Galaxy and Saphir and dry-hopped with Citra. It’s the best all-Brett beer I’ve had, with just a touch of “cheesy feet” to give it a character apart from the usual run of assertively hoppy American IPAs. Michał Gref says Profesja “could have brewed for the geeks, but we’re brewing for the people.” Przemysław Leszczyński appears to find this a little frustrating: we found him later competing in the homebrewing contest that is also part of the Wrocław beer festival with brews he admits are too far out for his colleagues at Profesja ever to agree to brew commercially.

Part of the very impressive set-up at Browar Stu Mostów, where a balcony bar looks down on the brewing area. That's the mash tun on the right, if my translation of 'kocioł zacierno warzelny' is correct.

Part of the very impressive set-up at Browar Stu Mostów, where a balcony bar looks down on the brewing area. That’s the mash tun on the right, if my translation of ‘kocioł zacierno warzelny’ is correct.

In complete contrast to Profesja, Stu Mostów (which means “hundred bridges” – Wrocław sits on the Oder, and the river’s braidings and channels mean there are indeed around a hundred bridges in the city) was founded by a former banker, Grzegorz Ziemian, with backing from ex-banking colleagues, and has a beautiful new 20-hectolitre set-up from the German company BrauKon, erected in a former cinema (high ceilings again) which looks as if it cost a very great deal of money. It only opened in November last year, but again the beers, which include, for example, a chocolate mint FES, are all impeccable. It has three separate brands, WRCLW for “more traditional styles”, Salamander for “new wave” brews, and Art for “collaboration brews” and the like. It has a bar on a mezzanine floor inside the brewery, looking down on the brewkit, which is doing well enough that Ziemian wants to expand by putting a beer garden on the roof of the building.

David Twigg, of Kraców via Cambridge, and Paulina Golec of Browar Twigg

David Twigg, of Kraców via Cambridge, and Paulina Golec of Browar Twigg

Perhaps the most surprising brewery I came across, though, was Browar Twigg, from Kraców, which occupied one of the 50 or so stalls at the Wrocław beer festival. If that name doesn’t look Polish, it’s not – Browar Twigg was founded by David Twigg, from Lincolnshire via Cambridge, where he gained a Phd in particle physics (yet another craft brewer with a Phd), practised his home-brewing skills, met an attractive young Polish woman called Paulina Golec, and came out to Poland 18 months ago with Paulina to open a craft brewery. Social media has been very important in promoting the growth of his brewery, David told me – not for the usual reasons, but because Poles found the “twi” sound in Twigg as hard to pronounce as English speakers find “szczy”, until the rise of Twitter, when suddenly they got it. The brewery, the only one now in Kraków itself, is based in part of an old steel works. The kit, from Dave Porter’s PBC in Bury, near Manchester, is 25 hectolitres and many of the beers have “astrophysicy” names, such as Dark Matter, a black IPA, and White Dwarf. “The start was quite hard, but now it’s starting to gain momentum. Poland is in the middle of a beer revolution, people are wanting American-style beers, and I think the market is going to go the way of craft beer in the Western world,” David told me.

Wrocław, pronounced, very approximately, “Vrotswaf”, and around 740 miles almost exactly due east of London, is a very attractive old city in its own right, with some fine medieval buildings (or reconstriucted medieval buildings) to admire and a fascinating history: the city is known to German-speakers as Breslau, it was the biggest settlement in ancient Silesia, and its ruler changed repeatedly: Bohemia around 1000AD, then Poland, Bohemia again in the 14th century, the Hapsburgs of Austria in 1526, and Prussia in 1742. It remained ruled from Berlin for more than 200 years, as Prussia grew into the German Empire and Germany eventually mutated into the Third Reich. But in 1945 Silesia became Polish again, as Stalin shoved post-war Poland violently west, annexing much of the country’s eastern side to the Soviet Union. German speakers fled, and Wrocław and its surroundings were repopulated largely by Poles displaced from what had now become parts of Ukraine, Belorussia and Lithuania. Wrocław is due to be the European City of Culture next year, and its Festival of Good Beer, the biggest in Poland, will be in its seventh year – and doubtless bigger than ever. It will be well worth a visit.

The Old Town Hall Wrocław

The Old Town Hall in Wrocław, Poland’s fourth largest city

Eight per cent of British craft brewers have PhDs and other dubious statistics

I have a new book out, A Craft Beer Road Trip Around Britain, with snapshots of 40 of Britain’s top small breweries from Scotland to the South West. Don’t rush to try to buy it from Amazon/your favourite independent bookseller, however, because it’s only available via Beer 52, the craft beer club people, who are giving it away to people who sign up to their “case of beer a month” service. Putting it together was quite fun, but hard work: getting craft beer brewers to co-operate in supplying information about themselves and their beers turns out to be like trying to herd cats, and my deepest sympathy goes to anyone who has had to put together one of those 666 beer to try before you’re dragged off to Hell-style compilations.

Still, at the end I found I had ended up with a big enough stack of information about a sample of craft brewers in Britain to pull out some interesting, if ultimately probably dubious, statistics. If we take the 40 brewers I interviewed for the book as typical (and I’m sure we can’t), we can draw the following conclusions about the British craft brewing industry:

Eight per cent of British craft brewers have a PhD
Probably the dodgiest stat of the lot; but it’s a fact that at least three of the 40 brewers in the book, James Davies of Alechemy in Livingston, Scotland (PhD, yeast genetics), Gaz Matthews of Mad Hatter in Liverpool (PhD, criminology) and Stuart Lascelles of East London Brewing Company (PhD, chemistry) are entitled to call themselves “Doctor”.

35 per cent of British craft brewers wear black T-shirts/polo shirts with their brewery’s logo on them
If the uniform of the 19th century brewer was a white apron and a red stockinette cap, as sported by Mr Bung in the Victorian Happy Families card game, and the uniform of the 20th century brewer was a white labcoat with pens in the top pocket, worn over a dark suit, then the uniform of the 21st century brewer is a black T-shirt, jeans and industrial boots – possibly, if the woman from Health and Safety is visiting, coupled with a hi-vis jacket and goggles.

Weird beards

Gregg Irwin and Bryan Spooner of Weird Beard Brew Co – named for one of the distinguishing features of the British craft brewer?

48 per cent of British craft brewers sport a beard
The least surprising stat: while the craft brewers of Britain don’t normally go for the “big enough to hide several small birds and a couple of squirrels” face-bushes preferred by their American rivals, the bearded brewer has become almost a cliché, and almost half the brewers in the book had clearly not recently passed a razor over their chins.

35 per cent of British craft breweries have an address that begins with “Unit” followed by a number
Is it surprising that out of every 20 small breweries in the country, at least seven will be on an industrial estate? Probably not …

12 per cent of British craft breweries have an address that includes the word “Farm”
It’s on the face of it not that surprising, either, that out of 40 craft breweries, five should be based on farms, since farms today often have unused buildings – dairies, for example – that can be cheaply and easily adapted to provide a home for a small brewing set-up, while there are likely to be few neighbours in the immediate vicinity to annoy. And, after all, back in the 19th century thousands of farms had their own breweries, where they made beer for the farmer, his family and the farm workers. Indeed, quite a few commercial breweries began as farm breweries that expanded into supplying local pubs: Arkells of Swindon, to name one survivor of that tradition. On the other hand if you scale that five-out-of-40 up across the whole craft brewing sector today, that suggests more than 150 farms have breweries on them: I CBA to go through the breweries section of the Good Beer Guide to check, but than sounds dubious to me.

Eight per cent of British craft breweries are based in railway arches
And not only in East and South East London: Tickety Brew of Stalybridge, for example, is underneath the arches, too. The seminal role played by Network Rail in helping Britain’s craft brewing boom by supplying homes to small breweries to thrive in really should be chronicled. Mind, this is another probably dodgy statistic to draw from my book, since again it implies an improbably large number of railway arch brewer nationally, around a hundred.

Five per cent of British craft brewers have artistic graffiti all over the interior walls of the brewery
All right, I’m sure this really is one you cannot scale up from my small sample of 40 brewers, but at least two, BrewDog in Scotland and Tiny Rebel in Wales have brought in graffiti artists to liven up the inside of their otherwise boring boxes.

Sheer wall power

When Tiny Rebel got the painters in …

45 per cent of British craft brewers use Cascade hops in at least one of their beers
The only surprise here is that the number seems positively too low: Boak and Bailey have pointed out how incredibly influential Sierra Nevada Pale Ale has been on the craft brewing scene in the UK, so the fact that so many brewers in Britain use the hop found in SNPA should startle no one. At least Cascade has one British parent, Fuggles – does anyone make a beer with both Cascade AND Fuggles in it? Hmmm …

30 per cent of British craft brewers use Maris Otter barley
Fifty years old this year, and still popular, despite being more expensive than other varieties, Maris Otter is perhaps THE craft beer barley: though many bigger brewers won’t and don’t use it, and suggest its popularity is more down to the fact that it has a great marketing story to tell for any brewer using it .

40 per cent of British craft brewers have a home brewing background
Again that seems ostensibly too small, when only another 20 per cent of those I surveyed had an actual brewing industry background: did the other 40 per cent just fling themselves into the business with no experience of wetting malt at all? Well, some people do, actually, such as Otley, where the founders’ background was in running pubs.

Andy Paterson, bearded

No good running away, Andy …

Anyway, there we are: the typical British craft brewer is bearded, wears a black T-shirt, is based on an industrial estate, and brews at least one beer with Maris Otter barley and Cascade hops. Is there anyone who fits that description: Well, apart from the industrial estate, yes there is: step up, please, the bearded, black-T-shirted Andy Paterson, brewer at Dark Star Brewing in Sussex of Hophead, made with Maris Otter and Cascades. You, sir, are Mr Craft Brewer 2015!

In which I give more badly written beer history a good kicking

Why oh why am I still having to write lengthy corrections to articles about the history of India Pale Ale? Well, apparently because the Smithsonian magazine, the official journal published by the Smithsonian Institution, is happy to print articles about the history of India Pale Ale without anybody doing any kind of fact-checking – and William Bostwick, beer critic for the Wall Street Journal, appears to be one of those writers who misinterpret, make stuff up and actively get their facts wrong.

The article Bostwick had published on Smithsonian.com earlier this week, “How the India Pale Ale Got Its Name”, is one of the worst I have ever read on the subject, crammed with at least 25 errors of fact and interpretation. It’s an excellent early contender for the Papazian Cup. I suppose I need to give you a link, so here it is, and below the nice picture of the Bow Brewery are my corrections.

The Bow Brewery in 1827: picture from the Mueum of London

The Bow Brewery in 1827: picture from the Mueum of London

“The British Indian army” – most of the British troops in India in the 18th century were in the three private armies run by the East India Company. There was no such thing as “the British Indian army” at that time.

“Soaking through their khakis in the equatorial heat” – khaki uniforms were not used by the British until the 1880s. Calcutta is almost 1,500 miles from the equator.

“The first Brits to come south were stuck with lukewarm beer—specifically dark, heavy, porter, the most popular brew of the day in chilly Londontown, but unfit for the tropics.”
Ignoring the fact that to get to India from Britain you travel east, porter continued to be exported to India from Britain for more than a century from at least the 1780s, with the East India Company in the 1850s ordering large quantities of porter from London brewers. The troops drank porter, and enjoyed it. Dark beers can be very refreshing in hot weather, and stouts are still made in hot climates, from the West Indies to Indonesia.

“One Bombay-bound supply ship was saved from wrecking in the shallows when its crew lightened it by dumping some of its cargo — no great loss, a newspaper reported, ‘as the goods consisted principally of some heavy lumbersome casks of Government porter.'”
The ship was trying to get away from Bombay, not into it, and this is a quote from 1851, just to underline the point about how long porter was exported to India.

“Most of that porter came from George Hodgson’s Bow brewery, just a few miles up the river Lea from the East India Company’s headquarters in east London.”
While Hodgson exported porter to India, there is no evidence that he was supplying “most” of it. The East India Company’s headquarters weren’t in east London, but in Leadenhall Street in the City. What was in “east London”, or more accurately, at Blackwall, on the Thames three miles to the east of the City, were the moorings used by the East Indiamen. They weren’t “a few miles” from Hodgson’s Bow brewery, but 1.3 miles as the crow flies and 2.5 miles if you follow the meandering Lea.

“Outward bound, ships carried supplies for the army, who paid well enough for a taste of home, and particularly for beer”
The articles carried on board the East Indiamen from London to India were for sale mostly to the European civilians living there, including the “civil servants” of the East India Company, not for “the army”. Beer was only a small part of what was carried, which included wine, brandy, Madeira and cider, plus all kinds of foodstuffs and many other items, from china to furniture to leather goods to clothes, unobtainable in India.

“Its clippers rode low in the water, holds weighed with skeins of Chinese silk and sacks of cloves.”
A clipper and an East Indiaman are two entirely different sorts of sailing ship, one built for speed, the other for carrying cargo and passengers. If you call an East Indiaman a clipper, you just make yourself look stupid. And the majority of the goods on board an East Indiaman was likely to be tea and cotton.

“The trip to India took at least six months” – no, it took between four and six months

“Hodgson sold his beer on 18-month credit, which meant the EIC could wait to pay for it until their ships returned from India, emptied their holds, and refilled the company’s purses.”
But it wasn’t the East India Company buying the beer from Hodgson, it was being bought by the East Indiamen captains and commanders to sell on their own accounts.

“Still, the army, and thus the EIC, was frustrated with the quality Hodgson was providing. Hodgson tried unfermented beer, adding yeast once it arrived safely in port. They tried beer concentrate, diluting it on shore. Nothing worked. Nothing, that is, until Hodgson offered, instead of porter, a few casks of a strong, pale beer called barleywine or ‘October beer.’”
This is complete rubbish. There is no evidence for any of this, no sending unfermented beer out – that would never have worked, as anyone who claims to know about beer would surely realise – and no concentrating it and then diluting it. There is no indication that “the army” (not an institution that existed anyway) or the East India Company cared at all about Hodgson’s beer. “Barleywine” is an anachronism: the term isn’t used by British brewers until the late 19th century, and even then as two words, not one, which is an Americanism. In any case, Hodgson was exporting both pale ale and porter to India from at least 1790, and pale ale – brewer unknown – was being exported to India from at least 1784.


“It got its name from its harvest-time brewing, made for wealthy country estates “to answer the like purpose of wine” — an unreliable luxury during years spent bickering with France. … these beers were brewed especially rich and aged for years to mellow out. Some lords brewed a batch to honor a first son’s birth, and tapped it when the child turned eighteen. To keep them tasting fresh, they were loaded with just-picked hops. Barclay Perkins’s KKKK ale used up to 10 pounds per barrel. Hodgson figured a beer that sturdy could withstand the passage to India.”

October beer was brewed months after the harvest, and was not, in any case, the same beer that country gentlemen drank in place of brandy – not French wine – nor the same beer that the landed gentry laid down until their sons became 21 – not 18. They weren’t “loaded with just-picked hops” to keep tasting fresh – that’s something the writer has made up – and Hodgson didn’t work out on his own that well-hopped beer would survive the journey East, that was known since at least the 1760s.

“He was right. His first shipment arrived to fanfare. On a balmy January day in 1822, the Calcutta Gazette announced the unloading of ‘Hodgson’s warranted prime picked ale of the genuine October brewing. Fully equal, if not superior, to any ever before received in the settlement.'”
This is nonsense. The 1822 shipment was just the latest in more than 30 years of shipments of pale ale by Hodgson to India.

“Hodgson’s sons Mark and Fredrick, who took over the brewery from their father soon after”
Mark Hodgson was running the brewery by 1811. It was Frederick Hodgson, not Fredrick.

“They tightened their credit limits and hiked up their prices, eventually dumping the EIC altogether and shipping beer to India themselves.”
I repeat: it wasn’t the East India Company shipping the beer to India, but the EIC captains and commanders, acting as private individuals.

“By the late 1820s, EIC director Campbell Marjoribanks, in particular, had had enough. He stormed into Bow’s rival Allsopp with a bottle of Hodgson’s October beer and asked for a replica. Allsopp was good at making porter — dark, sweet, and strong, the way the Russians liked it”

It was 1822, not “the late 1820s”, that Marjoribanks spoke to Allsopp, at Marjoribanks’s home in London, not at Allsopp’s brewery in Burton upon Trent. Allsopp was not a porter brewer, but a brewer of Burton ale, a totally different beer. Porter wasn’t necessarily sweet.

“When Sam Allsopp, only a few years shy of turning the business over to his sons, tried the sample of Hodgson’s beer Marjoribanks had brought, he spit it out — too bitter for the old man’s palate.”
Samuel Allsopp was 42 in 1822, so certainly not an old man. He would run the company for another 16 years. There is no evidence he spat Hodgson’s beer out.

“He asked his maltster, Job Goodhead, to find the lightest, finest, freshest barley he could. Goodhead kilned it extra lightly, to preserve its subtle sweetness – he called it ‘white malt’”
The author is making that all up again. There is no evidence Allsopp asked Goodhead to find “the lightest, finest, freshest barley he could”, nor that Goodhead called the pale ale malt he made “white malt”. “White malt” and pale ale malt are different types.

“To recreate Allsop’s legendary brew, I’d need the best ingredients available today, and that meant Maris Otter malt and Cascade hops.”
It’s “Allsopp”. And to recreate it you would need an authentically 18th/19th century hop such as East Kent Goldings, not Cascade, which is the kind of American hop British brewers dismissed in the 19th century for their supposedly unpleasant flavours.

That article looks to have been based on a chapter in a book Bostwick had published last year, called The Brewer’s Tale: A History of the World According to Beer. I hadn’t come across this before, thankfully, and I have absolutely no intention of buying it, but I took a peek at what is available via Amazon’s “Look Inside” function, and it appears to be as crammed with errors as the article on IPA is. You can only see the first 60 or so pages via Amazon, but here are some of the errors I found even in that short section:

“Dark-age tribes had spice cabinets full of henbane, ergot and other bog-grown oddities”
Henbane doesn’t grow in bogs, unless you’re making a bad British English pun (Nicholas Culpepper said in 1653 that “whole cart loads of it may be found near the places where they empty the common Jakes”). It grows on chalky and sandy soils. Ergot is a fungus that infects rye (mostly) and wheat and barley (sometimes), Again, it’s not something that grows in a bog. Nor is it something that is known to have ever been deliberately used by humans to induce hallucinations, unlike henbane.

“Brewers eventually learned through trial and error to reproduce those warm, oxygen-rich environments Saccharomyces likes best”
– ah, really? My understanding is that while you need oxygen at the start of fermentation, to encourage yeast growth, you soon want more anaerobic conditions, or the yeast won’t make alcohol.

“Caked in a Neanderthal molar discovered deep in a Belgian cave, a single charred kernel of barley, last munched some thirty thousand years ago, is our earliest record of that agricultural revolution”
This is a wildly exaggerated and highly inaccurate version of the findings of Amanda Henry, Alison Brooks and Dolores Piperno, reported in 2010, from their analysis of the dental calculus found on the teeth of Neanderthal skeletons found in the Shanidar Cave, Iraqi Kurdistan, and Spy Cave (pronounced “spee”), Belgium. It certainly wasn’t “a single charred kernel of barley” that was found, but dozens of tiny grains of starch. Some of those grains of starch were identified as coming from barley, and some of those from cooked barley – but only on the Neanderthal teeth from Iraq. It would be absolutely staggering if evidence pointing to barley consumption dating back 36,000 years was found in the area of modern Belgium, since this would be 30,000 years before barley and other grains are reckoned to have reached northern Europe, brought by farmers from their original home in the Middle East. Anybody studying the history of beer really ought to know that talking about barley in Northern Europe that far back is nonsense. Shanidar Cave is in the Zagros Mountains, on the edge of the area where, long after the Neanderthals disappeared, settled agriculture developed, using just those varieties of grain, like barley, that the Shanidar Neanderthals were evidently gathering wild – and cooking – 40,000 years ago. So there is a fascinating link between the Neanderthals and modern agriculture – but it ain’t the one Bostwick claims it is.

“the Greek wit and poet Athenaeus contrasted his own civilized ways with savage tribes who drink, he wrote, “a beer made of wheat prepared with honey, and oftener still without honey.”
Athenaeus was quoting another writer, Posidonius, in that passage, talking about the Celts of Gaul, and neither writer called them “savage tribes”. Posidonius was actually contrasting what the wealthy Celts drank – wine – with what “those who are poorer” drank. Bostwick uses the translation of the passage by CD Yonge from 1854: I prefer that of Max Nelson: “Among those who are poorer there is wheaten beer prepared with honey, and among the majority there is plain [beer]. It is called korma.”

“Germanic tribes were cultivating wheat and barley by 5000BC and Celtic bands on the British Isles soon after”
It is total nonsense to talk about “Germanic” and “Celtic” tribes 7,000 years ago. We’re barely in the time of the Proto-Indo-Europeans that far back. Germanic tribes cannot be identified until around 1500BC, while the origins of the Celts are normally pitched around the same time or slightly later.

“Stranded on the windswept Scottish border in fortresses at Bearsden and Vindolanda, Augustan legions …”
Ignoring the anachronism of taking about the “Scottish” border at the time of the Romans, Bearsden is in Glasgow, 80 miles north of the modern Scottish border, while Vindolanda is 26 miles south of the border. The legions weren’t “Augustan” – Augustus died 70 years before Roman troops were stationed at Vindolanda.

“The first brewer in British history we know by name, in fact, was a Roman: Arrectus”
The name was Atrectus. We don’t know what nationality he was, but Atrectus is reckoned to be a Gallic or Gallo-Belgic name, so the Vindolanda brewer was unlikely to be Roman.

“Some beer writers are sticklers about the difference between beer and ale, saying beer refers to a drink made with hops and ale to one without. I find that distinction arbitrary and etymologically suspect and will ignore it”
I don’t know any beer writer who says ale can only refer to a drink made without hops. I DO know beer writers who point out that when you’re talking about historical malt liquors, it’s important to distinguish between beers and ales in the context of their times, when the two words meant different things at different periods. That’s not an “arbitrary” distinction, but an important historical one, and etymology has nothing to do with it.

More notes towards a history of the beer mug

Loved and disliked in equal parts, and enjoying an unexpected renaissance in hipstery parts, despite being more than 70 years old, the dimpled beer mug is undoubtedly an icon of England.

It was invented in 1938 at the Ravenhead glassworks in St Helens, Lancashire by an in-house designer whose name is now forgotten, and given the factory identity “P404″. Although the dimple has its enemies, who dislike its weight and its thickness, it soon became extremely popular, and at a rough guess some 500 million have been manufactured since it was born.

Strawberry pink pint beer mug of the kind George Orwell enjoyed, stamped 'Pint MxCC GR 29', for Middlesex County Council

Strawberry pink pint beer mug of the kind George Orwell enjoyed, stamped ‘Pint MxCC GR 29′, for Middlesex County Council

The dimple had much competition: even in 1938, many pubs still served beer in the pottery mugs that George Orwell praised in his “Moon Under Water” essay about his ideal pub, from the Evening Standard in 1946. Orwell declared that “in my opinion beer tastes better out of china,” but “china mugs went out about 30 years ago [that is, during the First World War], because most people like their drink to be transparent.” However, two documentary films made just before Orwell’s essay, The Story of English Inns, from 1944, and Down at the Local, from 1945, both show pint china mugs were still being used alongside glass ones, at least in country pubs. Orwell talked about the pottery beer mug as being strawberry-pink in colour, but they came in other shades (baby blue and a dark biscuit-beige, for example), all with white interiors and white handles, and also with transfer-print designs. The majority of pottery beer mugs, however, appear, in fact, to have been of the kind known as mochaware, invented around the end of the 18th century, which have tree or fern-like patterns on the sides, made by a drop of acid dropped onto the glaze of the mug while it was still wet. Most mochaware pint beer mugs seem to have been blue, or beige-and-blue, with black and white bands. Many were made by TG Green of Church Gresley, South Derbyshire, while the plain coloured mugs were the speciality of Pountneys of Bristol. TG Green stopped producing mochaware at the outbreak of war in 1939, when it was apparently the last company still making mochaware beermugs. It tried to revive the tradition in 1981, without success. The company closed in 2007.

Pewter mugs were pretty much obsolete by the middle of the 20th century, though Orwell claimed that “stout … goes better in a pewter pot”, and they were described as “old-fashioned” even in 1900, when it was said to have been replaced by the glass mug, “a thick, almost unbreakable article”. The problem, for publicans, was that their pewter pots kept being stolen, and they cost around ten times as much as china beer mugs. The better class of premises kept silver-plated pewter beermugs and, to guard against theft, carved the name and address of the pub into the base. Glass was also cheaper – and, it was claimed, the working man at the end of the 19th century liked to have his mild beer served in a glass so that he could see it was bright, and not hazy or cloudy.

Two men drinking from china pint mugs, from the film Down at the Local, 1945

Two men drinking from china pint mugs, one mochaware, the other transfer printed, from the film The Story of English Inns, 1944

Fortunately for the beer mug collector, after the Weights and Measures Act of 1878, drinking vessels used on licensed premises for draught beer or cider purporting to be a specific size – half-pint, pint or quart – had to bear an Official Stamp Number, either acid etched or sand-blasted through a stencil, a system that lasted, with tweaks, until 2007, and each district – county council, county borough and the like – had its own numbers, so that, for example, 19 was Derbyshire and 490 Bristol. They also carried the mark of the crown, and the initials of the reigning monarch of the time, something that had first been required by the Act “for ascertaining the Measures for retailing Ale and Beer” that had become law under William III in 1700. (That Act covered vessels “made of wood, earth, glass, horn, leather, pewter or of some other good and wholesome metal”, suggesting the variety of drinking vessels you could expect in a Stuart inn or alehouse, and it also only mentions quarts and pints, suggesting the half-pint was illegal – or at least extremely rare.) It is thus possible to tell roughly when an older beer mug was made, and roughly where, too. In 2007, when the CE, or “Conformitée Européenne” mark replaced the old system (leading to the Daily Mail to declare: “EU stealing the crown of the great British pint”), it became easier to tell when a glass was made, but no simpler to find out where and by whom. Alongside the CE on the glass will be an “M” and the last two digits of the year of manufacture, plus the identification number of the “notified body” that verified that the container was an accurate measure. To identify the notified body you have to go to the Nando website – nothing to do with peri-peri chicken, this stands for New Approach Notified and Designated Organisations.

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How I got Mikkeller to call me a bastard

What sort of bastard goes along to a book launch just to point out to the author the mistakes he’s made?

Errrr …

Me.

OK, it was done in what I’d like to insist, really, was a semi-joking way, and in a spirit of, I hope, friendly beer comradeship, but if someone as highly regarded and influential as Mikkel Borg Bjergsø – founder of Mikkeller – is repeating historical beer myths in print that I (and others) have been trying to stamp on for a dozen or more years, well, somebody has to do something – even if I did come across as a prat.

Mikkel Borg Bjergsø down in the cellar at BrewDog Camden, conducting a swift beer tasting for the launch of Mikkeller's Book of Beer

Mikkel Borg Bjergsø down in the cellar at BrewDog Camden, conducting a swift beer tasting for the launch of Mikkeller’s Book of Beer

Fortunately for me, I’ve known Jo Copestick, who works freelances for Jacquie Small, publisher of Mikkeller’s Book of Beer, for some years, so at the launch for the English language version of the book, at BrewDog Camden in North London on Thursday, I was able to give my corrections to her: (p53) no, George Hodgson did NOT invent India Pale Ale, nor was IPA brewed stronger to survive the trip to India – it was, as Ron Pattinson regularly points out, comparatively weak for an 18th century beer – and I’ve no idea where the idea came from that the beer was stored in oak barrels which “caused the beer to develop a particular complexity and bitterness that proved extremely popular” – ALL beer was stored in oak barrels. Admittedly, IPA was kept in barrels before serving longer than, say, a mild ale, and that would have added some complexity as the beer aged, but that happened to other beers as well, and if anything the bitterness would have mellowed out as the beer aged. Nor do I think it’s true that “An IPA is generally darker than an ordinary pale ale.” And (p59), porter was NOT “first brewed as a more nourishing beer for the port workers of England in the 19th century” – porter was first brewed in the early 18th century, it was taken up in London by the men called porters, hence the name, some of whom (the Fellowship porters) loaded and unloaded ships in the Thames, but many – most – of whom were Ticket or street porters, working in London’s streets, delivering parcels, letters and goods about the city. And porter wasn’t specifically designed to be a “more nourishing” beer than its predecessor and parent, London brown beer: it was designed to be tastier and more appealing. Nor does the word “stout” mean “‘robust’ or ‘solid'” – it means “strong”.

I am a bastard – official. Mikkell of Mikkeller says so.

I am a bastard – official. Mikkell of Mikkeller says so.

Having slipped Jo my corrections, I then thought it would be extremely cheeky to introduce myself to Mikkel, explain what I had done, and ask him to sign my copy of the book with the words “You bastard!” Which, as you can see, he was amused enough to be happy to do – rather than smashing me about the head with the nearest beerglass, which is what I might do if someone did the same thing to me at one of my book launches. (And yes, there most certainly ARE mistakes in my books, though I’d be grateful if you’d email them to me privately when you find them, rather than revealing them publicly in the comments below.) James Watt, co-founder of BrewDog, was there as well, so I got him to also sign Mikkel’s book – thus making it a unique BrewDog-Mikkeller co-production. Offers over £10,000 gladly accepted …

Apart from that, what is the book like? Actually, it’s good, edging into very good: excellent production values and beautiful photography, which is what you’d expect from a Jacqui Small book, and rammed full of facts’n’info, about Mikkel and his early life; about Mikkeller and how it developed, including what seems to me, at any rate, a rare mention of the man who gave the operation half its name, Kristian Keller; about beer types; about Mikkeller’s different beers and what inspired them; about beer tasting; about beer and food; and also about how to brew your own beers like Mikkeller’s. The translator, Ray Ashman, has done a fine job of capturing what certainly sounds like Mikkel’s authentic voice (I’d love to know which of the original bits were written by Mikkel and which by his co-author [and wife] Pernille Pang), and the text is enlivened by drawings from Mikkeller’s in-house illustrator, Keith Shore, frequently featuring the two Mikkeller “characters”, Henry and Sally. To whom will it appeal? Well, Mikkeller fanboys and fangirls, obviously, and anyone looking to learn more about beer, and about homebrewing, will get a great deal out of it too, but even the most beer-knowledgeable will, I think, learn enough to make the book worth its £20 tag (£13.60 on Amazon.co.uk, I note, where, unsurprisingly, it’s already the number one best seller in the “beer” category). And those untruths about beer history are really only a tiny part of the whole book …

Which is more, unfortunately, than can be said about another book I just acquired, Beer: A Global History, by Gavin Smith, published last year. This appears to have been written in an alternative universe where Ron Pattinson and I were never born, and repeats big chunks of long-disproved myths about beer history. Indeed, Smith loses all credibility at the very beginning of Chapter 1, which is headed by an alleged “quote” from Plato, the Greek philosopher: “He was a wise man who invented beer.” No, Plato never said this, or anything like it – and if Smith had done any proper research at all, which would have involved reading The Barbarian’s Beverage by Max Nelson (an excellent book), he would have discovered that the ancient Greeks actually had a very low opinion of beer.

This is far from the only nonsense, Smith hits his readers with, even in Chapter 1: he goes on to make the bizarre claim that “the first nomadic hunter-gatherers to settle and grow crops are thought to have been the Sumerians” – but domesticated barley is known from 7750BC at a site now called Netiv HaGdud (sic) in the Jordan valley, 20km north of Jericho, at least 2,250 years before the Sumerians started founding settlements in Mesopotamia. Smith also claims the Sumerians invented the wheel, though the jury is still very much considering its verdict on that one, since the wheel appeared effectively simultaneously in Sumer, the Northern Caucasus and Central Europe, and he continues: “more than 5,000 years ago they [the Sumerians] recorded on a series of clay tablets a range of beer types and recipes contained within the ancient text ‘A Hymn to Ninkasi’.” This is, simply, complete bollocks. The clay tablets that contain the “Hymn to Ninkasi” come from around 1800BC, so 3,800 years ago, not 5,000. The poem does not contain “a range of beer types and recipes” – it doesn’t mention beer types at all, and the idea that it can be seen as a recipe describing how to make Sumerian beer is stretching the concept of “recipe” to breaking-point: if you read an English translation of the text, which suffers from unknown words and chunks that are now missing, you will see that it is very hard to make out what is meant to be going on. The Hymn to Ninkasi is, as I have said before, no more a recipe for beer-brewing than the folk song “John Barleycorn” is a text on how to make malt.

And so we go on: Smith repeats the myths about the alleged brewing set-up at St Gall in Switzerland, writing, as others have done, as if the map of St Gall actually described what was on the ground, instead of being an idealised depiction. He claims that porter gets its name from “market porters” – ffs, how many times do I have to repeat that this is a 20th century misunderstanding of who porters were? – and, yes, that it was “reputedly invented during the 1720s by Ralph Harwood of the Bell Brewery in Shoreditch”. No, Gavin, it wasn’t, and if you’d bothered even to Google “Ralph Harwood Shoreditch porter” you’d have found the very first link is my debunking of that myth from 2007. George Hodgson isn’t actually called by Smith the inventor of India Pale Ale, which makes a change, but he calls him “an early proponent of pale ales, which in character were light, sparkling and heavily hopped ” – showing he has read nothing about how ale, in the 18th century, still meant a lightly hopped beer – and how these pale ales were “ideal for consumption in the warmer climes of the British Empire, leading to a vigorous export trade”. Gavin – you’re making that up. Porter, as I and Ron have shown, was exported in greater quantities to India than pale ale was, and in any case the overseas beer trade in the late 18th/early 19th centuries was really pretty small. He also clams that after Hodgson “began to send its pale ales to India in 1790″ – the firm never sent the beer, it was bought by independent exporters, that is, the captains and officers of the East Indiamen sailing ships – “the generic title India Pale Ale, or IPA, was soon in circulation” – well, only if “soon” means “40 years later”.

Other stupidities include a picture of the Meux brewery at the corner of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road captioned “Messers Meux’s brewery in Liquor-Pond Street, Clerkenwell” – a completely different brewery, Meux Reid, later Reid & Co, in a completely different place; and a picture of the Fighting Cocks, St Albans with the claim that it “has a strong claim to the title of the oldest public house in England”. Actually, it has a shockingly poor claim to that title, being almost certainly no older as a pub than 1600. But that’s the standard of histocical enquiry you can expect in this book. In fact, despite the title, the “history” part only takes up 44 out of 153 pages, which the rest of the book padded out with chapters on “The Art of Brewing”, “Great Brewing Nations”, “Beer and Food”, “Beer and Culture”, “Cooking with Beer” and “Great Beer Brands”. That last chapter kicks off with Amstel, which tells you just how rigorously quality control was applied to the choice of brews listed. In all, Beer: A Global History is definitely one to avoid.

Mikkeller's Book of Beer cover

Mikkeller’s Book of Beer, written by Mikkel Borg Bjergsø and Pernille Pang, published in English 2015 by Jacqui Small LLP, £20

Why Greene King doesn’t care that the haters hate its IPA

Hard luck, haters: Greene King knows you don’t like its IPA, you think it’s too bland, “not a real IPA” at 3.6% abv, and it doesn’t care at all. Not the tiniest drop. In fact it’s probably quite pleased you don’t like it. You’re not its target market – it’s after a vastly larger constituency. If you liked its IPA, it’s fairly sure those people that Greene King would most like to capture to and in the cask ale market, young people, people still with a lifetime of drinking ahead of them, wouldn’t like it – and for that reason, the Bury St Edmunds crew have no intention of changing their IPA just to make you happy. In fact they’re not changing it at all – except to shake up its look, and put £2m in media spend behind it.

Greene King IPA new look

The new look

Of course, it’s not just Greene King IPA that has hosepipes of vitriol directed at it by the Camra hardcore. Any widely available  cask ale gets the same – Fuller’s London Pride and Sharp’s DoomBar are equally hated, without the haters apparently being able to work out that the reason why these beers are widely available is because lots of people actually like drinking them, even if the haters don’t.

Indeed, it’s the popularity that is prompting the Bury St Edmunds crew into its current push. To its obvious delight, and, I suspect, slight surprise, Greene King has discovered that the flood of new young drinkers coming into the cask ale market find Greene King IPA just the sort of beer they want: there’s more to it that can be found in a pint of lager, but it’s still reasonably safe and unthreatening.

At a launch on Monday night in a bar near Oxford Circus in London to announce a new look for Greene King IPA, and other initiatives including a new website to educate licensees and bar staff on cellar management and how to serve the perfect pint, Dom South marketing director for brewing and brands at Greene King, quoted figures from a survey done last year for the Campaign for Real Ale showing that 15% of all cask drinkers tried cask ale for the first time in the past three years, and 65% of those new drinkers are aged 16 to 24. “We’re seeing a complete revolutionary shift in the drinker base coming into cask ale, which is exciting, because it means that this category, for the future, is in rude health,” South said. And where does Greene King IPA fit in here? “When you look at what those young drinkers want, from a cask ale brand, or just a beer, the three things a new young entrant wants are, first, something that feels right to them, a reflection of themselves, that makes them feel good about drinking the beer,” South said. “They want something a little bit modern, a little bit contemporary. The second thing is, they expect the beer to taste good – but let’s face it, too many pints in the UK are served sub-standard.

“The third thing is that younger people coming into the market want something that is a bit tastier than the lager market that they’ve left, but they want it to be pretty easy-drinking, the majority of them. They want something that tastes good, not something that needs chewing. That’s where the role of Greene King IPA comes in. There is a real role for a brand to play in the market, one that represents the safe choice when you enter into a product category that’s new to you, one that won’t let you down, that represents taste that is relatively easy drinking versus some of the 20,000-odd beers that you can have in the UK. With Greene King IPA, our simple strategy is to bring many more young people into our brand and the market, and also to stand for a signpost to quality, trust and assurance for people who might be about to come into the market.

Pint of IPA“When we tested ourselves against those key things that young drinkers want, ‘Does it look and feel right for me, make me want to drink it?’, ‘Is it good quality, not going to let me down?’, and three, ‘Is it easy to drink, and something you’d want to have as your first drink?’, we were really excited by the results. We found the number one reason for people drinking Greene King IPA, time after time, is the fact that it’s easy drinking. I know a few people give it a hard time because it’s easy to drink – that’s its strength, that’s its role in the market. It’s the first drink I would recommend to someone if it’s their first time drinking cask ale, because it won’t let them down and it’s not too challenging. We did a load of blind taste tests and Greene King IPA, when it’s served right, is absolutely up there with the world’s largest cask ale brand* in taste tests, and beat significantly most of the leading brands in the cask ale market. So this product doesn’t need changing, it isn’t going to change and we haven’t changed it. It’s absolutely right.”

There we are, then, haters. Greene King has the figures to show that four out of five cask ale drinkers love the fact that Greene King IPA is an easy-drinking pint – which is, after all, the core definition of a session beer, and session beers are, or should be, the pride and pinnacle of British brewing, the beer that makes going to the pub with your mates worthwhile. If you don’t like it – tough. Go and drink something so hoppy your teeth need re-enamelling afterwards.

IPA handpumpNot that everything in the IPA garden is perfectly lovely. There were two problems, the first relatively easy to try to solve, the second far more crucial, and difficult. On the first, South said: “We recognised, and consumers told us, we did need to move forward with the look and feel of the brand. We looked a little bit corporate, and perhaps a little bit traditional to the younger consumer. So we set off on the journey of bringing ourselves really up to date, a modern, contemporary look and feel that won’t alienate people who already enjoy a pint of Greene King IPA but that will genuinely bring younger people into the category and into the brand. I’m confident that this is going to do the job. It’s not a tweak and it’s not a small pigeon step forward, it’s pretty bold and it’s pretty big as a leap forward in terms of look and feel. Ziggurat Brands, the design agency that did it, have stripped it back to bare basics, taking inspiration from things they found in the brewery, so the copper colour is inspired by the copper kettles in the Greene King brewery, the teal colour because we wanted to evolve the green colour of Greene King IPA to something much more modern and contemporary. This is where we needed to make a big change to bring people in. At the same time it shouts heritage, with the crown and the arrows.” Teal – the hipster’s green. I’m never sure about that crown-and-arrows logo Greene King is adopting, though: it commemorates poor King Edmund of East Anglia killed by Viking archers in 869, after whom, of course, Bury St Edmunds is named.

More importantly, South said, “What we do need to focus on is making sure every pint is served perfectly. We are going to carry on with consumer support, advertising, all of those good things. But we feel it’s really important that we shift a lot of our emphasis, and put more money into the brand, with the trade. We’re going to invest heavily in supporting the trade to get quality right, and quality is the number one thing for us to focus on.” There two big initiatives here, the first a quality accreditation drive, with unannounced pub visits made by either Quality & Dispense Services, a senior Greene King representative or a third party quality agency. A pub will be required to pass ten quality tests, which include the taste, aroma and temperature of their Greene King IPA through to whether it is served in the right glass and the ability of bar staff to talk about the beer and describe it accurately. Pubs that are judged to pour a perfect pint of Greene King IPA will be awarded with a plaque and certificate, and crowners for their IPA pumpclips, “all signposts to the consumer to say, ‘This is going to be a safe bet,'” South said. Pubs that do not pass first time will be educated on the importance and benefits of looking after their cask beer range before another visit is made.

beergeniusgreen copy copyYou cannot improve quality in a vacuum, however: and to that end, Greene King has launched a website giving free training, troubleshooting and best practice videos, available at www.beer-genius.co.uk.. “Beer Genius is Greene King’s open access training portal to the industry,” South said. “We recognise that staff turnover is a problem – it’s different for everyone, but let’s make an assumption, 100% every year. How on earth can licensees be expected to make sure every new bar staff member knows even how to serve a pint, let alone clean down the bar and do all the basics? So what this portal is going to do is teach cellar managers, bar managers, operations directors, BDMs, local area managers, but also bar staff, three things: how to manage a cellar, how to make the most money and yield they can out of cask ale, by getting the quality right and the yield up, and why commercially it makes sense, and third, how to serve the perfect pint.

“Why does it matter? It’s not just about giving the consumer the perfect pint – although that’s absolutely key. The benefit of giving the consumer the perfect pint is that yields in pubs will massively skyrocket, because quality and yields go hand-in-hand. A key part of what we’ve got to do is educate bar staff, as well as bar managers that when you get it right, but that tiny bit of extra effort in, your till will start ringing up more money. The numbers astounded me. About 70% of pubs, we estimate, have a yield of 91% or lower on their cask ales. It should be 97, 98, even 99%. When they close that gap, the benefit to that pub in terms of profit is enormous – it’s up to £5,000 through the till, per annum. That’s their benefit: the benefit to the consumer is no more dodgy pints. And therefore you stay in the pub, you tell your friends about that pub, the net promoter score of that pub improves, people come back. So what could be a huge loss to that pub through a dodgy pint becomes a huge gain. So it’s absolutely key that we help licensees with this.”

There we are: get the quality right, your yields from every cask will be up, and so will be your profits. The licensee is happy, the consumer is happy, the brewer is happy. Mind, I doubt the haters would be happy even if Greene King had the head brewer personally deliver every pint to their table in solid gold goblets with a £50 note for use as a beermat. Personally, I’m delighted if young drinkers find Greene King IPA a good gateway into cask ale: as they grow older, and more experienced, it’s likely that some – though not all – will start to experiment, to explore, and discover the kind of beers the haters enjoy, beers which indeed have a great deal to offer those who are ready for them. The quality initiative is excellent – other brewers, please, please copy. And the Beer Genius website, from what I’ve been able to explore so far, is a terrific resource for everybody – including drinkers, who can find out what has to go on to get them that elusive perfect pint.

Does anyone make IPAs likem this one any more?

Does anyone make IPAs like this one any more?

Meanwhile, here’s a small rant directed at all those idiots who keep chuntering on about how Greene King IPA is “not an India Pale Ale” and how IPA has to be “strong and strongly hopped”, so it would survive the long journey to the Indian sub continent, over 200 years ago. You don’t have a clue what you are talking about. Let’s rush past the fact that 19th century IPA wasn’t strong at all, for the time, but comparatively weak, at around 6% abv. Do you complain because today’s porters aren’t matured in 30-feet-high oak vats for 18 months, as they were 200 years ago? Or that today’s stouts are as weak as 19th century porters? Do you complain because today’s milds are nothing at all like the mild ales of 200 years ago, 7% abv and made solely from pale malt? Beers change, and beer styles are not carved on stone tablets. A 19th century IPA would have been kept for up to a year in cask, would have lost all its hop aroma and would have developed a distinctly Brettanomyces flavour. Nobody at all is brewing an IPA like that. American IPAs, in particular, lovely beers though they often are, are nothing whatsoever like 19th century IPAs: totally wrong hops, totally wrong emphasis on hop aroma, often too strong, and meant to be drunk much more quickly after being brewed than 19th century IPAs were. After the First World War, and the huge rise in the tax on beer, all beers, of all styles, were brewed to lower strengths than they had been in the 19th century. What Greene King IPA is, is a perfect example of a mid-20th century IPA, just like those once brewed by Charrington, Palmers, Eldridge Pope, Wadworths, Wethered’s, Youngers and others in the 1960s and 1970s, all 1035 to 1043 OG. Go and get your Camra Good Beer Guide 2015 edition and look up Phipps IPA (page 844, column 2): OG 1042, abv 4.2%, “recreated from old recipes”: recreated from genuine 20th century recipes, as a genuine 20th century IPA. Just like Greene King IPA.

*Meaning DoomBar, presumably

Why Rooney Anand is talking rubbish on minimum alcohol pricing

I was disappointed and angry to see Rooney Anand, chief executive of Greene King, calling in the Daily Telegraph last week for minimum unit pricing for alcohol. Disappointed because the arguments for minimum unit pricing have been totally debunked, and Mr Anand should really have known he was talking rubbish – or his advisers should have told him. Angry because I cannot understand why he is using his position as boss of one of the largest brewers and pub operators in the country to promote the agenda of the neoprohibitionists for whom minimum unit pricing is but a small step on the way to totally restricting the sale of alcohol.

“Binge drinking continues to adversely affect our nation,” Anand cried, insisting that we have a “growing culture of irresponsible drinking”. And yet since 2004 there has been an 18.9% fall in alcohol consumption per head and consumption is now at its lowest level this century. Violent crime linked to alcohol has fallen by 32% since 2004 and by 47% since 1995. Where is your evidence for a “growing culture of irresponsible drinking”? Since 2005 the number of men “binge drinking” (a dubious concept in its own right, as I pointed out here has fallen by 17%; the number of women binge drinking has fallen by 23%; and binge drinking among 16 to 24-year-olds has fallen by 31% among men and by 34% among women. In 2012-13, alcohol consumption in England and Wales fell by 2.1% year-on-year, to its lowest level since 1990. “When it is possible to walk into a shop and buy a bottle of beer for less than a bottle of water, it is no surprise that, as a nation, we are moving in the wrong direction in our relationship with and consumption of alcohol,” Anand asserts. So a fall of almost a fifth in alcohol consumption in the past ten years is a move in the wrong direction, Rooney? Or do you not actually know that consumption is falling? Incidentally, that fall of nearly a fifth in alcohol consumption is actually far more than its proponents claimed would have been achieved by introducing minimum pricing. Oh, and it’s NOT possible to buy a bottle of beer for less than the price of a bottle of water, and never has been, unless you are talking about the most expensive designer water.

The first mash at the new Greene King brewhouse, Bury St Edmunds, 1939

The first mash at the new Greene King brewhouse, Bury St Edmunds, 1939

Anand goes on to claim that a 50p minimum unit price “could” reduce the costs to the NHS caused by alcoholic overindulgence by “as much as” £417m a year. Ignoring the two sets of weasel words there – “could” and “as much as”, the use of which sucks all the veracity out of his claim– it’s a pathetic claim anyway. £417m equals 31p per household per week. Big swing.

Next up, Anand references “a recent study by the University of Sheffield” which “indicated that minumum unit pricing” would have a larger positive impact on those in poverty, particularly high risk drinkers. Allegedly, minimum unit pricing “targets those prone to binge drinking, with their consumption expected to fall 7% through raising the price of approximately 30% of units sold to harmful drinkers.” But as Paul Chase, author of the excellent book Culture Wars and Moral Panic: The Story of Alcohol and Society (I’ve nicked all the stats here from him), has pointed out, “the Sheffield minimum pricing model is based on absurd assumptions, such as the belief that heavy drinkers are much more price-sensitive than moderate drinkers, and assumptions made about the price-elasticity of demand for alcohol that are at odds with what economic research and common sense tell us about the relationship between price and consumption.” To fill that out: there is no evidence at all that making drink dearer for heavy, problem drinkers will stop them drinking as much as they already do. Indeed, it seems more than likely that what will happen is that they will cut down on expenditure elsewhere in order to find the money to carry on drinking as much as ever.

Anand calls the failure to introduce a minimum pricing of alcohol in Scotland “disappointing”. But Scotland’s attempt to introduce minimum pricing hasn’t gone through because it is currently the subject of an investigation by the European Court of Justice, which is likely to give its decision on whether the proposal is legal, or breaks EU competition law, only at the end of 2015 or early in 2016. Expert betting is that it will be ruled illegal.

It is hard not to assume that Anand is backing the idea of minimum unit pricing because he thinks that it makes him appear on the side of the “good guys”, despite being a producer of “demon alcohol”. Perhaps, too, he thinks that minimum unit pricing will hurt the supermarkets more than it will the brewers and pub owners, and for that reason it’s a Good Thing. But he really needs to think about who he is getting into bed with by promoting minimum unit pricing. These are people prepared to lie and distort to promote their aims – the claim that “up to” 35% of A&E admissions are “alcohol-related”, for example, which is completely made up, of the equally preposterous claim that “Alcohol misuse hands a hefty annual bill of £21bn to UK taxpayers”, which is, again, based on unverifiable guesses and false reasoning. But the anti-alcohol lobby genuinely doesn’t care if its statistics aren’t true. It only wants to see its policies adopted, because it thinks it knows best what is good for all of us. To quote Paul Chase again: “Public discourse on alcohol is dominated by an absolutist, loony-left dominated, alcophobic public health movement that has become a vehicle for Big Business bashing.” Really, Rooney, do you think you should be promoting a policy these people want?

Two traditional breweries: a photo-essay

Compared to, say, Roger Putman, recently retired editor of Brewer & Distiller International magazine, who has visited more than 170 different breweries in his career, I’ve really not been to that many: fewer than 60, across four decades, albeit in six different countries. Pfff. Amateur status. But inexplicably, in 2014 I was welcomed into seven different brewhouses, of all sizes, that I had never been to before, from the massive new set-up at Guinness in Ireland to Twickenham Fine Ales’ current base, which may be bigger than its first home, but still produces less in a year than Brewhouse No 4 in Dublin makes in a day.

I take my camera with me around breweries, though I’m not, I cannot emphasise enough, a photographer in any sense except being the idiot pressing the shutter button. Very occasionally I get something that isn’t actually terrible. And since 2010 I’ve been using a camera that is fantastic at taking low-light shots, which helps enormously inside buildings. I have put a few of the pictures from my 2014 trips up on the blog to illustrate the pieces I wrote at the time, but two trips, to Shepherd Neame in Faversham and Hook Norton in Oxfordshire, never produced any words. So here is a small selection of snaps from two of Britain’s most traditional breweries:

Shepherd Neame brewery, Faversham

Shepherd Neame entrance, Faversham

Entrance to the Shepherd Neame brewery in Faversham, Kent

 

 

An old radiator-style "counterflow" wort cooler, late 19th or early 20th century, discarded

An old radiator-style heat-exchange wort cooler, late 19th or early 20th century, discarded and lying around the Faversham brewery. The hot wort ran into the trough at the top and over the outside of the cooler, through which ran cold water, then poured into the trough at the bottom and ran away to the fermenting vessel

Lovely poster from the time of the Shepherd & Mares partnership at the Faversham brewery, circa 1849-1864, hanging in the Faversham brewery boardroom

Lovely poster from the time of the Shepherd & Mares partnership at the Faversham brewery, circa 1849-1864, hanging in the Faversham brewery boardroom

A poster for Shepherd Neame's bottled beers from 1926, now hanging in the company boardroom in Faversham

A poster for Shepherd Neame’s bottled beers from 1926, now also hanging in the company boardroom in Faversham

 

The 1914 mash tun at the Shepherd Neame brewery, refurbished 1949, still in use

The 1914 mash tun at the Shepherd Neame brewery, refurbished 1949, still in use

Inside the 1914 mash tun at the Faversham brewery, showing the slotted floor plates

Inside the 1914 mash tun at the Faversham brewery, showing the slotted floor plates

 

A copper in the Shepherd Neame brewhouse, Faversham

A copper lauter tun in the Shepherd Neame brewhouse, Faversham, with a copper in the background

 

Stained glass windows in the Shepherd Neame brewhouse. Spot the icons, including a bishop's finger signpost, and the Shepherd & Mares trademark

Stained glass windows in the Shepherd Neame brewhouse. Spot the icons, including a bishop’s finger signpost, and the Shepherd & Mares trademark

 

Inside the Shepherd Neame sampling room

Inside the Shepherd Neame sampling room, with slate tasting notes

 

Framed letter in the Shepherd Neame sample room introducing the brewery's newest beer in 1958, Bishops Finger.

Framed letter in the Shepherd Neame sample room introducing the brewery’s newest beer in 1958, Bishops Finger

Hook Norton brewery

The Hook Norton brewery, designed by the brewery architect William Bradofrd, who also designed Harvey's brewery in Lewes and McMullen's in Hertford, among many others. This is the 'cliche shot' of Hook Norton, but hey …

The Hook Norton brewery, designed by the brewery architect William Bradford, who also designed Harvey’s brewery in Lewes and McMullen’s in Hertford, among many others. This is the ‘cliche shot’ of Hook Norton, the one everybody takes, but hey …

 

There's a joke in here somewhere about art worthy of the Louvres …

There’s a joke in here somewhere about a work of art fit for the Louvres …

 

Old grist mill at the Hook Norton brewery

Old grist mill at the Hook Norton brewery

A notice on the wind trunk, a device for separating the plump malted grain from the dust and faulty. too-light grains before the malt was ground

A notice on the wind trunk, a device for separating the plump malted grain from the dust and faulty, too-light grains before the malt was ground

Inside a mash tun at the Hook Norton brewery wth the plates up after cleaning

Inside a mash tun at the Hook Norton brewery wth the plates up after cleaning

Disused copper cooler at the top of the Hook Norton brewery. The hot, newly boiled wort would be pumped up into the shallow cooler, and the louvres opened for the steam to escape as the wort cooled down before it was run into the fermenting vessels below and the yeast pitched. Infections? Undoubtedly …

Disused copper cooler at the top of the Hook Norton brewery. The hot, newly boiled wort would be pumped up into the shallow cooler, and the louvres opened for the steam to escape as the wort cooled down before it was run into the fermenting vessels below and the yeast pitched. Infections? Undoubtedly …

Copper, Hook Norton brewery. This is one of the few I have seen in a "large" brewery that does not exhibit the "iceberg" effect, where most of the vessel is hidden below the floor that the operator stands on to feed in hops

Copper, Hook Norton brewery. This is one of the few I have seen in a “large” brewery that does not exhibit the “iceberg” effect, where most of the copper is hidden below the floor that the operator stands on to feed in hops

Inside the (empty) copper at the Hook Norton brewery

Inside the (empty, obviously) copper at the Hook Norton brewery