If I took £18 from your pocket but told you that you were now actually better off as a result of my relieving you of your money, because I was giving £34 to the local hospital, you would, I think, decide I was either an idiot or a not very good conman.
This, however, is the sleight of hand being attempted by the militant anti-drink campaigners at the deliberately blandly named Institute of Alcohol Studies in its nonsensical report, published today, insisting that raising alcohol taxes would not “disproportionally” affect the poor, because of the “potential additional funds generated for the NHS”.
The IAS wants higher taxes on alcohol because it believes (or claims to believe) this will help solve “problem” drinking, though in fact there is no evidence this is true. It admits that higher taxes on alcohol “may” hit the poor proportionally harder than the rich (for “may” read “will”’ of course). It has obviously struggled to justify this disproportionate impact, and has decided to pretend that while poorer households would lose £18 a year through higher alcohol taxes, they would gain because there would be £34 per poorer household for the NHS, the extra money made available from higher taxes and, presumably, what it hopes will be less demand on the NHS because of lower alcohol consumption.
It does not explain how it knows this extra money will be there to boost the health service – instead of, as is more likely under the current government, being used to cut corporation tax and/or income tax for higher earners. If it existed at all.
The facts are that the UK already pays some of the highest alcohol taxes in Europe, that alcohol consumption in this country has been falling for many years, that most countries in Europe drink more alcohol than we do, and that alcohol remains a net contributor to national happiness, something that the wowsers of the IAS cannot accept.
The Guardian, of course, printed the IAS press release without challenging either the assumptions or the conclusions, and without pointing out that the IAS is fundamentally a temperance organisation, directly descended from 19th century temperance campaigning groups.
Nor did it quote anybody putting forward a dissenting point of view or commenting on the extremely dodgy assumptions behind the IAS’s calculations, such as the utterly evidence-free idea that if you lower total alcohol consumption, “problematic” alcohol consumption will fall as well.
It would be good to hold a proper debate on alcohol consumption in this country, and put to death the many myths that hamper reporting on the subject. Unfortunately the IAS certainly isn’t interested, and neither, it appears, is the Guardian.
The pub: centre of conviviality, the place to meet old friends
and new friends, an open, welcoming, warm, communal space free from the
stresses of work and the confines of home, where people gather to relax,
mingle, talk, laugh, enjoy companionship, exchange news, views and jokes, revive,
support and celebrate.
But what about that fellow on his own there, slowly emptying a
pint glass, occasionally flipping a beermat in the air and catching it before
it lands on the table, sometimes reading the newspaper he brought with him,
sometimes apparently listening in to the conversations of others: he came in on
his own, he talks to no one, except briefly to the barman to order his drink
and accept his change, and nobody talks to him: should we not go over and drag
him out of his solitary state and into our conversations?
If that solo drinker is me – thanks very much for the kind
thoughts, but no thanks. I’m entirely happy here in my own head, sitting and
thinking, people-watching, enjoying my pint, getting a vicarious buzz from all
the social interaction around me, and I will get up after a beer or two and go
home having had all the contact with people I need right now.
Of the thousands of hours I have spent in pubs over the past
half a century, in a fair proportion I have been on my own, and I’ve enjoyed
them all. I love the sociability of pubs, I love the interplay between people,
the crack, in groups small and large: I married the woman who is the mother of
my child in part because she was the person I most enjoyed going down the pub
and chatting with. But I also love being a solo pub goer, sitting, sipping and
thinking. It relaxes me, it lets me explore my thoughts, run through and
rearrange memories, have conversations with myself about problems I am facing,
work out plans: if I have a tricky piece to write, I try out in my head
different ways to arrange the narrative, to construct the intro and the opening
paragraphs. If I have a meeting or an interview or a journey coming up, I
rehearse in my head what might happen. And all the time there is a buzz around
me that I can tune into or tune out, if I want, that keeps me feeling connected
with the rest of humanity, even if I don’t desire one-on-one contact with
another human right then.
My daughter, who is in her last year of university, has an app
on her phone that recreates the background noise of a coffee shop. She puts
that on when she is writing an essay, and she says it helps her get into
“the zone”, where she can concentrate on getting her thoughts out
through her fingers and the keyboard and onto the screen in front of her. When
I’m in “the zone”, however, I don’t notice any noises around me at
all: sometimes I have to be shouted at loudly to drag me back into the real
world. No point in having music on while I’m working: once in the zone, I don’t
hear it. The background buzz of a pub, however, I find both mentally relaxing
and mentally stimulating: sitting on my own in a bar I can think, and muse, and
work on problems, and spent an hour or two looking at issues from different
angles in a way that I could not while on a sofa at home, even with a beer by
my side. And if that gets too much, I can people-watch, a terrific pastime in
Now, some of you are saying that as an older white male, I’m privileged in a way that others are not: nobody is going to be bothering me if I sup alone, even if they might be feeling (unnecessarily) sorry for me. Women, of course, need to have reached “the age of invisibility” before they can sit at a pub table by themselves and remain unmolested. Which is wrong. A good pub should be a welcoming place for all.
And it’s also true that some solitary drinkers really do want to be bothered, are actually hoping that someone will bring them into a conversation, really have gone down the pub to try to make new friends. How do you tell those people from people like me, who are enjoying the solo drinking experience? I don’t know. But don’t let the fact that people like me exist put you off reaching out in friendship to the genuinely lonely.
A couple of years back, in the summer of 2018, I was in an argument involving assorted brewers, beer retailers and beer writers over the relative merits of an imperial stout versus a German Hell. This is, of course, like choosing which is better between apples and potatoes, or judging the attractiveness of golf versus darts: a nonsensical exercise. Except that it was the finals of the International Beer Challenge, the last two beers standing were an imperial stout and a German Hell, and one of them had to be chosen as supreme champion.
The stout party insisted that their favourite was a totally cracking example of the style – which, it’s true, it was – and no other beer on the day came near it for in-your-face slapocity. The Hell-bent, of which crew I was one, countered by saying that a good imperial stout was a relatively easy task, but a perfect Hell, the everyday lager of south Germany, was a technical challenge very, very few brewers could master, the beer in front of us was a perfect Hell, faultless, refreshing, the sort of beer you could happily drink all day without becoming bored, and for those reasons, not least the difficulty in making a beer to the high standards that particular Hell had climbed to, it was a more deserving winner of the “overall best” title than the stout was.
I’m pleased to say that the Hellers won, and the ABK brewery,
from the small South Bavarian town of Kaufbeuren walked off with the palm: a
triumph for everyday drinking over the extremophiles. Nothing wrong with
extremophilia: but palate-blasting is, in my opinion, far from the heart of
A year later, and entirely co-incidentally, I received an
invitation to visit the ABK brewery, meet its brewmaster, the unforgettably
named Bernd Trick, and enjoy plenty of Swabian hospitality, much of it liquid. Despite
travelling to Germany several times, I had never been inside a German brewery,
so this was far too good to turn down.
ABK stands for Aktien Brauerei Kaufbeuren, literally “Kaufbeuren stock (or shares) brewery”, though you won’t find many of its shares available today. The business claims to date back to at least 1308, when a Kaufbeuren citizen called “Heinrich der Twinger” (I’m guessing this is “Zwinger” in Standard German, which would make him “Henry the kennelman”) left his “Sedelhaus” (Sudhaus in modern German, the room where wort is prepared) to the local hospital (which, as the Hospitalstiftung zum Heiligen Geist, the Holy Ghost Hospital Foundation, is also still going today). That would make ABK the ninth oldest brewery in Germany. Over the next 700 years it changed hands several times, acquiring Kaufbeuren’s other breweries along the way, until by 2006 it was owned by a pair of brothers called Hans-Theodor and Peter Ralf Stritzl.
In 2013 the Stritzls sold ABK to an Anglo-American conglomerate called ROK Group, now ROKiT. The principals behind ROKiT are John Paul DeJoria, a 75-year-old Californian who made his money as co-founder of the Paul Mitchell hair products company in 1980, adding to it Patrón Tequila, one of the first “premium” tequila brands, which was bought out by Bacardi for a not unpleasant $5.1 billion in 2018; and the Shropshire-born Jonathan Kendrick, who built up his own multiple millions by helping to launch Yokohama Tyres in Europe. ROKiT now has its fingers in pies just as diverse as tyres and tequila, to wit, telecoms, brewing and Formula 1. It has enormous ambitions in both: ROKiT has signed a deal with the Indian government that could see it sell 300 million handsets, while its plans for ABK see beer production rise from the current 90,000 hectolitres or so to three million hectolitres within the next five years. To help publicise both those efforts, ROKiT is the current main sponsor of the Williams F1 racing team, which is officially named ROKiT Williams Racing.
Over lunch in the sun outside the Goldener Hirsch hotel in Kaufbeuren, ROKiT’s marketing director, Bruce Renny, told me: “German beer is basically undervalued. We asked ourselves, ‘Why?’, and the answer is that every town has its brewery. They’re very regional, and yes, the local people are passionate about their beer, and it’s ‘much better than the beer in the town down the road’. That’s how the Germans are. So we thought that we need to find a brewery that we can partner with in some way that wants to see its beer sold more than 20 miles from the brewery gates. By happenstance we came across ABK.”
ROKiT wants to make the award-winning ABK Hell bier, 5 per cent abv, known in the town as “das Blau” because the bottle labels have always been blue, its route into the global beer market. “We’re ecstatic that we won the supreme champion title at the IBC last year with this beer,” Renny said. “We intend building the ABK brand – that’s why we’re here – and we have the heritage, in spades – 710 years of it – we have the authenticity of the area.
“But at the moment we can’t even supply Germany from here. Just to put it in scale, this year the brewery here will brew about 80 to 90,000 hectolitres of beer, and 60,000 hectolitres of soft drinks for the Kaufbeuren area. Just one of the big Munich breweries alone will be doing about 6 million hectolitres a year, and they’re about 100 kilometres away. So in order to compete on scale, we don’t have the capacity right here.
“We intend to go from 90,000 hectolitres to a million,
and to three million, within the next five years. Our key markets will remain
Germany, and in no particular order, the US, China, Britain, Spain. The economics
of it are that the transportation from Kaufbeuren to Rotterdam is a cost that Heineken
doesn’t have, because they’re there. So we’re competing against globally
well-known brands with a completely unknown brand, and we’re competing
adversely on cost of production. Where we can compete is on heritage and
“There’s room to expand here – the airfield is right opposite, that was an airforce base, and is now closed. That’s one option: to build a purpose-built modern brewing facility there.” But there will be no compromise: “The core values have to be rigorously protected, so everything will be literally Reinheitsgebot, right down to the type of hops that are used, so if we need to airfreight hops about, we’ll do so. There’ll be no scrimping. What must be achieved is that the Hell beer you drink in Beijing or in Boston or in Birmingham tastes exactly the same as right here in Kaufbeuren. There can be no compromise on that.”
Germany “will remain the biggest market for the next two or
three years. The next biggest target has got to be the US, particularly the hot
states. America’s so enormous anyway, there’s no point targeting Utah. We
target California, Texas, Florida, and that alone will occupy a million
hectolitres, just those three states.
“With the rise of the craft beer market in the States,
people now want beer to taste of something. That’s fine, you can create some
wacky recipe for beer and call it an aggressive hipster name, but you can’t buy
the heritage that we have, you can’t buy the story. That just exists, in an
almost unique fashion.”
Sales are taking off, Renny says: “Until we bought this
brewery, it’s fair to say that the beer had never been sold more than 20 miles
from the brewery gates, in 710 years. We’re now exporting a container a week
into Britain alone, we have hired two people to deal with exports to the UK,
one for Spain and one for Italy. Ideally in the UK we’re targeting small
chains, because they appreciate the brand. That will grow, and it’s growing
extremely fast.” The company sponsored the London Oktoberfest as the
exclusive beer, and “we intend to use that as a catalyst to get into the
At the brewery, of course, they are very happy to be under the control of a company with ambitions. “When we acquired the brewery in 2013, in the months coming up to that we were flying in and out, talking to people, and this didn’t go unnoticed by the employees and the town as a whole, that these Auslanders – everybody knew the brewery was struggling a little bit, and they feared the worst,” Renny says. “Jonathan, on the day we acquired the brewery, firstly, before the media, he gathered the local press, every worker together, and he gave them a speech where he said, ‘Firstly, all the jobs here are safe. We will never tell you how to make beer’ – they were massively reassured with that. ‘Secondly, in five years’ time your beer will be sold in Boston, Birmingham and Beijing, under the ABK brand.’ The Germans, being highly conservative and slightly suspicious perhaps, basically shrugged, and said, ‘Well, we’ll wait and see.’ Here we are five years later, and they’re ecstatic.”
You’ll perhaps think any opinion I have on ABK and its beers is irretrievably skunked, with me having taken the company’s shilling by accepting an invite to drink at their expense. But I didn’t know who they were in 2018 when I was one of the judges campaigning for its Hell to get the “best in show” crown. If you see the “Blue” on sale, try it, I’d be very surprised if you don’t like it a lot. I certainly hope it does at least half as well as ROKiT wants, because if it does that will be an indicator that the beer market really is more interested in taste over hype now.
If you are ever in Picton, at the top of New Zealand’s South
Island, take a two-minute walk along the foreshore from the Cook Strait Ferry
terminal to Dunbar Wharf, and marvel at a unique survival: the Edwin Fox,
last remaining wooden sailing ship to have carried India Pale Ale from London
to the thirsty east.
Admittedly, 166 years after she was built, from best Malabar
teak and Morung saul in a shipyard on the Hooghly river, Calcutta, and more
than a century after she was towed into Picton, minus her masts, you need to
pump up your imagination to visualise what this now empty shell was like in its
prime, crossing the briny blue oceans, stuffed to its gunwales with pale ale
and porter brewed by the banks of the Thames.
In her three decades as a working ship, the Edwin Fox
carried an enormous variety of cargoes and passengers: troops to the Baltic
during one of the side-campaigns of the Crimea War, supplies and ammunition to
Balaclava, wounded soldiers back home, rice for Hong Kong and South Africa,
coolies from China to the plantations of Cuba, coals to the Coromandel coast, convicts
for Australia, cotton, sugar, more troops to and from India, emigrant families
to New Zealand, as well as beer.
Her transport of IPA from London to India, according to modern
commentators who prefer the thrill of a good story to the labour of checking
its veracity, brought the Edwin Fox the nickname “the booze
barge”. Unfortunately (a) there appears to be no 19th century evidence to
support this claim; (b) the nickname “booze barge” has also been
given by writers to another 19th century vessel, the clipper Catherine
Adamson, from Aberdeen, which was wrecked during a storm in Sydney Harbour in
1857 and went down with a cargo of 4,000 gallons of brandy, 5,000 gallons of
wine, 1,500 gallons of other spirits and 156 barrels of beer; and (c) the term
“booze barge” first seems to appear in print only in 1908, in the
United States. It has to be doubted, therefore, that the Edwin Fox was
ever called a “booze barge” by her contemporaries.
Indeed, only six journeys with beer as cargo are definitely
known for the Edwin Fox, three of which were to New Zealand. One of
those beer trips to India, in 1869, was one of the many near-disasters that the
Edwin Fox regularly became fouled in during her career. The vessel, by
now technically a barque, that is, with fore-and-aft sails on the mizzen mast
(the rear-most one of three) rather than the square-rigged sails on all three
masts of a ship, a cost-saving alteration that had been made two years before,
had left London for Madras on March 17 with a cargo made up mostly of 1,700
hogsheads – 85,000 gallons – of ale and porter, probably all made at the Taylor
Walker brewery in Limehouse and ordered by the Madras government for the
canteens of British regiments based in India. She arrived on July 25, after 137
days, in the Madras Roads, having travelled round Africa and via Trincomalee in
Ceylon, a voyage of 14,000 miles. Some 317 hogsheads of beer were unloaded in
Madras, and the Edwin Fox left on the afternoon of August 10 for the
port of Masulipatam, 220 miles up the coast, with the rest of the beer, around
A day and a half out of Madras, in the middle of the night,
with her captain, William Black, literally in unfamiliar waters and feeling his
way along, the Edwin Fox grounded in the soft mud of a shoal bank, 2½
miles from the shore. She stuck there for a day, as Black and the crew tried to
get her to move, until finally it was decided the only way the Edwin Fox
was going to shift would be to lighten her by throwing some of the cargo
overboard. Normally it would be ballast or shot tossed into the sea to lighten
a stranded vessel, but Black was afraid that might form a wall around the Edwin
Fox which would stop her floating off. A total of 446 hogsheads, all those
stowed in the tween decks, went over the sides, not far short of 200,000 pints
of beer, a task that took the 22 crew members (not including the captain) 2½
days, before the barque finally floated free of the underwater mud early the
following morning and they were able to continue on to Masulipatam, arriving a
few hours later with the Edwin Fox apparently unharmed.
By November 1869 200 hogsheads of ale and one of porter had
been salvaged in good condition from the 446 thrown overboard, along with 11
hogsheads where the contents had turned bad, and six empty casks. But that
still meant a sixth of the total cargo of ale had been lost. Captain Black
faced an official marine court of inquiry into the ship’s grounding, which
concluded that though he “acted unwisely” in sailing so close to the
shore when he had never been in those waters before, it would restrict itself
to “strongly cautioning him to be more careful” in future.
The Edwin Fox had been built in 1853 in the shipyard at
Sulkeah in Calcutta owned by Thomas Reeves, son of a shipbuilder from London.
She has been described as “the last of the East Indiamen”, the name
given to the iconic vessels owned and run by the Honourable East India Company,
but as a ship she was considerably smaller than the classic East Indiaman, more
cramped and less stylish. She probably took only a few weeks to build. The
Edwin Fox for whom she was named was a friend of Reeves, described in Reeves’s
will as a City of London merchant, though there are at least two candidates as
to who exactly he was. One Edwin Fox was a London-born auctioneer and
businessman who died at his home, Heatham House, Twickenham, in 1891. The other
Edwin Fox, sometimes described as “the well-known Southampton Quaker”
(though he was not from Southampton), was a senior figure in the East India
Company, who was born in Wadebridge, Cornwall and died on the Isle of Wight in
This Edwin Fox, with his Indian connections, seems the most
likely man for whom the ship was named: though recently a third Edwin Fox,
supposedly a shipwright in Reeves’s shipyard at Sulkeah, was suggested as the
ship’s eponym. That the original Edwin Fox was a businessman rather than a shipwright,
however, is strongly suggested by a story told about a deputation by a new crew
complaining of a ghost in the fore ’tween deck space. The ghost – a huge white
figure wearing a top hat – turned out to be the ship’s figurehead, Edwin Fox
himself, damaged and placed below deck to await repair and replacement at the
front of the ship.
The Edwin Fox was signed off by Reeves’s master
shipbuilder, William Henry Forster, on December 6 1853, with Reeves listed as
the sole owner, and she cleared customs at Calcutta just eight days later for a
voyage to London via the Cape of Good Hope, carrying ten passengers and a mixed
cargo that included almost 4,000 bags of rice, 145 bales of goatskins and cow
hides, 750 bales of jute, 225 cases of castor oil, 3,400 bags of linseed and
rape seed and around 100 tons of saltpetre. She unloaded the rice in Table Bay
on February 20 1854, and was waiting to take on fresh water before continuing
her journey when a gale arrived. The ship’s anchor cables parted during the
storm, she hit another vessel – the first of many collisions during her career
– and lost her foremast and part of her mainmast, with considerable other
damage. Repairs took a fortnight, but the Edwin Fox finally left Table
Bay on March 7, arriving off Gravesend in the Thames estuary on May 10, after a
five-month journey from India.
A month later Reeves sold the Edwin Fox to Sir George
Edmund Hodgkinson, a City of London-based shipowner. Hodgkinson immediately
hired her out to the British government for use as a transport in the Crimean
War, which had started the previous October. The Edwin Fox was actually
in the Black Sea, transporting sick and wounded troops from the front (at one
point she was visited by Florence Nightingale herself), when she was sold
again, in May 1855, to another London ship owner, Duncan Dunbar.
Much mythology has sprouted around Dunbar, and his father,
Duncan Dunbar senior. Their business was based at what was known as early as
1804 as Dunbar Wharf, in Fore Street (today Narrow Street), Limehouse,
described in 1803 as “a large warehouse adjoining to the water, with a
commodious landing place for merchandise”. In particular it is frequently
stated that Dunbar senior ran a brewery. There is no evidence at all to support
this claim, however. Instead Duncan Dunbar senior was merely a beer, wine and
spirits merchant, exporting to India and other overseas markets beers sold in
his own name – not unknown among merchants and beer bottlers, with, for
example, the Mincing Lane, City of London-based firm Shone & Co shipping
porter under its own name to Calcutta in 1797 – but almost certainly actually brewed
by Taylor’s brewery (later Taylor Walker) a short distance away from Dunbar
Wharf in Fore Street. In 1801, for example, porter and brown stout “from
Hodgson and Co [the famous pale ale brewers of Bow] and Duncan Dunbar, at 90 Rs
per Hogsheads” was on sale in Calcutta. The following year “Duncan
Dunbar’s ale, in bottles” was on offer to the Bengal city’s drinkers. By
1821 “Dunbar beer in hogsheads (brown stout)” was available in
With its near-neighbour Taylor’s one of the biggest London
porter brewers, and also producing pale ale, it would certainly make little
economic sense for Dunbar to brew his own. Nor did he export only ale, porter
and stout: in 1803 “Whyskey [sic] from Duncan Dunbar” was on sale in
Calcutta. In an Old Bailey court case of 1804 involving stolen bottles, Dunbar
is specifically described as a wine and spirit seller. Trade directories
regularly call him a “beer merchant” or “ale and porter
merchant”. He was called a “porter-merchant” in 1808, when the
“substantial warehouse with large cellars and vaults on the basement”
he was leasing in Fore Street was advertised for sale. Nowhere is he mentioned
as a brewer of his own beers. Instead the cellars and vaults at Dunbar Wharf
served as stores for beer brewed by others, most of it, according to one
source, by Taylor Walker up the street, but with a label on the bottles carrying
the Dunbar house flag, showing a golden lion on a red shield with a white
border decorated with red and gold diamonds and stars. “Envious
rivals,” it has been declared, “said that the Dunbar fortunes floated
to success on Taylor Walker’s ale.”
Duncan Dunbar senior, born around 1761, was the seventh son of
John Dunbar, a tenant farmer of Balnageith, near Forres, in the north of
Scotland. He had moved to London by the 1790s, opening a beer, wines and
spirits business, marrying and fathering two sons and six daughters. The eldest
son, Duncan junior, was born in 1803, joined the family business aged 16 after
two years at Aberdeen University, and was made a partner aged 21 in 1824. A
year later Duncan senior died at his home in the East India Road, Poplar, aged
64, leaving Duncan junior in charge of the firm. From 1827 Duncan junior began
to branch out into ship-owning, starting with a half-share of a barque built in
Sussex. In 1841 Duncan Dunbar and Sons were still being described in Australia
as “wine and porter merchants”. But by 1842 the Dunbar fleet numbered
11. From that year, growth accelerated, so that by the beginning of 1858 Dunbar
owned 43 ships, the biggest privately owned fleet in the world.
The acquisition of the Edwin Fox by Dunbar has another
myth attached. Supposedly the ship was put up for auction by Hodgkinson, and
the auction attracted both Dunbar and a pair of rival shipowners, John Willis,
who later owned the Cutty Sark, and James Baines of Liverpool, owner of
the Black Ball shipping line:
“The auction was charged with electricity in the form of rivalry … The bidding commenced at £15,000 and went up quickly to £25,000. Willis withdrew at £25,000, knowing there was heat in the bidding of a personal nature, and immediately Baines who was decked out very smartly for the day, bid £28,000 and turned and snarled at Dunbar: ‘Beat that if you can, and be damned to you!’ Applause broke out, and Dunbar shouted back: ‘£30,000, and the same to you!’ Gasps of astonishment arose, there was silence, and the record price was paid by Dunbar. Dunbar made back the purchase price plus £8,000 profit in the next 18 months of charter for French troops to the Crimea. A very good investment indeed.”
Unfortunately the story, while a cracker, does not add up, it
does not fit the known facts, and nor can it be found in any journals from the
time. Ships like the Edwin Fox were being sold for less than £15,000, so
it seems hugely unlikely that Dunbar would pay twice that for her. In addition, there is no
evidence that Dunbar ever chartered her to carry French troops. She arrived
home off Plymouth from the Black Sea carrying almost 150 invalids from 51
different British regiments in October 1855, five months after her purchase by
Dunbar. Over the next four months the Edwin Fox was refitted to carry
passengers and general cargo, and in February 1856 she left London for
Melbourne with six paying civilians and a hold full of miscellaneous goods.
The next four years were spent travelling around the Far East looking for cargoes, or transporting convicts from Britain to Australia. The first occasion the Edwin Fox carried beer to India appears to come in February 1860, when she left London for Bombay with a cargo that included “a substantial quantity” of Taylor Walker’s India Pale Ale. Her owner, Duncan Dunbar junior, a heavily built man described as looking like John Bull, died unmarried two years later, in March 1862, aged 59. He left a fortune estimated at £1.6 million, perhaps £150 million today, which went to his sisters and nieces. He was buried in Highgate Cemetery, and the ships in the East India Docks flew their colours at half-mast on the day of his funeral.
When the Edwin Fox made her next known journey to India
with beer in her hold, in October 1863, she had a new owner, the firm of
Gellatly, Hankey and Sewell, founded by Dunbar’s former manager, Edward
Gellatly, who had bought the vessel at one of a series of auctions of Dunbar’s
stocks and holdings in July 1862 for £7,600. (The stocks at the warehouse in
Limehouse included, as a small selection, 12,000 new oak staves, 39 tons of new
iron hooping, 336 barrels of pork, three pipes of lime juice, 275 gallons of
brandy, rum and gin, and 300 dozen of bottled beer.)
Under her new owners, who converted her to a barque, which
took a smaller crew to control and thus made her cheaper to operate, the Edwin
Fox mostly carried troops to and from British India for the next few years,
with the exception of the ill-fated “booze cruise” of 1869, and a
trip from Cardiff to Madras with 1,000 tons of coal briquettes. In the early
1870s the Edwin Fox turned from carrying goods, or soldiers, to taking
emigrants out to start new lives in New Zealand. On her first journey in this
new role, with some 200 emigrant passengers, the Edwin Fox was caught in
a tremendous storm in the Bay of Biscay in February 1873 that left her badly damaged
and needing to be towed into Brest by a passing steamship, with the ship’s
doctor and a crew member both killed and others injured.
Later reports claimed that as the waves and wind battered the Edwin Fox, crew members stuck into the brandy that was part of her stores and became too drunk to do their jobs, so that the single men among the passengers had to step up. One overheated version said the crew was arrested and sent back to Britain in irons, where they received six months’ hard labour. There is, however, no evidence for these claims. It took a month in the shipyards of Brest to get the Edwin Fox seaworthy enough to continue her voyage, and she finally reached New Zealand in June 1873 – straight into quarantine, since she arrived with several passengers suffering from fever. Local drinkers would have been relieved when the barque was finally able to unload: her cargo included 133 dozen of beer, as well as 3,000 sacks of salt, four dozen pairs of boots and other goods which had survived the Biscay storm almost undamaged.
Another voyage to New Zealand carrying 265 emigrants that
began in late 1874 was almost as traumatic, with two false starts and a
collision that resulted in the sinking of a schooner. During this voyage the Edwin
Fox was sold to the charter firm Shaw Savill. She was hired for a third
time in 1878 to carry 249 emigrants to New Zealand, her cargo on the journey to
Nelson in the South Island including 250 cases of stout, as well as 800 cases
of gin, 55 cases of brandy, 300 cases of whisky, 480 bags of salt, 35 cases of
sardines, 20 tons of pig iron and other goods. The last emigrant haul came in
1880, when the Edwin Fox took out just 99 passengers for Lyttelton, on
South Island. Again the cargo included beer – 333 “pkgs”, presumably
cases of bottles – along with 1,365 “pkgs” of spirits, a case of
toys, four cases of scientific instruments, ten drums of oil and 410 casks of
cement, plus other items.
For the next five years the Edwin Fox tramped the
globe, from San Francisco to Norway to Sydney, carrying everything from coal to
grain to timber. But more than 30 years after she was built, the barque was now
close to obsolete. Meanwhile advances in freezing technology meant New Zealand
was now able to export its lamb to Britain without the meat spoiling, and there
was a need for extra meat freezing capacity. When she arrived back in London in
1885, the Edwin Fox was converted into a freezer ship, with a
refrigeration plant on board, and sent out to New Zealand for the last time,
where she would be expected to freeze 600 to 700 carcases a day, and store a
total of 15,000 frozen sheep for eventual transfer to steamships that would
take them to markets abroad.
The Edwin Fox spent 15 years as a freezer hulk, in six
different locations, finishing up at Picton in 1897. After three years freezing
mutton there, in 1900 the refrigeration plant was removed and she was converted
to a coal hulk, in effect a floating wooden coal bunker. That was her role for
half a century, but in 1953 her owners ended her British registration and she
was left derelict.
The idea of restoring the Edwin Fox was first raised in
1964, and in 1965 the newly formed Edwin Fox Restoration Society bought the
hulk from the New Zealand Refrigeration Company for one shilling. It was 21
years, however, before the project finally began to pick up speed. In 1986,
after nearly 400 tonnes of shingle ballast were removed from her hull, the Edwin
Fox was floated to the spot on the Picton shorefront that was to be,
eventually, her permanent home. A visitors’ centre was opened in 1990. But with
full restoration now estimated at NZ$12 million, an impossible sum to raise, it
was decided that the best future for the Edwin Fox was the preservation of
her hull in a purpose-built dry dock. The dock was built, and the ship placed
in it in 1999, and eventually a roof was placed over the dock. Today she is one
of New Zealand’s most popular historic tourist attractions.
For a long time the Edwin Fox had a rival as the last
of the wooden IPA ships, in the Jhelum, built of English oak, ironwood
and mahogany at the shipbuilder and ship owner Joseph Steel & Son’s
shipyard in Baffin Street, Liverpool in May 1849. The ship’s name comes from
the river Jhelum in the Punjab (today in Pakistan), which was in the news early
in 1849 as the scene of a vicious battle between the British (more strictly the
East India Company) and the Sikh Empire during the Second Anglo-Sikh War. (It
is a little ironic that the India-built Edwin Fox has an English name,
while the English-built Jhelum had a name from the Indian
The Jhelum left Liverpool on July 13 1849, less than two months after she was launched, sailing for Bombay, and arriving on November 16 1849, with a mixed “general” cargo. Sailing ships from Liverpool certainly did carry IPA to India: the Crusader, an East Indiaman, had in her hold beer from Bass and Allsopp of Burton upon Trent being shipped to Bombay when she went aground on a sandbank off the coast of Blackpool in the great storm of 1839 and scattered her cargo along the coast of Lancashire. Whether the Jhelum‘s cargo included beer is not known: the Liverpool Customs Bills of Entry record the daily imports and exports, but not which ship was carrying what, only the port of destination. With, for example, six ships loading for Bombay (out of perhaps 260 in the docks), that makes it impossible to say which ship was carrying what. The Jhelum began loading cargo on Friday June 1 1849, and though beer was certainly going to other destinations from Liverpool at that time – the records show four hogsheads and six barrels listed for Sydney, and 27 barrels of bottled ale for Calcutta while the Jhelum was being loaded – the Bills of Entry between June 1 and the day she was cleared outwards, July 12, do not appear to show any beer being loaded for any ships going to Bombay, out of a huge variety of goods passing through Liverpool docks destined for the Indian city, including muskets, bugles, coal, soap, hams, cotton goods and sheet iron. The Jhelum‘s log, which may show her cargo on that first voyage, is currently in the maritime history archive of Memorial University in St John’s, Newfoundland, and it has not been possible to consult it.
Her maiden voyage was, in fact, the only time the Jhelum
ever sailed to the east, and thus the answer to the question “did she
carry IPA to India?” has to be “probably not.” The rest of her
career was spent voyaging to South America, often carrying coal from Cardiff to
places such as Montevideo, in Uruguay, and then sailing on round Cape Horn to
pick up cargoes of guano from islands off the coast of Peru, bringing them back
to Europe for use as fertiliser. It was a rough, tough, battering life, and in
July 1870, just 21 years after she was built, and after only 19 round-trips of
up to 24,000 miles at a time, the Jhelum staggered in to Port Stanley in
the Falklands, having travelled through heavy gales from the Guañape Islands of
Peru laden with 500 tons or so of guano. The ship was leaking badly, and the
crew refused to sail any further in her. A series of inspections condemned her
as unseaworthy, and she was left abandoned in Port Stanley harbour.
Almost miraculously, the Jhelum, or at least its hull,
survived intact for the next 120 years. In the 1980s the Mersey Maritime Museum,
which was interested in the ship as a rare survivor of Liverpool’s 19th century
shipping history, send out a team to give the vessel some emergency first-aid
to prevent it collapsing totally, while discussions went on about a possible
restoration. The cost, however, was far too great, and the Jhelum
continued to lie by the beach, gently rotting. Her bow collapsed after a storm
in October 2008, and her stern went the same way not quite five years later, in
August 2013. If the Edwin Fox ever had a rival as the last of the wooden
IPA transports, it does no longer.
Amid all the dodgy news that has hit the American craft beer scene over the past month or so – Founders Brewing Co, the largest in Michigan, having to settle a racial discrimination suit, AB-Inbev stealing the slogan a small brewer has been using for nearly ten years, Lagunitas dumping all over community groups that had been relying on it for fund-raising, Redhook of Seattle finally being swallowed completely, New Belgium of Colorado, the fourth-largest American craft brewery, also losing its independence to a brewing megagiant – one scandalous example of appalling misbehaviour by a big brewer attempting to throw its vast weight around in a morally disgusting fashion seems to have passed by surprisingly unnoticed.
referring to the attempt by AB-InBev – them again – to punish the Chicago-based
journalist and author Josh Noel, in total defiance of the values of free speech
and honest, upright dealing: the most shocking example of trying to crush
commentary you don’t like that I can recall in the beer industry.
Josh has been writing about the Chicago beer scene for many years for the city’s big newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, and in particular he has been championing Bourbon County Stout, the whiskey-barrel-aged Imperial stout first made by Goose Island Beer Company in the mid-1990s that started an entire new beer style. In 2018 he wrote a book on BCS, Goose Island, and the acquisition of Goose Island by Anheuser-Busch back in 2011 called Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out, subtitled “Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch and how craft beer became big business”.
It’s one of the very best books on craft beer history I have read – possibly THE best – and one of the best business books I have seen in general. It was deservedly garlanded with the Book of the Year award by the North American Guild of Beer Writers, and if you haven’t read it, you really should get yourself a copy right now. It’s a thorough, deeply researched, sometimes brutal but totally fair and honest account of the origins and growth of Goose Island since it was founded by businessman John Hall in 1988, looking hard at the pressures that led to the sale of the brewery in 2011, and how and why the brewery, its products and ethos have changed over the decades. AB-Inbev clearly hated it.
I was going to paraphrase what happened after the book came out, but Josh wrote it up so much better than I could in a series of tweets, so here is Josh’s story, with occasional interjections by me (and American spellings). We pick it up just after Goose Island has declined to invite him to the annual preview release of the latest iteration of BCS:
“First time in the 10 years I’ve covered beer for the Chicago Tribune. I was told the brewery ‘wasn’t comfortable’ [mealy-mouthed creeps. Be honest, ye scabs – MC] with me attending. What does that mean? Who wasn’t comfortable? Why? They wouldn’t explain any of that. How’d we get here? What’s happening? Well it began last year.
Goose Island initially didn’t invite me to last year’s Bourbon County preview either — six months after my book came out. The book was mostly Goose-positive up to its 2011 sale to Anheuser-Busch. Then the story took on a lot more nuance about the brewery and brand in AB’s hands.
That change was inevitable thanks to Anheuser-Busch’s needs and goals — and why it bought Goose Island in the first place (along with 10 more craft breweries). There was no way around AB’s anti-competitive practices, lack of transparency and aim of market domination.
So, faced with not being invited to last year’s Bourbon County media preview — something about “needing to have a better working relationship” [“needing you to kiss our bottoms” more like – MC] — I argued I’d been fair and measured. Not always positive. But fair. They ultimately agreed. I attended the tasting. I championed the debut of Bourbon County Wheatwine (which went on to win a FOBAB medal). Didn’t much care for Vanilla or Bramble.
I’d been covering Bourbon County since 2010. Back then there was no media tasting. Goose Island was too busy to think much about media at all. Aside from a few dedicated bloggers, very few people were writing about Bourbon County — or craft beer in Chicago at all.
This was the earliest story I wrote about Bourbon County. About the (gasp!) $45 price tag on the first iteration of Rare Bourbon County Stout, in 2010. And year by year, buzz built for the annual Bourbon County release. As time went on, I expressed interest in tasting ahead of the releases, to tell the story of beers changing the beer drinking game in Chicago and beyond. I called Bourbon County Chicago’s “most important beer ever.”
We did annual tastings, just the brewers and me. It was low-key and very relaxed. In 2015, things changed. Biggest change: Goose and AB went all in on the barrel-aging program, building a gargantuan new barrel-aging warehouse to blow up Goose’s barrel-aging program. The brewery also realized it shouldn’t just give me and the Chicago Tribune an informal first taste. It should make an event of it. And Goose did. The first “proper” Bourbon County media tasting happened in 2015, at that barrel warehouse. It was a candlelit affair with two tables full of writers, bloggers, podcasters, etc. They’ve done it every year since, and even expanded it to NYC media.
(Side note: at that 2015 tasting, I believe I was the first person to note what would inevitably be a disastrous infection issue in four of that year’s Bourbon County beers. I said Bourbon County Coffee tasted peppery and “off to me.” But I digress …)
2015 was also the year that, thanks to the scope and scale of the barrel-aging warehouse, Bourbon County morphed from a lovely boutique product into a national workhorse. (Arguably the entire point of AB buying Goose Island.) Goose Island flooded the market with Bourbon County while also trying to maintain the aura of “exclusivity.” A beer called “Rare,” for instance, which people had stood in line/paid a premium for in 2015 landed on supermarket shelves a year later.
As part of the Anheuser-Busch machine, Bourbon County became a story beyond what was simply in the bottle. Yet, what was in the bottle also continued to matter. Bourbon County came out every Black Friday. People cared. Some of the beer was outstanding. And every year I reviewed it at Goose Island’s annual media preview with others who write about beer.
Meanwhile I wrote that book. And blogged. And found fresh ways to write about barrel-aged beers in Chicago. That included a blind tasting that showed Revolution Brewing surpassing Bourbon County in 2017. Which brings us to this year. Last week I realized I hadn’t been invited to this year’s Bourbon County tasting. So I reached out and asked what was up. That’s when I was told that the brewery “wasn’t comfortable” with me attending [translation – senior execs had got a massive snot on about Josh’s depiction of AB, and decided he needed to be punished – MC]. I asked for an explanation.
I write for the city’s largest newspaper, have written about Bourbon County for 10 years and covered Goose throughout the year, whether beer or marketing. Seems fair to be at that tasting. The issue wasn’t about special treatment or favors. It was about getting the same access as other media.
Goose Island came back with a changed story, along the lines of, “Every year there are limited seats and we have to make difficult decisions about who to invite.” Clearly untrue [indeed – why do corporations come out with this bullshit when they must know no one believes them and they simply look like shystering liars? MC], but OK, fine. It’s their party. I asked for samples of the 2019 Bourbon County beers instead, so that I could taste and review this week along with the others who will be doing so. In return, more corporate speak: “We have allocated a limited number of advance samples to the tasting events and will not be able to fulfill your request at this time.”
Blackballed by Goose Island.
Were they disinviting me because of the book? My blog posts? My Tribune coverage? Tweets? My general demeanor and disposition? I don’t know. They refused to say. Instead, they’re flying off to New York today to do a tasting for media there.
Goose Island can decide not to invite me and the Chicago Tribune to its Bourbon County media tasting for whatever reason. Its choice. But we dictate our coverage — not the people and companies we write about.”
Yes, exactly. There are two big issues here. The first is simple liberty of discussion. AB InBev is attempting to punish someone for saying things it doesn’t like. The company’s executives need to have a copy of the Fourth First Amendment to the US Constitution poked hard into their faces: “The Freedom of Speech, and of the Press … shall not be infringed.” (Addendum – just to explain, I don’t meant it’s illegal for AB InBev to ban Josh, I mean it’s utterly against the spirit of the values the country they operate in was founded upon.) The second is an important, and surprisingly little-discussed, aspect of the implied contract between sellers and buyers. If you are asking the public to give you its money for your goods and services, then there is a moral right, which you as a seller cannot and should not attempt to take away, for commentators to express their view on whether or not the exchange you are proposing – my money for your product – is a fair one. In other words, for any proposed sale/purchase, there is a right to review and to criticise which should not be suppressed, most importantly because that right is a counter-balance to the power of the seller, and acts in defence of the buyer. That applies to everything offered for sale, from theatrical performances to automobiles to beer. For AB Inbev to attempt to take that right to criticise and comment away from Josh is a morally wrong move, which should be called out, and for which the company should be ashamed.
So: given I feel so strongly about what has happened to Josh, how come, you are entitled to ask, I attended TWO events this month in London organised by Goose Island/AB InBev, one celebrating the Obadiah Poundage recreation stout, the other for the UK launch of BCS, swallowed its beers (for free) and ate its pizza (for free)? Hypocritical, much? Should I not, rather than enjoying the warmth of the company’s East End bar and brewhouse, have been outside in the November cold waving a placard that declared: “I stand with Josh Noel: Boycott Goose Island!” and attempting to persuade fellow beer writers not to cross my picket line?
Um. Maybe. But ultimately, no, I think, and for a host of reasons. The first, and not the least, is that boycotting AB Inbev, is, as the old joke goes, like pissing myself in a dark suit: it might give me a warm feeling, but nobody else would notice. AB InBev wouldn’t have cared, certainly. Virtue signalling to no effect doesn’t help anybody. Second, for the first event, certainly, I was there to support several old pals, notably Ron Pattinson and Derek Prentice, who were involved in the Obadiah Poundage project, which I wrote about here, (Before you ask, I was sent a case of the beer beforehand. What’s it like? More Bretty, and rather sweeter, than I was expecting: not a beer that you absolutely have to rush out to buy, but a fascinating experiment, and worth picking up if you see it.)
For the second event, the London launch of BCS, I was there out of extreme curiosity, having never drunk the beer before, and unsure when I would ever get the chance to again: if you write about beer, passing up the chance to drink the beer that started the whole, now massive, barrel-aged movement, in a fit of politically correct solidarity with a fellow journalist who was barred from a press call but, let’s put this in perspective, not actually blown up seems to be to be, well, unnecessary.
I know there are beer writers who eschew any involvement with corporate freebies, but my argument has always been that I’m very happy to accept free stuff, from beer to trips abroad, when it enables me to put information in front of my readers that I would not be otherwise able to give them. Certainly I do not believe I have ever held the boot back because someone had dropped off a case of beer. Carlsberg, for example, paid me to appear in one of their corporate videos, flew me to Copenhagen three times, took me to Twickenham and Wembley to see the national rugby and football teams play and stuffed me to my eyebrows with food and drink on multiple occasions, but that didn’t prevent me from being very rude about the new-look green-label pilsner earlier this year.
As it happens the Federal Trade Commission in the US has just issued a leaflet, “Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers”, about openness in blog posts, tweets, Instagram posts and the like, which you can see here. It says:
“If you endorse a product through social media, your endorsement message should make it obvious when you have a relationship (“material connection”) with the brand. A “material connection” to the brand includes a personal, family, or employment relationship or a financial relationship – such as the brand paying you or giving you free or discounted products or services.
Telling your followers about these kinds of relationships is important because it helps keep your recommendations honest and truthful, and it allows people to weigh the value of your endorsements.
As an influencer, it’s your responsibility to make these disclosures, to be familiar with the Endorsement Guides, and to comply with laws against deceptive ads. Don’t rely on others to do it for you.”
Which I think is entirely fair enough – and if you’re thinking
“I don’t live in the US,” the FTC’s guide also points out: “If
posting from abroad, US law applies if it’s reasonably foreseeable that the
post will affect US consumers.”
So on that basis: what were those free Bourbon County Stouts you drank like, Martyn? Very fine indeed, actually: this IS a beer you really need to track down and try. It’s massively filled with flavours, something to sip, savour and enjoy, and also, judging by the differences between the 2018 and 2019, a beer that will change in fascinating ways as it ages: the 2018, for example, was very much less coconutty than the 2019, as, clearly, the influence of the wood in the Bourbon barrel began to fade. I also greatly enjoyed two beers made at the Shoreditch brewhouse (which, incidentally, is barely a hundred yards from what was once Harwood’s Bell brewhouse, famous, incorrectly, for supposedly being the place where porter was first brewed). One was a madeira-cask-aged doppelbock, served straight from the cask it was aged in, which was wonderfully rich, the other a sour cherry and tonka bean porter, like black forest gateau in a glass.
OK, you may passionately loathe AB InBev, and vow never to approach it or its works except with a pitchfork and a flaming torch. But the unpleasant arseholes at the top of the company who decided, stupidly and unforgiveably, that Josh Noel had to be punished for not placing his nose as far up the AB InBev bottom as they wished are not the very many thousands of people who work for the company, who are doing the best jobs they can, and who are producing beers like that sour cherry porter, and that Madeira-cask-aged doppelbock, and those iterations of BCS, and those projects like Obadiah Poundage porter, and I believe THOSE people SHOULD be supported. But supporting them doesn’t mean not being as rude as possible about the bad things corporate AB InBev gets up to, and calling the company out on it as loudly as I can.
(Addendum 2: I meant to say, but forgot, so I’m saying it now, that as a fine example of how quickly myths arrive and take root, on both the embossed bottles that Bourdon County stout now comes in, and the T-shirts that Goose Island/AB InBev gives away, the claim is made that BCS was first brewed in 1992. This appears to be down to Greg Hall, who invented the beer, being unable to remember more than a decade later when he had had the dinner with the legendary Bourbon maestro Booker Noe that led to the beer’s creation. It was, as Josh Noel uncovered while researching his book, in 1995, not 1992.)
There is not a lot will make me drop everything and rush 200 miles
north to Blackburn, but a message saying that the recipe for the legendary
Mercer’s Meat Stout had been discovered in an attic and the beer was being
brewed again got me on the first available train out of Euston.
Mercer’s Meat Stout must be the weirdest beer ever brewed by a
mainstream British brewer. It first appeared just before the First World War,
and early advertising claimed that it was “brewed with the addition of a
specially prepared meat extract.” It was introduced by Harold Irving Mercer,
son of the founder of the Plough brewery in Adlington, Lancashire, John Mercer,
who had died in 1907, and advertised in 1914 as “The Body Building
Beverage for Brain Bone and Blood”.
It was part of a trend for “nourishing stouts” in vogue since a London wine merchant named George Raggett passed off Truman’s stout as “Raggett’s Nourishing Stout” in 1860, and which had seen “invalids’ stout” appear as early as 1861, “nursing stout” in 1867, “oat malt stout” (celebrated for its restorative properties) in 1895, and milk stout (“anti-rheumatic, energising”) in 1909.
Mercer’s was taken over by its bigger rival, Dutton’s of
Blackburn, ten miles to the north, in March 1929, and the following month
someone (presumably Mercer’s head brewer, perhaps Harold Mercer him self) typed
up, or had typed up, a complete seven-page document headed “Meat Stout
Brewing”, clearly instructions for Dutton’s on how to produce what was a
popular beer in Lancashire. Mercer’s brewery closed in 1936, and the brewing of
meat stout continued at Dutton’s Salford brewery in Bow Street, Blackburn until
around 1943: it was still on sale in April 1942, priced at one shilling and
five pence for a pint bottle, 9½ pence for a half-pint, against Mackeson milk stout
and Guinness at one shilling and sixpence per pint bottle and Whitbread’s
Oatmeal Stout and John Smith’s Milk Stout at one shilling and four pence a
Quite likely the end came because of the increasing difficulty
in the middle of the Second World War of getting hold of the large quantities
of the tightly rationed sugars of various types that went into the brewing of meat
stout: more than 14 pounds to the barrel. (Harold Mercer died in October 1943,
aged 64, at his home in Bare Lane, Bare, Morecambe, meaning his best-known beer
disappeared off the planet around the same time that he did.)
The recipe remained in Dutton’s possession even after meat
stout stopped being made, and when the brewery in Blackburn closed in 1978, 14
years after it had been bought out by Whitbread, a brewer at Bow Street named Derek
Malcolm Dixon decided that he did not wish to transfer to the new Whitbread
brewery at Salmesbury and, though only 50, he would take his pension – and the
recipe – and retire. (Today Salmesbury
is owned by AB InBev and produces Stella and Bud.) Derek died a few years
later, aged just 58, and the recipe for meat stout that he had removed from
work was inherited, along with a couple of brewing books and a hydrometer, by
his son Phil.
Phil then misplaced the recipe for more than 30 years, until
the boom in craft brewing spurred him to look for it and, when he found it, to
take it to a local craft brewery, Three B’s, based at the Black Bull inn, in the
countryside just outside Blackburn, to see if they would like to try to
reproduce it. Brewery founder Robert Bell and his son Mark did their best with
matching the original ingredients from 1929, which included more than 200
pounds of something called “meat extract caramel”, made by the food
additives and flavourings manufacturer A. Boake, Roberts & Co of Stratford,
East London, which disappeared about the same time that Dutton’s brewery did.
Not having “meat extract caramel”, the Bells
improvised with Bovril: two catering packs-worth, 900 grams in all, added at
the whirlpool stage. The recipe they came up with also included pale Maris
Otter malt, roast barley, black malt, wheat malt and treacle, with Goldings,
Fuggles and Northern Brewer hops. The yeast certainly appreciated the Bovril:
when Rob Bell came back three hours after pitching, it was “going a bit
daft,” in his own words, with a river of foaming, frothing yeast pouring
from the four-barrel fermenter all over the brewhouse floor.
The final result was a 5.5 per cent abv deep black stout with
a fine creamy head, and complex layers of flavour, matching sweetness with
bitterness, and a touch of dryness in the finish. The Bells called it Winter
Warmer Stout, rather than meat stout, worrying that drinkers would be put off by
the name, but the reaction in the Black Bull pub from customers has been highly
enthusiastic, and Phil Dixon is delighted: “I’m over the moon with the beer – I
couldn’t have expected it to be any better, they’ve done a really good job of
brewing it,” he told me. Phil is one of the few people around to be able to
make any sort of comparison with the Mercer’s Meat Stout of old: his father was
a home-brewer after he retired, and “as far as I’m aware this is one of
the recipes he brewed at home. I remember tasting a brew that can’t have been
anything else, it was very similar.
“It was mashed in a bath, and then the wort was transferred
into one of those top-loading washing machines to be boiled with hops, and then
it was pumped out and fermented. So we couldn’t have a bath for a week and we
couldn’t wash our clothes.”
Although the Three B’s brewery, which is now 20 years old,
though it only moved to its present site a former Daniel Thwaites pub, in 2011,
delivers its beers to 30 or 40 pubs a week, the revived Mercer’s Meat Stout
will only be on sale at the Black Bull. If you want to try it, be warned that
the pub is closed Mondays and Tuesdays and only open from 4pm Wednesdays to
Fridays, though it opens at noon on Saturdays and Sundays. The Black Bull does
not serve food, and it has no televisions and no fruit machines – “it’s a
talking pub,” Mark Bell says.
The original recipe, meanwhile, is a fascinating document, revealing
much about the methods used by a small North of England brewer in the 1920s. Three
different types of coloured malt went into Meat Stout, for example, amber,
black and crystal, made by Charles E. Seed Ltd of Clayton, Bradford, Yorkshire,
and the recipe is firm about their use: “These Patent Malts should be mashed
within about 48 hours of being roasted. Seeds send them to us newly roasted
specially for each brew by passenger train [a journey of some 40 miles]. We pay
half the carriage. (note: Black Malt is NOT mashed. It is added to copper at
start of second 50-minute boil.)” Those three made up seven per cent of
the grain bill each: 68 per cent was “high dried” Norfolk and
Californian malt from the Leeds maltsters W.J. Robson & Co, and 11.5 per
cent was flaked maize from the Liverpool Malt Co Ltd.
The hops were a real mix, though annoyingly the author of the
recipe gave only the geographical origins of the hops used, not their varieties:
not quite a quarter 1928 Worcesters, the same amount of 1928 Kents, 15 per cent
each 1927 Kents and Worcesters, nine per cent 1927 “Continentals”, the
same amount of 1927 “Oregons” (possibly Fuggles, through probably
Clusters), three per cent 1925 Oregons and three per cent “sundry pieces
to use up end of pockets”. There were also 18 pounds of “stew
hops”, a mixture of 1928 “choicest” Worcesters and Kents, which
were placed in a bag with a chain attached and hung in the copper for 20
minutes after the 110-minute boil was over, to be retained and reused in the
next brew; and 4½ pounds of White, Tompkins & Courages Hop Concentrate,
equivalent of 54 pounds of leaf hops, to give 192 pounds of hops for 80 barrels,
or two pounds 6.4 ounces of hops per barrel.
Other wacky ingredients in the recipe besides that mysterious “Meat Extract Caramel” (Boake, Roberts & Co’s records are at Hackney Local Archives, apparently: time for a trip to East London) are “copper wort adjunct” from George Clark & Son Ltd of Millwall Docks in London, “a slowly fermentable sugar for use in the copper with all types of beer”, designed to give palate-fulness at a lower gravity; “Jetose Caramel”, which looks to be a typographical error for “ketose caramel” (j and k are adjacent on the keyboard) from the Liverpool sugar manufacturer Harvey Steel; and “block juice”, “a solid block, resembling coal, but with the overpowering liquorice flavour and bitter-sweet taste”, from the Manchester-based chemists J. Woolley Sons & Co. It is notable, though of course, not surprising, that most of the suppliers were from the North of England.
Other points from the recipe: the stout was
dry-hopped at a rate of two ounces of 1928 Worcesters, two ounces of 1928 Kents
and 1½ ounces of 1927 Oregons per barrel for the draught version and five ounces
of 1928 Worcesters, two ounces of 1928 Kents and three ounces of 1927 Oregons
per barrel for the bottled version, and the draught version was primed with
around two pints three fluid ounces of 1148ºOG priming solution to give a
gravity equivalent to 1056º; and the bottled stout was delivered “as near
as is practical … new bottled to the customer. The ideal is to bottle it and
load it on the motors direct off the bottling machine.”
Very many thanks indeed to Phil Dixon’s late father
for preserving the recipe for Mercer’s Meat Stout, and to Phil for finding it
again and persuading the Three B’s brewery to reproduce it, and then telling me
about it (this is not such a great scoop as I thought it was at first, as there
is apparently a version of the recipe in the Whitbread archives, and Brian
Glover mentions it in one of his books, though it appears to be two pages
shorter than the Dixon version) and very many thanks to Rob and Mark Bell for
picking me up at Blackburn Station, driving me to the Black Bull and filling me
with excellent stout. I very sincerely hope this will not be the last time we
see Mercer’s Meat Stout on a bar top again.
Despite being one of the most important hops in the history of
beer, the precise origins of the Fuggle variety have been a puzzle for a long
time. Its genetic parentage has been a mystery, since it appeared to be
unrelated to other English hop varieties, and the long-accepted story of when
it was discovered, by whom, and when it was first launched turned out to be
dubious at best. Now research by Czech botanists, and a Kentish local
historian, has answered all the questions: it turns out that everything you
have read until now, in every book and article, on the year the Fuggle hop was
first launched has been wrong. In addition, the surprise answer to the exact
parentage of the Fuggle hop turns out to be … well, read on.
The Fuggle is, along with the Golding variety, one of the iconic English hops, loved by brewers across Britain for more than a century for the flavours it brings to traditional bitters and milds. Equally importantly, the Fuggle hop has been widely used in breeding programmes around the world, and its descendants include some of the best-loved hop varieties of the craft beer era, including Cascade, Willamette, Citra, Nelson Sauvin, and even the new German aroma varieties Mandarina Bavaria and Huell Melon.
The long-accepted version of the origins of the Fuggle variety
was laid down by John Percival, professor of botany at the South-Eastern
Agricultural College, Wye, near Maidstone, Kent, more than a century ago.
Writing in 1901 about the first Fuggle hop, Professor Percival said:
“The original plant was a casual seedling which appeared in the flower-garden of Mr George Stace of Horsmonden, Kent. The seed from which the plant arose was shaken out along with crumbs from the hop-picking dinner basket used by Mrs Stace, the seedling being noticed about the year 1861. The sets were afterwards introduced to the public by Mr Richard Fuggle of Brenchley, about the year 1875.”
Unfortunately, when researchers came to look at these claims in the 21st century, a number of problems were uncovered. Nobody by the name of George Stace could be found in the village of Horsmonden in or around the 1860s. Nor was it clear who of three different Richard Fuggles living in the area around that time was the one who had developed the hop that had taken his name: none of the three appears to fit the narrative very well. In addition, 1875 seemed too late for the hop’s introduction, as it was already being talked about in newspapers from that year as an established variety.
The first clue to a solution to the mystery came with the
discovery some five years ago that Professor Percival had got the wrong name
for the man in whose flower garden the first Fuggle hop was found. He was
properly, in full, George Stace Moore, which revelation enabled his exact home,
and his wife’s name, to be identified at last. George Stace Moore (known
locally as just George Stace) was 55 in 1861, he lived in a cottage with a
flower garden on the corner of The Heath, Horsmonden’s village green, that is
still there today, diagonally across the road from the Gun Inn (now the Gun
& Spitroast), and his wife, Mrs Stace, from whose dinner basket the seed
that became the Fuggle hop fell among the flowers, was called Sarah, née
Dadswell, aged 46.
The important missing parts of that tale were finally filled in earlier this year by a local historian born in Horsmonden called Lionel Burgess. Mr Burgess discovered an advertisement from a local newspaper, the Maidstone and Kentish Journal, in October 1871 announcing the sale the following month by auctioneer William Tompsett of 100,000 bedded sets of “The new hop, known as ‘Fuggle’s Goldings'” on behalf of “Messrs Fuggle.” This was the first commercial sale of the hop that had been found in George Stace Moore’s flower garden, and it took place four years earlier than indicated by Professor Percival. Later, at least, Fuggle hop sets sold for £1 for a thousand, suggesting the brothers would make £100, less auctioneer’s fees, from the sale, worth perhaps £8,500 today. (That means, of course, that November 2021, just two years away, will be the 150th anniversary of the launch of the Fuggle hop: if we can’t get “Fugglefest 150” organised to celebrate that, I will be deeply disappointed.)
Mr Burgess was also able to identify “Messrs
Fuggle”: Richard Fuggle junior of Old Hay farm, near Brenchley, and his
younger brothers, John (known as Jack) and Henry (known as Harry), who were
running their father’s former farm together. This identification also explains
another small puzzle: why George Stace Moore did not offer the hop found in his
flower garden to one of the several hop growers living closer to Horsmonden
Green than the Fuggles. George and his wife were Richard Fuggle junior’s uncle
and aunt. Richard junior was the son of Sarah’s sister, Ann Dadswell, who had
been working as a servant for John Fuggle, father of Richard senior, at Old Hay
since at least 1841, when she was 26 (it appears that she and Richard senior never
actually married, despite having three children together). The family link also
makes it likely—perhaps even probable—that the seed that fell out of Mrs Stace’s
dinner basket got in there while she was hop picking for her relatives at Old
Hay, which would put an even greater obligation on George to tell the Fuggles,
and nobody else, about the extra-special hop that was growing in his flower
The 100,000 Fuggle hop sets put up for sale in 1871 were
bedded out near the Maidstone Road Inn, Paddock Wood. The inn later went
through several changes of name, including the Railway Hotel and the Hop Pocket.
It was rebuilt in the 1950s, but closed in 2007 and later demolished. However,
planning permission currently exists for a new pub and an apartment block to be
built on the site. By coincidence, the site where Fuggles first went on sale is
only a short distance from the headquarters of English Hops Ltd, the hop
growers’ co-operative, which is based in Hop Pocket Lane, Paddocks Wood.
In 1874 the Fuggle brothers dissolved their partnership as
farmers at Old Hay, with an announcement appearing in newspapers that November.
Strangely, the fame of their hop variety had already crossed the Atlantic, with
several US newspapers, including in Vermont and Los Angeles, reporting in March
1874 that “Fuggle’s Goldings” were among “several” early
kinds of hop “which have sprung up lately” that English hop growers
were planting as they expanded the acreage given over to the crop. Some time between 1874 and 1878 Richard Fuggle moved from
Old Hay to Wittersham, a village in Kent around 20 or so miles to the south of
Brenchley. He died in 1913, being buried back in Brenchley, in the graveyard of
All Saints Church, where his grave can still be seen, alongside that of his
father and mother.
Jack Fuggle, born 1845, died in 1877, aged 32, and the
youngest brother, Harry, born 1846, died the following year, aged 31: both,
like their older brother, are buried at All Saints church, Brenchley. However,
it remains a puzzle why Richard Fuggle moved away from the village, and why he
became so obscure, despite the success of “Fuggle’s Goldings,” that Professor
Percival was unable to find him, and uncover more accurate facts about the origins
of the eponymous hop.
The hop variety the Fuggle brothers first sold in 1871
continued to be called by some growers “Fuggles [sic] Goldings” (and
often “Fuggle’s Early Goldings,” in recognition of their cropping a
week or two before other varieties) until at least 1934. In 1884, when the hop
was being advertised to growers in Worcestershire, in the English Midlands, the
second great hop-growing area in Britain, it was called “Fuggle’s Noted
Golding.” But at the start of the 20th century most commentators were
calling the variety simply the Fuggle or Fuggle’s hop, clearly feeling that it
was too different from Goldings to carry the Goldings name.
That early naming of the variety as “Fuggle’s
Golding”, incidentally, explains why the variety became known as Savinjski
Golding, or Styrian Golding, when it was grow in Slovenia. In 1886 a local
entrepreneur and activist, Janez Hausenbichler, from Savinja in what was then
Austro-Hungarian Slovenia, acquired some Fuggle hop sets, at a time when the
variety was still known in England as “Fuggle’s Golding.” As a result
local hop farmers believed they were growing a Goldings variety, and the
Fuggles grown in Slovenia became acclimatized under the name “Savinjski
Golding.” The hop turned out to fit the local climate and soil perfectly
and even in 1964 the Savinjski Golding was the only type of hop being grown in
the Savinja Valley. When Slovenian hops started being imported into Britain,
certainly by the late 1930s, the variety became known as the Styrian Golding,
most likely because Britons could not pronounce “Savinjski,” and
Styria was better known anyway.
Meanwhile, as growers and researchers teased out the relationships of hop varieties to one another, evidence that the Fuggles were wrong in naming their hop “Fuggle’s Golding variety”, and the Fuggle hop could not be related to the Golding hop looked to come with the discovery in 1949 by the Czech biochemist František Šorm of farnesene as a component of hop oils in some varieties of the hop plant, but not others: Fuggles contain 4 per cent or more of farnesene, Goldings have none, or at best a trace. Indeed, the hop oil make-up of the Fuggle suggested it was more similar to the German Tettnanger variety than any English hop.
However, early this year a genotype analysis was published by
two more Czech researchers, Josef Patzak and Alena Henychová of the Hop
Research Institute in Zatec, that showed the Fuggle brothers had been correct:
their hop WAS a member of the Golding family, close enough genetically for
either a mother-daughter or grandmother-granddaughter relationship. The Czech
researchers tested 109 cultivars from the world hop collection at Zatec, and
found that they fell naturally into three groups, “Continental
European,” including the Saaz, Tettnang, Spalt and Hallertau varieties, “Island
European,” including Fuggles and Goldings, and “North American.”
In particular, a dendrogram of genetic distances found the Fuggle hop sitting
very close to the Golding hop.
Dr Peter Darby, research director at Wye Hops Ltd, near
Canterbury in Kent, told me: “A few years back, it was suggested that
Fuggle was more related to the European varieties such as Tettnanger rather
than the British varieties of the time such as Golding. This was based mainly
on oil analysis data and the fact that Goldings have no farnesene in the oil
but it is a major part of the oil of Fuggle, being about four to eight per cent
of the oil content. Farnesene is also a major part of the oil of Tettnanger,
comprising up to 25 per cent of its oil. Furthermore, Fuggle was known to be
exactly the same genetically as Styrian Golding and Czech Green Saaz and there
was a little uncertainty about which was the chicken and which was the egg.
“However, several bits of information have since clarified
the situation. First, WGV [Whitbread Golding Variety] was also found to contain
small amounts of farnesene, with one to two percent content. But this argument
that other historic British varieties contained farnesene was always countered
because WGV has wilt resistance, which suggests strongly that it arose as a
seedling of a US male being grown at White’s Farm at Beltring. So its farnesene
could have come in from the US father. However, at Wye our analyses of Colegate
in our national collection, a variety selected in 1805, well before Fuggle,
indicated that it also contains five to eight percent farnesene in its oil.
Hence, farnesene does not necessarily imply non-British origin.
“But molecular methods have now confirmed Fuggle to be
closely related to Golding. Four methods of molecular markers were used; SSR
(simple sequence repeats), STS (sequence-tagged sites) and EST-SSR (expressed
sequence tag-simple sequence repeats) and SNP (single nucleotide
polymorphisms). The relationship is so close that Golding and Fuggle are likely
to be within a few generations of each other – mother and daughter or
granddaughter. So, the story of Fuggle arising from a seed at Brenchley is
perfectly plausible. It certainly will have arisen as a seedling where Goldings
were also being grown, which is not the Tettnang region.”
Today the Fuggle is struggling a little in the land where it originated: it has plunged from more than 75 per cent of all hop acreage in England at one time to less than ten per cent today, mainly because of the ravages of a disease called Verticillium Wilt, which first appeared in 1924, and to which it is badly susceptible. There is, as far as I know, only one farmer still growing the variety in Kent, Clive Edmed, of Hayle Farm, Horsmonden. (Update 12/12/19 – make that two six growers in Kent. The Fuggle hop is also grown by Hukins Hops at Haffenden Farm, St Michaels, Tenterden, and you will find the names of four more at the end of this piece.) But demand is encouraging more plantings of the variety: in 2014 the Hog’s Back brewery near Farnham in Surrey planted Fuggle hops for its own use, and in 2017 Puttenham Farm, in Seale Puttenham, also near Farnham, added to its existing 5.66 hectares of Fuggle hops another four hectares. The same year the first hops were harvested from two new yards planted with Fuggles at Orleton Court Farm in Worcestershire, 12 miles north-west of Worcester, specifically for the Yorkshire brewer Timothy Taylor. They were planted on land that had not grown hops before, and was thus free from Verticillium wilt, and which stands above the nearby River Teme, meaning it is flood-free and thus not in danger of being infected from land upstream. Richard Fuggle’s hop is looking good for a sesquicentenary celebration in 2021.
Supplier update: another hop supplier growing the Fuggle hop is Brook House Farm in Bromyard, Herefordshire.
Further supplier update: four more farms growing Fuggles in East Kent – Thomas Johnson, Elverton Farms Ltd, Harbledown, Canterbury Rickards Farms, Old Wives Lees, Canterbury S.C. & J.H. Berry, Selling, Faversham T G Redsell Ltd, Boughton-under-Blean, Faversham
I had a small Twitter spat yesterday with Duration Brewing after
they said they were installing a coolship and foeders at their brewery in
Norfolk. A wave of grumpy old mannishness washed across me, and I tweeted that
we don’t have coolships and foeders in Britain, we have coolers and vats. Why
use a foreign word when we have English words that mean the same thing?
Indeed, “coolship” is not even a “proper” foreign word, but a calque, or literal translation, of Kühlschiff or koelschip – in fact a classic example of what is called a paronymous calque, an incorrect “literal” translation, where a word in language A that appears similar to a word in language B is wrongly used to translate that similar word. Schiff in German means “ship”, yes, but also “vessel”, in the sense of “container” (as in “cooking vessel”, and “fermentation vessel”). So Kühlschiff and its Dutch equivalent, koelschip, should be literally translated as “cool-vessel”, not “coolship”.
However, we already have an excellent translation for Kühlschiff into English: “cooler”. What a German brewer calls a Kühlschiff, and a Dutch or Flemish brewer a koelschip, a British brewer calls a cooler. I have stood next to the koelschip at the top of the Halve Maan brewery in Bruges, and next to the cooler at the top of the Hook Norton brewery in the Cotswolds, and they are identical vessels. (Well, except that the Belgian one is as gloriously shiny as a very large new penny and the English one was dull, dirty and covered in turquoise-blue streaks, but apart from that …) A cooler in a brewery is exactly the same as een koelschip in een brouwerij or ein Kühlschiff in einer Brauerei.
As for “foeder”, let me quote from the Dutch Wikipedia entry
on that fine Belgian brewery, Rodenbach:
“Het aanvankelijk bovengistende bier rijpt in grote eikenhouten vaten (‘foeders’) en krijgt daar door gewenste infectie met de melkzuurbacterie een licht zurige smaak.”*
You don’t, I think, need to actually speak Dutch to understand that it’s saying THE NORMAL DUTCH WORD FOR THE SPECIALIST BREWERY TERM “FOEDERS” IS VATS. Sorry, got a bit shouty there. So even in Dutch, the words foeder and vat are synonyms. And since we already have the word vat in English, we don’t need to import the word foeder.
Duration Brewing (and as the brother of another Norfolk brewer I would like to wish them every good success in their new venture – I hope to try their beer soon) tried to defend themselves by insisting: “Vat means long-term storage, foeder means primary or long-term fermentation, which is what we plan to do. Cooler means cool your wort, much like both Germans and Brits did and still do, not a koelschip for inoculation like Belgian brewing.” Multiple problems there: while SOME Belgian brewers now use their koelschepen for wild yeast inoculation, ALL Belgian brewers once, at least, used their koelschepen for what they were designed to do, as coolers, for cooling their wort. And as we’ve seen, in its home language foeder is another, and more obscure word for “vat”. In addition we’ve talked about “fermentation vats” in English since at least the 18th century: English brewers built hundreds, probably thousands of vats for the long-term maturation of beer, mostly porter, during which maturation that beer underwent a slow secondary fermentation. So “vat” has been used in English for centuries as the word for a vessel in which beer undergoes a long-term fermentation. So has “tun – and another synonym for foeder in Dutch is ton, in English “tun”: the online Nederlanse Encyclopedie defines foeder as
Ton met een grote inhoud (200 tot 300 hectoliter) bestemd voor het opvoeden van de wijn.
Which translates as “Tun with a large capacity (200 to 300 hectolitres)
intended for maturing wine.”
Dutch also had the word foederzaal – zaal is a cognate of the English word “saloon”, so in the spirit of paronymous calquing that gave us “coolship” for koelschiff, we perhaps ought to translate that as “foeder saloon”. The definition of foederzaal in Dutch, according to the online Nederlanse Encyclopedie, is
een (grote) ruimte, speciaal ingericht om met meerdere foeders (houten lagertanks) te herbergen.
Which means “a (large) room, specially equipped to accommodate several vats (wooden lager tanks).” So clearly another synonym for foeder in Dutch is houten lagertank, “wooden lager tank”.
There are occasions when importing a new word into the English language is necessary because it perfectly covers a concept that English hasn’t previously had to have a word for, but now needs. The Norwegian dialect word kveik, for example, has speedily joined the English language brewers’ dictionary, because there isn’t a simple English equivalent for “Norwegian farmhouse yeast strains”. John “Beer Nut” Duffy suggests that coolship is a useful word because it means “vessel used to inoculate wort with wild yeast strains”, and is therefore performing a function that the word “cooler” doesn’t cover. I’m semi-demi swayed by that argument, but koelschip, from which “coolship” was calqued, doesn’t mean “vessel used to inoculate wort with wild yeast strains”, it means “cooler”. It’s just that some Belgian brewers used their coolers to inoculate their worts with wild yeast strains. So if the Belgians don’t need a separate word to distinguish between “cooler” and “vessel used to inoculate wort with wild yeast strains”, why do English-speakers? If the Belgians use the same word to describe something that can be used for two different functions, why can’t we?
(There’s an argument, incidentally, that no one has used against me, so I’ll use it myself: American brewers come from a tradition heavily influenced in the past by German brewing customs and practices – indeed, the major brewing organisations in the US conducted much of their business in German in the 19th century – and undoubtedly those many German brewers in the US translated Kühlschiff as “coolship”, so why should they not do the same now? That’s a good argument if you’re in the US. I’m not.)
As for foeder, the Dutch call foeders vaten (or tonnen, tuns), a foeder doesn’t perform any function that a vat (or tun) doesn’t and hasn’t: English will survive very happily calling a vat a vat. The giant vessel full of maturing porter that collapsed at the Meux brewery in 1814, killing eight people in the Great London Beer Flood, wasn’t a foeder, it was a vat. It’s not the Giant Foeder of Heidelberg (which actually, in Dutch, is called De Grote Heidelberg Tun [sic]…) As Ed Wray commented in the Twitter spat, it would be very odd to call the vessel at Greene King in Bury St Edmonds that is used to mature 5X a foeder. You may think me a curmudgeonly old Canute: I prefer to regard myself as a fighter against the unnecessary and pretentious expansion of technical vocabularies. We don’t need to call a vat a foeder, particularly when the Dutch themselves are happy to call a foeder a vat.
(Etymological aside: the German for vat is Faß, and as Fuß in German became “foot” in English, so Faß in German should have become “fat”. In Old English the word was “fat”, but it was replaced by “vat” in Modern English. Etymological dictionaries will tell you “vat” is from the West Country English dialectical voicing of “f” as “v”. It seems to me, however, much more likely that the replacement of Old English “fat” by “vat” is down to immigrant beer brewers from the Low Countries, who brought us not only hops but words such as firkin and gyle. In Dutch, Fuß became voet and Faß became vat. That Dutch vat then, I suggest, replaced its Old English equivalent, “fat”, when Flemings and other Lowlanders began working in English breweries from the 15th century onwards. So “vat” in English is already a Dutch word …)
Final note: why does “gyle” appear in the headline
at the top? For several hundred years the Anglo-Irish word for “adding
some fresh still-fermenting wort to your beer to give it extra
carbonation” was “gyling”. As that practice died out, in the
1960s in Ireland, long before in Britain, so the word – originally Dutch, as it
happens, and doubtless imported because we didn’t have an equivalent word in
English – disappeared. When the practice reappeared, it came in via the US
under the name “krausening”, from a German word meaning, roughly,
“fizzy”. I’d like to see brewers in these islands (nod to Irish
sensibilities in difficult times there) reject “krausening” for
*But if you don’t speak Dutch and can’t work it out, it says: “The initially fermented beer matures in large oak vats (‘foeders’) and gets a slightly sour taste due to the desired infection with the lactic acid bacterium.”
Rule number one in the history writing biz is: don’t just
copy-and-paste stuff off the internet (or from anywhere else), because the
chances are high that what you have copied is wrong, and some fecker (me, in
this case) will come along and hold you up to ridicule and abuse.
I’m talking about you, today, Carlsberg, for some egregious copying-and-pasting with no original research at all on your corporate website, which claims, vis-à-vis the Lion brewery in Sri Lanka, a fair slice of which is owned by the Danes, that
“The Ceylon Brewery was the first brewery in Sri Lanka. It was established in 1881 by Sir Samuel Backer as a cottage industry, catering for the British colonial tea plantations in the hill country retreat of Nuwara Eliya. With its cool climate and natural spring water, Nuwara Eilya was the ideal location for a brewery. It acquired limited liability company status in 1911.”
Let us deconstruct this nonsense. The man they are talking about as the alleged founder of the Ceylon Brewery was actually Samuel Baker, not Backer. He started a small brewery at the hill station of Nuwara Eliya, high in the mountains of what was then Ceylon, around 1849/50, which closed a few years later. It was not built to cater for tea plantations, because there were none in Ceylon at that time: the first tea field on the island was only planted in 1867. Baker’s brewery was nothing to do with the brewery that opened 26 years after he left Nuwara Eliya. That brewery did not rely on spring water, but a stream that flowed down through the brewery site from the Lover’s Leap waterfall nearby. The brewery founded in 1881, which was, of course, the second on the island, after Baker’s, became a limited company in 1910.
Mind, even at five errors in four sentences, that’s not the worst pile of nonsense on the internet about what is now the Lion Brewery, famous today for an award-winning strong stout that is one of the last links with British colonial brewing in Southern Asia. The Lion Brewery’s own website is full of rubbish (and bizarre random capitalisation) as well:
“It is in 1860 that our story Begins. British Planter Sir Samuel Baker decided to establish a home brewery in the cool climes of Nuwara Eliya, although it was in 1881 that the facet of commercial brewing is evidenced, managed by Messrs Bremer and Pa Bavary. Ownership changed in 1884 to Murrey Brewery Company Rawalpindi, who later sold out to Ceylon Brewery, helmed by the pragmatic J B Hampson and later G W Lindsay White, who founded The Ceylon Brewery Limited in 1911.”
At least that doesn’t claim that Baker actually founded the concern that became the Ceylon Brewery Ltd, but there are still some very odd errors there. Baker had left Ceylon for Britain in 1855 (and he wasn’t knighted until 1866), so our story doesn’t begin in 1860 at all. “Pa Bavary” is a bizarre mangling: this was actually a young Belgian brewer and chemist called Auguste de Bavay. The brewery he started with a Nuwara Eliya planter named Mountsteven Bremer in 1881 suffered from a serious lack of capital, and collapsed early in 1884, and it was subsequently bought by the Murree Brewery Company (not Murrey) of Ghora Gali, 30 miles from Rawalpindi. (De Bavay left Ceylon in March 1884 to take up a position as brewer with T & A Aitken’s Victoria Parade brewery in Melbourne, Australia. He went on to have an extremely successful career as a brewer, chemist and yeast scientist, building on the work of Emil Christian Hansen at the Carlsberg brewery in Copenhagen to develop the first pure yeast used commercially in Australia, and joined Foster’s brewery in Melbourne as chief brewer in 1894, later acting as a consultant for, among others, the Swan Brewery in Perth and the Cascade brewery in Tasmania. He also had success in areas as diverse as bacteriology, metallurgy and paper making.)
The Murree Brewery Company ran the brewery in Nuwara Eliya for
nine years, before pulling out, and the concern was acquired around April 1893 by
a consortium led by the former transport agent for the business, an Irishman
called George William Lindsay White, who was managing director of the Ceylon
Brewery for nearly 30 years until a year or so before his death aged 77 in 1922.
Under Lindsay White the Ceylon Brewery became a limited company in 1910. I have
no idea how “the pragmatic J B Hampson” got
into the story so early: John Bagshawe Hampson was a child, at best, when
Lindsay White died. He was a student brewer at Samuel Smith’s in Tadcaster in
1939, and had moved to the Ceylon Brewery by 1950 when the first of his three
children was born and christened in Nuwara Eliya. Hampson was manager at the
brewery until 1963, when he returned to England to work for Porter-Lancastrian.
So that’s six errors by the Lion brewery, five new and one repeated.
I used to slag off Wikipedia for its multiple errors, but the general level of accuracy has improved greatly over the past ten or 12 years. However, the entry on the Lion Brewery repeats most of the inaccuracies on the Carlsberg and Lion websites and adds some extra, just for you:
“The Ceylon Brewery was the first brewery established in Sri Lanka. It was established in 1849 by Sir Samuel Baker (1821–93) as a cottage industry, catering for the British colonial tea plantations in the hill country retreat of Nuwara Eliya. Nuwara Eliya was the ideal location for a brewery, with its cool climate and natural spring water. It wasn’t however until 1881 that it began brewing on a commercial basis, with the Ceylon Brewery Company, managed by Messrs Bremer and Pa Bavary. In 1884 the brewery was taken over by the Mohan Meakin Brewery of India, who later sold out to Ceylon Brewery, operated by John Bagshawe Hampson. In 1911 the brewery was acquired by G.W. Lindsay White and received limited liability company status, as the Ceylon Brewery Limited.”
That’s ten errors, including the Murree Brewery Company inaccurately and anachronistically being called “Mohan Meakin”: not only did the name Mohan Meakin not exist until the 1960s, but the Murree Brewery Company was always (and remains) a separate concern from the constituents of what became Mohan Meakin. Anyone digging into the history of brewing in India ought to know that. I also struggle to understand how anyone could look at “Pa Bavary” and not think: “Hang on, that can’t be right.” This is really not at all difficult to research: the British Library can give you web access to scanned, OCR’d copies of the Ceylon Observer, where you can speedily find the facts about De Bavay, Bremer, the Murree Brewery Company and the rest. Some trifling online detectiving, and gaps in the narrative, such as De Bavay’s and Bremer’s first names, can be filled in. It took me a morning.
Of course, the appearance of “Pa Bavary” in the
Wikipedia entry means this invented individual now pops up in a host of
different places. “Rewrite the Wikipedia entry!” you cry – thanks,
but I don’t have the time right now to mess with Wikipedia’s templates, only to
have some clown revert it later because it’s “original research”. I
am also reluctant to help Wikipedia while it maintains its indefensible stance
that it knows better than the Manners family how to spell the title of the
Marquis of Granby: while “Marquess” is the spelling preferred by many
families in Britain who use that title, the Manners family is one of those that
uses the spelling “Marquis” in the courtesy title of the Duke of
Rutland’s eldest son. Wikipedia, however, has decreed that its style for the
title is “Marquess”, and in the face of all the evidence insists on
calling the man who gave his name to so many pubs the “Marquess of
Granby”. It’s rich when a pub sign is more accurate than an on-line
I was thinking of ignoring the “what does sessionable
mean” debate, even through I was dragged into it by my ear by having my
research quoted. Then I saw a tweet yesterday from someone talking about “a sessionable 5.5 per cent smoked oatmeal stout”,
and the world swam and dissolved before me as I plunged screaming and twisting
into a hellish, tormented pit of dark despair.
Let me make this as clear as I can. This is an egregious and
unforgivable total failure to understand what the expression “sessionable”
means, is meant to mean, and was coined for. A 5.5 per cent alcohol beer is
not, and cannot be, “sessionable”. A smoked oatmeal stout, while I am
sure it can be lovely, is not and cannot be “sessionable”. Nobody
ever spent all evening drinking four or five, or six, pints of smoked oatmeal
The rant you are now reading springs less from that particular beer review than a piece this week by the British beer writer Lily Waite on the American website Vinepair headlined “It’s Impossible to Define ‘Sessionable’ in Craft Beer”. I don’t think Lily wrote the headline, which looks to go further than her article does, but her piece, which references my research back in 2011 into the origins of the term “session beer”, raises a number of potential difficulties around a definition of the term “sessionable”, not least the existence now of beers called “session barley wine” with eight per cent alcohol and 75 IBUs, and “session double IPA“, again at eight per cent abv.
I try not to
be prescriptivist about language, but for me “sessionable” is a very
useful word with, actually, yes, a precise meaning, and if people are going to
start being stupid with it by releasing something called a “session barley
wine” or “session double IPA”, even as a “joke”, then
we are in great danger of destroying an important descriptor, and losing an easy
way of summing up one of the fundamentals of British pub culture.
It’s entirely possible to define “sessionable”, but only if
you understand what the expression was coined to describe, which many American
beer drinkers – and brewers – apparently do not. A large part of the problem is that the word springs from a very British
practice, the “session”, and Americans don’t really understand what
the “session” is about. Britons and Americans are fooled into
thinking that, because they speak the same language (more or less) and drink
the same sorts of beers (more or less) in places that are called
“bars” (even if the British “bar” is actually a room in a
pub, rather than the descriptor for the whole establishment), then their out-of-home
drinking cultures are entirely similar and compatible. They’re not. “Sessionable”
means “beer capable of sustaining a session”, and “session”
means “extended period of three or four hours drinking pints and engaging
in conversation with friends”. That is why the fundamental definition of a
session beer has to be that it has a comparatively low gravity and is comparatively
unobtrusive. Americans, in my experience, do not generally spend entire
evenings in one bar drinking pints. (See also the bizarrely tiny glasses used
at American beer festivals.)
Another problem is that
people are confusing “sessionable” with “drinkable”. The
two are very much not the same. An eight per cent barley wine may well be
“drinkable”, in the sense of that great beer-reviewer’s cliché,
“dangerously drinkable”, that is, it slides away down the throat very
easily. But “sessionable” means “you can drink several and still
walk out the door without bumping into the frame.” An eight per cent
barley wine is therefore NOT “sessionable”.
Lily Waite’s piece is specifically looking at “sessionability” in the context of terms such as “session IPA”, and the craft appropriation of a term than applies much more to mainstream, non-craft beer drinking in the UK, and beers such as Carling, Fosters and the like. She interviewed some people with – ahh – interesting takes on sessionability, including James Rylance who helped create the now highly popular Neck Oil, Beavertown Brewery’s “session IPA”, which comes in at 4.3 per cent abv, and “masses of hop additions during the whirlpool and a huge dose of dry hops” (I quote from the brewery’s website). I’ve never tried a session on Neck Oil, but while 4.3 per cent is just on the edge of sessionability, I’m not sure about “”masses of hop additions”, even ignoring ” a huge dose of dry hops”. The classic British session beers are milds and light bitters, which generally have low hop rates. High hop rates are, I suggest, the antithesis of sessionability: too many hops, and you really can’t drink more than a couple of pints without hop overload.
James Rylance told Lily Waite that sessionability was less
about abv than “balance”, and insisted: “I think ‘sessionable’ is a
beer that can be drunk repeatedly, multiple times, in its correct volume.
There’s a lot of Belgian beers that are super sessionable, like Saison Dupont
at 6-point-something percent — that’s sessionable, but I’m just not drinking a
pint of it.” No, sorry, couldn’t disagree more. You’re confusing
“sessionable” with “drinkable”. You might be able to drink
several small Duponts, I’m sure, lovely beer, and one is certainly not enough, but
a true session beer has to be gulped in pints, not sipped. And probably I drink
too fast, but after a four-hour session, I wouldn’t even be able to find the
bar if I were drinking something that was 6.5 per cent. So no, Saison Dupont is
NOT “sessionable” either.
I can’t agree, either, with another of Lily Waite’s interviewees, Chris Hannaway of the London-based alcohol-free beer venture Infinite Session (see what he did there?), which launched last year with a 0.5 per cent pale ale brewed at Sambrooks in Battersea. ” “A ‘session’ is no longer about everyone ordering the same 4 to 5 per cent lager rounds for everyone in the group,” he says – but it never was. It was about people drinking 3.2 per cent to 4.3 per cent milds, bitters or lagers, depending on what they wanted, and drinking them all night long.
So: what’s the definition of “sessionable” and does it apply to craft beer? Sessionable means a beer you can drink over an extended period without getting too drunk and without growing tired of it and wanting something else. And yes, clearly that can apply as much to craft beer as it does to macro, mass-market beer. (Indeed, personally I find mass-market beers entirely unsessionable because they bore me after half a pint. Dull is not sessionable either.) A sessionable craft beer is going to be one that is not too strong, and not too challenging in terms of massive hop flavours or other flavour attributes such as roastiness, sourness or whatever. There – not impossible at all.