IPA: Incredibly Poor Article

The excuse given for Wikipedia is that its articles may not be the best, but they provide a good leaping-off point for finding out more. That’s not true of the Wikipedia entry on India Pale Ale, however, which is so completely, uselessly wrong as to be actively dangerous: the mistakes in it are going to be repeated by other writers too lazy to do their own research, and they are likely to take years to stamp out.

Just to list a few of the worst errors: there was NO real difficulty exporting beer to the East: contemporary evidence shows everything from small beer to porter surviving the journey. There were NO “tremendous efforts” by British brewers to solve this non-existent problem (the article fails to recognise that the Indian market was tiny, at 9,000 barrels a year in 1800). There is NO evidence George Hodgson, a small-time porter brewer, actually invented IPA, or deliberately designed a recipe for a beer to survive the journey to India. (The writer seems unaware that brewers had been making ales that would last at least a couple of years in cask for more than a century before Hodgson started brewing) There is NO evidence India was a “very tempting” market for British brewers before the 1820s: if it had been, a small brewer such as Hodgson would not have been able to build up a substantial slice of the trade.

The beer exported to Russia was NOT called “Imperial Pale Ale”, it was either Burton Ale if it was pale ale from Burton upon Trent, or Imperial Stout if it was a strong stout from London. It is NOT true that “The national IPA was less hopped compared to the export version, in order to speed up the fermentation” – by “national” IPA (is this an Indian English expression?) I assume the writer means IPA sold in Britain. If this was less-hopped, it was to speed up maturation, not fermentation.

Oh, and the East Indiamen ships did NOT travel “along the coast of Africa” on their way to India, they went via Madeira, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and St Helena to get round the Cape, and then up through the Mozambique Channel.

I’ve put another myth-buster up on the “Frequently Addled Quotations” covering IPA, and outlining what I believe is the correct version of history: that IPA developed out of the strong, well-hopped stock ales, designed to last a year or two in cask before being drunk, that British brewers were already making before entrepreneurial ship’s captains decided to make a few bob taking beer out to sell in India. The stock ale went through a speeded-up maturation on the journey, and arrived out East in prime condition.

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Lessons from blogging 1: most people can’t spell Allsopp

It’s been a year since I started beer blogging, and the big lesson I have learnt is this: a majority of the population thinks Kirstie Allsopp’s surname has only got one ‘p’ in it.

One of the coolest wrinkles available from good blogging software is the ability to see what words people have put into search engines in order to be guided to your pages.

Kirstie Allsopp, the presenter of the TV property programme Location, Location, Location, was mentioned in a piece I wrote about people descended from brewers. Ms Allsopp is a direct descendant of the family that ran one of the biggest pale ale breweries in Burton upon Trent.

Since that post, searching for Kirstie has been the sixth most popular reason for people using Google and the like to wash up on the beach at the Zythophile. But two thirds of the people looking for information on the lady think her name is Allsop, with one ‘p’, although they must have read her name to know who she is. What does this say about the intelligence of people who watch TV property programmes? Don’t email me: just because I ask the question doesn’t mean I don’t know the answer.

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Three-threads get more unravelled

James Scarlett, the world’s greatest expert on Scottish tartans, who died in May this year aged 87, once said: “I never believe anything I see in print, even though I wrote it myself.” I know how he feels. James Sumner, another historian, who knows, probably, more about the origins of porter than anyone else, has been in touch to point out that in my piece on three-threads, the drink that was claimed to be one of the early 18th century precursors to porter, I made one of the worst mistakes anybody with any pretensions to being a historian can perpetrate: I failed to go back to the original sources.

The problem was that I was contrasting the famous letter that appeared in the London Chronicle in November 1760 from “Obadiah Poundage” that gives the earliest details of porter’s origins with the version of Poundage’s narrative that appeared soon after in The Gentleman’s Magazine, and quoting from the copy of the London Chronicle letter that appears in HS Corran’s A History of Brewing. The point I was making is that the Gentleman’s Magazine version mention’s three-threads, whereas the version quoted by Corran doesn’t.

But Dr Sumner, who is lecturer in history of technology at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester, did what I should have done and went and read the London Chronicle. There he discovered, the version Corran quotes isn’t the one that actually appears in the Chronicle. In fact, the Chronicle‘s version does mention three-threads, whereas Corran’s version substitutes the words “ale, mild beer and stale”.

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Takeover bid for London’s biggest brewer

It’s a little-known fact that the biggest brewer in London is Anheuser-Busch. Far more people have seen the brewery than know it’s run by A-B: it’s right by the finishing line on the Thames at Mortlake for the annual Oxford versus Cambridge University Boat Race, one of the televised highlights of the British sporting year.

A-B acquired a lease on the brewery in 1995, four years after its previous owner, Grand Metropolitan, had sold off all its brewing assets after the government’s Beer Orders of 1989 saw all Britain’s then big brewers begin to split brewing from pub owning.

The site already brewed, under licence, all the Budweiser sold in the UK, where the beer is one of the leading premium bottled/canned lagers, with something like three per cent of the UK beer market, and Anheuser-Busch obviously decided it was worth running its own production facility. While the other Grand Met breweries went to Courage, therefore, which was then bought by Scottish & Newcastle in 1995, Mortlake flew the A-B flag, albeit leased from S&N.

Grand Met had inherited the Mortlake brewery when it took over Watney Mann in 1972, and Watney’s had acquired it more than 80 years earlier, in 1888. The brewery is sometimes said to descend from the monastery brewhouse at the Mortlake Manor House, owned by the Archbishops of Canterbury, and to date back to the 15th century. However commercial brewing on the site does not appear to have started until some time after the Manor House was pulled down in the 18th century.

The brewery that Watney’s acquired had developed out of two separate small breweries both mentioned in 1765. These were amalgamated in 1811, and after several owners had come and gone the business was being run in the mid-1850s by Charles John Phillips and James Wigan.

Under Phillips and Wigan the brewery prospered, gaining a high reputation for its bitter ales, and it was extended and rebuilt in the late 1860s: a roundel with the initials “P” and “W” can still be seen on the high brick wall that faces Mortlake High Street. Wigan left the partnership in 1877, and the Phillips family continued to run the brewery until Charles John Phillips retired in 1889.

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Why Tony Naylor is being a prat

If you’re going to build a rant, the foundation needs to be dug out of solid, properly researched facts. Which is why Tony Naylor is being a prat.

I’m very sorry to diss a fellow beer writer and freelance journalist, especially when he was writing on the Guardian‘s drinks blog with such excellent intentions – to promote good, properly brewed lager.

However, while plugging the pleasures of pils, Tony attempted a big dump all over real ale, insisting, with no evidence at all:

For years now, perries, ciders, real ales and stouts (and many other things which hardly anybody in the real world actually drinks) have received acres of press and undue prominence in gastropubs and good restaurants. If food literate folk enjoy a pint at all, it is a pint of real ale and not lager.

Tony – that’s just crap, I’m sorry. For years now, people in this country who have talked about beer and food pairings have talked about lager on an equal footing with ale. To pull one example off my shelves, Roger Protz’s The Taste of Beer, from 1998, has a section on food and beer pairings which includes Munich Dunkel, Viennese amber lager, Czech Pilsener, Bock beer and wheat beer. Indeed, you can go back to 1956 – long before Mr Naylor was born, when lager was less than two per cent of beer sales in Britain – and Andrew Campbell’s The Book of Beer, and find lager given as a suitable pairing with dishes such as roast pork, veal and chicken, and creamier, sweeter cheeses.

Tony then goes on to insist:

no-one … stands up for the joys of lager. Is it snobbery? Plain ignorance? Or some kind of evil, beardy, bitter-drinking conspiracy?

Well, no one stands up for lager except Pete Brown or Roger Protz or Ron Pattinson or me, among a horde of others, some bearded, all bitter drinkers as well as lager drinkers. Indeed, the latest edition of the Guild of Beer Writers’ newsletter has just hit my doormat, and on the back page is a piece about how Thornbridge Brewery in Derbyshire is going to be distributing the highly regarded unpasteurised lagers made by its near-neighbour, the Taddington brewery: beardy bitter drinkers promote real lager horror..

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Do we need new glasses?

I’m not sure it’s altogether good to be the person whose name pops up when the question is asked: “Who can we get to burble on for 20 minutes about the history of beer glasses?”, but at least it got me drinking at someone else’s expense in the Met Bar in Old Park Lane, where the manager boasts that every top celebrity worth naming has parked their A-list posterior on his surprisingly shabby red leather banquettes. (And drinking at someone else’s expense is definitely what you want to be doing at the Met, when a small bottle of Meantime pale ale, £1.50 or so in Waitrose, is £8 – that’s not quite £14 a pint.)

My invitation to the Met Bar was to add a little history to a tasting organised by Spiegelau, the Austrian glassware company, to promote their new range of beer glasses.

Each of the glasses has been designed so that, in theory, it brings out the best in a particular beer style, or range of styles. The 500ml, slightly waisted, wide-mouthed glass is best, according to Georg Riedel, president of Spiegelau, for strong English ales and helles-style lagers. The tall wheat beer glass is made for – well, you can work that out. A stemmed tulip-shaped glass has been designed for Pilsner-style lagers, and is also good for Belgian ales, Spiegelau says.

But does the shape of the glass really make a difference? Yes, I was surprised to find it most definitely does, and not just to the aroma. Of the four beers at the tasting, the biggest change from glass to glass was with the Innis & Gunn, the oak-aged beer from Scotland. The “wheat” glass accentuated the vanilla/oaky elements in the beer, the “pilsner” glass in contrast brought the toffee/caramel notes right up front, but the “ale” glass, while delivering a distinctly thinner mouthfeel, allowed much more of the complexity in the beer to come through.

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Binge drinking: a brief history

I love etymology. To binge, the Oxford English Dictionary reveals, was originally a Lincolnshire (and, it implies, East Midlands generally) dialect word meaning “to soak (a wooden vessel)”.

The metaphorical extension of meaning from soaking wood to soaking yourself was an easy journey, and by 1854 a book called A Glossary of Northamptonshire Words had recorded this figurative use for the word: “A man goes to the alehouse to get a good binge, or to binge himself.”

A dictionary of slang published in 1889 said of “binge” that it was used at Oxford to mean “a big drinking bout”. By the early 20th century the word was being used for parties at which large amounts of drink were consumed, with no particular sense that there was anything to criticise: the OED has a quote from 1922: “This is only a binge . . . just a jolly old bachelor-party.”

The word also took on secondary meanings, “to encourage”, and “to liven up”, as in a quote from the children’s novel National Velvet, published in 1935: “The information having been looked over and binged up here and toned down there . . . Reuter sent round the world the following message . . .”

It was probably from this sense of “livened up” that General (later Field Marshal Lord) Montgomery used to ask his officers in the Second World War: “Are you 100 per cent full of binge?”, according to The Times in 1942. Monty meant, apparently, were they full of spirit – zing – and confidence in their own ability and fitness, rather than whisky-ed up to the hairline. It was not a use that caught on.

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