An Imperial Stout cocktail and other titbits

I used to think Americans said “tidbit” because of some squeamishness over the word “tit”, but in fact “tidbit” is the older or original version, and it is the British who have been the lexical corrupters. (And in any case, if you believe the Oxford English Dictionary, which I’m not sure I do, “tit = breast” has only been in use since the 1920s.)

'Imperial double stout porter' from 1822

Anyway, here are some tidbits/titbits that don’t individually make up a full blog post on their own, including an excellent antedating for “Barclay, Perkins and Co’s imperial double stout porter, from the butt, ditto in bottle” from 1822 in the wonderfully named Hobart Town Gazette and Van Diemen’s Land Advertiser on Saturday December 21, 1822. So now we know that a version of Imperial Stout, brewed by Barclay Perkins, was being exported as far away as Tasmania in the early 1820s.

I also tripped over a recipe for a beer cocktail including Russian Stout which, according to the Daily Express in February 1941, used to be served at Romano’s in the Strand, a once-famous London theatreland restaurant that opened in the 1870s on the site of what is now Stanley Gibbons’s stamp-collectors’ shop (or is that Stanley Stamp’s gibbon-collectors’ shop?), and where, it is claimed, Edwardian gallants really did drink champagne from a beautiful chorus girl’s shoe. If fizz flavoured with female foot was not to your taste, then Bendi, Romano’s head cellarman, had a favourite concoction he called “The Three Angels” – a mixture of Russian Stout, Bass No 1 barley wine and “ordinary bottled beer”, this last ingredient, I’m guessing, being pale ale, which must have given Three Angels an abv of about 8 per cent. King Edward VII, who was a regular patron at Romano’s when he was Prince of Wales, “loved a beaker of it”, according to the Express. Probably tasted better out of a chorus girl’s shoe than champagne, too. It was a batch of Bass No 1, of course, that Tedward helped brew when he visited Bass in 1902, and which was bottled as King’s Ale.

Talking of early antedates, I also just found a reference to “Ale – Bass’ East India Pale” in an advertisement in the Sydney Herald of Monday August 3 1835, which is only seven months after the first known appearance of the expression India Pale Ale, in an advert for the London brewer Hodgson and shows that IPA was being used in connection with Burton-brewed beer about as early as it was anywhere.

'Double IPA' in 1868 Scotland

On a similar subject, do you think Double IPA is a modern American invention? Nah – the Scots were there first, more than 140 years ago. Here’s an ad from the Edinburgh Courant for “Extra Hopped India Beer”, selling for 25 per cent more than the ordinary India Pale Beer. (Although those prices look a bit wrong – the Usher’s IPA is all right, but the others only make sense if they were the prices per nine-gallon cask, not for a 16-gallon one, which in any case is an Irish cask size, not a British one.)

I also found another reference to what I suspect was a common practice in India: here’s an extract from an article called “A Twelvemonth in Calcutta” from Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal on Saturday August 3 1850:

Arthur returned alone to luncheon, or tiffin as we must call it here – a very substantial repast served in the dining room. We had cold meats, fowl very well dressed in a Burdwan stew, some native vegetables, not very good, several dishes of fruit, none of them agreeable to an unpractised taste, wine, and that delightful light bitter beer, cold as ice could make it, the most refreshing of all drinks in this climate.

Ice-cold IPA – I’ve drunk Worthington White Shield from the fridge, and it DOES work very well in a hot climate, though the cold really brings out the toffee-malty side of the beer. (Burdwan, incidentally, is a city in West Bengal: don’t know why it should be famous for stew.)

I’m working myself up to a post on very long-aged beer in cask, but here’s a line I found fascinating from the report of the Home Office committee on beer materials in February 1897. Henry W Wells, director of the Wallingford Brewery in Berkshire, was giving evidence, and being asked about his beer range:

You brew I suppose more than one class of beer? Yes. And you use the best barley for one class of beer? Yes, for what we call the stock bitter ales, that have to keep for 6 or 12 months.

None of this stuff about hoppy beers being best served fresh: they aged their beers in Victorian Britain, and not just the less-hoppy old ales and stouts but the stronger bitters too, with all that must have meant in terms of Brettanomyces flavours, oxidation and the rest. There’s a style of beer – well-aged well-hopped bitter – that has vanished completely.

5 thoughts on “An Imperial Stout cocktail and other titbits

  1. Just last night at a local bar (in Toronto), I had a beer that was a combination of four Ontario-made craft beers. One was an Imperial Stout, one was a black ale, I think a pale ale was the third and I can’t recall the fourth, but overall quite similar in concept to this circa-1940 blend. It was placed for a time in an ex-Bourbon barrel, and had a vanilla, tannic aftertaste that was pleasing. Quite strong too, I wasn’t told the ABV but I’d guess around 7%. Reall this 1940 mix was a luxury Black Ale – plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.


  2. Here is more information on the Ontario blended beer I mentioned, called Pan-Ontario Beer. It is actually 5 beers blended, Wellington County Imperial Stout, a black IPA IPA (the Netherworld), and three taste-rich pale ales. After two weeks in the barrel, it smoothed out quite a bit from the original description. I’d guess the blended flavour was not all that different from The Three Angels:

  3. Very late to this particular party…

    While doing some of my own research on IPA I came across an earlier mention of “double-hopped India Pale Beer” from 1842 ( 05 April 1842 , Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser , Cumbria, England)

    It seems the hop craze started in Cumbria? 🙂

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