Bristol-fashion Guinness and the roast barley question

Where and when was the first Guinness brewery opened in England? If you answered “Park Royal, 1936”, whoops, the loud noises and flashing lights have gone off, that’s the WRONG answer, by more than 100 miles and just under 100 years.

In 1838 John Grattan Guinness junior had been sacked from the brewery business in Dublin started by his grandfather for drunkenness and “mixing with degraded society”. His uncle, Arthur Guinness II bought him a brewery in Bristol to try to give him another chance. Unfortunately John Grattan Guinness does not seem to have been a businessman, and the Bristol brewery went under in 1845. Much later, after he fell into poverty, John G tried ungratefully and unsuccessfully to sue his cousin Benjamin Guinness for wrongful dismissal from the Dublin brewery.

While John G was still running the brewery in Bristol, however, he was evidently visited by the brewer and writer George Stewart Amsinck, who was shown several different brews, all apparently based on St James’s Gate originals. Amsinck eventually printed the recipes for the beers as part of Practical Brewings, a manual of 50 different brewings published in 1868.

Their interest comes from their being the closest we have to genuine Dublin Guinness recipes of the late 1830s, showing us brewing methods and, in particular ingredients and proportions of different grain types.

Guinness had been among the first porter brewers to seize upon Daniel Wheeler’s “patent” malt for colouring porters and stouts when it appeared in 1819. This was the first properly legal beer colouring (because tax had been paid on the malt before it was roasted into Stygianity) to let brewers make really black beers, which is what the public expected in their porters and stouts, while using almost entirely pale malt, which gave a much better extract of fermentable sugars than the high-dried and “blown” malts the original porter brewers had used. An advertisement for Plunkett Brothers, the Dublin makers of patent malt, dated 1873 quotes a letter from Guinness saying the St James’s Gate brewery had used its products for “over fifty years” – in other words, since at least the very early 1820s.

The recipes Amsinck recorded at John G Guinness’s Bristol brewery included a Dublin stout of 1096 OG, using 96.8 per cent new pale Suffolk malt and 3.2 per cent “black” (that is, roast) malt; a Country Porter (the name Guinness at St James’s Gate gave to the beer delivered outside Dublin) of 1067 OG, brewed with the same ratio of black and pale malts; and a Town Porter (the name Guinness gave to the beer brewed for sale in Dublin) of 1061 OG, ditto for the grain bill but with half the hops of the Country Porter. This last, Town beer was kept for only a day after fermentation was finished, before being mixed with 10 per cent fresh wort (a technique called gyling) and put out into the trade for consumption within a fortnight, making it truly a mild porter, in the proper sense of mild as fresh beer made for quick consumption.

The particular point to note today about all these beers is that they used roasted malt, not the roasted barley that commentators such as Roger Bergen, writing in Brewing Techniques in November 1993 say is “critical” to the Guinness palate. In fact Guinness could not have used roasted barley when John G was working there, because it was illegal: no grains could go into the brewing of beer that had not been malted, and paid the malt tax.

That only changed with the passing of the Free Mash Tun Act of 1880. But there seems to have been no rush by Guinness to use (cheaper) roasted barley in place of roasted malt. The experts seem to have been against the idea: Henry Stopes, writing in his 600-page bible Malt and Malting, published in 1885, insisted that roasted barley did not give as permanent a colour as roasted malt, and “the flavour is also very inferior; and the aroma can bear no comparison.”

So when, as Ron Pattinson has been asking, did the roasted malt change to roasted barley? Alfred Barnard, when he visited St James’s Gate in 1889, still found the brewery using “patent” malt. But opinion on roasted barley was shifting away from Henry Stopes’s dismissive view: Alfred Henry Allen wrote in Allen’s Commercial Organic Analysis in 1912 that: “Roasted barley is now largely taking the place of roasted malt, the latter being used mostly in the brewing of export stouts.”

All the same, Guinness looks to have held on for a couple of decades more. A guidebook for visitors to the St James’s Gate brewery published in 1928 said: “The chief difference between Ales and Stout are … in the use of roasted malt, which imparts both colour and flavour to the stout.” In the 1939 edition, however, the copy had changed to read “… the use of roasted malt, or barley” (my emphasis). It looks, therefore, as if Guinness began using roasted barley only in the 10 years between 1928 and 1938.

By now, it appears roasted barley was replacing roasted malt generally: Herbert Lloyd Hind’s Brewing: Science and Practice, published in 1938, says: “There are a number of distinct types of stout and porter, for which different blends of materials are used. On the one hand, are the stouts brewed from malt only, or from malt and roasted barley, On the other are the sweeter stouts, for which a fairly high percentage of sugar is employed … Roasted barley gives a drier flavour than roasted malt and is preferred by many.”

There is, I believe, a 1932 edition of the Guinness guidebook, which I don’t have, which may narrow this timespan down. The 1952 edition repeats the words of the 1939 one, but the 1955 edition has an additional significant change. Under “malting” a sentence has been added which reads: “Some of the barley is roasted before being used for making Stout, a little is now used in the form of barley flakes [my emphasis, again], but much the greater part still goes through the traditional malting process.”

So: it looks like Guinness only started using roasted barley to make “Irish stout” in the late 1920s or 1930s, and began using flaked barley in the early 1950s. Expert commentary suggests roasted malt Guinness would have tasted very different from roasted barley Guinness – did anybody notice?

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8 thoughts on “Bristol-fashion Guinness and the roast barley question

  1. On the subject of Guinness gravities in the early 19th century, David Hughes’ “A Pint of Guinness Please” has some details of the Dublin-brewed beers:

    Town Porter
    ———–
    1801-13 1063-1065
    1814-16 1067.5-1070
    1817-20 1063-1063.5
    1824 1064
    1840 1063
    1860 1063
    1867 1063
    1881 1057
    1895-1914 1057

    ES or DS
    ——–
    1824 1082
    1840 1082
    1860 1079
    1867 1079
    1881 1076
    1895 1073

    FES

    1824 1082
    1840 1098
    1860 1076
    1867 1076.5
    1881 1073
    1895 1073

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  2. Brief and minor corrections:

    “In 1838 John Grattan Guinness junior had been sacked from the brewery business in Dublin started by his grandfather for drunkenness and “mixing with degraded society”. His uncle, Arthur Guinness II bought him a brewery in Bristol to try to give him another chance. Unfortunately John Grattan Guinness does not seem to have been a businessman, and the Bristol brewery went under in 1845. Much later, after he fell into poverty, John G tried ungratefully and unsuccessfully to sue his cousin Benjamin Guinness for wrongful dismissal from the Dublin brewery.”

    Started by his father Arthur. Arthur II was born in 1768 and John Grattan was the youngest son, born 1783. Thus he sued his nephew Benjamin (b. 1798). John’s descendants tried to atone for his waywardness by preaching and missionary work among the “heathens” in China, India and the Congo.

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  3. Patrick, I hate to correct a Guinness about the history of the Guinness family, and I’m very grateful indeed for your comments on this blog, but Lynch and Vaizey in Guinness’s Brewery in the Irish Economy 1759-1876 say, on page 235, that it was indeed John Grattan Guinness junior, grandson of Arthur Guinness I and son of Captain John Grattan Guinness, who ran the Bristol brewery, and John Grattan Guinness junior sued Benjamin Lee Guinness in 1858, which was eight years after JGG senior died.

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  4. Pingback: 10 Interesting facts about St. Patrick’s favorite brew « 100.5 The Zone – RadioZone.com

  5. Hi Martyn

    Sorry for posting to an old posting, but I have a question/observation with regard to the use of roasted barley. In “A Bottle of Guinness Please” – David Hughes, he list as 1983 in Park Royal London as the inclusion of roasted barley into the grist. I have see him mention other dates of roasted barely been used, unless I missed something. He does say in 1972 they where using roasted malt with 20% flaked barley. I wonder could this roasted malt be a mix of malted and a little unmalted barley.

    All the best :)

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  6. Hello Martyn,

    What seems to be commonly not discussed in forums on the topic of roast barley and Guinness is the make-up of Guinness’ grist PRIOR to the 1816 law that declared it illegal to use anything but malt.

    Considering, say, the period of the 1780’s to 1810, isn’t it feasible that during all or part of this timeframe Guinness used roast barley (not malt)? They had barley, and they had fire, so they could have made some form of roast barley. This would have conveniently left malt, which was taxed by England at the time, right?, out of the grain bill. And, this would have contributed to a distinct, dry roast flavor of Guinness’ porters (stouts) at the time.

    Is there any indisputable evidence (via records, writings from the period) that roast barley was not used by Guinness during this time period prior to 1816?

    Since the topic of Guinness and their use of roast barley is hotly debated, this seems to be a valid question to discuss the period BEFORE the 1816 law, during the 30+ years leading up to which Guinness was brewing porter.

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