Argh no! Otley and Protz in Burton Ale fail!

This is not going to make me popular in Pontypridd, and it will go down very badly in St Albans. But Otley Brewing Company, the widely admired Welsh brewery, and Roger Protz, doyen of British beer writers, have got together to revive a vanished classic and brewed entirely and utterly the wrong sort of beer.

Yes, I must tell you that the “Burton Ale” the Colonel and Otley have just created under the name O-Roger, and which Roger describes in detail here, isn’t a Burton Ale at all, but an IPA.

This is NOT a Burton Ale

They’ve reproduced a beer that has certainly been called “Burton Ale”, from the mid-1970s, when it was first made under that name at the former Ind Coope brewery in Burton upon Trent. And they went to the trouble of asking two former Ind Coope brewers to tell them about that beer, so they could make their reproduction as accurate as possible. Unfortunately the beer called Burton Ale that those guys brewed at Ind Coope in Burton, which was Champion Beer of Britain at the Great British Beer Festival in 1990, was NOT a Burton Ale in the sense of being in the Burton Ale style, the slightly sweet, not-too-bitter, darkish ale popular right across Britain until the 1950s, but something utterly other.

It’s the fault of the marketers at Allied Breweries in 1976. They were feeling under pressure (pun intended) from the five-year-old Campaign for Real Ale, who were persuading beer drinkers across Britain that the sort of bland, fizzy beers big brewers such as Allied produced were nowhere near as tasty and enjoyable as the traditional brews from smaller companies. So Allied took its Ind Coope Double Diamond, an India Pale Ale with roots in the 19th century that had been a best-selling nationally distributed bottled beer, and then a best-selling nationally distributed keg beer, and decided to launch it as a handpumped cask ale. Except they couldn’t call it Double Diamond Cask, because Camra had been repeatedly and extremely rude about Double Diamond keg – I remember buying a badge at a Camra beer festival that declared: “DD is K9P”.

This IS a Burton Ale

So as marketers do, they riffled through their old brands for inspiration, and found Ind Coope Burton Ale, which was still going in the 1950s (when it was described by the beer writer Andrew Campbell as “rather light” for a Burton Ale and, unlike most other beers in the Burton Ale style, “not sweet at all”) but seems to have vanished as a brand soon after Campbell wrote about it in 1956. This, the marketers decided, was the name for their rebadged cask-conditioned draught Double Diamond IPA, and they even copied the typeface and general style of the Edwardian Ind Coope Burton Ale bottle labels for the pumpclips of this “not a Burton Ale” Burton Ale. Since most drinkers had forgotten about, or never heard of, Burton Ale the beer style by the mid-1970s, there were very few protests, though my father was one who objected. Burton Ale, he insisted, being a London traditionalist when it came to beer, had to be dark, and this new “Burton Ale” was far too pale. Which, being an IPA in Burton Ale clothing, it was.

Unfortunately, Roger P has assumed that the Burton Ale of 1976 and after (which is still being brewed, by JW Lees in Manchester, apparently) is the same as the much older Burton Ale, and he writes in the Morning Advertiser this week:

The [Burton Ale] style went into deep decline in the 20th century as drinkers switched their allegiance to pale ale and bitter. But in 1976 the style was reborn when Allied Breweries launched Ind Coope Draught Burton Ale.

Nooooo! The Ind Coope Draught Burton Ale launched in 1976 was and is an IPA, a bitter pale ale of exactly the kind that had pushed out genuine Burton Ale. Anyone drinking today’s Ind Coope Draught Burton Ale and thinking that is what the Burton Ale style should be like is going to be getting the wrong end of a very muddy stick.

You may be feeling that it’s terribly rude and curmudgeonly of me to be pissing all over Roger and Otley’s parade by pointing out their error. However, I’ve been banging on since 1998 about Ind Coope Burton Ale post-1975 not actually being a Burton Ale – in fact I first said so in the pages of What’s Brewing, and I’ll allow you the joy of guessing who the editor of that paper was at the time. So it hacks me off rather more than somewhat to see my efforts at getting the true facts about Burton Ale in front of the world shunted sharply off course by some much-publicised misinformation.

That said, the first part of Roger’s brief history of Burton Ale in the Morning Advertiser I linked to up the top of this rant is accurate enough – and the beer Roger and Otley have produced together certainly sounds a good one, even if it’s not a bleedin’ Burton Ale. If you find it, try it and I think it’s very likely you’ll enjoy it. Just don’t believe that’s a Burton Ale you’re drinking.

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40 thoughts on “Argh no! Otley and Protz in Burton Ale fail!

    • Dunno if he’s seen Amber Gold and Black, but the same info was in Beer: The Story of the Pint in 2003, which he reviewed, and in the original article I wrote in WB in 1998, and in numerous other pieces I’ve done on Burton Ale.

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  1. I’m really worried about this new Oxford University Press beer book that’s coming out. Hope they’ve sent you and Ron the full text to review and a big cheque each for editorial services. Otherwise, it’s going to have zero credibility.

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  2. I understand what you’re saying, but is there really a true meaning of the label ‘Burton ale’? Isn’t this a bit like saying that Sarah Hughes’ Ruby Mild is far too old to be called ‘mild’ – or that these new-fangled India Pale Ales are far too hoppy to be called ‘ale’?

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    • “Burton Ale” had, and has, a specific meaning as a style of beer, just like “porter” and “IPA”. And, indeed, as “mild” did, from at least the First World War onwards, though not in the 19th century. All beer styles are fuzzy round the edges, some very fuzzy, but not so much that if you try to recreate Double Diamond, you can call it a Burton Ale.

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      • Point taken – and it’s not as if the mid-70s were a golden age of brewing history.

        Maybe Otley could relaunch it as Double Diamond – the more mature gentleman would buy it in droves, if only out of curiosity.

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      • I’d always taken ‘mild’ to mean mild in flavour, with low hopping. colour and strength were irrelevant, although most mild beers became dark, and pale mild ended up being known as ‘Best’ Ale.

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        • Mild meant unaged, nothing more. With Mild, people nowadays think of Mild Ale, but there was Mild Porter and even Mild Bitter in the 19th century.

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  3. I did wonder why Otley would have ‘gone for a Burton’, as it were. And it now appears they’ve done exactly that.

    ‘Slightly sweet and not too bitter’ hardly sounds like the Otley I know.

    Your article explains much.

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  4. In my interviews and contributions to Roger’s new book about Arctic Ale , (Allsopp’s evil twin), I describe it to be close to the old Burton’s of years past, as they are likely similar in many ways including residual sweetness from alcohol and unfermentables, however not at all similar with a 20th century IPA . Admittedly, I have never had a Double Diamond, but to recreate an ale for revival purposes based on the wrong ale is disastrous , perhaps they should quickly disclose and re-brew, as there are several good recipes of Burton Ales about in Ron Pattinson’s blog , I have regularly brewed Burton’s for the past couple of years and they are really unique , desired and highly regarded by the public, not only would they (Otely and Roger) be accurate , but may have a wider appeal than just another IPA. This one they should rename to “PoorRoger” .

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  5. @arcticalchemy: or rename it O-blimey! Didn’t Young’s revive a Burton Beer before they headed out of Wandsworth? Was that any closer to a Burton beer? I remember it being so malty and sweet I could only manage a single pint. Came out about 6%…

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    • Yes, that was Derek Prentice pulling something out of the brewing vaults at the Ram brewery, a lovely beer it was too, slightly stronger and a little paler than Young’s Winter Warmer, which itself is a true Burton Ale, but still using the “Young’s Special Mixture” of brewing sugars that WW uses, those brewing sugars being almost essential to give a proper Burton Ale its fruity character.

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      • I remember the first time I had Young’s WW. It was marvellous, and nothing like anything I’d ever had before; I was surprised it was legal. If that’s Burton Ale, I’ll have two.

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  6. There is some irony that Roger has recreate a beer that helped kill off Burton ale in the public mind an then slaps it with the same pedigree and history as an old Burton’s

    Something you would expect of Beer Advocate or similar, but not when he is fully aware of fellow beer historians the likes of Ron, yourself and others

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  7. As a matter of history, I have no disputes. But one of the lessons of your book, Martyn, is that the meaning of styles evolves. Burtons are effectively dead. You have cited some “disguised” Burtons kicking around, but as you mention, by the 70s no one even knew what it was. It’s been in the grave over fifty years.

    So now there’s a new beer called Burton. It’s not the ancient Baltic Burtons nor the later pre-IPA Burtons nor even the smaller 20th Century Burtons. But no doubt as the style evolved, people of the day said THOSE weren’t Burtons, either.

    Since the style is commercially extinct, calling something “Burton” is a bit of a tabula rasa. Protz should get his facts straight, but if a new generation of beers called Burtons emerged that didn’t look like the extinct ones, eventually we’d have to contend with the fact that the style had yet again morphed.

    Although, admittedly, a brewery would probably need to actually do something other than re-labeling an IPA “Burton.” That’s just confusing.

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    • Jeff, Burton isn’t extinct. Just sold under a different name. Picking a completely different style of beer and calling it Burton is inexcusable.

      Like Martyn, I keep pointing out the difference between Burton Ale and Burton Pale Ale. I even saw Roger drink a Burton and explained to him what it was at the Fuller’s XX launch. Which is itself, of course, a Burton.

      Talking of Fullers, I think they’re going to release a version of their OBE (Old Burton Extra) sometime soonish. And Kernel are going to brew Burton, too.

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      • Indeed, and I have dutifully recorded them as Burtons in my mind (“disguised” is my locution). I guess I was just using the post to ride a favorite hobby horse of mine–that styles evolve, and it creates difficulty for those of us who have to switch back and forth between descriptive and prescriptive definitions.

        I’ll dismount now.

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  8. Roger Protz has never been one for technical accuracy but as the best pint I ever drank was Ind Coope DBA I’m not too bothered, I just want to know where I can try the Otley version!

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  9. From a branding standpoint, it seems fair to me to call this new product a Burton Ale. First, Ind Coope established a practice, now some 35 years old, of using that term to describe what was apparently a draught bitter ale. You can argue that was not strictly accurate, but it is now a term long used in the market, and denotes to people who know the product an ale of its specific type (a very good one I might add).

    Also, pale ale as made in Burton from the early part of the 1800’s far outweighed the importance of the older style of strong, sweet beer which was its original renown. So you can argue that the term, Burton Ale, expanded in meaning over the years. When the brave airmen had “gone for a Burton”, was it always old or strong Burton? Or was it sometimes a pale ale? I’d have to think the latter. (Just those terms, old and strong, suggest too to me that the term Burton Ale, unqualified, had another meaning in the market).

    Further, didn’t some brewers in England use the term Burton Ale in the 1900’s to describe what was really a pale or mild ale, something not strong at all and not always sweet? I recall a discussion here a few years ago where names like McMullen, Rayments and some others were mentioned as having used the term to describe what appeared to me not to be the classic strong old Burton ale.

    Some sources in the 1800’s used the term Burton ale or Burton’s beers to refer to all its productions. The older type of Burton ended by being called barley wine from what I can see, so its name in the market changed too. I mean, would anyone argue that porter after about 1800 should have been called “coloured pale ale”?

    I certainly agree with and admire the historical work that has been done to elucidate the distinctions amongst Burton’s beers, but as for this particular commercial product being made in Wales, I think it’s fair enough to call it a Burton Ale.

    Gary

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    • They can call it what they like, Gary, as long as they don’t say it’s in the Burton Ale style, ‘cos it ain’t.

      And those mythical airmen “gone for a Burton” would definitely have been going for the dark, sweet ale – that was the only meaning the phrase Burton Ale had back then (although some could be mold, some strong and some strong and old …)

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  10. My main point is that if it is called, as I understand, O-Roger Burton Ale on the label, I can’t see anything wrong with that. The accompanying bumph is something apart in my mind, it is not part of the brand – the label. People say all kinds of things about beer which can be open to question. But I must say too, in my mind, a pale ale is one of the styles of ales typed Burton, I can’t have any argument with that. As he has pointed out in an earlier article, there were 6 strengths of Bass at one time, all the way up to No. 1, the one now called a barley wine. It’s all Burton ale from the standpoint of the general market and a beer label (I would argue). Jackson viewed it similarly although I don’t doubt he would be very happy to have the further research you have referred to which we all benefit from.

    As for the airmen. Looking further into this, it seems Burton may not even have meant a beer (see Eric Partridge who refers to an interesting theory about a Burton tailor). But the term Burton ale in normal discourse clearly often meant the pale ale. Here you see a very early use of the term to mean the same thing as pale ale/bitter beer (right column, about 1/4 down):

    http://books.google.com/books?id=_EEhAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA332&dq=Indian+Beer+Burton+Ale+Britannica&hl=en&ei=ML85To6bEMHl0QGTs8DuAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CDcQ6AEwAw#v=o

    Clearly this is usage by ordinary literate people, not beer experts, but that is what we are talking about.

    It must have been much more so 100 years later.

    Gary

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  11. I seem to remember a right old furore when Allied Breweries (they of the OG1036 badge-engineered bitter) Ind Coope Burton Ale won Champion Beer of Britain, knocking Taylor’s Landlord into second place. A lot of accusations of skulduggery were made at the time.

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  12. The beer was well respected in Burton on Trent but was never called Burton Ale. It was always refered to by everyone as DBA, which is what I still call it, although you cannot get it in Burton any more. The late 70’s were good drinking times in Burton. Bass still on the Union, Pedi cleaned up by Bailey, and DBA. Happy days.

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    • You could try walking into the Roebuck and looking at the pump farthest from the entrance door.It now weighs in at 4.5% ABV though!.

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  13. Interesting that in Burton itself the beer was called DBA, for Draught Burton Ale. This was clearly the full name conferred by the brewery in ’76. In London where I drank it, to my best recollection, it was called simply on the pump clip, Ind Coope Burton Ale, using the same design as on the beer mat Martyn reproduced adjacent to his article.

    It had (just to talk about that beer for a bit) an appealing nose and flavour, akin to fresh plums is the only way I can put it, and was on the sweet side. We got until a few years ago bottled Double Diamond in Quebec – and perhaps it is still imported there – but I never saw any real resemblance between the two. I wonder if way back in the 70’s, someone who knew the real history of (the true) Burton Ale decided to confer some of its attributes on the new Burton Ale. Presumably not, from what everyone including Roger P has written, but I’d like to think it is possible.

    I drank it circa-1980 at the Coach and Horses, Greek Street, Soho, “Norman’s Place” some called it for Norman Balen, the owner. I wonder if he is still living. The pub carries on much as in the past.

    Happy days indeed those were! A visitor to London then with more than a casual interest in fine beer might start to think around 5:00 p.m., “a pint of Burton would go down well in this rain, but better get a fresh pack of Lambert & Butler’s first, and for a follow-up, a Director’s might be right, or maybe Courage’s Best Bitter, as fruity but less heavy, and you know, an emergency nip of Russian Stout or Whitbread’s Gold Label will help before that long Shavian zinger coming up for the evening”.

    Those were the days, especially when the pound was … about as inexpensive for the North American visitor as it is now!

    Gary

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  14. Ron and Martyn: Would it be interesting to put together a sort of public domain proto-type Burton Ale to help revive something more historically correct? Something simplified with one or two malts and one sugar maybe? Rather than one specific historical recreation, it could be a proxy of several.

    I would be very interested in promoting it to Danish home brewers and pros, I’m sure you could get it in CAMRA’s Beer magazine, and you’d have something handy for interested British brewers as a starting point.

    For all my love of golden ales and IPAs, I love a sweet, fruity, malty British strong ale, and Fullers XX was a revelation.

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  15. Martyn,

    Just a couple of things:

    1) Got a copy of your book as a present from my sister a while back – an excellent read, thoroughly enjoyed it and still dipping into it every now and again!
    2) Thanks also for the heads-up on Ind Coope Burton Ale still being brewed by Lees. Whilst not a true Burton, it used to be one of my favourite bitters a while ago but just gets harder and harder to find and haven’t sampled it for some time (a far cry from its medal-winning, widely-sold heyday). Relieved to see it continues to defy Carlsberg-Tetley’s attempts to kill it off, must track it down in the near future.

    David

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  16. Dear Martyn,
    After reading an in-depth description in Zymurgy Magazine about the 18th Century style Burton Ale that was so popular in Russia and The Baltic States, I thought to myself, “I gotta get mee some of dis stuff!”. In today’s modern world of High IBU’s, Super IBU’s and Ultra-Mega Brain Piercing IBU Pale Ales….YUCK! Who can drink that stuff? Nothing seems more pleasing, to me, than the beautifully described Sweet, Malty and Almost “Sticky’ original Burton Ale. Where is the recipe for this? Where can I find it to scale down for my homebrewing system? It’s time to resurrect this fabulous & ancient style of brewing. Looking forward to your response. (sorry, for the accent…itz that american english that always gives me away…)

    Cordially,
    — Patrick Maley
    (originally from Detroit, then in New York and now in Northern California!)

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