More notes towards a history of the beer mug

Loved and disliked in equal parts, and enjoying an unexpected renaissance in hipstery parts, despite being more than 70 years old, the dimpled beer mug is undoubtedly an icon of England.

It was invented in 1938 at the Ravenhead glassworks in St Helens, Lancashire by an in-house designer whose name is now forgotten, and given the factory identity “P404″. Although the dimple has its enemies, who dislike its weight and its thickness, it soon became extremely popular, and at a rough guess some 500 million have been manufactured since it was born.

Strawberry pink pint beer mug of the kind George Orwell enjoyed, stamped 'Pint MxCC GR 29', for Middlesex County Council

Strawberry pink pint beer mug of the kind George Orwell enjoyed, stamped ‘Pint MxCC GR 29′, for Middlesex County Council

The dimple had much competition: even in 1938, many pubs still served beer in the pottery mugs that George Orwell praised in his “Moon Under Water” essay about his ideal pub, from the Evening Standard in 1946. Orwell declared that “in my opinion beer tastes better out of china,” but “china mugs went out about 30 years ago [that is, during the First World War], because most people like their drink to be transparent.” However, two documentary films made just before Orwell’s essay, The Story of English Inns, from 1944, and Down at the Local, from 1945, both show pint china mugs were still being used alongside glass ones, at least in country pubs. Orwell talked about the pottery beer mug as being strawberry-pink in colour, but they came in other shades (baby blue and a dark biscuit-beige, for example), all with white interiors and white handles, and also with transfer-print designs, though the majority of pottery beer mugs appear, in fact, to have been of the kind known as mochaware, invented around the end of the 18th century, which have tree or fern-like patterns on the sides, made by a drop of acid dropped onto the glaze of the mug while it was still wet. Most mochaware pint beer mugs seem to have been blue, or beige-and-blue, with black and white bands. Many were made by TG Green of Church Gresley, South Derbyshire, while the plain coloured mugs were the speciality of Pountneys of Bristol. TG Green stopped producing mochaware at the outbreak of war in 1939, when it was apparently the last company still making mochaware beermugs. It tried to revive the tradition in 1981, without success. The company closed in 2007.

Pewter mugs were pretty much obsolete by the middle of the 20th century, though Orwell claimed that “stout … goes better in a pewter pot”, and they were described as “old-fashioned” even in 1900, when it was said to have been replaced by the glass mug, “a thick, almost unbreakable article”. The problem, for publicans, was that their pewter pots kept being stolen, and they cost around ten times as much as china beer mugs. The better class of premises kept silver-plated pewter beermugs and, to guard against theft, carved the name and address of the pub into the base. Glass was also cheaper – and, it was claimed, the working man at the end of the 19th century liked to have his mild beer served in a glass so that he could see it was bright, and not hazy or cloudy.

Two men drinking from china pint mugs, from the film Down at the Local, 1945

Two men drinking from china pint mugs, one mochaware, the other transfer printed, from the film The Story of English Inns, 1944

Fortunately for the beer mug collector, after the Weights and Measures Act of 1878, drinking vessels used on licensed premises for draught beer or cider purporting to be a specific size – half-pint, pint or quart – had to bear an Official Stamp Number, either acid etched or sand-blasted through a stencil, a system that lasted, with tweaks, until 2007, and each district – county council, county borough and the like – had its own numbers, so that, for example, 19 was Derbyshire and 490 Bristol. They also carried the mark of the crown, and the initials of the reigning monarch of the time, something that had first been required by the Act “for ascertaining the Measures for retailing Ale and Beer” that had become law under William III in 1700. (That Act covered vessels “made of wood, earth, glass, horn, leather, pewter or of some other good and wholesome metal”, suggesting the variety of drinking vessels you could expect in a Stuart inn or alehouse, and it also only mentions quarts and pints, suggesting the half-pint was illegal – or at least extremely rare.) It is thus possible to tell roughly when an older beer mug was made, and roughly where, too. In 2007, when the CE, or “Conformitée Européenne” mark replaced the old system (leading to the Daily Mail to declare: “EU stealing the crown of the great British pint”), it became easier to tell when a glass was made, but no simpler to find our where and by whom. Alongside the CE on the glass will be an “M” and the last two digits of the year of manufacture, plus the identification number of the “notified body” that verified that the container was an accurate measure. To indentify the notified body you have to go to the Nando website – nothing to do with peri-peri chicken, this stands for New Approach Notified and Designated Organisations.

Glasses specifically for drinking beer out of have been made in Britain since at least 1639, when a glasshouse (probably in Newcastle upon Tyne) owned by Sir Robert Mansell, who had acquired a monopoly on glass making, was selling beer glasses at a price half that of similar glasses imported from Venice. But such glasses were still expensive: in the 1660s a glasshouse owned by the Duke of Buckingham in London was selling “English Christall” beer glasses at six pence each, equivalent to more than £50 today. These were bowl-shaped glasses, with broad feet and heavy “knops”, the technical term for the ornamental knobs on the stem. Later, in the 18th century, beer and ale glasses became smaller and more delicate – at least in part because glass was taxed by weight from 1745 onwards – and were frequently decorated with fine engravings of hops, barley and so on. These engraved glasses held just five ounces (14cl) of strong beer or ale, or less. But they were still restricted to the rich: when all the belongings of the late Earl of Grantham were auctioned off in February 1755, for example, among all the “fine pictures, antique marble busts, large wardrobe of linnen, curious and magnificent collection of fine old Japan China, &c” for sale were 53 jelly glasses, 18 water glasses, 18 wine glasses and 30 beer glasses. Those beer glasses cost a hefty two to three shillings each, after tax, and according to a letter in the Pottery and Glass Trades Journal in October 1879, because of the expense of glass, in the pub, inn or tavern, “time was” that ale in a glass tumbler cost more than the same drink in a pewter mug: two pence per half pint, against one and a half pence.

It would take the invention of pressed glass, made by pressing semi-molten glass into an iron mould, before beer glasses could begin to come into the reach of the common drinker. Pressed glass was being made in Europe in the late 18th century, but the first patent for a commercial glass-pressing machine was granted in the United States in 1825 to John Palmer Bakewell, son of an English-born Pittsburgh glassmaker, Benjamin Bakewell. The first glass-pressing machine in Britain was installed at the Wordsley Flint Glass Works in Stourbridge in 1833, founded by Benjamin Richardson, whose firm became the first in the country to make mass-produced pressed glass tumblers. Indeed, before pressed glass, tumblers – handle-less, footless glasses, tapering (known as “conical”) or straight-sided – and glass mugs, with handles (called “cans” by the glass makers), were difficult to produce. Moulded glass made their manufacture much easier.

However, in Britain glass remained relatively expensive until the abolition of the glass tax in 1845, which caused an “immense” increase in the production of glass of all kinds. But even after that date, the evidence suggests that glass drinking vessels remained rare in pubs until the end of the Victorian period. While the catalogue of the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851 showed Thomas Webb of Platt’s Glass Works, near Stourbridge, exhibiting “ales” among his many types of glassware, from sugar bowls to vases, this appears to be the only specific mention of beer glasses among the more than 30 British glassware manufacturers there, and can be put alongside the porcelain porter mug exhibited by the Hanley pottery manufacturer Charles Meigh & Sons. There were more foreign exhibitors of beer glasses, from Prague and Prussia, than British. Three decades later, John Henry Henshall’s painting In the Pub from 1882, otherwise known as “Behind the Bar”, a view of what is believed to be a pub in Old Street or Caledonian Road, London from the staff side of the operation, appears to show only pewter pots on the shelves and in the sinks.

John Henry Henshall's painting "In the Pub" of 1882, appears to show only pewter pots on the shelves and in the sinks, no glass beer mugs

In John Henry Henshall’s 1882 London pub there are no glass beer mugs, only pewter pots

A decade later, however, there was suddenly a rush of evidence for the increasing popularity of beer in glass containers. In June 1894 the Portsmouth Evening News reported:

It has been noticed, says the Daily News, that the old-fashioned pewter pot has disappeared from public-houses and is replaced by beer glasses. In connection with the supply of these glasses – an enormous number of which is required – a serious complaint is heard from the glass trade in London. The stamping and verifying of the glasses costs a penny each – almost as much as the cost of production. Several County Councils in the north of England have been in the habit of allowing the makers to have the glasses stamped, under supervision of Council officials, on their own premises. This means a saving to the Councils, and they allow the manufacturers rebates of 30 or 40 per cent, which enables them to compete successfully with London makers. The fine machinery which the London County Council obtained to stamp the glasses is therefore now practically standing idle. A few months ago many thousands of glasses were being stamped every week, but now cheap stamped glasses are being imported from the north, the London glass trade is suffering in consequence and the Council is losing its fees. The Board of Trade has decided that it has no power to compel County Councils to stop the rebate system and do their own stamping.

The social researcher Charles Booth, in 1896, wrote in Life and Labour of the People in London that “until comparatively recent years the publican’s customers were very particular as to their ale being served in a ‘nice bright pewter pot’ … the pot is, however, being now largely supplanted by the glass.” Two years later, in 1898, a witness to a parliamentary inquiry into the materials being used to brew beer talked about “the alleged preference of the working man to have his beer in glasses” – which he denied, saying that it was the publicans leading the movement towards glass, because it was cheaper than pewter, and took up less space. All the same, the Brewers’ Journal that year carried an article on brewing “brilliant” beer, saying that there was a “steadily increasing demand for light fresh beers … capable of withstanding the critical glass test”, suggesting that the use of glass mugs and tumblers in pubs was indeed rising because of customer preference.

Although under the 1872 Weights and Measures Act all draught beer or cider sold in quantities of a half pint or more had to be delivered to the customer in glasses bearing an official stamp, there was no such requirement governing the sale of quantities less than half a pint (10 fluid ounces). Publicans asked for “a half pint” or “a pint” or “a quart” had to give their customer exactly that, in a stamped glass, but if asked for “a glass” of beer, as long as it was less than half a pint, it could be any quantity. Most landlords, it would appear, kept a stock of unstamped 8fl oz beer glasses to supply those customers who asked for “a glass” of ale or beer. The charge was a penny: but when David Lloyd George’s budget of 1910 imposed big extra costs on brewers, pushing up the price of beer, a penny for eight fluid ounces was suddenly uneconomical. To keep the retail price of a “glass of beer” at a penny, smaller glasses were needed. A “pony”, holding around a quarter of a pint, 5fl oz, was too small, so the publicans introduced a new beer glass holding four-thirteenths of a pint – 6.15fl oz – which was swiftly dubbed by customers the “Lloyd George”. (The “glass” of beer was finally outlawed by the Weights and Measures Act of 1963, since when draught beer can only legally be sold in stamped glasses holding a third of a pint, half a pint or a pint – and, more recently, two thirds of a pint.)

An adAd for beer tumblers from 1922

An advertisement for beer tumblers from 1922

Earlier Victorian beer glasses included rummers, or footed goblets, an attractive style that unfortunately died out. Glass beer mugs in late Victorian and Edwardian times seem to have been heavily ribbed, or cylindrical, while the tumblers were slightly slope-sided or conical. An advertisement for British-made beer tumblers from 1932 shows three different types, plain, with a rayed pattern on the bottom, and with internal ribs, in a style called “Venetian”. By 1930 the Crystal Glass Company, a subsidiary of Bagley & Co of Knottingley, West Yorkshire was showing just one type of beer tumbler in its catalogue, the plain conical style, but three different types of glass beer mug: plain and cylindrical; with ribs or dentition around the base; and what was to become the first iconic beer glass, the ten-sided mug.

Mr XXX leads his army of ten-sided beer mugs

Mr XXX leads his army of ten-sided beer mugs

Who invented the ten-sided mug, where, and exactly when – presumably in the 1920s – is not known: Jobling & Co of Sunderland apparently also had ten-sided mugs in its catalogue, George Davidson of Gateshead may have made them – somebody in Gateshead evidently did – and Ravenhead certainly did too. But they quickly became common, and when the Brewers’ Society began its “Beer is Best” advertising campaign in 1933, to try to reverse falling beer sales, it soon started using the ten-sided mug in its advertising, with the campaign’s mascot, “Mr XXX”, depicted as a cheery face inside a ten-sided pint glass, with arms and legs. While most examples were made in standard clear glass, Bagley & Co made some in yellow glass, and examples in amber glass are also known. Despite, as we shall see, being challenged and eventually being defeated by two rival designs of beer glass, the ten-sided mug was still being made, by Ravenhead in St Helens, as late as 1964, meaning it was in production for at least 35 years, and probably longer.

The first challenger to the ten-sided beer glass was the dimple mug. The design of the dimple, which seems particularly suited to reflecting and refracting the colour of amber beers, such as classic British ales, may have been inspired by the glass beer mugs with a flat hexagonal faceted exterior manufactured in Newcastle upon Tyne in the 1920s and/or early 1930s. The dimple, despite being a Ravenhead design, was also picked up by other manufacturers, notably Dema of Chesterfield, in Derbyshire, which was Britain’s largest domestic glassware manufacturer, though much less well-known to the public that Ravenhead. But the dimple had its enemies, and in 1990 it was the subject of a vicious attack by Design magazine:

What’s short, fat, ugly and increasingly shunned by beer drinkers? The ‘dimple’ beer glass. You know the one; it’s barrel-shaped with indentations, a handle and eco-unfriendly walls of thick glass. An early attempt at ergonomic design, the dimple is a miserable failure. No one’s fingers actually seem to fit the depressions in the glass. The addition of a handle tacitly acknowledges this. Real ale and lager drinkers both dislike the dimple for the same reason; they don’t think the glass shows off the drink to its best advantage. What they want is something taller, slimmer, and less weighty; a thin glass through which they can admire the colour and clarity of the beer. Bar staff aren’t too keen on the dimple, either. It is heavy, awkward to store and does not stack and, because of its bulk and the projecting handle, difficult to wash, especially in the small sinks found in most bars.

Over the next decade, the dimple mug did seem to be disappearing from pubs, as did the traditional question barstaff asked someone asking for a pint: “Straight or handle?”. When the only two makers of the dimple left in Britain, Ravenhead and Dema, went into receivership within months of each other in 2000 and 2001, the headlines insisted: “Dimpled Pint Pots Doomed”. Fortunately for traditionalists, that hasn’t happened, and in the past few years the dimple beer mug has actually become trendy in pubs and bars frequented by bearded hipsters. Even the “straight or handle?” question has returned, at least in some bars. Today, however, your dimpled pint glass is most likely to have been made in China, by someone like the Zibo Hondao Trading Co Ltd of Shandong, or Bengbu Longyu Glass Products of neighbouring Anhui, or the Shanghai Jingsheng Glass Co Ltd, minimum order 100,000 glasses, cost FOB as low as 20p a glass, depending on order size.

Two pints of mild and bitter, served in ten-sided glasses in a North of England pub in 194, from the film Down at the Local

Two pints of mild and bitter, served in ten-sided glasses in a North of England pub in 194, from the film Down at the Local

The third “Great British beer glass” – though personally it’s one I hate as much as others dislike the dimple – was invented by a largely unsung giant of 20th century British design: Alexander Hardie Williamson. You may never have heard of him, but it is very likely you have drunk out of one or more of the glasses he designed, on thousands of occasions. Hardie Williamson, who was born in 1907, had designed for Bagley & Co in the 1930s, began designing glassware for United Glass, parent company of Ravenhead in 1944, and within a few years produced a host of simple design classics that are, in many cases, still with us today: the champagne saucer, picked up and personalised by Showerings as the Babycham glass, first made in 1948; the Paris wine goblet, designed in 1952; the “New Worthington” stemmed goblet, the Harp lager tankard and more. In all he designed 1,634 glasses for Ravenhead. But his most widely produced design, still to be found in pubs almost everywhere, was the iconic Nonik tumbler, a slightly conical beaker with a bulge around an inch below the rim, first made by Ravenhead in 1948 and given the product number P708. The bulge near the top was intended to keep the rims from being chipped or nicked by rubbing or banging together in the glass washer or on the shelf – hence the name, from “No Nick” – and had the added advantage that the bulge made it easier for the drinker to hold on to their pints when the glass was slippery than with straight-sided tumblers. Unfortunately, it’s irredeemably ugly, with what Design magazine called its “unsightly bulge”.

That has not, however, prevented it from becoming probably Britain’s most ubiquitous glass. Like the dimple, the Nonik was quickly copied by other manufacturers: Dema had the style in its catalogue by 1952, under the slightly altered name “Nonic”. Given that the glasses were produced for pubs during the last four years of the reign of George VI, there must, somewhere, be examples of Nonik/Nonic glasses stamped “GR”, though their thinness was always going to make them rarer survivors than the heavier, thicker dimples and ten-sided mugs, despite their being produced in enormous quantities. It has been estimated that 60 million beer glasses are supplied to British pubs, clubs and other drinking establishments every year (which implies that every establishment is breaking two to three a day). Let us take a very broad-brush guess and say that over the years a quarter of all beer glasses used in British pubs have been either dimples or Noniks/Nonics, with the rest tulips, straight-sided beakers, other types of tankards and so on. That would mean more than a billion individual Noniks and dimples have clattered over British bartops since the 1940s – and both look like continuing for a time yet.

Three Victorian pewter beermugs, pint (stamped James Lashan & Co Glasgow VR with the Official Number 36, for Renfrewshire, in Scotland), quart (stamped VR and G Farmiloe & Son, who were making pewter pots in St John Street, off West Smithfield, in London from 1876: the firm only seems to have ceased in 1940) and unmarked half-pint, with glass bottom. Pewter mugs with glass bottoms are apparently rarely found with stamps, suggesting they were uncommon in pubs, and that the story about having the glass bottom to be able to see the king's shilling is a myth …

Three Victorian pewter beermugs: pint (stamped James Lashan & Co Glasgow VR with the Official Number 36, for Renfrewshire, in Scotland), quart (stamped VR and G Farmiloe & Son, who were making pewter pots in St John Street, off West Smithfield, in London from 1876: the firm only seems to have ceased in 1940) and an unmarked half-pint, with glass bottom. Pewter mugs with glass bottoms are apparently rarely found with stamps, suggesting they were uncommon in pubs, and that the story about having the glass bottom to be able to see the king’s shilling is a myth …

One-pint silver-plated pewter mug, stamped  'W Loftus 321 Oxford Street' and engraved on the bottom 'Sloanes Head New St Brompton Rd'. Loftus was a well-known pewterer, and also a 'Hydrometer, Saccharometer, and gauging instrument maker, to the Government, and manufacturers of bottling and corking machines and all utensils for the spirit and brewing trades'. He was based at 321 Oxford Street from around 1880 to around 1900. The Sloanes Head was at 16 New Street from at least 1839, when it was the Sir Hans Sloane's Head. New Street became the top part of Hans Crescent in 1904: the pub seems to have been swallowed by the growth of Harrods about 1896

One-pint silver-plated pewter mug, stamped ‘W Loftus 321 Oxford Street’ and engraved on the bottom ‘Sloanes Head New St Brompton Rd’. Loftus was a well-known pewterer, and also a ‘Hydrometer, Saccharometer, and gauging instrument maker, to the Government, and manufacturers of bottling and corking machines and all utensils for the spirit and brewing trades’. He was based at 321 Oxford Street from around 1880 to around 1900. The Sloanes Head was at 16 New Street from at least 1839, when it was the Sir Hans Sloane’s Head. New Street became the top part of Hans Crescent in 1904: the pub seems to have been swallowed by the growth of Harrods about 1896. The silvering has worn away in two patches on the body of the mug either side of the handle, but the handle is largely unworn, suggesting drinkers held the mug by the body with their fingers through the handle – unlike the way the two drinkers up above are holding their earthenware mugs, by their handles.

Thick, ribbed Victorian half-pint glass beer mug with a pronounced punt, stamped 324, for Gateshead, where there were several pressed glass manufacturers

Thick, ribbed Victorian half-pint glass beer mug with a pronounced punt, stamped 324, for Gateshead, where there were several pressed glass manufacturers

Internally ribbed half-pint conical beaker stamped 'GR 471', for Ayrshire, probably from the 1920s, and almost certainly made by at the Portland Glass Works in Irvine in the style known as 'Venetian'

Internally ribbed half-pint conical beaker in the style known as ‘Venetian’, stamped ‘GR 471′, for Ayrshire, probably from the 1920s, and almost certainly made at the Portland Glass Works in Irvine, which opened in 1920

Mochaware pint mug stamped GR 19, made by TG Green of Church Gresley, Derbyshire

Mochaware pint mug stamped GR 19 for Derbyshire, made by TG Green of Church Gresley, Derbyshire

Edwardian stoneware Doulton pint mug, made in Lambeth and marked 'ER 4 LCC', for London County Council

Edwardian stoneware Doulton pint mug, made in Lambeth and marked ‘ER 4 LCC’, for London County Council

Two plain glazed pint pottery mugs, one with a baby blue exterior, the other biscuit-cream, both stamped 'GR 490' and made by Poultney & Co of Bristol

Two plain glazed pint pottery mugs, one with a baby blue exterior, the other biscuit-cream, both stamped ‘GR 490′ and made by Poultney & Co of Bristol

A ten-sided pint glass mug stamped 'GR 301' for West Yorkshire, very likely by Bagley & Co of Knottingley, with 'British Made' in the base

A ten-sided pint glass mug stamped ‘GR 301′ for West Yorkshire, very likely by Bagley & Co of Knottingley, with ‘British Made’ in the base

Ten-sided one-pint glass mug stamped 'ER 301' for West Yorkshire, again probably by Bagley & Co. Is the 'ER' for Edward VIII? The base of the glass has bubbles in it, and looks more primitive than similar glasses stamped EIIR

Ten-sided one-pint glass mug stamped ‘ER 301′ for West Yorkshire, again probably by Bagley & Co. Is the ‘ER’ for Edward VIII? The base of the glass has bubbles in it, and it looks more primitive than similar glasses stamped EIIR

Slightly glass-sick 10-sided half-pint glass stamped 'GR 323' for Gateshead, possibly manufactured by George Davidson & Go of the Teams Glassworks

Slightly glass-sick 10-sided half-pint glass stamped ‘GR 323′ for Gateshead, possibly manufactured by George Davidson & Go of the Teams Glassworks

A ten-sided glass pint mug stamped '478' for St Helens and dated 1964 (dates were used alongside Official Stamp Numbers between 1961 and 1969), manufactured by Ravenhead – one eof the last ten-sided beer glasses to be made

A ten-sided glass pint mug stamped ‘478’ for St Helens and dated 1964 (dates were used alongside Official Stamp Numbers between 1961 and 1969), manufactured by Ravenhead – one of the last ten-sided beer glasses to be made

One-pint and half-pint glass mugs with a hexagonal tiled design, stamped 'GR 64' for Newcastle upon Tyne. Did this design inspire the dimple?

One-pint and half-pint glass mugs with a hexagonal tiled design, stamped ‘GR 64′ for Newcastle upon Tyne. Did this design inspire the dimple?

Two early one-pint dimples stamped 'GR 478', for St Helens, made by Ravenhead probably in the 1940s, showing how little the design has altered since the start

Two early one-pint dimples stamped ‘GR 478′, for St Helens, made by Ravenhead probably in the 1940s, showing how little the design has altered since the start

One-pint straight-sided mug marked 'EIIR 301' for Elizabeth II and West Yorkshire, probably made by Bagley & Co of Knottingley

One-pint straight-sided mug marked ‘EIIR 301′ for Elizabeth II and West Yorkshire, probably made by Bagley & Co of Knottingley

A rare smooth-sided glass pint mug with a lattice design in the foot, stamped with crown and pint but no monartch's initials, and '478' for St Helens, presumably made by Ravenhead

A rare smooth-sided glass pint mug with a lattice design in the foot, stamped with crown and pint but no monarch’s initials, and ‘478’ for St Helens, presumably made by Ravenhead

Two hand-blown Waterford Guinness glasses, made for the national roll-out of Draught Guinness in the 1960s. The half-pint version carries the Guinness name in the font known as Hobbs-face, itself designed specially for Guinness by Bruce Hobbs, art director at Guinness's ad agency, Bensons, in 1963. The glasses bear the official numbers 886 and 888, for Somerset, presumably where they were imported through from Ireland

Two hand-blown Waterford Guinness glasses, made for the national roll-out of Draught Guinness in the 1960s. The half-pint version carries the Guinness name in the font known as Hobbs-face, itself designed specially for Guinness by Bruce Hobbs, art director at Guinness’s ad agency, Bensons, in 1963. The glasses bear the official numbers 886 and 888, for Somerset, presumably where they were imported through from Ireland

Two classic tulip lager glasses, one from Carlsberg of the sort that John Mills lusted for in the film Ice Cold in Alex from 1958 ()although in the book the film was based on, the beer in Alexandria was Rheingold from New York …) and the other from Barclay Perkins, once one of London's biggest lager brewers

Two classic tulip lager glasses, one from Carlsberg of the sort that John Mills lusted for in the film Ice Cold in Alex from 1958 (although in the book the film was based on, the beer in Alexandria was Rheingold from New York …) and the other from Barclay Perkins, once one of London’s biggest lager brewers. showing the brewery’s Dr Johnson trademark

All © Martyn Cornell MMXV including the photographs

How I got Mikkeller to call me a bastard

What sort of bastard goes along to a book launch just to point out to the author the mistakes he’s made?

Errrr …

Me.

OK, it was done in what I’d like to insist, really, was a semi-joking way, and in a spirit of, I hope, friendly beer comradeship, but if someone as highly regarded and influential as Mikkel Borg Bjergsø – founder of Mikkeller – is repeating historical beer myths in print that I (and others) have been trying to stamp on for a dozen or more years, well, somebody has to do something – even if I did come across as a prat.

Mikkel Borg Bjergsø down in the cellar at BrewDog Camden, conducting a swift beer tasting for the launch of Mikkeller's Book of Beer

Mikkel Borg Bjergsø down in the cellar at BrewDog Camden, conducting a swift beer tasting for the launch of Mikkeller’s Book of Beer

Fortunately for me, I’ve known Jo Copestick, who works freelances for Jacquie Small, publisher of Mikkeller’s Book of Beer, for some years, so at the launch for the English language version of the book, at BrewDog Camden in North London on Thursday, I was able to give my corrections to her: (p53) no, George Hodgson did NOT invent India Pale Ale, nor was IPA brewed stronger to survive the trip to India – it was, as Ron Pattinson regularly points out, comparatively weak for an 18th century beer – and I’ve no idea where the idea came from that the beer was stored in oak barrels which “caused the beer to develop a particular complexity and bitterness that proved extremely popular” – ALL beer was stored in oak barrels. Admittedly, IPA was kept in barrels before serving longer than, say, a mild ale, and that would have added some complexity as the beer aged, but that happened to other beers as well, and if anything the bitterness would have mellowed out as the beer aged. Nor do I think it’s true that “An IPA is generally darker than an ordinary pale ale.” And (p59), porter was NOT “first brewed as a more nourishing beer for the port workers of England in the 19th century” – porter was first brewed in the early 18th century, it was taken up in London by the men called porters, hence the name, some of whom (the Fellowship porters) loaded and unloaded ships in the Thames, but many – most – of whom were Ticket or street porters, working in London’s streets, delivering parcels, letters and goods about the city. And porter wasn’t specifically designed to be a “more nourishing” beer than its predecessor and parent, London brown beer: it was designed to be tastier and more appealing. Nor does the word “stout” mean “‘robust’ or ‘solid'” – it means “strong”.

I am a bastard – official. Mikkell of Mikkeller says so.

I am a bastard – official. Mikkell of Mikkeller says so.

Having slipped Jo my corrections, I then thought it would be extremely cheeky to introduce myself to Mikkel, explain what I had done, and ask him to sign my copy of the book with the words “You bastard!” Which, as you can see, he was amused enough to be happy to do – rather than smashing me about the head with the nearest beerglass, which is what I might do if someone did the same thing to me at one of my book launches. (And yes, there most certainly ARE mistakes in my books, though I’d be grateful if you’d email them to me privately when you find them, rather than revealing them publicly in the comments below.) James Watt, co-founder of BrewDog, was there as well, so I got him to also sign Mikkel’s book – thus making it a unique BrewDog-Mikkeller co-production. Offers over £10,000 gladly accepted …

Apart from that, what is the book like? Actually, it’s good, edging into very good: excellent production values and beautiful photography, which is what you’d expect from a Jacqui Small book, and rammed full of facts’n’info, about Mikkel and his early life; about Mikkeller and how it developed, including what seems to me, at any rate, a rare mention of the man who gave the operation half its name, Kristian Keller; about beer types; about Mikkeller’s different beers and what inspired them; about beer tasting; about beer and food; and also about how to brew your own beers like Mikkeller’s. The translator, Ray Ashman, has done a fine job of capturing what certainly sounds like Mikkel’s authentic voice (I’d love to know which of the original bits were written by Mikkel and which by his co-author [and wife] Pernille Pang), and the text is enlivened by drawings from Mikkeller’s in-house illustrator, Keith Shore, frequently featuring the two Mikkeller “characters”, Henry and Sally. To whom will it appeal? Well, Mikkeller fanboys and fangirls, obviously, and anyone looking to learn more about beer, and about homebrewing, will get a great deal out of it too, but even the most beer-knowledgeable will, I think, learn enough to make the book worth its £20 tag (£13.60 on Amazon.co.uk, I note, where, unsurprisingly, it’s already the number one best seller in the “beer” category). And those untruths about beer history are really only a tiny part of the whole book …

Which is more, unfortunately, than can be said about another book I just acquired, Beer: A Global History, by Gavin Smith, published last year. This appears to have been written in an alternative universe where Ron Pattinson and I were never born, and repeats big chunks of long-disproved myths about beer history. Indeed, Smith loses all credibility at the very beginning of Chapter 1, which is headed by an alleged “quote” from Plato, the Greek philosopher: “He was a wise man who invented beer.” No, Plato never said this, or anything like it – and if Smith had done any proper research at all, which would have involved reading The Barbarian’s Beverage by Max Nelson (an excellent book), he would have discovered that the ancient Greeks actually had a very low opinion of beer.

This is far from the only nonsense, Smith hits his readers with, even in Chapter 1: he goes on to make the bizarre claim that “the first nomadic hunter-gatherers to settle and grow crops are thought to have been the Sumerians” – but domesticated barley is known from 7750BC at a site now called Netiv HaGdud (sic) in the Jordan valley, 20km north of Jericho, at least 2,250 years before the Sumerians started founding settlements in Mesopotamia. Smith also claims the Sumerians invented the wheel, though the jury is still very much considering its verdict on that one, since the wheel appeared effectively simultaneously in Sumer, the Northern Caucasus and Central Europe, and he continues: “more than 5,000 years ago they [the Sumerians] recorded on a series of clay tablets a range of beer types and recipes contained within the ancient text ‘A Hymn to Ninkasi’.” This is, simply, complete bollocks. The clay tablets that contain the “Hymn to Ninkasi” come from around 1800BC, so 3,800 years ago, not 5,000. The poem does not contain “a range of beer types and recipes” – it doesn’t mention beer types at all, and the idea that it can be seen as a recipe describing how to make Sumerian beer is stretching the concept of “recipe” to breaking-point: if you read an English translation of the text, which suffers from unknown words and chunks that are now missing, you will see that it is very hard to make out what is meant to be going on. The Hymn to Ninkasi is, as I have said before, no more a recipe for beer-brewing than the folk song “John Barleycorn” is a text on how to make malt.

And so we go on: Smith repeats the myths about the alleged brewing set-up at St Gall in Switzerland, writing, as others have done, as if the map of St Gall actually described what was on the ground, instead of being an idealised depiction. He claims that porter gets its name from “market porters” – ffs, how many times do I have to repeat that this is a 20th century misunderstanding of who porters were? – and, yes, that it was “reputedly invented during the 1720s by Ralph Harwood of the Bell Brewery in Shoreditch”. No, Gavin, it wasn’t, and if you’d bothered even to Google “Ralph Harwood Shoreditch porter” you’d have found the very first link is my debunking of that myth from 2007. George Hodgson isn’t actually called by Smith the inventor of India Pale Ale, which makes a change, but he calls him “an early proponent of pale ales, which in character were light, sparkling and heavily hopped ” – showing he has read nothing about how ale, in the 18th century, still meant a lightly hopped beer – and how these pale ales were “ideal for consumption in the warmer climes of the British Empire, leading to a vigorous export trade”. Gavin – you’re making that up. Porter, as I and Ron have shown, was exported in greater quantities to India than pale ale was, and in any case the overseas beer trade in the late 18th/early 19th centuries was really pretty small. He also clams that after Hodgson “began to send its pale ales to India in 1790″ – the firm never sent the beer, it was bought by independent exporters, that is, the captains and officers of the East Indiamen sailing ships – “the generic title India Pale Ale, or IPA, was soon in circulation” – well, only if “soon” means “40 years later”.

Other stupidities include a picture of the Meux brewery at the corner of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road captioned “Messers Meux’s brewery in Liquor-Pond Street, Clerkenwell” – a completely different brewery, Meux Reid, later Reid & Co, in a completely different place; and a picture of the Fighting Cocks, St Albans with the claim that it “has a strong claim to the title of the oldest public house in England”. Actually, it has a shockingly poor claim to that title, being almost certainly no older as a pub than 1600. But that’s the standard of histocical enquiry you can expect in this book. In fact, despite the title, the “history” part only takes up 44 out of 153 pages, which the rest of the book padded out with chapters on “The Art of Brewing”, “Great Brewing Nations”, “Beer and Food”, “Beer and Culture”, “Cooking with Beer” and “Great Beer Brands”. That last chapter kicks off with Amstel, which tells you just how rigorously quality control was applied to the choice of brews listed. In all, Beer: A Global History is definitely one to avoid.

Mikkeller's Book of Beer cover

Mikkeller’s Book of Beer, written by Mikkel Borg Bjergsø and Pernille Pang, published in English 2015 by Jacqui Small LLP, £20

Why Greene King doesn’t care that the haters hate its IPA

Hard luck, haters: Greene King knows you don’t like its IPA, you think it’s too bland, “not a real IPA” at 3.6% abv, and it doesn’t care at all. Not the tiniest drop. In fact it’s probably quite pleased you don’t like it. You’re not its target market – it’s after a vastly larger constituency. If you liked its IPA, it’s fairly sure those people that Greene King would most like to capture to and in the cask ale market, young people, people still with a lifetime of drinking ahead of them, wouldn’t like it – and for that reason, the Bury St Edmunds crew have no intention of changing their IPA just to make you happy. In fact they’re not changing it at all – except to shake up its look, and put £2m in media spend behind it.

Greene King IPA new look

The new look

Of course, it’s not just Greene King IPA that has hosepipes of vitriol directed at it by the Camra hardcore. Any widely available  cask ale gets the same – Fuller’s London Pride and Sharp’s DoomBar are equally hated, without the haters apparently being able to work out that the reason why these beers are widely available is because lots of people actually like drinking them, even if the haters don’t.

Indeed, it’s the popularity that is prompting the Bury St Edmunds crew into its current push. To its obvious delight, and, I suspect, slight surprise, Greene King has discovered that the flood of new young drinkers coming into the cask ale market find Greene King IPA just the sort of beer they want: there’s more to it that can be found in a pint of lager, but it’s still reasonably safe and unthreatening.

At a launch on Monday night in a bar near Oxford Circus in London to announce a new look for Greene King IPA, and other initiatives including a new website to educate licensees and bar staff on cellar management and how to serve the perfect pint, Dom South marketing director for brewing and brands at Greene King, quoted figures from a survey done last year for the Campaign for Real Ale showing that 15% of all cask drinkers tried cask ale for the first time in the past three years, and 65% of those new drinkers are aged 16 to 24. “We’re seeing a complete revolutionary shift in the drinker base coming into cask ale, which is exciting, because it means that this category, for the future, is in rude health,” South said. And where does Greene King IPA fit in here? “When you look at what those young drinkers want, from a cask ale brand, or just a beer, the three things a new young entrant wants are, first, something that feels right to them, a reflection of themselves, that makes them feel good about drinking the beer,” South said. “They want something a little bit modern, a little bit contemporary. The second thing is, they expect the beer to taste good – but let’s face it, too many pints in the UK are served sub-standard.

“The third thing is that younger people coming into the market want something that is a bit tastier than the lager market that they’ve left, but they want it to be pretty easy-drinking, the majority of them. They want something that tastes good, not something that needs chewing. That’s where the role of Greene King IPA comes in. There is a real role for a brand to play in the market, one that represents the safe choice when you enter into a product category that’s new to you, one that won’t let you down, that represents taste that is relatively easy drinking versus some of the 20,000-odd beers that you can have in the UK. With Greene King IPA, our simple strategy is to bring many more young people into our brand and the market, and also to stand for a signpost to quality, trust and assurance for people who might be about to come into the market.

Pint of IPA“When we tested ourselves against those key things that young drinkers want, ‘Does it look and feel right for me, make me want to drink it?’, ‘Is it good quality, not going to let me down?’, and three, ‘Is it easy to drink, and something you’d want to have as your first drink?’, we were really excited by the results. We found the number one reason for people drinking Greene King IPA, time after time, is the fact that it’s easy drinking. I know a few people give it a hard time because it’s easy to drink – that’s its strength, that’s its role in the market. It’s the first drink I would recommend to someone if it’s their first time drinking cask ale, because it won’t let them down and it’s not too challenging. We did a load of blind taste tests and Greene King IPA, when it’s served right, is absolutely up there with the world’s largest cask ale brand* in taste tests, and beat significantly most of the leading brands in the cask ale market. So this product doesn’t need changing, it isn’t going to change and we haven’t changed it. It’s absolutely right.”

There we are, then, haters. Greene King has the figures to show that four out of five cask ale drinkers love the fact that Greene King IPA is an easy-drinking pint – which is, after all, the core definition of a session beer, and session beers are, or should be, the pride and pinnacle of British brewing, the beer that makes going to the pub with your mates worthwhile. If you don’t like it – tough. Go and drink something so hoppy your teeth need re-enamelling afterwards.

IPA handpumpNot that everything in the IPA garden is perfectly lovely. There were two problems, the first relatively easy to try to solve, the second far more crucial, and difficult. On the first, South said: “We recognised, and consumers told us, we did need to move forward with the look and feel of the brand. We looked a little bit corporate, and perhaps a little bit traditional to the younger consumer. So we set off on the journey of bringing ourselves really up to date, a modern, contemporary look and feel that won’t alienate people who already enjoy a pint of Greene King IPA but that will genuinely bring younger people into the category and into the brand. I’m confident that this is going to do the job. It’s not a tweak and it’s not a small pigeon step forward, it’s pretty bold and it’s pretty big as a leap forward in terms of look and feel. Ziggurat Brands, the design agency that did it, have stripped it back to bare basics, taking inspiration from things they found in the brewery, so the copper colour is inspired by the copper kettles in the Greene King brewery, the teal colour because we wanted to evolve the green colour of Greene King IPA to something much more modern and contemporary. This is where we needed to make a big change to bring people in. At the same time it shouts heritage, with the crown and the arrows.” Teal – the hipster’s green. I’m never sure about that crown-and-arrows logo Greene King is adopting, though: it commemorates poor King Edmund of East Anglia killed by Viking archers in 869, after whom, of course, Bury St Edmunds is named.

More importantly, South said, “What we do need to focus on is making sure every pint is served perfectly. We are going to carry on with consumer support, advertising, all of those good things. But we feel it’s really important that we shift a lot of our emphasis, and put more money into the brand, with the trade. We’re going to invest heavily in supporting the trade to get quality right, and quality is the number one thing for us to focus on.” There two big initiatives here, the first a quality accreditation drive, with unannounced pub visits made by either Quality & Dispense Services, a senior Greene King representative or a third party quality agency. A pub will be required to pass ten quality tests, which include the taste, aroma and temperature of their Greene King IPA through to whether it is served in the right glass and the ability of bar staff to talk about the beer and describe it accurately. Pubs that are judged to pour a perfect pint of Greene King IPA will be awarded with a plaque and certificate, and crowners for their IPA pumpclips, “all signposts to the consumer to say, ‘This is going to be a safe bet,'” South said. Pubs that do not pass first time will be educated on the importance and benefits of looking after their cask beer range before another visit is made.

beergeniusgreen copy copyYou cannot improve quality in a vacuum, however: and to that end, Greene King has launched a website giving free training, troubleshooting and best practice videos, available at www.beer-genius.co.uk.. “Beer Genius is Greene King’s open access training portal to the industry,” South said. “We recognise that staff turnover is a problem – it’s different for everyone, but let’s make an assumption, 100% every year. How on earth can licensees be expected to make sure every new bar staff member knows even how to serve a pint, let alone clean down the bar and do all the basics? So what this portal is going to do is teach cellar managers, bar managers, operations directors, BDMs, local area managers, but also bar staff, three things: how to manage a cellar, how to make the most money and yield they can out of cask ale, by getting the quality right and the yield up, and why commercially it makes sense, and third, how to serve the perfect pint.

“Why does it matter? It’s not just about giving the consumer the perfect pint – although that’s absolutely key. The benefit of giving the consumer the perfect pint is that yields in pubs will massively skyrocket, because quality and yields go hand-in-hand. A key part of what we’ve got to do is educate bar staff, as well as bar managers that when you get it right, but that tiny bit of extra effort in, your till will start ringing up more money. The numbers astounded me. About 70% of pubs, we estimate, have a yield of 91% or lower on their cask ales. It should be 97, 98, even 99%. When they close that gap, the benefit to that pub in terms of profit is enormous – it’s up to £5,000 through the till, per annum. That’s their benefit: the benefit to the consumer is no more dodgy pints. And therefore you stay in the pub, you tell your friends about that pub, the net promoter score of that pub improves, people come back. So what could be a huge loss to that pub through a dodgy pint becomes a huge gain. So it’s absolutely key that we help licensees with this.”

There we are: get the quality right, your yields from every cask will be up, and so will be your profits. The licensee is happy, the consumer is happy, the brewer is happy. Mind, I doubt the haters would be happy even if Greene King had the head brewer personally deliver every pint to their table in solid gold goblets with a £50 note for use as a beermat. Personally, I’m delighted if young drinkers find Greene King IPA a good gateway into cask ale: as they grow older, and more experienced, it’s likely that some – though not all – will start to experiment, to explore, and discover the kind of beers the haters enjoy, beers which indeed have a great deal to offer those who are ready for them. The quality initiative is excellent – other brewers, please, please copy. And the Beer Genius website, from what I’ve been able to explore so far, is a terrific resource for everybody – including drinkers, who can find out what has to go on to get them that elusive perfect pint.

Does anyone make IPAs likem this one any more?

Does anyone make IPAs like this one any more?

Meanwhile, here’s a small rant directed at all those idiots who keep chuntering on about how Greene King IPA is “not an India Pale Ale” and how IPA has to be “strong and strongly hopped”, so it would survive the long journey to the Indian sub continent, over 200 years ago. You don’t have a clue what you are talking about. Let’s rush past the fact that 19th century IPA wasn’t strong at all, for the time, but comparatively weak, at around 6% abv. Do you complain because today’s porters aren’t matured in 30-feet-high oak vats for 18 months, as they were 200 years ago? Or that today’s stouts are as weak as 19th century porters? Do you complain because today’s milds are nothing at all like the mild ales of 200 years ago, 7% abv and made solely from pale malt? Beers change, and beer styles are not carved on stone tablets. A 19th century IPA would have been kept for up to a year in cask, would have lost all its hop aroma and would have developed a distinctly Brettanomyces flavour. Nobody at all is brewing an IPA like that. American IPAs, in particular, lovely beers though they often are, are nothing whatsoever like 19th century IPAs: totally wrong hops, totally wrong emphasis on hop aroma, often too strong, and meant to be drunk much more quickly after being brewed than 19th century IPAs were. After the First World War, and the huge rise in the tax on beer, all beers, of all styles, were brewed to lower strengths than they had been in the 19th century. What Greene King IPA is, is a perfect example of a mid-20th century IPA, just like those once brewed by Charrington, Palmers, Eldridge Pope, Wadworths, Wethered’s, Youngers and others in the 1960s and 1970s, all 1035 to 1043 OG. Go and get your Camra Good Beer Guide 2015 edition and look up Phipps IPA (page 844, column 2): OG 1042, abv 4.2%, “recreated from old recipes”: recreated from genuine 20th century recipes, as a genuine 20th century IPA. Just like Greene King IPA.

*Meaning DoomBar, presumably

Why Rooney Anand is talking rubbish on minimum alcohol pricing

I was disappointed and angry to see Rooney Anand, chief executive of Greene King, calling in the Daily Telegraph last week for minimum unit pricing for alcohol. Disappointed because the arguments for minimum unit pricing have been totally debunked, and Mr Anand should really have known he was talking rubbish – or his advisers should have told him. Angry because I cannot understand why he is using his position as boss of one of the largest brewers and pub operators in the country to promote the agenda of the neoprohibitionists for whom minimum unit pricing is but a small step on the way to totally restricting the sale of alcohol.

“Binge drinking continues to adversely affect our nation,” Anand cried, insisting that we have a “growing culture of irresponsible drinking”. And yet since 2004 there has been an 18.9% fall in alcohol consumption per head and consumption is now at its lowest level this century. Violent crime linked to alcohol has fallen by 32% since 2004 and by 47% since 1995. Where is your evidence for a “growing culture of irresponsible drinking”? Since 2005 the number of men “binge drinking” (a dubious concept in its own right, as I pointed out here has fallen by 17%; the number of women binge drinking has fallen by 23%; and binge drinking among 16 to 24-year-olds has fallen by 31% among men and by 34% among women. In 2012-13, alcohol consumption in England and Wales fell by 2.1% year-on-year, to its lowest level since 1990. “When it is possible to walk into a shop and buy a bottle of beer for less than a bottle of water, it is no surprise that, as a nation, we are moving in the wrong direction in our relationship with and consumption of alcohol,” Anand asserts. So a fall of almost a fifth in alcohol consumption in the past ten years is a move in the wrong direction, Rooney? Or do you not actually know that consumption is falling? Incidentally, that fall of nearly a fifth in alcohol consumption is actually far more than its proponents claimed would have been achieved by introducing minimum pricing. Oh, and it’s NOT possible to buy a bottle of beer for less than the price of a bottle of water, and never has been, unless you are talking about the most expensive designer water.

The first mash at the new Greene King brewhouse, Bury St Edmunds, 1939

The first mash at the new Greene King brewhouse, Bury St Edmunds, 1939

Anand goes on to claim that a 50p minimum unit price “could” reduce the costs to the NHS caused by alcoholic overindulgence by “as much as” £417m a year. Ignoring the two sets of weasel words there – “could” and “as much as”, the use of which sucks all the veracity out of his claim– it’s a pathetic claim anyway. £417m equals 31p per household per week. Big swing.

Next up, Anand references “a recent study by the University of Sheffield” which “indicated that minumum unit pricing” would have a larger positive impact on those in poverty, particularly high risk drinkers. Allegedly, minimum unit pricing “targets those prone to binge drinking, with their consumption expected to fall 7% through raising the price of approximately 30% of units sold to harmful drinkers.” But as Paul Chase, author of the excellent book Culture Wars and Moral Panic: The Story of Alcohol and Society (I’ve nicked all the stats here from him), has pointed out, “the Sheffield minimum pricing model is based on absurd assumptions, such as the belief that heavy drinkers are much more price-sensitive than moderate drinkers, and assumptions made about the price-elasticity of demand for alcohol that are at odds with what economic research and common sense tell us about the relationship between price and consumption.” To fill that out: there is no evidence at all that making drink dearer for heavy, problem drinkers will stop them drinking as much as they already do. Indeed, it seems more than likely that what will happen is that they will cut down on expenditure elsewhere in order to find the money to carry on drinking as much as ever.

Anand calls the failure to introduce a minimum pricing of alcohol in Scotland “disappointing”. But Scotland’s attempt to introduce minimum pricing hasn’t gone through because it is currently the subject of an investigation by the European Court of Justice, which is likely to give its decision on whether the proposal is legal, or breaks EU competition law, only at the end of 2015 or early in 2016. Expert betting is that it will be ruled illegal.

It is hard not to assume that Anand is backing the idea of minimum unit pricing because he thinks that it makes him appear on the side of the “good guys”, despite being a producer of “demon alcohol”. Perhaps, too, he thinks that minimum unit pricing will hurt the supermarkets more than it will the brewers and pub owners, and for that reason it’s a Good Thing. But he really needs to think about who he is getting into bed with by promoting minimum unit pricing. These are people prepared to lie and distort to promote their aims – the claim that “up to” 35% of A&E admissions are “alcohol-related”, for example, which is completely made up, of the equally preposterous claim that “Alcohol misuse hands a hefty annual bill of £21bn to UK taxpayers”, which is, again, based on unverifiable guesses and false reasoning. But the anti-alcohol lobby genuinely doesn’t care if its statistics aren’t true. It only wants to see its policies adopted, because it thinks it knows best what is good for all of us. To quote Paul Chase again: “Public discourse on alcohol is dominated by an absolutist, loony-left dominated, alcophobic public health movement that has become a vehicle for Big Business bashing.” Really, Rooney, do you think you should be promoting a policy these people want?

Two traditional breweries: a photo-essay

Compared to, say, Roger Putman, recently retired editor of Brewer & Distiller International magazine, who has visited more than 170 different breweries in his career, I’ve really not been to that many: fewer than 60, across four decades, albeit in six different countries. Pfff. Amateur status. But inexplicably, in 2014 I was welcomed into seven different brewhouses, of all sizes, that I had never been to before, from the massive new set-up at Guinness in Ireland to Twickenham Fine Ales’ current base, which may be bigger than its first home, but still produces less in a year than Brewhouse No 4 in Dublin makes in a day.

I take my camera with me around breweries, though I’m not, I cannot emphasise enough, a photographer in any sense except being the idiot pressing the shutter button. Very occasionally I get something that isn’t actually terrible. And since 2010 I’ve been using a camera that is fantastic at taking low-light shots, which helps enormously inside buildings. I have put a few of the pictures from my 2014 trips up on the blog to illustrate the pieces I wrote at the time, but two trips, to Shepherd Neame in Faversham and Hook Norton in Oxfordshire, never produced any words. So here is a small selection of snaps from two of Britain’s most traditional breweries:

Shepherd Neame brewery, Faversham

Shepherd Neame entrance, Faversham

Entrance to the Shepherd Neame brewery in Faversham, Kent

 

 

An old radiator-style "counterflow" wort cooler, late 19th or early 20th century, discarded

An old radiator-style heat-exchange wort cooler, late 19th or early 20th century, discarded and lying around the Faversham brewery. The hot wort ran into the trough at the top and over the outside of the cooler, through which ran cold water, then poured into the trough at the bottom and ran away to the fermenting vessel

Lovely poster from the time of the Shepherd & Mares partnership at the Faversham brewery, circa 1849-1864, hanging in the Faversham brewery boardroom

Lovely poster from the time of the Shepherd & Mares partnership at the Faversham brewery, circa 1849-1864, hanging in the Faversham brewery boardroom

A poster for Shepherd Neame's bottled beers from 1926, now hanging in the company boardroom in Faversham

A poster for Shepherd Neame’s bottled beers from 1926, now also hanging in the company boardroom in Faversham

 

The 1914 mash tun at the Shepherd Neame brewery, refurbished 1949, still in use

The 1914 mash tun at the Shepherd Neame brewery, refurbished 1949, still in use

Inside the 1914 mash tun at the Faversham brewery, showing the slotted floor plates

Inside the 1914 mash tun at the Faversham brewery, showing the slotted floor plates

 

A copper in the Shepherd Neame brewhouse, Faversham

A copper lauter tun in the Shepherd Neame brewhouse, Faversham, with a copper in the background

 

Stained glass windows in the Shepherd Neame brewhouse. Spot the icons, including a bishop's finger signpost, and the Shepherd & Mares trademark

Stained glass windows in the Shepherd Neame brewhouse. Spot the icons, including a bishop’s finger signpost, and the Shepherd & Mares trademark

 

Inside the Shepherd Neame sampling room

Inside the Shepherd Neame sampling room, with slate tasting notes

 

Framed letter in the Shepherd Neame sample room introducing the brewery's newest beer in 1958, Bishops Finger.

Framed letter in the Shepherd Neame sample room introducing the brewery’s newest beer in 1958, Bishops Finger

Hook Norton brewery

The Hook Norton brewery, designed by the brewery architect William Bradofrd, who also designed Harvey's brewery in Lewes and McMullen's in Hertford, among many others. This is the 'cliche shot' of Hook Norton, but hey …

The Hook Norton brewery, designed by the brewery architect William Bradford, who also designed Harvey’s brewery in Lewes and McMullen’s in Hertford, among many others. This is the ‘cliche shot’ of Hook Norton, the one everybody takes, but hey …

 

There's a joke in here somewhere about art worthy of the Louvres …

There’s a joke in here somewhere about a work of art fit for the Louvres …

 

Old grist mill at the Hook Norton brewery

Old grist mill at the Hook Norton brewery

A notice on the wind trunk, a device for separating the plump malted grain from the dust and faulty. too-light grains before the malt was ground

A notice on the wind trunk, a device for separating the plump malted grain from the dust and faulty, too-light grains before the malt was ground

Inside a mash tun at the Hook Norton brewery wth the plates up after cleaning

Inside a mash tun at the Hook Norton brewery wth the plates up after cleaning

Disused copper cooler at the top of the Hook Norton brewery. The hot, newly boiled wort would be pumped up into the shallow cooler, and the louvres opened for the steam to escape as the wort cooled down before it was run into the fermenting vessels below and the yeast pitched. Infections? Undoubtedly …

Disused copper cooler at the top of the Hook Norton brewery. The hot, newly boiled wort would be pumped up into the shallow cooler, and the louvres opened for the steam to escape as the wort cooled down before it was run into the fermenting vessels below and the yeast pitched. Infections? Undoubtedly …

Copper, Hook Norton brewery. This is one of the few I have seen in a "large" brewery that does not exhibit the "iceberg" effect, where most of the vessel is hidden below the floor that the operator stands on to feed in hops

Copper, Hook Norton brewery. This is one of the few I have seen in a “large” brewery that does not exhibit the “iceberg” effect, where most of the copper is hidden below the floor that the operator stands on to feed in hops

Inside the (empty) copper at the Hook Norton brewery

Inside the (empty, obviously) copper at the Hook Norton brewery

 

Notes on a Fuggle: More light on the early history of a great hop

Leave a question up on the web long enough, and I reckon you’ll eventually get some sort of satisfactory answer. More than five and a half years ago I pointed out that, thanks to the researches of Kim Cook, we actually knew a great deal less about the history of the Fuggles hop than we thought we did. The “official” history of what is one of England’s two greatest hop varieties says that

“The original plant was a casual seedling which appeared in the flower garden of Mr George Stace of Horsmonden, Kent, and was first noticed in 1861 … the seed from which the plant arose was shaken out along with crumbs from the hop-picking dinner basket used by Mrs Stace … the sets were afterwards introduced to the public by Mr Richard Fuggle of Brenchley, about the year 1875.”

But as Kim Cook pointed out, no George Stace can be found in Horsmonden in the early 1860s, and it’s not at all clear which of several Richard Fuggles is the one that should be credited with propagating and promoting that eponymous hop, since none of them fits the required hole particularly well: they were either too young, or not in the right place at the right time.

Postcard of a watercolour from 1906 by the Kentish artist Charles Essenhigh Corke of a hop gaden with oast houses in the distance

Postcard of a watercolour from 1906 by the Kentish artist Charles Essenhigh Corke of a hop garden with oast houses in the distance

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I have found a beer women will like – and, ironically, it’s pink

Oh, irony. It’s only a very short time since I mocked Nick Fell, marketing director at SABMiller, for sharing with us, in a presentation about getting more women to drink beer, the “duh, really?” statement that “no one wants a pink beer, including ladies.” But now I have discovered a beer I’m sure very many women will like – and it’s pink.

Not that they’ll like it because of its colour, of course: they’ll like it because it’s a very fine beer, with great depth and complexity of flavour, a beautiful deep bassoon-like bitterness (in contrast to the violins-and-saxophones bitterness of hoppier beers) giving structure to a sweetness that is laced through with liquorish and dark green herbal flavours. How do I know women will like it? Because when I sampled a bottle myself, right after thinking: “This is an extraordinarily good beer”, my next thought was: “I bet Mrs Z would enjoy it” – and not only did she enjoy it greatly, she relieved me of the rest of the bottle, consuming it all herself. Mrs Z is rarely a beer-drinker, touching only the very occasional pils and the even more occasional wheat brew. So if she loves a beer that I think is great too, you can bet we have a genuine cross-party vote-winner.

It's pink, but this ain't no Barbie brew

It’s pink, but this ain’t no Barbie brew

What is this beer? It’s Crazy Viking, one of the brews I brought back from my trip to Denmark last month to talk at the conference on Ny Nordisk Øl, or “New Nordic Beer”, it’s made by Det Lille Bryggeri or Little Brewery, from the small village of Bringstrup, just outside Ringsted, in the middle of the Danish island of Zealand (the one Copenhagen sits on), and it’s a deep ruddy pink because it contains considerable quantities of beetroot (red beet, to Americans) and beetroot extract, added both into the wort before boiling and in the fermentation tank. It also has in it masses of liquorice and nettles, those two giving most of the bitterness, I’m guessing, and only an “extremely limited” amount of hops. Beetroot is about seven per cent sugar, of course, and doubtless that helps to lift the abv of the beer up to 7.9%.

Det Lille Bryggeret’s brewer, René Hansen, has made beers with beetroot as his contribution to the New Nordic food and beer culture movement: the first, with just beetroot and nettles, was called Red Viking, and the one I drank (until Mrs Z stole it from me) has liquorice as well and is called Crazy Viking. It’s the second New Nordic Beer movement-inspired brew to completely blow me away, after the Hø Øl (hay ale) from the Herslev Bryghus I mentioned here (more irony: the Herlsev guys are now having to fight their local bureaucrats, who are trying to ban them from putting hay in their beer on the grounds that it’s not a listed food ingredient under EU regulations. I’ve sent them a copy of a page from Thomas Tryon’s book published in England in the 1690s that mentions hay ale, to show it’s an old tradition – hope it helps, it’s a marvellous beer.)

Crazy Viking logoI’m not sure the Crazy Viking beer name would recommend itself to women drinkers, and nor, probably, would the beer’s bottle label, with its image of an utterly sloshed Viking, one helmet horn drooping. But the liquid itself is an example of what a number of people have suggested since Nick Fell raised the spectre of the missing female beer drinker again back in October: that if there is going to be a style of beer that will appeal to a broader spectrum of women than drink beer now, it certainly won’t be one made by a giant corporation setting out deliberately to capture that market, and it’s much more likely to be the result of an accidental spin-off from a craft brewer or group of craft brewers, like the Ny Nordisk Øl crowd, making a beer that everybody agrees is great, regardless of gender.

Which gives me an excuse to rerun on this blog the dreadful history of the efforts brewers in the UK have made – unsuccessfully – to target women drinkers for three decades, sometimes with, yes, pink beer. For the history of beer marketing is littered with the smoking wrecks of attempts to get females to drink more beer, dating back to the 1980s.

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