Wednesday, 27 May 2009

London beer

More randomness. This time the topic is London beer. Which, according to Charles Knight, meant "the brown stout".

The genuine London beer (although we learn from the ' Brewers' Annual' that there are only three brewers in London—Reid, Meux, and Courage—who do not brew pale ale, and that there are a few who brew nothing else) is the brown stout. It is the perfection—the ideal of the "berry-brown ale" and the "nut-brown ale" of the old songs.
"London" by Charles Knight, 1842, page 13

Funnily enough, I've been going through Courage's WW I logs. Slow as I am, it was a while before I noticed there were no logs for Pale Ale. So more than 50 years later, they still weren't brewing a Pale Ale. Very unusual. Reid, on the other hand, did brew Pale Ale in 1839. Maybe they discontinued it.

Note the mention of "nut-brown ale" in reference to Porter, not Brown Ale. In case you were wondering, "nut brown" doesn't refer to the use of nuts in a beer or any such nonsense. The phrase is just a quote from an old song.

Guinness is a respectable enough drink, but we must say that the ascendancy it has gained in many coffeehouses and taverns of London is anything but creditable to the taste of their frequenters. Its sub-acidity and soda-water briskness, when compared with the balmy character of London bottled stout from a crack brewery, are like the strained and shallow efforts of a professed joker compared with the unctuous, full-bodied wit of Shakspere. As for the mum of Brunswick, which enjoys a traditional reputation on this side of the water, because it has had the good luck to be shut out by high duties, and has thus escaped detection, it is a villanous compound, somewhat of the colour and consistence of tar — a thing to be eaten with a knife and fork.
"London" by Charles Knight, 1842, page 14
This is a rare mention of the actual taste of Stout. If I read it correctly, it says Guinness was pretty tart and highly conditioned.

It is among the Osmanli, and the Arabs, and the multiform sects of Hindustan, that we are to look for the real triumph of London beer. In the country last mentioned it is true the high-hopped pale ale of Hodgson, Bass, and others famous in that line, appears to be in greater demand; yet the genuine brown stout will be found in a respectable minority. Probably, too, a minute examination would show that it is only at the tiffins of the Europeans that Hodgson's beer is most run upon, and that the dusky natives do more affect the generous liquor that comes nearer to their own complexion. In the tropical climates of the West, among the fiery aristocracy of Barbadoes, the shrewd hard-headed book-keepers of Jamaica, the alternate votaries of the gaming-table and the languishing Quadroons of New Orleans, bottled porter reigns supreme.
"London" by Charles Knight, 1842, page 15
The emphasis on IPA often leads people to forget that large quantities of Porter were exported to India, too. That Porter was preferred in the West Indies is no surprise. Stout still has a following in Jamaica and Barbados.


Gary Gillman said...

That is a very good description of stout flavour(s) in the 1800's. It's funny but the version of Guinness Stout brewed in Canada under license tastes quite like circa-1850 Guinness. It is very fizzy with a chalky, tart flavour. This Guinness is made I understand by adding a concentrate of some kind from Dublin to a base beer made here. While seemingly a lesser version of Guinness (we get all the others too except FES and 250th), it is actually pretty good and is similar to the bottled Guinness I recall in the U.K. in the 1980's.

The term "nut" as applied to brown ale in the poems was intended simply to emphasize its colour. Oddly though, while (as I recall) nut brown draughts were lauded as country drinks - e.g., by Oliver Goldsmith - it was not generally a country style of beer.

I think the answer must be that the poets were city-based or inclined, and used a London beer style to evoke lyrically aspects of the country.

Poetic, not brewer's, license.


Oblivious said...

Pint bottles of Guinness are still fizzy ( CO2 rather then the ubiquitous Nitro) and this dissolved CO2 combined with the roasted barely can give a tart taste

The Professor said...

Interesting and enlightening description of the 1800's Guinness!

What is your feeling on the oft published notion that Guiness is made with a percentage of soured (and pasteurized) product being added to each finished batch of stout? That always seemed reasonable to me given that slight sour 'tang' present in the brew even as produced today. Could the 'soured' addition be part of the "essence" refered to in descriptions of the Canada brewed licensed product? Or, in your opinion, is the whole idea of a 'soured' addition just a brewing myth?