Saturday, 17 October 2009

Dark Mild

When did Mild become dark? That's a very good question. To which I don't have a good answer. Sorry about that.

Why's is it so difficult to pin down? There are a number of reasons.

  1. First, and fairly obvious, is the fact that only in the 1920's did they begin to record the beer colour on logs. (And even then, only on some.) That means you have to try and work it out yourself. Not always as easy as it sounds.

  2. Which leads onto the second reason. Being unspecific about the kind of sugar being used. The entries often just say "sugar". Even though the invert sugars still used today - No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 - were already around. When no dark malts are used (mostly the case) it just leaves you guessing as to what effect the sugar might have had on colour.

  3. Breweries adjusted the colour using caramel, but didn't always write it in the logs. Especially if the adjustment took place after the boil.

What's the point of all this? Well take a look at this Barclay Perkins log from 1886:

Do you see? Towards the top in the middle: "12 Garton's No. 3 Sacc." That's dark No. 3 brewing sugar. Given that it makes up 25% of the grist, I think we can assume the finished beer must have been dark.

So when did Mild turn dark? Well, at least one Mild was dark by 1886. That's progress. It's the first real evidence I have from before 1900. I wonder if I can push the date back any further?


Gary Gillman said...

Ron, on January 30 of this year you reproduced a Fuller's ad I had located from 1897 which described its X mild ale as "amber". This confirms your deduction from the 1886 logs but does not precede it of course.


Gary Gillman said...

Actually I was just reading Martyn Cornell's Amber Gold & Black (an excellent book and must read), to bone up further on stout. In there Martyn reproduced an 1893 ad from Fuller's which describes its X mild as amber also. That is some years before the 1897 one I had found in that online trade directory resource to which you had given the link, Ron.

In terms of anything earlier than 1886, I can't recall seeing anything but there may have been one or two from provincial brewers in that directory. I'll see if I can find one.


Rod said...

Just as interesting (to me) and probably even harder to answer, is the question of why Mild became dark.
Or is this common knowledge with me demonstrating my ignorance?

Gary Gillman said...

Okay, from 1890 (but not earlier than 1886, granted): mild ales that are light, amber and brown, in varying strengths, from Phipps:

It seems hard to resist that the increasing use of sugar produced the darker milds, although of course amber ales have an old history as does amber malt.

One would think though that the colour of at least some of these amber and brown mild ales from Phipps was the result of sugar in the kettle. This is also because so far at any rate using this trade directory resource, I can't find similar ads before 1890. Finally, if amber malt explained it, one would think at least some of the stock beers would also be designated as amber, but this is not the case.

Note by the way the reference to all but the weakest pale ales as "winter-brewed".


Gary Gillman said...

This link to the 1890 Phipps ad should work:

Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, where to start? Amber Ales, like Brown Ales, disappeared just after 1800. The names popped up again later (Amber beating Brown by a couple of decades) with totally different meanings.

I'll be honest here: I've no idea what an Amber Ale was. The name is used fairly erratically, usually referring to bottled beer. I've also no idea what the colour was. I could guess. But we all know how dangerous that is.

What's meant by amber as a colour? I'd describe Bitter as amber in colour. And one Amber Ale I did see, Newcastle Amber, was paler than most Bitter.

What I do know, is that Barclay Perkins had different coloured Milds in the 1920's and 1930's. Sometimes they were sold "as brewed" others darkened with caramel. Before colouring they were about 40 EBC, after 90. Their Pale Ales of the period were 21 to 26.

I've seen odd examples of amber malt used in Milds 1890 - 1910. And in Stock Ales. Because, of course, they went dark too. What you see in the logs are the use of fairly small amounts of amber and brown in the beginning. And some dark sugars. The amounts increase until, by around WW I, most Stock and Mild Ales are pretty dark.

In the breweries I've looked at, almost all the colour comes from sugar. About the only time they used much dark malt was during the wars, when they couldn't get the sugar.

Before the late 1800's, getting any colour other than black consistently would have been just about impossible. In Britain, at least. When caramel was allowed, colour adjustment became practical.

Even in the 1930's, Barclay Perkins struggled to hit their target colours. They had to adjust the colour of just about everything. OK, you'd obviously aim low in the brewing because you know you can only adjust up. But I've seen plenty of logs with "too dark" scribbled on them as well.

Beer colour is a fascinating subject, but frustratingly difficult to research. Without a time machine, I fear much will never be certain.

Ron Pattinson said...

Rod, the why is an even tricker question than the when.

This is my crazy guess which has only minor basis in documented fact.

1890-ish is when, according to one source, pubs in London were going from serving in opaque tankards to glass. So drinkers could notice more subtle differences in colour. The way beers were brewed at the time, from 100% pale malt, would have made the stronger beers a bit darker. Punters associated darker with stronger, so brewers made their beers artificially darker so they looked more attractive. Continue this process for 30 years and you've gone from pale to dark.

Just a total guess. Don't quote me.

Gary Gillman said...

Ron, all well-taken, but the use of the term amber in the Fuller's and Phipps ads of this period suggests to me that their pale ales were not as dark. (Even more so of course for the strong brown mild mentioned in the Phipps ad). Not to say that much pale ale wasn't amber in colour, since the term pale ale in some cases was used to denote an amber-coloured beer (sources as early as Combrune confirm this).

But it is all relative again and I believe that in this 1880's-1890's period, the breweries mentioned - Fuller's, Phipps - were bringing in mild ales that were darker than they had sold earlier. It's an interpretation, and I recognize the historical difficulties.


rod said...

"1890-ish is when, according to one source, pubs in London were going from serving in opaque tankards to glass. So drinkers could notice more subtle differences in colour"

They would also be able to notice haziness in the beer too, of course. Mild was presumably rushed out of the fermenters and into the pubs pretty quickly (because of it's low gravity and hop levels, and consequent risk of infection) - was the darker colour employed to mask a somewhat hazy beer?

Gary Gillman said...

Rod, I think that haziness may have been encouraged, not so much by low gravity, since as Ron has shown earlier, mild was still strong then, but by increasing use of foreign 6-row barley. So darkening the beer might have helped cover that over, I agree.

Use of sugar or any adjunct I believe tends to remedy the protein haze problems of 6 row, but to the extent it didn't, the darker colour probably helped. A win-win in other words.

As we have seen, it seems brewers became convinced sugar added new and valuable flavours to beer, so, a win-win-win.


rod said...

Gary -
"As we have seen, it seems brewers became convinced sugar added new and valuable flavours to beer..."

Not trying to pick a fight here, but are we so sure as to the motivation for adding so much sugar (equivalent to 25% of the grain bill?). It's not at all clear to me why they were adding so much sugar.

[The normal motivation for adding so-called adjuncts (I prefer the term "malt substitutes") is cost. In the case of modern Belgian brewers, sugar is used to give a higher ABV, with a leaner mouthfeel, than an all-grain beer, and also (when candy sugar is used) some colour. Flavour isn't normally the biggest consideration when deciding to use normal brewing sugars.]

Gary Gillman said...

Rod, cost would have been foremost, you are right. But I think sugar also may have worked from a number of other perspectives, if it helped fix any 6 row haze problem, all the better, if it produced flavours thought beneficial, all the better. I'm not a brewer but I have understood some sugars can impact flavour positively.

But point taken, and if the cost benefits were not there, I doubt sugars would have been resorted to to begin with.


Ron Pattinson said...

Rod, a funny thing happened in WW I. The price differential between sugar and malt reversed. But breweries continued to use large amounts of sugar, even though it cost more.

There must have been reasons for using sugar other than straight cost.

Gary Gillman said...

Ron, could brewers buy unlimited amounts of malt in this period? If there were quotas on malt, this might explain the resort to sugar if the latter was uncontrolled.


Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, if anything supply of sugar was even more limited than malt. Malted barley can't be used for much else apart from make beer, whereas sugar has many other uses. Which is why you also see 100% malt brews in both WW I and WW II.

Gary Gillman said...

Christine Clark's book on the history of the British malting industry states, in the Free Mash Tun chapter, that use of sugar by brewers stepped up considerably in the late 1800's when the price of malt rose higher than sugar. It came when a duty on sugar, intended to match the tax on malt, was repealed. Perhaps later when palates were accustomed to the presumed flavour profile sugar contributed to beer one can argue that brewers might elect to buy more expensive sugar over less costly malt, at least at certain times or by some brewers. But in general, it seems clear that in the U.K. sugar's ascent as a brewing ingredient was related to its price advantage.

Her chapter on the First World War is fascinating but a partial view on Google makes it hard to be clear on some points. Was sugar rationed like malt was? It was in the Second War per a footnote in her chapter on that subject. She states that grain adjuncts were controlled in the First War so one may presume sugar was too. Even so, it would depend what the prices were. If both were controlled but sugar cost more than malt, brewers would still buy sugar in order to reach their permitted level of output (also controlled as we know too).

She has a table in which the totals for each year, from a point in the 1800's until after World War II, are given for malt, grain adjunct and sugar use by brewers. Unfortunately, the view is not given on Google for the years of both wars.

Ms. Clark does state that in her chapter on the Second World War that use of adjuncts went up, so one may presume this happened in World War One as well. But why this was exactly is something not so easy to determine, I think.