Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Original Pilsner?

You all know the story, legendary brewer tinkers with the ingredients and methodology to create a new, paler beer which takes off and is soon being imitated by brewers throughout the land, and eventually overseas as well. However, I am not talking here about Josef Groll and the creation of what would become known as Pilsner Urquell. Rather, I am talking about Samuel Allsopp and Burton Ale.

As I mentioned in Monday's post, and again thanks to Martyn Cornell for this information, Burton Ale was once a nut brown, super strong ale which was shipped to the Baltic region and Russian Empire. This trade formed the basis of business for brewers such as Allsopp and Bass until 1822 when Tsar Alexander I's government instituted tariffs on the importation of beer into the Empire which made the trade too expensive to be profitable for the brewers of Burton. Left with large amounts of sweet strong brown ale on their hands, men like Allsopp needed to find new markets for their wares. In a scenario strangely similar to what would happen in Plzeň exactly 20 years later, in October 1822 Samuel Allsopp produced a new version of Burton Ale, which was less sweet and with a more pronounced hop bitterness than it's predecessor. According to a recipe from the middle of the 19th Century, Burton Ale had also become a pale beer, made with 100% pale malt and hopped only slightly less than the IPA that Allsopp would send to India in 1823.

By the time Burton Ale was being described as one of the four major types of beer being sold in Britain, it had become a 'style', for want of a better word, that had transcended its parochial origins to be imitated by many. In the ancient county of Middlesex, Chiswick brewers Fuller, Smith and Turner were producing a pale Burton style Ale from at least 1845 and would have a beer bearing the name 'Burton', whether pale or dark, until 1969. In Scotland, the Edinburgh brewery William Younger's introduced a range of numbered ales, which bear a marked resemblance to Burton Ales, in the 1850s and according to Ron Pattinson, what became known as 'Scotch Ale' is Burton Ale by another name (which makes you wonder where this bullshit about Scottish beer 'traditionally' not being heavily hopped came from?). Even in the US, brewers such as Amsdell's and Ballantine were making their own versions of Burton Ale. By the time I was born though, in the mid 1970s, Burton Ale, in any form, was pretty much gone, a victim of mankind's slavish attachment to fashion, and perhaps the inexorable march of pale lager inspired by the work of Josef Groll?

I guess it is only natural to find parallels between the development of various types of beer, the interesting thing is to see how they ride out the peregrinations of fashion. Clearly Burton Ale didn't have the staying power of Pilsner, and who is to say whether or not modern IPA will still be here in 20 years time? History is so much more interesting than hagiography and myth, especially when it comes to beer.

4 comments:

  1. which makes you wonder where this bullshit about Scottish beer 'traditionally' not being heavily hopped came from?
    The most pernicious urban myths have an air of stands-to-reason about them. Hops don't grow in Scotland so it stands to reason(ish) that the beer there would be only slightly hopped. And also that the malt would be smoked.

    Deductive reasoning: it's way easier than facts.

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  2. Hops will grown in Scotland, though I guess not particularly well - commercial growing stopped in 1871.

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    1. The history of brewing began in 1978, Ed. I thought everyone knew that.

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  3. Amsdell did indeed brew a Burton during the second half of the 19th-century. How close it was to a British Burton, I have no idea. Although, by the turn of the 20th century, they were regularly brewing Scotch Ales, instead of the Burtons. It looks like they may have toyed with getting back in the Burton business in the early part of the 1900s. The last page of their 1905 brewing log is a copied, Burton recipe from Quandts Brewery, up the river in Troy. I don't know if it was stolen or borrowed, but just like British Burtons of the time it does contain colorant.

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