By Martyn Cornell
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Additional info for Amber, Gold & Black: The History of Britain’s Great Beers
One cautionary point: this was the London market, and different things were undoubtedly happening outside the capital. There is, for example, a small ad in The Times from November 1845 which reads: ‘WANTED to HIRE, a COUNTRY BREWERY, of about an eight-quarter plant, with public-houses and trade attached. It must be in a mild beer country. ’ What this suggests is that parts of regional England, at least, were already given over to drinking mild beer. Thirty to fifty miles round Cambridge would take in a chunk of East Anglia, which was certainly ‘a mild beer country’ later in the century; at Steward & Patteson of Norwich the XX mild made up 45–50 per cent of production in the 1890s.
The ‘classic’ hop for bitter ales is Goldings, specifically East Kent Goldings, but excellent versions of English bitter are made with such hop varieties as Northdown, Challenger and Styrian Goldings, which, despite its name, is a variety of the other great English hop, Fuggles. Today the general definition of bitter is that it is pale, drier than a brewer’s other products and the most highly hopped. 4, less than 3 per cent alcohol, while Fuller Smith & Turner at Chiswick in West London bottles Extra Special Bitter, ESB, at an OG of 1059, giving nearly 6 per cent alcohol.
Some drinkers liked to order ‘mild beer and stale mixed’, others ‘three-threads’ (most likely a mixture of strong pale ale, mild beer and stale beer blended together) at 3d per quart, but ‘many used all stale at fourpence per pot,’ Poundage said. His account is corroborated by two anonymous rhyming ‘good pub guides’ to London published around 1716 to 1720, the Vade Mecum for Malt Worms (malt worm being an old slang expression for a drinker) and the Guide for Malt Worms. Almost thirty different types of beer were mentioned in the guides, the most common being twopenny pale ale (the most expensive regular beer in London), mild, stale and stout.
Amber, Gold & Black: The History of Britain’s Great Beers by Martyn Cornell