By Martyn Cornell
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Extra resources for Amber, Gold & Black: The History of Britain’s Great Beers
It turns out fruitier bitters which are often, because of the calcium sulphate-imbued water found in Burton and replicated by brewers elsewhere, distinctly sulphury. A rather less well-known, though formerly common method was the ‘dropping’ system, where the partially fermented wort is dropped into a new vessel on a lower floor to reinvigorate the yeast and leave behind the first lot of ‘trub’, or dead yeast, and coagulated protein. It was once found from Bristol to Newark via Oxfordshire and London (Whitbread’s brewery in Chiswell Street was still using it in the 1950s and Young’s brewery used it occasionally in the early twenty-first century).
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.
Before the 1840s the few advertisements for brewers in local newspapers normally listed only ale (in three separate grades, X, XX and XXX) and porter. One of the first brewers outside London and Burton to offer a bitter beer in the style of IPA was Thomas Henry Wyatt of the Bridge Street brewery, Banbury in Oxfordshire, who was advertising ‘Very Fine Pale Bitter Ale (India)’ in July 1843 at the high price of 17d a gallon, the most expensive beer on his list. An advertisement from 1851 from Laws and Company of the Chevalier brewery in King’s Lynn, Norfolk declared: ‘Pale Bitter Beer!