Monday 12 August 2013

The Beer Of The Future

The trouble with predictions is you have to wait to see if they come true. But fortunately the tedious waiting business can be done away with if you manage to dig out old predictions, which is precisely what I did recently when rummaging round the JIB archives.

H. Lloyd Hind presented a paper in nearly 90 years ago called "The Beer Of The Future", which as well as containing his prediction of how beer will develop contains some fascinating facts about beer at the time. First it's makes clear that Henry Armstrong was not the only person unhappy with the big drop in beer strength due to the First World War, for quality had similarly fallen:

" many complaints that beer is not what it should be are heard"

The obvious solution didn't seem viable though:

"It may, of course, be argued that if beer were made of its pre-war strength all would be well, no right-thinking man would complain of the article, and no brewer need look for any improvement in his method of making it. There can, indeed, be no doubt that a very high degree of quality had been attained in the old strong beers, but , considered quite apart from any economic changes that have been brought about in recent years, there seems a tendency to demand something else from beer than mere strength, body or alcohol content, which are mainly sought after by workers in heavy manual occupations"

Though British brewers are now known for the excellent quality of their modestly strong beers it seems this was not the case when they first became the norm. In words echoed by many beer writers to this day the author bemoans that beer is seldom served with meals, but admits that all too often the beer quality is not up to scratch:

"Beers for the most part fall far below the standard set up. Sometimes they have condition, but the haze or sediment in them makes their appearance impossible on the table of a well-managed restaurant or café, or if brilliant they may lack the sparkle and lasting head demanded."  

Continent brewers however were doing a better job:

"I am afraid we must admit that Continental brewers have been more successful in producing beer with the consistent sparkling, brilliant, and head-retaining condition aimed at, and in certain parts of the Continent the glass of beer regularly appears on the dinner table and reigns supreme in the café. Here it still has the taint of the poor relation, and there seems to be an idea that one is lacking in hospitality if beer if offered instead of wine. This should not be in a country which prides itself that beer is the national drink,and I think the time will come when this reproach will be a thing of the past." 

Again he mentions the quality of the pre-war beers but says there's no going back:

"The old time beers were splendid in their way. The strong ales that came brilliant naturally by long storage, and the pale ales which after a few months were absolutely brilliant and left their sediment firmly on the bottom of the bottle or the cask. In their very excellence, however, lies their defect - if one may put it that way - they are too strong for ordinary meal-time use."

He then at length discusses the different practices used by Continental and American brewers compared to ones in Britain, which to stray briefly into the realm of Ron includes the fascinating revelations that by the end  of WWI 40% of German beer production was top fermented, and in the early 1920s the Reinheitsgebot seems to have been abandoned.   

He eventually comes to the conclusion that improved manufacturing techniques should be able to produce a stable, chilled, filtered product, possibly but not necessarily lager, matured in the brewery and served under CO2 pressure on draught with high class beer having an original gravity  around 1.050 and a larger quantity of weaker beer at about 1.040.

Which is pretty much how things have ended up, and his assertion that there's no going back to the brilliant ales of before the First World War has sadly proved true.

Thankfully though, many of the improvements in processes the author championed and vigorous campaigning means unfiltered cask beer served without added CO2 continues to exist to this day, and the rise of craft beer means beers of pre-WWI strength are becoming increasingly easily available.

I wonder what beer will be like 90 years from now?


  1. "the rise of craft beer"

    Is this not the same as cask beer?

  2. I'm not going into that one today, but most cask beer is less than average pre-WWI strength, and beer marketed as Craft Beer is often greater than average pre-WWI strength.

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