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Official - beer is good for you; The local writer and historian CHARLIE STEEL continues his fortnightly series of articles on the history of the pub. Here he continues his look at the origins of that most enjoyable of substances - beer.


For over a thousand years ale or beer was the staple drink of all the inhabitants of the British Isles but gradually this deeprooted habit gave way before the onslaught of cheaper tea, coffee and cocoa, while the growth of many temperance societies banished it from numerous homes.

There are, naturally, many arguments for and against beer but most of those against it seem to stem from ignorance or prejudice and possibly the excesses of the few.

The plain and truthful fact is that beer is, as our forefathers well knew, a health-giving and invigorating beverage and one that even today, with its high taxation and comparatively low gravity, is still cheap.

For instance, as a drink taken at any time, it has double the calorie value of the same quantity of tea or coffee. It also greatly enhances the value of any meal. Compare the average meal of today consisting of soup, beef, potatoes, cabbage, gravy and coffee with the old fashioned lunch of a pint of beer, three or four slices of buttered bread with cheese and a bit of lettuce, and two very startling facts emerge. The first is that an incontrovertible medical fact that the latter is a perfectly balanced meal in every way, which is more than can be said for the stodgy cooked meal.

To put it in its simplest possible form, a pint of beer has the same energy giving value as four eggs or more than half a pound of meat!

Burton-on-Trent has been famous for ale and beer for many centuries. This is because, among other things, the water in this district has a high gypsum content, which renders it ideal for brewing.

Burton ale was known in the time of richard Coeur-de-Lion and the ale brewed in Burton Abbey was famed for its excellence. Indeed it was the ale from this Abbey that was supplied to Mary, Queen of Scots, when she was imprisoned in Tutbury Castle in 1580.

It was not until the reign of George III however that the first commercial brewery was established at Burton by one Benjamin Printon.

A few years later the owner of a cartage business decided that he would sooner make beer than cart it and so in 1777 he took over the brewery of Benjamin Printon. The carter's name was William Bass.

It is very interesting to note that the present-day 'Bottle of Bass' largely owes its origin to an accident. In 1797, 20 years after the inception of the firm, the annual trade amounted to 2,000 barrels, a good proportion of which was exported to russia, Finland and Poland, for in those days it was cheaper to send the beer by sea to russia than by road to London!

This export trade, however, was practically eliminated in 1822 by a prohibitive tariffand so, looking Turn to Page 22 From Page 21 round for other suitable markets William Bass decided to produce a pale ale suitable for the Far East.

Unfortunately -or should it be fortunately? -a shipment on its way to India was wrecked in the Irish Channel and some of the salvaged casks of beer were subsequently sold in Liverpool. The quality of this special beer was so appreciated that the fame of 'East India Pale Ale' spread rapidly, with the result that it was soon put on the home market.

'Bass' is made using the finest quality barley soaked in cold water in steeping tanks for about three days. The water is then drained offand the barley is spread out in the malt house floor to allow germination to begin. When germination has progressed to the required degree the barley is moved to a kiln.

This is a large room with a floor of finely perforated tiles through which heat can be brought to bear so arresting germination and at the same time drying the barley, which at this stage becomes known as malt. The malt is then sent to the brewery and fed into crushing mills.

The grist, as it is now called, is then mixed with hot water and run into mash tuns. Here it is allowed to infuse in exactly the same way that tea is made. Unlike tea, however, certain natural changes take place at this stage such as the starches being turned into malt sugars. When the infusion is completed the resultant clear liquid, known as wort, is run off. This process can be repeated; using the same grist in exactly the same way that a second pot of tea can be made from the first lot of tea leaves with exactly the same result that the second infusion is weaker than the first. It is, in fact, this second brew that was, in mediaeval times, known as 'small beer'.

After the wort has been run off, the mash tun is sprayed with water, or 'sparged' until all the extract is taken from the malt. And here it might be said the basic difference in brewing between the various grades and qualities of beer is purely a question of gravity. The stronger the beer and more malt and less water is used, and, conversely, for weaker beers, less malt and more water.

Hops have no effect on gravity and are added in the proportions to the different brews as is required to attain the quality desired.

From the mash tun the wort is run offinto a large vessel known as an underback from which it is run into coppers where it is mixed with hops and boiled. The hops, until wanted, are stored in huge cold stores in which the temperature is kept a 2deg of frost.

On leaving the coppers the wort passes through a large vessel called a hop-back which is, in effect, a giant strainer which strains offthe spent hops leaving the liquid clear again. The wort then runs into a cooler and through various refrigerators whereby it is cooled as rapidly as possible. Some aeration also takes place at this stage. From the refrigerators the wort flows into the fermentation vessels.

Here, yeast is added and fermentation takes place, the yeast breaking down the malt sugars in the wort and converting them into alcohol.

Although many bottled beers are aerated with carbonic acid gas to give a sparkling drink with a good head, the effervescence found in a bottle of Bass is a completely natural process.

Such is the story of ale and beer, a story over 6,000 years old, a story, which is still being told and sung the world over... Cheers !!!

A KEEN INTEREST IN HISTORY CHARLIE Steel was born in Newcastle upon Tyne and attended Langley Avenue and Monkseaton County Secondary Schools.

On leaving, he spent eight years in the Printing Trade as a Graphic Artist and Process Photographer and in 1975 joined Northumbria Police, where he served for 30 years until his retirement in 2005.

The last two years of his service were spent as Deputy Licensing Officer for North Tyneside in which he helped oversee the transition of alcohol licensing from the Police and Magistrates to the Local Authority.

Having a passionate interest in the history of the North Tyneside area and coastal strip - particularly Monkseaton and Whitley Bay, where he has lived for most of his life - Charlie has a total of seven published books to his credit and has previously written local history features for the Northumbrian countryside magazine.

He currently writes a regular monthly local history article for the Roundabout Monkseaton and Roundabout Tynemouth magazines.


Monkseaton Brewery

Charlie Steel

A McEwans's beer label

An advert for Burton's beer Charlie Steel

Truman's Burton brewery Charlie Steel
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Apr 13, 2015
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