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Monday, 24 October 2016

Budweiser: You Can't Rush Plagiarism

Seems like America's beer just can't stop stealing things from southern Bohemia...

I was shocked late Friday night to see a really good beer ad from Budweiser. No, stop laughing. I've seen plenty of good ads from Bud before - stuff about frogs and lizards and whazaaap, but this was a good beer ad: it's true, it's centred on the product, and it says something good about the broader beer category - good lager takes time to mature. 

Last I heard, Budweiser is matured for twenty days. That's not as long as the classic lagers of the Czech Republic and Germany are matured, but it's a hell of a lot longer than the 72 hours some leading brands allegedly spend in the brewery between mashing in and packaging. You may not like the (lack of) taste in Budweiser, but even now they do some things right, and deserve some credit for that. So I was pleased to see an ad that had made lager maturation look cool. 

I said as much on Twitter and Facebook, and very quickly Simon George of Budweiser Budvar UK shot back that his new strategy is to focus on the Czech beer's astonishingly long lagering time - five times longer than the American beer. Budweiser Budvar has been running this copy for about nine months, albeit without the huge TV ad budgets US Bud can afford:

The dispute between American Budweiser and Czech Budweiser Budvar is decades old. Bud founder Adolphus Busch told a court of law, on record, in 1894: “The idea was simple,” he testified, “to produce a beer of the same quality, colour and taste as the beer produced in Budejovice [the Czech name for the town known as Budweis in German] or Bohemia.” Even though that record exists, the company has since flatly denied that this it stole the name Budweiser from the town of Budweis, or even took any inspiration from there. (There's a lot more on this dispute in my book Three Sheets to the Wind.)

Budvar spent a long time capitalising on its David V Goliath relationship with Budweiser and has recently decided to move on and focus on its ageing process instead, as part of a new strategy to remain relevant in a market where craft beer means drinkers are more interested in product specifics. But it seems Budweiser are still hung up on their namesake. Nine months after Czech Budvar focused their marketing campaign on how long it takes to make their beer, American Budweiser focused their marketing campaign on how long it takes to make their beer:

Having stolen the idea, they've now gone the whole hog and even stolen the same copy. The Budvar headline above? 'You can't rush perfection.' Spot the difference in the Facebook link to the ad below.

Come on, Budweiser. You've already stolen your name from the town in which Budweiser Budvar is brewed. You've copied their advertising idea (albiet in a fine execution) and now even their copy, word for word. You employ some of the best and most expensive advertising agencies in the world (even if you do try to shaft them on costs.) Is this the best those agencies can do?

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

The Campaign for Good Brown Beer

Is the boom in craft brewing actually narrowing the choice of different beer styles we have?

Last week I was invited to Germany to attend the magnificent Bar Convent Berlin, a huge trade show featuring a mind-boggling array of drinks producers across the board and from across the world, plus talks, seminars and debates. 

Yes, they have hipsters in Germany too. But this was an amazing trade show. 

This year there was a special focus on the UK, and I was asked if I'd run a tutored tasting with Sylvia Kopp, European Ambassador for the American Brewers' Association, the idea being that we'd pick a variety of beer styles that were British in origin, and do side-by-side presentations of British and American beers in that style. It sounded like a lovely idea, so I readily agreed. 

Sylvia checked with the American brewers at the show and came up with an attractive-looking list of styles:

  • Brown ale
  • Scotch ale
  • IPA
  • Stout

As a list, it has that warm glow of classic British beer about it. As a flight of beers, it felt comforting and autumnal, the corner pub on a rainy Tuesday night with a small fire in the grate and George Orwell sitting in the corner with a newspaper. 

And maybe, to young British brewers, that's the problem with it. 

Stout was straightforward enough, although we both ended up with flavoured styles rather than straightforward ones. IPA was of course very easy to find. But we wanted to put up a British style against an American style IPA, and finding a British IPA that didn't have a heavy American hop influence was a much more difficult task.* I could think of two that were widely known, but neither of them was available in Germany. 

The other categories were much more difficult. For brown ale, I had the choice of Newcastle Brown, which is insipid, and Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale. I don't promote Samuel Smith's beers, for ethical reasons. That left me with... nothing. 

As for Scotch ale? I was offered Belhaven Scottish Ale. I mean, yeah, but... wasn't there anything else in that style? No.

I've just searched for Scotch Ale on Beers of Europe. They stock one from Belgium, three from the US and just one from the UK. Brown ale is a more complicated category to define, but again, they stock quite a lot of Belgian brown ales (not quite the same thing) several American examples based on the British style and no British ones. Beer Hawk currently lists no Scotch ales at all, several American brown ales, and a couple of British-brewed 'American-style' brown ales, but no English-style examples. It's a similar story across various other retailers. 

I'm not saying no British brewers are brewing decent brown ales or Scotch ales any more. But I am saying these traditional styles are much harder to find than they used to be, and pretty much invisible compared to American-hopped IPA and pale ale, black IPA, Berlinerweiss, craft lager (or pale ale fraudulently labelled as lager), and experimental beers involving fruit. The same goes for barley wine, mild, old ale, and winter warmers. Again, Beers of Europe now lists an Austrian, a Belgian, a Norwegian and three American 'English-style barley wines' but no British examples. 

Eventually, Sylvia and I had change the styles we presented. On my side, I had a golden ale, an American-style British IPA, a chocolate stout and Fuller's Vintage Ale. All great beers, but not the showcase of British styles we'd been hoping for.

This is not a post-Brexit 'British beer for British people' rant. I welcome the new styles and the innovations and adore the character of American hops. But as we face more beer choice than we've ever had before, it frustrates me that the British disease of 'what we do is always crap, if its from abroad it must be better' means that we're not innovating with styles developed here. You can't just argue that it's because those styles are boring or lack character, because as the above examples show, brewers in other countries, particularly the States, find them interesting and inspirational. 

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to have lunch with Charles Finkel, founder of the Pike Brewery in Seattle and one of the original catalysts of what has now become the global craft beer movement. (If you don't already know him, read this short biography, it's incredible.) As we sat down in his brewpub and he asked me what I'd like to drink, the core range gave me a rush of nostalgia for the time I first started writing about beer. It consists of a golden ale, an amber ale, a couple of IPAs, a Scotch ale, a Belgian-stye Tripel, and a stout. There's no fruit, no blurring of boundaries, no attempts to reinvent anything. And yet it's an exciting list that has something for everyone, a breadth of style and flavour it would take an awfully long time to get bored of. 

British beer styles were the direct inspiration for the American craft beer revolution. I find it sad that with nearly 2000 brewers in Britain now, there seems to be little enthusiasm for taking these native styles on and doing something interesting with them.

Another point: most of the beer styles in Sylvia's original list are more reliant on malt for their character than hops. At a time when three new brewers a week open their doors, phone up hop merchants such as Charles Faram and then grumble darkly about not being able to get hold of any Citra or Galaxy hops because the entire supply was spoken for as soon as it was harvested last year (and no, not just by the macros, but also by the 150 new breweries that opened last year, and the year before that) and at a time when British brewers buy more US hops than British hops, and the collapse of the pound means those hops just got a lot more expensive even if you're lucky enough to find any, it beggars belief that brewers aren't exploring these older, maltier styles and applying their undoubted creativity to making them relevant again. 

Before last week, the only time I'd visited Berlin was in 2004. Back then, Berlinerweisse was regarded as little more than a joke beer, sold from street kiosks and sweetened with a range of fruit syrups. It's now, I would argue, the most hip beer style on the global craft brewing scene. So why not mild next? Why not Scotch ale or barley wine?

There are, of course, exceptions. Tonight I'm doing an event at the Harp Pub in Covent Garden with Five Points Brewing, who are launching... a new brown ale! I haven't tasted it yet. Those who have say it's great, and that the traditional cask version is even better than the keg. Five Points is also the last brewery I can remember launching a new barley wine. They seem to be doing pretty well out of it. I imagine other brewers could too.

*Before anyone jumps in, yes, I know nineteenth century IPAs were often brewed with US hops. I've seen some of the recipes. But they weren't defined by the fresh, zingy character of those hops like modern IPAs. 

Friday, 7 October 2016

Apple Porn

The simple pleasures of tramping round an orchard.

Autumn is a season of two halves. Both are definitely autumn, but one is summer's older sibling, looking back fondly, while the other is winter's harbinger. The change comes almost overnight some time late in October, just before the clocks go back. By this time we've all been remarking for several weeks that the nights are drawing in and it's getting a bit chilly, but then, around the 21st - which is, coincidentally (or not) now celebrated as Apple Day - the season finally shifts its weight to the other foot. 

Before the change it's all about crisp blue skies with a chill at the edge, the leaves turning and sweaters coming out of the wardrobe. After, it's mud, rain, bare branches and those recently beautiful golds and yellows and browns clogging the drains and flying in your face. In short, Autumn Part One is a time to be outside. Part Two is the bit where you rediscover the joys of open fires, home baking and soup.

Every year, it's a panicked rush to make sure I enjoy Autumn Part One as much as I can. It's a very busy time of year with festivals, events and trade shows, and from early September to mid-October I'm invariably living out of suitcase most of the time. So when Thatcher's Cider invited me down to Somerset for a walk in their orchards - with no other agenda than simply catching up with each other - I jumped at the chance. 

Thatcher's has grown at an incredible rate in the last few years. Many locals still remember when it was a small cider farm, but now it's a national brand. Thatcher's Gold is pretty much a mainstream cider now, dismissed by purists but superior to the likes of Magner's, from which it seems to be soaking up a lot business. It doesn't appeal to me personally, but there are other ciders within the Thatcher's range that do, particularly the crisp, satisfying oak aged Vintage. The new special vintage blends of apple varieties, such as Tremletts and Falstaff, are also really interesting. 

But for me, the most exciting thing Thatchers has done recently is to create a periodic table of the apples they use. 

I can't really post a big enough picture of it here to do it justice, though you should hopefully be able to enlarge it. 

Apart from it being ridiculously clear and informative, and fascinating if you're an apple nerd like me, this is what the whole cider industry needs to be looking at. Good cider is made from apples. Obvious I know, but bad cider is made from cheap, imported apple concentrate of indeterminate origin. 

Different apples have different characteristics, just like different grapes or hops. Wine became popular in the UK when people began to discover their favourite grape varieties. Craft beer exploded when people started to learn about different hops. It really doesn't take a genius to see apple varieties as the key building block for a stable, established premium quality cider market.  

Martin Thatcher is genuinely fascinated by apples, after having spent his whole life around them. Walking around the massively expanded cider production facility at Myrtle Farm in the village of Sandford, he points to the house where he was born. "I've moved house six times in my life," he says, "And I think they're all within about 600 yards of each other." 

Between these houses there are over 500 acres of orchards. 

Martin is currently experimenting with the effects of terroir. He's planting stands of the same apple varieties in different types of soil and monitoring the results, and is convinced the fruit will show significant differences.

You can see where this hunch comes from down in the Exhibition Orchard. 

Here there are 458 different cider apple varieties. When the Long Ashton Research Station's Pomology and Plant Breeding programme was disbanded in 1981, Martin's father John took cuttings from as many different trees as he could and grafted them onto rootstock in his own orchard. It's just as well he did: the Long Ashton orchards were bulldozed soon afterwards, and a library of old cider varieties could have been lost for ever.

Walking around the Exhibition Orchard in a brief but wonderful interval of clear blue skies, I'm compelled to take photos like some kind of apple ticker. My cider comrade Bill Bradshaw always says that when he was commissioned for a photography project about apples and cider making, he found he couldn't stop afterwards. I now see why. He's a professional photographer. I'm a bloke who can just about work out how to point a smartphone in the right direction. But the apple demands to be captured and recorded. It's the centre of still-life art. The artists who create Pomonas - the visual guides to apple varieties - obsess over capturing their beauty far more than they need to for simple identification purposes.

 At various points, Martin stops and points to groups of trees bursting with life and fruit, and to others next to them, small and wizened, like the last kids to get picked when a school games lesson splits into two football teams. "These were planted at the same time, in the same soil, and given exactly the same watering, pruning and spraying regime," says Martin. "Look at the difference."

If you're a grower, that's fascinating. But if you're a lucky tourist in the orchard at harvest time, you have eyes only for those that have decided this particular soil type, this precise elevation and position,  is just right, and have shown their gratitude in the best way they know.

My new book The Apple Orchard is out now. This week's BBC Radio 4 Food Programme is about the book, and is broadcast for the first time on Sunday 9th October at 12.32pm.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Say hello to The Apple Orchard

Part two of my Year of Writing Dangerously...*

Today my seventh book, The Apple Orchard, hits the shelves (hopefully. Please God let it hit at least some shelves.)

When I wrote World's Best Cider in 2013 with Bill, that book required the short, sharp, snappy sections typical of the guide book: 60 words on a cider here, 500 words on that cider maker there, 1000 words on the history, and so on. My books are normally long-form narrative, and I found much of my best writing was on the cutting room floor, so to speak, because it didn't really belong in the cider book. 

More importantly, the best stuff - or rather, the stuff that interested me the most at any rate - wasn't about cider at all, but about apples, the people who grow them, the places they're grown, and especially the history and mythology around them. Once we finished researching the cider book, I found myself missing orchards, and desperate to find a way to spend more time in them. 

So I decided to write about apples themselves. Not just cider apples, but eating apples and dessert apples too. 

I wanted to trace the history of what we believe to be a quintessentially English fruit through both our real and imagined past. Because I quickly  realised that the apple is the the most symbolically laden of any fruit - indeed of any food. Across many different mythologies and religions, in popular culture and phraseology, the apple dominates. And it does so out of all proportion to its actual importance to our diet. Sure, we eat a lot of apples, but if symbolic importance was proportionate to dietary importance, the Beatles would have released their records on the Wheat label, and New York would be affectionately known as The Big Loaf.

I lost the whole summer of 2014 to the seemingly simple question of whether the Forbidden Fruit in the Bible was an apple or not. Genesis never specifies what the fruit was, but the Western World has believed it to be an apple since the Middle Ages. 

Pieter Paul Rubens' depiction of Eden and the Forbidden Fruit

And yet when Michelangelo painted the roof of the Sistine Chapel, he clearly depicted it as a fig. 

Michelangelo's Forbidden... er, Fig

This could have been a whole book in itself - I read many on the subject. And they brought me, via the Middle East, South America, The Himalayas, the North Pole, the Happy Isles and the Moon, back round to the birth of modern horticulture.

I decided to follow the apple through the course of a year. It has its big showtimes at blossom in May and harvest in October, but as with anything in horticulture and agriculture, apple growing is a year-round activity.

I learned how to graft and prune fruit trees. I picked apples in an orchard on the slopes of Glastonbury Tor, beneath which King Arthur sleeps, immortal thanks to the magical apples of Avalon.

I also discovered, on my very first orchard visit with Bill, that I've developed a very serious allergy to eating apples. Thankfully whatever is causing the problem is left behind in the solid, or 'pomace,' when apples are pressed, because I can drink cider, and also, happily I discovered I can drink fresh apple juice. There are 4000 named varieties of apple cultivated in Britain, and a tasting of single variety juices revealed to me the astonishing array of flavours they possess.

The book ranges from myth to genetic modification, from wassail to the economics of the modern apple growing industry through meditations on soil. It's a personal journey though the subject rather than an exhaustive history, but that's what my new editor at Penguin felt the book needed to be. We cut a lot of stuff out about mythology and history and how this supposedly English fruit was originally born in Kazakhstan, because the book would have been rambling and unfocused and 500 pages long if we'd left it in. But my journey through orchards still gives chance to touch on all these points. 

I wrote some more about all this stuff in a piece for the Daily Telegraph's weekend section last week. I'm going to be doing as many events as I can to promote the book though the autumn - another excuse to get back into orchards and near trees. (Now, I have a physical response to entering an orchard. I can feel my heart rate slow, my breathing deepen, my mind settle.) 

I'm delighted to be recording an edition of BBC Radio 4's Food Programme about the book next week, which is provisionally slated for broadcast on Sunday 9th October. (More details to follow when confirmed.) And I'm doubly delighted that BBC Radio 4 have also picked up The Apple Orchard as Book of the Week, to be read out every morning w/c 5th December. 

I'm nervous about this, my first book that has no link at all to beer or pubs (although cider is made and consumed in the later chapters). I hope that even if you've never really thought that much about apples - as I hadn't until I first entered an orchard with a notebook in my hand - you'll find this fascinating and diverting. The apple is a complicated, mysterious treasure hiding in plain sight and trying to look boring, and its history shines a different light on the history of humanity, and what we believe in.

The photos in this blog were taken by me primarily as aides memoire while I was writing. the book is not illustrated. 

* The first of the three books I very stupidly signed up to write simultaneously was The Pub: A Cultural Institution, which was published in mid-August 2016. The third and final book is my journey through the nature of beer - an exploration of hops, barley, yeast and water. I submitted a complete first draft of this to my publisher two weeks ago. This is the one through Unbound, which uses rewards-based crowdfunding to cover publication costs before publishing books in the usual manner. The book is due out in May/June 2017, but subscribers will get their copes as soon as it's back from the printers, which will probably be a couple of months earlier. Even though the book is fully funded, if you want to get a copy of it before publication as well as other rewards, you can still subscribe here

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The Pub: A Cultural Institution

The first of three new books from me is out now. Sort of.

My book on pubs is officially released on 18 August, but it's already been spotted in Foyles and Blackwells.

I was asked to do this book by the publisher - it was a scenario where they came up with the idea and had a shortlist of authors in mind for it. If I'd said no, they would have asked someone else. But I couldn't say no.

We all know the format of this kind of 'coffee table' book. It looks beautiful. It's not the kind of book you read from cover to cover. You pick it up and flip through it, lingering over the pictures. In some, the text is just there to put gaps between the pictures.

Like my and Bill's book on cider, I wanted to make this book more than that. It had to be beautiful, it had to be a book you want to buy as a present for anyone who loves pubs. But I also wanted the text to mean something, for it also to be a book you did want to read cover to cover.

So it's not a book that reviews pubs by the range of beers they have, what the food is like or whether they allow dogs. The internet is a far better place for that. The centre of this book for me are the fifty double page spread reviews of my favourite pubs.

It's seventy years ago this year since George Orwell wrote The Moon Under Water and said that the single thing that defines a great pub is its atmosphere. So I set myself the task of trying to review pubs by their atmosphere. It's a difficult task, because atmosphere is intangible, which is why few pub reviewers talk about what remains the single most important criterion by which we judge pubs. 

I certainly didn't succeed in reviewing every pub by its atmosphere - some of the reviews lapse into talking about history, location or beer range, although all these factors do contribute to atmosphere. But where I have succeeded, the reviews are short essays on what makes pubs pubs, little stories that pick up on and celebrate the legendary landlord, the role in the community, the eccentricities and legends that separate great pubs from other retail outlets.

As well as these top fifty, there are shorter listings of a further 250 pubs all across the UK, plus sections on pub history and pub culture. It's pub porn, basically. Researching the book last year was an absolute delight. Sometimes we spent all day driving to a particular pub that had been recommended, and we'd get there and it would be worth every minute of the journey. It was brilliant going to places like Liverpool, having tweeted that I'd be there, and finding a posse of people waiting for me so they could show me their favourite haunts. Five days with a list of recommendations across Somerset, Devon and Cornwall was utterly magical, and the comedown at the end, when we visited  pub that was merely good as opposed to legendary, was startling.

There's a lot of doom and gloom talked about pubs at the moment, with good reason. For the last decade pubs have been put through the wringer. This book doesn't address that - it seeks to remind the reader why pubs matter so much in the first place.

The book is available for pre-order on Amazon and I imagine they'll be shipping in the next couple off days. If you're at the Great British Beer Festival today, I'm signing copies - unofficially - at the CAMRA bookstall at 3pm and 6pm.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Stop the presses: the definition of craft beer

Yet again, I'm in the middle of writing a piece that addresses the idea that craft beer is 'a meaningless term,' that 'craft beer' doesn't exist because it had no precise, technical definition.

To argue the point I'm making, I hauled out my massive copy of the Oxford English Dictionary to look at the definition of the word 'craft.' And lo and behold, just below the three different definitions of 'craft', the next entry is 'craft beer'!

So according to the OED:

'craft beer (also craft brew) noun (US) a beer with a distinctive flavour, produced and distributed in a particular region.'

I kinda like that. You may not. I think it gets to the point of what it's all about. You may disagree with it, you may think it's incomplete, you may think it misses the point. I really don't care. Because craft beer has a strict tight, pithy definition, created by the people whose job it is to define what words mean. This is the definition of craft beer whether you like it or not. If you disagree, you might as well argue with the definitions of the words 'cramp,' 'cranial,' 'crannog' or 'crap hat.'

This may not solve many of the issues in craft beer, but it does hopefully mean an end to the fatuous argument that the problem with craft beer is its lack of a strict definition. If you have a problem with craft beer, it's probably not about the definition of the word, but about what you feeling being done to the concept.

By the way, my personal big-ass copy of the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 2003, so (a) apologies to anyone for whom this is old news and (b) that means craft beer has had a definition all this time we've been arguing over whether it does to not. Tchoh!

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Long Read: Burton IPA's arrival in India.

The reason I'm not blogging at the moment is that I'm deep into writing up my next beer book, What Are You Drinking? I'm hoping to finish this draft in the next two weeks, and it'll be published spring next year. 

I'm going through the four key raw materials of beer and telling their stories, and I'm currently up to water. It's the toughest one to do. Today, after writing about Dublin and Bohemia, I'm writing about the special water that made Burton on Trent the ale brewing capital of the world, and I've gone back into my first draft of Hops and Glory for help. That first draft was 50 per cent longer than the book that was eventually published. I remember my editor reading it and saying, "Look, I'm enjoying it OK? But I'm expecting to read about a sea voyage to India and all I'm saying is I'm on page 156 and I'm still on a canal boat outside Burton." My first attempt at editing it resulted in it being 5000 longer. 

We had to be brutal. A lot of the granular history of Burton and IPA got cut, whole chapters summarised into a few lines each. I've sometimes regretted this because while many people tell me they enjoy the book, it doesn't get mentioned in the canon of historical research on IPA very often. It was aimed at a general audience rather than a beer geek or brewer, and some of the stuff serious beer heads might find fascinating really slowed the pace down for everyone else.

So this morning, I've dug out the first draft hoping to find a previously unpublished treatise on the properties of Burton water and its suitability for brewing strong pale ale. It's not quite there, and I've misremembered what a lot of the research actually told me. But I did find this, and I found it fascinating. If you're a hardcore IPA nut, you might find it interesting too. Long-read blog posts seem to be in fashion at the moment, and this makes up for me not writing anything else here, and there's no other way I can use it, so why not? If you don't fancy spending 20 minutes reading detailed beer history, you can leave now and I'll come back to proper blogging as soon as I can.

The following passage was cut down to about half this length in the book, and loses many of the primary quotes, which get summarised  But in full, it tells the story of what happened when Burton IPA first arrived in India. In writing the book, I didn't just want to get an accurate handle on what the beer was really like; I wanted to know why. What made it work in India? Why did it take off? Why did the British in India drink it? How was it served? What did they think of it?

So here we are. To set the scene: The London brewer Hodgson's owns the beer market in India. He has good links with the East India Company's sea captains and they make a lot of money by transporting and selling his beers. But Hodgson gets greedy and tries to hike prices, flooding the market with cheap beer whenever a competitor appears, then whacking them up again when the competitor backs off. Campbell Marjoribanks of the East India Company visits Samuel Allsopp in Burton and suggests that he might like a crack at the Indian market. He gives Allsopp a sample of Hodgson's beer and Allsopp brews a version of it in Burton, unaware that the difference in brewing water compared to London (see?) will make it a dramatically different beer. But will its superior quality be enough to counter Hodgson's sharp marketing practices? He places his first brew on two ships sailing from Liverpool: the Bencoolen and the Seaforth. They're also carrying some of Hodgson's beer. Six months later, they arrive at the dock in Calcutta...

Given the Bencoolen factory’s historic reputation as a disease-blown, drink-sodden, last chance saloon that convicts would rather hang than be posted to, and its censure by 'John Company' over its enthusiasm for Burton ale, it’s perhaps fitting that Samuel Allsopp’s first consignment of strong beer for India went on a ship of the same name.  But much had changed in the century since the Bencoolen public table’s legendary binge.  Affairs in the east were more organised, more civilised now.  Beer was a respectable drink, a sign of good standing, drunk by people who were creating a New England that was different from home in only a few key respects: it was much hotter, a bit more dangerous, and they were able to live like lords rather than clerks. 

But an exotic world still lay outside the window.  Fanny Parkes, arriving only a few months earlier, painted a vivid picture of the sight that would have greeted the Bencoolen as she made her final passage up the Hugli River:
Passing through the different vessels that crowd the Hoogly off Calcutta gave me great pleasure; the fine merchant-ships, the gay, well-trimmed American vessels, the grotesque forms of the Arab ships, the Chinese vessels with an eye on each side the bows to enable the vessel to see her way across the deep waters, the native vessels in all their fanciful and picturesque forms, the pleasure-boats of private gentlemen, the beautiful private residences in Chowringhee, the Government-house, the crowds of people and vehicles of all descriptions, both European and Asiatic, form a scene of beauty of which I know not the equal. 

A further key difference is that here, beer was still a luxury rather than the centuries-old staple it was back home.  The market Hodgson’s dominated was not huge.  John Bell, who compiled trade figures for the Bengal authorities, estimated the average annual consumption of beer at almost seven thousand hogsheads, a quarter of which went to Madras, the rest to Bengal.  ‘There is reason to suppose that the demand would increase if the price was steady’, he wrote, ‘but while it fluctuates from six to fifteen rupees a dozen it is not likely that the consumption will be increased’.  On the contrary, ‘thousands would be compelled to give it up and take to drinking French clarets, which are and have been selling at from three to eighteen rupees a dozen’.  French clarets?  Less than a decade after Waterloo?  No, we couldn’t have that.  The supply of affordable beer had to be stabilised. 

The fact that pale ale occupied a very similar price range to French claret speaks volumes about the quality of the beer and the demand for it in this climate.  That quality was strictly upheld by the import agents.  Some historians wax dramatically about how rejected beer was poured away into the harbour.  This did sometimes happen – WH Roberts heard from a correspondent in 1845 of 80 hogsheads being poured away – but it would have had to have been incredibly bad beer to warrant such measures.  The Calcutta Gazette carried plenty of ads such as the one in April 1809 for ‘62 hogsheads of REJECTED BEER, bearing different Marks, imported on the Honourable Company’s ship General Stuart.’  Even broached casks – with beer that could only have been stale – were sold for anything they could get: ‘8 full and one ullaged Hogsheads of Damaged Beer imported on the Honourable Company ship Tottenham’ were sold by Captain Hughes once permission had been given by the customs collectors. 

Because even beer that couldn’t pass muster had its uses.  It might have molasses pitched in, the sugar giving it an additional fermentation, then be watered down and mixed with spices to disguise the rank taste.  If it was too bad even for that, it could be used to form the base of ketchup: one of the first recipes for ‘catsup’ was devised by Hannah Glasse in 1747 ‘for the Captains of ships’.  It could keep for up to twenty years, and consisted of stale beer, anchovies, mace, cloves, pepper, ginger and mushrooms. 

But there was to be no Samuel Allsopp’s ketchup after the tasters had done their work.  The Burton pale ale was approved.  The cargo went to the city’s auction houses, and the Calcutta Gazette filled up with beer ads.  

Hodgson was clearly at the swamp-the-market phase in his protectionist cycle.  He must have got wind of Allsopp’s intentions, because eleven and a half thousand hogsheads of beer were imported in the 1822-23 season, double the amount of year before, four times the amount the year before that, and double anything that would be achieved for the rest of the decade.  The ads in the paper became increasingly lyrical in their praise.  In April the front page boasted ‘prime picked’ Hodgson’s pale ale, which ‘surpasses in superiority of quality, any of the former season’s... as fine Malt Liquor as ever was drunk’. 

The price of ale plummeted.  Hodgson’s beer was selling for twenty-five rupees per hogshead – the price of Allsopp’s ale was set at twenty.  It was a good start, but it wasn’t great – twenty rupees a hogshead when in some years you could get fifteen for a dozen quart bottles was not the basis for a profitable business.  John Bell wasn’t happy:
The enhanced scale of importation which took place in 1822-23 was both unwise, and attended with great loss to those immediately concerned with the trial of monopolizing the Indian market; and the sorrowful winding up of that speculation, by forced sales of unsound beer... evinced a want of proper discrimination on the part of those whose time would have been more properly and advantageously employed in the immediate exercise of their calling.

Allsopp’s second consignment fared better, helped by a fortunate bit of circumstance.  When the second ship, the Seaforth, came in, Tulloh & Co as usual offered ‘the finest stock of HODGSON’S ripe PALE ALE to be met with in India’, but further down the page sat the following notice:
To be sold by Public Auction, by Messrs Taylor & Co, on the CUSTOM HOUSE WHARF, by permission of the Collector of Sea Customs, at eleven o’ Clock precisely, on Saturday next, the 28th Instant, 48 HOGSHEADS of Hodgson’s BEER, and 17 empty HOGSHEADS, landed from the ship Timandra, and 30 hogsheads of Hodgson’s BEER, landed from the ship Seaforth.

A good portion of Hodgson’s beer had spoiled.  Allsopp’s beer, on the same ship, had not.  This time, it fetched forty rupees at auction. 

With a journey of up to six months each way, brewers in England had to wait for up to a year to learn how their business had gone.  But slowly, the letters began to arrive back in Burton.  Mr Gisborne, a customer of the first order, wrote to Allsopp in July 1823 asking if the trade in Burton ale could be expanded, recommending that he be given the authority to bottle the ale for retail on arrival.  In November 1824, Mr J C Bailton wrote from Calcutta:
I have watched the whole progress of your ale… With reference to the loss you have sustained in your first shipments, you must have been prepared for that, had you known  that market as well as I do; here almost everything is name, and Hodgson’s has so long stood without a rival, that it was a matter of astonishment how your ale could have stood in competition; but that it did is a fact, and I myself was present when a butt of yours fetched 136 rupees, and a butt of Hodgson’s only 80 rupees at public sale.

Captain Chapman wrote that the ale had turned out well, that a bigger shipment should be sent the following year, and that even then it might be scarce.  In the same month, Messrs Gordon & Co. wrote:
After bottling off a portion, which was approved by our friends, the demand for this article has since been very great, and we now have orders to some extent for this ale.  We would, therefore, strenuously recommend Mr Allsopp to make further consignments of it; and we have every reason to believe he will have a fair competition with Messrs Hodgson & Co. 

The trickle of orders coming in via agents in Liverpool and London turned into a steady stream.  In 1824 Allsopp sent out two thousand barrels, and in October 1825, Captain Probyn wrote that large numbers of his passengers preferred Allsopp’s to Hodgson’s ale, and that ‘many who had been long in India, declared it to be preferable to any they had ever tasted in the East’.

In the Calcutta Weekly Price Current of November 1826, the following entry occurs:
ALE –      Hodgson, per Hogshead    170
                 Allsopp’s Burton           170

No other beer is quoted. 

In the Calcutta Gazette, the auction houses were advertising ‘a fresh importation of Allsopp’s Highly Admired Pale Burton Ale’.  Messrs Tulloh & Co, for so long in the grip of Hodgson, (it was they who would go on to write the highly critical Circular on the Beer Trade of India) had much pleasure in announcing to the public that they had available a small batch of ‘ALLSOPP’S FAMOUS PALE ALE... Great attention was bestowed on the brewing of this batch, and is it has come out in the short period of 105 days from Liverpool, there is every reason to expect it will turn out as almost all Allsopp’s Shipments have done, in excellent order’.  They still sold Hodgson’s beer of course, but now there was a worthy rival the copy for Hodgson's seemed a little less effusive: ‘it will be carefully examined by Messrs Watson & Co and none passed but such as is pronounced to be decidedly of the very best quality’, they reassured us, and while it was still ‘the finest beer that comes to the Indian market’, this was only ‘as far as the general taste goes’.  As Tizard put it, ‘the spell had been broken’.  In four seasons, Allsopp had shattered Hodgson’s grip on the market.

In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, there was something about Allsopp’s beer that was powerful enough to supplant the established, dominant market leader who seemingly held all the cards.  Of course some of this success was due to the vision and determination of Allsopp himself, a man who ‘saw no difficulties which time, perseverance, resolution, consistency, and steady, unswerving honour could not overcome’. But there was more to it than that.  What Campbell Marjoribanks couldn’t have realised when he decided to court Allsopp is that he was approaching a brewer who possessed a very special ingredient. 

The Trent Valley is a broad trough carved out of ancient rock, covered with a layer of sand and gravel anywhere up to sixty feet deep.  Rain water trickles through these beds for tens of thousands of years, and as a result, by the time it emerges from wells and springs it contains a unique composition of minerals that makes it not only superior to soft, southern water from London, but the best water for ale brewing found anywhere in the world.  It has a higher sulphate content than any other major brewing centre, giving a dry, bitter flavour to beer.  Sulphate means brewers can add large amounts of hops to the beer without it becoming too astringently bitter.  Brewing scientists also claim that water for ale should be high in calcium – Burton has the highest calcium content of any major brewing region.  It should be high in magnesium  and low in sodium and bicarbonate – once more, Burton water is.  The strong, hoppy beer devised by Hodgson was given a whole new dimension when brewed in Burton.  It was a phenomenal stroke of good fortune, bringing a style of beer that suited the Indian climate to a place that would never have had good reason to brew it, but was, in the words of one later Bass historian, ‘The one spot in the world where the well-water is so obviously intended by Nature for kindly union with those fruits of the earth, to give beer incomparable’.

In 1828 a senior partner at George’s, a porter brewery in Bristol that had decided to experiement with pale ale, suggested that Hodgson’s beer simply didn’t match up to the new brews from Burton.  Writing to Willis & Earle in Calcutta, he said of Hodgson’s ale, ‘We neither like its thick and muddy appearance or rank bitter flavour’.  Two years later, when George’s joined the golden beer rush to Calcutta, the same partner explained, ‘We made a slight alteration to the Ale by brewing it rather of a paler colour and more hop’d to make it as similar as possible to some samples of Allsopp’s ale’.     

Even if Hodgson’s recipe was recreated exactly in Burton, with the only difference being Burton instead of London water, the Burton version would have been superior in quality and character when it reached India.  And Hodgson was simply his own worst enemy.  Having already pissed off the East India Company to such an extent that one of its directors went out of his way to find someone capable of putting up a fight, Hodgson, surely expecting to rout Allsopp from the market, changed his terms of business in 1824 and shut out the very people he relied on to get his beer to India. According to the Circular on the Beer Trade in India, the captains and officers of the East Indiamen had been Hodgson’s best customers thanks largely to the generous credit terms he extended to them.  Hodgson’s ale was ‘one of the principal articles in their investments’ until, in 1824, he not only raised his prices to them, but refused now to sell on any terms except for hard cash:  
Hodgson & Co., confident of the power they had over the market, sent the Beer out for sale on their own account; thus they, in a short time, became Brewers. Shippers, Merchants, and even retailers.  These proceedings naturally and justly excited hostile feelings in those engaged in the Indian Trade at home; while the public here, seeing at last the complete control which Hodgson endeavoured to maintain over the market, turned their faces against him, and gave encouragement to other Brewers who fortunately sent out excellent beer.  

That ‘encouragement’ took many forms.  Happy customers were eager to advise Allsopp not just on how to brew his beer, but when the best time was to send it.  Then as now, one of the things that mattered most was that the beer was served cool, which wasn’t easy when the temperature rarely dipped below thirty degrees C and refrigeration wasn’t going to appear for another fifty years.  Happily, one of India’s main manufactures provided the answer.  In 1828, when young Henry Allsopp was working for Gladstone & Co, a Liverpool shipping agent, he received a letter for a Mr Lyon in Calcutta: 
I would advise your father to ship his Beer in the month of November or latter end of October, to arrive here in March or April; it is then our hottest season, and the quantity of Beer then consumed is tremendous.  Your Beer is certainly a most delightful beverage during the hot season; it is always cooled with saltpetre before it is drank; we can make it by this article as cold as ice.
‘F.E.W.’ reminisced in a newspaper article years later that ‘beer was always deliciously cooled with saltpetre, when everything else was lukewarm; a point very much in its favour’. 

A bottle or flask of ale would be immersed in a solution of saltpetre.  Water was added, and as it mixed with the saltpetre it would cool within a few minutes.  It was an effective method but fiddly and expensive, especially given that a more lucrative use of saltpetre was in the manufacture of gunpowder, which the Company still needed even more than cold beer. 

Gradually, an even more ingenious cooling method came into use.  Bottles were hung outdoors, inside a cage or cradle, and covered with a wet cloth, the edges of which sat in a trough of water at the bottom of the cage.  The hot wind evaporated the water, and the evaporation cooled the water.  The cloths sucked up more water, creating a continuous cooling process.

Michael Bass soon noticed what was happening over at Allsopp’s.  He’d already experimented with pale malts a few years previously, and now, shut out of the Baltic trade by Benjamin Wilson twenty years before, it was time for his revenge.  Forced to turn back to the domestic market after the Baltic fiasco, Bass had built far better trading links with important cities such as Liverpool, London and Manchester.  Now, his network was more developed than Allsopp’s, and he knew the canals better.  From 1823 there was a sharp increase in Bass sales to London agents.  By 1828 41 per cent of Bass’ output was going to London and Liverpool, much of it in large consignments for export.  In 1828 the Calcutta Gazette was advertising ‘Hodgson’s Allsopp’s and Basse’s Beer in wood, and in bottle, of different ages, some all perfection, others approaching it’, and most auction houses continued to promote all three brands over the next few years.  In 1832 Bass exported 5193 barrels to Calcutta – slightly more than Hodgson and Allsopp’s combined shipments.  Although Michel Bass didn’t live to see it (he died in 1827, leaving the brewery to his son, Michael Thomas) his victory over Allsopp’s was decisive.  The two would remain rivals for another century, each far bigger than any other Burton brewer, but Allsopp would never again quite challenge Bass’ supremacy. 

In 1835 John Bell noted that the beer trade had fallen off again, and that ‘the most remarkable deficiency is in supplies from Hodgson; on the other hand, Bass and Allsopp have shipped more extensively.’  A year later, he could barely keep the triumph felt by Bengal’s populace from his remarks:
Beer is an article subject to the vicissitude of caprice more than any other article perhaps imported into Calcutta.  A very few years ago Hodgson stood alone in the market, and the idea of rivalry was never entertained.  Thus he was enabled to reach his own terms – cash – without any guarantee as to quality; and success, for some time, gained for him a name and wealth.

People in England and India, at length began to discover, that the magic spell might be broken by the strong hand of competition; and although some of those who first had temerity enough to enter the field against so formidable an antagonist, supported as he was by the strongest prejudice, suffered severely, Hodgson was at length defeated, and the market is now supplied by a variety of brewers.

Tizard was happy to advise this ‘variety of brewers’ on how to prosper in India: 
The first point of consideration is Quality... The ale adapted for this market should be a clear-light-bitter-pale ale of a moderate strength, and by no means what is termed in Calcutta heady; it should be shipped in hogsheads which, we need scarcely observe, should be most carefully coopered... Another point is, that by frequent consignments, you acquire a name, which, as you may be aware, is everything in India.

While it would be a long time before the word was used freely in commerce, in order to succeed, these beers had to be strong brands.  This was Hodgson’s legacy: his name became synonymous with quality.  To beat him, you had to beat him not only on quality, but also on sheer brand awareness.  It’s no coincidence that, fifty years after establishing itself in India, Bass would become the UK’s first registered trade mark. 

As well as the triumvirate of Bass, Allsopp, and to an increasingly lesser extent, Hodgson, by 1833 brewers such as Ind and Smith, Worthington, Charrington and Barclay Perkins of London and Tennent of Glasgow were sending pale ale to India.  By 1837 Bell notes the arrival of beer from the United States and ‘Cape Beer’, but these were to make up a tiny amount of the beer drunk in India – as Tizard states, it was ‘clear that England must furnish the supply’. 

Imports doubled through the 1830s.  The competition and regularity of supply stabilised prices, allowing the taste for beer to spread throughout Anglo-Indian society, right through to ‘the poorer classes of British inhabitants, which having once acquired, they will continue to indulge as long as prices remain moderate’.  Allsopp’s ‘Burton India Ale’ lost out to Bass in sales, but was still considered by many, including Tizard, to be ‘the most salable’, thanks mainly to its ‘superior lightness and brilliancy’.  Soon, according to Bell, ‘no less than twenty brewers now send out Beer from England, where one occupied the field a very few years ago’.

Beer now quickly supplanted other drinks.  Sales of Madeira collapsed from 85204 rupees in 1829-30 to 21632 rupees in 1833-34, with Bell observing that ‘this once-favoured wine stands... as an example of the effects produced on trade by the caprice of fashion... the sudden distaste for Madeira would almost lead us to believe that some magic influence had been at work’.  The consumption of spirits was ‘certainly not so great as formerly’, port was ‘limited’ and other drinks such as champagne and hock had ‘never been very great’.  As for the over-supply of Claret, ‘we hope that the French have at last seen the folly of driving such a ruinous trade’. 

As Bushnan remarked in 1853, thanks to the many fine qualities of Samuel Allsopp:
Since the year 1824 no Englishman has been reduced to the sad necessity of drinking French claret for the want of a draught of good, sound, wholesome, and refreshing English Burton beer.