By Martyn Cornell
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Extra info for Amber, Gold & Black: The History of Britain’s Great Beers
Tackling these rivals saw, for example, Truman, Mann and Charrington all open their own branch breweries in Burton to brew pale ale at the ‘orignal source’. ’ The writer of this piece was surprisingly certain that ‘… the decline in the porter trade has little, if anything, to do with the public taste. ’ The Journal then went on to assert that the British workman was changing from porter to mild solely because of price: Porter has found favour with him because … above all he has hitherto been enabled to obtain a long draught at a cheap rate.
Except that bitter, while undoubtedly one of Britain’s greatest contributions to the world of beer, only became the country’s favourite drink in the early 1960s. The origins of bitter, especially considering its popularity, are surprisingly obscure. There does not appear to have been a beer called ‘bitter’ much before the time that Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837. What seems to have happened is that the name ‘bitter’ came about because drinkers wanted to differentiate the well-hopped, matured pale ales, which were gaining a place in brewers’ portfolios around the country by the start of the 1840s, from the sweeter, less-aged and generally less hopped mild ales that, until then, had been almost the only alternative to porter and stout for most drinkers for more than a century.
Of the Lady’s Bridge brewery in Sheffield was advertising ‘Bitter Beer’. But these were rarities. Through the 1850s most brewers seem to have carried on advertising just ale and porter. From the 1860s, however, many brewers had started brewing pale ales and were selling both an IPA and a lower-priced ‘bitter ale’. In 1875 Henry Earle of the Barnet brewery, Middlesex, listed three different grades of ‘bitter ales’, IPA, BA and LBA, in descending order of strength and price. Other brewers followed a similar pattern, though not always with a beer called IPA in the range.
Amber, Gold & Black: The History of Britain’s Great Beers by Martyn Cornell