Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Beer Legends: George Washington and Taunton Ale

The brief for entry into the Pilsener Urquell beer bloggers competition is to write about a beer or brewing legend.  This can be interpreted in a number of ways and my approach to this conundrum led me down an interesting path of beer history.

At first I looked at famous pubs and famous drinkers. The George in Southwark and the Blind Beggar have been covered in great detail. So I thought about the death by heart attack of Oliver Reed in a Maltese pub after beating five sailors in an arm wrestling marathon. I thought about George Best and his notorious drinking binges. But ultimately these are sad stories about alcoholics who probably only appreciated beer for it's alcoholic content and not its flavour, range and romance in the same way that I do.

 So I looked for a legend who appreciated beer in the way I do and the way I try to encourage others. Maybe a celebrity home brewer, maybe a famously particular beer enthusiast who also brewed his own.

Maybe George Washington.
Little did I know when I was leaving tips on bars across the US that looking up at me from the dollar bill was a legend in American brewing history. One of his recipes is recorded in the New York Public Library, was recreated recently by a New York brewery and is described as "pretty light, pretty dry, medium-bodied but roasty". 
It was a list of drinks that were drunk at a party he held that really piqued my interest.

"10 bottles of Madeira, one bottle of champagne, 2 bottles of claret, 45 bowls of punch, 10 bottles of American porter, one bottle of Taunton Ale, 2 bottles of crab cider." 

10 bottles of American Porter! - Very nice and rightly placed amongst champagne and claret, certainly the finer things in life. But what is or was Taunton Ale? I grew up very near Taunton in Somerset and had never heard of Taunton Ale. Was there a whole style of beer that I haven't known or drunk? 

A little digging came up with some answers. Taunton Ale was frequently referred to in American advertising of the time as being shipped from Bristol. This makes sense with Bristol being a major port in England at the time and apparently being an important manufacturer of glass bottles. 

I even found a brewing recipe my favourite part of which is the instruction for making sure that the mash liquor is the correct temperature.

It's a great recipe and well worth reading. It was a strong beer with lots of hops (a pound of hops per bushel of malt) which must have been needed for the long journeys of overseas export.
I was also delighted to find out that excellent hops were grown in the area too, there are certainly none there now. 

It looks like ageing was also an important part of the beer's attraction with a note that
Two or more years in a cask must have given it some funky flavours. I wonder if it would impress the craft beer drinkers of today.

So there we have it. A forgotten legend of beer was brewed not far from where I grew up, shipped to America and drunk by a legend of beer appreciation and the President of the USA.

Edit : I have just found a quote from a book where a Mr Joseph Cottle meets Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Here is a description of the meal they had: 

"We Approached the "Jasmine Harbour" when, to our gratifying surprise we found the tripod table laden with delicious bread and cheese, surmounted by a brown mug of Taunton Ale. We instinctively took our seats; and there must have been some downright witchery in the provision, which surpassed all of its kind; nothing like it on the wide terrene, and one glass of the Taunton settled it to an axiom." 

I think if this beer can cause such raptures from the likes of Coleridge then Taunton Ale should be revisited and soon!

I will be following this post up with a more detailed article after some more research into Taunton Ale.


Claire said...

A really interesting read! I look forward to hearing more about Taunton ale

Claire said...

rather intrigued by the 'crab cider' too!