“For a quart of Ale is a dish for a king.”: celebrating Beer Day Britain

Friday 14 June 2019

To help celebrate Beer Day Britain (raise a pint at 7pm on 15th June and say ‘Cheers to Beer’!), this week we’re taking a look at some of the beer-related items held in the Library’s Special Collections.

Pic 1_1
Fig. 1-3 and the title page of Frederick Accum’s A Treatise on the art of brewing, 1820. Figures 1-2, and that on the title page, represent sections of the dome-brewing copper used in the London breweries; figure 3 depicts a portable brewing machine. s TP570.A4.

St Andrews holds a few early 19th-century treatises on brewing, one of those being Frederick Accum’s A Treatise on the art of brewing. The work begins with an historical sketch of the art of brewing beer, with a description of the difference between porter (“the most perfect of all malt liquors”), ale (“beer of a more syrupy consistence than porter”), and table, or small, beer (“a weaker liquor than ale”). The substances used in making beer are discussed before the work turns to the practicalities of brewing beer. Although the contents of this work cover some pages, it was Accum’s intention “to divest the art of brewing of the mystery in which it has been involved by interested persons”.

The saccharometer was an instrument used for estimating the sugar content in beer. On the left is a depiction of one from Accum’s A treatise on the art of brewing, s TP570.A4. Joseph Long was a saccharometer maker, and on the right is the title page of his Directions for using the new improved saccharometer, published in 1824; s AC900.P214.

Accum, a German chemist, was concerned about the adulteration of food by the addition of chemical additives, and this concern extended to beer. Both his Treatise on the art of brewing and his A treatise on adulterations of food and culinary poisons, also published in 1820, contain information on ingredients forbidden in the use of brewing. Additionally, the former gives the laws forbidding druggists and other persons supplying illegal ingredients to brewers, whilst the latter lists druggists and grocers prosecuted and convicted for supplying illegal ingredients to brewers, publicans prosecuted and convicted for adulterating beer with illegal ingredients, and brewers prosecuted and convicted for adulterating strong beer with table beer.

Pic 3 combo_1
The title page of Frederick Accum’s A treatise on adulterations of food and culinary poisons, and some of the illegal ingredients seized at breweries and brewers’ druggists, including such innocuous ingredients as honey and ginger s TX531.A4.

The awareness of the need for food safety continued throughout the early 19th century, and others too added their voice to this concern. One such person was an author identifying himself as ‘an Enemy of Fraud and Villany’ in his Deadly Adulteration and Slow Poisoning; or, Disease and Death in the Pot and the Bottle, published in 1829. His chapter on ‘Beer and ale’ is addressed in part to ‘Sir John Barleycorn’, a personification of barley and the beer made from it, and in it he lists 13 ‘poisonous’ ingredients (including opium, tobacco, molasses, and lime) which some brewers (“monsters who secretly poison the human race”) could draw upon to adulterate their beer, in order to:

  1. Give a factitious strength and intoxicating quality to the beer
  2. Increase the bitter principle and consequently to save hops
  3. Add a stimulating aromatic flavour
  4. Produce a fine mantling head to porter, and strike a fine nut brown colour over the froth
  5. Prevent acidity, or to diminish or destroy it when formed

But as the author noted, “porter cannot be made of the necessary flavour and taste to suit the Londoners’ appetite, and of the proper colour to tickle his fancy by its appearance, of wholesome malt and hops”.

Pic 4_1
An 1823 recipe for treacle beer, from one of the diaries of Mrs Patrick Playfair (1777-1852), msdep14/2/17. As ‘molasses’ was viewed as a ‘poisonous’ ingredient, this drink may not have gone down well with the likes of Frederick Accum.

Treacle beer
4lb Treacle to 40 bottles water
boiled together with a handful
of hops, strain all & put a cupful
yeast after standing 24 hours
bottle it & cork it next day

There is a long history of brewing in Fife. Our earliest record is a sealed pittance writ from circa 1215, granting one shilling annually from the profits of the brewery at Muircambus near Elie to be given for lighting the cathedral church of St Andrews. Four centuries later, a roll from 1671-1672 which lists brewers in Anstruther records at least ten names for each period recorded, suggesting a prolific trade in the town. Further north, St Andrews was lucky enough to have its own maltings. The Minute book of the Maltmen, St Andrews, 1762-1849, records such information as rules, fees paid, and names of those admitted to the trade. In the early 19th century it was also used as an account book for the maltmen, with records of cash received and cash paid out.

Pic 5_1
The third page of the Roll of the brewers of Anstruther, for the months January-May 1672; although the majority of brewers are men, some were women, such as Jennet Mantua. msdep42/1 bundle 5.

Pic 6_1
Entry from 17 November 1791 of The Minute book of the Maltmen, recording that the malt men were not to give out ale to tapsters or families “under fifteen pence each Gallon”; nor was any brewer, tapster, or maltman to sell “one Chappin [half a Scottish pint] or Bottle below three half pennies in the house & twopence the pint out of the house”. The motion was duly signed by the St Andrews maltmen. B65/17/3.
In the 19th century the town of St Andrews was home to two breweries: the West Port Brewery on the north side of South Street, which was sold to William Haig (of whisky fame) in 1864, who then operated the brewery as Haig, Laing & Co.; and the Argyle Brewery, founded circa. 1823, run by the partnership of Ireland and Halket until 1827, when it was taken over by Rea Ireland.

Pic 7_1
Part of a plan of St Andrews, 1874, depicting both the Argyle brewery, and the brewery on South Street. From James Howie’s, The intelligible guide and manual for St Andrews, StA DA890.S1H7E74.

In 1860 the Argyle Brewery passed into the hands of Rea’s son, David Stevenson Ireland, who remained in charge until his death in 1890. Two years later the company D.S. Ireland Ltd. was formed, but after ten years the company went into voluntary liquidation, and the brewery was sold to Wilson & Co., who manufactured and bottled aerated waters. Although beer continued to be bottled at the Argyle site, from brewers such as John Aitchison of Edinburgh, this was the end of brewing in St Andrews until the St Andrews Brewing Co. was established in 2012.

Pic 8_1
The first page of the 1892 prospectus for D.S. Ireland (Limited). In it the Argyle Brewery is described as “the only one in the district; and the Beer and Stout are well and favourably known in the trade, and command a ready sale, both locally, and in various large centres of population, including Glasgow, Greenock, and Dundee.”, ms38977/6/1/5/8.

A rather fun item in our collections is A Vade mecum for malt-worms. Originally published in around 1720 in two parts (a third was promised, but seemingly never published), St Andrews’ copy is a 19th century reprint. Written in verse it’s an amusing and satirical 18th-century ‘good pub guide’ to London hostelries.

Pic 9_1
The woodcut of ‘A Sot Couchant’, who “Reaching for his Drink, he reaches but to spew”. A Vade mecum for malt-worms, r GT3844.L63V33. Hopefully this won’t be the fate of those celebrating national Beer Day …

Opening with the kinds of ‘sots’ one may find in a pub (the ‘sot rampant’, ‘sot couchant’, ‘sot dormant’, and ‘sot saliant’), the author then begins his tour of the hostelries, giving an account of the house, the landlord, and the frequenters. Each entry is headed by a woodcut of the sign of the house. Clearly the author didn’t feel obliged to give every pub its own verse; at the foot of some pages are ‘other houses of note’. By such a means we discover that “Old Winter, at the Stones-end, sells excellent Bub [strong beer], and has a Parrot that swears as fast as a Dragoon”.

Pic 10_1
Beer, of course, was a staple of the 18th-century diet. The minute book of St Leonard’s College records an account of the diet of the Wilkie Bursars from circa 1730, where “Each bursar hath for Breakfast the thrid part of a scon & a mutchkine off ale”. UYSL400

I wish you a happy Beer Day, and if you are out celebrating, take a leaf from Isobel Clayton’s book, and head out suitably attired!

Pic 11_1
Isobel Clayton in 1947, wearing a dress covered in beer and spirit bottle labels. ms38585-1-C-3-34. Copyright Colin. B. Cowan.

Briony Harding
Assistant Rare Books Librarian

Related topics

Share this story

Leave a reply

By using this form you agree with the storage and handling of your data by this website.


Enter your email address here to receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 6,492 other subscribers.