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13-11-2013, 08:28
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Despite my best efforts, I still occasionally get drawn into arguments on BeerAdvocate. I've just been having a particularly good one about Nut Brown Ale and the fact, as a specific brand or type of beer, it's a very modern invention, Brown Ale having completely died out in the 19th century.

My opponent didn't seem willing to or capable of finding any evidence to back his assertion that Nut Brown Ale existed in the 19th century. So I thought I'd do it for him. I didn't expect to find any evidence of its existence. But I was interested in finding when beers specifically called Nut Brown Ale first appeared. My guess was early 1920's. But I thought I may as well give the 19th century a sweep, too.

What I found was interesting, to say the least.

First, I suspect that this Christmas carol is the source of the phrase. I've seen it in so many 19th-century collections of songs that it must have been very well known:

The nut-brown ale, the nut-brown ale,
Puts downe all drinke when it is stale,
The toast, the nut-meg, and the ginger,
Will make a sighing man a singer.
Ale gives a buffet in the head,
But ginger under proppes the brayne;
When ale would strike a strong man dead,
Then nut-megge tempers it againe,
The nut-brown ale, the nut-brown ale,
Puts downe all drinke when it is stale.
"Christmas Carols, ancient & modern" by William Sandys, 1833, page lxiv.
I'm not sure of its exact date but, judging by the laguage and spelling, it's no later than the 17th century and possibly 16th century.

Looking at the occurrences of the phrase "nut brown ale" in 19th-century newspapers, they fall into three broad categories:

1. In poems and songs, or when someone was writing in a particularly florid style.

2. When describing the beer served at feasts, such as: Christmas, Harvest Home, an heir attaining majority, banquets given for the poor, celebratory dinners of organisations or businesses. It seems to have particularly used to describe the beer given by the gentry to their tenants.

3. When trying to evoke the past in a nostalgic way, usually implying that the nut brown ale of Olde England was better than the beer of today.

What's fascinating is that, though the term was used to describe beer served on certain occasions, there's nothing to indicate that it really was a special kind of beer which carried that specific name. More that it was a poetic way of describing beer at a celebration. So while the phrase "nut brown ale" was common, it wasn't really a specific kind of beer.

I'll be regaling you with examples of all three types of references over the next few days. But, as I know it's everyone's favourite, let's start with some doggerel, sorry, poetry and song. First, it's an example from a little earlier, where at least some of the types of beer mentioned really existed:

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-omW0IUzBLCI/UoIPPhVenNI/AAAAAAAASWQ/Bm9k8NVr6Zk/s400/Southams_Nut_Brown_Ale.jpg (http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-omW0IUzBLCI/UoIPPhVenNI/AAAAAAAASWQ/Bm9k8NVr6Zk/s1600/Southams_Nut_Brown_Ale.jpg)


WHEN the chill Sirocco blows,
And winter tells a heavy tale;
When 'pyes and daws, and rooks and crows,
Do sit and curse the frost and snows.
Then give me ale!
Stout brown ale, nut-brown ale,
O give me nut-brown ale.


Ale in a Saxon rumkin then,
Such as will make Grimalkin prate,
Bids valour bourgeon in tall men;.
Quickens the poet's wit and pen;
Despises fate ——
Old brown ale, nut-brown ale,
O give me stout brown ale.


Ale that the plowman's heart up keeps,
And equals it to tyrant's thrones,
That wipes the eye which over weeps,
And lulls in sweet and dainty sleeps
The wearied bones.
Old brown ale, nut-brown ale——
O give me stout brown ale.
"The banquet of Thalia, or the Fashionable songsters pocket memorial" Frederick Atkinson, 1790.
Old Brown Ale and Stout Brown Ale really existed in the 18th century. Stout Brown Ale, called Stitch in London, was the Ale equivalent of Brown Stout, that is strong malt liquor brewed from brown malt with a modest level of hopping. I think you can work out what Old Brown Ale was.

Here's a later song:


The vinous drink is lov'd by many,
Yet I will gage a silver penny;
To whatever quarter you may sail,
No drink you'll find like nut brown ale.

Of liquors, I have had my share,
Of every kind that's choice and rare,
But no one can with me prevail,
To think they equal nut brown ale.

The foaming tankard on the board,
What pleasure does its Might afford,
Can any one in conscience rail,
Speak ill of sparkling nut brown ale,

Malt is the best thing e'er was born.
Or exchang'd for a barley corn.
For without malt we all should fail,
To get a drop of nut brown ale.
"The red, white & blue monster song book" edited by J. Diprose, 1860, page 315.
Note the poetic, nostalgia-inducing phrases: "foaming tankard", "barley corn" and "I will gage a silver penny".

The Scots saeem to have had a special affinity for doggerel:

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-8CNuLDirtq8/UoIPdk_m7ZI/AAAAAAAASWY/lEXm4pU-i4M/s400/Watneys_Nut_Brown_Ale.jpg (http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-8CNuLDirtq8/UoIPdk_m7ZI/AAAAAAAASWY/lEXm4pU-i4M/s1600/Watneys_Nut_Brown_Ale.jpg)

Go, get thee gone, thou dastardly loon,
Go, get thee to thine own countrie
If ever you cross the Border again,
The muckle deil accompany thee.
There's mony a tree in fair Scotland,
And there's ane, the gallows-tree,
On which hang the Irish rogues,
A fitting place it is for thee.

Go get thee gone, thou dastardly loon,
Too good for thee is brose and kale:-—
We've lads and ladies gay in the land,
Bonny lasses, and nut-brown ale.
When thou goest to merry Carlisle,
Welcome take thy loud laughters three;
But know that most of our beggarly clan
Came from the Holy Land like thee.

Go, get thee gone, thou beggarly loon,
On thee our maidens refused to smile:-
Our pipers they scorn'd to beg from thee,
A half-starv'd knight of the Emerald Isle.
Go rather and herd thy father's pigs,
And feed on 'tatoes and butter-milk;
But return not to the princely North,
Land of the tartan, the bonnet, and kilt.
North Devon Journal - Friday 11 February 1825, page 3. A bit politically incorrect, with its talk of hanging Irish rogues. I do love the phrase "dastardly loon", though.

I could continue - there are loads more examples - but that's enough rhymes for one day. Next time we'll be looking at nut brown ale at feasts.

More... (http://barclayperkins.blogspot.com/2013/11/nut-brown-ale.html)