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My trawl through the newspaper archives in search of material on Lager beer has thrown up some intriguing stuff. Like an early Lager I'd not heard of before. And from an odd location: Exeter.

The St. Anne's Well Brewery seems to have started brewing Lager in 1881. That's a very early date. I only know of a handful of early attempts at Lager brewing:

  • Joseph Spink and Sons of the Brownroyd Brewery, Rose Street, Bradford, 1877
  • William Younger of Edinburgh 1879
  • Bayerische Lager Beer Brewery in Eltham, Kent, 1881

Why did a relatively small, provincial brewery jump on the Lager train so early?

The proprietors of the St. Anne's Well Brewery, this city - Messrs. Harding, Richards, and Thomas - appear to have achieved a decided success the production of a light, pleasant, refreshing beer of the Lager quality, so famous at Vienna and throughout Germany, and of late years popularised Paris and London. They have fouud the water of the St. Anne's Well well adapted for the production of such a beverage, aud have other special advantages for the brewing of the amber-coloured drink. English beers have been chiefly remarkable for their strength. Messrs. Harding, Richards, and Thomas claim to be in possession of the art of providing beer comparatively free from the intoxicating quality, combining English excellence with the sparkling lightness of the Vienna Lager. That their claim is founded on merits likely to ensure general acceptance, the annexed extract from a report in yesterday's Moring Advertiser on The National Brewery Exhibition and Market affords strong evidence "Messrs. Harding, Richards, and Thomas, of the St. Anne's Well Brewery, Exeter, exhibited their 'English Lager Beer,' the novelty and excellence of which obtained for them encouraging amount of attention throughout the exhibition. This article is of the light, pleasant, tonic kind so well known on the Continent, and which is certainly making its way in the public estimation in this country. They show three sorts of beer - the St. Anne's Lager, a mild, light, dinner beer; the St. Anne's Pale Ale, a little stronger than the first; and the St. Anne's '3 X,' a pale, mild, beer, a little heavier than the others, and possessing more the Burton character. Favourable judgments have been passed by competent judges on these products of the St. Anne's Well Brewery, and they appear likely to become extensively popular. They are considered by the exhibitors owe much of their excellence the application in their manufacture of the 'combined attemperator, aerator, and rouser,' invented by their brewer, Mr. Clinch. This apparatus, which is manufactured by Messrs. G. Adam and Sons, of Bristol, exhibited at their stand, and plays so important part the brewing process, by effecting exact and uniform adjustment of the temperature of the wort the fermenting rounds, as merit a brief notice. of these combined arrangements is placed in the centre of each round. It may be described as a metallic vessel through which a current of cold water is constantly passing, and which is traversed by a number of vertical tubes extending completely through it. The water is admitted into the apparatus at the base, and at a suitable pressure, and passes out it at the top, while the wort, divided by the tubes into multitude of small streams, has its temperature rapidly modified by that of the water, an extended surface of the two fluids interchanging their heat through the thin metallic partition constituting the substance of the tubes which separates them. The constant circulation of the wort through the tube is ensured by simple and ingenious contrivance. As the water leaves the apparatus it is made to fall over a small wheel constructed as a water wheel, which is thus made to rotate, and the mechanical power so obtained is transmitted by suitable connexions to a fan mounted on a vertical spindle, and fixed position below the apparatus. The rotation communicated to the fan draws the wort downwards through the tubes, after passing through which it ascends through the cooler strata to the top, when it is again drawn downwards by the continuous action of the fan. In this way it is obvious that, by suitably regulating the current of water employed, the brewer obtains perfect control over the temperature of the entire body of wort, aud can ensure its being maintained any given temperature throughout the entire period of the fermentation. Mr. Clinch's apparatus has been successful operation at Messrs. Harding and Co.'s brewery during the last eighteen months, and was for the first time introduced to the brewing trade in the present Exhibition."
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette Daily Telegrams - Tuesday 25 October 1881, page 2.
I wish the article was less vague about the Lager itself. "of the Lager quality" - does that mean bottom-fermented or just similar to a bottom-fermented beer? It's really not clear from the text. I do know that they had rebuilt their brewery in 1878 (source: "A Century of British Brewers", by Norman Barber, 2005, page 23.) so it's possible that they added a Lager capability at that time.

It's weird how often it's mentioned in 19th-century sources that Lager was virtually non-intoxicating. Lager wasn't lower in alcohol back then. In fact it was stronger than modern British Lager. It just appeared comparatively alcohol-free compared to the strong British-type beers of the day. Which started at around 5% ABV and worked upwards from there.

Passing on to their other beers, there's a detail about the 3X Mild that you rarely see mentioned: its colour. Here's one a 19th-century Mild that was definitely pale. It's bizarree how few mentions I've ever found of this. I guess it was just too obvious to be worth mentioning. I'd lve to know what's meant by "Burton character". Presumably that's the origin of Burton as a style.

Without a diagram to help me, I don't really understand how that 'combined attemperator, aerator, and rouser' worked. Though I'm sure that anything which allowed the brewer to precisely control the temperature of fermentation was bound to improve beer quality. If it worked. I'm always coming across mention of similar clever devices thought up by brewers. Few of them caught on.

I've not quite finished with the St. Anne's Well Brewery. If only to tell you how long they kept on with their Lager.