Visit the Shut up about Barclay Perkins site

I can remember my excitement the first time I spotted a Newark beer in the Whitbread Gravity book. I jumped around like an eight year old on Christmas morning. Finally I had some real data.

That joy was tempered by disappointment when I'd gone right through the Gravity Book and realised that there was no analysis for the beer I would most liked to have found: Holes AK. Which leaves me still wondering about its strength. If only they'd brewed a cask version. Then its gravity would have been recorded in past Good Beer Guides.

Someone I know in Newark did speak to a former Holes employee who told him the gravity. I'm sure I noted it somewhere but can't find it. From memory it was 1041º or 1042º before the Courage takeover but fell to 1037º after. That sounds about right from my memory of how it drank. Like an Ordinary Bitter. Despite Courage billing it as Best Bitter.

There are only 5 analyses for Holes beers, one from the 1930's and four from the 1950's. All are bottled, which is another disappointment. The types of beer analysed betray Whitbread's preoccupations. As owner of the biggest Milk Stout/Sweet Stout brand (Mackeson) they displayed a keen interest in its competitors. And the Strong Ale is there because they seem to have gone all around the country collecting Strong Ales in 1953. The date isn't random. Queen Elizabeth's coronation that year saw many breweries releasing their first really strong beer since WW II.

Another reason for Whitbread's lack of interest in Holes is that they weren't strong in the East Midlands. Outside of a couple of pubs in Nottingham, I can't remember them having any tied houses close to Newark. They tended to analyse the beers of competitors in areas where they were active or, so it appears given how often breweries they later gobbled up appear, ones that were takeover targets.

Right, let's take a look at the beers.

The Ale from the 1930's is the bastard son of WW I Government Ale. After the war ended Mild gravities bounced back up to the low 1040's, but many breweries continued to make low-gravity Milds, presumably because there was a demand for something cheap. It usually sold for 4d a pint when a full-strength Mild cost 5d or 6d. It's unusual to see this type of beer in bottled form. Being bottled explains the seemingly exorbitant price of 6d for a pint.

I know from the Whitbread Gravity Book that in the 1950's Mackeson had an OG of around 1046, quite a bit more than Castle Stout. But it also sold for a penny or two more for a half pint bottle. You can see that between 1953 and 1959 Castle Stout became distinctly lower in ABV, the result of a lowering in both the gravity and degree of attenuation. By the 1960's many Sweet Stouts contained pathetic levels of alcohol, sometimes below 2% ABV.

Whitbread often noted in the Gravity Book if a Sweet Stout contained lactose or not. Unfortunately in this case they didn't. But Holes themselves have solved the mystery for me: the Castle Stout label says: "contains milk sugar".

For the period the Strong Ale is actually pretty strong. There were few beers with an ABV over 5% in the early 1950's. Because it's fairly well attenuated, it's a beer with real poke. Probably what I've had ordered to mix with my Mild, had I been in Newark back then. Those colour numbers indicate that it was dark brown in colour.

Next we'll be looking at the beers of Warwicks & Richardsons.

James Hole beers 1932 - 1959
Year Beer Style Price size package Acidity FG OG colour ABV App. Atten-uation
1932 Ale Mild 6d pint bottled 0.05 1007.7 1029 2.76 73.45%
1953 Castle Stout Stout 1/- half pint bottled 0.06 1015 1041 1R + 17B 3.36 63.41%
1953 Strong Ale Strong Ale 1/3d nip bottled 0.05 1016.9 1074.5 8 + 40 7.53 77.32%
1953 Strong Ale Strong Ale 1/2d nip bottled 0.06 1021.5 1080.7 9 + 40 7.73 73.36%
1959 Sweet Castle Stout Stout 14d halfpint bottled 1018.7 1038.7 350 2.57 51.68%
Whitbread Gravity Book document LMA/4453/D/02/001 held at the London Metropolitan Archives
Whitbread Gravity Book document LMA/4453/D/02/002 held at the London Metropolitan Archives