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Our post about a 1901 guide to beer styles prompted discussion about what ‘winey’ might have meant in beer descriptions of the Victorian/Edwardian period.

Commenters suggested:

  • “fruity esters”
  • “a pleasant level of acidity”
  • “sharp, but not in a citric way; that sour heaviness that you get in red wine”.

Here are a few more possible clues.
1. Above, from a 1910 sales booklet from Ballantine of New York, is a beer description which specifies that aged bottles have ‘the qualities of fine old wine’.
2. Robert Druitt’s 1873*Report on the Cheap Wines*has this:
St. Elie [from Greece] went into disfavour with some of my friends from its great acidity and harshness. Blessed is the young wine which has these characters, if only it can be put by to mature. For I find that the St. Elie, if duly allowed to rest, deposits a small quantity of tartar, becomes darker in colour, and acquires a flavour of the true old*winey*character, resembling that of old*Madeira.*I use the word*winey*to indicate that taste and smell which wine has and which other liquids have not, and which is developed in the intensest form in this wine.
At which point, we turn to a contemporary wine writer, Jamie ‘Wine Anorak’ Goode:
Acetaldehyde is an important molecule in the oxidation of wine. Also known as ethanal, it’s the oxidation product of alcohol. Acetaldehyde has an aroma often likened to that of fresh-cut apples, and it gives wine a flat texture in the mouth. Sherry and Madeira exhibit high levels of acetaldehyde; indeed, one common description of oxidized whites is “sherried.”
4. Ron Pattinson has been looking at chemical analyses for 19th century lager beers. Of 1886-87 Nuremberg beers he says:
I’m shocked at the high lactic acid content of every sample. I’d have expected it to be no higher than 0.1%. Over 0.2% I would have expected to give the beer a detectable tartness.
5. And finally, a possible red herring from Charles Dickens’*Dombey and Son, just for fun: “In particular, *there was a butler in a blue coat and bright buttons, who gave quite a winey flavour to the table beer; he poured it out so superbly.” (We think here*flavour means*‘feel’, and this is about presentation rather than taste.)
So, in conclusion, what we’re now thinking is that (a)*‘winey’ had 100-150 years ago almost exactly the same meaning as the now more popular*‘vinous’; and that (b) we’ve been mistake in*assuming that 19th century lager was much like the crisp, clean stuff we drink today.
Old Beer Descriptors: ‘Winey’