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The development of modern British bottled beers for some reason fascinates me. Odd, since these are exactly the kind of beer I never drank. Brown Ale, Light Ale, weak Stout.

Filtered, pasteurised and carbonated, they sat on a shelf behind the bar awaiting a pensioner to mix them with his Mild or Bitter, or for one of the few reamianing grannies with a taste for Sweet Stout. They were deeply unfashionable even in my early drinking days in the 1970's. Now they're one rung down in popularity from unfashionable: virtually extinct. Who still makes such beers? A few die-hard established breweries like Harvey's. A more pertinent question is perhaps: who still drinks such beers?

The following quote gives a good, concise overview of the early development of carbonated bottled beer. It's so good (and I'm so lazy) that I'm repeating it whole.

"It is but a few years ago that the majority of brewers in this country were entirely averse from any new departure of the kind, the general contention being that it entailed an immense amount of extra trouble, which would in no way be repaid by increase of profit. Consequently, many brewers owning tied houses allowed a valuable portion of their trade to fall into more enterprising hands.

For many years those brewers who bottled at all were content to confine themselves to beers that had acquired decided maturity in cask, and no attempt was made to bottle any ale that had not become spontaneously brilliant. The system of artificial fining prior to bottling found only gradual favour concurrently with the lessening demand for stock beers in general. Even now there are some brewers who rely upon spontaneous clarification for the perfection of their bottled ales, and there can be no doubt whatever, so far as bottle quality is concerned, that they are amply repaid for the extra time involved. But in these days time is the very thing that brewers object to give, not because they do not know that it is the very essence of high-class production, but because they are aware that with comparatively few exceptions the consumer does not appreciate the difference. Loss of time is therefore loss of money also. No one will dispute the fact that the finest bottled ales are those produced on these original lines. They are not only superior in palate, but are also cleaner and less prone to heavy sediment. It is, in fact, the bottling of immature ales that has been so largely responsible for the heavy bottle deposit which has for many years past been one of the chief difficulties in connection with the trade.

The aim of modern brewers has latterly been chiefly directed to the production of a bottled ale with little or no maturity and free from objectionable deposit. For many years their efforts in this direction were confined to the clarification of green beers by isinglass finings coupled with artificial carbonation, and it is idle to deny that in some breweries very satisfactory commercial results have been attained. More recently the filter has to some extent taken the place of ordinary finings, gas absorption being induced either before or after the clarifying process. Now whichever system of artificial carbonation is adopted, there is always the danger of subsequent haziness, and of eventual sedimentary deposit. Very much, of course, depends upon the quality of the ale under treatment in respect to the degree of haziness, and the time which will elapse before the deposit is serious. But in any case such beers are the sport of weather conditions, and can never be relied upon to improve in bottle. Indeed, the usual tendency, after the first few days in bottle, is towards deterioration.

But still more recently, indeed within the last four or five years, English brewers have taken a further important step in the production of "non-deposit" beers. This step has undoubtedly been prompted by American experience, for American brewers have been the pioneers of chilling and filtering as applied to top-fermentation beers. So far as I am aware, the first important communication which came prominently before us with regard to this process, as carried out in the United States, was the paper upon "Recent Advances in Brewing in the United States," by Dr. Horace T. Brown, F.R.S., published in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing, 1897. Although up to that time no practical move had been made in this country, Dr. Brown tells us that "it is now some years since it occurred to me when thinking over the causes of the 'chilling' of beers, that if we could cool an ordinary top-fermentation ale down to a very low point and hold it there until sufficient time had elapsed for the maximum separation of the resins, &c, to take place, then filtration whilst in the cold state ought to give us a beer which, after again acquiring the ordinary temperature, would be practically unaffected by any subsequent cooling, providing the degree of cold did not exceed that of the original cold storage condition. I saw, in fact, that in this way an ale could be obtained which would be proof against chilling, and which might be made to retain all the natural gas which it originally possessed." Having thus explained that the idea was no novelty to him, he goes on to admit that the problem had already been practically solved by American brewers, and to describe their particular methods. Now this paper was followed in the succeeding year by another on "Cold and Sparkling Ales'' (Journal of the Institute of Brewing, 1898), by H. Van-Laer, D.Sc, who also gave his American experience. In this paper it is interesting to note that although generally giving great satisfaction, the author admits that "certain brewers assert that the system robs the beer of its ale taste." I have purposely referred somewhat particularly to these two communications, because they not only prove my previous statement as to the American origin of our "non-deposit" processes but constitute an historic record of a new departure in our bottling system."
"The Bottling of English Beers" by Arthur Hartley, 1906, pages 1 - 5.
The modest quantities of bottled beer produced in Britain was, until the late 19th century, made in a very old-fashioned, time-consuming and labour intensive way. Very long maturation in cask, followed by hand bottling and a further period of maturation to give the beer condition. Unsurprisingly given the expense, only top-class beers were usually bottled. Things like Bass Pale Ale, Guinness Extra Stout, Barclay Perkins Brown Stout. The process was too expensive for cheap beers.

But two things happened towards the end of the 19th century. Strong, matured beers lost popularity to lighter beers. And brewers began to filter and artificially carbonate beer, slashing production times and making bottling economically viable for less expensive beers. The result was a new class of beer. Low-gravity bottled Pale Ale.

These beers had a variety of names. Luncheon Ale, Light Dinner Ale, Light Bitter Ale. Eventually they morphed into a style that still limps on today: Light Ale. As some of the names betray, these beers were intended to accompany meals. The practice of keeping a cask at home was losing popularity and families were instead buying bottled beer. Much less fuss and no risk of the beer going sour before it had all been drunk.

There was one important feature of most of these new bottled beers: they were pale in colour. Any sediment was pretty obvious, especially if the beer wasn't carefully poured. Brewers were keen on producing sediment free beers that would sparkle nicely in the glass. Hence their enthusiasm for artificially carbonated beer. It can't be a coincidence that the other popular category of bottled beer, Stout, remained bottle-conditioned much longer.

Much of the development of carbonated bottled beers seems to have been prompted by what customers wanted: bright, sparkling beer with no deposit and no waste. Brewers just filled this demand. Though, personally, I'm sure I'd have preferred the properly matured bottled beers. I'm used to being out of step with public taste.