By Martyn Cornell
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Additional resources for Amber, Gold & Black: The History of Britain’s Great Beers
The difference is confirmed by contemporary comments on the two beers. Alfred Barnard, the late-Victorian drinks writer, sampled an AK brewed by Rogers of Bristol in 1889, which he described as ‘a bright sparkling beverage of a rich golden colour and … a nice delicate hop flavour’. Of Whitbread’s Pale Ale, on the other hand, a more standard bitter, he wrote that it tasted ‘well of the hop’, though it too looked ‘both bright and sparkling’. Crowley’s brewery in Croydon High Street, Surrey, in 1900 described its AK in one of its advertisements as ‘a Bitter Ale of sound quality with a delicate Hop flavour’ and the frequent description of AK in Victorian advertisements of ‘for family use’ suggests a not-too-bitter, not-too-strong beer.
In the mid-nineteenth century, the new pale bitter drink was particularly in vogue with young middle-class and upper middle-class consumers as something visibly different from the sweeter milds and black porters of the working classes. In the novel The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green, an Oxford Freshman, by Cuthbert Bede (the pseudonym of an Oxford don, the Reverend Edward Bradley), written around 1853, the Oxford undergraduates who populate its pages all drink bitter beer, which one of the characters calls ‘doing bitters’.
Brewers seem to have maintained a deliberate difference between the two types of bitter beer: lower-gravity, lighter-coloured, less-hopped AK light bitters, served relatively soon after brewing; and slightly darker, hoppier, stronger ‘pale ales’, often designated PA, stored for some time before sending out. The brewing books of Garne & Sons of Burford, Oxfordshire, in 1912 show AK being brewed at an OG of 1040 and with a colour of 14, a reddish-brown hue, while PA was brewed to an OG of 1056 and with a colour of 18, a darker, medium brown.
Amber, Gold & Black: The History of Britain’s Great Beers by Martyn Cornell