15 Jun 2009 @ 2:06 PM 

I always thought that when people talked about how the beer in England was “warm” they meant “room temperature” or at the very least “cask conditioned” but a little find by my lovely wife titled “In Commendation of Warm Beer” caught my attention today.

We care not what stern grandsires now can say,
Since reason doth and ought to bear the sway.
Vain grandames saysaws ne’r shall make me think
That rotten teeth come most by warmed drink.
No grandsire no; if you had us’d to warm
Your mornings draughts, as I do, farre less harm
Your raggie lungs had felt; not half so soon,
For want of teeth to chew, you’d us’d the spoon.
Grandame, be silent now, if you be wise,
Lest I betray your skinking niggardize.
I wot well you no physick ken, nor yet
The name and nature of the vitall heat.
Twas more to save your fire, and fear that I
Your pewter cups should melt or smokifie,
Then skill or care of me, which made you swear,
God wot, and stamp to see me warm my beer.
Though grandsire growl, through grandame swear, I hold
That man unwise that drinks his liquor cold.

Source: Anecdotes of literature and scarce books By William Beloe (published 1807).

That’s evocative, isn’t it? It sounds to me, from the construction of the line “God wot, and stamp to see me warm my beer.” that the beer is actively being warmed. Is it warm beer … or hot beer?

A little more researching brought me to In Praise of Ale or Song, Ballads, Epigrams, & Anecdotes Relating to Beer, Malt, and Hops (1888). Check this out from page 599!

When beer was the staple drink, morning, noon, and night, it was natural that our ancestors would prefer their breakfast beer warm and their “nightcaps” flavored, hence the variety of comforting drinks.

Warm breakfast beer! The 19th Century is starting to sound pretty awesome. But wait! There’s more!

Southey, in his “Commonplace Book,” records the process of roasting porter, a once fashionable tipple, as practised by Sir J. Beaumont : —

“He had a set of silver cups made for the purpose. They were brought red-hot to table, the porter was poured into them in that state, and it was a pleasure to see with what alarm an inexperienced guest ventured to take the cup at the moment that the liquor foamed over and cooled it.The effect must have been much the same as that of putting a hot poker in a pot of porter, which I have often seen done at Westminster; or a piece of red-hot pottery, which we sometimes use here.”

Holy moly! Hot for certain! In fact, the chapter goes on (and on and on) to talk about how much better for you hot beer is, than cold (I might dispute their science.) and finally gives recipes for what can only be called warm beer cocktails!

Here’s my last excerpt, a recipe for “Egg Flip”:

Take two eggs, and break them into a basin; add about three ounces of sugar, and beat those together. In the meantime, make a pint of table beer or mild porter hot, but do not let it boil, otherwise the eggs will be curdled, in which state they are termed by many “hen and chickens.” When the beer is near boiling, take it off, mix the eggs and sugar already prepared and the hot beer together, by pouring the mixture backwards and forwards from the pot to the basin. Add a wine glass of gin, or any other spirit which may be preferred; but gin is the liquor generally used. Grate a little nutmeg or ginger on the top, and it will be ready for drinking.

If anybody is really looking for a 19th Century feel to a tavern or pub, they should start experimenting with this stuff. I wonder how long it will be before Dogfish Head packages something like Egg Flip, along with a DIY red-hot-poker kit.

If I can find a print copy of this, I will work up a little book review and summary of available recipes. Until then, browse through the book via Google Books, all 632 pages of it. It’s a real treat.

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