Blending beers

Blending beers

Blending beers

Will this blend?

Blending beers was commonplace in Victorian Britain. Landlords would know what blend each of their customers wanted and they would run around with jugs full of beer (before we had bars) and serve each customer there preferred blend.

Thankfully we can just order a pint of what we like and there is no need to blend. It’s a practice that has long since died out since brewing practices have improved right? Well no apparently not; there is a very strong rumour that one of the most well known breweries in the world blend their flagship beer before it reaches the can, bottle or pump. Guinness apparently put a portion of their beer in old oak barrels teaming with the wild yeast Brettanomyces and lactic acid bacteria before adding it back to the rest of the brew in order to give it that characteristic twang. It doesn’t sound that surprising when you consider that one of the theories* behind the origins of Porter involves blending three beers, including a sour one, to create a new beer . Other big commercial breweries might blend too, using different batches of the same beer in order for the flavour to be consistent.

* Much disputed

Why should I be blending beers?

I have to admit that after first being introduced to the concept at the Griffin Brew pub in Milk Street Frome I was a little sceptical to say the least; but mixing different beers before you bottle/keg, or even at the pub can create a beer greater than the sum of its parts. Just like three hundred years ago stale beers can be made great again rather than being destined for the drain, weak beers stronger and new styles can be created by blending. Landlords might also be interested as it is an easy way to get us beer geeks to buy two beers when we might have otherwise just bought one.

How to Blend Beers

Unlike most brewing practices there is no real set way to blend a beer and getting a good blend takes time and effort, it’s really a matter of trial and error and is more of an art than a science. But similarly to all brewing practices accurate notes and experimentation are the key. Use measuring jugs to ascertain percentages and blend just a few bottles from a batch, or blend just a mouthful of shop bought beer before diving in and blending gallons at a time. A bad blend could just be an expensive waste of beer.

It can be a great way to save beer. I’ve managed to save a sour thin beer infected by bacteria, by blending it with a fresher, fuller beer. It was a batch of rich dark old ale that tasted good when fresh but developed a fault in some of the bottles. I simply blended the bottles with a fresher IPA and the results were excellent. The sour, jagged and lifeless notes were replaced with some sweetness and the thin lifeless beer was given a lift.

Two beer blends to get you started.

Black and Tan

Perhaps the most famous of all blends a Black and Tan is created by blending half and half with a dry stout or porter and a light ale and it was a drink favoured by my granddad who joked that he was making a cocktail. It’s made in a pint glass and the ale is poured in to around halfway up a pint glass. Then the stout or Porter is poured in on top, slowly and over the back of a spoon. The relative density of the stout or porter means that it stays on top of the beer and so the top half looks like dark beer and the bottom a light ale.

A cautionary note though, do not ask for a Black and Tan in an Irish pub as there is a small chance it could offend. After the First World War the then secretary of state for war a certain Mr Churchill set up The Royal Irish Constabulary Reserve Force to fight the IRA, they were nicknamed “Black and Tans”. Despite tensions easing over there, this will be akin to talking about politics or religion at a dinner party, it’s just not really advisable. Either order a half and half instead or ask for a Guinness, an ale a pint glass and a spoon!

Boliermaker/Mixed

Thanks to Ian Allsop for pointing me towards the existence of a pint of “Mixed”, popular in 1980’s Lancashire also known as a boilermaker in the West Midlands. Not to be confused with the american beer “cocktail” which is basically a shot of whisky and a pint.

In the UK ask for a pint of mixed you’ll probably get a puzzled look, unless you ask a beer geek or someone over the age of 40. It’s basically half a pint of Mild and half of bitter mixed.

In the midlands there is a slight variation and the mild is mixed with a bottle of Brown Ale. I have heard reports that the idea arose in some of the rougher bars as it meant you always had a weapon to hand, the bottle!

Having you been blending beers?

It does seem that here in the UK there are some strong beer blending traditions. So, do you remember blending any beers? Likewise any other country that might have a tradtion of beer blending, I’d love to hear from you if you do.

Andy Hamilton

Brewer, forager, broadcaster, spaceman occasional liar

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10 Responses

  1. Ian Allsop says:

    When I was at college in Lancashire in the eighties, it was a common thing to go into a pub and ask for a pint of “Mixed”. Which was half a bitter and half a mild.

    • Andy Hamilton says:

      Thanks for that Ian. I’ve looked up a bit about a pint of “mixed” and think I might update the post. Thanks very much for posting, always good to learn something new. Incidently, I’m a big fan of a pint of Mild and am glad to see that they are making something of a comeback. Any favourites that I should be trying? Down here Arbor do a half decent mild called Mild, Mild west.

  2. Paul Fishman says:

    It’s standard to blend Champagne, in particular non-vintage Champagne. This used to be to compensate for especially inconsistent harvests (it’s one of the most northerly growing areas for grapes), and now is mostly to make each wine as consistent as possible, year after year, so drinkers know what they’re getting when they buy, say, Pol Roger NV, or Veuve Cliquot. It sounds very similar to what Guinness are said to be doing (allegedly), with stocks of older wine being kept back. Anyhow, it seems like a good idea to me. Save some for me, Andy.

  3. @acesabe says:

    Another classic blend that I remember from working in construction in London in the late ’80’s is ‘light and bitter’ which appears to be historically popular. As it’s name suggests, it’s half a pint of draught bitter topped up with bottle of light ale. Nothing to rave about as far as I remember, but I guess it could temper an over bitter pint and further lower it’s already low alcohol level..

    Another ‘blend’ ?still popular today? is snakebite, but let’s not go there!

    • Andy Hamilton says:

      You’ve just reminded me of a mispent evening drinking “k” cider and Special Brew as a teenager. When I woke up and said never again, I stuck to it on that one!

  4. Rob Fellows says:

    When I was around the Midlands in the 1970s a pint of mixed was half bitter half mild. I don’t remember brown ale being involved perhaps that was very localised or before the 70s.

  5. Ian Allsop says:

    It occurs to me also, that after leaving Lancs in the eighties, and heading back to London, there was also a demand for Light and Bitter, being half a bitter and a bottle of light ale.
    And drinkers of Youngs beers would also ask for a Ram and Special.
    So perhaps blended beers haven’t disappeared totally.

    • Andy Hamilton says:

      … and I’m sure they are about due a revival! I wonder what you’d get if you asked for a Ram and Special today; a funny look I imagine. Thanks for the comment Ian.

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