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!
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.