The evening of Thursday 21st March, and potentially I had four different events I could attend, including one of two history societies and an astronomical society. In the event I had already purchased a ticket to attend ‘Beer Tasting with Simon Jackson’ at the Museum.
On arrival I found myself chatting with two of the Volunteers for the evening, whom I hadn’t seen since we were all involved with the Terry Pratchett exhibition. This meant that I eventually sat at a table with people I’d never met before and who, initially, didn’t seem very chatty.
Simon Jackson started by informing us that he was a Trustee of the Museum and a qualified brewer, and reminded us that Salisbury Museum is a world class museum with collections of international importance. He also pointed out that Salisbury was once an important malting centre, and which gives its name to the area still known as The Maltings, but the nearest now is in Warminster.
Simon then reminded us of the major ingredients of beer: barley, hops, water… . The quality of brewing water is particularly important as beer is 90%-95% water, and hence the pre-eminence of Burton-Upon-Trent as a brewing centre. Burton water is created by rainwater trickling through deep beds of gypsum (calcium sulphate) before resting in underground aquifers. Burton beer is known for a temporary eggy, sulphurous smell, known in brewing circles as ‘Burton snatch’. A major brewery in Burton is Whitbread, where Louis Pasteur did much of his original work.
Another key ingredient is hops, which are used primarily as a bittering, flavouring and stability agent. They are a member of the Cannabinaceae family, although they don’t contain any of the psycho-active agents. Simon informed us that we can find hops growing in the hedgerow around Tesco Extra.
None too soon we got around to actually sampling the beers, of which six were provided, along with a complementary foodstuff for each. First to be sampled was a local brew, Hopback’s Summer Lightning. Simon informed us that this isn’t pasteurised and is one of the most awarded beers in the world. This was paired with a local cheese, Somerset Brie. According to Simon, this beer was named after its creator had been reading the P.G.Wodehouse novel of the same name.
Also of interest were some of the Museum’s collection of brewing-related artefacts, including a ‘frog mug’ – a ceramic mug with a green frog inside. Frog mugs, also called surprise mugs or ague mugs are a type of vessel mainly used for drinking alcoholic beverages. They were part of a tradition of drinking games where the frog slowly emerged at the bottom of the vessel as it was drained. This reminded me that I still have one at home – a present from a former girlfriend.
As a scientist, I was particularly interested in the Lovibond tintometer, which I think he said was an original model. Joseph Williams Lovibond, the son of a prominent London brewery owner, set up the foundations of Tintometer Ltd in Salisbury in 1885, as a means of ensuring the high quality of his beers. He devised a system of using coloured glass strips to compare against the colour of beer, and is based upon the fact that glass does not lose its colour. Tintometer was the first company to develop the science of measurement by colour and The Tintometer Ltd company still exists close by to Salisbury.
All in all this was a fabulous and informative evening. The fact that I didn’t know any of the others on my table was of no consequence once we’d imbibed our second sample of beer, which might have been the Hopping Hare (paired with Jacob’s Twiglets) – we were talking 19 to the dozen. I felt I made the right choice from my four options and I hope this is an event that can be repeated in future.
Fascinating. Thank you Alan. And thank you Simon.