Everyone loves a story! Everything holds a story within itself and that is true of names too…of all names, even ones of beers!
I was reminded of this the other day as my husband wistfully started reading out the label on the back of his beer…at times I tune out his mutterings but this time my interest was piqued and I just had to learn more.
Bottles of beer were duly bought and following research and photo gathering, I’m ready to unveil the story behind six beer names – who knew it would take me on a virtual pilgrimage to Canterbury, to 17th-century navy battles and to 12th-century court cases of brawling and swearing. Not forgetting the ride in an old motor car!
Old Speckled Hen has a wonderfully rustic name, reminiscent of the countryside glowing in the dappled sunlight similar in colour to the amber golden ale. As my mind is peacefully drifting among the meadows, hens pecking on the grass I’m brought back to the modern world with a shock whilst researching this beer.
The name owes nothing to the bird, speckled or not, rather it refers to a car!! The vehicle was a paint-splattered Featherweight Fabric Saloon which was the factory run-around car used by MG and fondly referred to as ‘Owld Speckl’d Un’ owing to its mottled appearance after years parked under the paint shop.
The beer itself was brewed by Moreland on special request of MG in 1979 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their car factory in Abingdon, Oxfordshire.
Old seems a popular word when it comes to beers and appears yet again in the name of Old Peculier!
This Theakston’s famous ale takes its name from the seal of the Peculier Court of Masham in North Yorkshire. In the 12th century it was the custom of the church to administer the law but this proved too an arduous task for the Archbishop, who was based in York.
Therefore he set up a Peculier Court which was independent of the diocese and headed by the Peculier of Masham.
The court’s jurisdiction was varied and included dealing with offences such as not coming to church enough, not bringing children in for baptism, drunkenness, swearing and brawling.
Broadside, a dark red beer brewed in Southwold, Suffolk, has a fascinating historical connection and commemorates a famous but little-known Battle of Solebay in 1672.
Solebay, nowadays known as Sole Bay, lies near the brewery in Suffolk and was the site of a naval battle in the Third Anglo-Dutch War.
Broadside is the battery of cannon on one side of a warship and there were ships in abundance in the early morning of 7th June 1672 as a fleet of 75 ships from the United Provinces, present-day Holland, surprised the joint Anglo-French fleet of 93 ships anchored in the bay. Across the two fleets, there were over 55,000 men and nearly 11,000 canons.
The battle ended inconclusively at sunset after a whole day’s fighting with both sides claiming victory despite the heavy losses.
In all the Dutch lost two ships and 1800 men whilst the English lost two ships and over 2000 men. The local people of Southwold cared for the 800+ injured and dealt with the bodies that washed up on its shores for weeks afterward. According to the historians, the Dutch had more justification to claim victory as the English-French plan to blockade the Dutch was abandoned.
Not all beer names have such interesting history as Broadside and are rather more lightly amusing! One such is Badger’s ale of Fursty Ferret.
This famous ale is brewed by Hall & Woodhouse which was founded in 1777. The name is thought to come from the inquisitive ferrets which used to sneak a taste of the local brew. I was baffled by the actual meaning of ‘fursty’ and one of the google responses was interesting: ‘The meaning of the given name Fursty represents innovation, independence, determination, courage, sincerity and activity.’ Just like a ferret, then! Or it might just be a Fursty is local dialect for thirsty, being Dorset!
Bishops Finger is a classic strong ale from Kent and its name has strong connections to the Pilgrims’ Way. Along the walk from Winchester towards Canterbury and the shrine of Thomas Beckett signposts called Bishop’s Fingers showed the pilgrims the way.
The Pilgrims’ Way is a historical route which originally used in 500-450 BC and has been in constant use for 3000 years.
The last beer to be featured is called Bengal Lancer and this is another ale that has historical connotations, this time to India during the time of the British Empire.
As it was too hot to brew beer in India the only solution was to ship it to the troops out there. However, all the beers at the time were unsuitable for the six month trip and eventually a prototype Indian Pale Ale (IPA) was brewed which gradually became paler and more refreshing for the Indian climate.
Several brewers made IPA and this particular one, brewed by Fuller’s, is named after the regiment of Bengal Lancers in the army.
The six beers bought for this post have been tantalisingly on display in our kitchen for the last week and my husband had to be reined in a couple of times as he’s tried to snag a bottle or two at night! At last, his patience will be rewarded and the bottles are duly released from duty. As he pours a glass of beer tonight, I’ll join him with a glass of … wine! I dislike the taste of any ales with a vengeance!
NB. Small segments of this post are taken directly from the labels attached to the beer bottles describing the origins of the beer names.