What makes Pale Ale different from Bitter?

We have been asked several times what makes Pale Ale different from Bitter?

I have bought a copy of Amber, Gold and Black: The History of Britain’s Great Beers

by Martyn Cornell for the pub library.

When it arrives you’ll be able to read:

” Let’s begin with its insistence that “pale ale” and “bitter” are different products,  … From the moment that bitter beers started to become popular in Britain, around the beginning of the 1840s, “bitter beer” and “pale ale” were used by brewers and commentators as synonyms. There never was any difference between the two. Why did “pale ale” come to be appended as a name mostly to the bottled version of bitter? Because generally in the 19th century brewers called the drink in the brewery “pale ale”, and that’s the name they put on their bottle labels, but in the pub drinkers called this new drink “bitter”, to differentiate it from the older, sweeter, but still (then) pale mild ales.

The weaker pale ales, below IPAs in brewers’ price lists, simply reflected 19th century brewers’ practice of selling two, three or four examples of each beer type, ale (that is, old-fashioned lightly hopped ale), porter/stout and the newer bitter/pale ale, at different “price points” (to use a modern expression) for different budgets.

Thus, for example, the Aylesbury Brewery Company in 1899 sold four grades of pale ale, BA (for Bitter Ale), at the IPA “price point” of one shilling and sixpence a gallon (almost all “IPAs” sold at 1s 6d), BA No 2 at 1s 2d a gallon, BPA at one shilling a gallon and AK at 10 pence a gallon; four grades of mild ales, from XXXX at 1s 6d to XA at 10d; and three black beers, from Double Stout at 1s 6d to Porter at 1s.

Shepherd Neame two years earlier was calling all its four grades of bitter beers “India Pale Ale”, from “Stock KK India Pale Ale” at 1s 8d a gallon through East India Pale Ales Nos 1 and 2 at 1s 4d and 1s a gallon to East India Pale Ale AK (sic) at 11d a gallon.

IPA itself. There’s the usual canard about the original IPAs being “strong in alcohol” to survive the journey east, although … at around 6 to 6.5 per cent alcohol by volume, 19th century IPAs were in the middle of the contemporary strength range, and weaker than 19th century milds.

Pale ale was around from at least the second half of the 17th century, a good hundred years before the Industrial Revolution began, … almost ALL beers called “ale” in the 18th and 19th century were made from pale malt, which led eventually to “ale” meaning any malt liquor pale in colour, with “beer” restricted to the dark kinds, stout and porter, … so in appearance, IPA was the first bitter, well-hopped pale ale, as opposed to older sorts of pale ale that, following the style of malt liquors in Britain of the post-1710s “ale” type, were hopped (unlike the original unhopped ales) but less-hopped than “beers” such as porter and stout, and which were sold either “mild” (fresh) or “old” (aged).

You’ll have to pop in to the R&C to read more

OR better, buy a copy of Amber, Gold and Black: The History of Britain’s Great Beers by Martyn Cornell

AND read his blog Zythophile” at www.zythophile.wordpress.com/tag/ind-coope-burton-

In the above I see the letters KK used several times, what do they represent?

In the mid seventies I spent a short time as an Allied Breweries relief manager running a the Plough at Water Eaton near Milton Keynes and one of the draught beer offerings in the public bar was “KK Mild”. It sold a pint or two a week! Not at all popular.

Then in this Free CAMRA newsletter (Watford Branch) ‘KK Mild’ was unhappily mentioned thus; “ As KK mild has not quite given up the struggle to die, … Who knows … will include a good mild that will sell” !!


And ‘KK’, well somewhere I thought I read that it is a hop variety but I can find no mention of it in modern hop lists. More research needed.

Thinking about the total failure of KK Mild, my mind wandered to another spectacular failure. In the mid 1980’s to promote the house lager ‘SKOL’ they launched a campaign using Hagar the Horrible as the headline. I cannot at present remember how you qualified for one of the promotional gifts, men’s underwear, with emblems of Hagar printed all over them!

I believe that in the UK the campaign won Worst Marketing Campaign for TWO SUCCESIVE YEARS!


Halls Oxford & West Brewery Company Limited

A forgotten brewer immortalised in ceramics. Oxford, 17th June 2011

‘Halls’ was one of the trading name adopted by Allied Breweries circa 1980 to market beers with a ‘local’ image. Many pubs previously badged as ‘Ind Coope’ got a new name that was a resurrection of the name of a brewer taken over long ago. The beers continued to be brewed at either Burton or Romford, but the ‘locally’ branded pubs sold a bitter with a ‘local’ brewers name on the pump. Suspiciously they all tasted rather similar and had the same strength!
This ceramic plaque dates from this time.
Now of course Allied Breweries are no more. Their pubs have mostly been flogged to cowboy property companies, the Romford Brewery closed and the Burton brewery sold to a sinister multinational (forget who, care even less) who use it to manufacture taste-free lager ‘brands’.


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