Century-old Hatfield beer recipe resurrected for WWI centenary
In memory of a hero of the Somme, a historian has teamed up with brewers to bring back a beer to Hatfield and St Albans that hasn’t been tasted since 1918.
Before the First World War, Pryor Reid was a thriving brewery that carried Hatfield’s centuries-old beermaking tradition into the 20th century.
Tragically however, the brewer’s son Geoffrey was killed on the battlefields of the Somme, and father Percy had nobody to carry on the family business.
Pryor Reid, which was based in Old Hatfield, used to brew porter, XXX bitter, IPA and a dinner ale – and was a major local employer, with over 170 pubs throughout its history.
However, after Geoffrey’s sacrifice at war, the business closed in 1920, ending Hatfield’s 400-year-old brewing history.
But now, one of their finest beers, the Pryor Reid Dark Mild, has been brought back to life and will be on sale in two Hertfordshire pubs from November 10, in time to comemmorate Geoffrey’s sacrifice and the ending of the Great War.
Hatfield historian Jon Brindle decided to begin sleuthing for the brewer’s old recipes in a tale that rivals Sherlock Holmes’s adventures.
“I thought, wouldn’t it be fitting if we could recreate this?” he said.
However, it was a daunting task.
“I was following this vapour trail trying to find out who would hold the old recipes, assuming that they would have been bought,” said Jon.
Tracking company histories over decades, he hit a dead end when Carlsberg in Denmark told him they didn’t have the recipe, even though they were the last company in the chain of buyouts that started with Pryor Reid.
But then he stumbled on another lead.
Jon says a friend told him of “a chap down Dorset way who’s got some old recipes”.
That chap was Dr Alastair Wallace, a retired brewer who now collects heritage beer recipes.
It turned out he had many of the the Pryor Reid recipes all along, and he willingly helped Jon in his odyssey.
Out of pure coincidence, the Dark Mild recipe was dated to November 1918, meaning that the drink is exactly 100 years old this year.
“I thought, ‘bingo’,” said Jon, and decided that the Dark Mild would be the most fitting beer for his project. “He was very excited to do this.”
Jon then approached craft beermaker Nick Zivkovic, founder of the Barnet Brewery, to make the first modern batch in 2014.
No stone was left unturned in creating the beer exactly as it might have been drunk by the Tommies.
Affinity Water provided the exact water profile of the area of what is now Salisbury Square, where Pryor Reid were based.
The exact yeast that would have been used was now only available from the USA, so they shipped it over.
Although local pub names like ‘Hopfields’ give a clue to Hatfield’s hop-growing history, Jon doubts that enough would have been produced to sustain Pryor Reid, so he went further afield for the classic Fuggles and Goldings variety hops the beer uses.
When the final product went on sale, “it sold out instantly,” said Jon. “It’s a really pleasant drink, slightly nutty and smooth.”
CAMRA beer expert Roger Protz said in 2014: “For a beer with a relatively modest strength, it’s full flavoured, with toffee, roasted grain and peppery hops on the aroma and the palate.
“The received wisdom is that mild ales are traditionally sweet beers, but this version is surprisingly bitter and hoppy.”
“It’s what you would call a session beer, it used to be very popular back in the day,” Jon added.
“It used to be the drink of agricultural workers, when people would prefer to drink weak beer rather than water.”
The descendants of Percy and Geoffrey Reid, who now run Walkern Hall in Stevenage, are delighted with the project.
“It’s rather nice,” said David de Boinville, adding that he planned to go out and try some as soon as possible.
Just seven casks have been made this November and will be sold at two Hertfordshire free houses that used to be Pryor Reid pubs.
• Raise a toast to Hatfield’s fallen heroes with a pint of Pryor Reid Dark Mild at the Plough in Sleapshyde, St Albans, and the Woodman in Wildhill, Hatfield, from November 10.