Here’s a piece of Reading’s past in The Retreat.
This wonderful old English stone flagon marked A. Matthews, 65 – 71 Elm Park Road, Reading, complete with a serious warning of prosecution if kept or withheld. It was almost certainly used for Ginger Beer, not regular beer or cider. Our example has the serial number 32.
It’s in great condition for its age although the original screw stopper is missing. Size 10.5″ tall x 5.5″ wide. Capacity one (British) gallon.
A similar earthenware bottle is on display at the National Trust property, Basildon Park, near Reading. The one on display there has the serial number 35.
The Matthews family had a mineral waters factory that operated from 65 – 71, Elm Park Road, Reading. In the 1920s they were a soft drink manufacturer bottling all flavours of mineral waters and fruit juices. They mainly bottled and sold Ginger Beer.
Later on, they had the first Pepsi Cola franchise in the UK and they delivered to the US Army at Bicester.
A Mathews ceased trading in the 1960s.
Today, the old A Matthews site is occupied by two block of c1980 terraced houses.
Traditional ginger beer is a sweetened and carbonated, usually non-alcoholic beverage. It is produced by the natural fermentation of prepared ginger spice, yeast and sugar.
Its origins date from the colonial spice trade with the Orient and the sugar-producing islands of the Caribbean. It was popular in Britain and its colonies from the 18th century. Other spices were variously added and any alcohol content was limited to 2% by excise tax laws in 1855. Few brewers have maintained an alcoholic product.
Current ginger beers are often manufactured rather than brewed, frequently with flavour and colour additives. Ginger ales are not brewed.
Ginger beer is still produced at home using a symbiotic colony of yeast and a Lactobacillus (bacteria) known as a “ginger beer plant” or from a “ginger bug” starter created from fermenting ginger, sugar, and water.