Showing posts with label beer history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label beer history. Show all posts

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Book Review: Vienna Lager

 A few months ago I bought "Historic German and Austrian Beers for the Home Brewer" by Andreas Krennmair and have thoroughly enjoyed dipping and and out of the book for inspiration and plans for the upcoming winter lager brewing season. It was on the basis of having enjoyed it so much that I ordered his latest book, "Vienna Lager", from Amazon within moments of him announcing it's release on Twitter.

A few days later it dropped through the door (figuratively speaking), and just last night I finished it. Sure it is not a weighty tomb, but I have read it in snatches as life allows, even so, a month is pretty good going by my standards these days.

What we have here is the life and story not just of the Vienna Lager style, but also a deep dive into the life of it's creator, Anton Dreher - he who went wandering around British breweries with Gabriel Sedlmayr, filching samples with Bondesque contraptions as they went. Scion of a family of innkeepers and brewers, Dreher built the largest brewing company on mainland Europe in the 19th century, at its height boasting 4 breweries, one each in Austria, Bohemia, Hungary, and Italy.

Andreas then follows Vienna Lager on its journey from its Austrian homeland to the New World, as it became an established part of the German brewing world in both the US and Mexico, and thence onward to its acceptance within craft beer.

While being focused on Dreher and Vienna Lager in particular, the book gives the reader an insight into the massive changes wrought on the European brewing industry in the second half of the 19th century. Not only are we talking about the introduction of three of the most influential beer styles, but also the introduction of English malting techniques that allowed maltsters to create consistent pale malt, and thus the world was set on the path of pale lager domination.

Andreas' book is full of fascinating technical detail, the kind of thing that very much appeals to the technical writer in me. At the same time he succeeds to keeping the technical details accessible and not overwhelming. An added bonus for homebrewers, and possibly commercial brewers looking to re-create history, is a selection of recipes for Vienna lager through the ages, naturally the early ones of just Vienna malt and Saaz hops appeal to me most of all, and perhaps this winter will finally see me take the plunge into decoction mashing.

What Andreas has done here is write the definitive guide to Dreher and his Vienna Lager, and made a valuable contribution to knowledge of the development of pale lager in general. It is an excellent read, go and buy it, now.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Book Review: Historical Brewing Techniques

At the beginning of this year I resolved to get back to reading as much as possible.

In the carefree days of not being a dad I would read something like 2 or 3 books every month, but with Fin and Bertie wreaking havoc on all things in chez Reece, that dropped off dramatically. Sorry if it makes me a total failure of an Enlightenment man but there were days when crashing in bed was just about all I could manage.

Anyway, I resolved to read at least 1 book each month, and have so far kept to that plan, with a combination of fiction by new-to-me writers, beer writing by the likes of Pete Brown, and in "Historical Brewing Techniques" by Lars Marius Garshol the latest book by a blogger whose writing I have enjoyed for quite some time.


One of the things that I have enjoyed most about Lars' blog posts from his trips to various parts of the Baltic world to brew with farmhouse brewers has been that they go beyond the formulaic "I went here, we brewed this, it tasted like this". Not only do you get a sense of the beer, its brewing, and its tasting, you get a very real sense of the people making the beer, their culture, their sitz im leben, and you see how intimate the beer is to their existence.

That sense of anthropology, history, linguistics, and even mythology is infused throughout the book making it much more a book about people than a drink. To really understand farmhouse ale from the Baltic world and Russia, you need to understand the people and the world they live in, and that is infinitely more interesting to me than tasting notes.

One thing that really struck home, mainly because lately I have found myself somewhat jaded with the goings on of the craft beer world and its obsession with the emperor's new clothes of "innovation", was Lars' drawing a distinct line between craft beer and farmhouse ales. Just because a brewery uses kveik to ferment their umpteenth IPA doesn't tie them to the farmhouse tradition.

Also as a homebrewer it was great to see the simplicity, even rusticity, of the farmhouse brewers' setups. There are times when I feel a little down on my own setup, usually when listening to a friend describe their latest, greatest piece of homebrewing technology, as if squeezing an extra gravity point from the malt, or hitting a rest temperature to within hundredths of a degree, actually makes all that much difference to the flavour of the beer.

Throughout the book, the reader is reminded of the vitality of brewing in the development of human civilisation, and in the farmhouse tradition described, in the Nordic and Baltic worlds in particular. It is not a stretch of the imagination to realise that the farmers and warriors we call Vikings very likely used the same methods and ingredients over a thousand years ago.

This wonderful book is probably the best "beer" book I have read in many years, I use inverted commas there quite deliberately as it is not a simple "beer" book by any stretch of the imagination. It is a guide to a world that is dying out, almost gone, and one that tells a far longer story of humanity than industrial brewing could ever hope to.

If you haven't already, go and buy this book, it is worth every penny.

Friday, July 6, 2018

#TheSession 137: Mitteleurop?isches Bilé Pivo


This month's Session is being hosted by Roger at "Roger's Beers...and Other Drinks", and the theme as stated is:
German Wheat Beers. I would like to clarify for myself the similarities and dissimilarities of weissbeers, kristall weizen, weizen, hefeweizen, etc. I’d love to read about the distinctions all you brewers and beer researchers know about regarding the various “styles” of weissbeer, experiences in brewing and drinking the beer, it’s history. Yeah, whatever you’d like to say about German wheat beers will be great.

I wish I could remember what my first weissbier actually was, though I well remember the occasion. I was at college in Birmingham, West Midlands not Alabama, and it was the British equivalent of spring break. There was a small coterie of folks at the college I went to who didn't go home for the week of spring break due to distance. The Outer Hebrides being a 24 journey home meant I stayed in Brum, my best mate Cristi is from Timisoara in Romania, so he didn't go home either. Being at theological college and training for ministry, we were officially discouraged from partaking in the devil's brew, but most of us would have the occasional pint at weekends, oh and I could tell you about a reasonably well known evangelist who was on the idiot box post college absolutely pissed as a fart one afternoon. Anyway Cristi and I had decided we would go to a concert during the break. The Mutton Birds were playing at the Flapper and Firkin and before the gig we wandered into a different pub on the canal, got a couple of pints and sat at a table outside, next to said canal. As I said, I had a pint of weissbier, it being 1998 it was probably Sch?fferhofer or something, all I really remember was thinking it was rank to my untrained mind. I had half a mind to pour it into the canal, but it looked polluted enough as it was. I wouldn't touch wheat again until I was living in Prague.


Fast forward about 8 years to 2006, a group of my mates and I were in Pivovarsky klub before heading to our regular haunt to watch the footie and one of them is raving about this German wheat beer that they had available, lo and behold the very same Sch?fferhofer comes to the table. On a spur of the moment I decided to get one as well, just to see if my tastes had changed, fully expecting to hate it. My tastes had indeed changed in the intervening 8 years and so I had a couple more. The next time Mrs V and I went to Pivovarsky klub I tried the Primátor Weizen and I liked it a lot, maybe more than the Sch?fferhofer, I was getting a taste for wheat beers. On a trip up to Berlin in 2008 I had a pint or two of Memminger for breakfast, weizen was now a confirmed part of my drinking life.


Something that I was not aware of though as weizens took an increasing share of my drinking habits was the existence in the Czech Republic of "bilé pivo", which translates into English, in common with "weissbier" and "witbier", as "white beer". Apparently "bilé pivo" in Bohemia predates weizen in Bavaria and most historians of beer believe that "bilé pivo" migrated from the former to the latter before falling out of favour in its homeland, so much so that great Czech brewer Franti?ek Ond?ej Poupě is famously quoted as saying "wheat is for cakes, oats for horses, and barley for beer". Today weizen is making a comeback in the Czech lands, both under the modern Germanic name and the older Czech term.


All this thinking about Central European Wheat Beers got me thinking about my need to get back on the homebrew trail, twins inevitably take up the majority of free time that used to be used for brewing, and as soon as time allows I think I will brew another batch of my own "bilé pivo", which I call B?hmerwald, the German name for ?umava on the Czech/German border, which in a nod to the Bohemian origins of the weissbier style is hopped 100% with Saaz and is a lovely later summer thirst quencher.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Blackwall Sails Again

Of the various brewing projects I have done local, and not so local, breweries, I think Blackwall London Porter is perhaps my favourite. It is the only one to have picked up a gong, taking a silver medal at last year's Virginia Craft Beer Cup, it is the only one to date to have been bottled, the label is pretty much as I envisioned, oh and it was a damned fine beer. That's not to denigrate any of the other beers I've done, just that Blackwall has a special place in my beery heart these days.


This weekend sees the return of Blackwall at the original Three Notch'd tasting room here in Charlottesville, but only 2 barrels worth. Why so little? Well it all started a few months ago...

Three Notch'd have moved their main base of operations to a large brewpub facility on the other side of Charlottesville, and the original brewery and tasting room have become their sour house. When I heard that they were going to be producing more soured beers, I sent the brewer responsible for that a message, suggesting that given Blackwall's 19th century roots, we should look at aging a batch in order to get the brettanomyces character that was an integral part of well vatted porter. Brian, the brewer, was enthusiastic about the idea, it was just a case of finding time to do a run.

Eventually, using the original Three Notch'd pilot system, a 3 barrel batch was brewed, with a single barrel being put into an oak barrel, with brettanomyces added for good measure. How long will it sit there? Not sure, we haven't talked about it yet, but as I said, the unaged version of Blackwall has been kegged and will be available from this weekend at the tasting room.

I am confident it won't last long, so if you're around, get out and get some. I might pick up a growler or two, and a bottle of Orval for the dregs to do my own souring.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Brewers of Monticello

Today is Thomas Jefferson's birthday, born on April 13th 1743 at Shadwell, just outside modern Charlottesville. As such, I have decided to post here an article I wrote a while back which was published in Virginia Craft Beer magazine late last year. This version has been slightly edited, and includes the footnotes which were removed from the print version....



'I am lately become a brewer for family use'1.

Perhaps one of the most quoted lines from a letter by Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Coppinger, especially among enthusiastic homebrewers looking for presidential validation of their hobby. Beer was, in common with households throughout the recently established United States, central to life at Monticello, the plantation high on a hill that overlooks both Jefferson's childhood home of Shadwell and the city of Charlottesville. With an inherent distrust of water, and a culture that continued to share much with the mother country, citizens of the new republic had long taken beer for both nutrition and hydration, the Jeffersons were no different.

Jefferson was particularly keen on Coppinger's book, 'The American Practical Brewer and Tanner'2, such obvious bedfellows, because it contained a procedure for 'malting Indian corn'. Jefferson didn't grow barley on his 5000 acre plantation, he did however raise corn and wheat. Therefore a method of malting the corn for use in beer would naturally be of interest. In the very same letter as the quote above, Jefferson notes he had followed the procedure the previous autumn 'with perfect success'.

Out of these details has arisen the image of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, founder of the University of Virginia, and third president of the United States as an avid homebrewer. A homebrewer whose reputation and 'recipe' has been used by at least 2 breweries to create commercial beers trading on this very image. All this despite the fact that Jefferson wrote to his longtime friend, James Barbour that 'I have no reciept for brewing', going on to say that he doubted whether 'the operations of malting and brewing could be successfully performed from a reciept'3.

As with any image built on the quotes of eminent men, the reality is more interesting, complex, and tinged with the darkness of the spirit of their age. While the quote above is taken verbatim from a letter penned by Jefferson to Coppinger, it is not the full quote in context:

"I am lately become a brewer for family use, having had the benefit of instruction to one of my people by an English brewer of the first order".

Just by finishing off the quote, the image of Jefferson the homebrewer is shattered and a new image comes into view, that of the brewers of Monticello being an Englishman and one of his 'people', a thoroughly sanitized way of saying a slave. The Englishman was Joseph Miller, the slave was Peter Hemings. It was these men who in the autumn of 1814 perfected the malting of the corn tended by enslaved field hands and used it to make beer.

Caught up in the machinations of the War of 1812, Captain Joseph Miller and his daughter were attempting to lay claim to inherited property in Norfolk, Virginia. Being citizens of the enemy, the Millers were ordered to head away from the coast of Virginia and eventually pitched up in Albemarle County, home of Thomas Jefferson. While unable to leave Albemarle County due to the war with Britain, Captain Miller became acquainted with the master of Monticello, who clearly valued the fact the Miller was a master brewer.

Peter Hemings’ story is rather less documented, being one of Jefferson’s slaves that labored for his comfort. The story of Monticello is as much the story of the Hemings family as it is of the Jeffersons. The matriarch of the family was Betty Hemings4, the child of an African slave and an English sea captain, she belonged to Jefferson’s father in law, John Wayles. According to her grandson Madison, Betty bore 6 children to her master, including Peter and his better known sister, Sally, for whom Jefferson’s bride Martha Wayles would be a half-sister. There is in the long and tortured history of Virginia a recurring theme of shadow families, where a slave owner has taken one of his chattels as a concubine and produced children. Thus is was that Betty and her clan came to be at Monticello when John Wayles died and his shadow family became the property of his daughter and son-in-law.

In the autumn of 1813 Captain Miller and Peter Hemings came together as master and pupil to perform the malting of grains and the brewing of beer for the big house on top of the small mountain, a task that Hemings learnt ‘with entire success’.

Brewing in the late 18th and early 19th centuries was very much a manual affair, one without the pumps, valves, and automation that many brewers take for granted today. Hemings and Miller didn't have access to drills to power their grain mill, in fact we don't how they milled the malted wheat and corn they used for the beer. Did they have a donkey powered grindstone? Was is powered by other slaves? Was the malt ground at the flour mills on the nearby Rivanna River? Simply put, all we have is vaguely reasoned conjecture. Assuming the flour mills on the river were used and the brewing took place at the house itself, did they transport the grist on a horse and cart or on the backs of enslaved men up the hill? As I say we just don't know.

We don't even know where the plantation brew house was. Though it was certainly part of Jefferson's schemes and plans, indeed the earliest designs for Monticello include spaces for brewing and storing beer, its location is yet to be discovered. Assuming it was near the main house, there was yet another problem faced by the Monticello brewers, that of water. Sure you know that water is 98% of the volume of beer, but what do you do without a reliable water source, without being able to just turn a tap and have fresh running water? When building the house, Jefferson had a well dug that was 65ft deep, took 45 days to dig, and failed 6 times before 1797.5 By 1810 Monticello was supplementing its well water with rainfall collected in leaky cisterns. If all else failed, there were springs on the mountainside6, or, at the bottom of the hill, the river and the back breaking task of hauling brewing liquor up the steep sides of the mountain. A sobering fact, forgive the pun, when you remember that for every pint of beer brewed, another 3 or 4 pints of water are used.

Just having the basics required to make the wort likely involved more hard work than many a modern home brewing enthusiast would care to do, including growing the corn and wheat. Barley wasn't grown at Monticello, hence Jefferson's eagerness to find Coppinger's book and a method for malting a grain that grew readily in the red clay soils of Virginia. As well as growing and malting the grains needed for the wort, Jefferson's garden supplied at least some of the hops required to add bitterness to counteract the sweet wort, though right up to the year he died the household would buy in hops for brewing.

It was over the boiling kettles of liquor and wort, taking the fruits of slave tended lands that Miller and Hemings formed a relationship which resulted in more than just beer for the table. From correspondence between Jefferson and Miller when the war had come to an end, Peter Hemings became a very accomplished brewer. This fact clearly gave Miller much pleasure as he commented in a letter to Jefferson “I am glad he has dun so well”.7

I often wonder what kind of beer these men from very different backgrounds brewed as they worked together in the Monticello brew house, especially given the very different beers put out by Yard's and Starr Hill claiming to represent Jefferson's well regarded table beer. Yard's Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale uses honey, wheat, and rye, claiming it is “just like the beer Jefferson made at Monticello”.8 Closer to Jefferson’s home, Starr Hill Monticello is made from just malted wheat and corn and is as pale as many a witbier9. While having a very definite opinion as to which I prefer to drink, I am not convinced that either truly represent what was actually brewed in Jefferson's time.

In reading Coppinger's treatise on the use of Indian corn in brewing, the author states that the end product is “peculiarly adapted to the brewing of porter”. Porter of course was a well-known style of beer in the newly formed United States. Even during his days fighting for the British in the French and Indian War, George Washington was making porter from a recipe that used copious amounts of molasses to provide the fermentable sugars, as well as rich dark color associated with this beer style. Did Hemings and Miller take Coppinger's advice and supplement their Indian Corn based wort with molasses to make porter for Jefferson, his household, and his guests? Perhaps they used the knowledge gleaned from Michael Combrune's "The Theory and Practice of Brewing" to produce malts ranging in color from pale to dark so that they could produce different types of beer as required.

Sadly we will never really know what kind of beer the brewers of Monticello actually made. What we can be sure of though was that the beer was served to an appreciative audience in the dining room where Jefferson welcomed his friends and guests. As Hemings continued brewing the beers for Monticello, requests came in from Jefferson's acquaintances for a recipe so that they might reproduce the beer they so enjoyed.

One such friend was James Barbour, a former governor of Virginia, who wrote that he remembered drinking 'some ale at Monticello' that came from a 'recipe from some intelligent Briton'10 , presumably Captain Miller. Barbour was so keen to introduce beer to the life of his plantation that he had built the facilities necessary for malting and brewing. With the material wherewithal to brew ale he requested from his friend the recipe, prompting Jefferson's well known response that he didn't believe it possible to brew 'from a reciept’.11

Another fan of the beer being served at Monticello was James Madison, longtime colleague of Jefferson, and the man that succeeded him as president of the United States. Madison's own plantation, Montpelier, is only about 20 miles from Monticello, and Jefferson encouraged Madison to send someone to participate in the brewing so that he might learn and take that knowledge back there. In the very same letter, Jefferson notes that 'our malter and brewer', presumably Peter Hemings, 'is uncommonly intelligent and capable of giving instruction'12, an observation that gives us the merest hint of the esteem with which Jefferson held this particular member of the remarkable Hemings clan.

We do however, in the letters of Jefferson to Barbour and Madison, have some insights into the kind of beer that Peter Hemings was producing. We know for example that the autumnal brewing consisted of three 60 gallon casks of ale, or about 680 liters, and used a bushel of malt to every eight to ten gallons. A US bushel weighs somewhere between 32 and 34lbs, so at a bushel of malt per 10 gallon cask, you are looking at a starting gravity somewhere around 1.100 or 24° Plato. With a 24° wort, and assuming an attenuation of about 70%, Peter Hemings' highly regard ale was likely somewhere in the region of 9% abv. In the same letter to Barbour, Jefferson notes that commercial brewers were squeezing fifteen gallons from a single bushel of grain, claiming that such beer was “often vapid”13.

In many ways the legend that has sprung up around Jefferson and brewing is an archetype of the modern craft brewing industry, with Jefferson the first 'rock star brewer' trading on a rootsy image of self-sufficiency which doesn't stand up to inspection. Jefferson may have described himself as 'a brewer for family use' but as we have seen he didn't actually engage in the activity of brewing, leaving it to a slave, who Jefferson would never set free, and the stranded Englishman that trained him.

The 'intelligent Briton' would in time be able to claim the inheritance in Norfolk which had prompted his leaving England just as rumors of war were doing the rounds. The years of neglect though had great diminished the value of his inheritance, and despite Jefferson lobbying for his citizenship of the United States to be recognized given his birth in Maryland, there is no record of him trading as a brewer in the new world, despite Jefferson's fulsome praise. Eventually Captain Miller's daughter would purchase an estate just outside Charlottesville14.

Peter Hemings was the man that brewed the beer that garnered such respect from Jefferson's contemporaries, yet history turns a blind eye, ignoring him and his many talents – as well as learning malting and brewing, Peter was a skilled chef, having been trained by his older brother James, who himself learnt his craft in Paris while in Jefferson was the US ambassador to France. After Jefferson died on July 4th 1826, Peter would be sold on as Martha Jefferson sought to pay off the vast debts built up by her father. Hemings’ new owner would give Peter his manumission and he would see out his free days as a tailor in Charlottesville15.

Despite the reality of Monticello's beers not being brewed by Jefferson in any meaningful sense, there is a deeper truth to be taken from this triumvirate, and that is the centrality of beer to life at the time. Everyone drank beer, from the humblest farm hand to the men that sat in seats of power. The brewing of beer was part and parcel of everyday life for pretty much every household, given that commercial brewing was very much in its infancy, and the skills taught by Miller to Hemings, with Jefferson's keen eye for observation looking on, were those that had been passed down through generations of Englishmen, on both sides of the Pond.

Who knows what was discussed by these men as they stood around the mash tun and kettle during one of the spring or autumn brewing sessions. I can half imagine them having the most mundane of chats, what was growing well in the garden, the price of hops, the continuing building of the University of Virginia, and probably even that perennial favorite, the weather. One thing I feel would be for certain, it wouldn't be a time of grand political or philosophical exchanges, or even salacious gossip fresh from Main Street in Charlottesville. The conversation would likely weave around the everyday experiences and lives of the brewers of Monticello, just as the beer they were brewing would, given time, take its place as an everyday part of life at the house on the hill.



1. Letter to Joseph Coppinger, dated 25th April 1815, retrieved from http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-08-02-0350
2. ‘The American Practical Brewer and Tanner’, written in 1815, retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/20663/20663-h/20663-h.htm
3. ‘The American Practical Brewer and Tanner’, written in 1815, retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/20663/20663-h/20663-h.htm
4. https://www.monticello.org/site/plantation-and-slavery/elizabeth-hemings
5. https://www.monticello.org/site/house-and-gardens/water-supply
6. http://memory.loc.gov/master/mss/mtj/mtj7/059/0100/0102.jpg
7. Letter from Joseph Miller to Thomas Jefferson, dated March 24th 1817, retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/resource/mtj1.049_0994_0995/?sp=2
8. http://www.yardsbrewing.com/ales/ales-of-the-revolution/thomas-jeffersons-tavern-ale
9. http://starrhill.com/brews/monticello-reserve-ale/
10. Letter from James Barbour to Thomas Jefferson, dated April 30th 1821, retried from http://www.loc.gov/resource/mtj1.052_0765_0766/
11. Letter to James Barbour, dated May 11th 1821, retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/resource/mtj1.052_0775_0776/
12. Letter to James Madison, dated April 10th 1820, retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/resource/mtj1.051_1214_1215/
13. Letter to James Barbour, dated May 11th 1821, retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/resource/mtj1.052_0775_0776/
14. https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/joseph-miller-0
15. https://www.monticello.org/site/plantation-and-slavery/peter-hemings-1770-after-1834

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Original Budweiser?

Look at this label.


Clearly the label dates from the period of Budweiser's history when it was brewed by Anheuser-Busch for Carl Conrad's company, C. Conrad & Co. As such it belongs to the period between 1876 and 1882, when Conrad went bankrupt and the brand become the property of Anheuser-Busch in their own right.

I find this label fascinating for one simple reason, the description of the beer, which reads, for those unversed in German:
"Budweiser lager beer, brewed from the finest Saaz hops and Bohemian malt for C.Conrad & Co..."
Why is that interesting? The use of Saaz hops and Bohemian malt for a start, and also the absence of rice, beechwood aging, or anything else that modern Budweiser is well known for.

Was Budweiser originally an all malt lager, made with Czech hops? If that were so, it certainly sounds much closer to the Czech lagers I came to love in my decade in Prague. That in itself raises further questions, when did rice come into the picture, and when did they switch to German hops instead of Saaz?

If anyone has definitive answers I'd love to know.

Friday, March 4, 2016

#TheSession - Head East Young Man

The subject for this iteration of The Session, the 109th of its ilk, is being hosted by Mark Lindner over at By the Barrel and the theme is 'porter'.

Forgive me if I am being cynical, but I imagine that many a post on this topic will find its way to London, to tales of three threads, entire butt, and industrial romances involving the working men of that great entrep?t. I want to leave London behind though, I also want to disregard Dublin and its history of porter brewing, and head to lands where beers morph from the original into something distinctly native, and are then re-exported to the wider world.

Naturally, being an intelligent reader, you immediately knew that the lands of which I refer were in the east rather than across the Atlantic. Sure, not as far to the east as India, but east to the Baltic Sea, on to Russia, the once key market for many a British brewer to send strong warm fermented dark beers, and the court of Catherine the Great (hence the name 'Russian Imperial Stout' - not made in Russia, but for the Russian imperial court).

During the reign of Catherine the Great, the great cities of the Hanseatic League were still major trading ports on the route from Britain to Russia, cities evocative in mercantile history like Hamburg, Lübeck, Stettin, and Danzig. As the strong dark beer made its way from the ports of England to Russia, I imagine the ships' captains stopped into various cities along the way. Perhaps as they plied their trade along the Baltic coast they sold some of their stock of beer, and a taste for strong dark beer took hold. It is not so great a stretch of the imagination to think that enterprising brewers in these cities created their own version for local sale, using ingredients and methods local to them, and thus out of the strong stout porters sent to Russia was born Baltic Porter.

Generally speaking the local ingredients and methods were heavily influenced by the lager brewing traditions of Central Europe, and so on the southern side of the Baltic, their porter was cold fermented and lagered, while those made on the northern side, in Sweden, maintained the warm fermentation approach. Eventually Baltic Porter became associated mainly with cities in modern day Poland, though examples of the 'style' (for want of a better word) can be found throughout central and eastern Europe. Clearly I am about to argue from silence, but I imagine the ?eskobudějovicky Porter advertised below had more in common with Gdańsk than London.


The history of porter is in many ways the forerunner of the pale lager revolution of the mid 19th to mid 20th century kicked off by Josef Groll and his Pilsner, and is a powerful reminder of the power of trade to shape societies far from the original source of the product being traded. So in drinking porter look beyond London and head east young man.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Iconic Craft?

It's been one of those weeks where the best intentions get flung out of the window as a result of circumstances. Nothing drastic, just a demanding week at the day job, and so a couple of pints of an evening at home has been the ideal way to smooth away the wrinkles of the day. I'll get back on the not drinking during the week wagon next week.

Not wanting to buy in more beer I've been raiding the cellar and fridge, both of which were thankfully well stocked with my kind of beers - key word there 'were', they're a tad barren now. Most of the beers I thoroughly enjoyed in the past few days have been from what I would regard as 'iconic' breweries, Guinness and Samuel Smith's, coming hot on the heels of drinking beer Schlenkerla at the weekend.

This got me thinking, a dangerous habit for sure, about how many American beers and/or breweries that have sprung up in the last 30 old years will go on to achieve the same kind of legendary status as the folks at St James' Gate, Tadcaster, or Bamberg?

To be blunt, the list is fairly small.


Top of that list for me would be Sierra Nevada, and in particular their Pale Ale, the very archetype of the American Pale Ale style, and still the benchmark for any beer in that style. I think it would be rather obvious to point to a West Coast IPA as some kind of iconic beer, but without SNPA I am convinced there would never have been the taste for American hops that drives the continuing IPA obsession. It also helps that Sierra Nevada for all their innovation have always struck me as delightfully respectful of tradition. How many US craft breweries bottle condition their beer, let alone recreate bottle conditioning in their canned lineup?  The sight of the pale green 12 pack in the store in such decent beer wastelands as Daytona Beach is an infinite source of comfort, and its acceptance in the mainstream a sign of it becoming an iconic American beer.

The other iconic US craft beer, and for similar reasons, is Samuel Adams Boston Lager. Sure it may be brewed in several different breweries, and the brewing company itself is branching out into cider, hard tea, and whatever else will sell, but Boston Lager itself was the beer that broke the mould. Think of the American lager scene in 1985, dominated by pale lager megabrands and their light cousins. People that wanted something different drank Heineken, Beck's, and other German imports. In to that milieu stepped Jim Koch and Boston Lager, the first non-BMC American made lager I ever drank, and I loved it at first mouthful - and remember at this point I was living in the Czech Republic, a land that makes a decent lager or two. Just as with SNPA, the sight of a Boston Lager tap in a franchise restaurant is welcome to anyone that likes a decent beer instead of post-mix soda.

After that though, who is there that are still out there making the beers that made them famous rather than ditching them to satisfy the fickle winds of change? From among the ranks of craft brewers currently riding the crest of a wave, who among them will my children drink, or their children, and even their children?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Session: Colonial Uprising


This month's Session is being hosted by my mate Reuben over at The Tale of the Ale, who I am looking forward to showing the delights of the Central VA booze scene in a few weeks. His theme is as follows:
If you have a local beer style that died out and is starting to appear again then please let the world know. Not everyone will so just write about any that you have experienced. Some of the recent style resurrections I have come across in Ireland are Kentucky Common, Grodziskie, Gose and some others. Perhaps it's a beer you have only come across in homebrew circles and is not even made commercially.

There are no restrictions other than the beer being an obscure style you don't find in very many places. The format, I leave up to individuals. It could be a historical analysis or just a simple beer review.
If you've been reading Fuggled for a while you will know that history is something I am generally very interested in. The history of beer is of course very interesting, and far better served by the likes of Martyn Cornell and Ron Pattinson than I. Each year since I moved to the US I have organised the International Homebrew Project, which seeks to rebrew historic recipes based on Ron's research. You could say then that I enjoy reviving lost, forgotten, or misunderstood beer styles.

Living in an area of Virginia steeped with Colonial and Revolutionary era history, I am finding myself more and more interested in the lives of the people that left everything they knew back in Europe to come to the New World, including what they drank. It would seem from my reading that malted barley was something of a luxury item, and so beers from those eras were laden with ingredients that would make a Reinheitsgebot purist freak out.

Thomas Jefferson for example sought out 'The New American Brewer and Tanner' by Joseph Coppinger because it contained a method for 'malting Indian Corn'. Coppinger though mentions that it is 'peculiarly adapted to the brewing of porter' which makes me wonder if the pale beers on the market claiming to be based on Jefferson's 'recipe' (which he himself claimed was impossible to write down) are missing the mark by not using corn in a porter.

However, I digress. This year I am doing a homebrew project to recreate a drink that dates from the early 18th century, and is attested to as being brewed in southern Virginia in the run up to the American Revolution. Said drink is called 'pumperkin', and is described thus:
Let the Pompion be beaten in a Trough and pressed as Apples. The expressed juice is to be boiled in a copper a considerable time and carefully skimmed that there may be no remains of the fibrous part of the pulp. After that intention is answered let the liquid be hopped culled fermented & casked as malt beer.

Thus it is that I have 16 pumpkin plants in grow bags in a part of my garden where hopefully the deer will not discover them. I want this project to be as faithful as possible to what would have been produced at that time, so I am growing a heritage cultivar of pumpkins dating back to the 17th century. When the time comes to brew the beer sometime in the autumn, I will likely use Cluster hops, or alternatively East Kent Goldings, rather than a modern American hop strain.

I have no idea what to expect from the beer in terms of flavour, strength, drinkability, or even how much I will have of the stuff - that all depends on the pumpkins themselves. All I know at this point is that it is exciting to think about being engaged in experimental beer archaeology.

Monday, January 5, 2015

#IHP2015 Style Poll

Fare thee well 2014, greetings 2015!

It being January, two things are true for me; firstly I am engaged in my annual 31 day booze fast, not for any daft ideas of detox or getting healthy, just because I think it is good to take a break from time to time and just after 6 weeks of near constant imbibing seems as good as any; secondly, it's time to think about styles for this years International Homebrew Project.

As in years passim, we will recreate a beer from the past, the only question though is what kind of beer will it be? Hence the poll in the right rail. I have decided that this years choices all date from about 1850 to 1865, for no other reason than capricious whimsy. Your choices are:
  • 1860s English Double Stout
  • 1860s English IPA
  • 1850s English Pale Ale
  • 1860s English Mild Ale
  • 1850s English Stock Ale
  • 1860s Scottish Strong Ale
Have at the poll folks, it will be open until Friday January 30th.

As in previous years, these recipes are the work of Ron Pattinson, but this year they come from his superb resource, The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer. If you don't own it, you should.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Session: Reading Material

This month's Session is being hosted by the august Alan McLeod of A Good Beer Blog. Alan has asked the question 'What beer book which has yet to be written would you like to see published?'.

Like many of you fine folks that read Fuggled, I spend almost as much time reading about beer as I do brewing and drinking it. Most of the books I have are of a more reference nature and so I dip into them regularly, and often in search of inspiration for my homebrewing activities. Side point, reading reference books is nothing new for me, when I was the shy kid at Sgoil Lionacleit in the 1990s I would spend most lunchtimes sat in the library reading encyclopedias, and even today I am happy to potter around Wikipedia.

When it comes to the beer books that have yet to be written, I think a coming together of my various interests would be my first stop, history and theology being two of them (if you don't already know, I studied to be a minister, though was never ordained). A history then of beer in monastic communities would be interesting, especially if it could go back to medieval times, and included lots of period correct methods for the various stages of brewing. Given that I wrote my BA dissertation on the missionary movements of the Celtic Church prior to the Synod of Whitby in 664, I would be particularly interested in brewing in the monasteries of Ireland and Scotland.

Another book I would love to see published, though it is has already been written, is the 'Geschichte des Brauwesens in Budweis' by Reinhold Huyer, though published in English. The book is a history of brewing in Budweis, which today is ?eské Budějovice, and was published in 1895, the year Budvar was established. Though I have a CD-ROM copy of the text floating around somewhere, the 19th century German typography is a bitch to read, and I'm a lazy git quite often.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Return of the Mole

March seems so long ago, it's been that kind of year, busy, busy, busy.

It was back in March that I spent a day with the folks at Blue Mountain Brewery bringing a recipe for Burton Ale from 1923 back to life. A few weeks later Sensible Mole saw the light of day. I really enjoyed the beer, rippingly bitter but with enough residual sugar so as not to feel like your tongue was being savaged by coarse grain sand paper.

Given the historical aspect of the project, we were drinking Burton Ale mild, that is, young. However, a goodly proportion of the brew was stashed away in the most neutral bourbon barrels that Taylor and company had at the Blue Mountain Barrel House. There is has sat for the best part of 9 months and aged.


Where Sensible Mole was mild, the barrel aged version is old, Old Burton Extra could could call it, and if you were a Londoner drinking it in the 1920s, that's likely exactly what you would call it.

I am not entirely sure what to expect with this version of the beer. I imagine it will pick up some faint whiskey notes and a trace of vanillin from being in the barrels. The intense hoppiness must surely have lessened in the interim, though the bitter bite will, I think, still be there. Will the beer have picked up any light oxidation from the aging process? I would like to think so, especially if it lends the beer some sherry like notes. In short though, I have no idea what to expect.

Sensible Mole OBE makes its debut this Friday at the Blue Mountain brewpub in Afton, and yes I'll be making my way out there to try it and maybe get a sense of the kind of beer my great-grandfather might have drunk in the 1920s whilst telling war stories with his friends.*

* My great-grandfather was an Old Contemptible who went to France in 1914 as part of the Rifle Brigade, saw action at places including Mons and Ypres, eventually he came home in 1916 when he was wounded in action.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Rolling Back the Years

A few weeks ago, as you may recall, I spent a very pleasant Friday at the Blue Mountain Brewery brewing an iteration of a beer style that is all but dead. Once upon a time, Burton Ale was popular enough to be lauded as one of the four types of beer being brewed by British breweries. Today you may as well go looking for the faerie folk as try to get a Burton Ale in your watering hole of choice. Unless of course, your watering of choice is Blue Mountain Brewery this Friday.


Friday sees the release of Sensible Mole, our recreation of Courage Brewery's KKK from 1923, and named for a scene in The Wind in the Willows. While it is one thing to take a historical recipe and re-brew it, the question remains, is this how it would have tasted? Unless you happen to have someone for whom Burton Ale was a regular part of their drinking life around, it's difficult to answer with much real confidence. However, looking at the numbers involved in the brewing, and a knowledge of how the beer was made, can give us some pointers. Let's start with some numbers:
  • Original Gravity: 18° Plato
  • Terminal Gravity: 6° Plato
  • Alcohol by Volume: 6.5%
6° Plato is a very high finishing gravity for an 18° beer. Usually beers of that strength attenuate out in the range of 8-8.5%, so we have a lot more residual sugar to give the beer sweetness and body. Expect then a beer than has a thick, full mouthfeel, and plenty of lovely malt sweetness, which is just as well, considering the following number:
  • IBUs: 102
102 IBUs, or about 3lbs of hops to the barrel, is seriously, seriously bitter. If you remember from the post I wrote about the brewday itself, most of the hops went into the boil right at the beginning. The dominant hop in the beer is one of my favourites, Goldings, so don't go expecting the grapefruit and pine resin thing of 'hoppy' beers in the American context to be the dominant feature, think Seville oranges and great hefty dollops of spice. We also used Goldings for the dry hopping, so again expect a thoroughly British aroma to the beer, more spiced marmelade is the order of the day. The original recipe called for Cluster for the 30 minute addition, but we had to substitute that out for Nugget, so expect some floral characteristics from that, and maybe a trace of grapefruit. The combination of Goldings and Nugget has me thinking of taking wildflower honey and mixing it with your favourite thick cut Seville orange marmelade....yum. But don't forget the bitterness, it'll be there in abundance.


To quote Kristen England on his version of this recipe:
Big, dark, and hoppy as hell. Herbal hops, spicy endive, cedar, hints of grapefruit and sweet lady fingers flow into a rippingly tannic, crisp finish. A nourishing British, hop-centric, cracking pint for all you 'op 'eads from days gone by.'

Sensible Mole promises to be a beer unlike anything I have ever tried over here, and I for one am very much looking forward to a glass or two come Friday.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Vive La Difference?

There was a recently a story in a local newspaper that Stone Brewing are looking at building their second brewing facility (sounds so much more 'craft' than 'factory' don't you think?) in the Charlottesville area, specifically near Crozet. Of course this caused much excitement, and likely no little disappointment should they choose to go elsewhere. It also got me thinking.

Let's imagine that the powers that be bend over backwards to bring Stone to this part of Central Virginia, tempting them with all manner of sweeteners, tax-breaks, and sundried incentives, and behold in a couple of years Stone II is open for business. Central Virginia is already becoming something a must visit area for beer tourism, just look at all the award winning breweries we have here, and Devils Backbone picked up more bling at this year's World Beer Cup. Naturally people will want to visit Stone, and I am sure they would in their droves.

There is a question though that nags away in the back of my head, would it not be utterly disingenuous to consider Stone a 'local' brewery, or their beer as 'local'? Sure it would be 'locally brewed', and having access to fresh Pale Ale would most assuredly be a 'good thing', but would it have the same sense of place as Full Nelson from Blue Mountain, Starr Hill's Grateful, or Three Notch'd 40 Mile? I realise that the very concept of 'local' beer is a massive misnomer given ingredients pour into breweries from around the world, and even the water has its localness stripped out quite often. However, there is something romantic about drinking beer made by breweries born and raised in your local area.

The same goes for all the big breweries in the process of setting up secondary plants on the East Coast, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium in North Carolina, and Green Flash in Virginia Beach. Sure it'll be great to have fresher beer, but I don't think I will ever be able to think of it as local, it'll just be another national brand made in multiple factories, likely by the very latest in technological brewing plants. In fact it will be no more local, in my mind, than Blue Moon being made just up the road in Elkton, or Budweiser down in Williamsburg.

If someone could just explain to me, in words of one syllable or less, how exactly the likes of Sierra Nevada, Stone, and New Belgium doing pretty much exactly what Anheuser-Busch did about 70 years ago is different? Enjoying the growth of the post-war economy, producing more than 3 million barrels a year, Anheuser-Busch opened secondary plants to bring fresh beer to their consumers. Oh, and by 'explanation' that doesn't include kraft-aid giveaway phrases like 'crafty', misleading consumers' 'tricking' or anything else that attempts to set up the straw man that Sierra Nevada, Stone, and New Belgium are anything other than big brewing concerns. Just because 'craft' is trendy doesn't make their doing exactly the same as AB all those years ago any different, or better, or worse.

It's just business.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Brewer of the Week

A list of the world's great brewing nations easily trips off the tongue, England, Belgium, Bavaria, Bohemia. One country that seems to be overlooked quite often is the Netherlands. Historically there are many links between Dutch brewing and England, as there are in many other walks of life. Today's Brewer of the Week interview is with a brewery that are reviving historic Dutch beer styles, including those made with a majority of oats in the grist and a medieval dark beer called poorter...


Name: Frederik Ruis
Brewery: Witte Klavevier

How did you get into brewing as a career?

I'm not a brewer but cooperate with brewers. For me the start was a visit to the old brewery where my brother used to live. From that moment I started researching brewing history and it still inspires everything we do.

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

Right from the start I thought new beers had to contribute something new, something else next to what's already there.

Before being a professional brewer, did you homebrew? If so, how many of your homebrew recipes have you converted to full scale production?

First beers I brewed myself where several Koyt beers with malted oats as the main ingredient.


If you did homebrew, do you still?

Right now I cooperate with others to make an early Dutch beer with 80% malted oats.

What is your favourite beer to brew?

The Koyt beer is by far the most challenging and therefore I enjoy it the most. Commercially it's a nightmare because oat malt is about the most expensive malt there is.

Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?

Right now that would be the heavy black beer we started making. We also do some barrel aging of this beer.

How important is authenticity when making a new beer, in terms of flavour, ingredients and method?

The Witte Klavervier brewery used to have a half share in a farm where the grains and hops were produced and they had their own malting. That kind of authenticity is totally gone, but we're working against all odds to bring it back somehow.

How about the flavour of fermentation and aging on wood? What about long cooking times, evaporating water instead of mixing in sugar-syrup? These are all inspired by early brewing methods.


If you were to do a collaborative beer, which brewery would you most like to work with and why?

We're collaborating with several other breweries, making 100% oat beers and barrel aged beers. It's good to be in contact with colleagues, talk and drink some beer. Next I participate in a group trying to revive old beer styles.

Which beer, other than your own, do you wish you had invented?

I'm particularly jealous of the Belgian spontaneous fermentation culture. It dates back a very long time, in the Netherlands as well as in Belgium, and still remains over there. That's really great and I wish them luck.

Note: All pictures on this post were taken from the Witte Klavevier website.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Time for Burton

As the year draws to its close, there are several beery things on my mind. Deciding the Fuggled beers of the year for my categories of pale, amber, and dark. Choosing the beers that will make up most of my drinking on Christmas Day. Looking forward to January and my month of total booze abstinence. Working out what the theme will be for the International Homebrew Project in the coming Spring.

Thus it was at this time last year, unemployed and finally with the time to read Martn Cornell's magnificent Amber, Gold, and Black, the essential guide to British beers, that an idea started to form in my head. I knew as I read that I wanted to bring a neglected beer style back to life for the homebrewers from around the world that partake in the project. Thankfully one particular beer style jumped from the pages of Martyn's book (seriously, if you haven't yet bought it from Amazon you should do, thinking about it, Christmas is coming so treat yourself, or persuade someone to treat you), a beer with a story rooted in the imperial history of Great Britain, and tied inextricably to some of the most famous names in British brewing history; Bass, Allsopp, Ind Coope.

For those who don't follow Fuggled all that regularly, the International Homebrew Project will running for the 5th time this spring, and I very much imagine that we will continue our burgeoning tradition of bringing a piece of brewing history back to life. The project started out with just myself and one other homebrewer here in Virginia. Last year, brewers from several US states, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Czech Republic, Lithuania, and a clutch of other countries took part.

Last year's International Homebrew Project revived a strong Scottish mild from 1853 that single handedly smashed many a homebrew/craft brew myth about Scottish ales. You know the kind of bullshit, hops don't grow in Scotland so the brewers there had to import hops from England, and in an act of national 'living up to stereotype' were too cheap to do so in any great volume, all the while shipping peat infused water from the west to the breweries in the east. So, I didn't really have the heart to mess too much with people's heads, after all wouldn't a 10.5% abv, north of 100 IBU, pale mild be enough of a mind bend? Well, in the end, no, not really.

If there is a beer style that defines the microbrewing world, then surely India Pale Ale would be the forerunner, in a race of one pretty much. As such, given the sometimes woeful understanding of beer history and development that seems to abound, a pale beer with a shit ton of hops chucked into the boil, originally made in Burton upon Trent, has to have been the original India Pale Ale right? Well, no, beer history is, like most of human history, far more complex, and interesting, than the simple pronouncements that might one day make it into an Oxford University Press ultimate guide.

While Burton may be most famous in the modern age as the spiritual home of India Pale Ale, it is a beer which stayed much closer to home to which the city lent its name. At the same time as the likes of Bass and Allsop were shipping barrels of pale ale with plenty of hops to the sub-continent, they were making a pale ale with plenty of hops for the home market. By the middle of the 20th Century, Burton Ale was being listed as one of four principal ales being made by British brewers, the other three being pale ale, mild ale, and stout.

At the end of the 1940s, Burton Ale was described as being:

'a draught beer darker and sweeter than bitter...common to all breweries wherever they are. Burton is also known as 'old' '.

One hundred years previously though, Burton Ale had been a strong beer, made exclusively from pale malt, and with generous amounts of hops. An anonymous writer in the early 19th Century had Burton Ale with an original gravity of 1.140, 4.5 lbs of hops per barrel (in comparison, an IPA of the time would have had about 6lbs per barrel), and needed a year and a half maturation. This was clearly a beer which demanded respect.

Go back a further hundred years. From the 1740s until the Russian Imperial government introduced tariffs on beer imports in 1822, Burton Ale was a thick, sweet, brown ale, which was 'so rich and luscious that if a little were spilled on the table the glass would stick to it'. As an interesting historical side note, there was an exception made on the tariff for porter, which eventually led to the creation of Russian Imperial Stout.

What to do then with a beer which has evolved and meandered through the various colours, strengths, and bitterness levels associated with the drink. The answer is really rather obvious, ask the people that take part in the project. Thus it was that I suggested the following options:
  • 1860s Scottish version of Burton
  • 1870s English recipe, originally brewed in Burton itself
  • 1900s American Burton
  • 1910s English 'Mild' Burton
  • 1930s English Old Burton Extra
  • 1990s English recreation of 1840s pale Burton
The eventual winner was the 1870s variant, which was originally brewed by the legendary Truman's brewing company. Despite being most closely related with the East End of London, Truman's owned a brewery in Burton as well during the 19th Century, and it was there in 1877 that they brewed Number 4, a pale ale brewed with American and English hops, to almost the same levels as an IPA.


From the recipe provided by Ron Pattinson, the beer chosen would have an Original Gravity of 1.079, 125 International Bitterness Units, and an alcohol content of 7.3% by volume. Clearly a sweet, powerfully 'hoppy' brew, but not a n IPA. It was this fact that annoyed me something rotten when I read the feedback sheets from this years Dominion Cup, in which I entered my Burton Ale in the dreaded Category 23, listed as simply a 'Burton Ale'. The judges clearly weren't au fait with 19 century beer knowledge, and judged the beer as a 'historical IPA'.

I have since brewed an amended version of Burton Ale which was very well received by all who tried it at the recent Homebrew for Hunger, and I can see it becoming something a regular brew. As you can see though from the list above, I have another 5 recipes to brew, all of which claim their heritage from Burton Ale from different points in its timeline.

The next one I plan to make is the 1930s Old Burton Ale from Fullers. Just 58 years after Truman's made their pale brew, Fullers were making a slightly darker ale with an Original Gravity of 1.067, and somewhat paired back hopping, with 'just' 69 IBUs of Goldings. Gone though is the 100% pale malt, replaced with 41% each of English 2 row and American 6 row, 14.5% flaked maize, 3% white sugar, and 0.5% caramel colouring, resulting in a rich cooper beer.

The thing though that confuses me when it comes to Burton Ale is why so few 'craft' breweries seem to be interested in making the style, regardless of era. As a reasonably strong, certainly well hopped, beer, Burton Ale would seem to tick all the right boxes for a revival in the 'craft' brewing world. Like it's better known cousin that got to travel to exotic climes, perhaps the time has come to Burton to make a more concerted come back?

Sure, there are beers being made by various breweries that would be recognised as a Burton Ale at differing points in history. Fuller's 1845 is perhaps the most obvious example, though Young's Winter Warmer, and Timothy Taylor's Ram Tam have both been cited as valid examples of the style. There is a strong argument for saying that many of the modern 'Scotch' ales have plenty in common with 19th century Burton Ales being made in the large Scottish breweries, yet so few lay claim to the Burton Ale moniker.

Having gone through various, frankly ridiculous, shades of IPA, an age of discovery when it comes to the brewing of sour ales, the recent interest in beers from Eastern Europe, especially Grodziskie, perhaps the next big thing in the brewing world should be Burton Ale. A beer with a wealth of history, a great story to tell, as well as all the booze, and hops, so beloved of many a craft beer drinker.

Thus it is that I want to make a plea to the brewers out there looking to do something a little different. Put down the weird ingredients, the herbs, spices, and flavourings, pick up a book, Martyn's is a good place to start, and bring back to life the beers which have fallen by the wayside. Whether it is the Burton Ale which so piqued my interest or something yet more obscure, the past is as rich a resource for your imagination as the spice rack, and you might just find something more palatable there.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Tradition Ale

There are some things that I assume lovers of beer are aware of. I assume that people know that pilsner is more than shorthand for pale lager, whether figuratively or literally, for example. I would love to be able to assume that people know that the word 'ale' does not mean 'top-fermented beer', or at least, that it didn't many moons ago.

If you are, like me, an avid reader of Martyn Cornell's wonderful blog, Zythophile, you will know that that the word , as opposed to that foreign 'beer' muck that had hops in it. Eventually hops made their way into every form of malt liquor that warmed the cockles of the native English speaker, but only to the degree that ale was less hopped than beer.

Recently, as I pottered around a local bottle shop, I decided to get myself some ales that are light on the hops, but heavy on other bittering agents. Thus is was that I ended up with bottles of Williams Bros Grozet, Fraoch, Alba, and Kelpie in my fridge, and last night I polished them off.


First up of the four ales was Grozet, brewed with probably my favourite fruit, gooseberries. As you can see from the picture, the glass is a hand blown affair that I bought in Williamsburg a few years ago, pours a pale yellow though you can't see the firm white head. In terms of aroma, we're talking a light breadiness, some honeyed notes and a noticeable fruitiness which reminds me of gooseberry fool. The aromas blend on into the taste side of things as well. While the ale does have hops in it, there are really not that noticeable, but the bogmyrtle helps to balance the sweetness of the malt, making it a nice, easy drinking brew.


Fraoch heather ale is legendary, and was one of the first non-macro ales to cross my lips. I remember it well, I was home in Uist after my first year in Prague and after a year of drinking Czech lager for come reason Caffreys didn't do it for me anymore. Fraoch pours a slightly hazy dark straw, topped with a fluffy white head that sits and sits. Aroma wise we're talking a hefty earthy, floral smell, backed up with a sweetness which reminds me of my mother's tablet. In tasting,  we're back on familiar malty ground, think a fresh scone from the over, smeared with honey and you're somewhere close, but then with a long, dry, crisp finish. Did I mention yet that this is one of my favourite beers?


According to the label, Alba is an ale brewed with pine and spruce, based on a recipe that was popular in the Highlands until the 19th century. I was expecting a very different beer to the one was poured a beautiful light copper, capped with a nice ivory head. For some reason, I expected the aroma to remind me of an American style IPA, redolent with the pine resin that goes hand in hand with grapefruit. What I got though was more of a Seville orange marmelade with just a touch of pine in the background. Tastewise the dominant flavour was one of chewy toffee and just enough bitterness to balance the malt and avoid it being cloying. Definitely the kind of beer to sit next to the fire with in the depths of winter.


There is a beach on my home island of Benbecula known as 'Stinky Bay' for the piles of rotting seaweed strewn across the bay. My dad is an avid gardener, and in continuing an old Highland tradition, would dump seaweed on his vegetable beds to add nutrients and make the thin soil fertile. Using seaweed as fertilizer would have given the ales of coastal Scotland a distinct brininess, which is really difficult to explain as anything other than the taste of sea air. Marry that aroma and flavour with the sweet, almost smokiness, of chocolate malt and you have a complex brew that would pair wonderfully with a rain driven winter's day, next to the fire, and with a side of Lagavulin...I can see Kelpie becoming a regular in the cellar this winter.


Sometimes it seems as though the beer world these days is obsessed with more, and the latest, hops, Just now and again though it is nice to take a step back in time and enjoy something a little more traditionale.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Old Dark Prague

When we think about the history of lager brewing and the evolution of beer 'styles', for want of a better word, we usually talk about how the dark lagers like Schwarzbier have been around for centuries, while Pilsner and Helles are relatively modern creations. Lager brewing didn't really become common until the 15th century, and as malting technology improved, new, paler lagers were developed, thus the history of lager is predominantly one of dark lager preceding pale.


Except in Bohemia, where it is generally accepted that the first lagers to be brewed there were pale, based on the 1840s Pilsner phenomenon which was sweeping the brewing world (hhmmm, where does this story sound familiar from?). Up until about 1890, the dark beers of Bohemia were warm fermented, the breweries took their recipes, switched to a cold fermenting yeast and essentially created the Tmavé style which makes up about 5% of modern Czech brewing production. This story is exemplified by the legendary U Flek? beer hall in Prague, whose almost stouty 13° Tmavé was warm fermented until about 1892, if I remember rightly.


I have brewed a couple of Tmavé lagers since moving to Virginia, both homebrew and at Devils Backbone, but when my best friend suggested that we do a brewing project together, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to recreate a little bit of history - and not just in terms of he and I sitting on a balcony necking beer, like we did in Prague back in 1999/2000. I already had an idea for a recipe in my head and my friend liked the look of it, so this Saturday will be our first joint brewday when he gets down here from DC way.

The beer is being called Staropra?ské Tmavé Pivo, which translates as 'Old Prague Dark Beer', and the recipe is:
  • 76% Bohemian Pilsner Malt
  • 22% CaraMunich II
  • 2% Carafa III
  • 7 IBU Kazbek for 90 minutes
  • 13 IBU Saaz for 60 minutes
  • 10 IBU Saaz for 30 minutes
  • Wyeast 2565 Kolsch yeast
The hop schedule is based on that of my favourite Czech dark lager, Kout na ?umavě's magnificent 14° Tmavé, which was itself the inspiration for Morana, the Tmavé I brewed at Devils Backbone. When it came to deciding on the yeast strain, I knew I wanted to use a European warm fermenting strain rather than a British or American, which pretty much meant going with a K?lsch or Altbier strain, and so out of pure whimsy I plumped for Cologne rather than Düsseldorf. The recipe, assuming everything goes well, should give us a beer with the following:
  • OG - 12.5° P (1.050)
  • FG - 3.3° Plato (1.013)
  • ABV - 4.9%
  • IBU - 30
  • SRM - 21 Brown to Dark Brown
I haven't decided whether or not to lager the beer for a couple of weeks yet, but it should be ready sometime in June either way.

The pictures in this post were taken by Mark Stewart of Black Gecko Photography when we were working on our book - The Pocket Pub Guide to Prague.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What is IPA?

When I managed to screw up my first attempt at the International Homebrew Project Burton Ale I was loathe to ditch all that wort and start fresh, so I chucked in a packet of Munton's yeast and decided to see what came out.

The other day I got round to bottling both that and the batch which hit the nail squarely on the head. I say the first batch was messed up, but in reality it just had less fermentable sugar from the mash than I wanted. In reality I had a 4.5% abv pale ale with an estimated IBU rating well north of 100. When I tasted the sample I took for a gravity reading I was actually quite surprised that my tongue didn't disintegrate, it was quite nice - and I say that as an avowed advocate of balance in my beer. This got me thinking, a dangerous pastime to be sure, and so I calculated that I had the equivalent of about 2.25 lbs of hops per barrel in my beer and whisked a quick email away to Ron to see if there was any precedent in history for a relatively low gravity, super hopped up beer. I am sure you have guessed already, there is.

India Pale Ale, that darling of the modern brewing industry and victim of an almost Protestantesque ignorance of a large chunk of its own history (for those not sure what I mean, for many Protestant denominations, Church History skips from about 313 AD to the late 16th Century without covering 1300 years of doctrinal development and ecclesiastical wranglings). For many in the beer world IPA was invented in the 18th century by George Hodgson to survive the long trip India, it then disappeared entirely until the nascent American brewing scene revived it and claimed it as its own. Shame the whole premise is utter bollocks, but why let facts get in the way of a good story?

One thing that gets lost in the miasma of misinformation and mythology is that IPA lingered in British brewing for a very long time before becoming the hop bomb it is today. At the turn of the 20th Century, British brewers were still making beers that they called IPA. Indeed, Whitbread brewed, in 1902, an IPA with an Original Gravity of 'just' 1.050, an ABV of 4.9%, and 2.65 pounds of hops per barrel. I am fairly sure that if a modern brewery made such a beer, it would be lauded as 'innovative' and 'ground breaking' or some such silly nonsense.

The truth of the matter is that beer styles evolve, as we saw with the development of Burton Ale, and that a modern beer like Green King IPA is no more or less of a 'traditional' IPA than Worthington White Shield or Starr Hill's Northern Lights, they are all expressions of the same tradition, just from different parts of the timeline.

Kind of makes you wonder what's the point of style guidelines and websites that advocate the rating of beer?

Monday, January 28, 2013

International Homebrew Project Recipe

Ten days ago I posted my annual poll to decide what would be the International Homebrew Project beer for this year. In previous years we have brewed an American Pale Ale, a Milk Stout and a 19th Century Scottish Mild, this year I decided to return to brewing history and brew an iteration of the Burton Ale style.

As I discussed in a couple of posts, heavily informed by Martyn and Ron, Burton was a style that went through many changes between the 1820s and its eventual demise in the 1960s. For some, the apogee of Burton Ale came in the late 19th Century when it was a pale beer with a healthy dose of hops.


In the end, the poll result wasn't even close. The winner was the beer I described as '1870s English, from Burton', which in the real world was a beer by Truman called No. 4. If you know your beer history you will know that Truman was a brewery from the East End of London, they occupied the Black Eagle Brewery near Brick Lane in the Spitalfields area, and were renowned for their porter. In 1873 they purchased the Phillips Brewery in Burton upon Trent, which is where the No. 4 was brewed. At this time, Truman was the largest brewing company in the world, but it was eventually bought by Grand Metropolitan, which was itself bought by Diageo, though the Truman's brand ended up at Scottish and Newcastle. As a footnote to the story, Truman closed down in 1989, but in 2010 the brand was purchased from Scottish and Newcastle and spring of this year will see a new Truman's brewery in the East End of London, I believe their beers are currently brewed at Everards in Leicester.

So, to the recipe itself, which has been provided by Ron Pattison and dates from 1877. The vital statistics are:
  • O.G. - 1.079 (19° Plato)
  • F.G. - 1.024 (6° Plato)
  • ABV - 7.3%
  • SRM - 6 (Gold to Copper)
  • IBU - 125
The recipe is simplicity itself:
  • 100% Pale malt
  • 83 IBU of Cluster for 90 minutes
  • 42 IBU of Kent Goldings for 30 minutes
  • Wyeast 1028 London Ale/White Labs WLP013 London Ale
Basically, use what pale malt you can get hold of on this one. I am planning to use Maris Otter, though I have played with the the idea of Golden Promise. As you can see, this is a big bastard of a 'hoppy' beer. The hop additions should be the same weight for both additions. I did some research and British brewers can get Cluster online at The Home Brew Shop, for those that can't get Cluster, feel free to substitute with Galena, Eroica or Cascade.

With regards to the process, mash at 152°F, sparge at 170°F and then boil for 90 minutes. Talking about the water aspect, if you know the mineral composition of your water, then make the necessary adjustments to match the water of Burton, otherwise I wouldn't worry too much about it, after all one of the interesting things about the International Homebrew Project is the differences between beers brewed in different places.

Probably the most important ingredient for this recipe is the yeast strain, and being a Burton Ale that was actually brewed in Burton, and after consulting with Ron, I would recommend using either Wyeast 1028 London Ale or White Labs WLP013, both of which are reputed to be the Worthington White Shield strain. When I put the recipe into Beer Calculus it was giving me an ABV of 7.9%, so you might want to under pitch the yeast to under attenuate the beer a little to finish out at 7.3%.

The plan is to brew the beer on the last weekend in February, to give people enough time to source ingredients where necessary. I am looking forward to brewing this monster and hopefully it will come out as tasty as last year's 120/- ale!

For those interested in the other recipes, they were:
Picture credit: I got the picture of the Truman's Brewery and Brick Lane from Pub Diaries.

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...

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