Showing posts with label martyn cornell. Show all posts
Showing posts with label martyn cornell. Show all posts

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?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Original Pilsner?

You all know the story, legendary brewer tinkers with the ingredients and methodology to create a new, paler beer which takes off and is soon being imitated by brewers throughout the land, and eventually overseas as well. However, I am not talking here about Josef Groll and the creation of what would become known as Pilsner Urquell. Rather, I am talking about Samuel Allsopp and Burton Ale.

As I mentioned in Monday's post, and again thanks to Martyn Cornell for this information, Burton Ale was once a nut brown, super strong ale which was shipped to the Baltic region and Russian Empire. This trade formed the basis of business for brewers such as Allsopp and Bass until 1822 when Tsar Alexander I's government instituted tariffs on the importation of beer into the Empire which made the trade too expensive to be profitable for the brewers of Burton. Left with large amounts of sweet strong brown ale on their hands, men like Allsopp needed to find new markets for their wares. In a scenario strangely similar to what would happen in Plzeň exactly 20 years later, in October 1822 Samuel Allsopp produced a new version of Burton Ale, which was less sweet and with a more pronounced hop bitterness than it's predecessor. According to a recipe from the middle of the 19th Century, Burton Ale had also become a pale beer, made with 100% pale malt and hopped only slightly less than the IPA that Allsopp would send to India in 1823.

By the time Burton Ale was being described as one of the four major types of beer being sold in Britain, it had become a 'style', for want of a better word, that had transcended its parochial origins to be imitated by many. In the ancient county of Middlesex, Chiswick brewers Fuller, Smith and Turner were producing a pale Burton style Ale from at least 1845 and would have a beer bearing the name , whether pale or dark, until 1969. In Scotland, the Edinburgh brewery William Younger's introduced a range of numbered ales, which bear a marked resemblance to Burton Ales, in the 1850s and according to Ron Pattinson, what became known as is Burton Ale by another name (which makes you wonder where this bullshit about Scottish beer 'traditionally' not being heavily hopped came from?). Even in the US, brewers such as Amsdell's and Ballantine were making their own versions of Burton Ale. By the time I was born though, in the mid 1970s, Burton Ale, in any form, was pretty much gone, a victim of mankind's slavish attachment to fashion, and perhaps the inexorable march of pale lager inspired by the work of Josef Groll?

I guess it is only natural to find parallels between the development of various types of beer, the interesting thing is to see how they ride out the peregrinations of fashion. Clearly Burton Ale didn't have the staying power of Pilsner, and who is to say whether or not modern IPA will still be here in 20 years time? History is so much more interesting than hagiography and myth, especially when it comes to beer.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Other Burton Beer

Despite the fact that the making of beer has been part of the human experience for at least 6000 years, indeed one of the marks of being civilised in the Epic of Gilgamesh was to be a beer drinker (though I am sure ancient Sumerian 'beer' was a very different beast from the modern stuff), there are places which are renowned for their beer throughout the world, for various reasons. Whether it is Plzeň for its pale lager, which spawned endless imitations, Dublin and the stout porter that would define not just a beer style but an entire country in the minds of many, or Munich for its dunkels, there are some cities where beer is the very stuff of life.

One such city is Burton upon Trent in the English Midlands, an area rich in the history of the Industrial Revolution. At one point the city was home to more than a dozen breweries including such world famous names as Bass, Allsopp and Ind Coope. To put that into context, Burton is about the same size as Charlottesville and in the city proper there are currently 2 breweries. When people think about the Burton brewing industry they think of a style of beer which has come to embody in many way the modern brewing industry, India Pale Ale. However, when in 1948 The Brewer's Art listed the four main types of beer being brewed in Britain they were 'pale ale, mild ale, stout and Burton'.

Burton Ale is one of those beer styles which is almost extinct, I say almost because it would seem from my reading (mostly Martyn Cornell's 'Amber, Gold and Black', various of Martyn's blog posts and magazine articles, and naturally Ron Pattinson's blog) that the style lives on in the Winter Warmer genre of strong English ales. In common with many beers, Burton Ale evolved. Over the years it went from being a super strong nut brown ale shipped to the Baltic region to the Victorian era beer made to a recipe of pure pale malt and Kentish hops to create a beer which was about 6% abv and slightly less hopped than the IPAs being sent from Burton to India. Seemingly, and again most of this information is from Martyn, as the Victorian age gave way to the 20th Century Burton Ale became darker again and then in the decades immediately after the Second World War, the style practically died as the public turned away from dark, sweet beers in favour of pale, bitter ones.


According to Martyn's book though, there are still some beers out there which meet the description of a Burton Ale, whether the paler 19th century version or the darker 20th. Fuller's 1845 is apparently based on a Burton style recipe from the Griffin Brewery, Timothy Taylor Ram Tam is an example of a lower strength dark Burton, and is, according to Martyn, a 'classic of the Burton Ale type'.

Of those three, I have only had the pleasure of the Fullers 1845, and a mighty great pleasure it is, but I have it in mind to try creating some clone recipesof the various stages in the development of Burton Ale for my homebrewing this year. Brewing old beers is one of my favourite types of history (and history is probably one of my favourite things in general), the type you can drink.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cop That!

The other day as I was looking for something entirely different, I came across an online copy of Joseph Coppinger's 'The American Practical Brewer and Tanner'. This book was eagerly sought out by Thomas Jefferson as it contains a method for malting 'Indian corn' and in 1814 Jefferson's enslaved brewer, Peter Hemings, successfully made a beer using malted corn.

Something that really jumped out at me as I read the process for malting corn was Coppinger's claim that malted corn is 'peculiarly adapted to the brewing of porter'. Coppinger goes on in later sections of the book to give three processes for brewing porter, a description of porter malt and also a section on using 'essentia bina', a colouring derived from brown sugar which I assume is similar to black treacle. Coppinger claims that porter
is a liquor of modern date, which has nearly superseded the use of brown stout, and very much encroached on the consumption of other malt liquors, till it has become the staple commodity of the English brewery, and of such consequence to the government, in point of revenue, that it may be fairly said to produce more than all the rest.
I find that comment about porter superseding brown stout very interesting, as conventional wisdom is that porter preceded stout, though of course we know that at the time 'stout' was a synonym for 'strong'. Coppinger continues that:
when well brewed, and of a proper age, is considered a wholesome and pleasant liquor, particularly when drank out of the bottle; a free use is made of it in the East and West Indies, where physicians frequently recommend the use of it in preference to Madeira wine
More things of interest there, porter was considered better when bottled, and that it was being shipped from England to the Colonies in both the Caribbean and India - where have we heard that story before? But that last phrase got me thinking, doctors prescribed it more than they did Madeira wine. We all know that the hopped up pale ales that were shipped to India underwent a process of madeirisation on their 6 month journey around the globe, so it stands to reason that porter was affected in the same way, and don't forget that more porter went to India than pale ale. It makes me think that an experiment along the lines of Martyn's IPA 'hot maturation experiment' would be fascinating!

I can see Coppinger turning up in quite a few posts over the next wee while, especially as he has a few interesting looking recipes for various types of ales from the early 19th century...

Friday, July 13, 2012

Beer Historian Appreciation Day


I have always been a fan of history. At school I left my Geography teacher perplexed as to why I chose to take History O Grade (the then Scottish equivalent of O Levels) rather than his subject, especially as my test scores were higher in Geography. Simply put, History was, and is, more interesting to me. My tastes in historical interest are fairly catholic as well, whether it be the Russian Revolution, Scotland's role in the expansion of the British Empire or the development of Anglo-Saxon society, I will read pretty much anything about history.

I believe that without a knowledge and understanding of history it is more difficult to understand our world today, and that is just as true with beer as it would be with any other sphere of human endeavour. Few beer styles have so clear a defined origin story as Pilsner, for example, and so an interest in the history of beer continually takes you back through the eras to see what the monikers attached to beer have meant at any one point in time. So being interested in the history of beer becomes an etymological exercise.

Take for example Mild. I love modern milds, usually around 3.5% abv, dark, quaffable, rich and complex, they are in my as ever unhumble opinion a dream of a session beer whilst being a bitch to brew really well. Take a step back to the Victorian era and the ceramic pot of mild that you ordered is pale, as strong as a modern barleywine, has as many IBUs as an imperial IPA and because it came out of the William Youngers brewery a few weeks ago and is yet to age, it is Mild.


As you sit, magically transported back to your modern day drinking hole, you wonder what happened in the beer world that in about 150 years the 120/- Strong Scottish Mild with an abv well north of 9% and IBUs that put Pliny the Elder almost to shame, should become the equivalent of the little black dress? The answer really is simple, history happened, World Wars and the subsequent forcing down of gravities, the pressure to make a product in a world of rationing and want for basic ingredients.

Given that beer history is important, in my opinion, it is no surprise then that I think the work undertaken by beer historians such as Martyn Cornell and Ron Pattinson is more than just a fascinating read, it is a vital contribution to our understanding and appreciation of beer and the people that shape it, and how their own sitz im leben shapes the things they do. Hence I am officially calling today, the Fuggled Beer Historian Appreciation Day - thanks Ron, Martyn and any one working to bring a knowledge of the history of beer to the people, it is much appreciated.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Moving Up

If everything goes according to plan in the next few weeks, Mrs Velkyal and I will soon be on the move again, though not quite as drastically as upping sticks from Prague to come to Charlottesville. We are in the process of buying our first house, a brand new 3 bedroom place about 15 miles outside town. Quite what we will do with 3 bedrooms and a house that is 3 times bigger than our current flat is beyond me, though I am already scheming as to what to do with the acre and a half of land the house sits on. Look away now if you are delicate of stomach, I won't be growing hops - mainly because Saaz and Fuggles rhizomes are a pain in the arse to get hold of.

One thing that buying a house will most certainly necessitate is some form of house warming party, and naturally I want to have a selection of homebrew available for said august occasion. At the moment my cellar is positively groaning with homebrew, and I have more in the lagering tank to boot. Between now and moving in I am sure I will drink plenty of my beer, so I am planning on brewing a couple more beers with the bash specifically in mind.


As it is that time of year, I will be brewing up my annual spring/summer witbier, LimeLight, in the coming weeks, though for the first time it will be an all grain brew, and with a couple of tweaks. Mainly I plan to chuck in some malted oats into the mix, and perhaps a touch of acidulated malt as well. As is traditional for this beer, it will be single hopped with that most noble of noble hops, Saaz, with lime peel and coriander bunged in the boil as well.


One thing I want to do with the other brew is have a nice session beer available, being fifteen miles from town I don't want people drinking hefty brews and then driving home. At the moment I am torn between a best bitter and a 70/- or 80/- Scottish ale. For some reason I am never happy with my bitters, even the ordinary bitter than swiped gold at the Dominion Cup last year was, in my opinion, not all that great. In contrast the 2 Scottish ales I have brewed have been almost dangerously drinkable, especially the cask version I did way back when. Clearly I am leaning toward the 70/- or 80/- option for fear of inflicting an experiment on friends.

Speaking of experiments, whenever IPA gets discussed in the Starr Hill tasting room I start talking about hot maturation and the process of madeirisation as described in Martyn Cornell's magnificent post on the subject. I would love it if a brewery made an experimental batch of their regular IPA and then hot matured it, though I doubt there is a brewery, "craft" or otherwise, with the balls to actually do so. However, with the way the new house is situated, with lots of south facing walls and fences, I am thinking to brew up a classic English IPA and repeat Martyn's experiment. Heck, I might even try it with an American IPA and see what happens.

Life then is certainly full and busy, and with my new job going well, I like it this way.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Fuggled Review of the Year - Blogs

I like giving this award because it gives me a chance to mention the people whose blogs I enjoy reading, both as the respective representatives of Virginia, the US and the rest of the World and also to give our honorable mentions.

First then, the Honorable Mentions:
A good selection there of beer, brewing and history blogs, all highly recommended and worth clicking the links, after you've finished reading this, naturally.

As for the possible claimants to the crown of Fuggled Blogger of the Year, they are:


The first time I met Tom Cizauskas was last New Year's Eve when Mrs V and I went to Richmond to party with Eric of Relentless Thirst fame. I then had the pleasure of spending more time with Tom at Eric's wedding, and being snapped drinking non-alcoholic Becks. Tom's blog, Yours For Good Fermentables, is a veritable wealth of news and information about the Virginia beer scene, and as such is required reading for Virginia beer lovers.


Another mine of knowledge is Stan Hieronymous's blog Appellation Beer. Often thought provoking, Stan's posts have become a must read this year. I only comment from time to time, but when his blog pops to the top of the blogroll it gets read for sure.


I love history and I love learning about beer, so Martyn Cornell's Zythophile is absolutely essential reading. Sure his posts are longer than most, but they are informed, interesting to read and by the end of them you are glad to have spent those few minutes discovering something new about beer and the world that surrounds it.

The Fuggled Blogger of the Year is still an award unencumbered with much in the way of monetary value, or any other kind really, but the winner for 2011 is:
  • Martyn Cornell - Zythophile
More than a beer blogger, Martyn is a beer scholar and Zythophile is an opportunity to benefit from his research and knowledge. I am sure the next best thing would be having a pint or two with him.

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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