Beers from beyond the grave

It’s getting easier then ever to buy and drink beer brewed to specific historical recipes and to get at least a sense of what beer tasted like before the 1970s.

Here’s a list of some notable beers which are recreations of specific beers based on recipes from the archives. We’ve also included a couple of beers which, although perhaps not exactly recreations, can help us understand specific aspects of the beer of the past.

1. Harvey’s Imperial Extra Double Stout (9%, bottle)
It’s hard to work out if this is an accurate recreation of an historic recipe but, nonetheless, it is reckoned by some to be the best chance most of us will get to experience the sour Brettanomyces character which would have been present in many 19th century beers. (As they say on Wikipedia, CITATION NEEDED.) It’s pretty intense; you might not even like it the first time you try it (we didn’t) but it’s well worth trying twice and is one of our favourites now.

2. Fuller’s Past Masters XX Strong Ale (7.5%, bottle)
Based on a recipe from 1891, some work went into this, including tracking down a specific variety of barley and then having it malted as it would have been at the end of the nineteenth century. Trying to understand styles gets our heads in a whirl but, as we understand it, this could be called a ‘burton’, a type of beer rarely found these days.

3. Fuller’s Past Masters Double Stout (7.4%, bottle)
This was brewed from an 1893 recipe and, despite the ‘double’ moniker, is interesting because it represents what you might have got if you’d ordered just a straight stout in a London pub at that time. Great to contrast with Fuller’s London Porter.

4. Westerham’s Audit Ale (bottle Cask)
An occasional but award-winning product from this Kent brewery, Audit Ale is “brewed to the 1938 strength and using the same ingredients as the original best selling bottled beer of the Black Eagle Brewery”. We haven’t tried it, but we’d like to. Thanks to Ed for tipping us off to this one.

5. Kernel’s historic range (bottle)
There are too many beers in this range to list them all. Each recreates a porter, stout or IPA from a specific year and, the brewer tells us on the Twitter, most are based on specific historical recipes. Kernel have also collaborated with Thornbridge on a burton for this year’s Borefts festival. Again, we haven’t tried any of these, but others have.

6. Worthington E (4.8%, bottle)
A sullied name because it was applied to a Worthington keg beer in the 1970s and 80s but, we are told, this is brewed to the 1965 recipe for Bass Pale Ale. Again, we haven’t tried it, but Zak has. Thank to the Beer Nut for the tip on this one.

7. Harvey’s Ration Ale (2.7%, cask)
We’ve only seen it for sale once and they don’t mention it on their website but this is a recreation of a beer brewed during World War II when raw materials were scarce and beers got very weak. From what we’ve seen in Ron’s tables, only milds generally got down this low, but the point is made. We expect to see it crop up again now there are tax breaks for beers at this strength.

8. Greene King Suffolk Strong (6%)
This strong beer is interesting because, as many beers would once have been at point of sale, it is a mix of ‘stale’ beer matured in wooden vats (Greene King’s 5X, which they don’t sell) with a younger, ‘milder’ beer.

9. Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild (6%, bottle/cask)
According to the brewers, this is a strong mild brewed to a pre-World War I recipe. We’ve never tried it but everyone else in the entire world hasThe idea that milds are weak, sub-4% beers is quite a modern idea after all. (With thanks to Graeme Coates for reminding us of this one.)

10. Courage Imperial Stout (tbc)
The word on the street (actually Ed’s blog again) is that Wells and Youngs are planning to revive Courage Imperial Stout. Which recipe will they use? Who knows. UPDATE: it’s out in the US.

Need we say (again) that we think this kind of thing is fascinating and that we’d like to see more breweries give it a go?

Of course, the main reason for this post is to keep everyone busy correcting us and adding to the list while we’re away in Spain for a fortnight. Hasta luego!

UPDATES

20:49 23/09/11 Somehow we missed Pretty Things and their Once Upon at Time series, which they worked on with Ron Pattinson. There’s a 1901 Whitbread KK, an 1832 Truman Mild and an 1855 Barclay Perkins East India Porter. Thanks to Dave for tipping us off to this in a comment below.

London's Brilliant Parade

When visitors to the UK ask us where to go in London for a pint, our default answer for a while has been “Manchester, York, Leeds, Sheffield…” but things are looking up and we think the time has come for us to put that advice to bed. London is no longer a beer desert.

More Breweries

Back in 2007, around the time this blog started, we were chatting over a pint (as per) and bemoaning the lack of breweries in London. Back then, Young’s having just evacuated the city, there were only two: Fuller’s and Meantime.

As of today, Des de Moor reckons there are 14, with another 11 opening in the next year or so.

More beer geek pubs and bars

When The Pembury Tavern reopened in Hackney in 2006, a short train or bus ride from Walthamstow, we were ecstatic. It had multiple guest ales and a range of bottled beer from Belgium and Germany — what a find!

Now, although we still have a soft spot for the old place, it’s been overtaken, as places like the Rake, Cask, The Craft Beer Company, the Euston Tap, Mason and Taylor and Tap East open at a rate we can’t keep up with on our rare visits from Cornwall to the big city.

Good beer in ordinary local pubs

In 2006, our local in Walthamstow, the Nags Head, had (as far as we can recall) two cask ales which were not always in good condition. Even so, it was the best pub around by far.

On our most recent visit, a couple of weeks ago, the number of pumps had reached six, all in perfect condition, and Chimay had popped up in the fridge. This is an average pub, not a beer geek destination. And, what’s more, within a ten minute walk, there are now several other pubs offering a decent selection of interesting beer — namely the Rose and Crown on Hoe Street and the William IV in Leyton.

Pubs with thoughtful landlords and decent beer are beginning to become almost commonplace. The best ones seem to be thriving, too, despite the economy.

Appreciation of London’s brewing heritage

In 2006, Meantime (with dodgy IPA and porter histories for reference) were ploughing a lonely furrow in honouring London’s brewing tradition with attempts at historical recipes. Yes, Pitfield were doing something similar, but reclusively.

Now, Fuller’s are brewing an excellent IPA; a fantastic porter; and rummaging in their archives for old recipes to bring back to life. The ubiquitous Truman’s brand has been revived (we’ll see how that works out). And, finally, from Bedfordshire comes the news that Courage Imperial Stout is also to reappear on our shelves. UPDATE: and Kernel, of course, whose range of historically inspired brews is wowing the blogoshire.

So, things are looking up for London.

UPDATE: and here’s the Relucant Scooper making more-or-less the same points, better and earlier, in a review of Des de Moor’s book.

Saison cracked?

Saison dupont beer in the glass with bottle

After our recent pondering on the nature of saison, several people, including Alan at A Good Beer Blog, suggested we read Farmhouse Ales by Phil Markowski. Thanks for the tip, chaps. It’s a great book and has, indeed, helped us ‘get it’.

It’s in the same series as Stan Hieronymus’s marvellous Brew Like a Monk and is designed to help home brewers understand the recipes and practices used by breweries currently producing biere de garde and saison. Even if you never intend to brew anything, if you love Belgian beer, these books are must-reads.

The centrepiece of Farmhouse Ales is an essay by brewer Yvan De Baets which attempts to summarise the history of saison and, crucially, explain what the heck it is. A key phrase occurs therein: saison, says De Baets, “has a small ‘wild side'”. He also cites a (primary) source suggesting that, in the late 1940s, saisons were very like what we would now call geuze.

At this point, something clicked for us. The idea of a spectrum with a point at which wild yeasts in the mix become evident makes a lot of sense, and also helps to explain why so many beers are described as “almost saison” or “saison like”. We slightly repurposed his phrase “wild side” and came up with this.

Diagram showing the relative wildness of various Belgian beers.

Ultimately, of course, it’s up to a brewery if they wish to call their beer a saison, hence some of the lucozade-like sugary beers flying that flag, and the idea of precise categories in this territory is a bit silly, but a beer just on the wild side — that is, with at a hint of wild yeast or ‘roughness’ without being downright sour — is probably what we would now understand to be a saison.

Now to drink some more of them and test this new understanding.

Baedeker on Schöps

We mentioned schöps beer in a post about the beer war of 1380 ages ago. This week, we came across another titbit in Baedeker’s Northern Germany (1893) in the entry for Schweidnitz (now Świdnica):

Schweidnitz (Thamm, at the station; Krone, Scepter, both in the market-place; *Deutsches Haus, R., L., & A 1.5km,;Riedel's; Gruener Adler), a town with 24,700 inhab., formerly the capital of a principality of the name (since 1741 Prussian), is prettily situated on the left bank of the Weistritz. in the Wilhems-Platz, near the station, are the handsome Law Courts. The tower (328 ft.) of the Roman Catholic Church commands an admirable prospect. The old fortifications were removed in 1862 and partly converted into handsome promenades. The beer of the place (*Bierhalle, with garden, in the Wilhelms-Platz) is famous, especially the 'Schwarze Schoeps' (in autumn only), which was largely exported in the 16th century.

As Evan Rail incubates grodziskie yeast in his fridge; and Ron Pattinson and John Keeling brew Fuller’s beers to recipes from the archives; does it matter if beer is all played out?

We think these folks are brewing and selling a version of schöpscan anyone with better German than us confirm that?