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.

Imperial stout and Sherlock Holmes

A poster for Mann's starring Sherlock HolmesWe were feeling a little fragile on Friday night after heavy weeks at work and decided to spend the evening in with a game of Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective and a couple of suitably Victorian gothic beers.

Marble Decadence (8.7%) was pleasing in every way; large gulps were a mindblowing treat for the senses, but delicate sipping worked too, giving us chance to enjoy the  chocolate, vanilla, cherry and raisin flavours which emerged in the mouth one after another over the course of several minutes. A bit of a Heston Blumenthal beer, this one — there’s surely some alchemy at work in its brewing.

Brodie’s Romanov Empress Stout was a freebie and even heavier at a whopping 12.1%. It gave Boak an instant headache (lots of alcohol, lots of sugar) but Bailey enjoyed the almost chewy texture and complex, Harvey’s-like sourness and hints of coal-tar. Enthusiastic conditioning meant that the carpet enjoyed most of it, sadly, but then a full 500ml would have probably done for us.

We solved the case fairly easily. The lion tamer’s brother did it.

Sour Stout in a Victorian Pub

In search of Fullers London Porter, and following a tip from reader Ant, we found ourselves back at the Royal Oak in Borough, south of London Bridge. The Porter was great, as always, if a little flat. Harvey’s Old Ale (4.3%) had rich fruit cake flavours and reminded us of Adnams Broadside. It was also a little sour, which made us wonder if they really do add some aged beer to new to make it, or just a happy accident.

The highlight, though, was the Imperial Stout (9%). The cheery barman was delighted when we asked if they had any and bounced off to get a bottle. He apologised profusely for the fact that it no longer comes in a corked bottle and presented it with some pride in a big wine glass.  We’ve had before but fairly early on in our beer drinking adventures, when our tastebuds were less mature, and then found it too intensely flavoured to actually finish. This time, it was love at first sight. There is something very sexy about a dark beer with a brown, caramel-coloured head. The smell was pure Cantillon — sour, sweet, and (bear with us) bordering on manure. The flavours exploded with every sip: blackberry, chocolate, tobacco (never thought we’d enjoy that), leather… we could go on. Astounding, in short, and now in our top 10.

As we drank, it began to snow outside. A Victorian pub, snow and black beer: it couldn’t have been more Christmassy.

NB – Fuller’s London Porter is also on at the Mad Bishop and Bear in Paddington Station, in cracking form.

A merry Christmas to all our readers – we’ll be back in a couple of days.