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.

18 thoughts on “Beers from beyond the grave”

  1. For across the pond Pretty Things has their “Once Upon a Time” series. Beers brewed from historic records from Ron, so far they have all been from British breweries.

  2. Pretty Thing have kind of passed us by. Need to investigate some more.

    TIW — there are lots of beers that claim to be based on old recipes or at least allude to it but we’re struggling to find many which have a lot of detail behind it. A few, when you look into it, are using hop varieties which didn’t exist until the 70s and crystal malt, which didn’t really take off until the 20th century, although it was about a lot earlier. If Sam Smith’s had a proper website and weren’t so weird, we could probably look it up…

  3. I was going recommend the Pretty Things Once Upon A Time series (and their entire range) but it looks I’ve been beaten to it. I’m particularly fond of the East India Porter and really quite happy that their beer is everywhere in Boston.

    I wish I could share the 1808 Whitbread Porter that I made with advice from Ron. It’s an ode to brown malt.

  4. Westerham’s Audit Ale is annoyingly only available in cask even if it is to a bottled beer recipe.

    My research into brewing with Brettanomyces, using a strain isolated from an English stock ale in 1910, shows that when it is used for secondary fermentation it doesn’t give a sour flavour. I suspect the sour flavour in aged beers didn’t come from the Brett but from bacteria. If you send me your address I’ll post you a bottle of ‘Tsar Top’ the Old Dairy Brewery’s version of Courage Imperial Russian Stout, which is brewed with Brett but not sour.

  5. Tim — 1808 Porter just sounds so appetising. Feel free to email us your recipe!

    Ed — travelling now and moving house when we get back. Can you hold on to it until mid-October? Will email you then w. new address.

  6. I’m fascinated by the taste of old recipes so these are beers I find really interesting to try. Haven’t had all of them but have had a few. The Fuller’s one grab me most as they go back through their own brewing books. The beers are great too.

  7. It would be interesting to see a list of the oldest surviving beers that have been in continuous production. I once read, in a piece I think by Michael Jackson, that Young’s Ordinary had been made to the same recipe since WW2. If that’s true, then there must be similar examples from other family breweries (Bathams, Donnington, maybe?)

  8. I’ve tried very few of these, though have some of the kernels and the two past master’s in my “stash”. Will definitely have to look out for the others!

    What about the pitfield range?

  9. Ten Inch Wheels, the recipe of Old Brewery Bitter has changed within my memory, let alone since the beginning of the 20th century.

    Recipes change much more frequently than drinkers realise.

  10. @Ed Brettanomyces gives ‘funky’ horsey notes, and not sourness as you said, sourness usually comes from Lactobacillus amongst other bacteria in aged beers

    Looks like a great line up to try!

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