The Homebrewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer

Detail from the Homebrewer's Guide to Vintage Beer by Ron Pattinson.

Forced into the confines of a book less than 200 pages long, Ron Pattinson’s knowledge of historic brewing seems more impressive than ever.

Cover of the Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage BeerBy his own fre­quent admis­sion, Pat­tin­son tends to be digres­sive and expan­sive on his blog: a sin­gle point can spread out across mul­ti­ple blog posts packed with anec­dotes, tables of fig­ures, and rants on the side. It can be tremen­dous­ly inter­est­ing and enter­tain­ing, but also, at times, hard to fol­low if you’re only there for the hard facts.

Either through self-dis­ci­pline or thanks to the guid­ing hand of a stern edi­tor, in The Home­brew­er’s Guide to Vin­tage Beer, he finds a new, clear­er voice. Swathes of brew­ing his­to­ry are summed up almost in bul­let point form, and no worse for it:

Let’s get this straight before we go any fur­ther. I don’t believe the sto­ry that porter was an attempt to re-cre­ate a mix of three dif­fer­ent draft beers called “three threads”. No source for the first half of the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry con­firm the tale, and the main piece of evi­dence used to sup­port the the­o­ry was writ­ten the best part of a cen­tu­ry lat­er.

Right, got it!

The his­to­ry of hops in British brew­ing is sum­marised in three crys­tal clear pages; malt, in all its com­plex­i­ty, in four. The var­i­ous types of fer­ment­ing ves­sel, from Bur­ton Union to York­shire Square, in a lit­tle over two. If you need more detail and ref­er­ences, it’s there online, but this will be more than enough for most peo­ple, at least to begin with.

There are also nuggets of triv­ia that, though we’re sure he has men­tioned them before on his blog, have chance to stand out in this more eco­nom­i­cal style. We had­n’t realised that rice was fre­quent­ly used in North Ger­man beer before 1906, for exam­ple.

The recipes, which are the real point of the book, are divid­ed by style (porter, stout, IPA, and so on) and ordered chrono­log­i­cal­ly with­in each sec­tion. Even those who don’t brew at home ought to appre­ci­ate the oppor­tu­ni­ty to see the evo­lu­tion of each style, their alco­holic strength and ingre­di­ents chang­ing from year to year as a result of fash­ion, eco­nom­ics and war, as explained in pithy notes. Indi­vid­ual beers, such as Tru­man’s Run­ner, are present in mul­ti­ple ver­sions, decades apart, which ought to make for some fas­ci­nat­ing ‘ver­ti­cal tast­ing’ ses­sions.

They are writ­ten in a sim­ple, clear for­mat, and sim­pli­fied to avoid four-hour boils and com­pli­cat­ed mash­ing, sparg­ing and gyling rou­tines, though the infor­ma­tion is there for those who wish to go ‘all in’.

There is also some guess work. Rely­ing almost entire­ly on orig­i­nal brew­ing records, Pat­tin­son has had to make assump­tions about hop vari­eties, alpha acids, the dark­ness of cer­tain malts, and the iden­ti­ty of pro­pri­etary brew­ing sug­ars. His guess­es, though, are bet­ter than most peo­ple’s facts, and cer­tain­ly bet­ter than noth­ing.

A hand­ful of recipes don’t, frankly, sound very appetis­ing, and are real­ly only of aca­d­e­m­ic inter­est: the final porters from before the style became extinct in the mid-20th cen­tu­ry, for exam­ple, are weak (less than 3% ABV) and filled with oats and sug­ars. (Or per­haps we’re wrong and the watery-weak porter is a lost clas­sic. We will, of course, have to find out for our­selves at some point.)

Those com­mit­ted to the mod­ern-style of ‘craft’ brew­ing might find these recipes of lim­it­ed use. Not one fea­tures hops added late in the boil for the pur­pos­es of cre­at­ing aro­ma, even though many fea­ture huge amounts of hops in total. Almost all of them use sug­ar, which ‘craft’ brew­ers seem to find a bit of a turn off. Some might make good bases for exper­i­men­tal recipes, though, espe­cial­ly the strong ales.

The spi­ral bind­ing inside a hard fold­er-like cov­er seems an odd choice at first, but actu­al­ly makes com­plete sense in prac­ti­cal terms: it lies per­fect­ly flat, which will be great when we need it open in front of us for ref­er­ence on brew­day.

One small com­plaint: the vin­tage labels that dec­o­rate the pages, while love­ly to look at, rarely cor­re­spond to the recipe below, which can make brows­ing the book some­thing of a pat-your-head-rub-your-tum­my exer­cise.

This is not yet anoth­er begin­ners guide with the same old basic recipes, but a Lev­el 2: Inter­me­di­ate text, and that’s exact­ly what we would like to see more of. For writ­ers and pub­lish­ers, that might be a prob­lem – the mar­ket for gen­er­al guides is poten­tial­ly big­ger, if more com­pet­i­tive – but if beer writ­ing is going to grow up, it needs to get beyond the super­fi­cial.

We were sent a review copy. The RRP is £17.99 and it is avail­able from Ama­zonWater­stones, and as a Kin­dle ebook.

UPDATE 27/02/2014: we did­n’t realise that Quay­side, who pub­lished this book, are a sis­ter com­pa­ny to Aurum, who are pub­lish­ing ours. They are, so we’re dis­clos­ing the rela­tion­ship here.

16 thoughts on “The Homebrewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer”

  1. I don’t know if it’s just me being blind, but I can’t find any­where in my copy that spec­i­fies a brew length for the recipes. That’s and the labels at the top of each recipe thing that you’ve men­tioned, are about my only gripes with it…

    1. Bob – we can’t see it either, but assumed the stan­dard 23l/5 gal­lon. Per­haps some­thing to fix in the, we sus­pect inevitable, sec­ond edi­tion.

      1. I did end up think­ing it was 23L, but as every­thing was giv­en in Lbs and Oz for the US mar­ket, it did cross my mind that it might be 5 US gal­lons (19L), but the weights don’t real­ly sup­port that…

  2. Anoth­er inter­est­ing read.

    Any chance you know the source for the infor­ma­tion about Colne Spring Ale being fer­ment­ed with Bret­tanomyces? Ron Pat­tin­son quotes Mar­tyn Cor­nell but when I asked Mar­tyn He could­n’t remem­ber who told him. I’ve only got the Kin­dle ver­sion of Amber Black & Gold and there isn’t a list of ref­er­ences in it. Out­side of Ron and Mar­tyn’s books I haven’t come across anoth­er men­tion of it and Ben­skins records indi­cate the same yeast cake was used for all beers.

    Ben­skins used to fill the oak bar­rels des­tined for CSA with cold water, insert a steam coil, and bring the water inside to a vig­or­ous boil. This was in addi­tion to their nor­mal bar­rel clean­ing pro­ce­dures for oth­er beers includ­ing SO2 addi­tions, and would have heat­ed the full thick­ness of the oak to 100°C. Not even Brett could sur­vive that.

    I would love to find that CSA did have Brett in it, but am uncon­vinced so far. The yeast pitch­ing rates used by Ben­skins have been test­ed with a clone CSA recipe (based on Ben­skins pro­duc­tion records) and atten­u­at­ed enough to give a 10.5% beer from a OG of 1.095 with­out Brett, due to the amount of sug­ar used.


    1. Geoff – no, sor­ry. Not like Mar­tyn Cor­nell to state some­thing with­out being able to point to the source, but if he says he heard it from some­one reli­able, even if he can’t recall it, we’re inclined to believe him.

      Ron does­n’t state here that it was *pitched* with Brett, only that it was aged long after oth­er beers ceased to be; and, as a sep­a­rate state­ment, that aged beers gained char­ac­ter from Brett in sec­ondary fer­men­ta­tion.

    2. Blimey where did you find the Ben­skin’s records? I tried track­ing them down a while back and could­n’t find any­thing. I brewed a ver­sion of CSA based on the rec­ol­lec­tions of an ex-Ben­skin’s brew­er. I did add Brett (as that’s what got me inter­est­ed in the beer in the first place!) but he said they only used the Ben­skin’s three strain yeast.

      1. Hi Ed,

        I saw your adven­tures with CSA before I man­aged to track down some of the records. In the 50s Ben­skins updat­ed their brew­ing man­u­al. List­ing the entire process from water treat­ment through to cask­ing. I was for­tu­nate enough to be able to read through a copy that had some­how left the brew­ery short­ly after Ind Coope took over. Being born in Wat­ford and hav­ing speant most of my life as a plumber meant I had a huge net­work of elder­ly cus­tomers only too hap­py to talk about Ben­skins and it’s his­to­ry and ask around.

        I’ve got a very ear­ly Ind Coope CSA that I’m going to get analysed for yeast strains as it appears bot­tle con­di­tioned and may pro­vide some answers. It’s pos­si­ble for Brett to sur­vive that long, the Sac­cromyces will be long dead but genet­ic analy­sis may be pos­si­ble. Even intact dead cells may help. I’ve also got a bot­tle of the 1984 re-brew that I believe may have been fer­ment­ed with the same yeast strain/blend.

        I’ll keep you updat­ed when I know more.

        I’d love to be able to con­firm the pre­sance of Brett and the strain, as the 14-month old S.cervisiea/B.claussini recre­ation Porter I’m drink­ing as I write this is amaz­ing.

        1. Excel­lent stuff, it’s great you’ve got local con­nec­tions.

          I must admit it seems Brett prob­a­bly was­n’t delib­er­ate­ly added but I still think it’s a strong pos­si­bil­i­ty it was there all the same. There could have been some­thing lurk­ing in the pitch­ing yeast that only emerged after long mat­u­ra­tion (see Har­veys) or some­thing took hold after long mat­u­ra­tion from the wood or was present at low lev­els in the beer already. No mat­ter how they’re treat­ed I think it’s high­ly unlike­ly any wood­en cask would still be bug free after a year.

          A brew­ery I used to work at had a key­stone pop on me from a steel cask con­tain­ing year old bar­ley wine when I brushed against it. I got soaked and the beer def­i­nite­ly had the taste of infec­tion about it (well I had to try it!). In a beer that strong the infec­tion was not entire­ly unpleas­ant.

          It had been inoc­u­lat­ed with noth­ing oth­er than the pitch­ing yeast but had still ‘gone wild’.

    3. when I asked Mar­tyn He couldn’t remem­ber who told him. I’ve only got the Kin­dle ver­sion of Amber Black & Gold and there isn’t a list of ref­er­ences in it.

      Mar­tyn does say Colne Spring Ale was infect­ed with Brett (p. 162), but does­n’t attribute this state­ment to any source; he’s got Alfred Barnard and Mau­rice Gorham rav­ing (60 years apart!) over the qual­i­ty of the beer and Wahl & Henius talk­ing about Eng­lish stock ales in gen­er­al being Brett-ed, but nobody actu­al­ly talk­ing about Colne Spring Ale and Brett.

      Barnard’s _Noted Breweries_ (all four vol­umes of it) is down­load­able here, bizarrely enough. He cer­tain­ly does­n’t say any­thing about Brett in the chap­ters on Ben­skin’s (which are in vol­ume 4 if you’re inter­est­ed); he’s rather keen on mod­ern sci­en­tif­ic meth­ods which keep every­thing clean, so it would spoil his nar­ra­tive a bit if he had to say that Colne Spring Ale relied on infec­tion for its flavour.

  3. Phil, thanks for the link I’ll read the Ben­skins sec­tion tomor­row. I would have thought that being keen on mod­ern sci­en­tif­ic meth­ods he would cer­tain­ly have made note of Brett being used on pur­pose as it’s exis­tance was well doc­u­ment­ed by then.

    1. Oops, I take that back. Ed is right Clausen did­n’t iso­late and name Bret­tanomyces until 1904.

      1. Though it had been iso­lat­ed before Clausen. A chemist St. Peters­burg and anoth­er at Guin­ness found Bret­tanomyces in the late 19th cen­tu­ry but did­n’t pub­lish, pre­sum­ably for com­mer­cial rea­sons.

        1. Hi Ron,

          That might explain why I thought bret­tanomyces had been doc­u­ment­ed ear­li­er.

          I’ve recent­ly uncov­ered a yeast cake analy­sis record from the late 60s that seems to show allow­able lim­its for ace­to­bac­tor, lac­to­bac­cilus and wild yeast in Ben­skins stock yeast. The num­bers don’t seem to make sense and the record looks incom­plete so I’ll try to get some­one with in depth yeast knowl­edge of old yeast test­ing to have a look. I also don’t know if it was an analy­sis of pitch­ing yeast or yeast cake to be sold on to bak­ers.

          Whichev­er it is, it indi­cates a whole ecosys­tem of microor­gan­isms were in with the skimmed yeast even if most of them were at very low lev­els and would have been dis­abled by the sul­phur diox­ide addi­tions that were made in the bar­rels, so played no part in age­ing.

          I have pro­duced year-old Brett beers and beers aged for a year in oak bar­rels, so my next tri­al will be a CSA strength beer with bac­te­r­i­al, wild and bret­tanomyces infec­tion at rates sim­i­lar to Ben­skins yeast. I’ll add the same dosage of SO2 and see it supress­es the brett devel­op­ment for a year,

          I’m still search­ing every­where I can think of for more infor­ma­tion about Ben­skins and the oth­er Wat­ford brew­ers. Last week I spent a Sev­er­al hours going through rolls of micro­film for infor­ma­tion only to come up with four lines of text that I already new about.

          I’ll be widen­ing my net soon.

          1. Geoff,

            inter­est­ing stuff. Let me know how your exper­i­ment with the yeast mix works.

            My guess would be that at least one of the wild yeasts would have played some role in the age­ing. The only point in hav­ing extend­ed age­ing in wood is if you get a true sec­ondary fer­men­ta­tion.

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