Boddington’s Bitter: 1968 v. 1982

Mosaic of a beer from Manchester town hall.

We’re fascinated by beers that Aren’t What They Used to Be. How much of that is down to contrast with what else is around, or jaded palates?

We’ve just writ­ten a piece for All About Beer con­sid­er­ing Guin­ness from this angle but also had the chance to return to an old obses­sion: Boddington’s Bit­ter.

We wrote a #Beery­Lon­greads piece on it which is worth a look but, in brief, 1970s real ale cam­paign­ers and afi­ciona­dos loved Boddington’s Bit­ter because it was pale, dry and very bit­ter. Some­where along the line, it lost its spark.

The oth­er week we got a look at some orig­i­nal brew­ing logs from Boddington’s and tried to answer a sim­ple ques­tion: what changed between the 1960s and the 1980s?

Hav­ing squint­ed at our bad pho­tos of the scrawled logs, here’s a com­par­i­son between brews of ‘IP’ as it was known inter­nal­ly (India pale) from 1968 and 1982:

1968 1982
OG 1036 1034
Malt Eng­lish 77.5%
Lager 15.5%
Enzy­mat­ic [?] 2.5%
Wheat 2.5%
Maize 2%
Eng­lish 96.5%
‘Enz’ 3.5%
Hops Meakin 47.5%
Bax­ter 47.5%
Wye 4.8%
0.88 lbs per bar­rel
Baxter/Sanderson (38%)
Cooper/Firmin (43%)
Haux Roe [?] (19%)
0.92 lbs per bar­rel
Mash 150°F (65.5°C)
50–70 mins
150°F (65.5°C)
140–165 mins
Rack­ing Colour 16 14.5
Fer­men­ta­tion Sev­en days Six days

That’s just what we’ve man­aged to extract so far and already, they look like pret­ty dif­fer­ent beers.

  1. The malt is, if noth­ing else, a more com­plex blend in 1968 – quite mod­ern look­ing, real­ly, like that of a gold­en ale. (There is a decent argu­ment to say Boddington’s was, to all intents and pur­pos­es, just that.)
  2. It’s hard to read much into the hops because (a) those are sup­pli­ers rather than vari­eties and (b) no info on bit­ter­ness is giv­en in 1968, although it is by 1982.
  3. Those rack­ing colour num­bers are con­fus­ing – it doesn’t seem like­ly it got lighter between 1968 and 1982.

We might have mis­read or mis­un­der­stood some of the details – we’re not entire­ly con­fi­dent with old brew­ing logs yet – so if any schol­ars want to check our work­ing, drop us a line and we’ll find a way to share the orig­i­nal doc­u­ments with you.

We’re going to keep pick­ing over the paper­work – ‘What does that say, is it an S or a tre­ble clef?’ – to see if we can add any more info. In the mean­time, if you want to brew a 1968 Boddington’s clone, you could do worse than plug some of the info above in the recipe for 1987 Bod­ding­ton pro­vid­ed by Ron Pat­tin­son and Kris­ten Eng­land.

Main image: ‘Busy Man­ches­ter Mosa­ic Bee’ by Dun­can Hull, from Flickr, under a Cre­ative Com­mons Licence.

UPDATE 09:43: Removed a stu­pid bit where we con­fused the mash with the boil.

10 thoughts on “Boddington’s Bitter: 1968 v. 1982”

  1. This may or may not be urban myth. I got it from a local CAMRA fel­la who appeared to know about that sort of thing. At some point Bod­dies lost the “orig­i­nal” yeast which was respon­si­ble for a high atten­u­a­tion which when I asked what that meant was told it means that it fer­ments aggres­sive­ly leav­ing less resid­ual sug­ar and a high­er alco­hol than the OG might sug­gest. That was when it lost it’s “spark”, I was told.

    1. We’re cer­tain we read some­where that they made an active effort to clean up the yeast, reduc­ing the some­thing like 36 dis­tinct strains that made it up to 9, but we’ve nev­er been able to find the source again. So maybe we imag­ined it, or per­haps it was a dif­fer­ent brew­ery alto­geth­er. (Any­one?)

    2. so they didn’t put the strain at the Nat Col­lec­tion of Yeast Cul­tures in Nor­wich? Very sil­ly. I recall hav­ing bod­dies for the first time in 1988 and thought it won­der­ful, nat­u­ral­ly I was put in my place by a CAMRA type a year lat­er who told me it was much bet­ter in 1962, pre­sum­ably brewed by Larkin.

      1. If the ver­sion we’ve con­vinced our­selves is true – that they cleaned up the yeast delib­er­ate­ly and were pret­ty hap­py with the results, even if drinkers weren’t – then they prob­a­bly *could* have got the old one out of stor­age but just didn’t want to.

  2. The main dif­fer­ence I see is the mash­ing length, con­sid­er­ably length­ened by 1982. You would get more fer­men­ta­tion capa­bil­i­ty with a longer mash. The enzymes are at work that much longer and reduc­ing some of the longer chains of poly­mers that wouldn’t con­vert in an hour. Less dex­trin there­fore, less body but more alco­hol yield (thus more effi­cient I’d think and pre­sum­ably the extra cost in longer mash­ing, ener­gy, etc., didn’t out­weigh those ben­e­fits).

    As to palate, sure­ly the beer would be less flavour­ful – this may be why some felt it had changed.

    The hop con­tent is still pret­ty impres­sive though for the time and one can see why the beer was con­sid­ered fair­ly bit­ter.

    There appears to be no sug­ar in the mash, which is quite notable.


    1. Gary – there’s a col­umn that we’re pret­ty sure is for sug­ar, labelled ‘Sch’, but we’re strug­gling to make sense of the info it pro­vides at the moment. In 1982 it just says, stretch­ing across mul­ti­ple brews, we think, “21 Gluc, 35 DMS”. In 1968 we’ve got some­thing like “9.5 DMS, 6 [SQUIGGLE], 6 [SQUIGGLE]”. (Is DMS “diasta­t­ic malt syrup”? I.e. malt extract?)

  3. From what I can recall (and this was a long time ago now), Bod­dies cir­ca, say, 1978 was a fair­ly light bod­ied and real­ly very bit­ter but after about 1980-ish it became notably more “flab­by” and lost quite a bit of that dis­tinc­tive bit­ter­ness. I’ve always thought it was a reduc­tion in fer­men­ta­tion time leav­ing more resid­ual sug­ars in the beer.

    In its lat­er days it could still be a very good beer pro­vid­ed it had a decent time in the cel­lar (my local in those days used to keep it for about a fort­night) but as it dropped bright very quick­ly most pubs put it on sale before it had devel­oped its full flavour.

    1. That’s exact­ly my rec­ol­lec­tion of the beer. Didn’t Whit­bread want to sell it in their pubs and the price to pay was they had to make it more “acces­si­ble”? Any­one else remem­ber the Mild and Old Ale?

  4. Ron Pat­tin­son did a piece about Boddington’s Bit­ter (in 2012) in which he attrib­uted the change in flavour to the use of old hops. I don’t think I can add to the dis­cus­sion oth­er than to con­firm that there is no doubt that the beer did under­go a sig­nif­i­cant change in flavour: I vis­it­ed Man­ches­ter a cou­ple more times a year from around 1972, and few pints of Boddington’s was always one of the high­lights. It was cer­tain­ly my favourite Man­ches­ter beer in those days, and I can remem­ber vivid­ly my huge dis­ap­point­ment when I took my first mouth­ful of the changed prod­uct – in 1981, I think (but it might have been 1982).

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