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.

    Gary

    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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