What do we really know about how to brew Bass?

This week, someone got in touch to ask if we happened to have any historic recipes for Bass in our collection.

Though we have copies of a few old logs, notably from Starkey Knight & Ford and St Austell, this isn’t really our turf, and we certainly don’t have access to what, it turns out, are log books jealously guarded by Molson Coors.*

But it did get us thinking… What do we know about the recipe for Bass?

What information of any provenance is in the public domain?

And by getting it wrong on the internet, can we encourage others to share what they know?

We’re certain there must be notebooks, photocopies, photographs and scraps knocking about in attics and filing cabinets up and down the country. Bass has been in production for 200 years or so – surely the odd bit of paperwork has snuck out?

The basics

What are the specifications of cask Bass as it is today?

We know it has an ABV of 4.4%. According to this commercial wholesaler’s catalogue, it uses Golding, Fuggles, Progress, Challenger, Styrian Golding, Hercules and Admiral hops – can we assume this information came from the brewery? And from drinking it, we know it’s, well, brown – somewhere around 10 SRM according to analyses by home-brewers.

In our experience, it certainly tastes different to other beers brewed by Marston’s* which we, at a guess, put down to a distinctive yeast strain. At times – at its best – it almost hints at Orval, which suggests a complex multi-strain yeast. What would seem to be an official blurb says “It is brewed with two strains of yeast” so maybe there’s something in that.

So, on the whole, that’s not a lot to go on.

English hops | multi-strain yeast | brown | 4.4% ABV

Twenty years ago

The historical record online is rather polluted by guesswork home-brew recipes on forums and in magazines but there are some nuggets to be found.

For example, beer writers Michael Jackson and Roger Protz (pals and contemporaries) were consistent in suggesting that Bass used Northdown and Challenger hops in the 1990s.

Writing in 2003, Mr Protz also offers further detail: “Bass is brewed with Halcyon pale malt, maltose syrup and Challenger and Northdown hops.”

Halcyon malt | maltose | English hops | multi-strain yeast | brown | 4.4%

The Continental Affair

Perhaps the most interesting recipe in the public domain, with very decent provenance, is the one for the IPA Pete Brown took to India for his Hops & Glory project. Pete worked with Steve Wellington at the Bass microbrewery in Burton-upon-Trent to develop the beer:

I’d told Steve that I wanted a beer that was around 7 per cent ABV, packed full of hops, with dry hops in the barrel, brewed with traditional Burton well water. “There was an IPA called Bass Continental that was last brewed around sixty years ago,” he explained. “It was brewed for Belgium and based on recipes that went back to Bass ale in the 1850s, so it’s pretty authentic. It was six and a half, so we’re upping it to seven. We’re using Northdown hops, which are very aromatic, pale English and crystal malts. We’re using two different Worthington yeasts, and water from Salt’s well, rich in gypsum.”

Now, this is especially interesting because it connects both with modern Bass recipes (Northdown) and an earlier historic recreation put together by Mark Dorber when he was running the White Horse in Parson’s Green. He told us about this when we interviewed him for Brew Britannia back in 2013:

It was Burton pale ale that first really caught my imagination. We had our first pale ale festival in 1992, and then an India pale ale festival the following year, in July 1993. I approached Bass and suggested using the small test plant to brew something to an authentic historic recipe. Tom Dawson provided the recipe for Bass Continental and we used that as the basis for the brew. Something went wrong, however, and it had far higher alpha acids than we’d planned, and we also dry-hopped the hell out of it in the cellar. It was more-or-less undrinkable, but massively aromatic. I kept a couple of casks back and, the next year when we had a follow-up seminar. That was a real meeting of minds from the US and Britain, and everyone went away very enthused about IPA.

So arguably it was this attempt to brew old-fashioned Bass that kickstarted the whole IPA obsession of the past 30 years.

Anyway, more importantly, this means that Bass Continental recipes have escaped the brewery vaults and are floating about. Even better: one of them has been written down and published.

Not for the first time, we find ourselves recommending Mitch Steele’s excellent book IPA from 2012. Because Mr Steele is a brewer himself he seems to have been remarkably successful at convincing his peers to share recipes and the book contains a goldmine of valuable information on specific beers. That includes fantastically detailed notes on the Brown-Wellington IPA based on Bass Continental, albeit with some key details withheld.

Key points:

  • water with 400 ppm CaSO₄ and 360 ppm MgSO₄
  • 97.8% pale malt, 2.2% crystal
  • invert sugar
  • Fuggles and Goldings at start of boil, Northdown to finish
    ‘Burton Union dual strain yeast’.
  • The same book also contains a version of Steve Wellington’s recipe for Worthington White Shield, a close relative of Bass. It’s quite different to Continental but, again, Northdown is the feature hop.

One small problem with the above recipes is that Northdown hops weren’t developed until the 1970s and crystal malt wasn’t widely used until well into the 20th century. That puts paid to the suggestion that the Continental recipe has any real tie to the 1850s.

Ron, of course

Although we know he hasn’t been able to get to the Bass brewing logs, much to his frustration, Ron Pattinson has of course managed to gather some invaluable information on Bass from other sources.

Most notably, there’s this survey of the beer’s specifications from 1951 to 1993, based on the Whitbread Gravity Book and the CAMRA Good Beer Guide.

It provides OG, FG, ABV, attenuation and colour for each check-in, from which we can see that the bottled version was especially dry and strong c.1961, with more than 95% attenuation and more than 6% ABV.

A key point, we suppose, is that it varied massively from one decade to the next so there is no such thing as BASS, only a multitude of BASSES.

In conclusion

If we wanted to brew an authentic old-school Bass, here’s what we’d do:

  • Pick a year from Ron’s table and use that to establish the key parameters.
  • Base the malt bill on the Continental recipe given by Steve Wellington (98% pale, dab of crystal).
  • Select a suitably funky yeast – there are some with supposed provenance.
  • Use English hops throughout, probably finishing with Northdown.

And then, probably the most important step: get a professional cellarman to look after it and a publican with know-how to serve it with due reverence in perfect glassware, in a perfect pub.

Because really, the recipe probably isn’t the most important thing when it comes to the magic of Bass.

Tell us we’re wrong!

Now, knock us down a peg or two. Flourish the brewing log your uncle nicked when he retired from Bass in 1972. Point to an amazing, authoritative source we missed.


* It’s complicated: AB-InBev owns the rights to the brand, while MC has possession of the physical records, and Marston’s make the cask product for ABI. This is a result of the reorganisation of the British brewing industry in the 1990s and the emergence of massive multinationals.

The Magic Guinness Blend c.1939

Cover of the Guinness brewing manual.

When a colleague of mine told me that her father had been head brewer at Guinness’s London brewery and wondered if I might be interested in seeing his papers, I got a bit excited.

Finally, months later, we got round to visiting to check out what was in her collection. Based on a quick audit the answer is: everything.

We’ve agreed to take possession of the whole lot, catalogue it, copy bits we might be able to use for our own research, and then help with arrangements to have the important bits taken into appropriate archives.

For now, though, here’s a nugget from the handful of documents we brought away with us on Wednesday night: insider info on how Guinness gained its once legendary complexity at the blending stage.

This comes from a typed document in a plain brown wrapper written in 1939 and updated to take account of wartime brewing restrictions. The copy we have seems to come from around 1943 but was in apparently still in circulation in the 1950s.

The first page bears the title ‘The Process of Brewing Guinness’ and the 46 pages that follow offer detailed notes on the basics of beer making (how hops are dried, for example) as well as specifics about Guinness.

Section header: "making up".

Here’s the section on ‘Making Up’:

Beer in storage vats [after fermentation] is quite flat and is cloudy and bitter and uninteresting to taste. Before it is ready for sale it must be ‘Made up’… Beer from say six different brews forms the basis. These are chosen in such proportions that when mixed with unfermented beer (i.e. wort that has been pitched but not allowed to ferment) known as gyle, their residues added to the fermentable matter of the gyle will give a suitable ‘Prime’. ‘Prime’ is the fermentable matter in beer after making up just as ‘Residue’ is the fermentable matter as the beer enters the storage vat. It is measured as the difference between the present gravity of the beer and its perfect primary.

In addition to these beers there are added:–

  1. Barm beer: this is the beer which is skimmed off from the skimmers with the yeast and is separated from the yeast in a filter press. It is intensely bitter but adds very materially to the flavour of the flat, uninteresting storage vat beer.
  2. O.B.S.: old beer storage is old acid beer that, like barm beer, improves the flavour of the finished beer although it is itself very unpleasant.
  3. Drawing: these are residues of made up beer which was not bright enough to put into the trade without further treatment. It is exactly similar in composition to made up beer.
  4. Finings: this is a solution of isinglass in storage vat beer. Only minute traces of isinglass are required but it brings about the very rapid sedimentation of all the floating particles which make the beer cloudy.

All the constituents of the make up are pumped into a ‘Racking Vat’ together and there allowed to stand for 24-48 hours.

So, there you have it. We sort of knew the gist of this but this is the most explicit explanation of the process we’ve seen in writing from a primary source, we think.

Tony’s Pre-1970 Boddington’s Clone Recipe

Tony Leach is a home brewer based in Stockport and got in touch with us a while back for input on his attempts to clone Golden Age Boddington’s.

He had alread hashed it out pretty thoroughly on the Jim’s Beer Kit messageboard, including comments from Ron Pattinson, before we exchanged a few emails debating hop varieties, whether it was necessary to use any brewing sugars, and so on. He also spoke to someone who used to work at the brewery (on the phone, having been put through by the pub landlord) who advised him to use Nottingham dried yeast rather than the liquid strain that is supposedly the Boddington’s strain.

Boddington's clone just before fermenting.
A sample of Tony’s clone after cooling, before fermenting. SOURCE: Tony Leach.

Here’s the recipe Tony eventually came up with:

Old Boddies Pre-1970
English Pale Ale

Recipe Specs
------------

Batch Size (litres): 23
Total Grain (kg): 3.425
Total Hops (g): 54
Original Gravity: 1.036
Final Gravity: 1.006
Alcohol by Volume: 3.93%
Colour (SRM/EBC): 6.6/13
Bitterness (IBU): 28.7
Efficiency: 75%
Boil Time: 75 mins

Grain
-----
2.5 kg Maris Otter Malt (73%)
0.5 kg Pilsner Malt (14.6%)
0.2 kg Golden Syrup (5.8%)
80g Carapils (Dextrine) (2.3%)
80g Torrefied Wheat (2.3%)
60g Flaked Corn (1.9%)

Hops
----
24g Northern Brewer (7.8% Alpha) @ 75 mins
24g Goldings (5.5% Alpha) @ 15 mins
6g Goldings (5.5% Alpha) for dry hop

Misc
----
Single-step infusion mash at 65°C for 90 mins; mash PH adjusted to 5.3.
Fermented at 18°C with Danstar Nottingham dried yeast
Water: 'Stockport corporation pop dechlorinated with a crushy.'

This is his interpretation of the information at hand with some tweaks to suit modern materials and methods, with the primary success criterion being not complete historical verisimilitude but something more practical: the approval of some local drinkers who remembered Boddington’s at its best.

He brewed batches aiming for 28 and 30 IBUs but says:

Had the 28 IBU brew on at my local last night. For some reason it was only around 98% bright but that did not put people off having a go. Generally, it went down very well and brought some memories back for a few of the older boys. It’s dry — very dry, leaves you thirsty. Twenty-eight IBU is perfect, I would not go more. The dryness gets you and the bitterness hits the throat just right.

He’s keen for others to give his recipe a go; we will certainly be doing so later in the year.

Thornbridge Jaipur and BrewDog Punk IPA

Yesterday BrewDog released DIY DOG, a free book containing recipes for every beer they’ve ever produced, and the first thing we did was look at the entry for the original Punk IPA.

We think it’s pretty cool that BrewDog have released all this information, not only because it’ll be handy for us as home brewers, but also because it enables us to prod about and indulge our nosiness.

In Brew Britannia we set out how Martin Dickie began his career at Thornbridge before founding BrewDog with James Watt. While it’s obvious that both breweries’ flagship beers, Jaipur and Punk IPA respectively, shared certain key characteristics, we’ve always wondered just how close the family resemblance might be. Or, to put that another way, was the UK craft beer [def. 2] boom of the last decade or so built around two iterations of what is essentially the same beer?

Thornbridge Brewery as it looked in 2013.
Thornbridge Brewery as it looked in 2013.

Mitch Steele’s excellent home brewing manual IPA published in 2012 (our review here; buy it, it’s great) contains instructions for brewing a clone of Jaipur. We know from a conversation we had with brewers at Thornbridge in 2013 that it’s slightly off the mark in that, for one thing, it suggests using Vienna malt which (if we understood correctly) was actually only part of the Jaipur grist for a short while. (Maybe in the period when it Wasn’t the Beer It Used to Be?)

So, with that adjustment, and assuming Mr Steele’s recipe to be otherwise roughly right, here’s how it stacks up against the specifications BrewDog have provided for their original version of Punk:

c.2009 Jaipur (adjusted) 2007 Punk IPA
ORIGINAL GRAVITY 1.055 1.056
TARGET FINAL GRAVITY 1.010 1.010
ABV 6% 6%
Malt Maris Otter pale ale 3.5% EBC ‘Extra Pale’
Mash temperature 65°c 65°c
First hop addition 7.3% Chinook
5.2% Centennial
6.2% Ahtanum(18.7%)
10.2% Chinook

11.8% Ahtanum(22%)
Second addition 7.3% Chinook
5.2% Centennial
6.2% Ahtanum
-(18.7%)
11.8% Chinook


11.8% Crystal(23.8%)
Third addition 21.9% Chinook
15.7% Centennial
25% Ahtanum

-(62.6%)
18.7% Chinook

11.8% Ahtanum
11.8% Crystal
11.8% Motueka(54.1%)
Boil time 75 mins ‘we recommend a 60 minute boil for most ales’
IBU 55-57 60
Yeast ‘neutral ale’ Wyeast 1056 (American Ale)
Fermentation temp. 19°c 19°c
Dry hopping None None

Those really do look like pretty similar recipes to our untrained eyes.

Having said that, there are obvious differences, and also a few important bits of information missing — for example, we don’t know the alpha acid levels of the BrewDog hops.

So, Experts, it’s over to you: how far would you expect e.g. the final addition Motueka in Punk to go in distinguishing one beer from the other? Is that, or any other difference, sufficient for you to feel Punk was a really distinct product c.2007?

In the meantime, that leaves us about where we started, except now we wish we could walk into The Rake at about the time we started blogging and order a pint of each to compare.

Kegronomicon: Watney’s Brown, 1965

The 1965 Watney’s quality control manual we’ve borrowed contains recipes for two brown ales: Watney’s and Mann’s.

Both have rather different recipes, perhaps surprisingly, given their similar specifications: for example, Watney’s contained black malt for colour, while Mann’s got most of its from caramel. The water was also treated very differently. (And, by the way, bottled Watney’s Brown was also quite distinct from their draught mild.)*

Because Mann’s is still in production, we’re a bit twitchy about sharing the details, but the following information should enable you to produce at home something resembling Watney’s Brown as it was in 1965.

Continue reading “Kegronomicon: Watney’s Brown, 1965”

Brewing Watney’s Red (not Red Barrel), 1971

As we’ve noted several times before, Watney’s Red, launched in 1971, was a rather different beer to Watney’s Red Barrel, whose place it usurped.

The Watney’s quality control manual we’ve been lent was printed 1965 but contains typewritten inserts on how to brew Red, issued in August 1971.

There are some obvious omissions in the otherwise quite thorough information supplied. For example, no original gravity (OG) is specified. External sources of information, however, seem to confirm that gravity figures were approximately the same as for Red Barrel, which makes us think that these special instructions (reproduced in full, beneath the table, below) were intended as updates to the detailed instructions already included in the manual. Obvious, really, after all the time, money and effort that had been spent perfecting the process across multiple plants.

Continue reading “Brewing Watney’s Red (not Red Barrel), 1971”

Brewing Red Barrel, Watney’s Keg

For our first attempt to extract a home brewing recipe from the Kegronomicon we’ve gone for the original Red Barrel, Watney’s Keg (RBWK) as it was in around 1966.

There’s a huge amount of technical information in the documents that won’t be of much practical use to home brewers, and which we barely understand, so we’ve concentrated on the key parameters which should enable you to get vaguely close if you plug them into your own brewing software and/or process.

In general, though, the emphasis throughout is on absolute cleanliness: contact with oxygen should be minimised at every stage; and everything should be kept completely, obsessively sterile.

Note on sterility from Watney's QC manual, 1966.

And if you happen to have a bloody big industrial filtering and pasteurising facility, use it — that’s probably the biggest influence on how this beer would have tasted at the time.

Our primary source for vital statistics was a memo dated 26 August 1966, from F.W. Dickens of the Red Barrel & Draught Beer Department, Mortlake, providing a single handy summary of revised targets for colour, OG, IBU and carbonation.

We also cross-referenced with OG/ABV data from Whitbread’s analysts via Ron Pattinson.

Red Barrel, Watney’s Keg, c.1966

OG 1038 | FG 1009 | c.3.8% ABV | 30-32 IBU | 27 EBC

Pale malt 89%
Enzymic (acid?) malt 1%
Crystal malt (variable, for colour) 4.5%
Malt extract (in mash) 3%
Invert 3 (sugar, in boil) 2.5%

 

Hops — Fuggles (70%) Goldings (30%) to achieve 30-32 IBU. (Manual prescribes a blend of different growths to help maintain a consistent palate across batches.)

Water (all water used in the process) — 40 grains per gallon sulphates; 35 grains per gallon chlorides.

  • MASH at 158F (70c) for 1.5hrs; 1st sparge 175F (79.5c); 2nd sparge 160F (71c).
  • BOIL for 1h45m, with Invert 3 sugar, Irish Moss (1lb per 100 barrels – so, a teaspoon…) and Fuggles at 1h45m; Goldings at 15m.
  • Pitch yeast at 60F (15.5c) — Mortlake 114, or a blend of 114 and 118, in case you happen to have any handy; alternatively, a fairly neutral English ale yeast is probably best.
  • During fermentation, keep temperature below 69F (20.5c).
  • Warm condition for 8-12 days with dry hops (Goldings) at rate of 1oz per barrel (0.8g per gallon, we think); or use hop extract to achieve the equivalent. Add caramel at this stage if colour is off.
  • Prime with ‘liquid candy’ (sugar syrup?) to achieve 1.45 vols CO2 in final container.

Educated suggestions for which commercially available yeast strain might best approximate Watney’s would be very welcome.

And if there’s anything above that just looks completely barmy — numbers that don’t add up &c. — let us know and we’ll double check the source material.

Starkey, Knight & Ford Family Ale, 1938

Detail from Starkey, Knight and Ford brewing log, 1938.

We’ve been meaning for some time to formulate a recipe for mild based on the 1938 Starkey, Knight & Ford brewing log we photographed at the Somerset local history archive.

The recipe is below, but getting there proved rather frustrating.

SK&F Brown Ale label, 1948.1. Which one was the mild?

We spent a little while working on something we thought was logged as ‘M3’ only to realise, with help from a few people on Twitter, that it was actually ‘MS’ — Milk Stout. (The inclusion of lactose ought to have been a give away. D’oh!)

Based on the ingredients, another called something like ‘JA’ looked more likely. That some of each batch was also bottled as ‘brown ale’ made us feel more certain.

Then we worked out that it was actually ‘FA’ (stupid old-fashioned handwriting…) which probably stands for ‘family ale’ — not exactly mild, but close enough.

2. Ingredient puzzles

Proprietary brewing sugars — grrr! How are we supposed to know what ‘MC’ is? Our best guess is that it’s some kind of caramel… or is it ‘maltose caramel’? Or ‘mild caramel’? Or something completely different? For the purpose of our recipe, we assumed it was a dark sugar with some fermentability, which got us to the correct original gravity (1036). We’ll probably use something similar to Invert No. 4.

The original recipe used some ‘Oregon’ hops: we’ll try to get hold of Cluster, but, for the small amount used, Cascade will probably do the job.

3. Too bitter?

With around 1lb of hops per barrel, this beer seemed to be too hoppy ‘for the style’, but there are milds in Ron and Kristen’s 1909 Style Guide (notably Fuller’s X ale) which appear similarly heavily hopped.

* * *

So, with those caveats, and with questions and corrections very much welcome, here’s what we’ll be brewing next time we fire up the kettle.

Recipe: SK&F ‘FA’/Brown Ale

[beerxml recipe=https://boakandbailey.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/SKFBrownFamilyAle.xml metric=true]

Notes
  • Assumes efficiency of c.85%.
  • We don’t know much about Starkey, Knight & Ford’s yeast so we’re going to use whichever standard British ale yeast we have at hand.
  • Though this was brewed in Tiverton, we do know that the sister brewery in Bridgwater used water blended with stuff from a well at Taunton which was harder than anything from Burton.

Recipe: 1912 St Austell Stout

Roger Ryman, head brewer at St Austell, kindly let us look at their historic brewing logs earlier this year. With help from Ron Pattinson, frequent reference to his blog and to the book he wrote with Kristen England, The 1909 Style Guide, we think we’ve just about managed to make sense of some of the earliest recipes (MS Word file).

So, here’s the recipe we’ll be using later this week. Brewers and home brewers — what do you think?

SPECIFICATIONS
Dead black
Original gravity (OG): 1059
c.55 international bitterness units (IBUs)

INGREDIENTS
4400g English pale malt
630g brown malt
630g black malt
420g invert sugar No 2
210g caramel (aka E150 colouring, aka ammonia caramel, aka ‘browning’)
88g East Kent Goldings hops at c.5.8% alpha acid
‘Burton’ yeast, e.g. White Labs WLP023

MASH grains at 66c/151F for one hour. Sparge in two batches of equal size, the first at 79c/175F; second 85c/185F.

BOIL for two hours. Add sugar No 2 and caramel at the start (120 mins). When the sugar is fully dissolved, add 65g of the hops (or c.70% of total). Add the remaining hops (18g, c.30% of total) at 90 mins (30 mins remaining).

COOL and FERMENT as per your usual procedure. (For added historical accuracy, though, you could try an open fermentation…)

Notes

1. In 1912, St Austell’s brewers were a bit slap-dash with their book-keeping: whole brew days are dismissed with a ‘ditto’ for the previous; key columns are left blank; and information is written in the wrong places, ignoring the printed boundaries. Like many breweries of the time, St Austell seemed to be terrified of industrial espionage, and so, even where information is provided, it’s in a rather cryptic format.
2. The biggest problem was the lack of information about the volume of liquid used at each stage but, after months of staring at it, we worked out that ’34’ under ‘B’ referred to the number of barrels in the boil.
3. We’ve gone with a Burton yeast because another recipe in the 1912 St Austell log says this:

Burton No 1 yeast note.
4. Post-WWI St Austell recipes call for, e.g., 70lbs of yeast cropped from an active fermentation. We can’t be any more precise than to suggest that a decent-sized starter would therefore be a good idea.
5. We’re guessing about the timing of hop additions based on other contemporary stout recipes. We’re also guessing at the variety, but St Austell used ‘Worcesters’ in many other recipes.
6. No finings: what would be the point in a beer this black?
7. We know it’s meant to have an OG of 1059 because of this helpful key:

Gravities list, 1912.

Eppingwalder Pils

eppingwalder

We’ve had a bit of success making lager in the past. As long as you don’t set your sights on recreating the clinical purity of the mass-produced products — if you’re happy with a bit of Czech or Franconian fruitiness — then it’s more than possible to come up with something decent in your kitchen at home, with only the wishy-washy English winter and a cluttered garage for cold-conditioning.

Our most recent effort was supposed to be a clone of Pilsner Urquell (pilsner malt, Urquell yeast, Saaz hops) but turned out to be a cloudier and a little sweeter. Drinking it in the sun, we were taken back instantly to the beer gardens and halls of Nuremberg, Wuerzburg, Bamberg, Augsburg and… well, you get the picture.  It was rough around the edges but very alive. We’re chuffed to bits and will be drinking it all summer, if we can make it last.