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!


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.

Imperial stout and Sherlock Holmes

A poster for Mann's starring Sherlock HolmesWe were feel­ing a lit­tle frag­ile on Fri­day night after heavy weeks at work and decid­ed to spend the evening in with a game of Sher­lock Holmes, Con­sult­ing Detec­tive and a cou­ple of suit­ably Vic­to­ri­an goth­ic beers.

Mar­ble Deca­dence (8.7%) was pleas­ing in every way; large gulps were a mind­blow­ing treat for the sens­es, but del­i­cate sip­ping worked too, giv­ing us chance to enjoy the  choco­late, vanil­la, cher­ry and raisin flavours which emerged in the mouth one after anoth­er over the course of sev­er­al min­utes. A bit of a Hes­ton Blu­men­thal beer, this one – there’s sure­ly some alche­my at work in its brew­ing.

Brodie’s Romanov Empress Stout was a free­bie and even heav­ier at a whop­ping 12.1%. It gave Boak an instant headache (lots of alco­hol, lots of sug­ar) but Bai­ley enjoyed the almost chewy tex­ture and com­plex, Har­vey’s-like sour­ness and hints of coal-tar. Enthu­si­as­tic con­di­tion­ing meant that the car­pet enjoyed most of it, sad­ly, but then a full 500ml would have prob­a­bly done for us.

We solved the case fair­ly eas­i­ly. The lion tamer’s broth­er did it.

Sour Stout in a Victorian Pub

In search of Fullers Lon­don Porter, and fol­low­ing a tip from read­er Ant, we found our­selves back at the Roy­al Oak in Bor­ough, south of Lon­don Bridge. The Porter was great, as always, if a lit­tle flat. Har­vey’s Old Ale (4.3%) had rich fruit cake flavours and remind­ed us of Adnams Broad­side. It was also a lit­tle sour, which made us won­der if they real­ly do add some aged beer to new to make it, or just a hap­py acci­dent.

The high­light, though, was the Impe­r­i­al Stout (9%). The cheery bar­man was delight­ed when we asked if they had any and bounced off to get a bot­tle. He apol­o­gised pro­fuse­ly for the fact that it no longer comes in a corked bot­tle and pre­sent­ed it with some pride in a big wine glass.  We’ve had before but fair­ly ear­ly on in our beer drink­ing adven­tures, when our taste­buds were less mature, and then found it too intense­ly flavoured to actu­al­ly fin­ish. This time, it was love at first sight. There is some­thing very sexy about a dark beer with a brown, caramel-coloured head. The smell was pure Can­til­lon – sour, sweet, and (bear with us) bor­der­ing on manure. The flavours explod­ed with every sip: black­ber­ry, choco­late, tobac­co (nev­er thought we’d enjoy that), leather… we could go on. Astound­ing, in short, and now in our top 10.

As we drank, it began to snow out­side. A Vic­to­ri­an pub, snow and black beer: it could­n’t have been more Christ­massy.

NB – Fuller’s Lon­don Porter is also on at the Mad Bish­op and Bear in Padding­ton Sta­tion, in crack­ing form.

A mer­ry Christ­mas to all our read­ers – we’ll be back in a cou­ple of days.