Nostalgia: Exploring 19th Century British Ales

By Steve Ruch

This article is the online extra from the March/April 2018 issue of Zymurgy magazine.

Ever have nostalgia for the good old days? You know: a time when things were simpler, when Friends was still number one, when the livin’ was easy, and—most importantly—when I didn’t have all these gray hairs and wrinkles? (I keep telling myself they’re just laugh lines and that the gray makes me look quite distinguished.)

I recently found myself pining for the good old days of incredibly, intensely bitter IPAs. No, not the 2000s: the 1800s. Back then, many British IPAs were hopped to high heaven and aged for a long time so they could mellow before being shipped to India. And then there was porter, London’s favorite drink. I did some research and decided to try my hand at recreating what might have been.

19th Century IPA

I devised a ballpark recipe for an 1800s IPA. I prefer the term ballpark since clone means an exact match, which is pretty much impossible, especially for homebrewers. There’s no real way to tell which, if any, of the barley varieties available today come closest to the barley that brewers used 200 years ago. There are several heirloom barley varieties out there, including Chevalier, but I just used the British pale ale malts I already had on hand.

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During my research, I discovered that while British hops were preferred, sometimes the local crop fell short and brewers would substitute imported hops from the Continent or the States. I made it easy for myself by bittering with some high-alpha-acid modern British and Continental hops that I already had in stock and finishing with copious amounts of longtime favorite Goldings.

Ye Olde IPA

English IPA

Contributed by Steve Ruch

  • Batch size: 5 US gallons (18.9 L)
  • Original gravity: 1.064
  • Final gravity: 1.010
  • Bitterness: 190+ (calculated)
  • Color: 5–6 SRM

MALTS AND SUGARS

  • 5 lb. (2.27 kg) Pearl pale ale malt
  • 5 lb. (2.27 kg) Optic pale ale malt
  • 3.33 lb. (1.51 kg) Halcyon pale ale malt
  • 20 oz. (560 g) cane sugar added at end of boil
  • HOPS
  • 1.66 oz. (47 g) East Kent Goldings, 4.5% a.a. @ 45 min
  • 1.66 oz. (47 g) Admiral 13.1% a.a. @ 45 min
  • 1.66 oz. (47 g) Hercules 15.7% a.a. @ 45 min
  • 3.33 oz. (93 g) East Kent Goldings, 4.5% a.a. @ 30 min
  • 1.66 oz. (47 g) East Kent Goldings, dry hop 3 weeks after fermentation
  • 1.66 oz. (47 g) East Kent Goldings, dry hop 1 week before packaging
  • YEAST
  • 1 sachet Muntons ale yeast
  • 1 sachet Fermentis Safale S-04 dry yeast
  • 1 sachet Fermentis Saflager S-33 dry yeast
  • ADDITIONAL ITEMS
  • 1 tsp. (5 mL) gypsum
  • 1 tsp. (5 mL) calcium chloride
  • 4 oz. (112 g) corn sugar to prime

BREWING NOTES

Mash at a water-to-grist ratio of 1.5 qt./lb. (3.1 L/kg) at 150°F (66°C) for 45 minutes. Vorlauf until wort runs clear, and then sparge with enough water to collect about 6.25 gal. (24 L) of wort in the kettle. Boil for 45 minutes, adding hops as indicated.

Chill the wort to 66°F (19°C), rack to fermenting vessel, aerate, and pitch yeast. Ferment for 3 weeks in the upper 60s °F (18–20°C). After fermentation, move beer to a cellar or some other space of approximately 50°F (10°C) for nine months, or until hop bitterness has mellowed. Then add additional yeast, prime, and bottle, or keg and force carbonate as normal.

EXTRACT VERSION

Replace the pale ale malts with 9.9 lb. (4.5 kg) British liquid malt extract. Heat the water, thoroughly mix in the extract, and bring to a boil. Boil for 45 minutes and continue as above.

The true nature of yeast wasn’t discovered until the mid-1860s, and yeast used 200 years ago would have been a mix of multiple strains, including wild yeasts and bacteria. I chose a blend of three dry yeasts but skipped any wild things: I do like the occasional Brett beer, but not enough to brew an entire batch. After I formulated my recipe, my brewing notes looked something like this.

  • May 25, 2016: After brewing, I pitched the yeasts at 3 p.m. and saw signs of fermentation about five hours later; it was going great guns the next morning. The wort temperature was 65°F at the time of pitching and was 72°F the next morning. I kept a close watch on the temperature because fermentation was quite vigorous. At 2 p.m. it was up to 76°F, so I moved it to my cellar, and the temperature had dropped back down to 68°F by 10 p.m. The fermentation had slowed down quite a bit by the third day.
  • May 29, 2016: I took a gravity reading: 1.010, hazy, and very, very bitter.
  • June 10, 2016: Still very bitter, but a bit less hazy. I dry hopped with 1 ounce of East Kent Goldings.
  • June 16, 2016: I racked the beer to secondary with gravity still steady at 1.010.
  • July 29, 2016: I moved the beer to my cellar at 50°F, still very bitter.
  • 29, 2017: The beer is brilliantly clear and tasting smoothly hoppy.
  • March 12, 2017: I dry hopped with 1 ounce of East Kent Goldings.
  • March 21 2017: Bottled the beer.
  • April 11, 2017: I popped one open with a nice hiss. It was lightly carbonated, clear, and quite tasty. Well worth the wait, nearly 11 months after brew day.

19th Century Porter

Now for a go at the beer that was actually shipped to India in larger quantities than IPA: porter. IPA gets all the press, but it was more expensive than porter and out of the financial reach of the common soldiers stationed in India. It was mainly consumed by officers and executives of the East India Company.

[LEARN about “Flip,” an American colonial beer cocktail]

Wanting to make as authentic an 1800s porter as I could, I had to include brown malt, but I wasn’t sure how closely today’s brown malt resembles the brown malt of yore. A passage in Brewing Porters and Stouts by Terry Foster eased my mind, though. Dr. Foster’s research revealed that brown malt has been in continuous production for a long time, and it’s a pretty good bet that maltsters would have tried to offer brewers a consistent product even as manufacturing technology improved over the years. So today’s brown malt might not be a bad approximation.

Nostalgia Porter

English Porter

Contributed by Steve Ruch

  • Batch size: 5 US gallons (18.9 L)
  • Original gravity: 1.058
  • Final gravity: 1.016
  • Bitterness: 72+ (calculated)
  • Color: 29 SRM

MALTS

  • 10 lb. (4.55 kg) Maris Otter pale ale malt
  • 2.5 lb. (1.14 kg) British brown malt
  • 6.5 oz. (182 g) black patent malt
  • HOPS
  • 2.5 oz. (70 g) Hazel Dell Goldings, 5.7% a.a. @ 60 min
  • 2.75 oz. (77 g) Hazel Dell Goldings, 5.7% a.a. @ 45 min
  • YEAST
  • 2 sachets Safale Fermentis S-04 dry yeast
  • ADDITIONAL ITEMS
  • 3 oz. (84 g) corn sugar to prime if bottling

BREWING NOTES

Mash at a water-to-grist ratio of 1.5 qt./lb. (3.1 L/kg) at 150°F (66°C) for 60 minutes. Vorlauf until wort runs clear, and then sparge with enough water to collect about 6.5 gal. (26 L) of wort in the kettle. Boil for a total of 60 minutes, adding hops as indicated.

Chill wort to 66°F (19°C), rack to fermenting vessel, aerate, and pitch yeast. Ferment for 3 weeks in the upper 60s °F (18–20°C), and then prime and bottle or keg and force carbonate as normal.

PARTIAL-MASH VERSION

Replace 8 lb. (3.6 kg) of the Maris Otter with 5 lb. (2.3 kg) of British liquid malt extract. Conduct a mini-mash with the remaining malts at 150°F (66°C) for 45 minutes. Thoroughly mix the extract into the resulting wort, bring to a boi

I had originally planned to include some amber malt, too, but my local homebrew store didn’t stock it, and I wasn’t that sure that modern amber malt is as close to the amber malt of 200 years ago as today’s brown malt is. So, I substituted in just enough black patent malt to complete a recipe similar to what some brewers might have used back then.

There is some question about the extent to which Goldings were used in dark beers, but it is one of the only hop varieties—maybe the only hop variety—grown today that was also available in 19th century Britain. It’s such a good hop that it must have been used by at least a few brewers.

I used The Home Brewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer by Ron Pattinson to help formulate my porter replica and followed Ron’s suggestion to use Whitbread yeast. Here are my notes.

  • March 1, 2017: I pitched yeast at 3 p.m. into 64°F wort.
  • March 2, 2017: At 7 a.m., there was a 1/4″ layer of kräusen, and the airlock was burping every 10 seconds.
  • March 15, 2017: I took a gravity reading: 1.015.
  • March 29, 2017: I kegged most of the batch and bottled a small portion, still at 1.015.
  • April 1, 2017: I took a taste from the keg and am quite pleased.
  • April 11, 2017: I popped open a bottle with a nice hiss. It’s lightly carbonated and clear, and taste is good, but I slightly prefer the kegged portion.

I don’t know how close these two came to what was actually brewed back in 19th century Britain, but I am quite happy with my results, and if I came anywhere close on the porter, it’s no wonder that it was so popular for so long. If I brew the IPA again, I’ll have to include a way of mimicking the hot rolling ocean voyage to India these beers endured after the breweries released them.

Steve Ruch is an AHA member and regular Zymurgy contributor from northern California.

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