Saturday, 16 April 2016

Recreating Old Beer Styles Conference part 2

The excitement of a morning's beer nerdery was followed with more beer nerdery in the afternoon. Does it get any better than that? I don't think so. My notes for the after lunch sessions seem a bit scappier than my work in the morning. My hand must have been getting tired.

Jim Merrington kicked off the afternoon talking about a six year long project to make an ancient Egyptian beer, later sold as Tutankhamun’s Ale.

I had heard of the Tutenkhamun ale when it was on sale back in 1996 but had no idea it was such a major project. Archelologists had found the The Sun Temple of Nefertiti, Tutenkhamun's step-mother, and as you would expect from a civilised nation, her brewery. In fact there were whole streets of breweries. Hundreds of pots with capacities of about 20 pints were found containing beer residue. The residues were examined to determine as best they could what went into the beer. There was no evidence that the beer was made from partly baked loaves, so that's that story out the window. And there was no evidence of dates either. They did find traces of coriander and the bitter tasting naback (?) fruit though. The grist was made from emmer wheat, and they had to grow their own to get enough raw material. The wheat was malted and for the brew half of it was mashed and half boiled. Some gypsum was added to the liquor to match Egyptian water. A rapidly fermenting yeast strain was chose to try and get a similar fermentation profile to that which the ancient Egyptian's had had.

After all the research on the beer had been done they had enough left to package 1000 bottles, which were sold for charity by Harrods: the first bottle for five grand, and the rest for 50 quid each. I'm not one for spending silly money on beer, I don't think I've ever reached double figures in price, but once I've got the time machine sorted I'm going to fork out for a bottle of this one.

Miles Jenner of Harvey's brewery was the next speaker. As they're true traditionalists at Harvey's he didn't do any of that powerpoint stuff and just read from his notes.

His talk was about their Imperial Extra Double Stout. I must confess I still find it hard to drink this beer neat, much like when I first tried Courage Imperial Russian Stout back in 1911. Lightweight that I am I mix it with another stout or porter so it's toned down to something I can handle.

Before Harvey's made this beer they'd already looked through their archives and brewed a historic porter. The recipes for porter changed with time: in the 1830s it was 60% pale malt and 40% brown, but by the 1850s it was a mixture of pale, crystal and black, showing the change from traditional brown malt taking place. They made a beer to the 1859 recipe for export to the US.

Porter was first brewed in London and Barclay Perkins supplied their stout to a merchant called Albert Le Coq. He shipped it to Russian and gave 5,000 bottles to a military hospital there. This resulted in him getting royal warrant and Imperial Russian Stout was born. Le Coq later built his own brewery in Tartu, Estonia, which still exists though their stout brewing days are long gone.

In 1998 a US importer was looking for an authentic Imperial Russian Stout. The Tartu brewery agreed to provide the provenance but asked that the beer be brewed by a small, independent brewery with experience in porter brewing.

The water in Lewes is very similar to that used by Barclay Perkins, and a recipe of 62.5% pale malt, 37.5% coloured malts (amber, brown and black) and invert sugar 15% by weight, 20% by gravity was decided upon. O.g was 1.106 and hops 6lb per bbl (equal amounts of Fuggles and Goldings). 90 minute mash at 152°F (66.5°C), 3 hour boil with a third of the hops added each hour. Fermentation started at 60°F (15.5°C) and rose to 82°F (29°), so presumably a free rise. After primary fermentation P.G. was 1.040 and ABV 8.7%. This rose to between 9 and 10% during storage. IBUs go from 122 to less than 50.

The BRi taste panel tested it. I wonder if anyone I know was involved? After nine months in storage the beer was put in corked bottles at Gales Brewery. Unfortunately after four months in bottle the corks started rising. A secondary fermentation, eventually found to be caused by Debaromyces hansenii was found to be the cause. This yeast is thought to be lurking in small numbers in Harvey's pitching yeast so the maturation time before bottling was increased to that of the porter brewers of old at 12 months. With the closure of Gales the corks were dropped and crown caps used.

Eddie Bourke, formerly of Guinness, was the next speaker.

He seemed a bit dubious about the wisdom of trying to be too accurate in recreating historic beers: hops could be years old and the malt was probably mouldy. He talked about the history of porters and stouts. Porters brewed in 1780 were matured at least 18 months. In 1797 there were a porter and ale with the same grist, the porter being coloured with lots of burnt sugar (who says condiment brewing is new?). "Dublin Stout" seems to have been a style of beer sold in the North of England, but Guinness was always sold as Guinness.

Guinness exported beer to the West Indies, the Foreign Extra Stout, which was the inspiration for their West Indies Porter. Dublin porter was weaker and brewed for immediate consumption. These beers are faithful to the recipes, but not how the beer was then (full of bacteria and sediment). Speaking of sediment he blamed supermarkets for the demise of bottle conditioned Guinness in 1992. It had a shelf life of four months (how craft is that?) and supermarkets wanted longs. Irish draught Guinness was unpasteurised in the Winter until 1988 when they were able to get their in package oxygen levels down to 50ppb and there was no difference in the taste between pasteurised and unpasteurised version (so he said, anyway).

Special Export Stout also got a mention at 8% ABV it's slightly stronger than FES but has less bitterness (40 IBU vs 75).

The last item was a panel discussion chaired by Mark Dorber, with opportunities for people on the floor to stick their oar in.

James McCrorie, founder of the Craft Brewing Association, talked about the work of the late John Harrison who started researching historic beer in the 1970s. This lead to the publication the influential pamphlet Old British Beers and How to Make Them. There was also a workshop held on porter in the 80s at the White Horse, and and IPA conference by Whitbread in 1993.

Up on the top table were beer writer Tim Webb, Danielle Jack from Tesco, the ex-chief of the IBD Simon Jackson and Fullers Head Brewer John Keeling. I must have been getting more tired, and quite possibly emotional by this point, as I'm not entirely certain which pearls of wisdom came from which person in the panel. Nevertheless, I'll press on as best I can and hope I don't get sued.

Danielle Jack said they wanted authenticity that combined with consumer expectations.

Tim Webb started talking about the what the great brewing nations brought to the world of beer. Britain brought attitude, with consumers from the 1970s making clear that they didn't like what was being done with their beer. German had purity. The Czechs had old breweries still making beers in old ways, and Belgium had 60 breweries making a wide range of beers. Now there are over 100 beer countries, and 60 of those have decent beer cultures. He said 70 or so of those beer countries brew styles based on British beer styles. He then talked of how big a business craft beer has become but bemoaned the fact that Britain is still stuck with industrial lager or 4% ABV cask beer. As I'm rather fond of 4% ABV cask beer I must admit I did think "bollocks to you" at this point.

Simon Jackson said that provenance is a rich vein for innovation, and he would prefer innovation by historical methods rather than than novel ingredients like bulls testicles! He also seemed to be of the opinion that there's no such thing as industrial brewing, which is an interesting change from the view that that's no such thing as craft beer.

John Keeling said he likes to make beer he likes to drink, and brewing the Past Masters beers is a way of satisfying his curiosity. He also wins for authenticity as he gets to brew old beers where they were brewed in the first place.

Things got a bit less structured after this, which some people used as a chance to chip in with some right wing drivel and crackpot conspiracy theories. Someone actually said that small breweries pay little to no beer duty. The mind boggles. Then I'm sure I heard a conspiraloon say that the Beer Orders were an attempt by the government to nationalise the brewing industry. And at one point someone whinged on about political correctness. I do like to see people being opinionated about beer, as it's more interesting that the everything is awesome type stuff, but I could do without having to listen to twerps spout nonsense.

There was still some stuff of interest though. Cask beer is now 55% of the total draught ale market, and is set to hit 70% by 2020. Surely there is rejoycing in heaven. Tescos found a third of beer drinkers won't buy Tesco own label stuff, porter doesn't sell well, and their customers tend to like light golden ales. John Keeling said they sell more London Porter in Sweden that Britain.

After the Beer History Conference we had a preview of CAMRA's revitalisation project from Tom Stainer. Martyn Cornell asked if this was CAMRA's version of Tony Blair's "Clause Four moment". Ron Pattinson saw it as the choice between taking a Stalinist or Trotskyist position. To which I could only reply that when it comes to real ale revisionism I'm positively Maoist. But let us not talk of blood soaked butchers, Bolshevik or Labourite. I see this more as a spiritual matter. And being on the traditionalist wing of CAMRA I have concerns that this is more like The Second Vatican Council. Already our mother church has been showing worryingly modernist and ecumenical tendencies. I hope this does not lead to outright heresy and force me to go sedevacantist. To get serious for a moment though, how come when Tandleman got a "Fit for purpose" review voted through by the conference it was very limited, but when an unelected employee wants a review we all get sent a booklet about it and 50 meetings are to be held across Britain?

Anyway, that was it for the talks, so it was just the networking and Continuing Professional Development to do. Thanks to the Brewery History Society and the British Guild of Beer Writers for organising another excellent day.


  1. Grasssroots push for something and the executive long-grass it. Then a little later turns out that the idea's "time has come" (perhaps a new broom wants to do *something* to make a mark) and all of a sudden it's the executives idea. It's a classic pattern.

  2. It does sound familiar. Reminds me of an old job in fact. And in both those cases it shows where the power lies in the organisation.

  3. That Eddie Bourke has some weird ideas. Why does he think the malt used to be mouldy? Old descriptions of farmhouse malting show people were acutely aware of this problem and very much on the lookout for it. Mouldy malt probably happened, but it must have been rare.

    The same goes for the bacteria in the yeast. Why does he think there was bacteria in the yeast?

    (Thank you for the write-up, btw! This is the only way for us who weren't there to have some idea what we missed.)

    1. He was laying it on a bit thick, but then as Guinness make no efforts to re-creatate any of the historic brewing techniques maybe he felt he had to after hearing the great lengths they went to with the Tutankhmun beer.