Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Inspired by Colne Spring Ale

Benskin's Colne Spring Ale was one of the beers that really caught my eye in Martyn Cornell's beer history book Amber, Gold and Black. A barley wine that was inoculated with a Brettanomyces yeast, I was amazed to see that Colne Spring Ale was produced up until at least 1970. As a beer nerd finding this out caused me more excitement than you would believe, as I'd always thought Brett in British beers had died out around the time of the first world war.

Originally isolated by Niels Claussen in 1904, the name Brettanomyces (British fungus) was chosen as it was responsible "that peculiar and remarkably fine flavour" found in English stock ales. Nowadays it's most often associated with Belgian lambic beers hence the decidedly unbritish species names like B. bruxellensis and B. lambicus.

I resolved to bring Brettanomyces back to Britain and brew a beer inspired by Colne Spring Ale. I was able to get hold of a culture of Brettanomyces claussenii which was originally isolated from an English stock ale in 1910. Over on Ron's blog there are a few bits of information on Colnes Spring Ale which I used to help me design a beer.

I was a bit worried about using the Brett though so I tried to find out more about it. Much to my disappointment I found there's surprisingly little information out there. The best source I could find came from a bloke who went to Heriot-Watt the year after me. He did a project brewing Brett only beers and reported his results in a useful powerpoint presentation and a detailed blog.

I decided to add the Brettanomcyes to my beer after the primary fermentation was finished, and I then let the Brett fermentation continue until it seemed to have ended a month later. After that I bottled the beer with a small amount of priming sugar and after another month it was lightly carbonated.

The taste was quite unusual. There's obvious alcohol, and some sweetness is still there but somehow it seems dry too, almost sherry like but with a hint of that 'funky' Brett flavour.

I've since found there are actually some tasting notes for the original on Rate Beer describing a taste like port so it seems my beer isn't a million miles away from what I was aiming for.

More exciting beer brewed with Brettanomyces blogging to follow...


  1. I've got a bottle of Colne Spring Ale lying about 4 feet from where I'm sitting. Perhaps I should open it...

  2. Nice one, I haven't managed to find a bottle yet.

  3. I used to work at Benskins at Lower High Street Watford in the 60's and 70's and well remember 'Colne Spring' ale,It was named because the Watford brewery was built over the 'Spring' that was the source of(or a Feed into)the river Colne,after it was brewed it was put into Oak casks to mature (I don't remember how long for ? but at least a year)it was stored across the road at 'Watford Motor Company' the old 'Dray horse stables' before being bought over to the Bottling hall and bottled.The last WAS 1970, after which they changed the name to 'AAA' triple A, so that when they closed Benskins they could move the brand to Burton-On-Trent (Ind Coope/Allied breweries.) in MY humble opinion it was never as good after the name change. Ray

  4. I should have added that the reason that Benskins Beer was SO good and Colne Spring especially, was the fact that the Water (liqour) was so pure, I used to go and see the 'Wellhead' where the Spring was capped.
    One Patiicular Drayman was reputed to be able to drink 24 'Nips' of Colne Spring in one sitting !!
    The Horse then found it's own way back to the depot. Ray

    1. My father, Dudley Wright, worked as Chief Cashier at Benskin's Brewery. He loved drinking Colne Spring. He usually drank Double Diamond but Colne Spring was a real treat. I went to Watford Grammar School for Girls and we knew when Benskin's was brewing since the aroma of hops drifted over the school fields.

  5. Thanks for posting Ray, it's great to hear from someone who used to work for Benskins.

  6. I used to drink Colne Spring as a schoolboy. At the Waggon & Horses in Colchester from 1962 to 1965. An Ind Coope house it was.