Friday 1 April 2016

Recreating Old Beer Styles Conference

The Brewery History Society and the British Guild of Beer Writers recently held a one day conference on recreating old beer styles.

It was at Fuller's brewery which was dead handy, as it's easy for me to get to by train and it's always a shame when you have to drive to beery events. Ian Hornsey was the first speaker, going from back as far as he could with beer history through to the cutting edge of technology used in brewing. Here's a write up of my notes:

The are nine areas in the world where farming seems to have been independently started with, the earliest being traced back to 9000 B.C. Depending on the area, crops of rice, sorghum, wheat, barley, rye and maize were grown, which of course lead to different alcoholic beverages being made. The earliest remains of an alcoholic drink were found in China and it was made with grain, honey and fruit. I guess then they'd use anything they could find to make booze and the distinctions between beer, mead and wine didn't exist. Production methods could be pretty primitive too, though apparently traditional chicha is still made.

Early cereals were also quite different from modern varieties, so even before modern plant breeding years of selection have greatly improved crops. First ceramic containers were used for drinks, though casks made from palm trees were found in Mesoptania and Egypt, with the first oak casks coming from North Germany.

Records remain from ancient Egypt that show it had different beer styles. Before hop use became widespread it was common to use herbs to flavour ales, such as Myrcia gale. Archeological invesigations have shown that the less Myrica gale and more hops are found after the first millenium.

Moving to more modern times the London and Country Brewer (1758-9) lists various beer styles, many named after the towns in which they were made. The industrial revolution made big changes to beer - when brewing on a larger scale it's much more important to have consistency and if there are  problems then the amount of waste is that much larger.

Scientific advances went hand-in-hand with this process. Pasteur proved that yeast is a living organism and that life is not spontaneously generated. Carl von Linde invented industrial scale refrigeration and Emil Hanson developed brewing using single strain yeast cultures, something that was rapidly adopted on the continent but didn't really take hold in Britain until after the second world war.

In 1750 there were 48,500 brewing sites in Britain by 1970 there were 150 breweries (including five brewpubs). CAMRA were import in keeping small breweries from closing. In 2015 at the Great American Beer Festival there were 92 different styles of beer: this is overkill. When brewing styles of beer it's important to have some authenticity, such as the coolships at Elgoods. Many historical yeast strains are preserved in the National Collection of Yeast Cultures in Norwich. DART (Direct Analysis in Real Time) metabolomics now gives us the potential to understand brewing like never before.

Martyn Cornell followed, after a slight delay due to some impressive powerpoint incompetence. He's even worse than me!

Martyn talked about the taste of porter. He reckons that throughout its history there have been at least six different types of beer called porter, so when asked what porter tastes like the initial reply has to be "when?".

Originally made with 100% brown malt it will have been sweet when young and tart when older. Before 1700 porter will have been competing with lightly hopped ales. In the early 1700s coke dried malt was used in pale ales which improved their flavour so by the 1750s pale ales were increasing in popularity over brown beers. So brewers of brown beers responded by adding more hops and aging longer, which gave the beer a 'mellow' rather than tart flavour.

This version became popular with the working class such as the fellowship and ticket porters of London. The beer was strong, brown, heavy and will have probably been smoky when young. It needed at least four to five months to get bright. It was matured in 180 gallon butts. Entire butt beer, made by combining three to four mashes of  a grist was called "porter" by the public. Maturation was expensive and usually done in pubs e.g. the Eagle and Child pub had 40 butts. Maturing such large amounts of beer in a cellar caused problems due to the CO2 fumes produced and an "abroad cooper" as well as a rescuer were overcome by them. To try and avoid such problems the beer was matured in large vats. The first was a vat at the Red Lion brewery in Smithfield of 150 barrels made in 1715. By 1730 there was one of 1500 barrels, and by 1775 Thrales brewery had four vats of such size. They size of vats continued to grow so that by the 1790s Meux brewery had on of 20,000 barrels. Such large vats were not without their own problems though, and in 1814 a beer flood involving around 500 tonnes of beer happened when a vat burst, killing eight people.

In 1761 porter matured slowing in large vats will have eventually developed a mellow and rich flavour as Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus slowly broke the residual sugars down. Larger vats will have had smaller surface area to volume ratios so less oxidation and therefore less souring will have occurred. By the 1780s blends of sweet young and sour old porter mixed to taste were popular.

In 1784 a brewing text book "Statical estimates of the materials of brewing, etc, etc..." promoted the use of the saccharometer to measure the strength of worts. It showed that considerably more extract could be obtained from pale malt rather than brown porter malt. This lead to considerable interesting in brewing using mainly pale malt with other substances used to add colour. Burn molasses was used, even though it was illegal. Daniel Wheeler came up with a process for successfully roasting malt until it was black, which meant a small amount could be used to add a lot of colour and as it was malt based it was acceptable to the tax man. This method rapidly became popular with the large London porter brewers, so that by 1822 someone was lamenting that the true taste of porter was gone. British brewers did continue to use some brown malt in their grist but the strength fell from around 7% ABV to 5%. The beer was a transparent brown with a smooth, pleasantly bitter, slightly acidic taste.

After the Free Mash Tun act of 1880 further changes in porter became apparent, with someone complaining that the same mash as for mild ales was used to make porter, but with added sugar and black malt. Before the first world war porter was around 5.5% ABV but by 1918 was down to 3.5% so many porter drinkers switched to drinking stout, as stouts by this time were essentially the same as pre-WWI porters. With stout becoming more popular by the mid-1930s porter was described as "a lowly form of stout". It died out in Britain in the 1950s but lingered on in Ireland until 1973. It's wasn't long before it was revived though, the first new version being brewed in 1978.

Ron Pattinson was the next speaker on Brewing Vintage Beer.

His curiosity about what old beers tasted like lead to him investigating old brewing records, and finding people to brew to old recipes. The booklet Old British Beers and How to Make Them helped with understanding old brewing records, as did staring at them long enough until they made sense. Eventually he could decipher such things as Barclay Perkins East India Porter was made with four mashes, the liquor volumes, the strike heat and tap heat, the malts used, the volume of wort produced and the Original gravity.

Old records usually have the ingredients, O.g and mash temperature. They rarely have hop additions, liquor treatments or dry hopping. One exception to liquor treatment details was Barclay Perkins, who in the 1920s and 30s had different liquor treatments for their pale ale, mild, stout and burton, though not for their lager.

Historically brewlengths could be impressively large: Trumans could brew up to 1000 bbl at a time with up to a 1000kg of hops!

When malt was sold in bushels (a volume measurement) brown malt was poor value as it had less bulk density than pale.

In the 19th century malt types were pale, white, amber, brown, black, crystal (rare) and mild.

Hops were using in Britain from the late 14th century, originally more as a preservative than a flavouring. After 1850 Britain was not self sufficient in hops. They were imported from all over the world, but mainly America, though American hops were used early in the boil as the brewers didn't like the flavour. German and Czech hops would be used for dry hopping as brewers liked their flavour. Hop prices would vary hugely so were bought in bulk when cheap and stored.

In 1847 it became legal to use sugar in beer, but it was taxed like malt so wasn't used much. It was only after 1880 Free Mash Tun act that sugar became popular as a beer ingredient. Flaked maize was also used a lot after 1880. Invert sugars 1-4 as well as a range of proprietary sugars were used.

After a large oat crop in 1942 brewers were forced to use 10% oats in their grist. However usually oats were only used in very small amounts, even in oatmeal stouts. Parti-gyling was used to produce a range of stout so it was usual to include 0.1% oats in the grist so one could be called an oatmeal stout.

Burtonisation started in the 19th century.

Yeasts were multi-strain and would have included Brettanomyces. British brewers didn't really use single strain yeast until the mid-20th century.

In 1800 there would have been 3-4 mashes.
In 1900 a single mash.
In 1820 in Scotland a single infusion mash with sparging was used.
1870-1970 underlet mashing and sparging was used.

Parti-gyling: different worts from the same mash were collected and boiled with different hops. They would then be blended post-cooling to give a range of different beers. This system allowed for example Fuller's to brew one to five barrels of Old Burton Extra from a 200-300 bbl brewlength!

Boil would be from one to four hours, later weaker worts were boiled for longer. Sugar was added t weaker worts and hops were divided between the different worts.

Open coppers were used for pale ales but for porters coppers with d
omes were used which allowed some pressure to build and gave more colour.

Primary fermentation was followed by cleansing and four systems were used: Burton unions, pontoes, Yorkshire squares and the dropping system.

Aging beer fell into decline in 1850. Post-WWI just a few pale ales, stouts and strong ales were aged. Bass pale ale was aged in oak casks for a full year up to WWI. Greene King 5X and Barclay Perkins Imperial Russian stout were the last aged survivors.

After Ron's talk it was time for a brewery tour and then lunch.

Part two as and when I get round to it.


  1. Tiny pet peeve: "In the early 1700s coke dried malt was used in pale ales which improved their flavour..."

    Those 48,500 brewers knew what sun kilned and straw kilned malt would do. Pale sweet unsmoked ale was not rare. Coke is introduced due to a fuel crisis. Porters success is that it takes advantages of existing disadvantages to brew at scale.

  2. PS:

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