Thursday, 7 August 2014

Brew Day: Stingo

I continue to be fascinated by the role wild yeasts and other bacteria would have played in older English beers, and the ways in which British brewing traditions might have overlapped with those surviving on the continent.  The July/August issue of Zymurgy had a short article on a beer called "Stingo", which it described as an English strong ale associated with Yorkshire.  Since I was reading everything I could find about these aged stock ales, I decided to do a little bit of internet research about "Stingo", and marked the recipe down as one I might try this summer.

Digging around online I discovered that Pretty Things and Boulevard had joined up to brew a beer inspired by Yorkshire Stingo.  In interviews connected with the collaboration, Dan and Martha from Pretty Things engage in some intriguing speculation about the connections between British stock ales and the acid ales of the Flanders region:
“In the mid-1800s Eugene Rodenbach, who was maybe the third generation of the brewery was sent to do an internship in the north of England and when he came back to the brewery he brought with him the beer we know today, this blended, aged, brown, malty beer. So obviously Rodenbach in almost no way resembles anything that’s presently brewed in the north of England.” 
“But it did back then,” Martha continued. “So the roots were borrowed from Yorkshire. Which really isn’t what people want to think so nobody really talks about it. But it’s true.”
There is more in this vein in the write up accompanying the beer posted by brewer Dan Paquette on the brewery's blog:
"Is Stingo the original Flanders Red? I’ve been all around the Rodenbach brewery and I’ve seen photos of plenty of wooden fermenters in old English breweries. There are a lot of similarities between breweries in this period anyway. De Dolle Brouwerij in Esen, Belgium is like a close cousin to the T & R Theakston brewery in Masham, Yorkshire. Green King still uses “rounds”, wooden vessels similar to the classic Belgian “foeder” to make its Olde Suffolk ale. I don’t claim to be making an academic study, just observations. But I’d love for someone to look into it further."
I remembered that the name "Stingo" showed up in the "Barley Wine and Old Ale" chapter of Amber, Gold, and Black, but on rereading the chapter I could find no particular mention of any acidity:
"Other regional varieties of strong ale included Yorkshire Stingo, which Alfred Barnard in 1890 found being brewed by John Metcalfe & Son at the Nidderdale brewery in Pately Bridge, and Joshua Tetley in Leeds, where he found it `very luscious, full of body and well flavoured without being heady'."
Later in the chapter there is this:
"Hammonds also brewed a stronger XXXXX Stingo, using 82 per cent pale malt and 18 per cent glucose, with the wort boiled for three hours to concentrate it and give it more colour, an OF of around 1100 and an abv of 9.5.  The quite high final gravity of 1027, suggesting a sweet beer, would have been balanced by the massive amount of hops used, which may have given a bitterness level as high as 119.  This, Dr Thomas suggests, was a classic barley wine, with an aftertaste that was likely to be richly hoppy and bitter, and an ester and alcoholic  background from the high gravity fermentation.  As he says: 'One can only speculate on its complexity'." 
I suspect the idea that a beer called "Stingo" was the missing link between Flanders and English ales is probably wishful thinking. But regardless of any such particular link, there are definite ties between the two traditions.  Here is what Jeff Sparrow has to say in Wild Brews on the related topic of blending old and young beers:
"It is difficult to determine exactly on which side of the English Channel this tradition began.  The people at the classic West Flanders brewery Rodenbach cite the similarity with the practice of blending in the United Kingdom, and ancestor Eugene Rodenbach was known to have studied brewing in England.  Some people credit Rodenbach with bringing the method of tall wooden cask construction and accompanying fermentation process to Belgium around 1860. Says Michael Jackson, "Some people believe that Rodenbach's techniques of aging and blending were taken from the porter and stout brewers of England and Ireland.  I think it was initially the Flemish who taught the islanders about such matters, although knowledge did begin to flow the other way after the Industrial Revolution." Wherever the tradition began, the English and Flemish traditions are inexorably linked."
What is clear is that English stock ales were often prized for their tart, vinous character, something they share to some extent with Flanders beers, and something that was almost certainly the product of a secondary fermentation by brettanomyces and other organisms.  You can read some interesting speculation about exactly how tart the beers were in the comments from this post at Shut Up About Berkeley Perkins.  Reading through some of the historical material that Ron and others have posted you find plenty of references to acidity and "hardness" being undesirable, so perhaps these weren't beers that were soured to the same extent as modern Flanders reds etc.  Then again, with no way of trying the beers in question, its difficult to know exactly how these brewers applied such terms.  Perhaps what they sought to avoid was the vinegary acidity that is produced by acetobacter, rather than the softer acidity from lactic fermentation?

Sadly there aren't many surviving British beers in this tradition. Samuel Smiths still makes a Yorkshire Stingo, but as far as I know it does not undergo secondary brettanomyces fermentation.  The closest thing I know is Gale's Prize Old Ale.  When it was brewed by Gale's of Horndean, it underwent secondary fermentation in wooden hogsheads inhabited by various wild yeasts and lactic acid producing bacteria.  After Fuller's took over the beer, they preserved its resident microflora by brewing in a solera-style system, preserving a portion of each batch to inoculate future ones (kind of like I've been doing with my beers).  (Another example is Greene King Old XXXXX, which makes up a portion of their Olde Suffolk Ale.)

The Zymurgy recipe makes no claims to historical accuracy, but I decided to follow it anyway.  Besides the anachronous use of crystal and huskless black malt, the hopping rates seem very low compared to the recipes for keeping beers that you can find on Ron's website.  Still, it looked like it would make a good beer, so last weekend I went ahead and brewed something based on it.

I made a couple of changes to the recipe written in the magazine.  The first was to replace their single base malt (Maris Otter) with a blend of the malts I have on hand: I went with Mild malt, Pearl, and US 2-row.  The Zymurgy recipe called for adding a finely ground huskless black malt just before mash-out to darken the colour without adding too much roast; since I didn't have any on hand, I cold-steeped some roasted barley overnight, and added the resulting liquid for the last ten minutes of the boil.  The recipe also calls for a dark invert sugar.  Since it takes a while to make this from scratch on the stove, I tried the method of blending a white invert with dark blackstrap molasses (described here).  It gave a nice licorice characters to the final sugar, and was much easier than trying to hold the sugar at the right temperature for a few hours to darken it.  I think I'll be using this method from now on.

Brew day went fairly smoothly.  I've noticed that my efficiency takes a real dip when I go above 1.060, and even after lowering predicted efficiency a bit in BeerSmith for this recipe I still came ten points short, ending with a beer at 1.080 rather than 1.090.  I pitched a large amount of Wyeast 1469 cropped from the two beers I brewed last weekend, and set my fermentation chamber in the low 60s.  The recipe calls for starting higher to encourage ester formation, but I stuck with my usual practice, which involves gradually ramping up the temperature over the next week.  I haven't decided exactly how I'm going to inoculate this beer yet.  It will certainly get a pitch of White Labs Brettanomyces Clausenii, as will the Keeping Porter I brewed last week.  I also reserved some of the Oud Bruin I brewed recently, which has lactobacillus brevis in it, and I'm thinking about adding this to both beers.  With the alcohol levels and hopping rates as high as they are, I'd be suprised if the lactobacillus manages to make any real contribution, but I figured I might as well try.  The real question is whether to add cultures that I know contain pediococcus, or whether to stick with brettanomyces and lactobacillus.  The latter will certainly result in a less sour beer, which in this case may be what I want.


Estimated O.G. 1.090
Measured O.G. 1.080
Measured F.G.
152°F 90 minutes
40.8% Mild Malt
25.4% 2-Row
16.9% Pearl
10.3% Invert #3
2.6% Dark Crystal I
2.6% Dark Crystal II
1.7% Roasted Barley

(Cold Steeped)
EKG 60 24.6 IBUs (20g @ 6.5%)
EKG 20 3.5 IBUs (20g @ 6.0%)

Wyeast 1469

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