Sunday, 19 October 2014

Brew Day: Nineteenth Century IPA

This weekend I brewed another in the series of beers inspired by old English stock ales: an IPA based on Mitch Steele's descriptions of the beers brewed in Burton-upon-Trent in the nineteenth century.  It was actually reading that book that first prompted me to start brewing English-style beers inoculated with brettanomyces---the role played by wild yeasts in British brewing is mentioned several times in the opening chapters, and there's also a few paragraphs about their role in IPAs in particular in the chapter devoted to Burton IPAs.  But more on that below.  I'll spend the rest of the post explaining how I came up with my recipe and process for the beer.

Water.  The importance of the mineral profile of Burton brewing water has been recognized since these beers were first brewed there.  Steele mentions that as the popularity of IPA increased, some companies opened new breweries in Burton to take advantage of the local water, while others began adding salts to mimic its profile.  But since brewers were drawing from various sources (wells, the river itself, etc.), its a little difficult to say exactly what the mineral profile of their water would have been like, though it would certainly have had high sulfate and calcium levels.   Rather than "Burtonizing" my Chicago water, I decided to simply add enough gypsum to get my sulfate levels around 300ppm---lower than many "Burton" water profiles, but high enough to lower my mash pH and significantly shape the flavour profile of the final beer.

Malt. Rather than use an English base malt I went with Dingemans pilsner in an effort to emulate the white malt used by IPA brewers.  Steele mentions that "[w]hite malt is very similar to today's Pilsner malt, which, interesingly, was itself developed after an industrial espionage mission by Czech brewers into England's best malthouses".  I suppose something like Thomas Fawcett lager malt might be a good approximation, but I went with what I had on hand.

Hops. The hops were supposed to be 100% East Kent Goldings---a lot of them!---based on the hopping schedule for the 1839 Reid IPA in Ron's excellent book.  I was actually a little short, so I ended up adding a small amount of hallertau to make up the ninety minute addition. Really I should be using this year's crop, following the practice of the Burton brewers who used their freshest hops in these beers---but it will probably be a few months until they show up on the US market, and the Goldings I used have been stored frozen and vacuum-sealed since I purchased them.  I may try to find some fresher ones when I dry-hop it next year (more on that below).

Mash. Steele also outlines the kind of mashing schedules used by breweries during this period, but I didn't take any special steps to imitate them, going instead for my usual single-infusion mash at around 149°F, aiming to end up with a highly fermentable wort that will produce a dry beer.

Fermentation. Now the fun stuff.  Primary fermentation will be done by Wyeast 1028, but this evening I'll also be pitching dregs from a bottle of my brett-fermented wit, which contains White Labs brettanomyces clausenii and trois.  Hopefully these strains will be well-enough established to promote a long, slow secondary fermentation as the beer matures.

Steele devotes a couple of paragraphs at the end of the chapter on Burton IPAs to speculation about the role played by brettanomyces in their secondary fermentation, quoting Clausen on the role these yeast played in developing "that peculiar and remarkably fine flavour" characteristic of the best English stock ales.  Ron also has some interesting research on his blog, including evidence that Bass pale ale had brettanomyces in it as late as the 1940s.  It seems likely that the beer picked up these wild yeasts from the wooden casks it was aged in (although, based on these notes from Adnams brewer Brian Lee, brettanomyces was all over their brewhouse in the 1940s, including in the bottling line!).  Steele speculates that it accounted for the dryness of the beer and its sparkling condition on reaching India after being completely flat when shipped.  If you read through the comments on Ron's post, he and others make some interesting speculation about the character of these beers, mentioning Orval as a beer that might be somewhat similar (and perhaps even historically linked to English pale ale brewing).  All interesting stuff!

I'll probably bottle the beer in 9-12 months, dry-hopping for a week or two beforehand.  Based on descriptions in Steele's book, and questions I've asked Ron by email, I think that the Burton IPAs were probably aged on dry-hops for several months or longer.  It seems that this might even have played a role in promoting secondary fermentation.  I'm undecided as to whether I should copy this part of their process---they surely knew what they were doing, but it goes against what I've been taught by contemporary brewing practice.  If I had a bigger batch, I'd split it into two 3 gallon carboys and try both, but since I'm only making 3 gallons I'm a bit wary of taking the risk and ending up with vegetal and grassy flavours in the final beer.

Well, that's it for now.  I haven't decided whether to make an imperial stout as well---more on that next weekend I guess.  Now that I'm finishing up with these stock ales for the time being, I'll soon be back to brewing Farmhouse Ales again, and I have a couple of fun ideas for things to try out over the next couple of months.


Measured O.G: 1.057
Measured F.G:

Mash: 149°F:


100%  Pilsner


EKG               90               84.7 IBUs     (85g@5%)
EKG               60               64.8 IBUs     (65g@5%)
EKG               30               33.0 IBUs     (65g@5%)


Wyeast 1028

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