Sources for the AK Brewing
As the basis, we used the brewing directions of “Aroma”, a pseudonymous brewer – evidently he was a brewer – who answered a question in an 1870 issue of the periodical English Mechanic and World of Science.
In an earlier post, I reproduced the account, see here, bottom-right corner. The related discussion may interest some as well.
I found it a few years ago when searching for the answer to why “AK”, a member of the bitter beer family, bears that name. Indeed, Aroma offers his explanation, it means ale for keeping, or keeping ale evidently. This is the only evidence I am aware of that suggests what AK actually means.
Aroma’s directions, which apply both to AK and higher-gravity IPA, were supplemented by recourse to numerous brewing texts, brewing journals, and encyclopedia discussions of the period.
The sources covered part of the late-1800s, when the key elements to bitter beer were more or less constant, e.g. fairly heavy hopping, one (pale) malt only, starting/finishing gravities, typical methods to cleanse and clarify the beer, pitching and maximum fermentation temperature, storage temperature, storage time, timing of hops additions, etc.
Of course even in a single source one might read different approaches. Aroma himself for example states that the boil could occur for one to two and a half hours. We used one hour.
He stated a somewhat higher maximum range for fermentation temperature than we used, but other sources were in accordance with our maximum. It would have varied for some brewers at different times of year anyway.
As in any brewing, a final choice was made that we felt represented reasonable parameters for this type of beer. The idea was to brew a beer that in its essentials would be recognizable to a person from the era, not least Aroma himself. We shall never know for sure of course, but I believe we got close.
Back in the 1970s an early modern beer historian, Dr. John Harrison, had both the theoretical and practical interest. He served a London porter to an aged person who had worked in London before WW I. She was at the home of someone involved with the recreation.
In an Independent news column reproduced on his still-extant website, beer guru Michael Jackson wrote:
In 1976, Dr. Harrison made a black potion and offered it as “Guinness” to a lady who was 86 years old. “This isn’t “Guinness”, she scolded him. “This is London porter. I used to drink this when I was in service.” The sample had been based on a Whitbread London Porter from 1850. Soon, all such witnesses will be gone.
Similarly, I am hoping my 1870 time trekker would state, “this isn’t your ‘IPA’ made with the new style American hops, this is our English AK” – even as he or she must remain imaginary, a conjuring.
Thanks again to Amsterdam and Iain McOustra’s brewing team for their interest and commitment to this project. Beer (name is not finalized yet) should be ready in another three to four weeks.