Last night the 2019 version of 1870 AK Bitter was released at Amsterdam BrewHouse on Laird Dr. in Toronto. This is the second year of a collaboration between me and Amsterdam Brewery, a pioneering Toronto craft breweries. The recipe is based on a recipe in an 1870 issue of English Mechanic and World of Science, see here.
At the launch the beer was served on both nitro dispense (a la draft Guinness) and regular, carbonated keg. No cask-conditioning was done this year. We did some “cask” last year and elected to try nitro’s soft carbonation as an alternative for Mark II.
This year we used Chevallier malt from Crisp in England, and whole leaf Kent Golding hops from Charles Faram there. Both varieties existed in 1870. In contrast, last year we used Maris Otter malt, Whitbread Goldings, and Fuggles hops. None of these existed in 1870 but are all of traditional U.K. type. This year, an English yeast (Wyeast 1099) was used, last year, a California one.
Last year, the idea was to use the hops in amounts close to the 1870 directions and basically showcase the English ingredients. This year, the same, but we went deeper to choose barley and hops in place in 1870, as far as can be done, that is.
In 1870 pale malt was kilned by direct-fired ovens using anthracite coal or coke for fuel. This gave malt a slightly “cooked” taste, but modern malt uses clean indirect heat. Read this page in full from English brewing scientist Charles Graham in 1874 to understand this historical taste and his contrast with air-dried malt, from a series of lectures he gave, the Cantor Lectures. This is just one example of many inevitable differences between Victorian brewing and modern brewing, as no malt today is kilned with coal to our knowledge!
But that doesn’t mean we can’t get close to what they did back then. It’s certainly worth trying, not to mention being a stimulating and educational experience.
In both year’s version of 1870 AK Bitter only one malt was used as required by the 1870 directions, which is atypical today for English bitter, a descendant of 1800s AK and IPA. Modern English bitter and IPA often use pale malt with caramel malt, and sometimes sugar, too. We used no caramel malt or sugar as the recipe didn’t call for it, and in fact caramel malt did not exist then at least not in commercial form.
The taste of 2019 AK Bitter is very pure, with a honeyed quality and perfumed (rosewater?) herbal intensity from the hops, especially if you drink it half-chilled at best. Some tasters gave an analogy of black tea. It’s what I call rosewater, some Orange Pekoe tea, or other tea, has it.
The beer is sweetish (1014 FG) in a different way than modern bitter though. The lack of a caramel or fudgy note is the main factor due to absence of caramel malt. And the absence of sugar means a fuller malt taste.
Craft pale ales can have similar malt properties but almost none in North America use similar hops AFAIK, especially leaf hops! Very few bitters that I tasted at the Great British Beer Festival last August had this degree of hop taste, in fact, which I put down to the quantity of hops used, mainly.
Original Gravity: 12.5 P. (1050)
Final gravity: 3.7 P. (1014) vs. target of 3.5 P. Some homebrewers report similar slightly higher attenuations with Chevallier.
Target alcohol: 4.9 ABV. Final ABV: 4.7
IBUs: 40 vs. mid-30s last year.
Goldings Alpha Acids: 2.8%, quite low. We used equivalent of 2 lbs/bbl, + 1 lb/bbl dry hopping but there is no great aroma. We forecast that as all the boil hops went in at start of boil per the recipe which states to add the hops “as soon as possible”. Not all bitter or pale ale has to have pungent aroma, and not all did in the past.
We felt 2 lbs/bbl fresh hops would equate to 3 lbs/bbl (minimum) per 1870 recipe as author stated to blend fresh and aged hops, a common practice at the time (but not invariable).
Burtonization with calcium sulphate.
Single rest infusion mash.
All beer as last year, except for the cask portion last year, centrifuged for keg and cans (a rough filtration). Last year when tasting cask and carbonated keg side by side at equal temperatures I couldn’t detect much difference, FWIW. I think temperature of consumption is the main factor in palate intensity.
In sum, an excellent “A/B” to explore facets of the historical pale ale taste.