Recently I met brewers Iain, Cody and Mike at Toronto’s Amsterdam Brewery to plan our next 1870 AK Bitter collaboration. As in past years it is a limited edition release, there will be some draught including hopefully in cask-conditioned form, with the rest canned for sale at the brewery. It sells out typically in a few weeks.
Historically, AK is a pale ale not meant for long keeping, and not as strong as some pale, or India Pale Ale, typically reached. We’ve had it out at just over and just under 5% abv (first two years), and this year will be about 5% again. I’m not sure yet about the final gravity, I prefer it on the higher end for more palate richness but it will be within period norms in any case.
(I’ve extensively documented the prior brews in past posts. Easy to find by searching “beeretseq + 1870 AK” but I can supply links on request).
This year we will use regular Maris Otter malt, not floor-malted as for Mark I; two hops, not one as in each previous year; and an English yeast, probably multi-strain. Mark I used a California yeast, Mark II, English Whitbread 1099.
No dry-hopping this year, we want all the hops to undergo the heating of the brewing process.
I’ll talk more about the hops later, the two will be English-grown with a small American component in the genetics, the rest traditional English. The idea this time, is because American hops were sometimes added to 19th-century British brews, we’ll use hops that offer a little of that character yet nothing associated with the “C-hop” taste of modern craft brewing.
So no grapefruit, guava, strong pine. Not that there is anything wrong with that as such, but we want to stay broadly within a traditional compass. When American hops, generally from New York or California, were added to British beer in the 19th century, they were added in small amount so as not to dominate the character, and we will follow the same idea.
We may get a touch of orange or blackcurrant (wild fruit) character but I’m good with that. Some traditional English varieties have an orange note character in my experience, Golding for example (sometimes).
The multi-strain will not include any wild yeast or Brettanomyces, whose barnyard character a short-maturation ale, whatever the yeast make-up, likely would not have exhibited. But a mixed U.K. culture may add a certain something nonetheless.
Any modern emulation is just that, emulation, with some guess-work what even the most faithful attempt can ever achieve. Flavour in beer then, as many authorities show, was various anyway, even for the same style with similar materials, so we feel our effort should be within the ballpark.
At day’s end, for us it’s all about the materials. They are all from the country that issued the 1870 recipe (except the water, which will be “Burtonized”); they will be used in quantities and at temperatures reasonably approximate to the original; and the hops element will not exhibit any marked notes associated with modern craft beer.
If there was one thing I would change, it would be to use some wood in the process. Not American oak, as generally it was not used in British brewing back then, but say in unlined casks made from Baltic Memel oak. Maybe one day, but we are not there yet.
The 1870 recipe also called for making India Pale Ale alternatively, with all same materials, in different quantities and from a different starting gravity of course. Next year we may do that, but we wanted another try at the AK, to work out its contours more.
N.B. This is the original recipe. See the second #4991, signed by “Aroma”, on the right lower side. The paragraph just above with the same number, signed “Meunier”, deals with pale ale as well and was also of interest to factor.