This late-1800s brewing entry in Chambers’ Encyclopedia states that pale ales received two-to-four months storage, mild ales, one week, export pale ales (IPAs), 10-15 months. See bottom-left hand corner, pg. 36.
Unlike today, you needed time to ensure pale ale was in the right condition for drinking. Time gave it a clearer appearance and took out some of the yeasty notes. A slow continued fermentation slightly raised the alcohol level and generated some CO2 as well.
The Scottish Chambers brothers, founders of a famed encyclopedia, had a high reputation for conveying scholarly expertise but in a way the intelligent layman could understand. (Indeed there are similar data in contemporary brewing and scientific journals).
In a time when yeast management, brewing sanitation and refrigerated storage were nowhere near today’s standards, two-to-four months was not a derisory period. Beer had to last sometimes as well over a warm spell and other uncertain weather.
Dry-hopping in part was designed to protect pale ale from the risks, we we saw in the discussion by “Aroma” yesterday.
It is tempting to think Aroma was brewing author and authority William Loftus, as in another part of the volume I linked he recommends the latter’s book The Brewer which went through numerous editions 1850s-1870s. I don’t think Aroma was Loftus though, in part because his IPA directions differ somewhat from Loftus’.
E.g. Loftus likes a mix of German and English hops; Aroma is an all-English hop man. Aroma speaks of blending aged and fresh hops; Loftus does not refer to aged hops.
It is hard to remember in our day of pasteurization, crash-cooling, filtration, and reliable refrigeration how perishable beer is. It will turn sour fast if not “kept” properly, sometimes in a day or two…
While over time storage time steadily narrowed as I mentioned for all beer, not least lager, to think AK was not stored, or kept, for much of the 1800s would not be correct. AK was an ale for keeping, certainly but the keeping period varied with the intended market.
The designation “K” for beer on its own or in doubled or greater number, KK and the like, surely meant keeping as well. Mild ales if long stored were sometimes designated XK or just K with multiples for stronger beers, which often were kept longer.
While brewery ads were sometimes inconsistent, I believe the K meant the same for bitter beer as other classes long aged: stored.
We don’t really have, today, the kind of beer Aroma referred to. Few beers use all-English hops in North America. Beers that do, including in England, rarely are stored long enough, and not in uncoated wood, to approximate to the Chambers’ description. Even where wood barrels are used, American oak barrels almost always are enlisted.
American wood was not used by English pale ale brewers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, however. They thought it gave the wrong flavour to beer – it’s the vanillin, “chardonnay” taste familiar also in bourbon whiskey.
The wood used was sourced in the Baltic generally, so-called Memel wood from Lithuania and adjoining areas. You can still get it. Memel tended to impart a neutral quality to beer. Brewers liked that, they wanted the beers’ inherent qualities to shine.
Apart from all this, the hops used then were all-flower (no pellets) – and a great amount was used, much more than for the bitter offered in England today.
What would Aroma’s AK taste like? I think it would be great, probably like Martin’s Special Pale Ale was (in Belgium) 20 years ago (maybe still, I don’t know). Clean sweet malt taste, lovely flowery scent from the hops, good bitterness but the hop aroma predominating. I am referring to a special, stronger pale ale Martin’s had: there were two in the range, at least then.
For AK, 2-4 months probably wasn’t long enough for Brettanomyces to develop. This is why there was practical recognition IMO of a distinction between pale ale and IPA. They are the same in origin but the very long storage of the latter gave it additional qualities, the “Bass stink”, often, as it was called by Americans circa-1900.
It’s an acquired taste as so many tastes are in the area of beers, wines, and other drinks. However, the general market did not I think favour it, hence the replacement of those beers ultimately by the AK or “running” type.
The bitter today of the English pub, where it has not been replaced by the American-tasting form of IPA, is really the descendant of that AK.