1870 “AK” and Time in a Bottle

Sources for the AK Brewing

This is a follow-up to my post on brewing a collaboration AK with Amsterdam Brewing Co. in Toronto earlier this month.

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.

1 thought on “1870 “AK” and Time in a Bottle”

  1. One thing I hadn’t addressed above: malt and hop selection in terms, not of U.K. origin – that part is clear – but application to period in question. I was well-aware Maris Otter was commercialized in the 1960s (some sources state earlier, but post- WW II in any event). The Chevallier variety, grown from a few seeds and now available to brewers in floor malted form, Crisp does one, was clearly an option. However, I had a beer a couple of years ago brewed with Chevallier, I think it was by Fuller, and didn’t like the malt taste. My reading suggested a rough cereal character might result unless the beer was aged at least one month. True, we were planning a few weeks aging, but I didn’t want to take chances. Departing from history? Not really, as I doubt every load of malt in 1870 was prepared from Chevallier. Some reports on taste did suggest a difference with Maris Otter but also stated in a well-hopped IPA the character of Chevallier wasn’t really detectable. Given the heavy hop-load we were using, and given this was not a mild or old ale (i.e., the attenuation factor), I felt using Maris Otter was more than justifiable. The main point of it was floor-malting, we had that, in a malt from a British-grown variety, that was close enough in this case. As to hops, Golding was used throughout the 1800s. Fuggle apparently was selected in 1875, but I don’t believe when it came out it was radically different to other hops in use. Generally, there is some continuity in such matters, as e.g. Cascade being fairly close still to Citra and many other hops that followed it – not all of course, but many. We could have used just the Golding, but as it originated in the 1870s, using Fuggle too seemed more than justifiable.

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