Brewing a Victorian AK With Amsterdam Brewery

Here are some images of my great brewing day yesterday with Amsterdam Brewery brewers, headed by Iain McOustra, at the Brewhouse on Toronto’s Harbourfront. Cody, Jeff, and Mike brewed at different times and I participated throughout.

The brewery is set in a glassed-in room alongside the large vaulted Amsterdam Brewhouse restaurant. It’s a prime location right on the water.

We collaborated to make an AK, of the pale ale family, from the era of 1870. I provided the recipe from my own research some years ago, which also stated that AK meant “ale for keeping”.

OG was 1050 with final abv likely 5-5.3% abv. Only one malt was used, as typical of the day. We elected floor-malted Maris Otter from Crisp, marketed under its Gleneagle name. This was after tasting a number of pale malts, unmilled that is, including Crisps’ non-floor malted Maris Otter.

The floor malt was cracker-like and fresh, tasted from the drained mash it was almost like a toasty oatmeal (porridge): if you added sugar and milk the similarity would seemed marked. The non-floor-malted Maris Otter when tasted unmilled was less cracker-like, more mealy perhaps. If I could choose an analogy, the floor version was like whole-grain bread; the other, like a high-quality bread from white flour.

Both seemed deeper in character than standard North American 2-row malt.

Two hops from Charles Faram were used, Golding and Fuggle, both in leaf form. The hops went in at different times with Fuggles in this case having the say for aroma. Most will be kegged but we hope to do a few casks, and if the casks are dry-hopped we will use one of the two leafs. Any dry-hopping for kegged beer will be with pellets added at tank stage.

The Golding was floral and lemony, the Fuggle like an arbor, leafy and fresh-woodsy.

These hops come in heat-reflecting tight paks flushed with nitrogen, and are stored cold until use. One was harvested 18 months ago but smelled fresh and sweet, its expiration date was still one-and-a-half years away.

We decided on 3 lbs hops per finished barrel of beer (36 Imp. gal.), with 1 lb more/bbl if dry-hopped (will depend on tasting later). The IBU estimate was 45.

This level of hopping – not a shrinking violet – was typical of the period for this class of beer. Yet, for IPA, similar in character to AK but stronger, the hop levels only went up…

We elected two hops on the idea of boosting both complexity and all-English character. Some beers of the pale ale family back then may have used two hops, even if the norm was one. Anyway it seemed right.

We chose an American yeast of relatively neutral character. We wanted to ensure the character of the malt and hops would shine through. Still, we hope to get some estery development from fermentation temperature and a few weeks of relatively warm storage.

The beer should be ready in about 30 days. While Brettanomyces character was  likely part of the long-aged pale ale in the 1800s*, I specifically requested that no brett addition be made. Despite the use of mixed yeast cultures then, I feel the horsey brett character was unlikely with beer aged just a month or two. AK was kept for a relatively short period, where brett character was less likely to form. The idea was to go for a “mild” pale ale palate from this standpoint.

(In other words, some pale ale then was stored for relatively brief periods in comparison especially to export IPA).

Obviously, we used modern fermenters and pure culture yeast. There was no atmospheric exposure once beer ran from heat exchanger to fermenter blended with the yeast drawn from a sealed keg. Vessels are all-metal through the process, no wooden mashing or fermenting vessels. Together with a high degree of sanitation and modern pumping and powering technology, the brewhouse did not resemble in many ways one of the 1800s; few today do.

But still we hope to attain a character that people of that era would recognize as their own, hopefully a very high example of their own.

I should add: the liquor was Burtonized to match the profile of some gypsum-laden waters classically used for Burton pale ale.

The wort from the (relatively short) boil was candy-sweet but very bitter. It carried a striking russet colour the brewers said was unusual in their experience and must have derived from the Crisp malt and the type of malt it was. Indeed, images of pale ale I have seen in colour from the 1800s do resemble it in hue, that orangey-reddish look.


*See some telling narrative evidence, here.