More Detail On the Recreation of the c.1800 Hart Ale

I’ve now had the benefit of further discussions with Nathan McNutt, the brewer at Brasserie Réservoir in Montreal where the 200-year-old Hart ale recipe was recreated.

In my last post, I focused on malt and hop types and amount of hops used. I can add that the pale malt was from Malterie Frontenac in Quebec. Both the barley for the malt and the Newport hops were locally grown and organic.

The beer’s original gravity was 18 P, the final gravity, 2.4 P, and the attenuation, 87%. The alcohol as previously stated is 8.6% abv.

The relatively high attenuation results in part from Brettanomyces Bruxellensis wild yeast used during secondary fermentation. It successfully imparted earthy and other special flavours in a few weeks. This was due probably to the beer being stored in wood barrels. Good porosity and oxygen space helped the yeast consume complex sugars, which a standard brewer’s pure strain yeast can’t do, in a relatively short period.

The reason this was done was based on the idea that before development of pure culture yeasts (from the 1890s on), brewers’ yeasts often contained an element of wild yeast and/or the microflora was resident in hard-to-clean wood vessels.

Therefore, the Hart ale is, intentionally, not a young sweet ale, but one intended to show elements of maturity as was characteristic of many ales and beers of a former time. The recreation perhaps can be viewed in historical beer terms as an “old ale”, meaning an ale which with long-cellaring acquires flavours and extra dryness from wild yeast action.

It is indeed possible the Harts aged some of their ale, either to meet the taste for a winy, estery beer – one can see the analogy to dry wines – or perhaps if they couldn’t brew in hot weather. That is, when weather conditions (before refrigeration) prevented a successful fermentation, the Harts might have drawn on their stocks of ale laid down earlier as a provision.

Also, as the Hart recipe states to add between a half and one pound hops per minot (bushel, effectively), the higher amount may have been intended for ale being kept a few months vs. being sold right away.

Even ales designated as “mild” in England could be on the dry side in palate, approaching in this respect India Pale Ale which always had a relatively dry profile from its inherently long stocking and shipping period. If you examine this link, a study from 1870 by the British Medical Journal of old ales and mild ales, you will see some mild ales with a fairly low specific gravity. No. 12, Truman’s, had numbers (OG, FG, ABV) very close to what was achieved for the Hart recreation. (The alcohol column is by weight so convert to volume for best comparison).

That Truman ale, despite its mild moniker and starting gravity – lower than most of the olds – may well have had a brett influence from a multi-strain yeast or other source which brought the FG down to that range. Another mild ale went even lower, to 1008. Attenuations always varied for the different classes of beer in England albeit there were general tendencies, e.g., mild ales generally on sweet side, old ales drier and sometimes tart, matured porter and IPA ditto, etc.

The richness of English beer culture allowed for a range of tastes and a range of gravities and other characteristics to meet those tastes. The Hart ale recreation presents one facet of that range, and very likely resembles some of the full-mash beer made by the Hart brewery from 1796 until c. 1830.

The Réservoir brewery and the Museum of Jewish Montreal are to be commended for engaging in this fascinating, multi-faceted historical exercise.