Thursday, 2 December 2010

Fullers XX(K)

I'm now able to tell you of a project I've been working on with Fullers. Now the first beer has officially been released. It's a simple concept: brew recipes from the Fullers brewing books.

It's the main reason I've been in London so often this year. First to discuss, then to brew, a beer from 1891 called XXK. I can now tell everyone I've brewed at Fullers. Yes, I made the mouse click that kicked the whole process off. It made me feel ridiculously happy. Easily pleased, that's me.

John Keeling and Derek Prentice, the people in charge of brewing at Fullers weren't going to do it half-arsed. I doubt John has ever done anything half-arsed in his life. They were keen to replicate as closely as possible the original recipe.And I was only too happy to give whatever help I could.

You're never going to be able to create an exact copy of a beer from the past. Malt and hops are agricultural and not chemical products. They vary from one year to the next, let alone across centuries. Hops are easier to match than malts. Fuggle's and Goldings are still around. Barley varieties change with much greater frequency. Even something like Maris Otter is a fairly recent development.

Luckily, Fullers were able to get hold of some Plumage Archer barley, which they then had malted by Simpson's. The variety dates from 1903. Which is about as close as you're going to get. It was malted in drum maltings, which were being used in 1891.

Fullers brewery has changed a fair bit since 1891. As we discovered on brew day. Back then they' performed what I'd call an underlet mash. That's where half an hour or so in hot water is added from below, raising the temperature. Usually the internal rakes would be used to mix it through the mash. Fullers current mash tuns have no rakes. There was a fair amount of manual fiddling about - including pushing the sparge arm around with a stick - to replicate the original process.

What type of beer is it? I'd call it a Burton. A style that re-invented itself as a dark beer in the 20th century. Old Ale. You could call it that as well, if Burton doesn't appear your style lexicon. Or Strong Ale. The English have always been a bit vague - not to say downright inconsistent - in the naming of stronger beers.

The scary part came on Monday. At the release event. When I had to stand up and explain XX in 5 minutes without heistation, deviation or repetition. As I got to my feet I sent a glass smashing to the floor. At least it got the attention of the various hacks and freeloaders, sorry, invited guests. I hope I didn't confuse them too much with my tale of Pale Mild, Burton and the code of X's.

I like the beer. Pretty colour and lots of flavour. Not bursting with passion fruit or any of that bollocks. My days of writing detailed beer descriptions are over. Why should you trust what I say? Go and try it for yourself.

28 comments:

The Beer Nut said...

So what about the last mile? Was this sold bottled? Would there have been a wood or brett element in the K version, or in the draught running version?

Mark Terry said...

When I saw the article in First Draught, I thought I detected the hand of Ron! Will have to attempt to track some of this down.
Cheers, Mark

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

It’s a great beer Ron, well done, glad it was only a glass, sitting in the hacks’ bay at the back I thought it a bottle… ;-))

Ron Pattinson said...

Beer Nut, I've a Fullers price list from 1893. Something called Strong Old Ale looks very much like XXK. It was sold by the barrel. The only bottled beers were Pale Ale and India Pale Ale.

Which doesn't necessarily mean XXK was never bottled. A lot of bottling was carried out by third parties.

There probably would have been a brett presence, either from the pitching yeast or the vats.

Alan said...

That is just wonderful. Well done, Ron. If you can leverage me a cross-Atlantic sample or put me in touch with those who can, I would love to try it.

ZakAvery said...

Outstanding work.

Craig said...

Ron, you magnificent bastard!

Ed said...

I've been looking forward to this for months, can't wait to try it now it's out.

Velky Al said...

Top work that man! Fingers crossed there are plans to bring some to the States, or they still have some when I make it to the UK.

Duncan from Folkestone said...

I must be on the path to becoming a full-on beer bore, as I find this really exciting!

I bet it was a great pleasure for you.

ealusceop said...

Congratulations! Let me guess, the porter will be in this limited serie, right? :)

Gary Gillman said...

Ron, can you give us (or remind of) any details on the hopping?

Was it hopped considerably more than any current Fuller's beer?

If so, did it taste noticeably more bitter/aromatic?

Gary

Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, it had the most hops per barrel. Then again, it was the strongest beer they brewed. In terms of hops per barrel, it was just a shade less than IPA and XKK (Bitter).

Ron Pattinson said...

ealusceop, I doubt the Porter will be included. They already have one of those.

Gary Gillman said...

Ron, thanks, but as compared say to Fuller's 1845, or the Vintage series Fuler's has put out, do you get the impression that this historical beer was much, much more bitter? Or not really.

Gary

Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, I think XX is 54 or 56 EBU. It seemed hoppier than Vintage Ale to me.

Gary Gillman said...

Okay thanks. Very pleased to hear of this initiative.

Gary

ealusceop said...

Yeah I know for the porter, but I was thinking they were planning to brew an "old style", real secondary fermentation in wood Porter, no?

matthew turner said...

dang.....well I’ve just this Minute finished off a bottle of the 2009 vintage ale, so if this skill in special brews is anything to go by, I must try this beer!!

mikecomb said...

Very interesting, I'd love to try it. Any word on if it will be available in the US?

Neil Spake said...

Awesome, Ron! I just received my First Draught this week and saw the description. I was really excited to see it. I hope we get some of it here in the US. I agree re John. I interviewed him in person at the Fullers' Brewery late last year for an internet radio show here in the States. I can't imagine him doing anything half-arsed either.
Cheers!
Neil

www.ScottishBrewing.com

Korev said...

And the recipe is?

Oblivious said...

Congratulations ron, cant wait to try it

Oblivious said...

Neil it would make a very interesting interview about historical brewing by Ron for the brewing network??

SilkTork said...

Nice one!

Martyn Cornell said...

"What type of beer is it? I'd call it a Burton."

I have a growing suspicion, with no real and actual evidence to back it up, that London brewers started calling their own strong ales "Burton ale" in the latter part of the 19th century to cash in on the popularity of genuine Burton Ale from the likes of Bass, Allsopp, Worthington and Salt, just the same way that brewers started calling (or seem to have started calling) any bitter of about 1060-1065 OG "IPA" to cash in on the popularity of Burton IPAs. Any evidence in the brewing logs to show if "London" ale was different from the brews sold as "Burton" ale?

Graeme said...

Oblivious - great idea!

I'm also with Korev - the recipe would be very interesting to have a go at - there's bugger all chance of finding a bottle in the few Fullers pubs up this way, so brewing it myself is likely to be the closest I'll get...

Lady Luck Brewing said...

Here a link to the Fullers video:
http://www.fullers.co.uk/rte.asp?id=377