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.
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.
Vernon Arms, Vernon Street - Vernon Arms, Vernon Street, Stockport. (c) Jim Phelan with permission. The Vernon Arms stood on the corner of Vernon Street and Warren Street in Portwood,...
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