Friday, 20 May 2011

Burton Ale in the 1820's

We're back with Mr. Booth again. This time we're looking at his description of brewing Burton Ale.

It's a wonderful point in time, the late 1820's, to observe Burton Ale. It's just before Burton brewers took the plunge into the Indian export trade. A time when the words beer and Burton used together didn't conjure up the image of Pale Ale. When Burton was renowned for strong, sweet Ales.

"Of Burton Ale.

We have formerly given Mr. Richardson's instructions for the brewing of this liquor; but we acknowledge that we have never been able to produce the flavour and permanent sweetness of Burton ale by following that gentleman's directions. The indiscriminate prohibitions of the Excise rise up before us, as they probably did before Mr. Richardson. They may have arrested his pen; but they shall not ours. We write not for the common brewer, but for the private gentleman, whose operations are unfettered. We will not say that the plan which we shall here point out is followed by the brewers at Burton, but we know that ale very like to theirs, in all respects, has been the result of this process.

Two ounces of salt of steel, dried until it becomes white, is infused into twenty barrels of liquor before mashing, that quantity of liquor being usually allowed for the first mash of ten quarters of malt. The use of this small portion of salt of steel is supposed to assist the extract; but we think that it has, more probably, been introduced to catch any incipient dose of oxygen which might favour the production of acidity. Its value may be questioned; but this small proportion, at any rate, is harmless.

Twenty barrels of this liquor is then turned upon the ten quarters of malt, in the ordinary way, upwards, through the false bottom. The heat is between 165° and 170°,—generally nearer the former. The mashing is continued about an hour, after which it is allowed to infuse about an hour and a half longer; the goods being covered with a sack of dry malt to preserve the heat.

When the first mash is run off, from ten to fifteen barrels of liquor (according to the proposed strength) is run over the goods at the heat of 185°. This is allowed to infuse two hours, when it will have sunk and mixed with the goods, without having been mashed. This differs from the Scotch practice by making up the length with one, in place of many sparges. Practice enables the brewer to fix the quantity of this second liquor; but he runs some risk of error in untried malts, while the Scotch brewer is always safe by weighing the wort in separate and successive portions.

This second liquor being run off, the strong ale worts are all extracted; and table beer, or a return, is made to exhaust the goods. It is usual, in the case of table beer, to cap the goods with a quantity of dry malt, which is understood to be necessary in order to procure the requisite strength. We believe that this practice (of which we do not approve) originated from a different cause. There was a time when the Excise objected to party-gyles, that is, to making two kinds of beer from the same malt; the capping was introduced to make (formally) a separate brewing, and was continued from the influence of custom. The least quantity of capping answered the purpose, so that it covered the goods, the strength being regulated by the quantity of liquor in the table-beer mash. This mash is generally made at 150° of heat, and allowed to stand about an hour:—but we return to the strong ale.

The quantity of hops is usually about six pounds to the quarter of malt, and the time of boiling from two to two and a half hours. From ten to fifteen minutes before turning off, a quantity of honey, at least equivalent to a pound per barrel, is put into the copper The honey is previously dissolved in scaldinghot liquor.

With respect to the fermentation, the tun is pitched at sixty-four or sixty-five degrees, with a pound of solid yeast per barrel. The first head is skimmed to rid the wort of the impurities which usually float upon the surface. After this the tun is generally kept covered, except when it is roused, which it is, twice or thrice a day. In from fortyeight to sixty hours it ought to rise to eighty degrees, or more; and when the gravity is about twelve pounds, it is usual to put half a gallon of bean flour and four ounces of sal prunella, previously well roused together in a portion of the worts, to every twenty barrels. The whole is then cleansed into barrels, which are filled up every two hours until they cease to discharge any yeast. Should the fermenting tun fall in heat, some recommend that two ounces and a half of jalap should be added for every twenty barrels of the wort.

Immediately after the casks have ceased working, six ounces of unburnt, but bruised, sulphate of lime, mixed up with an ounce of powdered black rosin, (both previously whisked in a small quantity of the ale,) are put into each barrel. Over this a small handful of half-boiled hops is also inserted; and the cask, being then quite full, is closely bunged up, having a gimlet hole, closed with a peg, at the side of the bung-hole, as an occasional vent for the escape of the carbonic acid which may afterwards be generated. The rosin and hops preclude the access of atmospheric air; and the sulphate of lime, which in a short time disappears, is said to prevent any secondary fermentation,—the usual forerunner of acidity. The honey is also understood to ward off the acid fermentation. Honey and water, especially when boiled, does not readily complete its attenuation, and hence it is supposed to answer all the preservative purposes of hops in the beer of Louvain.

The strength of the Burton, like that of every other species of ale, varies with the price. The qualities are seldom more than two; the one weighing from 30 to 32 pounds per barrel, and the other somewhere between 35 and 40, differing in the several brewhouses and with the demands of their customers. The latter, however, is accounted a maximum strength, and exceeded only in rare instances. Below 28 pounds the preservative quality, so peculiar to this sort of ale, is not to be depended on. The charge is usually by the gallon, because the sizes of their casks are various.

The following are notes of a brewing conducted according to the preceding directions:—

In two days the ale had ceased throwing off yeast: and when it had stood two days more with occasional fillings, it was bunged up, after receiving a handful of half-spent hops, etc. as in the directions. This ale was kept through the summer; and, in the following September, it had become quite pure, and was bottled at a gravity of six pounds. In a month afterwards it became pretty ripe, and was well liked."
"The art of brewing" by David Booth, 1829, pages 58 - 60.

Let's begin at the beginning, with the characteristics of Burton Ale. According to Booth it had "permanent sweetness". That implies a relatively high FG and nothing much left in the beer that could ferment further.

As Booth himself points out, these instructions are for the "private gentleman" not the "common brewer" (or commercial brewer. Just as well, because the recipe contains ingredients that would have a had a commercial brewer in court. Salt of steel, or iron sulphate as we would know it, was very illegal. As, odly enough, was honey. In the 1820's there was effectively a Reinheitsgebot in effect in Britain. Nothing but malt, water, hops and yeast was allowed.

This list of brewers prosecuted for the use of illegal substances shows just how common the use of salt of steel was:

"Publicans prosecuted and convicted from 1815 to 1818, for adulterating Beer with illegal Ingredients, and for mixing Table Beer with their Strong Beer.

Mr. Atterbury, for using salt of steel, salt, molasses, Sec. and for mixing table beer with strong beer, £40.
Mr. Dean, for using salt of steel, salt, molasses, etc. and for mixing table beer with strong beer, £50.
Mr. Jay, for using salt of steel, salt, molasses, etc. and for mixing table beer with strong beer, £50.
Mr. Atkinson, for using salt of steel, salt, molasses, etc. and for mixing table beer with strong beer, £20.
Mr. Langworth, for using salt of steel, salt, molasses, etc. and for mixing.table beer with strong beer, £60.
Mrs. Spencer, for using salt of steel, salt, molasses, etc and for mixing table beer with strong beer, £150.
Mr. Hogg, for using salt of steel, salt, molasses, etc- and for mixing table beer with strong beer, £5.
Mr. Craddock, for using salt of steel, salt, molasses, etc. and for mixing table beer with strong beer, £100.
Mr. Harris, for using salt of steel, salt, molasses, etc. and for receiving stale beer, and mixing it with strong beer, £42. and costs.
Mr. Scoons, for using salt of steel, salt, molasses, etc. and for mixing stale beer with strong beer, verdict £200.
Mr. Geer and another, for using salt of steel, salt, molasses, etc. and for mixing strong and table beer, verdict £400.
Mr. Coleman, for using salt of steel, salt, molasses, etc. and for mixing strong and table beer, £35. and costs.
Mr. Orr, for using salt of steel, salt, molasses, etc. and for mixing strong and table beer, £50.
Mr. Gardiner, for using salt of steel, salt, molasses, etc- and for mixing strong and table beer, £100.
Mr. Morris, for using salt of steel, salt, molasses, etc. and for mixing strong and table beer, £20.
Mr- Harbour, for using salt of steel, salt, molasses, etc. and for mixing strong and table beer, £50.
Mr. Corrie, for mixing strong beer with table beer.
Mr. Cape, for mixing strong beer with table beer.
Mr. Gudge, for mixing strong beer with small beer. ,"
"A treatise on adulterations of food" Friedrich Accum, 1822, pages 157 - 159.
Look at the size of those fines. At the time, a barrel of beer cost around £3. So a fine of £50 or more was a considerable sum.

It's funny how Booth recommends the sue of salt of steel, but doesn't seem sure of its effect.

Let's move on to the mashing scheme. There are two mashes for the main beer with strike heats of  165° - 170° F for the first and 185° F for the second. This is a very 18th century method, with multiple mashes and no sparge. A couple of decades later no commercial English brewery would be working this way. Note that the water is introduced via the underlet. This is, of course, before the days of Steel's mashers.

Capping with fresh malt for the Table Beer mash was pretty normal. Though I'm dubious of Booth's claim that this was because the excise didn't like party-gyles. I've never seen that mentioned anywhere else.

Six pounds of hops to the quarter is on the low side. Ales, especially strong ones, would usually have had at least 8 pounds. It's very much in line wiith what Roberts said was standard practice in Scotland. As I and Martyn Cornell have pointed out many times before, there are great similarities between Burton Ale and Edinburgh Ale.

The fermentation temperature looks high, starting at 64º F and rising to 80º F. But London Porter brewers were fermenting at similar temperatures. At least for their Porters. Ales they usually fermented 5 or 6 degrees cooler.

More illegal (for the professional brewer) were thrown in when the gravity was around 12 lbs per barrel (1033º). Not sure what the bean flour was for, but it can't have done any harm. Whereas I'm not sure I'd want sal prunella in my beer. That's salt petre (potassium nitrate) that's been fused into balls, creating small amounts of potassium nitrite in the process. Sal prunella is something that was used in curing meat. I've no idea whatt it's function in beer could be.

But he hasn't finished with dodgy additives yet. The jalap if he recommends if the tun heat falls is a purgative drug. And to finish off there's the sulphate of lime (calcium sulphate) and black rosin. The latter is a form of resin, now it seems mostly used by rodeo riders on their gloves to get extra grip. The hops, finally there's something not weird. I would call them dry hops, but seeing as they were half-boiled, I imagine they were pretty damp.

His comments about honey seem totally crazy. Honey boiled with water won't fully attenuate? Surely the opposite is true and that nicely dissolved honey will ferment out almost 100%?

All the craziness done, let's look at the strengths. 30 to 32 pounds per barrel is 1083º to 1089º. Moderately strong by the standards of the day. 35 to 40 pounds per barrel. That's more like it. 1097º to 1111º. That beer of his, 34.8 lbs OG, 6 lbs FG. That's OG 1096, FG 1017, 10.6% ABV, 83% attenuation. Would that taste sweet, as a Burton Ale was supposed to?

Brewed in April, bottled in September, ready in October. I make that a round six months. Seems a bit short to me. I'd have thought a minimum of a years in the cask necessary to mellow it out.

Today's lesson? Don't try the beer of gentlemen brewers. They put all sorts of shit into it.


StuartP said...

In my fairly limited experience, all the strong beers that I have made with 100% (or near as damn it) pale malt grist had a permanent sweetness, even when fermanted down to low gravity.
Not really what I would have expected, or even wanted.
So, yes, his observation regarding the sweetness of the beer fits in with my experience.

Kristen England said...


This really depends on your pale malt. This past years crop of UK Maris Otter has a very 'honeyed' character that I haven't really gotten out of it before. Most of the beers I've made with it came in pretty much the same final gravity but there was a lingering sweetness that hasn't been there before.

100% Halcyon, Pipkin or Golden promise I have never found that. Mild malt and Optic I use them specifically b/c of the remaining sweetness.

If you use most US pale malt, its bone dry.

Thomas Barnes said...

Yuck. Even at 2 imperial oz. (56.8 ml) of ferrous sulfate (FeSO4·4H2O = 152 + 72 g/mol) per 10 (imperial) barrels (1640 L) , I think you'd get detectable levels of iron and not that much sulfate.

The interesting thing, though, is that as early as 1820, brewers are making attempts to "Burtonize" their water.

Rod said...


We've spoken about last year's UK Maris Otter before - it will be very interesting to see how the forthcoming crop turns out, because we're having the same very dry, quite warm spell in Britain as we did last year. Maybe very honeyed MO will become a permanent result of climate change?
I brewed the Lovibonds 1864 XXXX recipe that Ron posted here some time ago at the Old Brewery back in February using 50% Maris Otter - it's just gone on draught now and the MO sweetness is apparent, supporting the hoppiness and the alcohol warmth very well.
In a 5% ABV beer you get a deep gold colour from MO - at 9%, the XXXX has a beautiful depth of dark honey colour, different from what you would get by adding a little crystal, for example.

Ed said...

Honey and water on their own ferment poorly as it's deficient in nutrients for the yeast. If added to a strong beer though I'd expect it to ferment out fully.