Friday, 21 October 2011

Horst again

Yes, they also let Horst Dornbusch write the article on Old Ale in the "Oxford Companion to Beer". It's not quite as bad as his one on the shilling system. There are even a couple of sentences without mistakes.

Here's the text:
"old ales, a British ale style that has evolved greatly over the past 2 centuries. Traditionally, these beers were also known as stock ales or strong ales as they emerged to some prominence in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. At first, little separated them from barley wines, and they were big beers. Old ales were normally fermented only from the first, high-gravity runnings of the mash, often in a parti-gyle brewing process. The second runnings were then fermented as brown ales or other medium-strength beers; sometimes a third running was even performed, yielding small beers of little strength and body. Old ales were invariably higher alcohol beers of perhaps 6% to 7% alcohol by volume (ABV). But the alcohol level was initially kept in check by mashing techniques that favored unfermentable sugars in the high-gravity wort. The beer was left with notable residual sweetness rather than higher levels of alcohol. The original old ales were literally old by beer standards of the day, matured for months and often years in wooden casks. Long aging in wood allowed the ale to mellow in bitterness but also to acquire some flavour from the raw wood, a slightly stale taste from oxidation, and a dash of sourness from wild yeasts, particularly Brettanomyces, and lactic acid bacteria with which the brew would invariably come into contact. Old ales received very little to no aroma hops; hop flavor and aroma, even if they survived the long aging, would not have been compatible with the beer's other flavors. The finished beer would have had low, natural effervescence, a deep tawny color, and a substantial mouthfeel. A long, slow secondary fermentation would sometimes eventually reduce the 'unfermentable" sugars, leaving the beer with a dry finish. Old ales were often blended with young "running ales," thereby conferring to the young beer some of the richer properties of the older fraction. The British brewery Greene King still produces its excellent Strong Suffolk (also known as Olde Suffolk) by this method.

Over time, like most British beer styles, the beers referred to as "old ales" have changed substantially. They have kept the original dark color range, and most show a tendency to rich fruitiness, but in all but a few examples, the touch of wild or lactic character is gone. Some are simply slightly beefed-up mild ales, barely touching 5% ABV. Wood aging is rare, and aging itself seems optional, although some strong versions to age very well indeed. In the past decade or so, however, craft brewers have sought to bring back types of old ale somewhat closer to those of the mid-1800s, and many of these are very characterful and show good aging potential."

"Old ales were normally fermented only from the first, high-gravity runnings of the mash" Interesting claim that one. And easy enough to check up. Though notice how the whole article is very vague about time. Does he mean late 18th/early 19th century? The 19th century in general? To be on the safe side, let's check several years.

Here's a nice Whitbread example from 1837:

It shows the gyles and how they were mixed to create two beers: X (a Mild Ale) and KXXX (a Keeping or Stock Ale). There were three worts:

1st 39.5 lbs/barrel (1109º)
2nd 29.8 lbs/barrel (1083º)
3rd 22.6 lbs/barrel (1063º)

KXXX was blended from 48 barrels of the first wort and 31 of the second. X had 7 barrels of the first wort, 23 of the second and 38 of the third.  KXXX had an OG of 35.7 lbs/barrel (1099º) and X 26.6 lbs/barrel (1074º).

Not only wasn't the Keeping Ale all first runnings, some of all three runnings were in the weaker Mild Ale. Not much like Horst describes, is it?

Not convinced about the gyling? Here's another example, from the other end of the 19th century. It's a Barclay Perkins KKK from 1891:

This one is even simpler, having been brewed entire gyle. Three worts of 1086, 1085 and 1037 were blended to get an OG of 1085.

Here's another example from closer to the middle of the century. It's a Truman KXXX from 1860:

This was also brewed entire gyle. There were 4 worts:

1st wort 42.3 lbs/barrel (1117º)
2nd wort 35.5 lbs/barrel (1098º)
3rd wort 23 lbs/barrel (1064º)
4th wort 20 lbs/barrel (1055º)
combined: 32.3 lbs/barrel (1089º)

Still not convinced the gyling method described in the article is fantasy? Here's yet another example, again from Whitbread, but this time the year is 1875. We've seen a standard-strength Mild parti-gyled with a strong Keeping Ale and we've seen two entire gyle Keeping Ales. Here's a third variation: two Keeping Ales parti-gyled with each other:

This time there were 2 worts:

1st wort 38.8 lbs/barrel (1107º)
2nd wort 18.9 lbs/barrel (1052º)

which were blended to make KK at 26.4 lbs/barrel (1073º) and KKK at 29.4 lbs/barrel (1081º).

I could go on. I have hundreds of examples from several different breweries spanning the years 1830 to 1950. None of them were brewed in the way Horst describes.

"Old ales were invariably higher alcohol beers of perhaps 6% to 7% alcohol by volume (ABV)."  Old ales 6 to 7% ABV in the 19th century? Total bollocks. The weaker X Ale in my first example above would have been that strong. The KXXX was probably more like 9% ABV. He's just taken modern strengths and assumed beers were always like that. 6% ABV was normal strength in the 19th century. That's how strong a bottom of the range Mild or a standard Porter were.

Hang on a minute. I've a set of Old Ale analyses from the British Medical Journal. Let's see how strong those were:

Old Ales
Year Brewer Beer Acidity FG OG ABV App. Attenuation
1870 Allsopp Old Burton Ale (brewed March 1869) 0.32 1040.38 1121.63 10.64 66.80%
1870 Allsopp Old Burton Ale 0.25 1030.11 1111.45 10.69 72.98%
1870 Bass Barley Wine 0.23 1032.31 1114.78 10.84 71.85%
1870 Roy Scotch Ale 0.20 1037.84 1111.46 9.61 66.05%
1870 Truman Old Ale (KXXX) 0.16 1020.81 1084.95 8.39 75.50%
1870 Bass Burton Ale 0.18 1014.91 1091.47 10.10 83.70%
1870 Allsopp Burton Ale 0.56 1008.61 1086.4 10.30 90.03%
1870 Butler Kennet Ale 0.36 1012.31 1090.3 10.31 86.37%
1870 Charrington Old Ale 0.26 1017.08 1089.16 9.48 80.84%
1870 Charrington Old Ale 0.28 1013.9 1073.27 7.78 81.03%
1870 Elliott, Watney & Co. Old Ale 0.28 1007.93 1072.81 8.55 89.11%
British Medical Journal 1870, vol. 1, 1870, page 68.

Look at that - the weakest is almost 8% ABV.

"The second runnings were then fermented as brown ales" Second runnings fermented as Brown Ales? In the 19th century? That shows just how clueless he is. Brown Ale didn't exist in the 19th century. I thought everyone knew that. It died out at the end of the 18th century when everyone sussed out how much cheaper it was to brew with pale malt. And, as the brewing records above have shown, when beers were parti-gyled, the weaker beer almost always contained some of the strongest wort. There were several reasons for doing that. First and foremost: hitting the target gravity. Second: a beer from only later weak worts is thin and crap. You wanted some of the good stuff in every beer.

Let's move on to some other points.

"acquire some flavor from the raw wood" British brewers went to great lengths to stop this happeneing. They deliberately made their barrels from types of oak that im[parted little flavour. Barrels and vats were constantly re-used. Any wood flavour would have quickly disappeared. They also treated new casks to remove any wood taint*.

"a deep tawny color"; "They have kept the original dark color range" I think he's making a big assumption here, that Old Ales were dark in the 19th century. They weren't. Or at least not until the very end. Like pretty much all British beers except Porter and Stout, Old Ales were brewed from 100% pale malt (and maybe some sugar) between 1800 and around 1890. They were pale in colour. (My source: countless brewing records.)

"Some are simply slightly beefed-up mild ales, barely touching 5% ABV." That's what Old Ales always were. Old Ale and Mild Ale were essentially the same thing. The difference was that one was sold young and the other aged. The recipes were identical, except for the level of hopping (Keeping Ales had more, obviously). A KK Keeping Ale had the same gravity as an XX Mild Ale. The Keeping Ales were brewed in the higher end of the gravity range - KK, KKK and KKKK. Mild Ales tended to be in the lower ranges, X and XX, but there were XXX and XXXX Mild Ales.

What are some modern Old Ales in the 4 to 5% ABV range? For the same reason that Mild is now 3% rather 6% or 7% ABV. Because British beer strengths aren't much more than 50% of what they were 150 years ago. Gravities of all beers have declined in steps: Boer War, WW I, 1931 tax increase, WW II. Each chipped away at beer strengths. Only a very small number of specialist beers - Colne Spring Ale, Bass No. 1, Barclays/Courage Russian Stout - remained at pre-WW I strengths.

He is right about the Brettanomyces. That's what made Old Ale old - a long, secondary fermentation with Brettanomyces that gave the beer the "aged" flavour. Brettanomyces can break down complex sugars that normal yeast can't. That explains some of the very high degrees of attenuation in the table above.

Overall, not that bad an article by Horst's standards. Only half a dozen serious errors.

* I know that I've posted a section of a brewing manual discusses seasoning casks.  Just can't find it. If you can find it, I'd be grateful.


Barm said...

He is obsessed with this stuff about making strong ale from the first runnings alone. He repeats the same thing in the article on Scotland. He thinks that's what Heavy is. That alone ought to disqualify him from writing about Scottish beer.

Barm said...

Don't forget that it's not at all easy to check these things on Planet Dornbusch. Remember, he believes there are no surviving brewery records before the 20th century.

The Beer Nut said...

dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum
He's inaccurate!

Jeff Alworth said...

I do enjoy these dissections. I'm finally starting to get good at spotting the mistakes, too. I'm still not qualified to judge Horst's body of work, but this seems like a poor showing. The interesting thing is that old ales, a category more than a style, are relatively easy to handle. They were strong, aged, and ultimately affected by wildness (based on what I've read here). Dornbusch seems to unnecessarily toss in stuff that he needn't even gone near.

The Beer Wrangler said...

I too am not qualified to judge Horsts work (as Ron and Martyn are)but the question has to be asked when writing a work that aimed to stand next to the exemplary Oxford Companion to Wine, were the two most notable experts on British (and Irish) brewing history and beer styles, not asked to oversee those entries. I'm just glad Pete Brown did IPA rather than Dornbusch!

athelstanbrewery said...

Seasoning - was it linked with this one?

Ron Pattinson said...

No, it was about putting Running Stout into a new barrel the first couple of times to get rid of the wood taste.

Derek said...

"Never put this fine beer into a new cask : the true way to prepare the vessels for it, is to scald them very well, over and over, and then keep one or two brewings of good small beer in them. These will thoroughly season the cask ; and after this nothing will be required, but such through good cleaning as may be given by boiling water, and a little hard broom."

"The complete English brewer" by George Watkins, 1773, pages 101-103.

Ron Pattinson said...

Derek, thanks very much.