Wednesday 4 December 2013

Let's Brew Wednesday - 1971 Whitbread Tankard

This is really weird. Let me explain why.

When I started the serious primary research thing, I was only interested in 19th-century brewing records. And only a subset of those. Porter and Mild. That's what I was interested in. Finding their roots. What I found, especially in the case of Mild, wasn't what I'd expected. It seems naive now to have expected to find Dark Mild, coloured with black malt. What an idiot I was.

Because the standard Porter story when I started was that it died out in England during WW I, I expanded my research slightly past the 1900 border to take a peek at what happened during the war. The changes were so profound and so rapid, that I ended up putting more effort into those four years than any other period.

I thought I'd stop there, at 1920 or so. Why? Because I thought I knew what happened after that. I can't remember why I started looking at the 1920's and 1930's. I probably started to look at what had happened immediately after the war's end and got carried away.

WW II. There's an obvious one to look into, if you've seen how important WW I was for the development of British beer. But the 1950's and 1960's - what's the point in looking at them?

At a certain point I realised what an amazing resource Whitbread's records are, running uninterrupted from 1804 to 1973. A baseline. A set of data to use as a reference. That's when I decided to collect the set. I haven't quite photographed every single brewing book. I'm missing a couple. But because they run from July to June, I have photographs from every year.

When I set out on my journey, I never expected to become fascinated by every year. I was headed for the distant past, leaving what I'd personally experienced behind. Who'd have thought I'd end up looking at a Big Six Keg Bitter from the 1970's?

But enough about me. Let's take a look at the beer itself. I said Keg Bitter, but some Tankard might have been cask. Its sibling Trophy was certainly available in both keg and cask form. What surprised me most is how late Tankard appeared: around 1970. I'd have put its origins a decade or so earlier. Trophy was even later, 1972. Though, in the case of Trophy, it's possible PA was marketed as such before they changed the brewhouse name. Tankard, however, was a brand new beer.

It didn't last that long, either. It can't have been around for more than 30 years. That might sound a long time, but a beer like Whitbread X Ale was brewed for over 100 years, their Porter almost 200 years. Even Best Mild has managed over 60 years (and weirdly is still brewed - I wonder who drinks it?).

Looking at its early days, it does look as of Tankard was introduced as specifically a keg beer. One of the earliest brews of it I've found was from May 1970, where it was parti-gyled with PA, which had previously been their main Bitter. There's almost no difference in their gravities: PA 1035.8, Tankard 1036.5. Whitbread must have realised how stupid it was having two Bitters that were virtually identical Bitters because by 1971 Tankard's gravity had been raised to 1039.8.

I would say that I'd often seen keg Tankard fonts in pubs, but I didn't. I almost never drank in Whitbread pubs in the 1970's. They did no cask beer in the areas of the country where I lived. I'm pretty sure I never drank it. I didn't waste my time and thirst on crappy keg beers. Much like today.

Being honest, the recipe doesn't look that bad. Whitbread, unlike most other brewers, didn't use adjuncts, just malt and sugar (sugar is a malt substitute, not an adjunct). And, having their own hop farms in Kent, they had pretty good hops to play with. It's how they packaged the beer that would have buggered it up. A beer of this gravity and delicacy will have all the stuffing knocked out of it by filtering, pasteurising and fizzing it up. If you brew this, try to treat it with a bit more respect. (Though for 100% authenticity you should keg the fuck out of it.)

Almost forgot to mention. We're doing a special series of recipes for December: Whitbread beers of the 1970's.

That's the bullshit bit done, let's bring in the technician . .  . Kristen . . . Kristen! . . . .  KRISTEN!!!

Kristen’s Version:

Notes: Ah, December…or more specifically 1970’s December. Some of you punters will remember those days, others won’t and others still weren’t born yet…mostly me included. A Whitbread December if you will. Ron will explain more I’m sure…

Malt: Two pale malts for this one. Choose one or two of your favorites. Nothing to hefty. A really nice darker crystal, I really like the Simpson’s as it does a great job treading the line between dark caramel/toffee. People continue to tell me torrified barley can easily be replaced with flaked barley. It’s not a matter of ‘ease’ to replace. It’s a matter of change in flavor. I very much prefer the terrified stuff however it’s hard to find so if you must, flake away… 18% cane sugar. You got that right. Plain old white sugar. You could use Invert No1 too. However, either way, make sure it’s ‘clear’.

Hops: I chose Goldings again because I have a bunch of nice ones. The hops are definitely not the showcase of this beer, just make sure you use some nice ones.

Yeast: Whitbread yeast. Two choices. Wyeast 1098 (more tart and dry) or Wyeast 1099/Safale S04 (more fruity and malty).

Sundries: Nothing fancy about this recipe. One of the very easiest to produce.

Cask: Standard procedure:
1) let the beer ferment until finished and then give it another day or so. For me right around 5-7 days.

2) Rack the beer to your vessel of choice (firkin, polypin, cornie, whatever).

3) Add primings at ~3.5g/L
4) Add prepared isinglass at 1ml/L
5) ONLY add dry hops at 0.25g/l – 1g/L.
6) Bung it up and roll it around to mix. Condition at 55F or so for 4-5 days and its ready to go. Spile/vent. Tap. Settle. Serve at 55F.


The Beer Nut said...

I'd be interested to know the what-happens-next part of the story: presumably at some point along the line Tankard evolved into the modern Whitbread keg bitter. Was it just a re-badging?

Ron Pattinson said...

Beer Nut,

how strong is the current keg Bitter? It's possible it could also be a reabdging of PA/Trophy.

The Beer Nut said...

Seems to be around the 3.5% ABV mark.

Tom said...

Trophy Bitter is still around at 3.6%.

Whitbread Best Bitter is 3.5% ABV.

I think the Mild is retired. It's not on any wholesale lists that I've seen. And the last rating of it on RateBeer was in 2007.

Ron Pattinson said...

3.5% sounds like Trophy.

Tom said...

I heard somewhere that Trophy was different all across the country, and was simply the flagship bitter of breweries that Whitbread had taken over, with a common branding.

This might make sense, as the former Castle Eden Trophy exists today as "Trophy Special", brewed by Camerons, and independent from the InBev Trophy Bitter.

Tom said...

Your wrong about Trophy and Tankard first appearing in the 1970s.

They're mentioned as showing strong growth in the Annual Statement ending March 31, 1969.

Source: The Guardian (1959-2003) [London (UK)] 26 Aug 1969: 10.

Tom said...

Dispensing Whitbread Trophy in September 1968

"Whitbread." Times [London, England] 17 Sept. 1968: 12. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 4 Dec. 2013.

Rob said...

I keg the fuck out of almost all my homebrews.

I will fizz this one up, if I make it, but I promise not to filter or pasteurize it.

Kristen England said...

Not that it means piddle but I find records of Whitbreads 'Tankard' ale well back into the early 1960's in both the Economist and International Brewer's journal. This above statement I have just written adds absolutely nothing to this conversation. :)

Korev said...

When I was serving behind the bar in 1971 Titbred Wankard Keg was a thin, astringent, and watery beer but seemed to have some devotees!

Unknown said...

That's a cracking beer name.

Ron Pattinson said...


that's true. At one time there were a dozen or more different beers called Trophy.

Anonymous said...

Just a comment about adjunct usage: even if you don't consider sugar an adjunct, (which all contemporary brewing texts I've seen will disagree with), torrified barley is most certainly an adjunct as it is not malted. So, Whitbread was most definitely using adjuncts if this recipe is accurate.

Ron Pattinson said...

Sam Tierney,

I forgot this one had torrefied barley in it.

I go by 19th-century usage and in that sugar is a malt substitute, not an adjunct.

Des Petty said...

Hi, I was a dink (Australian) doing submarine training in Portsmouth 1969,witbread tanknkard at the Golden fleece was my favorite tipple. Had been available prior that date I would think but cannot say for sure. Great beer, great pub. Probably a little rough by today's standards.

Des Petty said...

I was a dink (Australian) doing submarine training at Portsmouth in 1969.whitbread Tankard was my favorite beer at the Golden fleece pub. Tankard must have been available before then. Great beer, great pub but probably a little rough by today's standards.