Thursday, 19 December 2013

Let's Brew Wednesday - 1971 Whitbread Final Selection

Aren't you a lucky bunch? Recipes two days in a row. After I'd pre-emptively published a solo recipe yesterday, Kristen's recipe landed in my inbox. As we've a very special beer planned for next Wednesday, I may as well post this one straight away.

Despite being brewed about the time I started drinking, this is a beer that completely passed me by. The first time I heard of it was when I found a label. It seemed a bit of an odd name for a beer. (A bit too close to Final Solution for comfort.) And I wondered what the hell it had been.

I'm glad that I had seen the label, because when I stumbled across something called FSA in Whitbread's brewing records, I knew immediately what it was.

Whitbread were never big on strong beers after WW I. In the 1930's, their strongest beer was their Burton, which peaked at about 1060º. In the 1950's, after they axed Double Brown, 1050º was the strongest beer they brewed. Barclay Perkins, on the other hand, brewed several strong beers between the wars: Olde Southwark Ale at 1070º, BBS Ex and KKK both at 1079º and Russian Stout at 1102º.

My first sighting of Final Selection was in the 1971 records. It could have been first brewed earlier than that. The trademark application was in 1969. It runs out in May next year. I wonder if it will be renewed? Could be a business opportunity for me there.

For the early 1970's, 9% ABV was pretty damn strong, even for a bottled beer. Of course, with its very high degree of attenuation (some examples are 95% attenuated) they were squeezing as much out of the gravity as they could. Which made sense when the tax was on the OG of the wort rather than the alcohol content of the finished beer. I'm surprised a bit at the quantities they brewed: 250 to 350 barrels per batch. Then again, a couple of hundred barrels was probably their minimum brew length for beers brewed single gyle.

What style would I call this? Strong Ale. That's a cop out, I know. It could just as well be called an Old Ale, or even a Barley Wine. But, as you can see from the label, Whitbread called it none of those, just describing it on the label as "Extra Strong Ale". So I'll just stick with Strong Ale.

What about the beer itself? It's not really quite like anything else Whitbread brewed. It's not that similar to their KKKK or Double Brown, which both contained No. 3 invert but no crystal malt. And a much lower degree of attenuation.

The sugar in the original was WSM, which I think stands for Whitbread Special Mix. Not sure of its composition, but, as it was used in pale beers, it can't have been that dark. No. 2 invert seems a good guess.

One last note on the recipe. The original contained some hop extract. I can understand why you might not want to use that.

On that happy note, over to Kristen . . . . . .

Kristen’s Version:

Notes: I’m not sure what this beer is supposed to be. It really does look like those sexy late 1920’s K-type ales. Even though it’s got a bit more chocolate in there. The sugar seems to be a bit higher too but hey, it looks pretty nice so any of you blokes that remember this beast, pipe up!

Malt: I’m tired of using pale malt. I want some mild malt in here! Specifically, I’m not sure this malt wasn’t mild malt! Ok, I’m actually pretty damn sure it didn’t have mild malt but the hell with it. I want mild malt so here we are. You want pale malt, go ahead. Maris otter would be a great choice! A deep, dark and really characterful crystal malt but one that isn’t roasty. I like the Fawcett or Simpsons stuff. Your favorite chocolate as long as its not crappy…something with elegance…though I guess you could argue it doesn’t make a huge difference because of the little that is used. Same deal as last recipe, we are treating their special sugar mix approximating No2 invert. Seems to work for the numbers for sure.
Hops: Goldings goldings and more goldings. Meh. I love Goldings. Seeing that I’m bored with pale malt, might as well open the door for non-Goldings too. Choose something that’s got a bit of heft to it but that doesn’t smell like hobo pee. Maybe some Pilgrim, Boadicea or even First Gold. Go nuts! Don’t be dumb though. This beer is about the hops supporting the big malt. There were no dry hops, but I added them, so yeah, I did. Feel free to add whatever you’d like, as long as its not dumb, or Citra/Mosaic…which is pretty much the same thing. Definitely don’t add any Onioned-crotch-water (Summit hop)

Yeast: Whitbread yeast. Two choices. Wyeast 1098 (more tart and dry) or Wyeast 1099/Safale S04 (more fruity and malty). Which ever you’ve done before, do the other. West Yorkshire would work really well in this too!

Sundries: Please do to notice the final gravity. This is dry. Notice the mash. It’s very low. This best is pretty damn thick too. So, thick mash with low temp. Add tons of yeast and oxygen will get you to finish this beer properly.

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.

***Cask note – this one could go for a bit more dry hop than most so feel free to wank away…other than the aforementioned hops…but it’s yours, so tell me to toss off.


Tony Clifton said...

It pleases me that upon seeing the name "The Final Solution" I wasn't the only person to immediately have that crappy 80's song pop into my head.


Gazza Prescott said...

S04 attenuation over 80%? Good luck with that !!!

Kristen England said...


3mill cells/ml/deg plato + heavy oxygen I can get well over 80% pretty easily! I don't use that yeast a lot, as I'm not a huge fan, but it can definitely be done!

Manfarang said...

Final Selection was the cheapest bottled beer in the pub with a taste to match.
An alcoholics friend.

Roel Mulder said...

Hi Ron, interestingly, Final Selection was already sold in April 1966, in Rotterdam of all places. The Dutch newspaper describes it as a 10 % alcohol beer. You can read the full story of the advent of English pubs to the Netherlands from 1965 onwards here:

Unknown said...

I just picked up an unopened bottle. No idea how old it is and I'm sure that it'll taste nothing like it did 20-30+ years ago, but it's still be interesting to try it