Saturday, 23 April 2016

Historic Williamsburg day two

I meet Paul and Jamie at eight for breakfast. Martyn Cornell joins us.

Yesterday my breakfast arrived pretty sharpish. But it’s more crowded today. We have a bit of a wait. Other than Martyn, who’s just having  muffin. While I insist on a full set of fried stuff when on holiday. We’re not finished until after the first presentation has started. Which isn’t great.

It was a shame we miss the start of Travis Rupp’s presentation about brewing in ancient Greece. But at least our bellies are filled with grease. It’s a topic I know bugger all about. I knew they had a word for beer, but I’d always thought of the ancient Greeks as wine drinkers. I mean, Homer doesn’t go on about the ale-dark sea, does he?

Stan Hieronymus is up next. With look at indigenous beer and whether there is such a thing in the US. I think you can argue both ways. On the one hand, American styles are clearly derived from a couple of European brewing traditions. On the other, there are beers unlike anything brewed anywhere else. Things like Swankey and Steam Beer.

After a quick coffee, Karen Fortmann of White Labs analyses the family tree of yeast. It’s at times like these when I realise how narrow my beer knowledge is. That’s what it is, beer knowledge. I know bugger all about hops, yeast or even malting. And, being realistic, I’m never going to be an expert in those subjects.

We break for lunch at noon and a bunch of us head over to DoG Street Pub again. But it’s already crowded with conference guests. So we try next door at Trellis instead. We’re quite a large group, but just about manage to squeeze in.

It’s not a beer specialist place by any means. But they still have 7 decent draught beers, including the Vienna Lager from Devil’s Backbone, which is a cracking beer. Though I go for something IPA-ey instead. And a sarnie.

We continues after lunch with a talk from Fredrik Ruis from The Netherlands about the history of brewing with hops. He has some fascinating maps showing where evidence of  hops was found in archaeological sites. It’s a surprise to me that a lot of the early finds were along the Baltic and North Sea coasts.

He has an interesting new theory about the nature of gruit. That it wasn’t just a blend of herbs but also contained some sort of concentrated wort syrup. I’m not totally convinced, but it isn’t something I’ve investigated at any depth.

Next I’m up. Doing my narrating bit for Andrea Stanley of Valley Malt and John Mallett of Bells. Frank Clark, the conference organiser, gives me a funny look as I edge my way towards the podium. I guess they haven’t told him I’m taking part as well.

The talk, called Maltster-piece Theatre, is really a play. Andrea and John, both in costume, play two female brewers and maltsters, one from England and one from the American colonies. A very clever piece, it uses quotes from original sources and mixes historical fact with humour. It’s a big hit.

Frank tells me later that he thought I’d gone crazy and had forgotten that my talk is tomorrow.

The day ends with former Guinness man Ed Bourke talking about the history of brewing in Ireland. Obviously, with a fair emphasis on Guinness. He makes some interesting points about the colour of Guinness in the late 18th century. They must have been getting some colour from something other than malt. He speculates that it could have been from charred barrels.

Looking at the grist, he has a point. A Stout grist for 1796 is 30% brown malt, 70% pale. That’s not going to yield a very dark wort. Where were they getting colour from? I can’t see how charred barrels will do the job. The beer wouldn’t be long enough in trade casks to pick up much colour. And for long storage Porter was in huge vats, where little beer was in contact with wood.

My bet would be either some sort of burnt sugar, liquorice, or a combination of the two. Ed did remark that Dublin brewers used ingredients which weren’t allowed. It would be interesting to see how long they boiled, too. They could have been darkening the wort through a long boil.

There’s a beer and food pairing thing back in my hotel. With just enough food for me not to bother with dinner. Then there’s one of the most exciting part of the weekend:  the old beer tasting.

It came about like this. Chris Bowen, Martyn Cornell and I reminisced in the weeks before the conference about the Arctic Ale tasting at Martyn’s a couple of years ago. Someone suggested we bring along old beers to the conference for a tasting. And so we did. Others. Too.

We all tipped down to Paul and Jamie’s room, bringing along our precious old booze. I brought 20-year-old Liefman’s Goudenband and Cantillon Rosé de Gamrinus and Hertog Jan Grande Prestige of a similar vintage. And a 1930’s Truman No. 1 Barley Wine. Chris had some John Smiths nips from the 1950’s, including the Coronation Ale I’ve written about. Martyn had Whitbread Celebration Ale and other goodies.

It’s amazing how many people you can cram into a hotel room when there’s special beer on offer. About half the conference attendees were there. What a fun time.

A quick Michters Rye closes the day. It’s a big one tomorrow. Day, I mean. When I do my talking thing. Can’t wait.

DoG Street Pub
401 W Duke of Gloucester St,
Williamsburg, VA 23185.

The Trellis Bar and Grill
403 W Duke of Gloucester St,
Williamsburg, VA 23185.
Tel: +1 757-229-8610


Anonymous said...

Can you tell us anything moee about all those grand old beers you tried?

Thom Farrell said...

Any tasting notes for the John Smith's nips?

J. Karanka said...

Hey Ron! The gruit concoction you mention reminds me of the secret concoction in West Country White Ale. Maybe the world's earliest home brew kit?

Lady Luck Brewing said...

How does one get invited to the next old beer tasting?
I would like to see some tasting notes from those old tastings...

Frank Clark said...

Ron, That was so incredible, thanks for letting me taste the oldest beers I have drank in my life and they were all still pretty tasty and some dam good! plus being shoved in to Paul and Jamie's room made it that much better! Great night!