Sunday, 31 January 2021

Boddington Bitter 1971 - 1987

This question came up on Twitter: when did Boddington Bitter turn to shit? And why? Sometime it the 1980s, most likely, for the time. As to why, well, having a pretty good set of brewing records for the period in question, I decided to try to answer both questions.

One slight problem. I may possess photos of the years in question, but I hadn't processed them. Not totally, I'd done a couple of beers. Quite a bit of work to pull out all the examples of Boddies Bitter I'd need. I was intrigued, though. And it's a change form WW II stuff.

Despite appearing quite straightforward, Boddington's records contain a few traps. I won't bore you with the details.Except that I had to revisit records I'd already transcribed after I realised I was misinterpreting some of the information. That's always so much fun, having to go back over records you thought you were done with.

After a day or so's work I've assembled what I wanted.  I hope it was worth it.

We'll begin with the basic specs.

Boddington Bitter 1971 - 1987
Date Year OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation lbs hops/ qtr hops lb/brl barrels colour
4th Jan 1971 1035.5 1003 4.30 91.55% 5.52 0.88 113.5 12
28th Oct 1974 1034.5 1004 4.03 88.41% 5.19 0.75 113 13.5
28th Apr 1975 1034.5 1004.5 3.97 86.96% 5.85 0.81 111.75 13.04
29th Apr 1976 1034.5 1004 4.03 88.41% 5.91 0.74 228.5 17
18th Apr 1977 1034.5 1006.5 3.70 81.16% 5.22 0.79 227.75 15
30th Oct 1978 1040 1003 4.89 92.50% 5.59 1.37 41 18
17th Oct 1979 1034 1006.5 3.64 80.88% 5.29 0.82 440.75  
31st Dec 1979 1034 1008 3.44 76.47% 5.29 0.73 247.75 12
31st Mar 1980 1034 1007 3.57 79.41% 5.00 0.75 225.25 13
4th Jan 1982 1034 1005.5 3.77 83.82% 6.36 0.97 215.75 14.5
9th Jan 1984 1034 1007 3.57 79.41% 4.48 0.63 431.5 14
14th May 1984 1034 1005.5 3.77 83.82% 4.34 0.59 458.5 13
25th Mar 1985 1034 1007 3.57 79.41% 5.15 0.67 463.25 13.5
24th Feb 1986 1034 1005 3.84 85.29% 5.81 0.73 239.25 12.5
29th Dec 1987 1034 1006 3.70 82.35% 5.81 0.76 461.5 14
Boddington brewing records held at Manchester Central Library, document numbers M693/405/134, M693/405/135 and M693/405/136.
Boddington brewing record held at the Science and Industry Museum, Manchester, document number 2006.4/Z/7/1 and 2006.4/Z/7/2.

Not much to report there.A slight whittling down of the gravity, a bit of variation in hopping rate, attenuation falling a bit. Nothing that would hugely alter the character of the beer.

The story is very different when you look at the recipe. That changed considerably a couple of times. First we'll look at the grains.

Boddington Bitter grists 1971 - 1987
Date Year pale malt lager malt enzymic malt wheat malt flaked maize flaked rice
4th Jan 1971 60.69% 13.79% 2.76% 2.76% 2.07%  
28th Oct 1974 58.02% 15.27% 3.05% 3.05%   2.29%
28th Apr 1975 55.28% 16.26% 3.25% 3.25% 2.44%  
29th Apr 1976 55.65% 13.91% 3.48% 3.48% 2.61%  
18th Apr 1977 68.12% 14.49%        
30th Oct 1978 70.59% 14.71% 2.94%      
17th Oct 1979 85.29%   2.94%      
31st Dec 1979 85.29%   2.94%      
31st Mar 1980 85.29%   2.94%      
4th Jan 1982 84.85%   3.03%      
9th Jan 1984 96.32%   3.32%      
14th May 1984 96.44%   3.21%      
25th Mar 1985 96.32%   3.32%      
24th Feb 1986 96.32%   3.32%      
29th Dec 1987 96.32%   3.32%      
Boddington brewing records held at Manchester Central Library, document numbers M693/405/134, M693/405/135 and M693/405/136.
Boddington brewing record held at the Science and Industry Museum, Manchester, document number 2006.4/Z/7/1 and 2006.4/Z/7/2.

The grist changed drastically in 1977, with lager malt, wheat malt and unmalted grains being dropped. Enzymic malt briefly disappeared, too, soon to return. On the face of it, it's an improvement, with a higher malt content and no adjuncts.

At the same time, the sugars also were transformed.

Boddington Bitter sugars 1971 - 1987
Date Year malt extract glucose Flavex Br. FSI
4th Jan 1971 6.90%   5.52% 5.52%  
28th Oct 1974 6.11%   6.11% 6.11%  
28th Apr 1975 6.50%   6.50% 6.50%  
29th Apr 1976 6.96% 6.96% 6.96%    
18th Apr 1977 5.80% 5.80% 5.80%    
30th Oct 1978 7.35% 4.41%      
17th Oct 1979 7.35% 4.41%      
31st Dec 1979 7.35% 4.41%      
31st Mar 1980 7.35% 4.41%      
4th Jan 1982 7.58% 4.55%      
9th Jan 1984         0.36%
14th May 1984         0.34%
25th Mar 1985         0.36%
24th Feb 1986         0.36%
29th Dec 1987         0.36%
Boddington brewing records held at Manchester Central Library, document numbers M693/405/134, M693/405/135 and M693/405/136.
Boddington brewing record held at the Science and Industry Museum, Manchester, document number 2006.4/Z/7/1 and 2006.4/Z/7/2.

In 1976 Br. - whatever that might be - was replaced by glucose. Two years late, Flavex, some sort of proprietary sugar, reached the end of the road, too.

Next change was in 1983, when both malt extract and glucose in turn were disposed of, making way for FSI. I've no great confidence in the quantity of FSI. 24 is what went in each batch. Usually, the sugar column listed hundredweights. 24 cwts would make sugar 21% of the grist, which is rather high. And it would also make the grist too rich, offering more extract than the gravity and brew length demanded. 

On the other hand, 24 lbs seems far too little. I'm genuinely stumped.

Do any of these recipe changes coincide with a decline in the quality of Boddington's Bitter? Let me know if you think it does.


Michael Foster said...

Please don't ban me, but I rather like Boddington's. To be fair, I am too young to have had it in the 80s let alone earlier, but it is a decent middle of the road English ale in my opinion.

That said, I am a big fan of all of the big industrial English ales, Worthington's, Tetley's, John Smith's. Tetley's is one of my favorite beers of all time, much better than London Pride to my palate. These beers are best in cask with a beer engine but nitrogenated cans taste good too. So I probably just have awful taste in beer. It's worth noting I'm not English, which may be part of the problem.

Anyhow, what exactly is the complaint about modern English large scale ales like Boddingtons and the above? Is it that they're too bland? In my opinion their delicate balance of malts and hops is what makes them so good, and much better than American IPAs which just try to throw as much hops at you as possible.

I probably should have written this comment anonymously.

qq said...

Great stuff Ron, thanks for taking the time to do this. I don't think the decline of Boddies was down to any single factor, more a mixture driven by management perceiving a need to make it more "mass-market" as a response to the rise of lager in the hot summers of 75/76 and the generally crap economic situation particularly in the industrial areas of the north. You've mentioned in the past how they moved to older hops, which is a cunning way to save a few quid and make it less bitter, whilst pretending that the recipe is the same.

Reading the folk memory in the comments of the various B&B articles about Boddies it feels like the rot started around 1977 - which corresponds here to them dropping the wheat and maize and seeing a big drop in attenuation.

Then there seems to be a period of inconsistency from an attenuation POV at least - 81%, 93%, 81%, 76% !!!!!That's chaotic - perhaps when they were messing around with recipes, or was this when they lost the yeast???). I'd be interested in poking around that period in more detail. That 92.5% AA 1978 brew looks alround weird - only 41 barrels? Are you sure that's the "regular" bitter and not something to do with their bicentenary celebrations that year?

The attenuation is a big part of the story, as it's the dryness and bitterness that people most comment on - and Tony Leach's clone as published by B&B and which was approved by Good Old Boys who had drunk the original, was only 28.7 IBU calculated (80% BU:GU).

By 1979 people seem to be thinking "it's not quite what it used to be". SSM CAMRA in 1987 had this to say :
"the re-equipment of the brewery employed traditional brewing methods, simply scaled up. While brewing methods and recipes have not changed [!!!!], though, the same cannot be said for the raw materials used. In particular around 1980 the brewery switched from classic malting barley varieties to a German-originated variety called Triumph, of which many brewers are privately scathing; while it would be wrong to exaggerate the change in character of the bitter to a blander brew, the trend is certainly there and suspicion must fall on this raw material switch as a contributory factor."

That first statement suggests they were still using squares/open fermentation?

I wonder if the switch to Triumf coincided with the dropping of lager malt, so in fact happened with the 1979 harvest? ISTR you proudly mentioning Newark as the source of their malt, do you know what "classic malting varieties" they would have been malting in the 70s? Probably a bit too far south for Golden Promise? Is 1979 too late for Otter as a mainstream commercial malt?

qq said...

Then there seems to have been a step-change some time around 1981-2. It's been suggested that they changed the recipe in order to get it into the pubs of their 31% shareholder Whitbread, and it started appearing down south in 1983 ( ). That would seem to coincide with a major recipe change - dropping almost all the sugars, but it's not clear why that would be a bad thing. Can you see when exactly that happened?

However the apparent attenuation doesn't seem to change much which maybe points to process changes that did bugger it up? B&B have mentioned that the mash went from an hour in 1968 to 2.5 hours in 1982, and the fermentation went from 7 to 6 days. Is it easy to see when those changes happened?

1984 sees the first drop below 0.73lb/brl hopping but that could just mean a low-alpha year, hard to draw too many conclusions there but perhaps there is a systematic drop in hopping. You've mentioned in the past that they went from 7lb/qtr to 5lb/qtr between the war and 1980, but that can be explained by a rise in average alpha from a blend of say 3.6% alpha to 5%, by the replacement of Fuggles (which had been devastated by wilt) with more disease-resistant modern varieties with more alpha. Tony Leach mentions they had access to Fuggles, Goldings, WGV, Styrians, Northern Brewer and Bramling Cross.

Some of the colour change can be explained by B&B's reference to changes in priming sugars in a Roger Protz interview with some Boddies managers :
‘The brewery had used a blend of of cane sugar and a variety called Ambrose… When [Tate & Lyle] phased it out Boddington’s switched to another blend from the same company called DAS… Kendel and Laws think that stands for “dark ale syrup”, a singularly inappropriate name for Boddington’s Bitter.’

Finally, I'd love to hear from anyone who knows more about what happened with the Boddies yeast. Clearly the Tadcaster yeast they acquired after the brewery was destroyed in WWII was diastatic - do we know if it was phenolic at all? Diastatic yeast usually are, but the British ones tend to be fairly weakly so, and British processes tend to minimise the phenolics although you can still pick them up in beers like Harveys. Ray suggests he heard somewhere that they cleaned up the yeast at some point, which is plausible as a lot of breweries did that in the 1970s. But did they lose it altogether at some point, or was a conscious decision made to replace it with the Whitbread yeast?

US homebrewers are convinced that Wyeast 1318 London Ale III is from Boddies, which clearly makes no sense from a naming POV. Also it has a quoted attenuation of 71-75% so is clearly not the beast of Tadcaster. However we now know from DNA sequencing that 1318 is very a close relative of WLP017 Whitbread II and Wyeast 1098, traditionally said to be a homebrew version of Whitbread Dry.

So the assumption must be that the "London" in 1318 is Whitbread and it comes from a "Whitbread" brewery that was brewing Boddies at some point. Was that Strangeways in the 1990s or was it keg/smallpack Boddies brewed at Magor/Samlesbury/Wellpark after Strangeways was closed? Did the Export/Pub Ale sold in the US use Whitbread yeast at Strangeways even while cask Boddies used the Tadcaster yeast, or was the Tadcaster yeast dropped much earlier?

Tony Leach suggests using Nottingham for his clone, which seems a fair shout for a yeast that's easily available. WLP038 Manchester is an obscure Vault strain that has a great reputation and looks more northern but is almost never available, do we know where that comes from? My feeling is that the best option for cloning 1970s Boddies is Omega's Gulo yeast, which is a non-phenolic hybrid of their Irish yeast and a saison, with a quoted attenuation of 85-90%.

Ron Pattinson said...


I'll be discussing all your comments in a future post. Great stuff.

Russell Gibbon said...

Yes, the qq comments here are fascinating . . . really making me think. Sadly, it is quite likely that Ron could detail the decline of a whole lot of other big name beers over the past 40 years. Fact is, big companies seek greater profit and cut corners in all sorts of ways in order to make a piss poor beer that "reaches the masses." I first sampled Boddington´s Bitter at university in 1978, so already things had plummeted by then. I last had a Boddies in 2017 and for sure, it was a poor quality beer well below that of 1978. Ron has posted quite a few Boddington´s Bitter recipes that pre-date the 1977 decline. I think that it would be great if a bunch of homebrewers such as myself took it on to brew all of Ron´s pre-1977 BB recipes, to find out which comes out on top.

Tandleman said...

Fascinating. Looking forward to reading more.