Thursday, 14 February 2008

Burton Ale III

It's amazing how much you unearth once you really start digging. Getting me excited enough to grab a spade is easy, especially when the name Burton is mentioned.

Burton's fame as a brewing centre reaches far further back than the history of Pale Ale. Before Bass and his contemporaries turned to the production of India Ale, the town was famous for its strong Brown Ales. Hang on a minute - haven't all the texts I've quoted so far referred to a beer made from 100% pale malt? Er, yes. There is a reason, but I'll get to that later.

"Burton -Ale.
As in other brown ales, high dried malt is essential; the same is also required for burton ale. For one hogshead of burton, use five bushels of the best brown malt, and four pounds and a half of hops: proceed according to former directions, and infuse into the liquor, when boiling, the undermentioned articles — -viz.

Six pounds Molasses,
Two ounces bruised Ginger,
Four ditto Hartshorn Shavings,
Two ditto Salt,
Two ditto Coriander Seed.

Rack the contents in the space of ten days after the fermentation has ceased; then add three pounds of oat, barley, or wheat meal, and let it remain undisturbed about three months, then it will be fit for the tankard, and for those that are amateurs of burton ale."

"The spirit, wine dealer's and publican's director" by Edward Palmer, 1824, pages 230 – 232
All the sources had talked of a 100% pale malt beer until now. Why does this one suddenly suggest brown malt instead? Simple - because it's out of date.

The hydrometer sparked a revolution in British brewing. In the first half of the 18th century three base malts were used: pale, amber and brown. Pale, being the most expensive, was generally only used for the most expensive beers. Brown, the cheapest, was very popular in products aimed at the masses. That's why Porter was orignally a brown malt beer. When, through use of the hydrometer, brewers were able to analyse the amount of fermentable material they obtained from a quantity of malt, they realised that pale malt offered much better value for money. Though more expensive than brown, its yield was far greater.

Increases in malt tax to help finance the Napoleonic Wars further incentivised brewers to reduce the amount of malt they used. As a result, brown malt was abandoned as a base, even for Porter. During the 19th century pretty well all British beers use pale as their base malt. As a dark colour was considered essential for Porter, some coloured malts were used. Where other beers were concerned, the public doesn't seem to have been as fussy. In the 18th century there had been Pale, Amber and Brown Ales, in descending order of price. As pale-coloured Ales had been pricier and posher, I guess drinkers weren't too bothered when all Ales became pale.

(In case you get confused, I'll point out that the Pale Ale I'm talking of here is not what we think of as Pale Ale today. It was lightly-hopped - more like a Light Mild, really. In the 19th century X Ales were usually pale in colour, but with fewer hops and a lesser degree of attenuation than Pale Ale.)

At the end of the 19th century, fashion turned back to darker beers and Ales became darker again. Which is why Burton in the 1930's and 1950's was dark. Confusing, isn't it. Mild did something similar, moving from pale to amber to dark in the period 1890 to 1940. Barley Wine, in contrast, changed from dark to pale in the 1950's and 1960's.

Getting back to the passage quoted above, I'm certain that by the time it was published Burtion Ale was no longer made in the manner described. What it describes is the practice of several decades earlier.

Five bushels and 4.5 pounds of hops to a hogshead (1.5 barrels) is about 2.4 barrels from a quarter of malt, hopped at 7.2 pounds per quarter. I make the OG only about 1062, much lower than the other examples we've seen. You can see from all the other weird stuff put into it that this was a recipe intended for the use of domestic brewers.

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