Sunday, 22 May 2011

Burton Ale in the 1790's

Here's a funny one. The text below comes from one book ("The art of brewing" by David Booth), but is copied from another that first appeared 30 years earlier ("Philosophical Principles of the Science of Brewing." by Richardson). That's an easy way to write books, copying large chunks of other people's. Er, hang on. That's sort of what I do. I keep telling you nothing's new. Not even what I do.

I would have gone to the original, but, annoyingly, that isn't available on Google Books. I could buy a reprint, but I made a solemn promise to Dolores. I can't let her down again.

This description of Burton Ale contains some vital clues to the nature of the beer brewed in Burton before Pale Ale. See if you can spot what they are.

Art. VI.—For Burton Ale.

This is made from the palest malt and hops; for, if it be not pale as a straw it will not pass with the connoisseurs in that article; and the gravity being so very high as thirty-six to forty pounds a barrel, makes it a matter of great nicety to get malt sufficiently pale.

If the malt be not very good, only one mash must be made for this liquor; but if it be good, two mashes may take place, adverting still to the great specific gravity which ought to be produced.

The heat of the liquor should be 185°, or 190°, adding 5º for the second, if a second mash be made; and the time of infusion may be the same as that mentioned under the article Mild Ale in general.

If only one wort be made, it may be boiled an hour and a quarter; if two, they may be boiled three-quarters of an hour the first, and an hour, or an hour and a quarter the second; remembering that long boiling is prejudicial to the colour.

The quantity of hops must be three-quarters of a pound per bushel of malt, or more, according to circumstances; but the more that are used, though an advantage as a preservative, the higher will be the colour of the ale.

The heat of fermentation should not much exceed 75°, and as the first heat would then probably be about 55°, the quantity of yeast, both on account of this circumstance, and the great weight of the wort, should not be less than three pounds per barrel, used as is before recommended; and the rule for cleansing is the same as that before inculcated.

It is to be racked into clean casks (without hops) when nearly pure, and the sizes of them are from 32 to 42 or 43 gallons (called half hogsheads), and from 70 to 80 gallons (called hogsheads), which are generally hooped with an equal number of iron and wooden hoops; the latter are white, flat, or broad bark hoops; a bar is put across each head, and the brewer's initials or name, with B or Burton at length, are branded in front in letters of about an inch and a quarter high; and the number of gallons which the cask holds is cut with a scribe-iron, just above the cork-hole.

The bung-hole is not above an inch and a quarter diameter, which is stopped with a wooden shive or bung, and a piece of triangular tin-plate is afterwards nailed over it.
"The art of brewing" by David Booth, 1829, pages 44 - 45. (Copy of text from Richardson's "Philosophical Principles of the Science of Brewing." 1798.)

Something's been troubling me about Burton Ale. The colour. More recently a deep brown colour has been associated with Burton Ales. But how long has that been true? I know in the first half of the 19th century everything but Porter and Stout were pale malt beers. Surely the same must have been true of Burton.

The first paragraph is unequivocal about the colour of Burton Ale: as pale as possible. And, in case you'd missed it, the need to keep the colour pale is mentioned in the section about hopping. 36 to 40 pounds gravity is 1100º to 1111º. So on the strong side.

0.75 lbs hops per bushel is 6 pounds per barrel. Or not very much. The suggested boiling times, 45 minutes to 1.25 hours, are quite short. Boils were usually at least 90 minutes. Especially for beers of such a high gravity.

A strike heat of 185° or 190° F seems very high. Maybe that was the idea: to get a large proportion of unfermentable sugars. There's plenty of other references to the sweetness of Burton Ale.

For an Ale this strong, pitching at 55º F and letting the temperature rise to a maximum of about 75º F tallies very much with 19th century practice. Though it differs from Booth's own recommendation for the style. Then again, his beer was a soup of noxious chemicals. Why should we trust him? A Truman XXXK Ale from 1840 (at 37.5 lbs per barrel gravity nicely in the range Richardson quotes) was pitched at 58.5º F, and reached a maximum of 77º F.

Burton Ale of the 1790's: pale, strong, sweet.

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