Thursday, 1 November 2012

Let's brew Wednesday - 1833 Vassar Pale Double Ale

It's been a while since the last recipe. A slight miscommunication between Kristen and me is the reason.

Publishing American Ale recipes is so much fun. Maybe we'll go for something from Amsdell next. That would allow you to see how much brewing in the Hudson Valley changed during the 19th century. You'll have to excuse my excitement. This American stuff is still very new to me.

One word up front: this is not a Pale Ale in the Hodgson, Burton, India sense. No, this is a Pale Ale in the 18th-century meaning of the term. That is, a relatively lightly-hopped beer brewed from pale malt. More like a Light Mild, really.

Vassar's Pale Ale is a funny beast. Much about it is counterintuitive. Like, for example, the level of attenuation. You'd expect beer made from pale malt to attenuate better than that made from amber malt. The opposite was true at Vassar. Their Amber Ale was more highly attenuated than their Pale Ale.

Though there was quite a lot of variation in attenuation at Vassar. There were two Pale Ales on the image I sent to Kristen and he's picked the one with the worst attenuation. It was so poorly attenuated that the batch was mixed with a previous brew of Double Ale, presumably to remedy the effect of the dodgy fermentation. The Double Ale had a more respectable FG of 1036. Most of Vassar's Pale Ales had an FG in the range 1042-1047º, so don't worry if your attenuation is better than in the recipe.

Even with the lower FG, I can't think of a modern beer that is even vaguely like Vassar's Pale Ale. Sure, there are similar beers from the past. Like William Younger's 120/- or 140/- from the mid-19th century. They have a similar combination of modest hopping and high finishing gravity. I keep trying to get someone to brew one of those babies commercially, so far with no success.

That's me done for now. I think I see Kristen in the distance . . . . yes, that's him . . . . .

Vassar  - 1833 - Pale ale

General info:

Holy buckets this thing is obese! Such a big beer to finish so high…higher than the vast majority of the world's beers start is really unique. This is a malt bomb to be sure. Please care to pack your insulin.

Beer Specifics

Recipe by percentages

Gravity (OG)

100% American pale malt
0% 0

Gravity (FG)

0% 0
0% 0


0% 0
0% 0

Apparent attenuation

0% 0
0% 0

Real attenuation

0% 0
0% 0


0% 0





Caramel to add

1.25 hours

Homebrew @ 70%
Craft @ 90%




American pale malt
19.28 lb

10.628 kg

1859.92 lb

718.61 kg



Cluster 7% 90min (69bu)
3.30 oz

93.5 g

409.02 oz

9.882 kg

Cluster 7% 30min (21bu)
1.41 oz

40.1 g

175.29 oz

4.235 kg

68°F /20°C


1332 Northwest Ale Yeast  -

Tasting Notes:

Big, sweet malt. Tons of bread dough and honeyed biscuits. Spicy, piney and dank. Green tea resin really dries up the middle…as well as can be anyway. Thick and sweet well into the finish.

Kristen’s Version:

Follow the guidelines I wrote for the Vassar 1884 Double Ale.


Edward said...

How would such a high FG have been accomplished back in 1833? Was it intentional? Did they have the ability to stop fermentation or was it a result of the malting process or the alcohol tolerance of the yeast?

Gary Gillman said...

Very interesting. Mark: this may be the kind of beer that is the lost progenitor to India Pale Ale. The year is a bit early, especially in distant America, for IPA to have taken hold. Emigrants in the early 1800's would have had memories of different beers, October beers, mild ales, strong ales, old ales. This iteration of 1700's pale ale - a weaker version of pale country - may be the kind of beer Hodgson turned into pale ale for India.

The heavy extract would not have suited shipment, the beer would have fretted and blown up the casks in those days before fine filtration. One may note that the ABV is not the stiff ABV of the gentry pale ales that are broadly the progenitor to IP, but rather an India pale ale-like ABV.

I would infer again that there was a weaker version of strong pale ale in the 1700's with this level of alcohol. Hodgson and others turned that into IPA by making a much drier and more bitter pale beer than had theretofore existed in that ABV zone.

Prior to that, there was no beer really in that bracket. October beer was too strong albeit it had the hops; mild and old ale were also too strong; porter had more of the attenuation and alcohol India wanted but it was a dark brown/black and clearly the market wanted something paler and less empyreumatic. (Possibly this was a class preference).

Ditto for amber, that darkish beer of the 1700's that wasn't a porter but had no paleness inherited fron the first, unhopped ales.

Hodgson looked around (I infer again) and saw that this pale ale, preserved into the 1800's in distant America, was the closest beer to what would stand re-tooling for Empire. Some of the shilling ales that survived into the same era in Scotland provide another analogy, and what it shares too with the Vassar is regional isolation, isolation from the nerve centre of top-fermentation brewing - England.


Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, this has nothing to do with the modern concept of Pale Ale or IPA. As I wrote in the post, it's really a strong Mild Ale. I'm certain that it has not the slightest connection with the origin of IPA.

Ron Pattinson said...

Edward, not sure is the honest answer. This brew seemed to have had problems in the fermentation. All the other brews of it had a lower FG.

Gary Gillman said...

Ron,is 6.29% alcohol "strong" for mild ale circa-1800? As you pointed out in May, 2008 on the blog:

"We're now at the early years of the 19th century. The start of the period for which I've seen brewing records. This is also the period when the X system of classifying Ales came into use. The base level Mild Ale, X Ale, had an OG of around 1070º in the 1830's. That's stronger than Pale Ale, which was 1060-1065º."

I agree that the Vassar mild ale is different to IPA, but I would infer that that kind of ale was modified to make what became IPA. Colour is the same, alcohol level very similar. It was just made less sweet and more bitter. It has been theorized eg. by Martyn as I understand his writing on it, that pale October beer was the predecessor to IPA. But here in the form of this Vassar and some of the shilling ales in Scotland, you actually have a beer (in the modern sense) with the "target" ABV for India and the right colour.

Perhaps IPA is an amalgam of pale October and the kind of pale ale represented by the Vassar.


Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, I was referring to an X Ale in that quote. This is an XXX Ale or XXXX Ale.

Gary brewers weren't aiming for ABV targets. They aimed for OG's.

This is just a paler version of their Amber Ale. To be honest, I can't think of anything more unlike an IPA than this or a Edinburgh Shilling Ale. All they have in common is colour.

Craig said...

IPA was a known entity in the U.S. by the 1830s.

Gary Gillman said...

The Vassar and the typical 1800's IPA have the same amount of alcohol virtually, not just the same colour. That is significant IMO.

The brewers would have known how strong their beers were, drinkers would have recognized it too, e.g. Combrune complained of the "over-strength" of brown stout.

Something that is modified or adapted can indeed look quite different than the original...


Martyn Cornell said...

I'm sure Ron's absolutely right that this is the "pale ale" in the 18th century sense that ale brewers would have made in London - strong, pale, lightly hopped. If you could get hold of a recipe from the same period or a decade or so earlier from one of the London ale brewers, such as Charrington or Goding, I bet it would be just like this.

How was this related to the "pale ale as prepared for India" that was being mentioned from at least 1817? I genuinely wouldn't like to guess.

Gary Gillman said...

This Vassar beer is the same strength (6.3% ABV) of "common ale" as reported by Richardson. 1700's pale ale was typically much stronger according to the tables and inferential calculations on Ron's European Beer Pages, showing e.g. a calculated 8.04-9%+ ABV depending on source (London & Country Brewer, Combrune).

The fact that the Vassar was very sweet does not make it strong in any sense that would have been meaningful to consumers, IMO.

I am making observations, I am not trying to prove anything. I think Hodgson may well have looked at the beers around him and said, I need a beer that has a combination of their qualities: the strength and colour of a 6% pale ale and the hop levels and attenuation of long-stored strong beer. That is what I think may well have occurred, I could well be wrong, but I could be right. No theory I have read as to India pale ale origin is exempt from similar speculation and guessing if you will, the record is simply too distant and fragmentary to be certain of anything here.