Thursday 4 February 2021

Boddington Bitter 1971 - 1987 (part three)

This time I'm going to try to answer the points made nu qq in the comments of the first post. Here goes.

"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."

Boddington really upped their output in the 1970s. In 1973 and 1974 they added new 500 barrel fermenters. As their brew length was 125 barrels, it meant they needed to make four brews to fill these vessels. They did retain the 125 barrel and 260 barrel fermenters they already had. On April 1977 they changed their brewhouse as the brew length increased to 250 barrels. Though they did for a time to continue to brew on the older, smaller plant. The new brew house coincided with the change in the recipe where the wheat and maize were dropped.

It's hard to say too much about the age of the hops as the harvest year was only occasionally recorded.

"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???)." 

The FG is very inconsistent, ranging between 1003.5 and 1008.5. And while it does seem average out a little higher after 1978, it's no more than 1º or 2º.

"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?"

As far as I can tell it was a one-off, parti-gyled with a standard version.

"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.""

As I've shown, the recipe did change in the 1970s. Not sure if the barley variety really affected the character of the beer that much.

"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?"

I really don't know which varieties were in use then. Given how quickly varieties come and go, there would have been several different ones in the 1970s.

"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?"

I'm afraid not. I have only a few photos from the relevant brewing record and they aren't even mine. I got them from Boak & Bailey. None at all from 1983 when the change seems to have taken place.

"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?"

That's a very simplistic view of the mashing. I'll be honest: I don't understand it. Every day there were multiple brews and the "time waiting" varies considerably. In 1966, over a couple of days this varied from 50 minutes to 165 minutes. Over 2 days on 1885, the extremes were 90 minutes and 190 minutes.

The length of fermentation was either 6 or 7 days. In the 1970s, it was sometimes 5 days, but generally it was 6 or 7 days from the 1960s to the 1980s.

"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.’"

I don't know anything about the priming sugars, other than that they had a relatively low OG - 1005º to 1010º. At Barclay Perkins it was 1045º to 1055º.

"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?"

In a record from 1984 it says "New culture" in the yeast column. Maybe this is when the y changed yeast. Though it isn't in red ink as you would expect for such a big change. The sourse is given as "ex YPU 2" and not a fermenting vessel, which it was usually was.

"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?"

I don't have an answer to those questions. It would be nice to get hold of a former Boddingtons brewer who would be able to shed more light on the yeasts used.


qq said...

Thanks for all the time you've spent on this. That's interesting about the bigger brewlength in 1977, I've not seen anything on that before, although it's hinted at in Ewart's Wiki article : which quotes the Times of 11 November 1977 ("Boddingtons wants a penny on a pint as it strives to brew enough ale") "In 1977, Boddingtons increased its beer sales by 24%, despite national beer sales stagnating", Might be interesting for someone with access to newspaper archives to have a dig around some of the references in that article. General impression is that things were going well for them through the 70s (perhaps helped by some blandification???) and there seems to have been an element of "we're alright, people will always drink ale" (typified by the Oldham deal in 82) until it went a bit wrong financially in 1982-4 after which the tone was more "well maybe we do need to jump on board the lager bandwagon", leading to the Higson acquisition in 1985.

The 1984 new yeast is interesting, although one's first assumption would be that it's just a "routine" replacement from stock that would happen every couple of months. Presumably YPU is Yeast Propagation Unit(ank)? But maybe that's the yeast clean-up that Ray mentioned, or maybe it is a new (Whitbread???) yeast.

I think the change of barley would have had some effect - perhaps not as much as CAMRA make out but you can tell the difference in the generational shift between Otter and more modern varieties, if not between modern varieties.

Same with the hops - going from hops from the current vintage to ones that are 2/3/4 years old would have had a bit of an effect but not huge. Overall it feels like death by a thousand cuts - if you are known for bitterness and dryness, then just a few points of FG and older hops might be enough to take you from standing out to being more like the rest of the crowd, and that's what people noticed - the difference between Boddies and others was much less, rather than the absolute size of the changes.

I'm unlikely to get to Manchester until next MBCF, but if the Science Museum can get things to London then I'll go into town when things open up again and have a poke around. Have you seen anything from the water book?

Sheffield Hatter said...

This is a subject that holds great interest for me, as I "discovered" Boddingtons soon after moving to Lancaster in 1973, as it was on the bar in my college at Lancaster Uni, and in a few pubs in the area.In 1978 I started working in Preston and drank quite a bit of Boddies there. I didn't really notice a change until around 1980 when it was available in the Kings Arms in Lancaster and was quite a bit blander.

I'm interested in the references to "losing the yeast" and that seems a likely source of such a radical change in the beer. People always refer to the dryness and bitterness of this beer, but quite apart from the taste, what seemed remarkable about this beer and made it very different in my mind from others that I drank around the same time, was the attenuation. This made it very easy to drink, which had consequences that may be imagined.

Anonymous said...

On the topic of losing the yeast... Here in Amsterdam a well known brewery used to have a fantastic yeast strain that made their beers unique and in my opinion world class. Then suddenly, for commercial reasons, they switched to the same generic factory produced yeast that every other brewery in the Netherlands is using. Seems like they're doing better now from a commercial point of view but it's impossible to distinguish their beers from those of other breweries. I've encountered more than a few people who wish they would bring back the old flavour...