Friday, June 14, 2013

1800's IPA (Fresh Version / No Brett) - Tasting Notes

Historic IPA / fresh / no Brett

Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: English IPA
Brewed: 2.18.2013
ABV: 7.4%

Appearance: amber / bronze, medium head, slight haze
Smell: sweet fruity esters, cherry, pear, toffee, caramel malt, earth, resin
Taste: earthy hops, cloying malt, pear, toffee, biscuit, sweet finish
Mouthfeel: medium carbonation, medium bodied, slightly sticky

Oh, the mysterious ways of homebrewing — when a beer can turn out technically fine (lacking off-flavors), and taste good in the general scheme of beers, yet totally defy your expectations to the point of being a significant disappointment. Ingredients combine in ways you didn't anticipate, and the magic of fermentation rearranges flavors into something quite a bit different from what you envisioned. I present to you today the case of the "fresh / no Brett" version of my historic-ish English IPA, inspired by Mitch Steele's IPA book and the belief that the original, historic IPA probably had Brett in it, and as such, was likely radically different from the modern British IPA. Beyond just tasting what a historic IPA may have been like, I also wanted to explore the relationship between Brett and hops — specifically, does Brett's oxygen-scavenging abilities make for a hoppy beer that holds up better over time?

To fully test this out with Science, I am holding on to a variety of different hoppy beers — hoppy beers with Brett, and hoppy beers without — to compare them to my eventual 1800's Aged India Pale Ale. Besides brewing my historic IPA interpretation, step 2 was to brew a "no Brett" version — an identical recipe, to be aged for the same amount of time, but with no Brett. Rather than brewing a second full batch, or trying to scavenge a few bottles out of the original brew-session before racking to secondary with Brett C, I simply rebrewed the recipe but cut it in half. Two gallons of beer, five ounces of EKG hops, the same yeast, the same water treatment. Yet presumably, two beers that will taste nothing alike a year from now.

Now is the time to write about that fresh version, before setting aside a few bottles for the long aging period. I've been drinking these bottles from time to time since late March, and this fresh version is a bit of a disappointment in a very unexpected way. Where 1800's IPAs were supposed to be extremely hoppy, this... isn't. Despite using 5 ounces of EKG hops in a 2 gallon batch, there's basically zero hop character here. And I don't mean just flavor-wise — there's hardly any bitterness either. This fresh IPA is fully entrenched in the sweet side of the spectrum. This is obviously makes it disappointing as an IPA, but as a basic, general beer, the flavor is okay; this tastes like a basic British beer, with some nice sweet cherry and pear esters from the yeast, and a firm bready malt character. (Actually quite similar to the Scottish Wee Heavy I brewed a little before this). There's just no hint of all those hops I added. Where did they go? Did I forget my bittering addition?

Honestly, I don't have a concrete answer as to how a 2 gallon batch of beer with 5 ounces of hops is saturated not with resin and spice and bitterness, but with barleywine-like sweetness. Scale that ratio up, and it would be around 12 ounces of hops for a 5 gallon batch of beer — more than almost any IPAs would call for. Part of the blame probably goes to the Canada Malting pale ale malt, which I had already determined was a bit heavy for an American IPA — though I figured it would be just about perfect for a historic IPA, given that their palest base malts were still not as pale as common American 2-row. This same pale ale malt worked alright in a Belma SMaSH, adding some breadiness and a solid backbone, but nothing like the barleywine-esque sweetness I get here. This is a SMaSH — a Single Malt and Single Hop — that came out maltier than a few beers I've brewed with more complex grain bills.

The only real explanation I buy is that West Yorkshire ale yeast either doesn't work well for hoppy beers, or got stressed out with this particular batch and just gobbled up every ounce of hop character. Because, even more so than malts, the primary flavor of this is yeast esters, which I'm pretty familiar with after using the strain in many of my previous brews. I was always a fan of it, but my previous batches with West Yorkshire were malt-forward beers, with no intended hop character. Here, with cherry fruit and pear esters, over a base of bready but thin malts, it's about all I can taste.

So while this isn't a bad batch, flavor-wise, it's just not what I was looking for. And it's... confusing. Still, it's only a minor hiccup in my overall project, and shouldn't affect the results of my great Historic IPA project. The original brew — the version that received Brett C — will hopefully be just as hoppy as it needs to be, even if hoppiness isn't the end goal of that batch's flavor profile. For a Brett-less comparison, I will also pick up some commercial IPAs to age alongside this. And in a year, when I hold a tasting to compare them all side by side, this batch will be but a variable, and Science shall march on.

The original recipe can be found here.


  1. I can't say I'm an expert in this subject, but I think I know one or two things that might be the culprits to your results.

    First off, records indicate that the original IPA's used an exceptionally pale ale malt, referred to as White Malt. It was probably more like a pilsner malt. This would definately have brought forth the hops.

    Secondly, the EKG hops are remarkably soft in its character. The lack of New World citrus sourness reduces the perceived bitterness. To me, EKG has a cotton candy like flavour.

    Third, you don't mention your water treatment. There probably is a reason why people "Burtonze" their water. The very high gypsum levels would greatly enhance the perception of dryness and bitterness.

    I'm looking forward to hearing what your results for the Brett version will be. It really is surprising that there are no well known commercial examples available in this style. Except Orval then, which could arguably be called an historic IPA.

    1. Thanks for the feedback! I did treat my water for this batch, pretty heavily actually — more gypsum than in most of my IPAs, though not to full "Burton" levels. I almost wonder if I switched up my salts or something while I was measuring, given the results. Next time, I will try going with a profile even closer to the original Burton water. I suspect their insanely minerally water is one of the main reasons the beers were originally aged so long — even modern hopheads seem to agree that the character of an IPA with full-on Burton water is too aggressive. Oh well, live and learn.

      I am thinking Pilsner malt would be a good choice now too. Originally I figured that historic "white malt" was still probably on par with our modern pale malts, given their technology at the time. However their descriptions of the beer definitely indicate a much paler color than what I got.

  2. Hi -
    I'm glad I stumbled upon your website. I also read Steele's book, and recently brewed my version of a "Traditional English IPA", although I added some crystal malt just for safety :-) (I will try to resist next time).

    I wonder why you say that "their palest base malts were still not as pale as common American 2-row". IIRC, he stated in his book that they had invented techniques to create extremely pale malts, which pilsner malts were even derived from. Down around 1.xL I believe.

    I found that surprising.

    I thought my beer had gotten infected in the secondary, so I was prepared to add some Brett and wait it out. But it seems ok, resting at an FG of 1.011. So I am about to bottle it tonight as a "young" IPA. Not quite accurate, but inspired by Steele. :-)

    I too also wondered why I do not find examples of a traditional English IPA, even in brew pubs. Perhaps it just would not taste good to modern pallets. (which is why I added a bit of Crystal, and left out the brett.)

    I look forward to reading about how your's turns out.

    1. You know, I might be completely off base about the lovibond rating of those historic English "white" malts, then. I'll have to research this again, but you're likely right. I have it in my head that in the book — or maybe on Shut Up About Barclay Perkins or something — I read that their malting techniques weren't quite as advanced as ours, and thus the white malt was still a bit darker than our 2-row. But again, I can't say exactly where I got this idea off the top of my head, so maybe I'm just full of crap! Do you remember if Steele mentions a lovibond rating for their white malt in the book?

      And given my results, I think I would do this again with 2-row or pilsner malt base anyway. That 3 L pale ale malt was just way too dark, in my opinion.

      I'm excited to find out too! Hope your batch turns out great. There's always a next time for the Brett version : )

    2. Ya - on page 71, in the "brewing the Burton IPA" chapter, he states they kilned it at 150 degrees rather than the standard 160-170, to produce 1.5 lovibond malt. Also that this malt was the subject of a spy mission from Czech brewers who used this malt for the first Pilsner Urquell. Not sure if that's actually fact or just brew house stories :-) Either way, using Pilsner malt may be a good idea.

      There are references to people writing how the beer arrived in Calcutta clear and sparkling. And tasting like dry wine, void of sugar.

      Also, seems they dry hoped it right in the barrels it was shipped in. So the hops were in there for the entire voyage to India.

      I was not sure what yeast would be most authentic. I used Wyeast's Thames Valley Ale. Any opinion on that?

    3. Oh, thanks! I have must missed or forgotten that. Which sucks. I was very intrigued by the description of the finished beer as I was reading, though my result should still hopefully taste similar, just a little darker. I'm down to 1.007 with the Brett portion, which is right around the FG he mentions in the book.

      I've heard that about the dry-hopping too, and I'm not sure how to incorporate it into my take. I probably should have dry-hopped right when I racked to secondary, I guess, since my secondary is now full up to the neck. No real room for hops in there, and I'm not sure I want to rack again.... maybe a week or two before bottling I will.

      I've heard different yeasts mentioned too West Thames, London and Nottingham seem to be the most common suggestions. For my experiment, I figured the Brett won't leave much of the character of the original yeast by the time it's drank anyway, but as you probably read in the entry here, I wasn't happy with West York's estery profile drowning out the hops.

  3. Last year I brewed a similar historic inspired IPA using 100% golden promise and EKG, 1.065 and wy1968. The EKG seemed to vanish into the malt and I also got the "wee heavy" comment from a few people which I attributed to the golden promise. I ended up dry hopping with 2 more oz's of EKG and ended up drinking it all young. I've been thinking of trying it again with pilsner malt, a more historic hopping schedule (2/3rds at 90mins, 1/3rd at 30mins), a long low boil to prevent caramelization and fermenting with something drier like Nottingham followed by a brett secondary.

  4. Great post Derek, I think your homing in closer than most to what was the original. Contrary to what many people are saying, in books, Bloggs and even breweries there were many Pale malts available at the time, I've gained quite a bit of info from military museums, my own included (Regimental not my own museum) and Universities in the UK. Here's a short part - The preservative qualities of pale malt were well known and described by the leading brewing writer of the time, Michael Combrune: “liquors brewed from very pale malts,preserve themselves for a long time”.(5) Combrune had also stated that pale malt-produced beers“are better to allay thirst”.(6) The preservative qualities of hops were equally well known, but Hodgson’s innovation was to put additional dry hops in the barrel of finished beer to improve the beer’s chances of surviving the long voyage to India.(7) This was intended to stabilise the beer against the constant rocking motion in the ship’s hold.Thus, a combination of pale malt with an exceptionally high proportion of hops produced a distinctive bitter taste, which proved to be a thirst-quenching drink, ideally suited for the Indian tropical climate.

    5 Michael Combrune, An Essay on Brewing, London: R. & J. Dodsley, 1758, p.190.
    6 Michael Combrune, The Theory and Practice of Brewing, London: R. & J. Dodsley, 1762, p.280.
    7 In 1835, the crew of the Stirling Castle was shipwrecked off the north coast of Australia. Cast ashore and without freshwater, they shared one eighteen gallon barrel of Hodgson’s pale ale between them until it ran out, when they“shared out the hops and grounds at the bottom of the barrel, which they chewed in order to create moisture”(Charles Eaton, Shipwreck of the Stirling Castle containing a faithful narrative of the dreadful sufferings of the crew and the cruel murder of Captain Fraser by the savages, London: George Virtue, 1838, p.30).



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