Friday, 8 February 2008

Burton Ale

Yesterday there were questions about my calculation of the OG of Burton Ale. So today here's another set of instructions for brewing Burton Ale. They are taken from "A practical treatise on brewing" by Thomas Hitchcock, 1842, pages 40-43.

THE characteristics of Burton Ale are, great strength, paleness of colour, and fulness of flavour. It must be as pale as a straw, or it will not pass as genuine with connoisseurs of that article; consequently the palest malt and hops must be used.

This ale is of great gravity, from one mash chiefly. The wort from the first mash is seldom or never mixed with the subsequent. These are generally used for a return or inferior ales. Therefore the liquor of the first mash must be in such proportions as to make the gravity of the wort, when boiled, from thirty-six
[1100] to forty-one pounds per barrel [1114].
Confirmation here of a crazily high gravity. Not quite as high as those I estimated yesterday, but not far off. Note the emphasis on paleness of colour.

The best heat to produce such a mucilaginous wort as Burton ale requires, is one hundred and sixty-six degrees, infused from two and a half to three hours The heat of the grist should be maintained at one hundred and fifty-seven degrees. Sparge for the subsequent mashes at two hundred degrees. As long boiling is prejudicial to colour, the worts should not be boiled much longer than until they break pure. Three-quarters of an hour is generally sufficient for that purpose; but that is scarcely long enough to concentrate them sufficiently. We recommend them to be boiled one hour and a quarter; and, should they become high coloured, a little powdered charcoal may be thrown in the worts when boiling. This will destroy the colour, and impart no unpleasant flavour. Or, a double copper may be substituted for the ordinary one, the inner one made rather thin. Six or eight inches space may be left between the inner and outer coppers, at the bottom and sides: this space being filled with liquor, and made to boil, causes the wort in the inner copper to boil; it acts on the same principle as a glue pot. The inner copper may be supported by straps of iron running under the bottom and up the sides.
Ales boiled in this way will possess very little colour; and, were distillers to adopt this method in boiling their wash, their spirits would be nearly tasteless. It is true, a little longer time is required, ere the worts boil; but when a very pale beverage is required, no other method can well supply its place. Charcoal is used sometimes as a substitute.
The effort put into to stopping the wort caramelising and darkening is striking. Clearly at this point a pale colour was very highly prized. Contrast this with Bass No. 1 around 1900 which, though brewed from 100% pale malt, was deliberately caramelised in the boil to produce a dark beer.

Burton ales are not attenuated so low as ales generally are; but, as the gravity is so great, more unattenuated saccharine may, with greater safety, be left in this ale, than would be prudent to leave in ales of low gravity. There is not much risk of souring, if the cooling of the worts have been quick, and the fermentation properly managed. The great quantity of alcohol will prevent acidity, and the saccharine left will create fulness of flavour. Most generally, a quarter of an ounce of powdered orange-pea per barrel, is added in the copper, a quarter of an hour before drawing off, to heighten the flavour.
If Burton Ales were attenuated in a similar way to Scotch Ales as is suggested in this passage, the final gravity would be in the range 1035 to 1045. (Based on the FGs listed in "Scottish Ale Brewer".) I assume "powdered orange-pea" is a misprint and that "orange-peal" is correct. Whatever they added, it was illegal for a commercial brewers.

The fermentation will be best conducted, as before stated under that head. Owing to the great gravity of this ale, not less than two or three pounds of yeast must be used. The heat during fermentation may be allowed to reach sixty-eight degrees, but not more: the attenuation not reduced so low, by three pounds, as is stated under the head of attenuation. The fermentation in some breweries is allowed to be rather rapid: such may be permitted, if the ale is for immediate consumption; but if it is to be kept, the attenuation must be slow. Four pounds decrease in gravity every twenty-four hours, produces the richest flavoured, most potent, brilliant, and sparkling article. In fact. the slower the fermentation of ales is, the more superior the article will be, in every respect. When the article is intended for long keeping, the air must be sedulously kept from it during fermentation. A small tap should be inserted about the middle of the gyle-tun, to fill the essay jar.

The pitching heat of this ale is about fifty-four degrees, or even less in summer, unless the gyle-tuns are beneath the surface of the ground.
The fermentation method for keeping beer is similar to that for Scotch Ale - slow and relatively cool. Assuming a total gravity drop of 24 to 29 pounds during fermentation, at the rate of 4 pounds per day the fermentation would last around 7 days. Not quite the three weeks Scotch Ale could take, but more than the usual 3 or 4 day fermentation of most Ales.


Fatman said...

Don't you wish you could knock up a few batches of these beers? How would they differ from their ancestors? Presumably the malt flavour would be different and how much influence would the yeast have had on final taste? Quite a lot is my gut reaction.

Ron Pattinson said...

Yes, I would like to get some of these beers made. I probably will get someone to brew a very strong Burton Ale for me.

You're right that it wouldn't be an exacy copy of a 19th century version. Doesn't mean that it wouldn't still be an interesting exercise.

Fatman said...

Mmmm. Final gravity around 1030, OG around 1100 - a sweet and full ale od around 9%. Given the all malt grist and high FG this would be a seriously syrupy brew I reckon. The peas would temper it a little, maybe...the hopping rate is high but not high enough to help make this drinkable...and the colour? not sure about the charcoal - don't know how that keeps the colour formation down. Does the presence of carbon reduce formation of melanoidins? Not my strongest subject area...
Straw coloured...mmm, even with the palest malts that might be difficult to achieve - was straw the same colour then?

Fascinating. I'd love to have a go but the high finishing gravity concerns me a tad - you have multiple references I'm sure. Does cross reference confirm a) the og & fg and b) the pale colour?

Ron Pattinson said...

I guess it would be pretty sweet, given the high fg and fairly low rate of hopping. My guess would be that a keeping version would be hopped a bit more.

You can find confirmation of the OG and FG here:

Worthington Burton Ale FG 7.50 Balling (approx. 1030º) OG 24.2 Balling (approx. 1097º).

That was from an analysis carried out in 1890.

I've got some other references top Burton. All specify just pale malt and a few specifically mention the pale colour.

No idea about the charcoal. Sounds weird to me. I'm pretty sure the double-bottomed copper would work.

If the beers I have fermenting work out OK, I may well get strong Ales made next. Maybe KKK . . .

Zythophile said...

"Orange peas" according to the Oxford English Dictionary, are

"orange berries, formerly used in surgery as issue peas ... made from the Aurantia Curassaventia, or Curassoa apples or oranges when dried and hardened."

An "issue pea" was something stuck in a wound by a surgeon to keep it irritated and producing a discharge or "issue" (urgh ...) but presumably we're talking flavouring beer here rather than medicine ...

Ron Pattinson said...

I guess it isn't a misprint then. These things are edible?