Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Brown Beer, Brown ale, Amber Ale and Pale Ale

Apologies for continuing to torture you with draughts of my book. But here's more that I haven't finished writing properly yet. 18th century styles again. I hope this makes things a little clearer.

You'll be pleased to hear that I've started work on some of the other chapters. So you shouldn't have to put up with much more from the 1700's. Oh no. One of my favourites will be occupying my attention for the next week or two: beer in WW I.

Brown Beer
It was Brown Beers which cauased the revolution in London brewing at the beginning of the 18th century. Both Porter and Stout were types of Brown Beer, though originally bore different names.

Stout was first used to refer strong Beers and Ales of any type. Stout Brown Butt-Beer is the precursor of what today is recognised as Stout. But there was also Pale Stout, a strong Beer made from 100% pale malt. Barclay Perkins brewed a Pale Stout until just after 1800 (Barclay Perkins brewing logs). As the 1700's progressed, Stout Brown Butt-Beer was shortened to Brown Stout, a name London brewers continued to use right into the 20th century. It was the strongest Beer brewed from brown malt in London.

Starting Butt-Beer (or Common Butt-Beer) is what would later come to be known as Porter. This was the standard-strength Beer made from brown malt. Porter was no sudden new invention, but a tweaked form of Brown Butt-Beers that had already been brewed for a considerable length of time. The dramatic change wasn't in how these Beers were brewed, but matured and delivered. These were the first Beers to be aged at the brewery and delivered to pubs ready to drink. For publicans, not having to lay down their own stocks to mature, it was much more convenient. It was hit with drinkers, too: "common Butt-beer is at this time in greater Reputation than ever in London, and the Home-brew'd Drinks out of Credit" ("London and Country Brewer", 1736.)

Initially all Porter was aged for a relatively modest period. According to Obadiah Poundage "four or five months was deemed to be sufficient age for it to be drunk at." No blending of "stale" and "mild" Porter took place. This is quite different from 19th century pratice, where only a portion of Porter was aged, but for longer periods. A quantity of this aged Porter was mixed with "mild" Porter before it was dispatched to pubs.

Brown Ale
The two main subtypes of Ale brewed from brown malt were Common Brown Ale and the stronger Stitch. The main differences with Brown Beers were the hopping rate and the fermentation temperature. Ales had only about 25% of the hops of the equivalent strength Beer. Ales also had a warmer, faster primary fermentation.

"Thus also the common brown Starting Butt-Beer is Brewed, only boiled with more Hops an Hour and a half, and work'd cooler and longer than the brown Ale "London and Country Brewer", 1736.

Common Brown Ale was usually drunk young. Stitch was sometimes aged. Ales intended for ageing were more heavily-hopped than those intended for immediate consumption.

As Porter became all the rage, Brown Ales lost popularity and by the early 19th century had disappeared. The name was not revived until a century later, when it was used to describe a very different drink.

Pale Ale and Amber Ale
These were the strongest Ales, with starting gravities just a little lower than October Beer. The hopping rates were higher than for Ales brewed from brown malt, but still much lower than for Pale or Amber Beer. They were usually drunk aged.

Despite the name, this Pale Ale was not the direct antecedent of the 19th century Pale Ale. The hopping rate of just one pound per barrel is proof enough of that. Rather, they evolved into 19th century X Ales, the precursor of modern Mild. Though overshadowed by Porter for much of the 18th and early 19th centuries, Ales continued to be brewed. When fashions changed in the 1850's, Ales became once again the staple drink of Londoners.


Bill from Oregon said...

Really interesting info here. It would be helpful to have a gravity chart and maybe hopping rates as well for the styles you talk about. (But I realize you're working on all of that and can't drop a new table into every blog post.)

It's fascinationg how the same names get re-used (brown ale, pale ale, etc) but mean completely different things in different periods, and that there's a lack of historical continuity between them. It certainly kills the myth that 18th and pre-18th century brown ales morphed into modern brown ales.

Ron Pattinson said...

bill, the book will include tables of gravities and hopping rates.

There's a gap of about 100 years in the use of the name Brown Ale. I doubt anyone, apart from Kristen, has brewed an 18th century |Brown Ale for a couple of centuries.

Oblivious said...

Hi Ron

Are there any plans to put in any of the recipes you have come across in the research for the book?

Ron Pattinson said...

oblivious, recipes will form an integral part of the book. The idea is not just to describe what beers were like and how they were brewed, but to provide information how to brew them yourself.

Anonymous said...

I concur. Combining history and brewing is great from an entertainment perspective. In that regard, these articles delivers 100% and I love reading this website often to get my fix of brewing history. Somehow it validates the choices I make when creating my own brews.

That said, I do believe that interpreting the recipes and methods into something useful for modern brewing takes this information from entertaining to truly useful.

Of course that’s not to say that just listing recipes is all that helpful either as the historical data provides proof for the modern ingredients and methods chosen. At least, that's how I see it.

Incidentally, when did brewers start keeping track of differing bitterness levels between hop varietals/harvests? All I’ve seen thus far is hop usage indicated by weight. That’s only useful if one knows the bitterness potential of the hops, right?

Anyway, just some thoughts I wanted to share. Keep up the good work, Ron.

Adrian Avgerinos
San Diego, California

Kristen England said...


Simply estimations work just fine for these periods. Hops had been grown commercially for a good period of time and different strains gave different results. Goldings grown in Kent would be slightly different than in Dorchester or in the US for that matter.

Varieties have a 'maximum' of AA% but most of the time they fit right in the middle. Point of fact I had a beer with equal parts EKG's and my home grown ones and had the beers tested in a lab. They differed by only a few BU's which corroborated what I was believing from the begining.

Also, if you look back at the traditional Saaz hops, which were and are notoriously low in AA%, Pilsner Urquel is still able to get their ~40bu out of them. THey did have to boil the hell out of them though.

Summarily, its quite easy to estimate the AA% of hops based on variety alone. Its true that we do have a much greater understanding of hop growing (nutrients, etc) but from the industry guys Ive talked with thats more of a matter of each bine being more 'fruitful' rather than AA%. Most of the character of the hops are contained in their genes but location of growth adn type of soil also play a large influence.

Make sense?

Adrian from San Diego said...

As a follow up, I ran some quick calculations. 1lb/bbl (UK) is approximately equal to 1.875oz per 5 US gal batch of beer. Looking at the current range of AA% for East Kent Goldings (4.0 to 5.5%), a 1.055 wort with a hopping rate of 1.5lb/bbl could yield a bitterness between 45 and 60 IBU. Increase the hopping rate to 2.5lb/bbl and the bitterness now jumps to 75 and 100 IBU. Assuming hops were just as potent 200 years ago, that’s some pretty damn bitter beer.

From what I've read, 5 IBUs is the minimum for humans to detect a difference in bitterness. If you throw in the fact that many of the hops were aged and perhaps lost 25-50% of their bittering potential, then the spread is even larger.

As a point of amusement, the Barclay Perkins IBST with 10lb/bbl and 1100 wort would yield a bittering potential of 150-210 IBU. Holy crap.

Kristen England said...


What you dont see on the graphs are the ages of the hops. Depending on what age they use, the brewery always listed, that would reduce your AA% by a vast amount.