Friday, 26 November 2010

Barnstaple Pale Ale

Time to look at one of the many long-disappeared regional beers of Britain: Barnstaple Pale Ale.

It's also a good lesson in not making assumptions. Look carefully at this recipe and you'll see that they weren't brewing what we know as Pale Ale.


Here they draw off a hogshead of very fine pleasant straw-coloured ale from twelve bushels of malt, in the following manner, namely: They boil the water, then throw two parts of cold into the mash-tun, and the boiling hot water on that. They then put in the malt, half a bushel at a time. After stirring it till all is soaked, they cap it with malt or bran, and cover it close to stand three hours. They then look if the mash has sunk in the middle, which it sometimes does, and when this is the case, it shows the strength of the goods, and must be filled up level with boiling water, to stand afterwards for half an hour, when it is to be run off in a goose-quill stream, and returned upon the. goods again, by a bowl or pailful at a time, as fast as you can, from the cock; for then the liquor strains through the body of the goods, and at length comes very fine; otherwise you force the thick part down to the cock: this is called doubling, which is continued for half an hour; they then stop and let it stand for half an hour longer in winter, but not in summer. Four pounds of hops are rubbed very fine into the tun for the wort to run on. They take care not to draw it off too near, before they lade off more boiling water out of the copper, which is continued till they have their quantity of ale-wort; which, with all their hops, is boiled till the liquor breaks or curdles; they then empty all into large earthen long pans or coolers, which they work, when cold, with the same hops, altogether, in the following manner: They put a little bit of young yeast (that is, not above a day old) to a parcel of the liquor, and mix that with all the rest to work twelve or fourteen hours; and then directly strain it into the barrel, where they keep fitting it up with fresh wort, till it at length becomes full. When the fermentation is finished, they paste a piece of brown paper over the bunghole for a fortnight, which very much conduces to its fining, and then they bung for good with a wooden stopple. In this manner they draw their ale perfectly fine in three weeks or a month at most.

They never mash here above once in their strong drink, and seldom make small, on account of its cheapness; they, therefore, think that it turns to better account to leave a strength in the grains for feeding the swine.
"The town and country brewery book" by W. Brande, 1830, pages 196-198.
See why I said it isn't like Pale Ale as we know it? No. OK, I suppose I'll have to tell you.

First off, the strength. A hogshead is 54 gallons and they're using 12 bushels of malt. Which is about 500 pounds. Even allowing for the fact that they were leaving plenty of goodness in the grains, that's a stack of malt for just a barrel and a half of beer.

A quarter of pale malt yield around 70 to 80 brewers pounds in this period. They couldn't have actually got anything like that because, well, you can't get a wort that strong. It would be somewhere around 1190º. More likely is a wort of around the maximum strength, around 1120º. Not sounding much like a classic Pale Ale, is it?

Then there's the hopping. Four pounds of hops for a barrel and a half of beer. That's 2.67 pounds per barrel. It may sound like a lot, but this is massively strong. Let's compare it with a couple of real Pale Ales. Reid IPA and BPA from 1839. They were hopped at 5.88 and 5.61 lbs per barrel. With gravities of just 1056º and 1057º. Or more than 20 lbs of hops per quarter of malt.

Whitbread's XXXX Ale of 1837 was a similar strength to this Barnstaple Pale Ale, at 1114º. That had 3.64 lbs of hops per barrel.

What's my conclusion? This beer is an Pale Ale in the 18th-century meaning of the term. A relatively lightly-hopped beer brewed from pale malt.


Gary Gillman said...

Good work, and this is Poundage's pale ale from the country. It got turned into pale ale from London by Hodgson, who halved the gravity and increased proportionately the hops. In doing so, he created an ale-beer hybrid, a different beast.

Where would Hodsgon have gotten this idea? There was no sense to ship as a staple product 10% ABV beer to India. Yet the Company men and others in trade out there wanted a pale-coloured ale (the gentry connection). So he took beer production methods and applied it to ale. This wasn't completely new: Michael Combrune made a pale small keeping beer. Maybe Hodgson tunned together that and a Barnstaple-type ale. In effect, in this or some other way (probably blending mashes like the porter brewers in his city) he made an ale entire, something by its nature it hadn't been. See below for the kind of merchant lore which would have been circulating in London at the time of the first shipments, the source is from 1677.

The connecting of IPA to English season beers is something I first read in Martyn's works, one of the important beer historical findings in recent years IMO.


Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, this is a totally unrelated type of beer to India Pale Ale. An 18th century pale small keeping beer isn't the same thing as a Pale Ale by any stretch of the imagination.

Gary Gillman said...

What I'm saying is, that country pale ale was available in London in the 1700's. Poundage discusses its influence. Twopenny at 4 p per quart by 1760. While beer in London was brown or amber, not all of it was: Combrune's pale small keeping beer is an example of a beer (not ale) that was light-coloured. This was an early ale-beer hybrid. And so when looking to send a gentry-style malt liquor to India, I believe Hodgson and perhaps other brewers said, we'll send a lower-gravity version of country pale but higher than pale small keeping. I think in effect he came up with a pale beer of medium gravity, which in London was not an item of commerce. Booth, among others in the 1800's, noted the singular nature of what Hodgson produced.

It's an interpretation, as many of my remarks.