A Proper English IPA

I have been brewing a lot, don’t you worry, I just haven’t posted much about it. That’s going to change. My hops have already climbed as far as the roof of the house outside, and I’m turning over a new blogging leaf. Here, to ease me back in, is a short recipe post.

India Pale Ale is craft beer’s most popular style, I would imagine. But its meaning is not clear. In Britain, it doesn’t seem to mean much anymore, the glass hits the floor with the style’s nadir, Greene King ‘IPA’, a lightly hopped beer boasting only 3.6% ABV. How the mighty have fallen! I would struggle to call it a Mild. It has been suggested of English IPA that the term is just used interchangeably with “Bitter”, perhaps IPA sounds more appealing. There are some nice IPAs in Britain, but I find the majority of them quite disappointing.

Contrast this with one of the greatest family of beers on the go at the moment in my opinion, the big American IPA. Beers from Dogfish Head, Sierra Nevada, Stone, Odell, and countless others. These beers are golden amber with a caramel body, backed up with often up to 100 international bittering units (that’s a lot), and the standard strength seems to be about 7.5% ABV

Historically, the American recreation seems closer to what the style should be. I’ll leave picking apart the history of how the English got to be the way they are to Zythophile , needless to say, I know which one I prefer.

And yet, what a history India Pale Ale evokes! Beers from London and Burton, brewers like Alsopp and Hodgson loading strong, massively hopped beer in to barrels for shipping to India. Beer crossing the equator twice, four months on the rolling, foamy brine. I decided to brew one.

The Durden Park Beer Circle have a nice little booklet full of historical recipes that they have pulled from old brewing logs. When scaled down for homebrewing they are usually as simple as Pale Malt, Fuggles, Yeast. Things were simple back then. I couldn’t find my copy, but I found a recipe in Camra’s IPA book which I thought would do the trick. It’s a beer from an author called Amsinck, I think it’s from the mid 1800s.

Pilsner Malt, and 400g of East Kent Goldings

I rounded the recipe up and down a little, but it’s basically the same. for 22L I mashed 6KG Pilsner Malt, I boiled for 90 minutes, with 400g East Kent Goldings hop pellets. The IBU that this will have is purely academic, it’s off the scale. Something like 180. In practice no one ever gets much more than 100, hence the author of the book qualifies this with “probably not relevant”. I will dry hop this with another 100g EKG pellets after the primary fermentation has wound down. I fermented with Wyeast West Yorkshire yeast.

Why Pilsner Malt you say? Isn’t this supposed to be British? Well, what’s more British than a nice yellow Pilsner? Seriously though, the historical recipe calls for “white malt” which apparently wasn’t even toasted as lightly as modern pale malt. Unless I was going to make some myself (I wasn’t), the closest thing to do was use pilsner malt, which is a whiter shade of pale. I don’t know how the body will turn out, I’m pretty sure it won’t be caramel like the Americans. I did follow the advice in that book and I mashed at quite a high temperature though, to produce more unfermentable sugars. I mashed at about 68c.

I think this is the simplest recipe I’ve ever brewed. The 400g of EKG really soaked up some wort, but not as bad as you’d expect. There was a lot of gunk at the bottom of the boiler. I don’t think I’d attempt this with cone hops, like this guy did, there’d be no beer left!

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24 Comments

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24 responses to “A Proper English IPA

  1. Careful with the s-word. 19th century IPA was only strong relative to modern (post-1917) ales. It was often among the weaker beers in the Burton and London brewers’ portfolios.

    • stoutfellow

      Oh yes I know, I didn’t say they were the strongest beers at the time, but they are stronger than beers have been since the wars, and I’d prefer if they were still back near the historical strengths, alcohol and hop-wise, as the Americans are. I know the beers that ‘IPA’ refers to has changed over the last century, I just wish that there were more IPAs in Britain that were brewed to the old style.

    • stoutfellow

      hang on, was the s-word style, or strength?

      • “Strong”, specifically “brewers like Alsopp and Hodgson loading strong, massively hopped beer in to barrels for shipping to India”. They wouldn’t have thought they were loading strong beers.

        And if Meantime IPA is what we’d get if there were more authentically historical British IPAs around then I’m really not very interested.

      • stoutfellow

        Oh yes, they wouldn’t have thought so, but ‘strong’ here, is indexed to our context of assessment rather than theirs (naturally). I haven’t had Meantime IPA, but I have been less than impressed by some of their other beers. Does it have enough hops? What’s wrong with it?

  2. “Naturally?” Really? “In 1954, Roger Bannister made headlines by not running very fast, y’know, for a world-class middle-distance runner, like.”

    Meantime IPA has lots of hops, but they’re the wrong sort. I think the success of American IPA is much more down to the hop varieties than the amount used. East Kent Goldings in the same quantities won’t do the job.

    The beer, IMO, is too bitter and too boozy. Lots of people like it, though, so I would definitely suggest you try it. And if you’ve not had the London Porter, get some. It’s wonderful.

    • stoutfellow

      Argh! The London Porter was the one I didn’t like actually. I seem to recall it was too thin and sweet, I may recall incorrectly why, but I certainly remember not thinking much of it. As to your other deliberately crooked example, given that I was discussing contemporary beer, it is not odd that my context should be set by today’s standards. If we were discussing the speed of today’s distance runners it would seem odd to describe Roger Bannister as fast, even though, at the time everyone thought he was fast. As to ‘naturally’: of course. You’re clearly out of touch with contemporary semantics :p

  3. You may have been discussing contemporary beer in the overall piece, but you specifically mention non-contemporary beer too, that it was being loaded onto ships, and that it was strong.

    • stoutfellow

      It was strong! I don’t think it’s unreasonable that the default context for words that depend on context is my own context. Any shift from that context will be indicated by the qualifier “for them”, or “by their standards”. If I said “most people in the middle ages were short”, you wouldn’t retort “actually most people in the middle ages were of average height”, or would you?

    • stoutfellow

      If I said the beer was brewed with a hard to find malt, should I specify that I mean hard for us to find, even though it was probably the most common malt at the time?

      • Hmmm. I think I might, you know. I certainly would regard “most people in the middle ages were shorter than people today” as the more normal way of putting it. I’d probably take the “-er than people today” as implied.

        With the malt, yes I would assume that, since you’re talking about them doing the brewing it follows that they are the ones having trouble getting the malt. Once we’re looking at them, and their loading of barrels and their four months at sea I get sucked into seeing everything from their point of view. Maybe it’s just the way I read.

      • stoutfellow

        An unusual display of hermeneutic empathy [sub surface semantic content] for a 21st century Irish male [/sub surface semantic content]. Well at the very least you have raised the comment count to a respectable level [my standards], while also making my assertions seem more controversial than they really are [again, my standards. By your standards they really are]

  4. kev

    jaysis what a retarded comment section…oh dear did i write that publicly

    nice post though stoutfellow; all you need is a barrel and a boat.

  5. I’m with the Stoutfellow on this one.

    Nice idea going with the pilsner malt. I was surprised at how pale White Shield was the first time I tried it. It seems to be held up as traditional English IPA, if a little weak by our standards. Oh shit….

    • stoutfellow

      I haven’t had it. I fell like I have, after reading pete brown’s book though. I always assumed the old IPAs would be amber.

  6. It does seem likely they were darker what with old malting techniques, the likely browning/caramelisation from direct fire kettles and lack of knowledge with respect to oxidative effects.

    • stoutfellow

      Not according to the note on white malt in the IPA book: it seems that while pils and pale malt are roasted lightly for a little colour after malting, white malt was not roasted for colour at all, but only heated to dry. They say that while continental malt is dried at around the right temp, it may be finished at 60c, whereas white malt should be finished at 35-40c. I guess a direct fire kettle could give some colour, especially since a lot of the old recipes call for a 2 hour boil!

  7. Briggs in his ‘Malt and Malting’ text arbitrarily divides malt into white – which covers all pilsner and pale malts, and special malts. So the white malt referred to in your recipe could have been standard pale malt and not particularly ‘white’ or extra pale. It would still make for a golden/pale ale if used without special malts of course.

  8. kenanddot

    Got to love that contextualism!

  9. It’s one of the standard malting texts that draws from traditional techniques. It’s a broad division – white and special – but I imagine it stems from early malting terminology.

  10. I’m a bit late to this party, but I’m sorry you don’t like Meantime’s IPA, BN – East Kent Goldings are historically THE authentic hop for a London IPA. But then, I’m a great fan of Goldings (and Fuggles) and clearly you’re not – and as the Romans said, there’s no disputing Gussie’s bust.

    • stoutfellow

      De Gustibus indeed! A large part of the PhD that is currently distracting me from brewing is about disputes over matters of taste. Arggh. The hop flavour on this beer is so crazy, I’m going to have to get a clear example of an all Goldings beer to compare, I’m worried I let the hops get too old. It’s really spicy/grassy. The recipe does call for something crazy like a year’s maturation though. Still never picked up any meantime, must pick up a bottle from drinkstore.ie

    • Nor Busty’s gusset.

      I don’t have a problem with East Kent Goldings, and use it a fair bit in English-style beers of my own. My beef with Meantime IPA is that the hop flavour and aroma doesn’t cover the alcohol sufficiently. It’s unbalanced.

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