June 28, 2011

Mash Tun Time Machine

All that's old is new, and I for one welcome our Victorian throwback overlords. There seems to be a developing trend in the world of IPA: a hearkening back to the days of yore with ultra-traditionalist rebrews of 19th century export ales from the days of the Raj.

Case in point the first: Summit Brewing's recent limited release, #6 in their Unchained Series, Gold Sovereign.

Case in point the second: Town Hall Brewery's 1800 IPA.

Case in point the third: the East India Pale Ale recipe for this year's AHA Big Brew, via Stone's Mitch Steele and Steve Wagner.

I'm sure I'm omitting more. But if this continues to catch on, it could be a little bit amazing. 

Like many other British beers, the deprivations of two world wars contributed to the erosion of the strength, hop rates, and arguably even the overall character of English IPAs in the 20th century. And, much like American homebrewers and craft brewers have become the preservers and custodians and standard-bearers for any number of Belgian styles that are going extinct in their own homeland and hemorrhaging market share to mass-produced international pale lagers, we could give England back English IPA. That'd be like when the 22 year-old white kid from Canned Heat taught Son House how to play his own songs again after giving up the blues for 30 years.

Because, deep down, brewing isn't simply just about making beer and drinking it. It's also an exploration of history and culture; it's a mash tun time machine. When we resurrect these recipes, we're bringing beer (and by proxy the drinker) back to a time when hop additions were measured by the bushel, not by IBU contribution. Back to a time when a brewery's delivery truck was a clipper ship. Back to a time when a beer run meant sailing between Cape Horn and Antarctica.

Flipping back in my own brew log, all the way back to when records were kept free-form on blue-lined yellow legal tablet sheets, my second-ever all grain batch was an English IPA. Florally Goldings-y with malt biscuit and fruity yeast notes, I called it Hodgson's Revenge after a London concern in the 1800s that was first a noted brewer and exporter of IPA and then a defunct brewer and exporter of IPA.

For reasons that I did not write down and which I can no longer remember, I used a blend of English pale and European pils malts for the grist, as Mitch and Steve recommend for the AG version of their Big Brew recipe. I took that as a sign to do a throwback rebrew of my own, with some gleanings gleaned and cues taken from the three examples cited above:

Course of Empire IPA (Hodgson's Revenge 2011)
10.5 gallons, all-grain
Target OG: 1.066

  • 22 lbs Maris Otter
  • 150 F for 60 minutes
  • 168 F for 10 minutes
  • 8 oz East Kent Goldings, whole, @ 60"
  • Wyeast 1882 Thames Valley II, thick slurry (skimmed from primary of a prior batch)
  • pitch @ 64 F, free rise up to 70
  • primary: 10 days
  • rack to 2x corny kegs with cask hops:
  • cask hops: 8 oz East Kent Goldings, whole, mesh-bagged & split between kegs

Like the Big Brew's EIPA, it's a single-hop beer; like Summit's Gold Sovereign and TH's 1800, it's also a single-malt beer. The plan is to condition in the kegs, on the hops, for an extended period of time, as Mitch and Steve suggest for their recipe. That should put it at ready-to-drink in late summer, when Minnesota gets as close to the climate of Madras as I can reasonably expect it to. Stay tuned.


  1. Great read, MD. I think I may just brew this recipe for myself sometime real soon.

  2. I feel envious that I'm not drinking this beer right now.

  3. Yo, that's a lot of bittering hops for a base-malt only beer. Just sayin'.

  4. @Tom

  5. probably a dumb question, but are you waiting to hook them up to co2 until they're done aging?

  6. @Andrew - not dumb at all; I glossed over that part pretty good, didn't I? The answer is yes - I'll add just enough gas to keep positive pressure on the keg lid, but wait to carbonate. Sort of an approximation of long-term, intercontinental cask-hopping.