Recipe: October Beer
BJCP Category 27 Historical Beer
So last week I talked about the history of British brewing and the October beer, the first rumbling of the style that we would eventually come to know as IPA. A lot of the info came from Mitch Steele’s wonderful book on IPA’s titled, appropriately enough, IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. In the book he roughly described a recipe from the 1700’s for this extinct predecessor of the IPA
I’ve made some adjustments to the process and ingredients. In some cases its because the exact ingredients are not clear. In other cases they are just adjustments to make this easier for the home brewer to attempt.
Let’s do this.
If you took notes from last weeks post (or read it at all, you slacker) you would remember that this style came from the 1700’s when pale ale malt first became a thing. Specialty grains really didn’t enter into the equation which makes this grain bill exceptionally easy.
Pale Ale Malt
End Grain Bill
I mean, you can just get a bag of American 2-row barley but, in order to get just a little bit closer to the original style, I feel we’ve got to go with an old favorite mine Marris Otter. Marris Otter is a British pale ale malt with just a touch more sweet malty, toasty flavors. Since we are depending on that grain alone for all the malty flavor, might as well use a good one. So get Marris Otter or I shall be forced to fling the brew spoon in your general direction.
Well that gets tricky.
Steele sites a couple of recipes from a book written in 1736 which recommends “14 bushels of malt/ hogshead.”
I literally don’t understand a single one of those measurements.
Well one is easy. A quick Google search tells us that a hogshead is about 64 US Gallons. We will be making a five gallon batch so we will be making approximately 7% of a hogshead.
While we are on the subject 7% of a hogshead sounds like something that should be included on hotdog warning labels.
We do the math and we find out we need about one bushel of barley. Which would be awesome if we knew what that hell a bushel was.
According to a website by Ohio State University, “Bushel is a volume measurement for grain created many years by Celtic peoples…and is currently considered to be about 1.25 cubic feet in volume.”
Guess I’ll get the cubic foot that I haul around literally everywhere I go?
You know what, bugger this. We don’t need to know how much grain per se, we need to know what are original gravity would be and, according to Steele, 11-14 bushels per hogshead would result in a gravity of 1.140.
So I hope everyone brought their big-boy panties because this beer is gonna be a monster. If you’re running a 72-75% efficiency this means 27 or 28 lbs. And you might want to do 30 or 40 and I’ll explain why in a minute.
According to Steele, the Alewives Of Yore (because this was still the age when women did most of the brewing) were rocking 6 lbs of hops per hogshead when they made October beer.
At least the math on this one is easier.
At that rate we will be using roughly a half-pound of hops in a five gallon batch. But what hops exactly? Well, as you probably guessed you can put away your Cascades and your Chinooks and any hop with a trademarked name. (Lookin at you Citra) We are going old school and that means Golding. Goldings were first mentioned in the 1700’s which is right around the time period we are interested in and it’s more than likely that they were used in this brew. So go get yourself a half pound of goldings.
Again this is tricky. This is still the time period when yeast is referred to ‘godisgood’. They knew it was a factor but they had no clue what was happening biologically speaking. Only that the beer bubbled and became awesome. So ideally we will need a British strain. Preferably one that can put up with a decent amount of alcohol. I suggest WLP 004 Irish Ale Yeast or WLP 007 Dry English Yeast from White Labs. That’s 1084 or 1028 for you Wyeast fans
A single infusion mash at 152 should suffice as I can’t find any information on mashing techniques during this time period. One thing that you don’t want to do if you’re being all authentic and shiznit is sparge. Sparging is a process developed by the Scots a century or later.
What the British would do is mash and drain. Then do another mash and drain again and repeat this four times. Each time they would get a beer considerably weaker. (Hence the need for more grain earlier)
But let’s assume you don’t have like a 50 gallon mash tun and are not looking to make twenty gallons of beer in one go. Go ahead and sparge. In fact sparge a lot. Getting a gravity of 1.140 is probably going to require a lot of boil-off on a normal home-brew system, so do what you have to do.
For me, that means collecting upwards of seven or eight gallons of wort for a two or three hour boil. This seems excessive but is probably close to what actually happened. Steele mentions that breweries in this time period would boil their wort for three to eight hours. So let’s go nuts, let’s do a four hours boil! So what are you going to do during that time?
Well, it turns out add hops.
Steele mentions in his book that brewers of the time would often add and remove hops every thirty minutes or so. They believed that boiling hops longer than 30 minutes would result in harsh, unpleasant flavors. This doesn’t seem to be the case, but we are partying like it’s 1699. So why not? Assuming you’re doing a four hour boil, that makes it pretty easy. One ounce every thirty minutes. Take ‘em out or leave them in. You do you!
Go into your carboy or bucket and pitch yeast as normal under normal ale temperatures. And let sit until the majority of fermentation is complete.
This where things get real, son. So after primary fermentation, beer was traditionally racked into oak barrels for aging. If you are lucky enough to have a new oak barrel just laying around your house, go ahead and do that.
For the rest of us, probably should just go into our secondary fermentor of choice and let it age. After six or seven months (or right around summertime if you were good and brewed this beer in October or November) it’s time to raise the temperature. It was summertime in foggy old London and there was no temperature control. So hitting the 80s or 90’s would not be out of the question. And unless you have one of those oak barrels maybe toss in an ounce or so of oak chips just to get some of that oaky goodness.
Now heres the strange bit. We’re going to go sour. Not like full sour but… well it’s like this.
Traditionally when the weather started heating up the ale in these casks would start fermenting again. And the brewers would unbung those bastards and just let them sit open to whatever happened to be floating in the air.
On a side note, my new beer-themed punk band the Unbunged Bastards is going to be playing at a brewery near you so… you know, keep an eye out for that.
But instead of leaving the beer open and hoping something good happens, we’re going to go all modern on this. That means a second pitch. That’s right! More yeast!
In this case a Brettanomyces mix seems appropriate. Specifically White Labs WLP 645, a strain isolated from British stock ale in the early 20th century. It’s probably the best way to get the most authentic flavor.
Let sit another few months.
An October beer would traditionally age at least a year. Sometimes two. So come next October you can pour yourself the grandaddy of all IPAs.
What does it taste like? Not sure. Haven’t brewed it yet myself. But let us know if you do!