Ain’t That Peculiar…

When I began my foray into homebrewing and seeking out really interesting beers to brew, and especially once I was doing the research for North American Clone Brews, I used to frequent a real hole-in-the-wall package store. This store sometimes felt like something out of Deliverance – the customers were usually in camo, truck-insignia baseball caps, etc., and I’m sure the store did much more business in chewing tobacco than in good beer. Nevertheless, they had a cooler and a small shelf in the back that almost always contained a real treasure or two.

One of the most astounding treasures was an English Old Ale from the Theakston Brewery, Old Peculiar. Great name, great bottle, great label. I hoped for a great beer, but didn’t know quite what to expect. Approaching the counter with an armload of single bottles, I saw the woman at the register roll her eyes – “here he comes again, each bottle’s a different price, I have to ring them in one at a time and consult the price list for each one…” – she was never happy to see me.

On the particular day that I found Old Peculiar for the first time, she looked at the bottle, turned it around, tipped it toward me so that I could see the price tag on the cap. “He’s pretty pricey, Mr. Peculiar”. She found that immensely humorous.

I went back for more a couple weeks later, and have enjoyed that beer, and that style, ever since. Eventually, distribution of Old Peculiar became a little more mainstream, and  I began to find it in six-packs in my local grocery store. So I guess I wasn’t the only one enjoying it. When I can’t find it, I can at least brew a reasonable facsimile.

Old Peculiar Clone
5 gallons, all-grain.

Ingredients:

  • 8 lbs. pale malt
  • 1 lb. toasted pale malt (375°F for 15 minutes)
  • 1/2 lb. roasted barley
  • 1/2 lb. dark crystal (165°L)
  • 8 oz. dark unsulphured molasses
  • 1-1/2 oz. Fuggles hop pellets @4%
  • 1 oz. Whitbread Gold Varietal hop pellets @5%
  • White Labs English Ale yeast (WLP002)
  • 2/3 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure:
Toast 1 lb. pale malt, crush along with rest of grains. Heat 15 quarts water to 164°F. Mash in grains, hold 90 minutes at 152°F. Heat 13 more quarts water to 170°F, begin runoff and sparge. Collect 26 quarts sweet wort, add the molasses. Bring to boil, add 1 oz. Fuggles, boil 30 minutes. Add WGV pellets, boil 15 minutes and add rest of Fuggles pellets. Boil 15 minutes (60 total), remove from heat and chill to 80°F. Take a hydrometer reading, pour into a sanitized fermenter, pitch the yeast and seal. Ferment 10 – 14 days at 65 – 70 °F, rack to secondary and age cooler (55°F) for 14 – 20 days. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and condition 6 to 8 weeks.

OG: 1070
IBU’s: 31.5

Notes on style: Old Ales were often just that – leftover milds, browns, porters, etc. put back in the cellar when no longer fresh, sometimes even blended together. Old Ales often developed a sour acidity, due to bacterial infection (Brettanomyces, et al), which became a little part of their typical profile. Some innkeepers went so far as to blend fresh pale ales with old ale as their customers had developed a taste for the sour beer. Modern old ales are brewed just as stronger ales, not as strong as a barleywine, but bigger and more full-bodied than pale ales and bitters. They age well, and can be kept in the cellar for up to 2 years in most cases.

Notes on the brew: My original recipe called for the use of treacle in the kettle instead of molasses. I used to carry Lyle’s Treacle (and Golden Syrup) in tins, imported from England, in the Seven Barrel Brewery Home Brew Shop, but I was unsuccessful in finding it when preparing to brew this beer. Treacle is a dark molasses that doesn’t usually have the same intense burnt-sugar flavor that molasses can have, but in small quantities in a brew like this, it isn’t an absolute requirement. Theakston brews theirs with Fuggles hops only, I decided to change some of them to WGV, just for more complexity.

3 Replies to “Ain’t That Peculiar…”

  1. Got an email from a reader that I wanted to share…

    “I just wanted to let you know that you may find increased interest in your Old Peculier (note the peculiar spelling) taste-alike recipe. Sometime around Christmas, Theakston’s ceased distribution of the ale in the U.S. A decades-long fan, I’ve been searching the country for the last bottles – or a good substitute – without much success.

    I have a nephew who’s an accomplished home brewer, but alas he just enrolled in a Ph.D. program (at Johns HOP-kins, coincidence?) in physical microbiology, so he doesn’t have much time for serious pursuits anymore…

    Thank you. I’ll bookmark your recipe and offer to pay him big time!”

    Charlie, CT

    Oops – even with the photo of the bottle on the page in front of me, I misspelled “Peculier” a couple of times…. good grief.
    -Scott

  2. I was just about to express my love of this beer, when I clicked through and saw Charlie’s comment. Terrible news! Old Peculier was always a favorite when we’d go to the Brickskeller in DC. I’m lucky to be married to a homebrewer, at least. Thanks for the recipe, Scott!

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