Commemorative Beers and Naming Rites

In 1968, the Eldridge Pope Brewery in Dorchester, Dorset, England, brewed a beer to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the death of local novelist and poet Thomas Hardy. In his book “The Trumpet Major”, Hardy had mentioned an ale tasted at a local inn, and Pope tailored their celebratory ale to match that description:

“It was of the most beautiful colour that the eye of an artist in beer could desire; full of body, yet brisk as a volcano; piquant, yet without a twang; luminous as an autumn sunset; free from streakiness of taste; but, finally, rather heady.”

Thomas Hardy’s Ale was supposed to be a one-off, brewed only for the literary festival in Hardy’s honor, but it proved so popular that they began brewing it annually. It was vintage-dated, bottled in three or four different sized and styled bottles, with the recommendation on the label to put it away for a few years. This may have been a factor in its eventual demise, as beer drinkers wanted something more immediately drinkable. Pope ceased brewing it in 1999, having decided to get out of brewing altogether (they are in the hotel and pub supply and management business now). From 2003 to 2009, O’Hanlon’s Brewery of Exeter, Devonshire, brewed a revived Thomas Hardy’s Ale, but they also have ceased production. Often called “Britain’s Rarest Beer”, it was also for a time the strongest beer brewed in the UK.

This brew is also commemorative for me personally. 15 years ago this week I brewed my first all-grain beer, after several years using extracts and partial mash recipes. My first foray into all-grain? Dave Line’s clone recipe of Thomas Hardy’s Ale. I brewed a 2-gallon batch, a bit intimidated and not wanting to waste too much money and time on a brew that might not work. I bottled it mostly in small (8 oz.) bottles, thinking it would be too strong for a whole 12 or 16 oz. bottle at a time… Naturally, when it ran out in about a month, I wished I had brewed a full batch.

As if this were not already an interesting enough beer, another circumstance led to the naming of the brew. As I went about my Brew Day Eve preparations (milling the grains, feeding the yeast slurry, setting up the kettles and mash tun, etc.) I found a dead mouse in the sparge tun. He hadn’t been dead long, based on his condition, but somehow he had made quite a mess in the bottom of the cooler. I tossed him in the woods and, B-Brite, Iodophor and chlorine bleach treatments later, the vessel was as good as new. There will be no Mousaroma in this beer, but I did want to honor the memory of this valiant little warrior (who must have thought there was beer in the bucket). There had to be a prominent mention of a mouse somewhere in the works of Thomas Hardy. It was my friend Rick who found and sent me a link to the Hardy poem, “Channel Firing”, and thus was born Parson Thirdly’s Altar Crumb Ale.

Parson Thirdly’s Altar Crumb Ale
(clone of Eldridge Pope’s Thomas Hardy Ale)
4 gallons, all-grain

Ingredients:

  • 12 lbs. Maris Otter pale malt
  • 1 lb. toasted Maris Otter pale malt
  • 1 lb. Cara-Belge malt
  • 1 jar (11 oz.) Lyle’s Golden Syrup
  • 2 oz. Fuggles hop pellets (@4% aa)
  • 1 oz. Bramling Cross hop pellets (@5% aa)
  • 1/2 oz. Styrian Goldings hop pellets (@4.2% aa)
  • White Labs Super High Gravity ale yeast (WLP099)
  • 1/2 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure:
Crush grains. Heat 15 quarts water to 168°F. Mash in grains, hold at 158°F for 75 minutes. Heat another 13 quarts water to 170°F, begin runoff and sparge. Collect 20 quarts sweet wort. Add golden syrup, stir well. Bring to boil. Add Fuggles hops, boil 15 minutes. Add Bramling Cross hops, boil another 40 minutes. Add Styrian Goldings, boil 5 more minutes (60 total), remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment 10 14 days at 70°F. Rack to secondary, condition warm (65 – 70°F) for three to four weeks. Prime, bottle and age at least two months.

OG: 1106 (a little weak!)
IBU’s: 54.5

Note on process: I chose to use a very thick mash (i.e. less water than standard) and a slightly higher mash temperature than usual, in an attempt to get a more dextrinous wort. This should lead to a sweeter, more full-bodied beer when finished. This size mash really pushes the limits of my brewing set-up. This much grain nearly fills my mash tun, and with the mash being so thick, runoff and sparge are very slow. In fact, the runoff was just about stopped at one point, stuck, so I gently swirled the mash for a few seconds, hoping I could loosen it up a little. I had put the kettle on the stove already to start the boil, and had a large measuring cup catching the last few ounces (I thought) of the runoff. I walked out of the room for a few minutes and came back to a small flood, about a quart of wort spreading golden across the floor…

Note on Golden Syrup: Many British brewers use some cane sugar in their brews, and it was long an absolute staple of British homebrewers (it may still be!). Golden syrup is also known as “light treacle”, and is made from evaporated cane sugar. Similar to invert sugar, the process reduces the size of the sugar crystals, making them more readily dissolved and fermented. It has a toasty caramel flavor, and a small amount in a brew like this will not produce any of the dreaded cidery/hot flavors regular cane sugar often does.

Note on yeast: According to several sources, the White Labs Super High Gravity yeast is in fact the Eldridge Pope strain used in the 70’s to brew Thomas Hardy’s Ale. In any event, it does have a considerably higher alcohol tolerance, making it a good choice for this big beer.

Note on aging and storage: The original Thomas Hardy labels instructed consumers to put the bottles away for a few years. I have participated on a couple occasions in “vertical flight tastings”, comparing as many as 6 or 7 different vintages. This brew will age well, will evolve in the bottle, but I wouldn’t keep it over five or six years. Try one after about three months, but be sure and keep some for longer storage.

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.

To brew or not to brew…

I had to spend about half the day running errands, partly because I lost Tuesday this week – here in Vermont, the first Tuesday of March is Town Meeting Day, the ultimate example of local democracy in action. I got home from my errands today well after noon and by the time I unloaded the truck, checked on the livestock and ate a late lunch, it was almost 2:00. No energy, no motivation, no real urgent need to brew. Oh well, I had a lot of beer in storage, lots of full bottles. I could afford to skip a week.

But it didn’t feel right. I felt empty, unfulfilled. So here I am, almost 9:00 pm, and the kettle is heating up.

At the South Royalton Market, we get our malt extract in 33 lb. bulk jugs. I fill dispensing bins from these jugs, and when I have poured as much of the extract out as I can, I take the jugs themselves home to rinse out and either recycle or reuse. I use them to store raw maple sap prior to boiling, but also to carry water out to the animals, sometimes, and I have even used them as small fermenters on a couple of occasions. But here’s the thing – when I bring them home, they still have a few tablespoons of extract in them, stuck to the sides, inaccessible in their current state. I pour a pint or so of boiling water in to rinse them out and save that “rinse”. Usually I am rinsing out two or three jugs at a time, so I end up with a half-gallon of what is essentially wort – which I save, of course. I boil it for 15 minutes or so, and then can it in Mason jars.

Hard to read, but the hydrometer says 1.100

Tonight I poured 16 quart jars and 10 pint jars of these “dregs” into the brew kettle, 5.25 gallons. I am waiting for it to reach boiling, when I will add 2 oz. of my homegrown Cascade hops. After 15 minutes, I will add 1-1/2 oz. of my homegrown Cluster hops. After another 15 minutes, I will add 2 oz. of homegrown Chinook hops. The boil time will be 60 minutes total, and I will then chill it and pitch a vial of White Labs Super High Gravity Ale yeast (WLP099). What will it be? Not really a barleywine, although certainly in that strength range. Before boiling, the wort measured just about 1100.  I have no way of measuring the actual IBU’s, but guestimating based on the usual % aa of these hops, it should weigh in at something like 95 or so. It’s a little bigger and maybe not quite as bitter, but I expect this to taste something like Stone’s Arrogant Bastard Ale, one of my favorite beers of the last 10 years. So I guess I will call it “Suffering Bastard”, and maybe I will serve it with little paper umbrellas…