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.

Breaking News: Bigfoot Sighting!

OK, I really like big beers. Belgian Tripels, Imperial Stouts, Old Ales, I enjoy contemplating the complexities of life through the huge flavors, over-the-top hops and higher alcohol content of the brewer’s extreme offerings. ‘Tis the season for the annual release of Sierra Nevada’s Barleywine, “Bigfoot”. I got my hands on a six-pack today and enjoyed one as a reward for grinding the grains with which I am going to brew tomorrow, and another while watching my favorite TV show tonight, “Leverage”.  Gotta tell you, I don’t remember as good a vintage as this 2010.

First contact: Gorgeous reddish-amber, crystal clear, and a well-developed off-white head.

Aroma: Hops dominate, but there is a lot of caramel/burnt sugar/general maltiness plus a wave of alcohol. The label says 9.6% abv. I believe it.

Body/mouthfeel: this is a rich beer, full-bodied and smooth. Not syrupy by any means, but definitely more of a mouthful than average. The carbonation levels not only make it “lighter” in body than it could be (and thus more eminently drinkable) but also really help bring out the hop bite. You get fizzy bubbles, but when they burst you get an awesome hop flavor.

Flavor: More hops than malt, but almost as much alcohol as hops. It’s bitter, as it should be but it’s also sweet. And  bitter again, and malty and sweet again… Folks, there’s so much going on in this beer you can lose track. Bread, raisins, bitter hops dueling with caramel,  molasses, not at all fruity, and seriously bitter… Did I mention that it’s pretty bitter? But in a good way….

Go get yourself some and see what you think.