2 for 1 – packed and ready for a trip. First stop in France to greet our friend Lavoisier, “Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed“. It will all make sense, we promise.
Now let’s talk about art. Making beer is an art, as much as my mother disagrees. It’s a creative act, the expression of an individual, of ideas and experiences. We take a leap into ancient Greece, but don’t tell them this is about beer, they will be nervous. Aristotle, unlike Plato, argued that all art, as an imitation, is creative and dynamic.
For us, this inspiration also happens in moments, experiences, conversations. All of this captured, spoken and lived, later, in a glass. We will not deceive anyone, our inspiration, unlike other arts, does not always come from nature. A beer inspired by cows grazing in Miranda do Douro has never been made. Well, at least so far.
All this to say that an Old Fashioned, which seemed to have no history, ended up here. A message in a bottle. Beer is art.
We cross the Atlantic and ask Jerry Thomas for an Old Fashioned, he grabs a solitary cube of sugar, a few drops of Angostura Bitter, gently macerated in a mixing glass. Filled with ice and Bourbon (alternatively, rye whiskey) it’s stirred and not shaken. Served in a low glass, with ice and a piece of freshly cut orange peel. When you want something other than a beer, here’s an idea. Free tip.
We return to Europe, stopping in London. We have Martyn Cornell as a guide, talking about the great flood of 1814, talking about the differences between a stout and a porter and we still send jokes about oysters in beer. But what we really want to know is, unsurprisingly, what is an Old Ale?
Aged beers, prolonged fermentation in vats, letting the microflora proliferate and express itself. High initial densities, with sufficient residual sweetness to balance the heat from the alcohol. Perhaps because there were no social media platforms to score beers or because there were no competitions to rate the best productions, the market had to adapt. And without the contributions of the aforementioned Martyn, as well as those of Ron Pattinson and Pete Brown, the story would be even more confusing.
At the end of the 19th century, the first beers appeared, which the brewers referred to as Old Ales. With the turn of the century and some of the poorest moments in human history that came with it, these beers were taken to a secondary role.
Against the scarcity, with which everyone had to learn to live, it was necessary to reinvent beer, doing everything to make the most of the scarce cereal available. In Ron Pattinson’s Homebrewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer, we see the evolution of densities over the years, the Whitbread Mild Ale, which at the beginning of the century would be between 1,050 and 1,060 specific density, during World War II it was below 1,030. Even in times of crisis, beer production cannot stop, it is a beverage with unrivaled social importance.
Techniques, like styles, evolve. The idea of cleaning the cereal, with a second mash, to produce two different beers had been abandoned in the 18th century. In the mid-twentieth century the technique was still maintained, but now to fine-tune the final density. Both worts were produced, boiled separately and at the end they were mixed. This is for another day, the idea of having twice as much beer at the end of the day seduces us more.
Respecting the tradition – both the English one and ours to put ourselves into unnecessary long and hard processes, we embrace parti-gyle. This day requires the management of pans. Add wort, remove wort, produce caramel syrups and cross your fingers hoping that everything goes well. We started with Old Ale mash, with some grocer-shop math, to achieve the miracle of stuffing all the cereal in the basket. Water prepared, with a generous dose of minerals – there is no soft water here, you can bring any stones you want.
Conversion taking place, this time beta-amylase was not invited to the party, alpha-amylase is doing the job.
With the first wort ready to bring to a boil, we started the conversion of the second wort, with a slight reinforcement of base malt and crystal malt (and we did get it all in the basket!). A water profile more tamed in a beer, it too, more contained. Everything ready, time to make caramel. Inverted sugar syrups have always been present at the UK brewing school. In fact, not only there, but also on the breakfast table to accompany pancakes and waffles.
Syrup made just in time to add to the boiling wort, nutrients for hungry yeasts, anticipating hard work ahead. After that we cooled it down and transferred to the fermenter. Unfortunately, the final volume was below expectations. Not a huge problem, there is one more full pot. Let’s get to it.
Mash conversion complete, free sugar, this could have ended up in dog biscuits, bread for the curious or even feeding some animals, but no, this used cereal gave even more beer. Feeling ourselves enthusiastic about the success of our crusade, one question remained, what about them hops? Call it destiny, there was a First Gold leftover calling for us.
Two beers in one day? Done. Yeast splitted with no scientific measuring and worts are inoculated. Now will we wait 2 years? I think you know the answer…
The English Bitter, the style in which this second part of the parti-gyle would fit, naturally ended the fermentation quite quickly. We matured it with gelatin to help the precipitation of solid matter, transferred to a corny keg and its ready to fight the torrid days of the Portuguese heat approaching.
The Old Ale, even with more than 30% headspace, had a vigorous fermentation, worthy of true top cropping yeast. It ended up fermenting open, exposed to oxygen, for 48 hours. Controversial yes, but that’s decidedly a theme for another post.
When the explosive krausen came down, we added the wood, squares pieces chopped from whiskey barrels entered, to simulate historical maturation. We are letting them on their own do their job for at least two weeks.
Next up, homemade Orange bitter prepared and ready to shine and bring the perfume as it happens in your Old Fashioned.
Just two elements were missing, one in the cocktail – Angostura – and the other in beer – Brettanomyces. The first, reminiscent of iodine, creates a conflict with beer. The second creates a conflict with the cocktail. Although Old Ale often had wild yeasts, or were not the first traces of these cultures from England, we had to sacrifice personal taste and historical consistency for the sake of our mission. Pay homage to a classic cocktail with a somewhat modern beer.
And that’s it! With a simple bottle we can talk about European countries, history, and the rise of the cocktail culture, that’s the charm of beer. There are no limits, it is a democratic drink, always, in its production or consumption. It’s present in social life and in moments of celebration, in the best and worst episodes in history, in comedy and drama.
It was present yesterday, it’s present today, it will be present tomorrow. Cheers!
Old Fashioned Ale / Bitter Parti-gyle
Batch: 15L / 20L
Total Cereal 6kg / 2kg
Final gravity: 1.101 / 1.042
IBU: 37 / 22
Boil Time: 90 minutos / 60 minutos
75% – 5 kg. Maris Otter / 1kg Maris Otter
12.5% – 1 kg. Crystal Dark / 1kg Premium English Caramalt
12.5% – 1L Golden Syrup homemade
30 gr. Columbus (pellet, 14% AA) @ 60 min. / 25 gr. First Gold (whole leaft, 7.5% AA) @ 60min. + 80 gr. @whirlpool
WLP006 – Bedford English Ale Yeast propagated in 5L flask. Splitted between the two batches, a bit more to the Old Ale, just eyeballed, no rigor whatsoever.
Ca: 144 / 69
Mg: 30 / 16
Na: 177 / 28
Cl: 234 / 102
SO4: 131 / 72
Cl to SO4 Ratio: 1.78 / 1.41
Saccharification a 69ºC por 60min. / Same same, milds laking body are just boring
pH@30 min 5.80 – 3.5ml lactic acid for correction / pH@pre-boil 5.39
pH@60 min 5.32
Wort produced and inoculated. Party started, like those parties on drugs, with drum players on passing on the sofa, foaming from their mouth.
60 gr. of whisky barrel wood squares (Old Ale). Now it’s a refined gentleman.
Parti-gyle english bitter is done. Kegged, the real party/barbecue can now start. Final gravity 1.012
Old Ale blended with homemade orange bitter, 1% dilution, 1ml of bitter for each 100ml of beer, total 130ml for 13L of final product, bottled at 2.1 volumes of Co2.
Final gravity 1.022