Monday, May 9, 2011

Lazarus Lager

Unless you've been living under a rock, as opposed to on this rock, you will know that I am rather partial to lager. My "go to" beer of late has been Devils Backbone's lovely Vienna Lager, I have also been availing myself of various American made pilsner style lagers, some decent, some not. Despite the fulminations of some in the beer world, Britain has a decent history of brewing lager style beers. The very first cold fermented beers in Britain are reputed to have been brewed in Scotland, as early as 1835. Unfortunately, being in the days before refrigeration, the yeast didn't survive more than a few brews, and although the 19th century saw several more attempts at brewing lager it wasn't until the early 20th century that British brewers started to make a more concerted effort to make lager.


In the 1930s, the London brewery Barclay Perkins, located in the Anchor Brewery in Southwark, employed one Arthur Henius, a Dane, to head up their lager brewing operations. During that time, Barclay Perkins produced three lager styles, two pales and a dark. Where am I going with all this historical information? Well, quite simply, last Thursday saw the culmination of a project between myself, Jason Oliver at Devils Backbone and Ron Pattinson of Shut Up About Barclay Perkins.


When we heard that Ron was coming over to the States, and would be just a couple of hours away in Washington DC, we decided that it would be good to try and arrange a brewday with Ron, and to brew a historical beer. Previously Jason had used a recipe from one of Ron's books as inspiration for his 1904 Ramsey's Stout, and with an interest in brewing forgotten beers it was natural to try and arrange something. The seemingly now tradition thread of emails ensued, unfortuantely Nathan Zeender from DC couldn't make it down for the brewday, though was involved in the email chain.

We went round several ideas of beers to recreate, and eventually came to the notion of brewing a British lager. From there it was a short step to deciding on a British dark lager, and it just so happened that in Ron's possession was a recipe from 1934 for Barclay Perkins' Dark Lager. It had to be done.

The recipe was fairly simple, the malts being lager, pale and caramel, added to the mash late on was roasted barley, in order to get colour without the harsh roasted flavour you associate with that grain. I was surprised when I saw the recipe that it was hopped only with Saaz, surprised but delighted!

Naturally we wanted to be as authentic as possible, and so various salts and minerals were added to Devils Backbone's insanely soft water to mimic as close as possible the hard water of London (when we brewed the pilsner last year I learnt that their water is softer than Plzeň!). From reviewing the brewing log's technical details Jason decided that it would be more authentic to do a temperature control mash rather than a decoction. At the end of the day we had 10 hectolitres of 14.25º Plato, dark brown wort, which had about 25 IBUs of Saaz goodness and should be ready for drinking some time in July I imagine.


It seems to have become traditional that these brewdays inevitably involve sampling various beers. Ron bought with him a bottle of the new East India Porter from Pretty Things, a recreation of a 19th century porter made with extra hops to survive the sea journey to India (sound familiar? cough, splutter, black IPA my arse cough). Keeping with the theme of historical beers, Ron also brought along a bottle of the first in the Fuller's Past Masters series, which you can see in the picture, and was a lovely beer. So lovely in fact, I wish I could find it in the States.


We had a really good day, it was a pleasure to meet Ron in person, and as ever to go brewing at Devils Backbone.

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