I like to think that beer runs in my blood. When the Treaty of Waitangi was being signed my ancestors on my mother’s side were running a pub on the south coast of England. Over half a century later my paternal great grandfather was working as a drayman delivering beer to the pubs of London. I’m not sure whether or not there is any real connection between my family history and my passion for beer but my discovery of my family history has most definitely given me a passion for brewing history. The brewing team at London’s Fullers brewery share my passion for history and it has inspired them to embark on a series of brews that aim to recreate beers from their brewing records which document every brew the company has undertaken since the 1880’s.
The Past Masters series is a collaboration between Fullers head brewer John Keeling , brewing manager Derek Prentice and English brewing historian Ron Pattinson. Various recipes from the archive will be recreated and released as one off specials. The first beer to be released has been called XX Strong Ale and dates from 1891. XX would have been considered to be of the ‘Burton Ale’ style at the time it was released. Burton Ale is no longer a recognised style but is in essence a strong moderately dark (mid copper to dark brown) highly hopped type of beer that is at the same time rich and warming yet highly drinkable.
Fullers went to significant lengths to recreate XX. Barley and hop varieties are agricultural products which evolve through time. Fullers searched out the heirloom barley variety Plumage Archer and had it malted in an antique drum malting. Parts of the now semi automated Fullers brew house had to be ‘jury rigged’ in order to brew as they would have in 1892. The beer was vatted or aged for three months before being bottled and released. XX Strong Ale was heavily hopped imparting a complex spicy fruity resinous character to the beer. However the traditional aging of the beer means that unlike modern hoppy brews the beer is rounded and complex rather than obviously bitter. XX Strong Ale has a pronounced malt loaf and candied citrus peel aroma, loads of spicy pithy hop flavour, and a lingering fruity finish.
It’s a fascinating snapshot of Victorian beer and one of the best beers I have had this year. It’s currently available around town so search it out!
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