A few months ago I came across an old English style of beer, the Burton Ale, that seems to be all but forgotten these days, excepting a few blogs, such as Martyn Cornell’s Zythophile and a 2011 article in Zymugry (co-written by the Martyn Cornell and the late Antony Hayes). While details are scarce about this style, everything I found points to this beer being a big, malty beer with a darker hue and a fairly simple grain bill.
I don’t need 10 gallons of a 9-10% abv beer so I decided I would make a 5 gallon batch, and since efficiency can be troublesome with higher gravity beers I also decided to make this a long boil. The plan was to make a standard strength beer, what would normally be around 1.050 OG for a 10 gallon batch, and boil it down to a 5 gallon batch. A long boil has the added benefit of increasing colour and flavour through Maillard reactions. You can see the recipe here.
I’m unclear if a long boil would have ever been used traditionally to make a Burton Ale, though I did find a few references to modern recipes that used this method. As I mentioned, recipes for Burton Ales seemed to be fairly basic, so for mine I used mainly Maris Otter with a small amount of Brown Malt. My hope was that I would add just enough of the Brown Malt to impart a light roast complexity that with the concentration due to the long boil would come across a little more intensely, but not over the top.
Burton Ale Brew Day
The four hour boil afforded me an excellent opportunity to gather some data that would help dial in the boil timing and get a better idea about the actual boil-off rate of my system. I measured three pieces of data:
- Brix/Gravity using my refractometer (which apparently sucks despite being calibrated that day)
- Gravity using a hydrometer
You can view the chart of the results that I published through Google Drive. To make the graph easier to read I posted the specific gravity readings as ‘gravity units’, for example 1.050 = 50. I stopped taking refractometer readings after seeing how off they were and that they wouldn’t be useful. One of the most interesting results is to see the gravity curve of the hydrometer measurements is non-linear, especially towards the end. I’m not sure if that makes sense scientifically, though maybe the Maillard reactions increase gravity more than a simple water reduction would?
I didn’t quite hit the gravities I was hoping to, as I was really aiming for 1.100, but it seems I have been underestimating my boil-off rate. I have been using a keggle-standard 1.5 gal/hr, but my data shows I am actually boiling off more in the range of 1.75 gal/hr! That is quite the difference. I also finally decided to figure out if BeerSmith’s pre- and post-boil numbers include thermal expansion or not, and it turns out they do. I’m not sure why, but I always assumed they did not and tried to account for it myself by eyeballing a little extra wort into the kettle. These two knew pieces of information should help me dial in my process a little better in the future and allow em to hit my numbers more consistently.
I took a picture of the four hydrometer samples side-by-side for an over time colour comparison. As you can see the colour deepened to a ruby/rusty hue by the end. It dropped brilliantly clear after cooling and I saw a very neat looking cold break (picture below) as a result. There was a very clear flavour progression in the samples from beginning to end, though the 80 min sample didn’t taste all that different, but that is to be expected since that is in the range of a standard boil length.
I took my first sample post-fermentation on 6/16 and I’m very happy with it so far. I achieved 72% apparent attenuation (WLP023 has an expected attenuation of 69-75%), which gives me a beer of 9% abv. It is quite boozy at the moment, which isn’t unexpected in a big beer this young, and it has quite a nice flavour. There are dark fruit notes from the Maillard reactions and the light roast comes through from the Brown Malt. I’m pretty excited to see how this beer matures, and I’m sure I’ll be sampling it more over time! I’m planning to naturally carbonate it in the keg since I have so long to age it, and I figure that might change (hopefully enhance) the flavour profile over time as well.
One Potential Problem…
Unfortunately I have one major concern at this point: while I was away at NHC in San Diego, my house experienced a power outage for a few hours in the middle of a hot day and my fermentation chamber is in the garage. Fortunately the Burton Ale was well through the fermentation period, so I’m not expecting off flavors from stressed yeast, but this beer had MASSIVE blow off and I foolishly didn’t change the blow off water prior to leaving. The chamber must have warmed quite a bit (I’m sure my sour liked that), and when I got around to checking on it yesterday the carboy had sucked in a lot. I loop my blow-off hoses to help prevent minor suck back, and the collapsed carboy is evidence that it didn’t manage to suck back much, if any, but I foolishly lifted the hose out of the blow off water rather than removing the cap to allow air (eek!) in to get the carboy back to its appropriate shape and I definitely heard a faint trickle of liquid go into the beer. The blow off carboy doesn’t smell horrible, though it doesn’t smell great either, and I’m now concerned that my 6-month aging period will open the beer up to infection. Fingers crossed on this one, but if I start to notice anything with the beer, I’ll most likely pitch my wild culture in it and see what happens and maybe rebrew the actual beer. Only time will tell I guess…
The Updated Recipe – a few changes were made for the 2016 batch and they will carry over into 2017 and beyond.
Burton Ale Tasting Notes – tasting notes from the original 2015 batch.
Sounds like a great experiment there.
I am wondering if the deepening of the wort color could be accounted due to the evaporation during the boil process. Did you take a color sample after bringing you wort up to the 5 gallon level after chilling?
Michael, I only boiled down to the 5 gallon level, so no extra water was needed. Adding extra water post-boil is actually uncommon with all-grain brewing as you generally need a pot big enough to handle the full boil.
As for the colour, it develops as a result of a chemical reaction, called a Maillard reaction, that I mentioned in my post. That reaction is between a sugar molecule and an amino acid. It is responsible for the browning of most foods, from bread crust to seared meat to beer 🙂