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British Old Ale 1.0

The finished beer
One of my themes in 2018 has been to brew some new styles of beer. My approach is to read the available information in the BJCP guidelines, online forums, magazines, and anywhere else I can find it. I'll study the recipes to look for common themes and ratios, try to imagine how those recipes might taste as finished beers, and then come up with my own recipe based on what I've read.

The British Old Ale style is one that I've liked when I've found a rare example here in the USA. Since I have never brewed one, today seemed to be the right time to try.

My goal here is to create a darker-colored, higher-gravity Old Ale that's balanced (between malt and hops) and complex enough to make you want to sip it thoughtfully.


8.25 pounds of a mix of Belgian Pale Ale and Swaen Pale Malt (see note below)
2 ounces of British Medium Crystal Malt (50-60L)
2 ounces of Belgian Special B Malt
1 ounce of Carafa III Special Malt
8 ounces of Lyle's Black Treacle (added to starting water)
1 ounce of Fuggles hops @ 4.5% AA (60 min.)
1 ounce of Fuggles hops @ 4.5% AA (45 min.)
1 ounce of Fuggles hops @ 4.5% AA (5 min.)
1/2 tsp. Gypsum in the mash
1.5 tsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer in the mash
1/4 tsp. Yeast Nutrient with the last Fuggles addition
1/2 tsp. Brewtan B with the last Fuggles addition
3.4 gallons of starting water (mixed with the treacle)
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
1 packet Lallemand London ESB dry yeast

(Note: I wanted to use Maris Otter as the base, but I was out of it. The other malts needed to be used up, and were European malts - so they were as close as I could get. I used the Special B malt for the same reason - it was close to the British malt I wanted to use in its color, and should contribute a nice flavor to the finished beer. I used Carafa III as a replacement for Black Patent Malt to color the beer.)

According to the PicoBrew Recipe Crafter, this beer should have the following characteristics:
  • BJCP Style: 17.B Old Ale
  • Original Gravity: 1.092 SG (1.067 SG actual)
  • Final Gravity: 1.025 SG (1.014 SG actual)
  • IBUs: 45
  • SRM: 22.9
  • ABV: 8.9% (7.0% actual)
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons (1.9 gallons actual)
The mash schedule will be a modified version of the Zymatic High-Efficiency Mash:
  • Dough In at 102F for 20 minutes
  • Step 1 at 120F for 15 minutes
  • Step 2 at 152F for 60 minutes
  • Step 3 at 159F for 20 minutes
  • Mash Out at 175F for 10 minutes
The boil schedule:
  • 60 minutes: Fuggles addition
  • 45 minutes: Fuggles addition
  • 5 minutes: Fuggles, BrewTan and Yeast Nutrient additions
The wort will then be pumped through a counter-flow chiller into a fermenter and cooled further to a yeast-safe temperature before the yeast and Clarity Ferm are added.

The Lallemand ESB yeast likes to be between 65F and 72F. I'm planning to hold it at 68F until it's attenuated at least 60% of the sugar away, and then will raise it to 72F to finish out. I'm expecting this could take two weeks given the relatively high gravity of the brew.

I'll then bottle it with a low or medium carbonation level and allow it to age a bit before serving.

Post-Brew Notes and Observations

10/21/2018:  During the boil, the keg post between the Zymatic and the keg became clogged, slowing the flow of wort back into the keg during the boil and almost completely stopping it by the last three minutes of the boil. I came back to the machine to find the grain bed mostly full of wort. I drained the machine and pumped the wort into the fermenter, disappointed to find that there was less than two gallons and a very low gravity. I'll have to re-brew this beer to know how this recipe might really turn out. I'll pitch yeast into this one anyway and see what we end up with.

It's possible the back-up into the grain bed might have extracted tannins from the grain husks and given the beer a nasty tannin edge. It may have prevented the wort from flowing properly through the hop cages, resulting in over-bittering or under-bittering. Even if the bittering was right on target, the gravity of the beer came up 25 points low, so it could be way over-bittered for the original gravity. I won't really know until fermentation is over.

10/29/2018:  Gravity is down to 1.014 SG and is starting to level off. That's about 78% attenuation and 7% ABV.

10/31/2018: Gravity is currently holding at 1.014-1.015 SG and the temperature is holding at 66F.

11/3/2018: Gravity has been holding at 1.014 SG for a while now. That appears to be its final gravity. Time to bottle it and give it time to condition.

11/4/2018: The beer was bottled today, using three small carbonation tablets per bottle. Yield was only 21 bottles.

11/27/2018: The beer is about 3 weeks old now. When I opened the bottle, there was a solid hiss of released CO2 pressure. The beer poured a nearly opaque reddish brown with nice off-white head that lasted a while. The aroma hints at malt and licorice. The flavor is decidedly malty, with hints of prune or raisin, a clear but not too intense bitterness, a medium to full mouthfeel, and a bitter aftertaste. It's a good beer, but I wonder how much better it might have been if I'd hit my target gravities and had the ingredients on-hand that I'd wanted to use. I'll try the beer again in a few months to see how it has improved with age (if it has). I will also probably brew it again once I have the right ingredients.

04/16/2019:  The beer did not fare well in the Barley's homebrew competition this year.  In large part, this is because it became over-carbonated and foamed out of the bottle so much that there wasn't enough there to taste.  One of the judges felt this was due to bacterial contamination. Given that my equipment is cleaned thoroughly after each use and sanitized before use. My bottles are rinsed with hot water, run through the dishwasher, and soaked in Star San before filling. While there are no guarantees, of course, infection seems unlikely.  If it did happen, it most likely came from the internals of the Zymatic machine, which are sealed and impossible to fully clean. More likely would be over-priming or bottling too early.  This particular batch spent about a week at 1.014 SG before bottling. 

Tonight, I opened a bottle to see if their experience was typical for the batch or a fluke.  While I did not have a foam-over, there was definitely a LOT of carbonation... much more than there should be for the style. The beer is pretty dry, which makes me think it must have fermented more in the bottle. Honestly, I am probably going to toss this batch. It's bitter, dry, thin, and too carbonated.


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