Friday, December 2, 2011

The Session 58: Marley's Ghost

Beersay 's Phil Hardy, has challenged us to, as he puts it, a Dickens of a topic: a beery Christmas Carol. Beers of Christmas past, present and yet to come, as it were—and that got me a-thinkin' (yeah, you see it coming.) I'm going to make this my next project.* Is it possible that one beer could fulfill all three of those qualities without tearing asunder the space time continuum? Yes, I think I can—and I'm going to make it.

Here's the game plan: Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, was published in December of 1843, so I'm going craft a 2.5 gallon, half-batch in the style of a beer that was readily available at that time. But, what beer to make, you ask? Lets look at Dickens' novella for some inspiration, shall we? Flip, flip, flip—A-HA!
...old Fezziwig, clapping his hands to stop the dance, cried out, "Well done!" and the fiddler plunged his hot face into a pot of porter, especially provided for that purpose.
You are quite correct, I did not flip through the pages of anything. I searched for the word "porter" in A Christmas Carol, on Google books. You didn't expect me to actually read anything, do you?

Porter is the perfect choice, it was the beer that built the British brewing industry. In the mid 19th-century London produced porter like it was going out of style (which actually happened—eventually). In 1840, the venerable Whitbread & Co. made nearly 155,000 barrels of porter, at their Chiswell Street brewery. That's a single brewery producing 5,580,000 gallons of black beer—alone. Yeah, it's got to be porter for this one. Now that I know that I'm going to be making a beer in the style of those made in London, in the early 1840s, (a "keeping" porter, in fact, but I'll get to the "keeping" part in a bit) I've got Christmas past covered.

On to Christmas present. Why not brew this treat up, this Christmas? Okay, not right on Christmas Day. I'm fairly sure Amy wouldn't want me to be brewing up a batch of beer while the kids are opening presents under the tree, so I've decided to use the term "present" a tad loosely. I'm setting the brew date for sometime between Christmas and New Year's Day, and saying close enough. I'm taking the week off, so I'm sure I can squeeze this one in. That establishes the present part of Christmas present, but what's going to go into this dark lovely? Do you know who'd know? Mr. Ron Pattinson, and that's exactly who I contacted. A few emails back and forth about hopping rates, and of course a good thumbing through his book Porter! (buy it, by the way) and this is what I came up with:

83% 5 lbs 11oz mild malt
15% 1 lb brown malt
2% 2 oz black malt

OG 1.062
FG 1.016
ABV 6.1%

1.5 oz 5.0 AA East Kent Goldings @ 90 min
.9 oz 5.0 AA East Kent Goldings @ 60 min
.9 oz 5.0 AA East Kent Goldings @ 30
.5 oz 5.0 AA East Kent Goldings dry hop

IBUs 129
BU:GU 2.03

Yup, that's a shit ton of hops—over 3 ounces for 2.5 gallons. By the standards of the day Porter was a bitter beer, rather than a more mild ale. If I were to follow the 3 to 5 pounds of hops/barrel, common in porter production of the mid-19th century, the ratio would be closer to 4.5 ounces. However, 19th-century brewers used yearling, two-year and three-year old hops which, due to age, had their potency significantly reduced—so I scaled back.

Remember when I mentioned that "keeping" bit earlier? Although porter in the 1840s was slowly starting to be served "mild,"or in other words shortly after it fermented, a good portion of it was still being "kept" in vats for longer periods of time—10 to 12 months. The long storage time mellowed the hops, and because the vats were made of wood, that wild and crazy guy Brettanomyces clausenii, was also hanging around, creating yet another factor for bitterness reduction. Porter was supposed to be somewhat bitter, but because of it's long storage if it didn't have that high dosage of hops, by the time it was ready to drink the bitterness would come up short.

Now that we have the recipe, my plan is to "keep" my porter for a full year, as well, until next Christmas—or Christmas yet to come, if you will. Yes, I'm also going add in some Brett c., for good measure. In late November, of next year, I'll bottle it up and maybe cask half of it in a mini keg, and the next thing you know, Tiny Tim will be dancing (in a hobbled sort of way) around my Christmas table.

There you go, Christmas past, present and future all rolled into one beer. Now, all I need is a name. How about Marley's Ghost –1843 Christmas Porter? I like that, and I think Scrooge would approve, well, at least Fezziwig would.

*You might, at this point, say to yourself, "What happened to the War Series Project?" Good question—It's actually moving along nicely, and I'll be writing about it later in the month (well, maybe January.)


  1. Great idea Craig, I hope some of my brewing buddies take me up on my challenge to follow your lead.. Thanks for posting



  2. Thanks Phil, I'll keep my finger crossed... for a year!

  3. HI Craig
    Here's a link to last months round up of Decembers which I hosted over in my blog Beersay. Thanks again for posting.

    Session #58 A Christmas Carol - Final round up

    It would be great if you could add me to your blogroll and twitter followers


  4. Phil, you are comfortably situated between "Beers I've Known" and "Beervana" in my blogroll!