How did you come to find this recipe? -- I found the recipe by chance. I was browsing in England's National Brewing Library for historical stuff on porters and came across a paper published in the 1930s. This was by H. Lloyd Hind, a noted British brewing scientist, and gave details of the recipe such as malt bill, original gravity, final gravity and hop rate that are not normally available on old beers.
Was this a special beer in its day?-- It certainly was. Only one cask of it was brewed and only once a year, usually in October or March at only one brewery. It was then stored for one year or more and served only to Fellows of the College. That was Queen's College Brewery in Oxford University, where brewing commenced around 1340 and continued until the brewery was closed in 1937.
What does this recipe reveal about the beer culture of its time? – It is a perfect example of how beers were brewed for centuries, in that the Chancellor was brewed from the first run-off from the mash, and a smaller beer was made by re-mashing the grains, a technique known a parti-gyling. This is in contrast to most modern big beers where, by sparging after mashing, all the extract from the grains goes to make one beer. Parti-gyling is occasionally practiced by craft brewers these days, both here and in England.
Does it shine some light on bygone brewing practices? – Yes indeed. The Queen's College brewery even when it closed in 1937 was still a medieval set-up. The malt was mixed in with the hot liquor manually using wooden rakes, and there was no sparging. Wort was transferred to the copper by means of an 18th century hand pump, and cooled in shallow wooden vessels. The fermenters were wooden casks and the beer was physically ladled from them into the final cask. I don't think any modern commercial (or even most home) brewers would sleep well at night brewing this way, as the possibility of infections under such primitive conditions would keep them awake!
Despite the above, Lloyd Hind reported that the beer was very good in 1936, showing very little in the way of sourness, as might have been expected. And showing that our ancestors could brew a great product despite the limitations of their equipment!
Recreating bygone beers can be tricky in modern times. What makes our modern version of this beer true to the original? -- Because the College used only pale malt, our modern version is about as good a reproduction as it is possible to make of a centuries-old beer. Because we are using a malt which has not changed radically (as far as beer flavor is concerned) over hundreds of years. Other old beers, such as Porters and Stouts are much more difficult to reproduce because they were brewed with malts that are no longer available. Incidentally, my interest in this beer was piqued not just by all of the above, but because the versions I made myself at home were so well-received!
For us here at Wynkoop, you are one of the unsung heroes of the US craft beer revolution. So doing this beer with you is a big thrill for us. And we love the great story behind the beer. Can you tell our fans a bit about your impressive backstory? – I was born and educated in London (UK) with a Ph.D. in Organic chemistry, and worked in chemicals research for some years. I started brewing at home some fifty years ago (despite a severe shortage of information at the time). I also wrote about commercial and home brewing in England before moving to the US in 1997, including Dr. Foster's Book of Beer, published in England in 1978. I worked then in the field of chemicals for mineral beneficiation, traveling the world from America and Australia to Russia and Zambia, handling every type of mineral, including copper, gold, diamonds, lead, zinc, uranium, and aluminum. 1997 was just when home and craft brewing were really getting going in the US, and I wrote for a number of different brewing magazines, and gave lectures on various aspects of brewing at Brewers' Association conferences. I authored the first BA book on Classic beer styles, namely Pale Ale (1990), which set the tone for all the subsequent books in the Classic series. My "Porter' followed in 1992, and then BA published a much-enlarged and revised edition of Pale Ale in 1999.
That is one impressive resume. What are you up to these days? --I have now retired from my "day job", and spend a good deal of my time researching old beers in places like the National Brewing Library, the British Library, and the Beinecke Rare Books Library at Yale University. I brew regularly with my old friend Jeff Browning at Bru Brm @ Bar, a brewpub in New Haven CT, where we occasionally produce commercial batches of historical beers. I also write a regular column on brewing techniques in Brew Your Own magazine, and was a contributor to the recent Oxford Companion to Beer (ed. Garrett Oliver).
When you aren’t deep in beer, what do you enjoy? -- I like mainstream jazz, playing tennis, Impressionist artists, steak and kidney pie, and I still love brewing!
Okay, there’s the skinny on this very cool beer and one of our heroes. Stop in soon to try our delicious recreation and raise a glass to ultra-old-school brewing and Terry Foster.