Historical: 1835 Western Australian Ale

A fantastic 8% pale ale recipe from a 1835 Western Australian newspaper

Hi Homebrewers,

Today’s recipe is the first of what I hope to many posts tying together my two passions in life: Brewing and archaeology. In archaeology we spend our time trying to tell a story about the past based on the information we can find. One of the problems with archaeology is that we often only have a fraction of the picture with which to tell the story. Such is the way with historical beer. There’s so many questions about early colonial beers in Australia: How modified were the malts? What conditions were the malts and hops in when they reached the colonies after months at sea?  What were the early colonial malts and hops like? Most importantly, what did it actually taste like? There’s so many more questions like these and lots of recipes for us to follow, and we can never truly know what they would have tasted, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to find out.

These historical recipe posts will go through the source of the recipe, some of the background history and any relevant archaeology. Where possible, I will include references and links to the source materials. We’ll then focus on each ingredient and the assumptions we’ve made in translating the recipe to a modern, home-brewing scale.

This recipe was one of several that myself and two other archaeologists presented at this year’s Australian Archaeology Association conference. We presented a paper about the meaning of beer and the insights that can be gained by undertaking experimental archaeology, in this case brewing historic recipes. I will be writing another post about our paper and how the beers we brewed differed and how they were received.

Barrels of beer await tasting at the annual Australian Archaeology conference

Recipe Source and Historical Insights

The recipe I present you today comes from Saturday 7th February 1835 from The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal in an article titled “Private Brewing” [1]. It should be noted that at this point in time the Swan River Colony, comprising  Perth, Fremantle and Guildford, did not have a single brewery. The first brewery in the colony wouldn’t come until late in the following year. Until then, all beer was being imported, coming from either the eastern colonies, or the United Kingdom.

There was definitely a desire for a local brewery being called for in the local papers during this period. Specifically, beer was seen as preferable to harder spirits, which the local journalists saw as a morally corrupt demon-drink.

“It may tend to lessen our Revenue, but the moral degradation of a portion of our population will, we trust, be averted, by the supply of a wholesome beverage, in lieu of the intoxicating and madening [sic] spirits which are infused into their brains, to steal away their senses.” [2]

As the article says, beer was seen as a wholesome beverage. The preferred choice of drink of the masses and in many cases an important source of calorific intact for many of the poorer, working-class people in society.

However, the issue was cost; if you look at the page on which the article is published, you’ll see a price for a dozen (probably reputed quart-sized = 750 ml / 25.4 US oz.) imported beers – is 15 shillings. In today’s money that’s $117 (AUD); an outrageous price for such a simple and basic product! To put it in perspective, despite Australia’s ridiculous alcohol excise taxes, a dozen long necks (750 ml) of Coopers Pale Ale cost around $65. Meanwhile, in 1835 a gallon (a Imperial gallon too: 4.54 litres / 1.2 US gallons) of rum was just 14s! By many accounts, especially those made by the upper classes regarding the working class, people were shit-faced half the time. Workers were tardy, people got injured and generally just did a really shit job; not that you can blame someone for doing a half-assed job when sloshed. No wonder the local rag (written by well-to-do middle-class journalists) was publishing recipes for people to lend their hand at making their own beer. It was, after all, their moral-imperative to help the wretched masses help themselves.

Click here to read the recipe for yourself
A interesting insight into life and brewing in the early Swan River Colony.

Possibly most interesting in the article about brewing are the instructions for all would-be brewers to make their own brewery at home with the most basic of equipment salvaged from common colonial objects. A simple mash tun with false-bottom and a fermentation vessel, both made from re-purposed porter barrels. The kind of barrel is actually quite important in this instance, as we will see later. A tin-plate boiler or copper, we are told, is ideal to serve as the boil kettle.

Recipe Assumptions

Being such an old recipe it’s pretty difficult to get an accurate idea of exactly what yeasts and hops would have been used, so we have to look at the evidence for other areas such as trade and where imports were coming from. So on that basis, here are the assumptions I made in brewing this recipe:

Yeasts

So we’re flying pretty blind here as far as specific strains. Given that pale ales, porters and strong ales were being imported in barrelled form from the UK and that the article discusses using ex-porter barrels for a fermentation vessel (referred to as a fermentation tun), it is not unreasonable to assume that the yeasts in the grain of the wood would have started the first fermentation. Yeast could then be collected for subsequent batches. Because yeasts were not isolated until the 1883 by E.C. Hansen, and given that porters especially were known for their ‘old’ character, I assumed that there would have been numerous strains of yeast including Brettanomyces.

The yeasts I used were a blend of dried English yeasts: Windsor, Nottingham, Fermentis S-04. I also used liquid yeast, Wyeast 5151-PC Brettanomyces claussenii. A total of five grams of each dried yeasts were combined to form a blended Saccharomyces yeast. These were then rehydrated using the manufacturers recommendations and pitched. A starter was made for the Wyeast 5151-PC Brettanomyces claussenii a few days earlier using 2 litres (0.53 US gallons) of 1.040 light DME wort. The spent wort was decanted and half of the resulting slurry was added to the recipe wort at the same time as the English yeast blend. The remaining half of the slurry was filed away into my yeast bank for freezing.

Hops

Hops were also a difficult one to deal with. 1835 is too early for many hop varieties (including Fuggles). Kent Goldings, American Cluster and European varieties were likely kicking around. However, given that the Swan River Colony (Around Perth, Western Australia) was a British colony, I made the assumption the hops being used were likely from Kent, which were seen to be a high quality hop. I used East Kent Goldings.

It is virtually impossible to know what the original alpha acid content of the hops was. However, hops are propagated through asexual reproduction, rhizomes are divided and new plants are genetically identical to one another (as would be the hop cones). For this reason I assumed that the AA% was fairly similar to current levels of today’s Kent Goldings.

Consideration too needs to be made about the storage of the hops and the time that it would’ve taken from them to reach the colony. In 1835 there was no cold-storage. Instead hops were compressed and baled, likely wrapped in a hemp or linen cloth. The hops would’ve deteriorated over time and this would affect both the flavour and alpha acid content. Consideration too needs to be taken to account for other factors such as seed and stem content and pelletisation. Pellets had to be used in this recipe as Australia’s bio-security laws do not allow for whole hop cones to be imported from the UK. Based on some reading done and using another author’s the hop content of the recipe was reduced by 50% (20% for seeds and stems, 10% for pelletisation, 10% improper harvesting and drying, 10% age). Extensive information about early hops in Australia can be found in Peter Symons “Bronzed Brews” [3].

Malt

Malts are also a difficult one. In 1835, no malt was being locally produced. I’m not sure if sizeable and exportable quantities of malt were being produced in the Eastern States (around Sydney or Melbourne) or New Zealand at this time. Regardless, I’ve assumed that the malt being used would have been floor-malted and kilned using British processes. Current potential extract for Weyermann’s floor malted pilsener is 36 ppg. Given that this is in a modern production, it is likely a more consistent product than those malts produced 180 years ago. I could not find any information on the extract potential for grain in the early 19th century. Therefore I assumed that the extract potential would have been a little lower and went for 32 ppg. I then used this to calculate how much modern malt would be needed. While I realise that there are other factors to consider (such as colour) but these are pretty hard to work out based on a simple recipe.

It’s also worth noting that prior to the 1880s, British brewers (and likely AUstralian brewers too) calculated the amounts of malt used in volumetric measurement rather than weight. Obviously the weight of malt would change from year to year and maltster to maltster depending on the moisture content and kilning techniques. One Quarter (Qr.) made eight Bushels, one Bushel made four Pecks and one Peck equated to two UK Gallons (One UK gallon = 4.54 litres / 1.2 US gallons). Therefore, at the LHBS I weighed a gallon of malt and used that to help formulate the recipe. One UK Gallon of malt weighed almost exactly 2.5 kg (5.5 lbs). Because there was no indication of the exact malt used, I went for a good-quality pale British malt, Marris Otter.

Water

Another difficult consideration is the water used. The water I get supplied to my house comes from Mt Eliza in Kings Park nearby. Some of the city’s first breweries were located around this hill and the water would have likely been drawn from wells in the hill. I used unfiltered water from mains water supply. The recipe made no reference to brewing salts, so none were added. If you wanted to adjust your water profile, I would recommend either a balanced pale beer profile selectable in most water calculaters (such as Bru’n Water, Brewer’s Friend or Beersmith).

Chilling the Wort

Chilling the wort was where I diverged from the recipe slightly. After flameout I allowed the wort to cool for about 15 minutes and then chilled it to 35°C (95°F) using a immersion chiller. I would assume that transferring from the mash kettle to a porter barrel would have likely taken a fair bit of heat out of the wort, and that it would have chilled over the next few hours. Given that the article discusses taking the wort off the trub and hop matter, I assumed that after dropping below about 75°C (167°F) the isomerisation of the alpha acids would cease. My decision to chill the wort was based on ensuring that I ended up with a sound, drinkable product. If you decide to follow the recipe exactly, it probably wont hurt, but your beer will be bitterer than the recipe below due to the extended high temperatures.

Fermentation Temperature

I’ve got to admit, pitching at blood temperature freaked me out a bit. Australia has a warm climate and Perth has fairly mild winters, usually around 15-20°C (59-68°F) daytime temperatures. I made the assumption that my beer was brewed at around 18°C (64.5°F) in a warm, draft-free spot in the house with a fairly stable temperature. I brew beer fairly regularly and used my temperature controlled fermentation chamber. I could’ve used ambient temperatures, but ultimately, it was a bit of an investment for the beer and wanted to ensure that I had a decent drinkable product. I still pitched warm at around 35°C (95°F). I also left the fermentor open with a sanitised brew bag and rubberband covering the opening. After a few days, as the high krausen started to fall, the fermentor was sealed with an airlock. The beer was kept in a food-safe PET fermentor for approximately 3.5 months before bottling.

Session participants enjoying the fruits of our experimentation at the Australian Archaeology Conference 2017

Recipe

Beer Profile

Batch volume: 19 L
Pre-boil volume: 23.5 L
Pre-boil gravity: 1.058
OG: 1.072
FG: 1.012
ABV: 7.9%
Bitterness: 71 IBUs
Colour: 10.5 SRM
Efficiency: 70%

Ingredients
Grains % of Fermentables
6.14 kg Marris Otter Pale Malt (3.75°L) 100.00%
Kettle Hops IBUs
150 g East Kent Goldings [4.6 AA] – 20 mins 71
Yeast
5 g Lallemand Windsor Ale Dry Yeast
5 g Lallemand Nottingham Ale Dry Yeast
5 g Fermentis Safale S-04 Dry Yeast
1 L Wyeast 5151-PC Brettanomyces claussenii (starter, decanted)
Method

A few days before, make an appropriate sized 1.040 gravity starter for the Brettanomyces. I went for 2 L, but harvested half of the yeast for adding to my deep freeze collection. I would think that a 1 L starter is plenty, but if the characters of Brettanomyces are not your thing, pitch the contents of the smack pack or leave out entirely. The less you pitch, the less intense the Brett character will be. Make sure to decant the spent wort off the yeast slurry if you decide to use a starter.

Mash the grains at 66ºC for 90 minutes with 18.1 L of hot liquor (mashing water). Drain into your kettle and batch sparge at 75ºC for 10 minutes with another 18.1 L of sparge water. Bring the collected runnings to a boil and wait for the hot break to form. Add the hops and boil for 20 minutes. For maximum authenticity, after the boil transfer to a fermentor or PDPE cube and allow to cool naturally. Alternatively, chill the wort quickly quickly using a chilling device. When the wort has cooled to between 35-37ºC, aerate by splashing the wort or with oxygen and and pitch yeast. Ferment at between 16-25ºC, aiming for 18ºC.

Carbonation and Storage

We have no direct idea about carbonation level. How can package this in a a bottle, keg or for ultimate authenticity, a neutral oak cask. Carbonate to between 1.5 and 2.5 volumes and if bottling store for at least 30 days prior to drinking.

References

[1] 1835, The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal (WA : 1833 – 1847), 7 February, p. 440. , viewed 05 Dec 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page461

[2] 1836, The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal (WA : 1833 – 1847), 23 January, p. 638. , viewed 05 Dec 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article640572

[3] 2015, Symons, Peter, Bronzed Brews: Homebrewing Old Australian Beers, Tritun Press

2 comments on “Historical: 1835 Western Australian AleAdd yours →

    1. Not with this beer. I had wanted to, but I had to fly half way across the country to the conference, so bottles were easier. I wonder what it would taste like from the cask.

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