I’ve recently been helping out Ben McCormick a little with recipe conversions for his up and coming homebrew magazine – I think that promises to be a very interesting read with a lot of contributions from well known UK breweries, and the odd homebrewer or two. Keep an eye out for it.
It’s made me think about the resources that homebrewers now have available to us – one of the first homebrewing books I bought, over 5 years ago now was unsurprisingly a recipe book, probably one that many have also bought in the past – and it’s a classic.
“Brewing Beers Like Those You Buy” (BBLTYB) by the late Dave Line led the way in the production of books that attempt to provide recipes for recognisable beers. Previously, he had written the “Big Book of Brewing” which I think is generally accepted as the first good book on homebrewing produced after the abolishment of the brewing license in 1963. I won’t delve into history here (I suspect Boak and Bailey could do a much better job...), but let’s look into the recipes in my copy of BBLTYB.
First things to notice – there are several beers in this book that no longer exist, or have changed markedly (and I’m not close to old enough to have tried many of these). I suspect that the originals were formulated in some cases with input from the breweries (as stated in the foreword), but it’s entirely possible that recipes were adapted based upon what homebrewers could get hold of – remember, in those days, Boots were a major source of kits and equipment, and there weren’t the well stocked retailers (online and shops) with the range of ingredients that we have today.
There are areas of some of the recipes that may lead you to question how good they are – it seems saccharin tablets may have been used to “sweeten up” beer (eg Watneys Mild recipe). Is it possible to still a) brew these recipes and b) get a good result? Let’s take a look at the Dave Line Recipe for Wadworth 6X:
Pale Malt 2.7kg
Flaked Maize: 400g
Crystal Malt: 250g
60g Goldings – 90min
30g Bramling Cross – 90min
Target OG: 1040
First impressions: 11% Flaked maize and 8% sugar leads me to think this may have finished quite dry, and potentially a bit thin. The grist amounts are very low for the OG – an efficiency of 88% would be needed here.
The hopping is the reverse – I assume that at the time the hops available were in poor condition. Basing on 4% and 6% for the hops respectively (with the 88% efficiency) the IBUs come out at about 37. Note that the hopping is different to a modern day 6X.
With a bit of knowledge, it’s easy to perhaps correct the values here to get something with the right gravity and in balance with the target result – perhaps we’d tweak the hopping and replace some of the sugars and maize with more pale malt (without the need to really change massively some of the recipes). I would have misgivings about trying to brew Chimay from that recipe in there...
Despite all this, I think this type of recipe resource was revolutionary and paved the way for homebrewing in the UK to gradually take off in the years to come – the results gave the chance to greatly improve on kit and kilo approach to brewing (though we all know that the ferment makes or breaks the beer), and even though it’s dealt with in a simplistic manner, it touches upon aspects such as yeast culturing (from bottles of Guinness or White Shield) and water treatment, recognising that different water profiles suited different types of beer – both subjects that some more modern books don’t touch upon.
Compare these type of recipe – there are many more in there – lots of goldings, fuggles, maize and sugars in the bitters, and many samey lagers... – with the kind of resource available to homebrewers now, and you’ll see how privileged we are. The range of ingredients available, the recipes available for research and inspiration, the number of styles that we can sample and brew is way beyond that available in the 70s. But I think we still owe a lot to books like this in inspiring the early pioneers of the hobby in the UK (and worldwide?); creating new brewers to take on the hobby, becoming pros, producing great beer for the public and feeding back by making contributions to magazines such as the one in progress. Looking forward to it coming out to see what else is in the magazine – hoping for some good inspiration from it.