Archive for October, 2011

Surphured Hops

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

John Robinson has raised a query relating to a project, as follows:

I have become involved with a small micro brewery in Warrington , called ‘The Tipsy Angel’. The brewery is located in some out buildings at the rear of the Lower Angel pub in Buttermarket Street , in Warrington.

We are dedicated to producing the old Walkers recipes from the 1960’s, and have had some help from the old Walkers chemist, Stewart Thompson. Ironically Walkers used Marston’s yeast in their beers. And the man accredited with the Burton Union system, was none other than Peter Walker. I will keep you and the BHS informed of progress.

In a follow up message John goes on-

The old recipes made reference to sulphured hops. Is this process still going on, or has the EU banned it? Can you recommend someone who can help?

Walkers was a particularly sulphurous beer with heavy Burtonisation of the water.

Many thanks,

John Robinson

We pointed John to Dr Peter Darby as the leading expert on hops (and member of the BHS editorial board), and he has replied as follows:

John,

No-one in the world now uses sulphur in the kilns during drying of hops. It was prohibited first in the USA and then by the Institute of Brewing and other brewing organisations because of the detrimental effect on yeast function during brewing.

Finding an alternative raises some interesting possibilities. Sulphur is still used during the growing of hops to protect against powdery mildew infection. This is much more a feature of hop growing in the Hereford and Worcester area than any other part of the UK, or indeed elsewhere in the world. It is unlikely that much, if any, residue will carry over from the field – but some might.

Sulphur was used in the kilns to bleach the hops to remove any discoloration due to disease or over-ripeness. As a consequence of its prohibition, hops are now picked much earlier than they would have been 40 years ago to avoid the progressive browning of hops during September as they mature and start to enter senescence. Also to reduce the ingress of disease after the last sprays have been applied in early August. So, the taste and aroma that you seek may have been a result of using hops harvested late in the season, or diseased hops, especially those with powdery mildew.

I hope that this gives an explanation of some of the factors which might have made the hops used in the old recipes of Walkers at the Tipsy Angel Brewery different from today’s hops. To reproduce them, I would suggest you seek low alpha hops from Herefordshire or Worcestershire which have been harvested as late as possible in September, or even early October, and which are not of the highest grade, indicating that they have a small amount of powdery mildew infection. This is only a suggestion. The effects you are talking about are more likely the result of the yeast strain used and the water rather than any contribution from the hops.

Best regards,

Peter

John then circulated a couple of example pages from a Walker’s Brewing Book, which Peter looked at –

Looking at the page from the Walkers book that you attached to the mail below, I see that the hops used had been in store for over a year – the mix used in 1961 had hops mostly from the 1959 harvest of Fuggles in the West Midlands, supplemented by a few hops from Kent from the 1960 harvest. I also note that not all the hops had been sulphured. So, I would add using old stored hops to my suggestion of using lower grade; low alpha hops from the West Midlands.

It is difficult to read the writing to try and find the farms which supplied the hops. The Kent farm is clearly Ladysden Farm and is labelled EK. This is a bit of a contradiction because the farm is most likely to be at Ladysden, Winchet Hill near Goudhurst which is not in East Kent. I would guess, therefore that the EK refers to the variety and is likely to be East Kent Goldings. The Hereford farms are less obvious but could just be read as Pomona and Dormington. These were part of the same estate in 1959 and were certainly growing Fuggles.

Best regards,

Peter

What a fascinating exchange. My thanks to both Peter and John – hopefully it will encourage other similar discussions on this forum.