Charles Dickens Inspired Beer

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Bullhog

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My wife, inspired by her recent reading of Charles Dickens novels, asked me to create a beer based on Dickens. Excited by the challenge, I decided on a mild ale as it seems to be the most likely ale he would have been drinking at the time. However, after researching Victorian-era mild ales around the 1830-40s, I discovered they were actually lighter in color and higher in alcohol, with an OG of around 1070, contrary to the modern perception of milds as dark, low-alcohol beers.

I've concluded that a Dickens-era mild ale would be a slightly dark, mostly pale ale with low attenuation, resulting in a malty and sweet profile. Given the rise of hop farming during that period and the popularity of pale ales, it's likely that these mild ales were balanced with a generous amount of hops. So, the final beer should be light-colored, malty, sweet, and balanced with noticeable hoppiness, but still more malt-forward.

I would love any input or advice from fellow nerds on perfecting this Victorian Charles Dickens-style mild ale. Also welcome are other suggestions.
 
My wife, inspired by her recent reading of Charles Dickens novels, asked me to create a beer based on Dickens. Excited by the challenge, I decided on a mild ale as it seems to be the most likely ale he would have been drinking at the time. However, after researching Victorian-era mild ales around the 1830-40s, I discovered they were actually lighter in color and higher in alcohol, with an OG of around 1070, contrary to the modern perception of milds as dark, low-alcohol beers.

I've concluded that a Dickens-era mild ale would be a slightly dark, mostly pale ale with low attenuation, resulting in a malty and sweet profile. Given the rise of hop farming during that period and the popularity of pale ales, it's likely that these mild ales were balanced with a generous amount of hops. So, the final beer should be light-colored, malty, sweet, and balanced with noticeable hoppiness, but still more malt-forward.

I would love any input or advice from fellow nerds on perfecting this Victorian Charles Dickens-style mild ale. Also welcome are other suggestions.
Great project, and I like your thinking on it. Have you read any of Ron Pattinson's work?
 
Harder than coming up with a recipe, coming up with a theme/name for your beer. You have a very deep well of inspiration to draw up from.
 
Harder than coming up with a recipe, coming up with a theme/name for your beer. You have a very deep well of inspiration to draw up from.
In The Pickwick Papers, Genuine Stunning Ale is mentioned, so my working name is Genuine Stunning X for now. Chat GPT told me that, so I’ll have to verify, plus it sounds like a good read.

Correction: it’s actually in David Copperfield
 
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I unknowingly was reading one of his blog posts about mild while researching. I just looked his name up officially after you mentioned it and wow. Very glad you mentioned it!
One of his books is about beer brewed in 1909, which is just before everything changed because of WW2. Dickens died in 1870 so would have drank similar.
Edit...
Or maybe not. The free mash tun act was passed in 1880 so no sugar and other adjuncts.
Mild at this time simply meant drank right away, not "stock" Ale, not matured.
 
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However, after researching Victorian-era mild ales around the 1830-40s, I discovered they were actually lighter in color and higher in alcohol, with an OG of around 1070, contrary to the modern perception of milds as dark, low-alcohol beers.
Gasp! Ron Pattinson has been publishing brewing logs and records about 19th century mild since his blog began over 15 years ago. Beer styles were so different then when compared with today and I like to make so many of Ron's recipes that I went through the trouble to scour his writings and recipes to create my own custom style guidelines for Beersmith. In my Victorian Era (1837 - 1901) guidelines I have the lowest mild (or X ale) gravity at 1.050 and the highest (XXXX ale) up to 1.115.

If you go to his blog, Shut Up About Barclay Perkins, you can use the search bar in the upper left to find Mild, Mild Ale, Mild Month... or scroll way down the main page until you see a keyword listing of topics and look for those terms. Also don't forget to scroll to the bottom of that keyword list for X, XX, XXX and XXXX. It was a rare thing for a brewery to give a name to a beer. They used a lettering system and the letter X was used for mild.

Sidebar: Not only were the styles of the 1800's different than today but there were differences in vernacular. The word "Mild" was not a style like we consider it. The word did not indicate low ABV, low hopping etc. but was instead was a description of conditioning. Mild meant young beer or fresh beer. You could have a mild pale ale or a mild porter for that matter. Conversely an aged beer was described as "Stale". And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Here are three mild ales that I have from Pattinson's blog that fit your time frame:

1838 Barclay Perkins X Ale
16 lbs 4.0 oz​
Mild Malt (4.0 SRM)​
Grain​
1​
100.0 %​
1.27 gal​
2.50 oz​
East Kent Goldings (EKG) [5.00 %] - Boil 90.0 min​
Hop​
2​
34.8 IBUs​
-​
2.50 oz​
East Kent Goldings (EKG) [5.00 %] - Boil 60.0 min​
Hop​
3​
33.0 IBUs​
-​
2.50 oz​
East Kent Goldings (EKG) [5.00 %] - Boil 30.0 min​
Hop​
4​
25.3 IBUs​
-​
1.0 pkg​
Whitbread Ale (Wyeast Labs #1099) [124.21 ml]​
Yeast​
5​
-​
-​
Est Original Gravity: 1.070 SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.023 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 6.2 %
Bitterness: 93.1 IBUs
Est Color: 7.1 SRM

1839 Barclay Perkins XX Ale
20 lbs 8.0 oz​
Pale Malt​
Grain​
1​
100.0 %​
1.60 gal​
2.34 oz​
Styrian Goldings [5.40 %] - Boil 120.0 min​
Hop​
2​
31.0 IBUs​
-​
2.34 oz​
Styrian Goldings [5.40 %] - Boil 90.0 min​
Hop​
3​
30.5 IBUs​
-​
2.34 oz​
Styrian Goldings [5.40 %] - Boil 30.0 min​
Hop​
4​
22.2 IBUs​
-​
1.0 pkg​
Whitbread Ale (Wyeast Labs #1099) [124.21 ml]​
Yeast​
5​
-​
-​
Est Original Gravity: 1.091 SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.030 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 8.2 %
Bitterness: 83.6 IBUs
Est Color: 9.0 SRM

1839 Barclay Perkins XXX Ale
23 lbs​
Mild Malt (4.0 SRM)​
Grain​
1​
100.0 %​
1.80 gal​
2.11 oz​
East Kent Goldings (EKG) [5.00 %] - Boil 120.0 min​
Hop​
2​
24.5 IBUs​
-​
2.11 oz​
East Kent Goldings (EKG) [5.00 %] - Boil 90.0 min​
Hop​
3​
24.1 IBUs​
-​
2.11 oz​
East Kent Goldings (EKG) [5.00 %] - Boil 30.0 min​
Hop​
4​
17.5 IBUs​
-​
1.15 Items​
Whirlfloc Tablet (Boil 15.0 mins)​
Fining​
5​
-​
-​
1.0 pkg​
London Ale (White Labs #WLP013) [35.49 ml]​
Yeast​
6​
-​
-​
Est Original Gravity: 1.099 SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.027 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 9.7 %
Bitterness: 66.1 IBUs
Est Color: 8.9 SRM
 
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Gasp! Ron Pattinson has been publishing brewing logs and records about 19th century mild since his blog began over 15 years ago. Beer styles were so different then when compared with today and I like to make so many of Ron's recipes that I went through the trouble to scour his writings and recipes to create my own custom style guidelines for Beersmith. In my Victorian Era (1837 - 1901) guidelines I have the lowest mild (or X ale) gravity at 1.050 and the highest (XXXX ale) up to 1.115.

I just bought two of his books. They are very interesting and I am very happy to have them as a reference. The recipes could not be simpler, but I know the qualities of the ingredients have changed. A 100% pale malt beer would look and taste VERY different today compared to the 1830s. Now, I want to figure out how to approximate the pale malt from the early 19th century.
 
My wife, inspired by her recent reading of Charles Dickens novels, asked me to create a beer based on Dickens. Excited by the challenge, I decided on a mild ale as it seems to be the most likely ale he would have been drinking at the time. However, after researching Victorian-era mild ales around the 1830-40s, I discovered they were actually lighter in color and higher in alcohol, with an OG of around 1070, contrary to the modern perception of milds as dark, low-alcohol beers.

I've concluded that a Dickens-era mild ale would be a slightly dark, mostly pale ale with low attenuation, resulting in a malty and sweet profile. Given the rise of hop farming during that period and the popularity of pale ales, it's likely that these mild ales were balanced with a generous amount of hops. So, the final beer should be light-colored, malty, sweet, and balanced with noticeable hoppiness, but still more malt-forward.

I would love any input or advice from fellow nerds on perfecting this Victorian Charles Dickens-style mild ale. Also welcome are other suggestions.
Thought this article might be helpful .
https://www.homebrewersassociation....ostalgia-exploring-19th-century-british-ales/
 
I just bought two of his books. They are very interesting and I am very happy to have them as a reference. The recipes could not be simpler, but I know the qualities of the ingredients have changed. A 100% pale malt beer would look and taste VERY different today compared to the 1830s. Now, I want to figure out how to approximate the pale malt from the early 19th century.

The trick is to happily brew beers reminiscent of historical styles without driving yourself crazy seeking museum quality recreations. Get a sack of good floor-malted UK base malt, some Goldings, and a classic strain or two of British yeast. Make up some homemade invert. Brew yourself a mild according to a 19th century recipe. Add some brett C for a stock ale. Enjoy.

I've also made the Gunstock Ale here on the forum. It was designed with a bit of amber and brown malts to better match the creators' imagined historical malt. Very tasty. More historical? Probably not.
 
I just bought two of his books. They are very interesting and I am very happy to have them as a reference. The recipes could not be simpler, but I know the qualities of the ingredients have changed. A 100% pale malt beer would look and taste VERY different today compared to the 1830s. Now, I want to figure out how to approximate the pale malt from the early 19th century.

As DBhomebrew says don't knock yourself out trying for minute historical accuracy. For pale malt you can't get much better than Chevalier. Brown malt that is 100% diastatic as used in the late 18th and throughout much of the 19th century is virtually impossible to find today. Goose Island had to contract Valley Malt in Massachusetts to hand make a batch of brown malt for their Obadiah Poundage 1840 Porter (details in the linked video). A modern day substitute for that btw is Simpsons Imperial Malt according to Pattinson. In general however you get as close as you can and be satisfied you did the best you could.

 
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As DBhomebrew says don't knock yourself out trying for minute historical accuracy. For pale malt you can't get much better than Chevalier. Brown malt that is 100% diastatic as used in the late 18th and throughout much of the 19th century is virtually impossible to find today.
Wow no kidding about the Chevallier malt, GREAT recommendation!
 
A mild would be ok, but I think you should aim for something more unusual, more of a special beer. For ideas, I looked up quotes attributed to Dickens and here is a good one:
"He was conscious of a thousand odours floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares long, long forgotten." - A Christmas Carol.
So how about an 1800s version of a Christmas beer?
https://allaboutbeer.net/article/holiday-beer/
 
I think I read most of them. Great expectations I still have on my shelf, stolen from a library in los angelas in the 80s. In that vein, I'd make a pippin porter. I'd make a label with the cobwebbed home of mrs haversham.

Tale of 2 cities was his best work for sure.
 
A mild would be ok, but I think you should aim for something more unusual, more of a special beer. For ideas, I looked up quotes attributed to Dickens and here is a good one:
"He was conscious of a thousand odours floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares long, long forgotten." - A Christmas Carol.
So how about an 1800s version of a Christmas beer?
https://allaboutbeer.net/article/holiday-beer/

Hey, look at that! A mid-19th century Christmas mild.

https://barclayperkins.blogspot.com/2014/12/lets-brew-wednesday-1864-lovibond-xxxx.html?m=0
 
As well as Ron, I'd recommend The Durden Park Beer Circle for historical recipes.

They have a pamphlet of recipes for sale, but not sure if they ship to US. They have a small selection of recipes on their website - https://durdenparkbeer.org.uk/index.php/recipes/

Note recipes are per 1 Imperial Gallon.
I've made the 1880 Simmonds Bitter and the 1850 Whitbread London Porter. I'm going to scale up some of those others and add them to my collection. Thanks!

I have one beef with the 1750 Original Porter recipe... Crystal Malt? I realize some liberty's need to be taken but I think a good amount of Simpsons Imperial Malt would make a good substitute for the Brown Malt used at the time. I altered the published recipe to include 60.5% Pale Malt +36.8% Simpsons Imperial Malt + 2.6% black malt.
 
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As well as Ron, I'd recommend The Durden Park Beer Circle for historical recipes.

They have a pamphlet of recipes for sale, but not sure if they ship to US. They have a small selection of recipes on their website - https://durdenparkbeer.org.uk/index.php/recipes/

Note recipes are per 1 Imperial Gallon.
Yep, cool little book and nice guys to deal with. Great that they're doing this.
 
After extensive research, including much from the references given to me above (thank you!), I have written what I think is a very good approximation of an 1830-40s Mild Ale. Thankfully, a historical malt is available (Chevallier) based on the only pale malt that should have been available to the mild brewers of the time. The only hop really in use at the time was Goldings; Fuggle was not available yet (the Milds of the time were indeed SMASH beers). The hops were generally added at 60/30 min in boil at unknown ratios. I've estimated that there should be a BU/GU ratio of around 1, sometimes higher. This makes sense, as most of the beers had an average of 65% attenuation at the time, so they were notably maltier/sweeter. Present-day reviews of the Chevalier malt indicate that it is very intense, and this further justifies the higher hopping rate to balance this. To get the attenuation, I am using the often poorly reviewed Windsor yeast; this is a classic British yeast with a lot of character that is known for under attenuation and a lot of flavor. For mashing, the British used a 3-step mash (often over 3 hours); from what I can tell, they generally started at 150 and ended at 170 around the1830s. I think the second step was around 156. Crisp Malt recommends extended mash times for Chevallier Malt. Most modern-day users of this malt also recommend 2-months of conditioning for improved malt flavors, which seems agreeable to me.

For water, I am using the London Pale Profile as detailed in an article: Brungard, Brewing Water Series: London, Zymurgy, May/June 2014
Cal 40, Mag 5, Sod 30, Sul, 70, Chl 40, Bic 60
Estimated mash pH of 5.4

The only things I think I'm missing are the oxidation and the Brett. Since a mild was intended to be consumed young, the Brett probably didn't have too much influence yet, as I am assuming they were consumed within 6 months. The Brett in the beer might also have helped with oxidation. Either way, I am okay with ignoring the effects of both.

I haven't decided on carbonation yet, but I'm thinking my nitro system without the sparkler might be what's needed.

I think this covers everything for a decent shot at tasting the same beer that Charles Dickens would have been drinking at the time.

Genuine Stunning X

OG 1073
FG 1020
IBU 73.5
BU/GU 1

15# Chevallier Malt
2.85 oz EK Goldings 60 min
2.85 oz EK Goldings 30 min
2 packets Windsor Yeast

Mash:
150f for 60 min
156f for. 45 min
170f for 30 min
 
Gasp! Ron Pattinson has been publishing brewing logs and records about 19th century mild since his blog began over 15 years ago. Beer styles were so different then when compared with today and I like to make so many of Ron's recipes that I went through the trouble to scour his writings and recipes to create my own custom style guidelines for Beersmith. In my Victorian Era (1837 - 1901) guidelines I have the lowest mild (or X ale) gravity at 1.050 and the highest (XXXX ale) up to 1.115.

Would you mind sending me your Beersmith Victorian Era style profile? I'm very interested.
 
The final gravities Pattinson reports are cleansing gravities. There was likely further attenuation.

Brett, or the result of brett, is what separates a mild from a stock ale. If you're making a mild, no Brett needed nor wanted.

40ppm calcium is pretty low, even for an American pale. You may consider British sources of information which might suggest as much as 150ppm.
 
What are "cleansing gravities?" Is that the gravity when casked with the assumption that it would continue to ferment for carbonation?

As I understand it, yes. The gravity at the time the beer is sent to the vat for conditioning. I take it to mean the point where the yeast typically drops and there's those last ~5-10pts.
 
Would you mind sending me your Beersmith Victorian Era style profile? I'm very interested.
I'm not sure I did this in the most scientific way but here is my Victorian style guidelines. I sat down with a notebook and scoured through nearly 300 of Ron's recipes (in books and from his blog) from 1837 to 1901. I divided them by sub style... X, XX, XXX, etc. and recorded starting gravities, finishing gravities, IBU, SRM, ABV, and maybe a few more data points to come up with minimums and maximums. For better or worse this is what I came up with.
 

Attachments

  • Custom - Victorian (1837-1901) Style Guidelines.bsmx
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I'm not sure I did this in the most scientific way but here is my Victorian style guidelines. I sat down with a notebook and scoured through nearly 300 of Ron's recipes (in books and from his blog) from 1837 to 1901. I divided them by sub style... X, XX, XXX, etc. and recorded starting gravities, finishing gravities, IBU, SRM, ABV, and maybe a few more data points to come up with minimums and maximums. For better or worse this is what I came up with.
That is a lot of work and really generous, Kevin. Many thanks.👍
 
I'm not sure I did this in the most scientific way but here is my Victorian style guidelines. I sat down with a notebook and scoured through nearly 300 of Ron's recipes (in books and from his blog) from 1837 to 1901. I divided them by sub style... X, XX, XXX, etc. and recorded starting gravities, finishing gravities, IBU, SRM, ABV, and maybe a few more data points to come up with minimums and maximums. For better or worse this is what I came up with.
Impressively nerdy :bigmug:
 
I'm not sure I did this in the most scientific way but here is my Victorian style guidelines. I sat down with a notebook and scoured through nearly 300 of Ron's recipes (in books and from his blog) from 1837 to 1901. I divided them by sub style... X, XX, XXX, etc. and recorded starting gravities, finishing gravities, IBU, SRM, ABV, and maybe a few more data points to come up with minimums and maximums. For better or worse this is what I came up with.
Wow, thank you, thank you, thank you!

Got them imported! You really worked hard on this, thank you for sharing!
 
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Kevin or others, I was unable to open - can someone tell me what format this is in, or what they used? Thanks again Kevin.
It's for BeerSmith, but it needs some massaging before it will work.

Open the file with a text editor, and replace the top line with this "<Style><_PERMID_>0</_PERMID_>"
Then remove the .txt ending so it's just .bsmx
Then within BeerSmith go to file and open, and open the file where you have it saved
Then copy and paste the styles into your style profiles
 
Kevin or others, I was unable to open - can someone tell me what format this is in, or what they used? Thanks again Kevin.
It's a Beersmith file. From Beersmith open it from the File menu. Save them to Profiles > Style. Then you will need to go to Tools > Options and then check the box next to the new guidelines under Style Guides To Display.
 
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Wow, thank you, thank you, thank you!

Got them imported! You really worked hard on this, thank you for sharing!
You are welcome. I also have a few in a style guide that I called Custom - Wartime (1914-1946) and another called Custom - Post War (1947-1965). There are not nearly as many styles included in these however since these eras are noted for ingredient shortages and rationing which cause beer to dramatically change. Even in the post war period beer did not recover and was a mere shadow of what it once was.
 
I'm not sure I did this in the most scientific way but here is my Victorian style guidelines. I sat down with a notebook and scoured through nearly 300 of Ron's recipes (in books and from his blog) from 1837 to 1901. I divided them by sub style... X, XX, XXX, etc. and recorded starting gravities, finishing gravities, IBU, SRM, ABV, and maybe a few more data points to come up with minimums and maximums. For better or worse this is what I came up with.

I really love this and have wanted these style guides in Beersmith for a long time. Back in 2016 (and since then in other posts I can't find) Ron mentions that he creates style guides in Beersmith for himself:
https://barclayperkins.blogspot.com/2016/12/lets-brew-1912-thomas-usher-ip.html

I emailed him in 2020 because I thought he could sell those on his website for homebrewers and apparently at least a few of us are interested! He told me that he lost a bunch of them at one point when he upgraded Beersmith.

Another way of going about this would be to find the periods when he is starting a new book project, because he often has a series of posts with a broad overview of a style during a given period, e.g., like these for AK from 1925-1939:

https://barclayperkins.blogspot.com/2021/04/ak-1925-1939.html

https://barclayperkins.blogspot.com/2021/04/ak-grists-1925-1939.html

https://barclayperkins.blogspot.com/2021/04/ak-sugars-1925-1939.html

https://barclayperkins.blogspot.com/2021/04/ak-hops-1925-1939.html


In his Scotland book at least, he divides the eras up this way: 1840-1880, 1880-1914,1914-1939, 1939-1970.

In other places, periods like WWII get a subcategory, but those recipes are probably are interesting for a much smaller set of people, in terms of brewing beer.

Here's another example, Scottish Stout 1920-1939.
https://barclayperkins.blogspot.com/2011/11/scottish-stout-1920-1939.html

Seems like finding the posts with "grists" in the title or date ranges in the title would be a way to go about this, if someone had the skills to design a search with AI, so it could do something useful for once.
 

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