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Hey, hey, hey as Krusty would say. I warned you that April was going to be all about ageing. And I don't mean my limbs. Today's text discusses just how old beer needs to be. For it to be perfect to drink.

It describes private brewing. That is, brewing for your own use. When the text was written, many still brewed this way. But it wasn't to last much longer. The changes in taxation brought into force with the 1830 Beer Act was hugely disadvantageous to domestic brewers. Taxation was removed from beer itself and places 100% on its ingredients, malt and hops. As a result, domestic brewers paid the same tax as commercial brewers.

The increasing sophistication of commercial breweries also put domestic brewers at a disadvantage, particularly in terms of quality and consistency. In the 18th century, there had been little difference between a large domestic brewhouse and a small commercial one. By 1830, that was no longer true.

What effect did the decline in domestic brewing have? It may well have helped the demise of aged beers. Not having the same commercial constraints as their professional colleagues, domestic brewers could afford to leave beer to mature for extremely long periods. Did drinkers, not having access to fully-matured, home-brewed beer, lose their taste for it? I guess we'll never know.

"The age at which ale is drank, will depend upon a private person's stock; the size of his cellar, &c. but more frequently upon his family habits, and the pecuniary means he chooses to devote to this beverage. Good mellow ale, soft and fine, may be had at a year old; and it is, perhaps, never better than from one year old to two. Some persons never reckon ale to be old, unless it drinks a little hard, or with some, approaches to sharpness, or acidity; but this is a false taste: old ale in this sense, it has been well said, is old ale spoiled.

After all, a hogshead or pipe of ale, that has. been properly brewed and carefully managed, will not always be fine when tapped. Suppose it be a year old, or what is more common, suppose it to be brewed in October (the best month in which to brew good ale for keeping), and tapped at the Christmas twelve-month following; if when tapped it be not fine, it may be corked up again, and stand another twelve-month, when it will probably be found not only fine, but greatly improved in flavour; but if it be wanted, it may be fined as follows: draw off a gallon or two, if the cask be a pipe, and take a quarter of a pound of isinglass, and some fresh hops, and scald them in a clean copper pan, dissolving the isinglass therewith; pour the quantity into a dry pail, and when cool put it into the barrel, and stir the whole together well with a long stick, or such an one as you have head-way to introduce; bung down the cask a few hours afterwards, and in a fortnight the ale will become fine. If the ale drink thin, and incline to be hard, let a pound or two, or more if required, of sugar-candy, bruised, be put into the pan with the hops, &c.

The method called marrying ale, we have often seen tried upon a private person's stock with success. It seems to increase its strength, but especially its mellowness and the fulness of its flavour, and consists in tapping a pipe or hogshead of ale in the middle, and when it is drawn as low as the tap, to fill up the cask with another brewing of wort. The particulars to be observed are: to begin upon a sound stock, such as is approved as to colour and flavour; for if there be any approach to acidity it will not do. The next point is to tun the newly-fermented wort upon the old stock, when it has fermented about twelve hours. The third particular, of great importance, seems to be, not to marry your ale in winter, but in autumn (October), for if your cellar be not a vault,the old stock is too chill, and the fermentation may suddenly stop: if this should happen, as in cellars that are not vaults, the heat may increase considerably in spring, the fermentation may be renewed, and the ale may spoil, or mischief happen to the cask by bursting. Ale that is brewed in the usual way will sometimes ferment in summer, and throw up the bungs of the barrels; especially if the fermentation have been hastily conducted, and little or no cleansing have taken place in the barrels after tunning (which is likely to be the case when brewing is performed in frosty weather); where this happens, the danger is that acidity will follow, and therefore the beer should be speedily used. When ale is married, the fermentation will bring away all the old hops, and it is not to be overlooked that the cork will rise that had been driven in with the tap. It is, therefore, requisite to work it out at the bunghole, skimming away the hops, &c. till they and the cork are discharged; then fill up the cask, and take out the top cork for cleansing, as before. It may be filled up several times with fresh wort, as in other cases, until the fermentation stops, and then the cork and bung put in (the latter very lightly) and left so until it is necessary to hop it down. The writer has refilled a cask in this manner five years successively, and had the ale always superior, and always alike in colour and flavour; in continuing this practice for a long period it is necessary to remove the casks for fear of accidents. The excellence of this ale is, that you can never guess at its age; it drinks always soft and mild, without any resemblance to ale recently brewed, and is equally remote from hardness or acidity"
"The London encyclopaedia Volume 1", 1829, pages 503 - 504.
When was beer at its best? Between one and two years old. Patience is what you needed. Brewed in October one year and ready for christmas the year after. I make that 15 months. I love the suggestion that, if it isn't clear the first christmas to just leave it annother year. Few have such pzatience and self-restariant in the modern world.

Adding hops with the finings is an interesting technique. Presumably the hops are to help clear the beer, rather than for any bittering function. I've seen the adjective "hard" used to describe beer before. I'm still not sure what it means. Could it mean sour? That might explain why adding sugar would help.

The process of "marrying" sounds very much like a solera system. Fuller's do something similar with Prize Old Ale. They draw off half the beer from the maturation tank for bottling and then fill it up again with fresh beer. They're making a proper Old Ale in a very old-fashioned way. I wonder how many realise that?

"when it has fermented about twelve hours" implies that that the wort being added had only just started fermenting. I can undwerstand why you wouldn't want to seal the barrel until it had finished fermenting. Presumably it was the CO2 produced during fermentation that brought the remnants of the dry hops to the surface to be removed.

I keep coming across all these fascinating techniques. Especially ones concerned with maturation. I'd love to see somehow have a go at them.