Let’s take another journey back in time today with a taste of the ale-y goodness of yesteryear.
It is the late 1800s and we find ourselves in a small town called Burton-on-Trent in the English Midlands.
Gentlemen walk the streets in top hats whilst street urchins frolic in the gutter as ladies promenade under parasols and push perambulators. The industrial revolution is in full swing and the smell of coal fires combines with that of malt and yeast as, somehow, this small corner of the green and pleasant land is the epicentre of world brewing.
Breweries like Bass and Marston’s have been going for over a hundred years and have perfected the art that is the British pale ale, thanks mainly to the development of an ingenious piece of brew kit known as the Burton Union.
If you haven’t seen one of these contraptions, the Burton Union is a strange and fantastical fermentation device with a Steampunk retro-futuristic wooden technology vibe. It consists of a series of gargantuan 150 imperial gallon casks, that are interlinked by pipes and fed from a feeder trough with freshly fermenting wort. As the casks fill and the fermentation progresses, beer and yeast is forced out through swan neck pipes at the tops of the barrels (we’re talking top fermentation here after all) and is collected in an upper trough. This beer is then trickled back into the feeder trough at the bottom leaving some of the yeast behind. Gradually the beer is both fermented and clarified. Gosh, weren’t they clever bunnies back in those days!
I guess this is large scale industrial brewing at the end of the day, but it’s hard not to be wooed by the romance of this bubbling semi autonomous device!
The Burton style is a distinct one with an element of oak in an oxidative environment that gives the yeast bionic powers and results in all those yeasty ale esters that make these beers so charming.
There are only two breweries left that operate this system. The aforementioned Marston’s in the UK and Firestone Walker in the states who make their Double Barrel Ale with a set up that is less archaic, but which works with the same interconnected barrel principle.
That said, the “Burton” style is one that is aimed at by brewers all around the world, and which brings us to today’s beer.
The 8 Wired Burton IPA is a nod to the beers of this, predominantly, bygone era - and is part of their new Brave Old World series which boasts an English Imperial stout too. I couldn’t find out whether there was any sort of Burton system involved, but the ingredients are bang on; Crystal Malts, East Kent Goldings hops and, most importantly, English yeast.
Let’s get stuck into it…
It pours a gorgeous deep amber with a bright white head. The nose is pleasantly restrained with oranges and citrus hop elements combining with gentle ester and malt notes. The palate ups the ante with a kick of fruity malt at the front of the palate that gives way to a whack of fresh bitterness in the finish. This is an IPA after all, and it’s delivering the hops I would expect - but in accordance with the style - there’s none of that new world tropicalia or oversaturated dankness that we see in so many modern IPAs. Fantastically drinkable… which is the bottom line we are looking for.
I think we’ll be seeing a return to the freshness and drinkability of this style in the coming years. We’ve already seen a resurgence in the light and lagery and although this is a malt heavy style - there is a lightness of touch on the palate that so many IPAs miss these days.
Grab yourself a can and make a welcome return to the old world. It’s been a while coming hasn’t it…