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Obadiah Poundage: a true taste of Porter

Added: Wednesday, November 6th 2019

Goose Island Porter

That old question “What did Porter taste like?” has been definitively answered by the launch of Obadiah Poundage, a recreation of a 19th-century version of the beer by Goose Island Brewery in Chicago and Wimbledon Brewery in London.

The beer is the result of years of work by historian Ron Pattinson who unearthed recipes of Porters brewed by Truman in Brick Lane in East London, one of the major Porter brewers in the 18th and 19th centuries. The recreation has the added authenticity of being brewed in collaboration with Derek Prentice at Wimbledon who started his brewing career with Truman before going on to Young’s and Fuller’s.

Obadiah Poundage was the pen name of a retired London brewer in the 18th century whose writing gave an invaluable insight into how Porter was brewed at the time and the difference between “keeping Porters”, which were aged for up to a year, and fresh “running Porters”.  In many cases the Porter sold in pubs was a blend of the two versions.

Keeping Porters were aged in large oak vats or tuns and during the storage period the beer was inoculated with Brettanomyces,  wild yeast trapped in the oak that gives a “funky” or acidic flavour to the finished beer. Brettanomyces – Brett, for short – means “British fungus” and is best known today for the character it gives to Belgian lambic beer.

Porter and its stronger version known as Stout Porter – later reduced to just Stout – formed a beer style that transformed brewing in the 18th and 19th centuries. Small breweries and pub breweries couldn’t meet the demand for the beer and large commercial brewers filled the gap. They included Whitbread in the Barbican, Truman in East London and Barclays in Southwark.

The Truman’s recipes deciphered by Ron Pattinson were taken up by Goose Island in Chicago, which has a barrel warehouse as well as a brewery. Obadiah Poundage is a blend of two recipes for Keeping Porter and Running Porter from the 1840s. One of the key ingredients was Brown Malt that was kilned over a wood fire and which gives a smoked and roasted character to the beer. It was also known as Snapped Malt. Goose Island asked Andrea Stanley, the maltster at Valley Malt in Massachusetts, to make an authentic 19th century brown malt for the beer. She used a hardwood called ironwood – better known as hornbeam in Britain – as the fuel for the kiln. The wood created a very hot fire that caused the malt to make snapping and popping sounds as kernels overheated. The result was malt with a wide range of colours, from pale to black.

Pale malt makes up the majority of the grain bill (87-92%) and the brewers used floor-malted Chevallier from Crisp in Norfolk. Chevallier was the world’s major malting barley from 1820-1920 and it has recently been revived by the John Innes Centre in Norwich. There was also a small amount of British-sourced black malt.

Hops were used primarily as a preservative for Porter brewing, not for flavour or aroma. High hopping rates of four pounds per barrel were used for aged beer to prevent lactic acid bacteria thriving in the oak tuns. East Kent Goldings was the only hop used in the copper and as a dry hop in the vat.

The Keeping Porter was brewed and vatted in March 2018 and fermented with a classic London ale culture. Bretanomyces was added along with the hops. Following fermentation , the fresh Running Porter and one year-old Keeping Porter were blended, with two-thirds fresh Running Porter to one third Keeping Porter, as was the case with Truman’s beer.

The final beer is 6.3 per cent, with 43 bitterness units and 96 colour units. The ruby red/black beer has vinous fruit, chocolate and peppery hops on the nose with acidic and smoky notes. The palate is complex and bittersweet with rich malt, vinous fruit, chocolate, smoke and acidic notes, underscored by peppery hops. The finish is bitter and fruity with continuing smoky and acidic notes and tart hops. Above all, it’s wonderfully quenching and refreshing, which explains its popularity with London porters back in the day.

•Obadiah Poundage is available from Goose Island’s brew pub at 222 Shoreditch High Street, London E1. Also from Beer Hawk online and Kill the Cat and Electric Star pub group.