WLP023: Burton Ale (pt. II)

by kmosullivan

Old Ale

In my last post, I mentioned brewing a Bitter to build up a yeast cake of the Burton Ale strain from White Labs in preparation for an Old Ale I was planning to brew. This was another attempt at a Big Beer, in this case as a wedding gift for some friends. The idea was to brew an ale that would age well and that they could open on special occasions over the years — anniversaries, moving into a new house, etc.

For this batch, I used a shortcut that I know many homebrewers employ:  pitching onto an existing yeast cake. This practice is kind of poor form for a number of reasons — you are using way too much yeast, you are not washing away the dead yeast cells/break material/etc. — but damn if it isn’t convenient. I can say that for my part, I have not detected any off flavors that resulted from the use of this method in this case. And while I would not necessarily recommend it, it’ll do in a pinch.

The one thing that you will really need to watch for, should you pitch onto a yeast cake, is an explosive fermentation. And I do mean explosive. After about a day of active fermentation I thought I had reached high krausen. The next day, however, I awoke to find that my airlock had blown out of the carboy, hit the ceiling, and landed on top of a cupboard. I spent the morning cleaning up my mess; thankfully, the beer was safe, sound, and bubbling away. Lesson learned: Use a blow-off tube.

In packaging the beer, I decided to cork & cage the bottles in order to give them an extra special presentation. To do this I used the Colonna Corker — I found it to be really easy to work with, and would highly recommend it. I also ordered labels from Grogtag again — this time with better resolution and a crisper image.

Here’s the recipe:

16 lbs Maris Otter
10 oz. Crystal 60
4 oz. Chocolate Malt
10 oz. Dark Molasses (late addition)

3 oz. East Kent Goldings (5.4% AA) – 90 min
2 oz. Fuggles (4.4% AA) – 90 min

Pitched onto the full WLP023 yeast cake

OG: 1.077
FG: 1.020
ABV: 7.5%

Since this was brewed as a gift, I don’t have many bottles for myself. I plan to drink the first one on my friends’ anniversary and will post the notes at that time. One thing I can say after tasting what was left in the bottling bucket, however, is that the strong fruit esters that appeared in the Bitter are not nearly as prominent in this beer. Perhaps it is the gravity, or the fact that I overpitched and thereby subdued any ester formation; or perhaps it is simply that the esters are hidden behind the prominent molasses character. Whatever the case, the beer tasted great and I look forward to drinking it in several months’ time.