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Taste History: Camden 1908

In 1908, London held the fourth modern games. It was the first in England’s capital and Great Britain won 56 gold medals, topping the leader board. But what beers were the spectators drinking in the pubs during the games? That’s what we wanted to find out at Camden Town Brewery…

As we approach the 30th competition, and the third held in London, we wanted to make a beer to celebrate the summer and we wanted to brew a beer that represented London. So we decided to look backwards to bring a taste of history to modern beer drinkers in the capital.

From 1859 until it was sold to Courage Brewery in 1926, Camden Brewery was making beer a short walk from where our brewery is now. Though not related to us, we researched the old Camden Brewery and discovered that they owned a number of the pubs who we now sell beer to, including the Southampton Arms and the Exmouth Arms. We also found Camden Brewery’s old brewing archives, which showed us the beers they made and the recipes they used.

Working with the old brewing books and information from beer historian Ron Pattinson, we figured out what a pale ale from 1908 would’ve been like… Brewed mostly with English hops from Kent and Worcester, American hops from Oregon were also used at that time. Pale ale ranged from 4.5% to 6.5% in alcohol (IPA was weaker at 3.5%-5% ABV). Brewers would use a portion of sugar in the beer, which was there to keep the beer light in colour and body. Pale ales were deep amber in colour, well attenuated, so dry, and had a relatively big bitterness, hitting the high 30s (which is more bitter than our current Pale Ale).

Knowing this, we worked out our version, using modern steps and ingredients to best replicate the taste of 1908. We shot straight down the middle for 5.5% ABV. We took Golding hops from Kent, with a floral, spicy flavour, and Cluster hops from America, the original American hop, which has a big berry and floral quality. We aren’t using sugar because the malts we have are far better now and able to give us exactly the quality we want. It’ll be dry-hopped in tank, instead of in cask like would’ve done back then. We’re using a classic English ale yeast and the beer will be available in bottles and, going against tradition, in kegs (apart from a couple which we’ll have on the brewery bar…).

Camden 1908 is a one-off limited edition brew that will be released on Friday 27 July at the Camden Town Brewery Bar – expect a big party and look out for more details, coming soon.

Pale ale has changed a lot in 100 years. Drink the Pale Ale of now next to the Pale Ale of 1908. Taste history in the summer of 2012 with Camden Town Brewery.

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