Soaking Up the Suds
by James Crane
Once Upon a Time
Have you heard of Pretty Little Things Brewing? They are doing some absolutely amazing things. While they don’t actually own a brewery themselves, they rent out host breweries to make their creations. This allows them to not be as concerned with certain things like … well, marketability and profit. What results is incredibly unique beers that refuse to compromise.
Most notably is their Once Upon a Time line of brews. While the title may get you thinking of fairy tales, it’s actually an intersection of beer and history. Working with beer historians (yes, they exist), Pretty Little Things has reproduced beer of old. The historian provides them with brew sheets, which are basically recipes the brewer wrote as he or she made the beer. It’s a record of what went into the brew. These come from breweries long defunct and are for brews unavailable in the market today.
Keep in mind they aren’t brewing beers based on historical fermentations. This is not their interpretation of an old recipe. For better or for worse, they follow it to the letter. Their interest for this project is not necessarily creating the best beer, but in providing historically accurate beer. If you’re reading this column, you’re probably willing to accept that beer has played a pretty decent roll in the formation of culture and history, but no one really knows what it used to taste like. Like everything else, it has evolved and changed throughout the centuries. The Once Upon a Time line of brews gives us an idea where we’ve come from.
This week, I’m reviewing their X Ale. I’m reviewing one of their X Ales at least. Pretty Little Things released two versions of this brew: one from 1838 and one from 1945. Though from the same brewery and having the same brand name, X Ale changed a lot in 107 years. While originally a golden colored ale of more than 7 percent ABV, the 1945 version, of which I am partaking, is a darker, grainier brew of 2.8 percent ABV.
Yes, that is a rather weak beer. Most domestics, to give it a frame of reference, are above 4 percent.
This officially is the weakest beer I ever drank. In a historical context, however, it makes perfect sense. Being brewed in London at the tail end of World War II, it wasn’t a great time for brewing. Grains were expensive and hops were in short supply. Generally, the more grains used in brewing, the more sugars are available to be converted into alcohol, and the higher the ABV will be. If grain isn’t as available, it follows that beer won’t be as strong. The result is a rather mild brew with a dark pour dark and ample head.
It’s a little more like grainy water than beer. I didn’t find that to be that much of a detriment, however. The malt is rather prevalent with a small amount of hop backing at the end. It was just a bit like drinking a barley centric cereal.
Was this a great beer? No. It was, however, completely worth drinking. It redefined what I thought of as beer and provided an excellent contrast to today’s offerings. It really was a beer from yesteryear.
History gets that much better when there’s alcohol in it.