Very passable, Obadiah

It is not often that I go to London for a beer launch. I make an exception when it’s one of Ron Pattinson’s historic beer projects with Goose Island.

The result of their last project was Brewery Yard, an aged IPA which was one of the best things I tasted in 2018. I did not want to miss out on this one: Obadiah Poundage, named after the brewery rep whose legendary letter is the closest thing to a contemporary account of the origin of porter.

Obadiah Poundage is an attempt to recreate something close to eighteenth-century London porter. Working with Ron and Derek Prentice, formerly of Truman’s and Fuller’s, Goose Island’s Mike Siegel brewed the beer to an 1840 Truman’s recipe, and aged it in a wooden vat. This “Keeper” was then blended with a fresh batch of so-called Runner, echoing the historic practice.

Sticking a beer in a vat for a while is the easy bit. The tricky part is getting the proper malt. Eighteenth-century porter was made from brown malt, but it was not the same as modern brown malt. You cannot make beer wholly from modern brown malt, as it lacks the enzymes needed to turn its starch into sugar. So a maltster had to be found willing to produce a custom batch of brown malt made the old-fashioned way.

I arrived thirsty at the ex-Truman’s pub The Golden Heart near Brick Lane. I love the way so many former Truman’s pubs are still standing and still wearing their old livery (branding the tiles that make up the frontage does confer a degree of permanence, after all).

After a few pints there, Derek leads us on a sort of tour through the site of the former Truman’s brewery in Brick Lane, with explanations and anecdotes where appropriate. I should say that this was planned and you can walk freely through the site; we didn’t get drunk and break in or anything.

Ron’s own account of the evening is here, though he has got the order of the pubs mixed up. So much for primary sources, eh.

Eventually we reach Goose Island’s London bar.

First, another couple of pints. Derek these days is involved with Wimbledon Brewery, who had produced a classic mild, XK. Obviously I wanted to try that, but it took a while to get some. Yes, I was in an East London craft beer bar watching everyone queueing up for cask mild.

Goose Island feeds us some pizza and then we get to taste the beer while Derek, Ron and Mike chat on stage with Emma Inch as compere.

The beer itself opens with a big aroma of slight acetic and brettanomyces notes. My first thought is “This smells like Rodenbach.” It’s surprisingly light-bodied, not thick as you might expect, and very smooth. Some raspberries leading to a finish of smooth dark chocolate and dry Goldings. Very dry finish with hop flavour but not much aroma.

The beer is blended in the traditional proportions of one-third stale vatted porter to two-thirds mild, young porter. I think a smaller proportion of stale would still be plenty. As fermented, it has a real degree of fermentation of 40%, which reaches 70% after vatting.

Derek tells of the old Truman stock ale which was brewed in Burton to 9% ABV and came down to London in hogsheads to be blended with a running beer and bottled. Supposedly that was quite sour. I can definitely see the added character such a mature, acidic beer would provide – perhaps that’s one of the things missing from some of the very strong beers made these days; they’re a bit sugary and one-dimensional and would benefit from blending.

Eventually we adjourn to another pub, the Pride of Spitalfields, where more pints are consumed. It’s an old school Fuller’s pub that doesn’t seem to have changed much since the 1970s. There are no airs and graces here, there is London Pride and ESB. You have to squeeze past the karaoke singers to get to the toilet, but everyone seems to be having fun.

As we break up at closing time and stumble our different ways, I think there’s nothing quite like a night in the pub.


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