Historical Cloned Beer Reviews: Boddingtons Bitter (Tony’s pre-1970s clone)
Last year I made a batch of Boddingtons Bitter following a recipe from 1945. And for good measure, I wanted to compare it to modern Boddies. To do that, I needed to buy some of the stuff.
At one time I might have been able to walk into an off-licence and buy a single can of Boddingtons. In London there were loads of little corner stores that would sell individual cans. But where I live now, most of the convenience stores are off-shoots of the big supermarkets. And if they stock a beer like Boddies at all, they only do so by selling a pack of four. I didn’t need four, but there was no real choice.
So what to do with four cans of Boddies that, to be honest, I didn’t really want? Well one was used to sample the brew before doing my comparison test. Just to get an idea of what modern Boddingtons tasted like. A second was used to do the comparison between my 1945 era recreation, and the modern version. A third was drunk later just to check my feelings about the modern version were as I thought they were. They were.
That left one can left. What to do with one can of Boddingtons?
Why, brew up another historical version of Boddingtons and do another comparison, of course!
As I mentioned in my post about the 1945 recreation, there was a time when Boddingtons was held in very high regard in the Manchester area. That it was a classic ale, loved by all. But that something changed in the 70s. Or 80s. Or even 90s, depending who you spoke to. Whatever way, it was before my time. So when I came across a recipe called Tony’s Pre-1970 Boddington’s Clone, I thought I’d have to give it a go.
The recipe was devised by Tony Leach, a homebrewer in Stockport, and apparently thrashed out with advice and information from members of a message board. And the goal of it was to get the thumbs up from local drinkers who remembered Boddingtons at its apparent hayday.
Slavish historical accuracy in the recipe wasn’t part of the success criteria. But a few years after Tony’s recipe was published on the Boak and Bailey website, Ron Pattinson published a recipe from 1971 for Boddingtons IP (as the beer was known internally) based on historical brewing records. And there are definitely similarities between the brewhouse version and Tony’s clone two.
There’s one interesting difference and that’s the yeast. It’s widely believed that Boddington’s house yeast (or a version of it) is available commercially in the form of Wyeast 1318 London Ale III. Even if the manufacturer says it came from a traditional London brewery. Anyway most Boddingtons clone recipes use this yeast. It’s a liquid yeast and a bit pricy.
But based on the advice of someone who used to work at the Boddingtons brewery, Tony’s recipe goes for a dried yeast called Nottingham.
Now here I’m going to take a tiny detour into the world of yeast. Because I find yeast fascinating.
There are hundreds of commercial yeasts out there on the market. Yeasts for baking. Yeasts for wine making. Yeasts for brewing beer. Yeasts for cider. And more. They all have one thing in common. If you trace them back far enough, each one started off as a wild yeast. Micro-organisms that are in the air all around us.
Over time different strains of wild yeasts became cultivated, with breweries having their own “house strain”.
When companies started selling yeast commercially, they obviously had to get a source for their yeast. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that they got beer yeast from different breweries. Every commercial yeast on sale comes from a brewery somewhere.
The source of many is known, or, at least, a highly educated guess has been made. Both Wyeast and White Labs sell Whitbread and Ringwood branded yeasts, where the yeast directly maps to the name of a brewery. Given there’s only major brewery in Southwold, it’s pretty much a given that “Southwold Ale Yeast” came ultimately from the Adnams brewery. And “Yorkshire Square Yeast” refers to a way of brewing beer using a two storey fermentation system called a Yorkshire Square. Only a handful of breweries still use this technique.
Even if the source of the yeast is a bit vaguer, you often get an rough idea of where it came from. Irish Ale Yeast is from Ireland for example. And if there’s no geographical hint on the name, then there’s usually a clue on what it is normally used for. Cream Ale yeast. Heffe Weizen yeast. And so on.
But not Nottingham.
Aha, you’re going to say. Nottingham! That’s in the East Midlands! It’ll be a brewery there, surely! C’mon Bowden, sort your stuff out!
Well it’s more complicated like that. The source of Nottingham is completely unknown. Apparently if you ask Lallemand, the company who manufacturer it, they were approached by a company wanting a dry yeast to put in their new range of home brew beer kits. They gave the scientists a multi-strain yeast culture, from which four strains were isolated, and then manufactured. Three of those yeasts are still made today. London, Windsor, and Nottingham. Where that culture of yeast came from, has been completely lost in the midst of time.
Where the names of the yeasts came from is another mystery. Well besides one. The company making the homebrew kits had – and still does – its headquarters in Nottingham. That company was Boots.
Who knows where the yeast came from, but the reason we can buy Nottingham yeast is all because of a chain of chemists. Strange world, eh?
Anyway, back to the Boddingtons recipe. Why Nottingham? Has it all the right qualities? Or, at least, is close enough? Or was it the only homebrew yeast that ex-brewery member of staff had ever heard of. Don’t know, but if that person reckoned Nottingham was the way to go, I wasn’t going to argue. Especially because it’s a dried yeast and about half the price of the Wyeast version used in most Boddies clone.
The taste test results
As with my 1945 Boddingtons, my plan was to taste test against modern Boddies. This coming from a can with a widget to give it that creamy head. My own beer was served from a pressure barrel, which hopefully gives a similar result.
Pouring out the beer there was again a difference in colour. My home-brewed version is lighter; the “real” stuff more golden. A similar thing happened with the 1945 clone, and again I suspect an element of colouring went into the beer in the past.
Aroma? Canned modern Boddies has a stronger whiff going up the nose, but I would say mine has a bit more of a delicate, fruity flavour whereas modern Boddies smells more, well I’m not sure I can describe it. So I’ll say bitter.
On to taste shortly, but before we get there we’ll do a quick mention of mouth feel. Because here’s a noticeable difference. There’s a slight sparkle in my beer, whereas the canned beer feels smooth and a bit flat. This is no doubt related to the fact that my beer has yeast in the barrel so is a living drink. The yeast continually reacts over time, producing carbon dioxide and giving that, well, sparkle. In contrast the Boddingtons feels smoother, a little creamier. But ultimately flat.
And then there’s the taste. And whilst I don’t have any of the 1945 version left to compare, there’s definitely a difference between that, Tony’s recipe, and the modern version. The 1945 one was more floral and delicate. Tony’s Clone recipe is drier. It’s curiously dry. Makes you want to drink some more almost immediately. And has a more bitter taste. This will be related to hops I’m sure. The hops are very different between the two. Reading some comments about old style Boddingtons, it seems the dryness is something really loved. And it’s also completely absent from the modern version.
Tony’s Clone really hits the inside of your mouth when you drink it. Really makes itself noticeable. There’s an intense aftertaste. And that dryness. Whereas Modern Boddies does, well, not very much at all. It simply goes down.
When I compared Modern Boddies with the 1945 version, I mentioned about how the ingredients seemed to fighting against each other. With the older one, they flowed. Comparing the Tony recipe with the current one, I don’t get that seem feeling. In some respects they are a lot closer together. But Tony’s clone really has the edge. It makes an impact when you drink it. You notice it. And that’s simply not the case with the modern version.
Summing it up
This may be controversial, maybe even heretical, to say though, but if I had to guess out of the two which would be one of the most popular bitters in the country, I know which it would it would be. Modern Boddingtons is pretty inoffensive. Mind, in a world where IPAs are really popular, the Tony’s recipe arguably could have a lot of fans too. I can see why many people loved that old school Boddies. It would have been very different to what else was out there, yet would be familiar today to anyone who wants a really hoppy IPA.
I know what I prefer out of the two. I’ll be quite happy never to have a can of Boddingtons in my life after this. But equally I’m not sure I’ll ever brew Tony’s Clone ever again. It was an interesting experiment, but it’s not the best of the beers I’ve brewed. I’m glad I did it. But ultimately it’s far from the favourite beer I’ve ever brewed. I’d rather move on to something else, preferably a bit less dry.
That 1945 version though? That I definitely will do again. Because that was stunning.