There’s more to Burton-on-Trent than mouth-puckering India Pale Ale. Back in the good old days (the late 1700s) the Burton brewers brewed a brew called Burton Ale. This was a high-gravity ale indeed, but with less of the high hopping rate that distinguishes IPA. It was often barrel-aged for several years.
Big Burton also draws inspiration from the tradition established by Ballantine Brewing Company, which produced a high-gravity ale for special occasions, often given free to established friends and contacts after as long as 20 years in the cellar. I don’t have 20 years to wait, and thankfully this recipe mellows out nicely in less than a year.
Burton salt is an important flavor component of Burton ale, as it recreates the hard limestone ground water of the Burton-on-Trent brewing area. The signature compounds in Burton’s water are calcium sulfate, potassium chloride and magnesium sulfate. Plaster of Paris mixed with Epsom salts, as it were. Fortuitously for Burton brewers, the mixture of minerals in their hard water allows the extra bitter flavor of the hops to come through without harshness.
Big Burton relies on a blend of five crystal malts of increasing darkness, from 10 Lovibond in color to 120 L, to provide a very rounded caramel profile. Small additions of chocolate and black malts complete the roasty flavor. Barley flakes create body and a firm head. Three kilos of Breiss light dry malt extract give it punch, with a starting gravity of about 13.5 Plato yielding around 6.5% ABV.
The full malty background of Big Burton allows it to carry plenty of hop character. High-alpha Summit hops offer significant bitterness, and Simcoe hops suggest citrus-like fruitiness. Centennial aroma hops are added at the end of the boil. White Lab’s Burton Ale Yeast ferments the brew out with a lot of subtle fruity flavors like apple, clover honey, and pear.
Burton brewers also perfected the art of dry-hopping their beer, and Big Burton pays homage to that tradition with an addition of Willamette hop pellets in the secondary fermenter with four weeks further aging. It’s a Simcoe-sensational brew with a nice citrus aroma and malty finish.