Colonel Williams knocks ’em out

My apologies to the cask ale drinkers of South Wales. I may have inadvertently set free a beast among you.

I learnt today that Colonel Williams East India Pale Ale, the collaboration beer I brewed at Brain’s brewery last month, sold out in less than 16 hours when it went on sale in the Goat Major in Cardiff last week, the fastest-selling craft beer the pub has seen.

That’s good – it very much suggests that people were coming back for more than one pint after the first. But what is particularly surprising about that is that Colonel Williams is six per cent alcohol by volume. American readers may say: “So what?” But British draught beer drinkers simply don’t normally drink beers that strong in quantity. It appears that, completely inadvertently, I may have designed a beer that goes down like a session bitter, despite having almost a third half as much more alcohol than session bitters normally do. Dangerous.

The news certainly fits with my own experience when I went down to Cardiff by train to try the beer myself. Met up in the Goat Major with a group from Brain’s including head brewer, Bill Dobson, the man who actually did all the work in brewing “my” beer, and Laura Overton, Brain’s highly efficient PR person, who organised my collaborative brewing experience, plus South Wales-based beer blogger Arfur Daley. Saw that the beer had come out at six per cent – we had been hovering between settling on 5.5 percent or six when setting up the specs, depending on how the beer turned out after fermentation was over – and thought: “Just a couple of pints for me then, it’s lunchtime, and that’s strong.”

Lamb curry pie
Curried lamb pie

Ate one of the excellent curried lamb pies designed by pub manager Chris Rowlands specially to go with Colonel Williams. Found the beer, a lovely pale-to-mid oak in colour, went down very easily: a long, hefty hit of rotund, mouth-filling Maris Otter malt, with masses of powerful green bitter bite underneath from the triple addition of Goldings: twice in the copper, once in the fermenting vessel. After the Brains crew went back to work, stayed chatting to Arfur, Chris and a Goat Major regular, Greg Prince (nice man: he said Colonel Williams was “the best beer I’ve had in this pub to date”, and I don’t think he was just speaking to flatter me). Found that without noticing, I’d managed to drink four pints, not two. That’s probably more alcohol in a single lunchtime than I’ve had for decades. You’ll not be surprised to hear that while I made it back to the station on time, I fell asleep soon after my train left Cardiff and slept all the way to Paddington.

Distinctly short-measure, that pint, Mr Cornell ...
Me and my pint

So: why does Colonel Williams seem to be so moreish, despite its strength? I think it’s because, semi-deliberately, I set out to make an IPA that reflected old-style British bitter beer virtues: no real emphasis on hop aroma, malt-forward, but with an underlying firm platform of bitterness to give balance. Modern, aroma-filled, floral, citrussy IPAs can be very fine, but you don’t want to drink too much of them, I suggest: the palate becomes tired. They’re fine for beer cultures where you might only have one or two beers in an evening. British beer culture (and I’m dragging the Welsh in under the blanket of Britishness here, hope they don’t mind) prefers beer in quantity, and a beer you’re going to have several pints of needs not to smack you in the mouth with over-exuberant flavours.

I enjoyed Colonel Williams very much – yes, of course I’d say that, it was made to my specifications. I was trying to think of any beer it particularly reminded me of, and I couldn’t: more bitter than the usual run of British “extra special bitters”, I think, and fuller in the mouth. But what I really liked about it was that with just four simple ingredients – pale Maris Otter malt, a touch of black malt for colour, Goldings hops, Welsh water – and a standard Welsh beer yeast, Bill Dobson had taken my recipe and turned it into something people evidently want to keep coming back to the bar to try again.

There’s a list of pubs where you can try Colonel Williams EIPA here: if you’ve drunk it, please let me know what you though of it. Be rude about it if you want to be. I had huge fun making it, I hope everybody has fun drinking it. And many thanks once again to Bill, Laura and everyone at Brains for giving me the opportunity to drink it, and Chris Rowlands at the Goat Major for serving up excellent pints and excellent pies.

Chris Rowlands
Chris Rowlands, top pieman

22 thoughts on “Colonel Williams knocks ’em out

  1. Sounds wonderful! Sad I will miss it – my trip to the UK is not until next week and focuses on London. I am so glad there are some historic style (if that is the right desciptor) IPAs not only being made but being consumed with such vigour. As fond as I am of the North American and even hoppier Cascadian IPAs (I live in BC Canada) I agree that wrecking one’s palate with extreme hop bitterness and aroma is only fun for a short while, (and tends to dull your palate to more subtle flavours in other beers).

    Is there any hope this beer might be bottled for a wider market ofr is it a one time brew?

    1. There ARE some bottles that have been made, but this is strictly a one-off beer, unless by some chance it wins the competition at the end of the year between all the collaboration IPAs to become part of Brains’s regular line-up. I don’t think it will win, because I think Col Williams is just that type of very British beer that won’t give an immediate impact to someone drinking it, and will only make its attractions known over several pints (but maybe I’m just comforting myself ahead of time …)

  2. I may have designed a beer that goes down like a session bitter, despite having almost a third more alcohol than session bitters normally do.

    Are you defining session bitters as having an ABV of 4.6 and up, or did you mean ‘almost half’ (i.e. 4ish)?

  3. British beer culture (and I’m dragging the Welsh in under the blanket of Britishness here, hope they don’t mind) prefers beer in quantity, and a beer you’re going to have several pints of needs not to smack you in the mouth with over-exuberant flavours.

    You could say “English and Welsh beer culture both prefer”, or for that matter “English, Welsh and Scottish beer culture all prefer”, and it would be equally true. On this occasion “British” really is just shorthand.

    The beer sounds quite wonderful, although it really does sound a bit on the strong side – I’m posting after an evening session at which I had the equivalent of two-and-a-bit pints of this stuff, and on a weeknight that was plenty. Perhaps our livers were made of sterner stuff in the old days.

  4. Sounds like a tasty brew. Any chance you can spare a recipe for those unable to try it but able to have a go at brewing themselves?

    1. Certainly: 550kg of pale Maris Otter malt, 20kg of black malt, 8kg of Goldings hops (4kg added at start of boil, 2kg added 15 minutes before end of boil, 2kg added to fermenting vessel), Ferment with a “clean” yeast, that won’t give too many fruity esters in the final beer. Aim for a final six per cent abv. (Scale down quantities to your own requirements …)

      1. I just plugged this into ProMash and got an OG of 1.059, which seems about right, but only 32.5 IBU. This seems considerably lower than I would expect for an historic IPA, which would be perhaps 50 – 60. I assumed whole hops @ 5.7 alpha acid, for 60 minute boil. Are my assumptions about the hops off? Were they pellets? Higher alpha acid? Longer boil? Even a 90 minute boil only gets you up to 35.3 IBU.

          1. Using pellets @5.7 alpha acid for 90 minutes boil gets us up to 39 IBU. Of course, you could have had higher alpha hops, though 5.7% is about as high as EKG gets, or you may have had a longer boil. I couldn’t find that in your earlier post.

            All fun regardless.

        1. Playing with the recipe now and I agree, the recipe guidelines do not indicate 50 ibus, less than 40 for sure. However, I will go for 50 for my own version as this is what Martyn refers to. Also, 20kg of black malt and 550kg pale ale ie 3.5% black malt for colour gives a much darker beer than what the picture Martyn holding a pint glass indicates. But since black malt is purely for colour I will adjust it down until it looks like what’s in the photo. Nottingham yeast should then give that clean unfruity finish.

          1. You’re right about the color. Assuming 525 SRM for the black malt, the beer would be 20 SRM, which is fully brown. I’d guess that Martyn’s glass is about 12-14 SRM.

            I’m looking forward to the upcoming Brewers’ Publications book IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale by Mitch Steele. Martyn and Ron Pattinson were consulted by the author.

   AHA members get a 40% pre-order discount.

  5. Thank you for the kind words Martin! But I must clarify that it was my wife, Kelly ‘Pie Ninja’ Rowlands who was the mastermind behind the curried lamb pie. I would dare not claim ownership as her wrath is swift and plentiful. I’m glad you enjoyed both beer and food, it was a pleasure getting rat arsed with you good sir!

    And you weren’t the only one who had to nap afterwards … A great pint! but one to approach with a health dose of respectful caution!

  6. There are a few beers we’ve described as ‘old-fashioned’ because the hops are there providing bitterness; a certain ‘stewed tea’, tannic quality; but little in the way of floaty-perfumey-floweriness. Is that what you were aiming for here?

      1. Very glad to see this came out well and sold fast. A strong, well-flavoured beer has its place, since even in England not everything is multiple-pint. Say you want a beer before dining out, for example.

        But in regard to pale ale having strong aroma, surely that is an old stand-by in England. Goldings, for example, can impart a wonderful aroma that is quite different to that of the C hop brigade. (At the same time I’d agree dry-hopping was not invariable for pale ale).

        I think what is happening is that dry-hopping with traditional English varieties is becoming more and more rare such that even in Blighty when you encounter a dry-hopped beer it will often smell and partly taste American.

        This is ironic since Cascade and numerous American aroma hops were developed initially as a substitute for fine European aroma varieties, but that’s another story! (Here is part of it:


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