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Thread: Fortified Beer

  1. #1
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
    Join Date
    Sep 1999

    Fortified Beer

    I was researching an article about punch for my column in Midwest Wine Connection and relied heavily on David Wondrich's A Brief History of Punch, as published in the first issue of Mixologist.

    He explains that punch, an import from British-controlled India was, in the mid-17th century, the first major drinks craze in England that involved a distilled spirit. Distilled spirits, at least to Western Europeans, were still in their infancy and drinkers weren't quite sure what to do with them. "Strong waters" were known but regarded more as pharmaceuticals than beverages.

    Punch changed all that. It caught on it a big way and was hugely popular for the next century or so, until eventually giving way to cocktails.

    One trend from the same period, that didn't really catch on, is something he calls "needled beer." It was essentially ale of any sort, spiked with aqua vitae of any sort. This was, apparently, the drink of choice for only the lowest sorts.

    Fortified wines, the ancestors of our modern sherries and ports, were known then, so fortified ale seems a natural, yet it never has caught on. In the modern era, there have been shot-and-a-beer types who pour the shot into the beer, but not a lot of them, and only the lowest sorts.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2007

    Re: Fortified Beer

    Fortified beer is of some interest to me. I have mentioned before, I think, a bourbon vanilla imperial porter I made (not my recipe, but a very good execution of the recipe on my part). I used 375 mL JB Black in a 5-gallon batch, so it was not fortified, really, but the bourbon was apparent. I have also made an oaked Belgian strong dark ale to which I added about 300 mL of cognac (per 5 gallons).
    But I have wondered about pushing this envelope a step farther. Randy Mosher in his book Radical Brewing discusses a port-like or sherry-like ale fermented to a high gravity (say, 15% or more), possibly with wine or sherry yeast to finish off fermentation. He suggests fortification to a strength of 18% or more. I've been intrigued by this idea for some time, but have brewed sporadically in the past year and have never gotten around to it.
    The historical connection to punch in terms of era and concept is one I've never made, but it makes sense. I wonder if fortified ale failed to catch on because beer was viewed as a restorative beverage in and of itself, i.e. a health drink not needing additional pharmaceutical boosts.
    In the 20th century, as beer brewers in America reduced their alcohol content, oddly, American winemakers seem to have decided to move in the opposite direction, producing 15% ABV wines that are thick as ink. Only recently (say, the last 15-20 years) have brewers reversed field on any scale. Recent trends toward aging ales in oak that once held whiskey and wine may point the way for craft brewers to make fortified ale.
    Certainly your post has re-sparked my interest in this area, Chuck. Thanks for the information, and I'll have to check out Dave's and your articles.



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