John Henry ale: A novel way to celebrate 150 years
Thursday, 22 January 2015
The Oxford Brookes John Henry Ale was masterminded by Brookes alumnus and Shotover Brewery Proprietor Ed Murray. Here he writes about the process of coming up with the novel idea to celebrate our 150th anniversary.
Back in November 2013, Beth Hill from the events team at
Brookes came to visit us at the brewery in Horspath to talk about producing a
celebration ale for Brookes’ 150th anniversary in 2015.
After lengthy discussions lasting over four months and
deciding that we didn’t just want to put a new label on an existing beer, our
thoughts turned to producing a beer which reflects the origins of the
Conversations took us into the National Brewing Library,
held at Oxford Brookes, where we found a recipe for an export India Pale Ale (IPA)
from 1864, just a year before they first opened their doors as The Oxford
School of Art.
India Pale Ale was a very special product of its time. It
was born around the late 18th century when beer began to be exported
to India and the Far East and because it had to withstand crossing the equator
twice and months at sea, it had to be very strong in alcohol. Strong beers were
usual in the early Victorian era anyway, to ensure they kept well without
refrigeration but beers made for export to the Empire had to have outstanding
keeping qualities and contain a huge amount of hops.
The combination of ingredients that went into the beer and
the maturation time created pale ales of great quality with depth of character
and an intense flavour that eventually became world famous. We’ve tried to
create that recipe and distinct flavour in 2014.
The John Henry celebration ale is a very strong beer by
today’s standards at 7.1 per cent but as a brewer it is a delight to have been
able to make a beer which is in a historical record. This beer is now six
months old, young (but drinking nicely) for an export IPA. It will improve and
change with age as the flavours integrate with each other, just like a good
Its flavour is big, robust and complex but it’s not a beer
you would drink in a pub. It’s a beer to be sipped with cheese at the end of a
meal or with a sweet and definitely to be enjoyed and shared with friends.
When the beer launched at the end of October we had no idea
it would as popular as it was; the 500ml bottles sold out within a few weeks!
Limited edition 750ml bottles are still available and we are currently in the
process of brewing more which will be ready to toast the official anniversary –
150 years to the day since the first classes were taught – on 22nd May
This article first appeared in the Oxford Mail on Tuesday 20th January.
Ed Murray, Shotover Brewing Company and Brookes MA Business alumnus (Oxford Brookes