West Street Pale
Bought by Truman’s in the 1930’s, Russell’s West Street Brewery was Gravesend’s last remaining commercial brewery. It’s facilities included its own maltings, which has now been converted into flats, as well its own access to the river, allowing them to use the river to both receive material and send finished beer. The attraction for Truman was Russell’s extensive pub estate, which included over 200 pubs, many in Gravesend, Rochester and the Medway Towns.
When Truman’s themselves went out of business, the brewing records for Russell’s become publicly accessible via the London Metropolitan archives. The big brewing logs are a little hard to decipher – not least because many of the malt references simply refer to Bin 1 or Bin 4 etc, but they do reveal a fair amount about what was being brewed at the site in the early 20th century. Hops for example came from Lake at Higham, but there are also references in many logs to Oregon, which is likely to have been imported US hops.
We’ve taken a few recipe examples and combined them into a modern take on a West Street Brewery pale ale. We used locally grown Goldings and Fuggles hops – Fuggles having come into use in the later half of the 19th Century were very popular in the early 20th. The recipes call for the addition of sugars, which we haven’t done. We suspect the sugar was there to provide cheap fermentable sugars, but would have contributed little character. By contrast their malting and barley varieties would likely have been less efficient than modern versions, meaning potentially more malt character was brought across to hit the same gravity and ABV. Offsetting these two facts against each other we decided not to use any sugars in this recipe. It would be interesting in future to source some old barley varieties and see what a floor malted, historic variety would bring, and then use the sugar as in the original recipes. For the purpose of this beer we used Maris Otter which didn’t come into use until several decades after Russell’s brewery ceased to exist.
Yeast is another factor that we don’t really know much about. Like most (all?) breweries of their time, Russell’s would have had a house yeast strain, but discerning anything about that is quite difficult. We’ve gone use our own house strain for this beer, but fermented on the warmer end to accentuate its traditional British character.
In summary, this is a beer inspired by Russell’s, but made with modern techniques and ingredients. Whilst we hope it captures the spirit of what their brewers created, as with so many historic beers, the modern recreation is probably quite different to what our great grandfathers were drinking.