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The opposite of extreme beer? ‘Comfort beer’

A very nice article in the current Zymurgy (the magazine mailed to members of the American Homebrewers Association and also available on newsstands) by Martyn Cornell and Antony Hayes titled “Burton Ale: A British Comfort Beer.”

I particularly like this paragraph: “Burton Ale is a comforting beer brewed for adults. It is not an extreme beer catering to childish tastes, but a strong, rich beer, playing off plenty of bitterness against a sweet, malty undertone. It has no rough edges.”

And this one: “When brewing a Burton Ale, it is best to remember the things that comforted you most as a child — your teddy bear or blanket perhaps — and then aim for a beer that will evoke similar emotions.”

(If you grew up hugging pine cones, then obviously you’re gonna brew a different beer. That’s a discussion for another day.)

I must admit my shoulders drooped a bit when I read the recipe (which calls for an alarming amount of East Kent Golding hops — comparable to well over 3 pounds per barrel before dry hopping — and discovered a bit of bad news: “Rack into maturation tanks and mature for a year.”

There’s a reason they call them maturation tanks.

17 Responses to The opposite of extreme beer? ‘Comfort beer’

  1. Alan January 8, 2011 at 10:34 am #

    I’d say a comfort beer is separate from both the session beer and the extreme beer. It is a sweater you put on, a hot bath you step into. Burton is in no sense a light beer but neither is it a slap in the face. So, not an opposite so much as a sibling… a calmer more respectable one. The one you want your sister to marry.

  2. Mike January 8, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    The opposite of extreme beer is good beer. Extreme beer is just awful. Period.

  3. Matt L January 8, 2011 at 8:37 pm #


    You want your sibling to marry your sister? Is this some kind of extended extreme beer analogy?

  4. Darren January 10, 2011 at 1:15 am #

    yea not really sure about all this sibling marrying stuf and how it relates to comfort or extreme beer. All that comes to mind for me when I think comfort beer is Melbourne Bitter, the beer my Dad used to drink. I’d have a tiny glas of it with him some evenings. Its still an ok beer for a bland industrial lager but I’m not thinking it really fits in the same bracket of comfort food. By that definition comfort beer would need to be fattening and unhealthy for you, yet enjoyable.

  5. Steve January 10, 2011 at 7:50 am #

    Oy — our grasp of our language is scaring me in this thread. Alan isn’t suggesting a John Irving novel here, he’s saying the “Comfort Beer” isn’t the angelic twin of the extreme beer, more of the smarter brother, and I agree.

    I started a thread similar to this at BeerAdvocate — called it WOW Factor. My question was, do you always need it (as many in that community seem to)? Can you enjoy a common, ordinary, pleasurable beer? For me, it’s what I look for most often. Bring on the Comfort Beer.

  6. olllllo January 10, 2011 at 10:01 am #

    It seems to me that a comfort beer has to connect to a memory or pleasant emotional feeling. This would be like breaking the fourth wall in theater.

    Is it worth extending that metaphor?

  7. Kristen England January 10, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    I’m wondering where the recipe is from as I’ve never seen a Burton that has only a single pale malt let alone chocolate malt. Not to mention 3lbs per barrel is ludicrously high. I’d love to see that brewing log as its much different than all the ones I’ve ever seen.

    Don’t get me wrong, the article was very well written and enjoyable. I’m just wondering what brewery did things so differently.

  8. Jeff Alworth January 10, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    Stan, why did your shoulders droop?

  9. Stan Hieronymus January 10, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    Jeff – Because who wants to wait a year? If I wanted to wait a year I would have bought a wine making kit back in 1989 instead of a homebrew kit.

  10. Swordboarder January 10, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

    What’s the abv? I haven’t had a session beer that I love that also is a year old. Cardboard and I just don’t mix.

    Is barleywine an extreme beer?

  11. Stan Hieronymus January 10, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    Dave: OG-1.070, IBU-“High”

    Not a session beer. Since maturation for a homebrewer would be in kegs or carboys do you think oxidation would be a problem?

    Question 2: Barleywine is not an extreme beer. I find them comforting, myself.

  12. Jeff Alworth January 10, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    The older I get, Stan, the less time matters. I lose years like other people lose socks. My biggest worry would be discovering my carboy of Burton three years after I brewed it.

  13. Swordboarder January 10, 2011 at 6:43 pm #

    Interesting, English Style IPA with American Style IPA percentage alcohol. Aged to let the higher alcohols, IBUs and bright parts of the dry hop drop out. I can dig it. I would be interested to taste the difference between a dry hopped and non dry hopped version aged over a year.

    Oxidation at 7% abv isn’t going to give off typical cardboard, more toward the sherry and toffee characteristics. EKG into that mix does sound delightful. I consider oxidation a problem for most homebrewers, exposure to a little bit of oxygen and a small volume of beer can be enough even with a lot of care. The alcohol question is the big one though, because the beer oxidation graph was created using light lagers as the test beer. My running theory is that higher alcohol beers inhibit the cardboard character and allow the sherry and toffee to develop, but I need to test it. Actually thanks for reminding me, I just put in a note to someone I know in grad school at Davis to see if anything has been done on it yet.

  14. Steve January 11, 2011 at 7:16 am #

    “My running theory is that higher alcohol beers inhibit the cardboard character and allow the sherry and toffee to develop, but I need to test it.”

    For what it’s worth to research, I always save a Sierra Nevada Celebration & Big Foot from the previous years to try along side the new batches and I always get that toffee-ish, earthy character from the aged beers, but no real cardboard that you get from oxidized beers. The characters always remind me of the Fullers Vintage Ales.

  15. Ron Pattinson January 11, 2011 at 7:38 am #

    Swordboarder, the Burton they are talking about is not an IPA or even a Pale Ale. It’s Burton Ale, the type of beer brewed in Burton before (and after) Pale Ale. If you want a reference beer, Pretty Things KK is a Burton. Or Young’s Winter Warmer.

  16. Steve January 11, 2011 at 8:25 am #

    Ron! You’re categorizing! 😉

    Though it’s interesting to know that the Young’s is a Burton Ale, that will make me look at it differently next time — and I think I just reviewed it at BA (though I’ve been drinking it for years).

  17. Spencer January 13, 2011 at 1:39 am #

    FWIW, I just had a 7% beer with cardboard oxidation. Paid too much for it, too.

    Interesting to read this one right after Alan’s post about beer elitism (

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