Chancellor Ale

For almost 600 years, the individual colleges which made up Oxford University in England had their own breweries. By the second half of the Nineteenth Century, however, the colleges had largely ceased to brew for themselves. But Queen’s College (founded and brewing since 1341) soldiered on, brewing its own beer until 1939.

Queen’s brewed two products, an “everyday” College Ale and Chancellor Ale — brewed only once a year in October. Two separate mashes were carried out and boiled separately, with the transfer from underback to copper being achieved by means of a hand pump — which was made in 1778! (The underback is a vessel that collects wort from the lauter tun and, of course, copper is another word for kettle.) Cooling was done in long shallow vessels, known as coolships, although by the Twentieth Century cooling was actually controlled by a movable cold liquor coil. The cooled liquor was ladled(!) into wooden casks for fermentation. The yeast worked through the bunghole into a trough, from which clear beer was ladled back into the casks. After about six days, the beer was ladled to 3-barrel casks, dry-hopped, then left to mature for two to three weeks in the case of College Ale, or a year or more in the case of Chancellor Ale.

The recipe for Chancellor Ale looks very much like that used for October beer in various early eighteenth century publications, notably William Ellis’ Town and Country Brewer. Recipe? Yes, you heard me correctly, we actually have a recipe for this beer. This is unusual for an “archaeological beer.” In reproducing old beers, it is usually necessary to make some educated guesses from the original documentation. In this case, because the beer survived pretty much unchanged into the nineteenth century, there are two sources that literally give College and Chancellor Ale “by the numbers”:

College Ale / Chancellor Ale

OG 1.068 (1070)* / 1.135 (1140)*
FG 1.018 / 1.054
ABV 6.3% / 10.6%
[*The figures in parentheses are from H. Lloyd Hind’s “Brewing Science and Practice,” 1938. Other figures are from a 1927 article in Brewers Journal.]
That’s not much of a recipe at first sight. Color analysis was done by an obsolete method, but we know the grist was only pale malt. The quantities of malt needed will depend on your extraction efficiency and the differences in OG from the two references indicates that there were often variations in extract. We do not have IBU numbers either, but hop rates were at 8 lbs. per British barrel in the boil. We don’t know what the alpha-acid level of the hops (likely Goldings) was, but even if it was as low as 2%, calculated IBUs would have been around 90. We are also told that the beer was dry-hopped in cask with “a few handfuls of hops.” (Back in 1340, no hops would have been used, and they would have been ales in the original sense of the word.)

Wort Preparation

To make 5 gallons (19 L) by mashing, you are going to need to handle over 25 lbs. (12 kg) of grain. For me, a 3-gallon (11 L) brew length makes things more manageable. So that’s what my recipes are based on. There are several ways to prepare the wort for this beer:

1.) Take only the first high-gravity runnings from a big mash, and either discard the rest or make a “small beer.”
2.) Do a normal mash and collect the first two gallons or so, which should be around 1.100 (24.8 °P), and put them aside. Then sparge and collect all the runnings and boil until their SG is close to 1.100 (24.8 °P). Add the first runnings, and proceed with the boil. This is tedious, but it makes it easier to get close to both your target gravity and target volume.
3.) Split the mash into two sessions.
4.) Do an all-extract brew. This offers the possibility to achieve better hop utilization if a portion of the extract is added close to the end of the boil. However, this method can result in poor attenuation in fermentation, depending upon the extract used. It may also result in a paler beer, and because of the shorter boil time there will be less wort caramelization.
5.) With any of the mashing approaches, you can also adjust the wort gravity with the addition of sugar or malt extract. If you add sugar, it will help with attenuation, making the beer a little drier. This is not a bad thing, as such beers can be quite sweet. However, limit the amount of sugar to a maximum of 15% of total fermentables.


The malt bill is very simple — 100% pale malt; US or English 2-row are fine, with Maris Otter being the top of the line. You should aim for a mash temperature of 148–150 °F (64–65.6 °C).

In the case of extract, use a British extract if possible. If not, then simply go for a pale unhopped extract.

Earlier on, I suggested that this beer was hopped to around 90 or more IBU. That was a little misleading, for I was assuming a standard level of hop utilization (25%). However, in a wort of this gravity, utilization is going to be lower than normal. Since we do not know hop alpha-acid or IBU levels for Queen’s Chancellor Ale, we are in the realm of guesswork. One option is to use 9 ounces (0.26 kg) of whole hops in 3 gallons (11 L), as the Queen’s brewers did. I opted instead for high-alpha pellet hops (Target at 11.6%) and aimed for 80–90 IBU, assuming 20% utilization. This way, I would get just about all the bitterness I could in this beer and would lose less wort in the trub. I also added some Fuggles as aroma hops at the end of the boil. If you wish, you can also dry-hop the beer with about 1/2 oz. (14 g) of Fuggles or Goldings in the fermenter.


If you do not get good fermentation, and the yeast fails to give good attenuation, this beer is going to be sickly-sweet. It may also be very dangerous to bottle it! Use a good, strong ale yeast, preferably one that previously worked well for you with strong beers.

You must pitch plenty of yeast, so it is essential to make an active starter. I like to use two vials to make two separate starters of 1.6 quarts (1.5 L) each. Just make 3.2 quarts (3 L) of wort at around SG 1.040 (10 °P) and split it into two suitable vessels. Pitch the yeast when the wort is cool, then oxygenate for 2–3 minutes. Do this 2–3 days before you plan to brew. When the wort is ready, decant off most of the liquid from the starters, and pitch the sediment.

Oxygenate your main wort thoroughly (for 3–4) minutes after pitching. It does not matter if the fermentation temperature goes as high as 80 °F (27 °C) — it probably went this high in the Queen’s brewery.

The numbers for Queen’s College version indicate about 60% attenuation. If you get only 40–50%, re-pitch a fresh starter of yeast. Don’t use Champagne yeast at this stage, as it is likely to give something that is neither beer nor wine!


This is a beer meant to be kept for a year or more, before being drunk. This can cause some problems. There will still be some yeast remaining after racking to the final vessels. Because of the high terminal gravity, further fermentation may take place with the risk of bottles exploding. The best approach is to keep the beer in keg for a year, then bottle. (I used my 3-gallon (11-L) kegs for this.) If you insist on bottling, then keep the beer in secondary for 2–3 months, and check that there has been no change in SG over several weeks before bottling. Carelessness on this point could result in flying glass and loss of eyesight or other serious injuries!


Chancellor Ale is a historical beer for which we have rather an unusual amount of information, so we can be sure that our reproduction is as authentic as possible. It is also a very strong beer, rich and complex despite the simple malt bill, with lots of promise for flavor development as it matures. It would be interesting to make one such brew every year for a number of years, and see how each develops with time. I can’t tell you any more about my own brews yet — they’re still only a few months old! For the record, all the recipes are exactly as I have brewed these beers, within the space of one month in December 2005.

Chancellor Ale

(3 gallons/11 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.141 FG = 1.060
IBU = 90 SRM = 20+ ABV = 10.6%

16.9 lb. (7.7 kg) 2-row pale malt
7.4 AAU Target hops (90 mins) (1.5 oz./43 g at 11.6% alpha acid)
1 oz. (28 g) Fuggles hops (0 mins)
2/3 tsp. Irish moss
White Labs WLP007 (Dry English Ale) yeast (two 1.6 qt./1.5 L starters)

Step by Step
Mash in at 148–150 °F (64–65.6 °C), using about 1.2–1.4 quarts of water per pound of grain (2.5–2.9 L/kg). After 90 minutes, run off the first 2 gallons (7.6 L) and set aside; these should have an SG of 1.090–1.110 (22.4–27.1 °P). Sparge to collect a further 5 gallons (19 L) or so, by which time the runnings should be around SG 1.010–1.012 (2.6–3.1 °P); do not go any lower or off-flavors may result. Measure the total volume and SG of the second wort. [Calculate total gravity by multiplying the volume of each wort times its gravity (in “gravity points” (GP) — i.e. 1.056 = 56 GP) then add these two numbers. Divide the sum by 140, yielding the final volume you need to reach in order to have an OG of 1.140 (34 °P).] Boil the second wort until the SG is around 1.090–1.110 (22.4–27.1 °P), then combine with the first wort. Boil vigorously for an hour or so, then add the bittering hops and boil for another hour or so, or until you have reached the desired final volume. Add the Irish moss 10–20 minutes before the end of the boil. As you turn off the heat, add the finishing hops; adjust the volume with cold, sterile water if required. Cool to 70 °F (21 °C), and pitch the yeast starters. Oxygenate for 3-4 minutes after pitching. When primary fermentation is complete, rack to secondary; if the SG of the beer is 1.070 (17.1 °P) or higher, re-pitch with a fresh yeast starter. Rack again after 2–3 weeks, preferably into a stainless steel soda keg, and leave to mature in a cool, dark place. This beer is best bottled by means of a counter-pressure filler. You don’t want to add priming sugar to the bottles, as there may still be a slow fermentation taking place. Over a maturation period of a year or so this can result in overly high bottle pressures.

Chancellor Ale

(3 gallons/11 L, grains plus sugar)
OG = 1.141 FG = 1.050
IBU = 90 SRM = 20+ ABV = 12.1%

14.0 lb. (6.4 kg) 2-row pale malt
1.5 lb. (0.68 kg) dark brown sugar
17.4 AAU Target hops (90 mins) (1.5 oz./43g at 11.6% alpha acid)
1 oz. (28 g) Fuggles hops (0 mins)
2/3 tsp. Irish moss
White Labs WLP004 (Irish Ale) yeast (two 1.6 qt./1.5 L starters)

Step by Step
Exactly as in the previous recipe, except that sugar is added at the end of the boil; take great care to stir thoroughly and make sure that all the sugar is dissolved.

Chancellor Ale

(3 gallons/11 L, extract plus sugar)
OG = 1.140 FG = 1.061
IBU = 90 SRM = 20+ ABV = 10.4%

10.5 lb. (4.8 kg) pale malt extract syrup
1.5 lb. (0.68 kg) dark brown sugar
17.4 AAU Target hops (90 mins) (1.5 oz./43g at 11.6% alpha acid)
1 oz. (28 g) Fuggles hops (0 mins)
2/3 tsp. Irish moss
White Labs WLP007 (Dry English Ale) yeast (two 1.6 qt./1.5 L starters)

Step by Step
Carefully dissolve 5 lb. (2.27 kg) of extract in 3.5 gallons (13L), bring to a boil and add the bittering hops. After 45 minutes, turn off the heat and very carefully dissolve the remainder of the malt extract and the sugar. Then turn on the heat and boil for a final 15 minutes, adding Irish Moss for the last 10 minutes, and the flavor hops when you turn off the heat. Cool, ferment and mature as for the grain recipes.

Issue: May-June 2006