hist-brewing: Medieval/Renaissance yeast?

Andrew Carey careya at ix.netcom.com
Thu Jun 19 21:50:13 PDT 1997

Dear Gentlefolk of the list,
    If this should prove a repeat of a previous message, my apologies.  
I believe that its predecessor was dispersed in a cloud of bits by the 
thrice-blasted netcom server, but I have been wrong before.  
    That said, thanks to everyone who responded to my gruit question.  
Unfortunately, I now have another.  The discussion of yeast and mead 
has me wondering which present-day commercial yeast would be most 
similar to a medieval/renaissance ale/beer yeast.
    I'm assuming that any such would be an ale yeast, in the modern 
sense of a top-fermenting, warmth-tolerant strain.  It seems from more 
recent brewing history that this would definitely be the case in the 
British and Irish Isles, and Belgium also.  Would this have been the 
case elsewhere?  Ray Daniels in _Designing Great Beers_ suggests that 
lager-brewing existed in Bavaria in the 1400s (it's in the chapter on 
bock, my copy isn't handy but I'll look it up for anyone who wants the 
cite), but in other parts of what is now Germany (i.e. Cologne) 
bottom-fermented beer seems to have been new in the 1600s.
    That said, I would think that most of today's ale yeasts have been 
cultivated with the characteristics of modern styles (stout, IPA, 
Scotch ale, etc) in mind.  That said, what (leaving aside all question 
of starting from the ground up and culturing a strain from airborne 
wild yeasts, with all the attendant problems) would be the closest 
available strain for the brewing of medieval and renaissance styles?
    I don't know enough about historical brewing to answer this 
question, but I have a couple of guesses.  The first thing that occurs 
to me is that certain of the Trappist breweries are said to have 
maintained their strains for as many as eight centuries.  Obviously a 
considerable amount of mutation will have taken place, but none the 
less might perhaps the Chimay yeast be a possibility?  The other is 
Wyeast's "Swedish Ale."  I've never used this myself, but their 
description (sorry, I can't find any of their literature at the moment) 
gives one the impression that it might be derived from some sort of 
farmhouse brewery.  Has anyone ever tried it?  Does anyone have any 
other knowledge or ideas?  Have I made some newbieism which renders my 
entire question or analysis invalid?
                                Thanks much,
                                <careya at ix.netcom.com>

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