hist-brewing: Domesday ale

bjm10 at cornell.edu bjm10 at cornell.edu
Fri Feb 13 07:20:30 PST 1998

On Thu, 12 Feb 1998 hdavis at ix.netcom.com wrote:

> "The monks of St Paul's Cathedral brewed 67,814 gallons of ale using 175 
> quarters of barley, 175 quarters of wheat and 708 quarters of oats."
> from the Domesday Book (1086)
> One quarter weighs 256 pounds. Depending on your assumptions for extraction 
> efficiency, the OG should be in the neighborhood of 1100 or higher.

A quarter of dry unmalted wheat weighs around 256 pounds.  A quarter of
barley is different, a quarter of malted barley is different from both of
the preceding.  I would say that malted wheat has a different weight per
quarter than does unmalted wheat. 

The differences are significant between wheat and malted barley, that much
I can remember.  And oats?  I would venter again more differences.  A
quarter is a unit of VOLUME, and it is not possible to convert a unit of
volume to a unit of weight willy-nilly, regardless of the material being
measured.  Anybody who tells you otherwise, I'll make a bet with.  We'll
take a quarter of molten lead and see if it weighs 256 pounds, and we'll
take a quarter of gaseous hydrogen at 1 Atm pressure and see if it weighs
256 pounds.  If they both weigh around 256 pounds at 1g, standard
pressure, standard temperature, I'll pay you $1,000,000 dollars.  Of
course, I'd never have to pay that on any honest measurement. 

However, there *is* a way to convert the quarter to units that we 
understand today.

A quarter was (and is) a unit of volume equal to eight bushels (Zupko
1968, 1977). A bushel in the 16th century was equal to 8 "gallons", but
these were not gallons as we measure them.  Fortunately an English Royal
Standard Bushel measure from AD1496 has survived to the present day.  It
isn't 11th century, but it's the best we have of an extant measure. 
Measurements in the 20th century showed that this bushel holds 2144.8
cubic inches (Zupko 1968) (in contrast to the US bushel of 2150.42 cubic
inches). I would say that a difference of less than six cubic inches in a
bushel is negligible for our purposes, so we will use the modern bushel. 
Thus, the monks of St. Paul used 175*8=1400 bushels each of malt and 
wheat (which may or may not have been malted) and 708*8=5664 bushels of 
oats (malted? hulls still on? who knows?) to brew 67,814 gallons of ale.

Okay, if a modern US gallon is 231 cubic inches, by definition, that means
that the monks used 13,033 US gallons each of malt and wheat and 52,727 US
gallons of oats per their 67,814 gallons of ale.  Per one of their
"gallons", this means that they used 0.1922 US gallons each of wheat and
malt and 0.7775 US gallons of oats.  Since a gallon is 128 fluid ounces
and a cup is eight fluid ounces, this means they used 3.07 (make it an
even 3) cups each of wheat and malt, and 12.44 cups per of oats per one of
their "gallons" of ale. 

Why do I say one of "their 'gallons'"?  This is because the size of a
"gallon" of ale was different from century to century and even from region
to region within England at a given time.  However, there are two volumes 
that are fairly common:  The wine gallon of 231 cubic inches later became 
the standard English gallon (and the US got it from them).  However, 
there was a specific "ale" or "beer" gallon that was 282 cubic inches.  
Which to use for a redaction?  There is insufficient information for this 
period and locale.  Pick whatever suits you.  The "Imperial" gallon was 
invented in the 19th century.

If you use the wine gallon, then simply multiply the figures per gallon 
by five for a five gallon batch, giving 15 cups each of wheat and malt, 
and 62 cups of oats.  There are 16 cups in a US gallon, which will make it 
easier to measure out the oats.

If you use the Ale gallon as the monks' gallon, then, for a 
five-US-gallon batch, you will need to use 12.25 cups each of wheat and 
malt, and 51 cups of oats.

For flavoring?  I recommend some kind of gruit, but I'm real short on 
gruit recipes.  Precious little evidence of hops for flavoring ales in 
England of the 11th century.


Zupko, R.E. 1968. A Dictionary of English Weights and Measures. 
       A scholarly work that summarizes the history of English measuring
systems from the Norman Conquest to the 20th century. Has extensive quotes
from original sources and modern measurements of original standards in
many cases.

Zupko, R.E. 1977. British Weights and Measures. 
       An update to Zupko's 1968 work, with some new data, but without
many of the original quotes in the Dictionary. 

Witthoeft, H. 1979. Umrisse Einer Historischen Metrologie zum Nutzen der
wirtschafts-und Sozialgeschichtlichen Forschung. 
       A German-language source, mostly a list of various items of
measurement with modern SI measure equivalents. 

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