hist-brewing: ancient methods

bjm10 at cornell.edu bjm10 at cornell.edu
Tue Apr 14 09:09:47 PDT 1998

On Tue, 14 Apr 1998, Mark and Eylat Poliner wrote:

> Does anybody know how medieval brewers estimated temperatures without
> any measurment devices?

Short answer, I don't.

Long answer, however, I *do* know how to estimate temperature without a 
thermometer, and this method comes from the 18th century (which is not 
medieval, but it is without a thermometer).  Do not take it as a medieval 
method, but it is a non-thermometer method of estimating temperature.

There are actually two methods based on a variation of a theme.

The first does not require a great deal of fire control.  Bring your 
water to a boil and let it sit.  The moment that the steam no longer 
completely obscures your reflection, it is cool enough to add the 
grist--but add the grist quickly, with much stirring, so it will cool the 
water properly to mashing temperature as it comes in.

The second method requires better fire control.  Heat the water until the 
steam completely obscures your reflection, and NO MORE HEATING.  Add the 

Both methods come from "The London and Country Brewer"--no it's not in 
print, Cornell has a copy of the 7th edition (published 1759) in their 
rare book collection.  If I ever get any more free time, I'll continue my 
research of it.  What is *SERIOUSLY* fascinating is that it is actually a 
*HOMEBREWING* manual from 1759.  It's written by a commercial brewer who 
is also a homebrewer, and he describes methods, ingredients, and recipes 
(so to speak) that would work for a gentleman who brewed for himself at 
home.  Of course, such gentlemen brewed in higher quantities than we tend 
to today.

> Any info on what type of mashing and sparging equiptment used?

What country?  What decade?  As far as I can tell, English brewers did 
not sparge until the 18th century (but they *did* dry-hop in the 18th 
century, so a "traditional" English pale ale, made when the style was 
invented, can have a nice hoppy aroma--but I digress).  Instead, what 
they did was do several mashings (two to four) of a single grist, and 
combine the mashings in various ways (or not) to make stronger or weaker 
beers.  One method was to do four mashings, one with hot water, one with 
cold, one with hot, one with cold ("cold" meaning "right from the stream 
or well") and then combining mashes one and two for a strong and three 
and four for a weak.  This does sound something like a "sparge", except 
that they gave the grist full mashing time with each liquor.  This was an 
18th-century practice, again.

Sorry for not having medieval information--there is a book out on English 
House Brewing in the Renaissance, but I don't have my hands on it, yet.

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