hist-brewing: to Malt or Not To Malt..

Cindy Renfrow renfrow at skylands.net
Thu Sep 3 13:12:33 PDT 1998


>> > and can anyone give me pointers for using the right type of malted grain
>> > to simulate a period or close to period malt?
>i am getting the impression from my research that a mixutre of different
>kilnings temps might be fairly accurate..  simulate the uneveness of the
>kilning.  someone else tackled the problem that way in a paper i read, i
>forget where..  what is brown malt?  haven't heard of it..
>> A mixture of pale ale and brown malt might do this, but it's again hard to
>> say.  There are complete descriptions of malting from at least as far back
>hmm..  i am not prepared to malt my own with wood fired stuff.  Would you
>expect that a wood fired kiln would impart a smoky flavor to teh malt, or
>would you be inclined to believe that the flavor might not be that

Hello!  Mr. Ray Daniels is preparing a paper for the AOB on the topic of
Brown Ale.  If he is here, perhaps he can share some of his findings with
us?  Mr. Daniels raised some questions regarding early malting techniques.
I found some information for him which may also be of use to you.

"The English Housewife", by Gervase Markham, first published 1615. The new
edition, ed. by Michael R. Best, 1986, ISBN 0-7735-1103-2, is well worth
having. Best has modernized the spellynge, so it is no trouble to read.
Markham devotes an entire chapter to malting -- from the types of grains
available, the construction of a malt house, building a kiln, etc., etc.

Cobbled together from Markham:
There are sundry sorts of kilns:
1-a large square (up to 30 feet square) on top, gradually tapering narrower
& narrower till it reaches the ground, hollow and descending, of varying
sizes according to the size of the building;
2-similar style, but round.
Both these have a danger of catching fire & burning the malt.
3-a French kiln (not described), framed of brick, ashlar, or other fire
stone, "and in these kilns may be burned any kind of fuel whatsoever, and
neither shall the smoke offend or breed ill taste in the malt, nor yet
discolour it, as many times it doth in open kilns, where the malt is as it
were covered all over, and even parboiled in smoke:  so that of all sorts
of kilns whatsoever, this which is called the French kiln is to be
preferred and only embraced.
4-West Country kiln made at the end of a kitchen range or chimney, which
dries the malt by hot air, with no smoke.  "that no malt in the world can
possibly be sweeter, or more delicately coloured:  only the fault of these
kilns are that they are but little in compass, and so cannot dry much at a
time, as not above a quarter or ten strike."

He goes on at great length about the types of fuel, & the resulting flavor
of the malt. For example, "furze, gorse, whins, or small brushwood...
tainteth the malt with a much stronger savour [than bean straw]. To these I
may add bracken or bracks,... but each one of them have this fault, that
they add to the malt an ill taste or savour..."
And again, speaking of using wood, "from whence amongst the best husbands
have sprung this opinion, that when at anytime drink is ill tasted, they
say straight it was made of wood-dried malt."

Proverb: "soft fire makes sweet malt"

>From Best (quoting Harrison, p. 136) p. 285:
"In some places [malt] is dried at leisure with wood alone, or straw alone,
in other with wood and staw together, but, of all, the straw-dried is the
most excellent.  For the wood-dried malt, when it is brewed, beside that
the drink is higher [darker] of colour, it doth hurt and annoy the head of
him that is not used thereto, because of the smoke"

Markham seems to imply that the type of malt used depended upon a person's
financial circumstances, as well as on the soil of the area. (Types of Malt
-- Barley was of 3 sorts:  barley grown on clay soil, barley grown on mixed
ground, barley grown on sandy soil [this last described as full of weeds &
unprofitable]; oats... "Now I do not deny, but there may be made malt of
wheat, peas, lupins, vetches, and such like, yet it is with us of no
retained custom..." )

The passage from Harrison is:
"...Having therefore groond eight bushels of good malt upon our querne,
where the toll is saved, she addeth unto it half a bushel of wheat meale,
and so much of otes small groond, and so tempereth or mixeth them with the
malt, that you cannot easily discerne the one from the other, otherwise
these later would clunter, fall into lumps, and thereby become
That is, she is grinding her own malt with a hand quern to avoid paying the
miller's fee.

I believe that the color & quality of the brew depended upon the economic
circumstances of the brewer (could she afford high-quality barley?), the
skill of the maltster (often the same person), and the care with which her
servants attended their duties (did they fall asleep & allow the malt to
burn?), the type of kiln & fuel she was using, and of course the personal
preferences of the household or village she was supplying. Careful malting
without smoke or high fire was preferred in order to produce "sweeter, or
more delicately coloured" malt. The best kiln described by Markham was one
which dried by hot air, without smoke.  The best fuel was that which
imparted no smoky flavor to the malt.  So, to cut this short, I think the
ideal was a clear, light-colored & delicately flavored brew, but that this
was often not achieved, either for monetary reasons or for lack of skill.


Cindy Renfrow
renfrow at skylands.net
Author & Publisher of "Take a Thousand Eggs or More, A Collection of 15th
Century Recipes" and "A Sip Through Time, A Collection of Old Brewing

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