hist-brewing: Gervase Markham Strong Ale
Eric A. Rhude
ateno at panix.com
Thu Sep 17 08:06:23 PDT 1998
I maed a batch of GM's Strong Ale last night,
I thought this group might be interested in
my notes and calculations.
I have left out the chapters of 'Of Ordinary Beer',
'Of Brewing Ordinary Beer', 'Of Small Beer'. If
anyone wants those for reference, let me know I will
send if off.
Lord Frederick Badger of Amberhaven this is for you 8).
Brewing of Strong Ale
Of brewing Strong Ale
Now for the brewing of strong ale, because it is a drink of no such
long lasting as beer is, therefore you shall brew less quantity at a time
thereof, as two bushels of northern measure (which is four bushels or half a
quarter in the south) at a brewing, and not above, which will make fourteen
gallons of the best ale. Now for the mashing and ordering of it in the mash
vat, it will not differ anything from that of beer; as for hops, although some
use not to put in any, yet the best brewers thereof will allow to fourteen
gallons of ale a good espen full of hops, and no more; yet before you put in
your hops, as soon as you take it from the grains you shall put it into a
vessel and change it, or blink it, in this manner: put into the wort a handful
of oak boughs and a pewter dish, and let them lie therein till the wort look a
little paler than it did at the first, and then presently take out the dish
and the leaf, and then boil it a full hour with
the hops as aforesaid, and then cleanse it, and set it in vessels to cool;
when it is no more but milk warm, having set your barm to rise with some sweet
wort, then put all into the gyle vat, and as soon as it riseth, with a dish or
bowl beat it in, and so keep it with continual beating a day and a night at
least, and after tun it. From this ale you may also draw half so much very
good middle ale, and a third part very good small ale.
The English Housewife, 1615
Michael R. Best, editor
McGill-Queen's University Press 1986, CA
For those of you that have read Gervase Markham before you know that
all the recipes are connected together in sequence. The ordinary beer recipe
gives the technique for brewing in general and recipes below are specifics for
each. Strong ale is a top-fermenting beer brewed in England, I would guess
early after the harvest when malt is very common and available, given the
The first thing that needs to happen is the conversion of the gigantic
quantities involved to something we can handle. Forget for the moment that the
period English gallon was different from ours; it was more like the standard
modern Imperial Gallon, or 1.2 American gallons. No matter what a gallon was,
it was always four quarts, or one sixty-third of a hogshead. So...
If 1 quarter of malt equals 8 bushels, which equals 32 pecks, or 64
Imperial gallons, or 76.8 U.S. gallons, or roughly 307 standard modern
American pounds of malt, and...
4 bushels of the Southern measure (London) or 153.5 lbs. of malt yields
14 Imperial gallons or 16.8 US gallons. So when you divide the amount by the
yield you get about 9.14 lbs of malt per gallon. I have no large mash vat like
Markha's, but I decided I could do a 3 gallon batch, so:
A 3-gallon yield requires 27 lbs 6 oz. of malt.
I used Klages malt because Markham's instructions for making malt
call for a brief heating to prevent the malt from germinating further, but
no roasting, so the malt is effectively air-dried. Klages is as pale, and
as close, as we can easily get to Markham's white malt.
In his previous chapter "The office of the malster, and the several
secrets and knowledges belonging to the making of malt", paragraph 27,
Markham says ".. and when three weeks is fully accomplished, then you
shall (having bedded your kiln, and spread a clean hair-cloth thereon) lay
the malt as thin as may be (about three finger's thickness) upon the
hair-cloth, and so dry it with a gentle and soft fire, ever and anon
turning the malt (as it drieth on the kiln) over and over with your hand,
till you find it suffciently well dried...".
Nowhere does he talk about browning or cooking the malt , other
editors have called Markhams malt 'white'.
The text quotes:
'Now for the mashing and ordering of it in the mash vat, it will not differ
anything from that of beer;'
In an 8-gallon insulated water cooler (because as I mentioned
neither do I have a large mash tun or the blankets to cover it) I placed
my wine bag (The cooler was borrowed!) and the 27 lbs. 6 oz. of malt. Then
I ladelled enough boiling water to cover the malt (It was filled up). The
cover was put on and let sit for just over an hour.
Markham continues on hops but the next thing chronologically
is the "blinking":
"before you put in your hops, as soon as you take it from the grains you
shall put it into a vessel and change it, or blink it, in this manner: put
into the wort a handful of oak boughs and a pewter dish, and let them lie
therein till the wort look a little paler than it did at the first, and
then presently take out the dish and the leaf"
First the oak, two leafy branches of oak were taken and washed and
placed in the wort. Michael Best, Markham's editor, claims the oak is
there for the flavor of the tannin it contains.
There are two explanations for the pewter dish that I can come up with:
1 - Pewter of period has lead in it, and lead translates to the taste
buds as sweet. This is, I'm told, why children sometimes eat lead paint.
But Markham quotes in paragraph 5:
"you may if you please heat more liquor in your lead." He is using a lead
pot for heating water, so that might not be it. Also, toxicity is an issue
for the modern brewer.
2 - You can see the dish at the bottom so you can keep track on the paleness.
I had my wort in a polished stainless steel pot, so I had no need of the dish
for this purpose. I would be interested to hear other theories about this.
The wort did become slightly paler in color after about 15 minutes.
I then removed the oak branches.
"allow to fourteen gallons of ale a good espen full of hops" and
in another section, "and then boil it a full hour with the hops as
An espen is a spoonful, so I approximated with 1/6 of an oz
of Kent Goldings. I let it boil for an hour.
"and then cleanse it, and set it in vessels to cool;"
The "vessel to cool" would have been a huge basin, I did not want
the chance of errant yeast attacking my wort. I used a copper tubing coil
to flash cool the wort and strained it while pouring it into the carboy.
"when it is no more but milk warm, having set your barm to rise
with some sweet wort, then put all into the gyle vat,"
To the three gallons of wort I added the Wyeast variety for
'English Ale'. It was the closest I could find for what would have been
"and as soon as it riseth, with a dish or bowl beat it in, and so
keep it with continual beating a day and a night at least, and after tun
This, I believe, has to do with getting it to ferment faster.
Without much hops it must have been infected often without this step. I
do not have a 3 (or 5 for that matter) gallon oak keg to ferment the wort
in so I am forced to use a 3 gallon glass carbouy. I an going to shack my
carboy twice a day for 5 days to approximate this.
"From this ale you may also draw half so much very good middle
ale, and a third part very good small ale."
I made a middle ale, and then it was late so I stopped there.
There are nice white fermentation bubbles this morning.
Eric Rhude - ateno at panix.com
work - er at panix.com
QVI CONVERTERIET HAEC IMMODICE LITTERATVS EST
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