hist-brewing: 13th C. English Ale

pwp at cs.cmu.edu pwp at cs.cmu.edu
Sun Sep 27 16:39:12 PDT 1998

Hi all.  I've been lurking a bit, l but made a batch last Wednesday
that is just too cool not to share.

I'd just like to echo the praises that Laura Angotti had for Judith
Bennett's book.  If you are a historical brewer, you need this book.

In it are many quotes of old records, some notably including the
grains used and quantities of ale made from them.

So for my batch, I combined together the three following observations:

Bennett has a break-even analysis of Robert Sibille the
younger's ale.  Sibille was presented at court in 1282 for brewing
poor ale [Bennett, p. 21].  Bennett's break-even argument put
Sibille's ale at about 3.1 lbs grain per gallon of ale.

"In 1333--34, the household of Elizabeth de Burgh, Lady of Clare,
brewed about 8 quarters of barley and dredge each week, each quarter
yielding about 60 gallons of ale." [Bennett, p. 18]  This works out to
just about exactly twice the grain per unit liquid that Sibille used.
It also gives us another possible grain ratio: about 3/4 barley,
1/4 oats.

Finally, Bennett (without her usual level of evidence) claims that
unlike beer, ale was NOT boiled after the wort was drained from the
grain.  I felt this explained many of the spoilage issues -- medieval
ale was supposed to spoil very easily, yet Digbie's Scotch Ale (without
hops) was supposed to be casked for a year.  This also explains quotes
comparing ale with water that pigs had been wallowing in [Greg Smith,
_Beer, A History_..., p. 24]  In brief, no second boil means there are
still a bunch of proteins in solution in the beer, which is extra
stuff for bacteria to thrive on.

So I made this batch, using Sibille's concentration and the Clare
household grain mix.  Full details and justifications are in:


		--Paul Placeway (or, in SCA contexts, Tofi)
		  pwp at cs.cmu.edu



   For 2 1/2 gallons of ale:


     * 4 2/3 lbs., Hugh Baird brand English Pale malt
     * 1 1/2 lbs., oats (rolled)
     * 13 qts., water
     * 1 pkt, Lalvin brand Nottingham ale yeast
     * 1 pkt, Lalvin brand Windsor ale yeast
     * 1/4 oz., Light Oak chips

   Sanitize an insulated tun (I used my 10-gal. Gott mash-lauter tun),
   and a fermentation vessel (a 4-gal. food-grade plastic bucket with
   lid). Also sanitize a strainer if needed to separate liquid from

   Boil water. Crush the malt, then mix it well, while still dry, with
   the oats.

   Open up the insulated tun and place it on the floor near the stove
   (where the boiling water is). Pour 2 quarts of water into the tun from
   a reasonable height, moderately slowly. (The idea here is to let the
   water release some heat in water vapor while pouring -- see the
   techniques section below under mashing.)

   Pour all the dry grain into the lauter tun.

   Slowly pour 3 more quarts of boiling water over the grain. Don't stir.
   Put the cover on the tun and let it stand for 10 mins. Then add 1 more
   quart of boiling water. At this point, there should be a very small
   amount of visible liquid. Put the lid back on and wait 20 more mins.

   Now take the lid off and stir it all up. It should be about the
   consistency of fairly thick porridge. Put the lid back on and do
   something else for a while -- at least an hour and a half. (I went out
   for a beer with some friends for 3 1/2 hours.)

   Open up the tun and stir in 3 more quarts of boiling water, and stir.
   Close up again and wait 25 more mins.

   Finally, add remaining boiling water (4 quarts -- don't worry about
   pouring it in from a height). Stir well.

   Set up the sanitized fermenter. Open the mash tun valve (or otherwise
   start straining out the wort, that is the liquid part, from the grain.
   (Unlike modern methods, I did not recirculate the liquid in any way.)
   The first gallon should go quickly; straining the last gallon should
   be done somewhat more slowly in order to get most of the liquid out.

   Close the fermenter and let the wort cool overnight.

   Rehydrate both packages of yeast according to the package instructions
   (being careful to use water that has been boiled and cooled, and a
   glass that has been sanitized in some way). Pitch the yeast into the
   wort, and shake, stir, and otherwise agitate the wort in order to
   aerate it.

   Let the ale ferment for a day; the yeast should have started, and
   activity should be well under way. Boil the oak chips in approx. 1 cup
   water. When the water is the color of a cup of tea, take off heat and
   allow to cool some. Pour off water, then add approx. 1/2 cup of water
   back into chips. Raise this Boil this to a boil again, then allow to
   cool; it should be just barely darker in color than normal water. Add
   this oak-water to the wort.

   Let the ale ferment for a couple more days. Draw off and serve.

    Observations on the product, Sep. 26, 1998

   The ale was first served when still young (i.e. not done fermenting).
   Surprisingly, and counter to the conjectures of some historians, this
   ale was not sweet. Much of this lack of sweetness could be explained
   by the ale being (deliberately) weak.

   It tasted somewhat like "liquid bread" -- much more so than more
   modern beer. It also had a fair amount of tannic taste; much more than
   could be explain by the addition of oak. I suspect this was mostly due
   to the final addition of boiling water just before straining out the
   liquor. This would tend to have the effect of extracting tannins from
   the hulls of the barley.

   It was presented on a fairly hot day; several people commented on how
   refreshing such a drink could be in such conditions. It also seemed to
   have a fairly low alcohol content, though since I did not do a
   specific gravity measurement on it, I could not say what the true
   strength of the ale was.

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