hist-brewing: keeping of beer

Paul Placeway pwp at cs.cmu.edu
Thu Sep 23 12:04:23 PDT 1999


Eliza writes:

< Does anyone know how long it takes for ale and beer to go off? I can't find
< any reference to this except from the common notion that the addition of
< hops and gruit improve the preservation.

Last fall I investigated medieval English ale rather substantially
(see http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~pwp/tofi/medieval_english_ale.html).
What I have found is that _ale_, which is both unhoped and notably
uncooked after running the liquor off the grains, will begin to sour
immediately, and will have become quite sour by about 4--5 days after
it was started.  (By "started", I mean that the liquor has been
allowed to cool over night and yeast pitched in the morning.)

Judith Bennett, in her book _Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England_,
presents a bit of historical evidence that this is about right:

   17. At Elmley Castle (Worcestershire) in 1446, for example, alebrewers
   were proscribed from selling ale more than four days old. Warren
   O. Ault, Open-field husbandry and the village community, Transactions
   of the American Philosophical Society, n.s., 55, part 7 (1965), item
   147, pp. 77-78
   [Bennett, p. 190 (text of endnote 17)] 

On the other hand, beer, or even ale (no hops) that *has* been boiled
after run-off, will keep for a year or more (if bottled using modern
sanitation and technique).  Digbie (pub. 1669) confirms this, in the
"Scotch Ale from my Lady Holmbey" recipe, which is an ale (no hops),
but has been boiled after run-off.  He advised that it be allowed to
age in the cellar for a year.

So what really seems to matter is whether the wort has been boiled or
not.  Boiling will both kill any microbes still living in it, and also
cook out many of the proteins that are in it.

		--Paul Placeway
		  (In the SCA: Tofi Kerthjalfadsson)

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