hist-brewing: Pre-Industrial Yeast Ranching

Donald Beistle dbeistle at arches.uga.edu
Wed Sep 29 13:46:25 PDT 1999

Scotti's point about pre-Pasteur era brewers skimming yeast with a broom
and using it to inoculate the next batch is an important one. The
too-common notion that practically all beer/ale was spontaneously
fermented before the 19th century just riles me. Even if they had no clear
conception of the biochemical basis of fermentation, yeast was no more of
mystery to brewers than to bakers. Odd Nordland's excellent _Beer and
Brewing Traditions of Norway_ devotes a chapter to the yeast management
techniques of traditional house-brewers and includes a number of photos of
brooms, sieves, and perforated sticks used to collect and preserve brewing
yeast. Sure, this isn't the Weihenstephan yeast bank but it's not
spontaneous fermentation either. Some of the yeast-gathering implements
shown in Nordland are dated (literally inscribed with the year) to the
18th century, if not earlier still. I suspect that an ornately carved (to
maximize surface area) log like one of those illustrated in Nordland is
what the labels of Norvig Ale mysteriously refer to as a "totem stick."
Wouldn't you all just love to see someone culture and market one of these
antique Scandinavian brewers' yeasts?

Spontaneously yours,

Donald Beistle
Athens, Georgia

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