hist-brewing: Hops, methyl alcohol and cannabis

William A. Millett wmillett at fractal.com.br
Tue Dec 7 20:19:10 PST 1999

Hi there,

I am a newcomer to the list and have been watching the lively back and
forth of issues - has this always been like this? I must´ve missed quite a
something! I'm in meadmaking and winemaking, with a bit of "liqueuring" in

I'll take the liberty of adding my penny'orth to some of  the issues.


My MacDonald Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices (by Gualtero Simonetti ISBN
0-356-19599-6), says: In Central Europe hops were used as early as 1200 for
making beer while in England, up to 1600, bogbean (Menianthes trifoliata L
- a water plant related to the gentian family) and the legume Cytisus
scoparius L. Link (broom) served  the same purpose. In former times the
application of various principles to stabilize and flavor the beer led to
the use of many other plants, including dropwort, licorice, sweet clover,
mace, ginger, mugwort, and wormwood.(
) The infusion obtained from the
cones is a calmative and a tonic and can be mixed with sweet liquors to
produce aperitifs (

The  Illustrated Herb Encyclopedia by Kathi Keville (Mallard Press, New
York, 1991) says" The Roman historian Pliny dubbed hops lupus, or wolf,
after noticing the way it twines tightly around other plants. The word hops
comes from hoppan, to climb. Hops were grown by the Romans but were not
widely cultivated until the 9th and 10th centuries, mostly in France and in
Germany. In less than a hundred years, a new drink called bier made from
Bavarian hops became famous.(
) The English, however, continued to make the
traditional ales, flavored with bitters like alehoof and alecost (costmary
and ground ivy), and preferred to sleep on hop pillows instead. In the 15th
century, Henry VIII warned that humele was a wicked weed that *would spoil
the taste of the drink and endanger the people*".

The Encyclopedia also mentions that hops are mildly sedative and diuretic.
They are a bitter digestive that is specially suited for treating nervous
indigestion, ulcers, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn's disease
(NA- whatever that is).(
) Hormonal effects from estrogen-like compounds
were first noted when female hop pickers experienced changes in their
menstrual cicles (
) after absorbing quantities of essential oils through
their hands. Aphrodisiacal effects were noted in men. Regular doses of the
herb can help to regulate the menstrual cicle. (
) Hops also helps
insomniacs. A hops poultice cam relieve the pain of earache or toothache.
) A hops "sleep pillow" encourages a sound sleep. Europeans used to fill
a whole bed pillow with the strobiles (
) Apparently the fragrance is
responsible for the soporific action. (
) Up to 30% of  hop pickers
experience some degree of dermatitis, with pollen from the strobiles
causing skin eruptions in about 1 out of every 300. A recipe for a hops
pillow follows: 4 parts hops, 1 part lavender flowers and 1 part thyme (to
prevent nightmares). Combine hervs and use as stuffing for a small pillow.

Cannabis beer

There has been recently a slight commotion at the Customs of this country
(Brazil) when someone attempted to import a German beer called Cannabis.
The decoration on the can was of a stylized marijuana (Cannabis sativa)
leaf. Obviously there was no pot in the beer, but the issue was created
when someone in authority read the label and saw humulus lupulus printed on
it. Not knowing what it was, he consulted a botanicist who told him it was
a plant of the cannabiciae family and it had mild soporific effects. This
person in authority apparently anxious to appear in the press, duly
informed it and havoc was created. It happened last week and it has largely
died out by now. Later he was informed what Humulus lupulus was and that it
was present in all beers. The description of the effects of hops that
appeared in the press, made hops nearly an illegal drug!

About methyl alcohol - it is created during fermentation in small amounts
derived from hydrolysis of pectin of the fruit (any fruit - including
grapes). There is no risk from it coming from wooden implements. Remember
that wines are fermented in wooden casks.  In the beginning of the century
methyl alcohol was made by a process called destructive distillation of
wood, which has nothing to do whatsoever with distillation of liquors. It
did not involve fermentation. Wood was placed in closed metal tubes and
strongly heated in the absence of air. The wood would decompose by the heat
but would not burn as there was no air present. The products of the
decomposition were removed through pipes and condensed. Two parts were
obtained - a tar and a watery liquid from which methyl alcohol (called wood
alcohol in those times) and acetone were obtained. The liquid is very foul
smelling and was called "pyroligneous acid".

This has got to be lengthy for a first posting, but I hope this helps!

Best of luck.

William  Millett
wmillett at fractal.com.br

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