hist-brewing: Re: "Stale" for Braggot

Randy Mosher rmosher at 21stcentury.net
Thu Apr 6 08:28:12 PDT 2000

Paul Placeway wrote:

> This is fine and accurate for 18th--19th C. ales.  "Ales" that were
> boiled after run-off, and particularly including some amounts of hops,
> can be expected to last long enough to age.  (Among other evidence,
> I've had a "Scotch Ale" from the Digbie recipe, which is boiled after
> run-off, last for over 6 months in the bottle just fine.)
> On the other hand, there is some evidence that medieval ales were not
> boiled after run-off.  [see Bennett: _Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in
> England_]  I've tried this for a number of batches, and every single
> one of them went sour after 4 to 5 days (but were just fine to drink,
> if extremely murky, at 2--3 days).  Judging from the taste after
> souring, Lactobacillus isn't killed by the heat of the mashing
> process, but takes longer to ferment the lactose than the yeast takes
> to ferment the simpler sugars.

I've always approached this from the point-of view that these olden time
people weren't stupid and had the same taste buds as us, if with
different experience. So, the question becomes, how did they create beers
worth writing poems and songs about?

Some of the old brewing techniques raised the mash temperatures quite
high, maybe reducing the Lactobacillus present. These techniques,
repeated infusions of boiling water, are well-suited to wooden brewing
vessels, and are still commonly practiced in the farmhouse beers of
Scandinavia. Also, boiling all or part of the the mash is also a good way
to extract stuff out of poor or irregularly-malted grain.

Recipes from less than a hundred years ago indicate that for certain
beers--certain white, or wheat beers-- the wort was unboiled, but these
beers were invariably meant for rapid consumption. As there was a marked
separation between "red"  and "white" brewers' guilds by at least 1400,
perhaps the boil/no boil thing technique was split by style as well,
although I'm just speculating here. It's just hard to imagine one of
those early, monstrously strong ales being at all palatable, to anybody's
taste, without some kind of reduction of Lactobacillus flora, which is
not only sour, but also, well, rather "barf-like" as well.

> On the basis of this, along with the English dislike for sour ale
> [again Bennett], I would believe "stale" could mean simply "fermented"
> for the earlier brews.

I guess this is one for the etymologists, perhaps we can learn something
from that angle.

BTW, small point, but I believe the Lactobacillus are not eating lactose,
as there really isn't any meaningful quantity present in malt.

--Randy Mosher

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