hist-brewing: Gruit and unhopped ales

adam larsen euphonic at flash.net
Tue Apr 25 13:52:21 PDT 2000

    This posting and previous posting show that the production of  gruit
and other unhopped ales require production techniques that are quite
different from contemporary brewing practices.  This time around i'll
share a little info i've acquired regarding boil regimens.

Boiling Practices

    My tinkering, reading and discussion regarding  regarding the
preparation of old fashioned ales has demonstrated that that my
conventional practice of  boiling  the wort for one to two hours is not
necessary or even desirable!  Sykes for instance suggests that ale be
steeped, not boiled so that "foul humors not be driven into the ale
along with the goodness".  Now i've never quite figured out what
steeping entails exactly in terms of  temperature and time according to
Sykes.  Nonetheless,  I have leaned that boiling and spicing strike and
sparge water is equally important to the production of unhopped ales as
is how the wort is treated. Basically, i've been able to separate the
techniques into two categories.

     Shavings Ales

        The preparation of shavings ales require that the wood called
for in the recipes be boiled in both the strike water and the water
added during the mashing out stage of production. Although Sykes advises
that the boil for both be 15 minutes my experience has been that the
flavoring and anti-septic qualities are noticeably improved by
increasing boil  time in for his recipes to 30 minutes.
    I've noticed that the astringent qualities extracted from the wood
seem to provide the wort with the anti-septic qualities commonly
attributed to hops, though not the bitterness.  Although shavings ales
tend to have a harshness that one does not associate with hoped ales
this quality can be diminished with only 1-2 months of aging. Also, the
astringency of  wood tends to not be a issue when proper attention is
paid to the selection of  aromatic herbs.  Once again, i'd like to
suggest that high mash temperatures be used when making shavings ales.
With the exception of Gottland Drinka i've yet to sample a successful
shavings style ale that wasn't characterized by a fairly high level of
residual sweetness.
    Once the wort has been collected Sykes recommends "1/4 the quantity
of the shavings used used thus far be placed along with the kettle
sugars and spices.  The admixture should be heated till vapors begin to
rise, but not brought to a boil. The ale should be left to steep. "
    Although Sykes does not say how long the wort should steep my friend
George Donnsby has provided some guidance for me on this matter.
Specifically, he recommend that "the last of the shavings be combined
with any bittering herbs once the steam starts to rise from the wort.
Any aromatics should be boiled  separately in a strong tea for five
minuets.  Place the tea into the wort after it's steeped for an hour and
a half  or  two hours. You ought to cool the wort immediately after
adding the tea."  My own experience has shown that the steeping is best
done at around 160-180 degrees.
Partial Boil

    A partial boil is a phrase i use to describe a process described by
Suggsden and Sorenson whereby variously sized portions of the wort are
drawn off spiced , boiled and then added back to the main body of wort.
    Typically, ale recipes that call for this procedure have a a quarter
or less of the wort kept warm while aromatic spices are steeped between
10 and 30 minutes.  In a separate vessel , the remainder of the wort
has bittering agents boiled for for an hour or so. flavoring agents are
often added for the last third or quarter of the boil.  Finally, both
mixtures are combined into a single vessel in which the temperature of
the full volume of wort to drops to a warm level.  Kettle sugars, most
often a treacle, are dissolved into the wort for roughly 5-10 minutes
prior to cooling. I've noticed that Sorenson typically keeps the
temperature of the wort during this phase   relatively cool, he guesses
about 150 degrees. When this method is used the kettle sugars provide
typically 20% of the fermentable materials for the resulting ales.

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