hist-brewing: Re: Yeasts - Thoughts from Fraoch and Gruit Posts

NATHAN T Moore NTMOORE at SMTPGATE.DPHE.STATE.CO.US
Fri Apr 28 08:11:33 PDT 2000


I have 2 questions/ideas.

First, in Adam's post on Gruit and Unhopped Ales he mentions "Northerndown yeast" and "tawny yeast".  Do you have any idea from the recipes you were reviewing how far back these references go back?  We know the term yeast and the concept of yeast did not begin use until the mid-19th c., but that does not mean that these concepts pre-date their understanding.

(warning - entering highly speculative mode)

Second, the mention that yeasts for Fraoch were isolated from wild yeasts growing on the heather.  We all know that wild yeast on fruit can ferment beverages, and many of us have tried this to very successful results (apples, grapes, berries).  But I was not aware of wild yeast on flowers and/or other herbs being used.  This got me thinking, was this a standard procedure for starting fermentations before the understanding of yeast?  Maybe this is why mead with herbs was so popular, because the herbs would start the fermentation, not just add flavors.  Looking at the 3 pre-1600 mead recipes I know of (from Ein Buch von Guter Spise (1350), Le Menagier de Paris Historic recipe (1393), and Tractatus de Magnetate... (13th c.), all available via http://sca_brew.homestead.com/files/library.html  in the recipe section) there is mention of adding yeast (bread leven, ale barm, or something in a nutshell that was translated to yeast in Guter Spise.  However, in later in Digby you do not see mention of adding yeast to meads in many of the recipes, and in one "A Receipt to make Metheglin as it is made at Liege" it expressly says you dont need to.  From experience with mead, it is not easy to get a fermentation started with airborne yeasts (though I have not experimented, it seems so), so maybe the yeast is introduced by the herbs.  So, in conclusion, possibly many gruit ales and meads were a result of needing the herbs to begin fermentation, not just the need for flavoring.  This will take some more experimentation, which may be difficult since you would need wild herbs from non-polluted areas to be sure they had the natural yeast, not altered by chemicals.  An easy one may be a dandelion wine/mead.  What are peoples thoughts?

Nate



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