hist-brewing: Gruit and unhopped ales

Jeff Renner nerenner at umich.edu
Fri Apr 28 09:34:52 PDT 2000

adam larsen <euphonic at flash.net>wrote:

>    While going through Donnsby's old family recipes i've found several
>comments regarding the desirability of   "Northerndown yeast".  This
>yeast is reputed to be "buttery in taste and easy to preserve".  While I
>assume "Northerndown" is a particular strain i'm at a loss as to it's
>actual identity.   The second is referred to as "tawny yeast" which
>apparently is made into a starter with either molasses or treacle in
>combination with whater,  hop leaves, an egg white and bread crumbs.  In
>both cases the recommended pitching rates seem to translate into 2-4
>quarts per quarter barrel depending upon the recipe.   Unfortunately,
>i'm unable to discover any additional information regarding these two
>kinds of yeast.

Several thoughts.  There are literally thousands of brewing yeasts in the
National Collection of Yeast Cultures (http://www.ifrn.bbsrc.ac.uk/ncyc/)
in UK, and who knows how many at Weihenstephan and other collections.  Your
chances of tracking down on from centuries ago based on its name or
description are remote.

The "buttery" taste of Northerndown is likely a reference to diacetyl,
which has a buttery taste and is typical of many yeasts and which can be
increased in beer by temperature and oxygenation manipulation,
particularily by "dropping" the ferementing beer at ~24 hours.  Dropping is
a traditional process in which the beer is racked off the sediment after
~24 hours into another vessel with vigorous splashing.  This oxygenates the
yeast cells at a time when they have depleted their lipids, which are
needed for cell membranes.  (A recent post to HBD by Dr. Clayton Cone of
Lallemand Yeast suggests that 14 hours may actually be the optimum time to
add oxygen).

Preparing a starter following the recipe for "tawny yeast" seems to me
unlikely to successfully capture any specific yeast, although serendipity
may favor you with the capture of some desirable strain.


Jeff Renner in Ann Arbor, Michigan USA, c/o nerenner at umich.edu
"One never knows, do one?"  Fats Waller, American Musician, 1904-1943. 

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