hist-brewing: Gruit and unhopped ales

NATHAN T Moore NTMOORE at SMTPGATE.DPHE.STATE.CO.US
Fri Apr 28 13:35:59 PDT 2000


It's nice to read that these friends of Adams talk of obtaining different yeasts from different herbs, and the varying characteristics in ale they create.  This adds validity to my speculations that gruit was a source of yeast, and not just flavor.

(warning - much of what follows stongly reaks of opinion and speculation)

And in response to Adams statement "Unfortunately, i'm tempted to agree with you that chances are quite dodgy that i'll ever be able to actually identify the exact strains used in the
manufacture of  most  these curious ale styles"  My general philosophy of recreating historic beverages, is that referring to some of these ancient brews as fitting into a certain style and using certain ingredients can be very limiting.  What we know of historic brewing, especially pre 1800, is based on small glimpses of certain brewers techniques.  It was not till much latter, end of the 19th c., that we see books discussing brewing in a general and regional sense (ie, Curiosities of Ale and Beer, The Curious & Quaint Ales of Our Forefathers, etc.).  So, given that we are only allowed certain "snap shots" of historic brewing, it is hard to make general assumptions about precise ingredients or techniques, such as what yeast they used.  Therefore we are better off trying to understanding the framework behind how they obtained these ingredients or developed these methods.  For example, the discussion with Adams friends about the obtaining different varieties of wild yeasts off of different plants is a clue that possibly that is how some historic brewing yeasts were originated.  We will never be able to duplicate the exact yeast that a specific brewer used in a specific brew, but we can try to use similar sources for obtaining these wild yeasts as these historic brewers used.  In the end we may be able to isolate a blend of wild yeasts that make quality beverages, using historic methods.  And we will have a yeast that can be considered historic in a sense, even though it may not be exactly one that was fermenting ale in the 16th c.  But then again, given the methods used , there may have been 100's of thousands of yeasts or yeast combinations nibbling away at worts on a given date 100's of years ago, so who knows, one of them could be the one we end up with.

All that said, the more of these "snap shots" into historic brewing we can obtain, the closer we will bet to brewing a beverage we can actually call historic with a straight face, thanks again for all the info Adam.

Nate



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