hist-brewing: yeasts-thoughts from fraoch and gruit posts

adam larsen euphonic at flash.net
Fri Apr 28 14:30:48 PDT 2000

    I've got lots, to much to add a once, on Nathen Moore's
questions/notions regarding herbs as a source of  yeasts.  In brief,  i
can state with utter certainty that  herbs can and often do provide a
source for wild yeasts.  From a practical stand point, such a revelation
is rather unhelpful because the wild yeast at issue are nearly always
found in a particular, small area that can't be replicated else whereas.

    In my dabbling  into these esoteric ales i've noted a handful of
references to making a starter like concoction that is in essence an
extremely small, 1/2 to 2 gallon, batch of  bitterer wort  into which
large amounts of fresh herbs and some sugars are placed.  this
concoction is then left until it starts to work.  After a cessation of
visible activity  the liquid is then drawn off and and the resultant
trub is collected and either made into a second starter or simply
pitched back into a full sized batch of  ale.
    At this point I believe that some points of clarification and
elaboration are in order regarding  the matter of  " tawny and
northerndown" yeasts.  First off, according to my notes  the actual term
used in Donnsby's recipes is a  "cake of  tawny ale barm".  I assumed
and was told  that a cake of ale barm is best understood as ale
yeast/yeast sediment.
    The recipe in questions state's "Before allowing the sweet barley
juice to work set a side a kettle's worth.  Boil it vigorously, allow
the ale to cool and then be placed into a bucket along with a fresh cake
of tawny ale barm . A second kettle's worth of  ale should then be
boiled along with two handfuls of bread & browned sugars, a goodly
amount of hop leaves and the whites of  an egg or two. After the second
admixture is allowed to cool combine it with the first."  The brewer is
then instructed to let the mixture work, draw off the liquid and place
the resultant sediment into the fermenter along with the recently made
    As for the vintage of  the recipes in which "tawny" yeasts are
mentioned it's hard for me to say as i'm not expert in such matters.
Donnsby says he ask a literature professor, from Bath University i
think,  back around '81 or '82  regarding the vintage of the recipes in
question and was told that they dated from between the 1790's to the
1820's.  Thankfully, i've  actual dates for "Northerndown" yeast which
is reputed to be far finer then then London or Button yeasts.  The four
recipes that mention "northerndown" yeasts by name range from 1882 to
    From a practical standpoint,  i think that using yeasts cultured
from herbs is a very chancy proposition.  I've successfully only
cultured wild yeast from wisteria (sorry about the spelling) blossoms.
Although i've kept the resultant strain i've found that it presents a
leather like quality which limits it's utility despite it's pleasant

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