hist-brewing: Gruit and unhopped ale recipes

adam larsen euphonic at flash.net
Wed May 3 14:56:46 PDT 2000

    My first recipe is taken from pages 33 & 34 of Sykes's book
"Instructions for Thrifty Ales Wives".  The conversions of  the units to
modern American measures is  the result of the generous efforts of
Prof. A.W. Winston Ph.D.., retired.  The conversions in question were
made in October 1997.  Conversion of  the remainder of the recipe into a
form usable in the modern kitchen was undertaken by myself and George
Donnsby during the second and third weeks of  May, 1998, principally
during direct contact.  The recipe stated in modern home brewing terms
is followed by a few notes regarding ingredient selection and production
tips.  A follow up post detailing tasting notes, and recommendations for
reproduction will follow within 48 hours.
    According to the text, the recipe dates from the Cromwell period,
originated in or near Northumberland and was thought to be of  great
dietary value.  The recipe was, according to the author, obtained from a
then elderly brewer in Berwickshire while he was writing the book.

Best Quality Shavings Ale (6 gallons)

Grain bill:

wheat - 3 pounds
oats - 3 pounds
malt, brown - 4 pounds
malt, pale -   10 pounds


three pounds of  honey, unspecified type


fir,  eight small branches and a half  pound of  chips


Carduus, yarrow & century, dried,   2 to 3  ounces each
licorice root, dried,  4 inches long


unspecified type,  starter should be at least two quarts of slurry


    Prior to mashing place the branches in your boiling vessel along
with eight  gallons of strike water.  Boil the branches and water for a
full hour.  Save the branches after the  boil and tie them together with
string.  The bundle of sticks should be left to dry in a well ventilated
place.  The water in which the wood was boiled should be reused for
strike water during the mashing.
    My previous post dated the 22ed. of April detailed a mashing method
described by Sorenson for the production of shavings ales. I would
suggest that anyone attempting to make this recipe follow the fore
mentioned procedure for two reasons.
    First,  Sykes's description is quite similar to Sorenson's, although
some what vague in comparison.   Specifically, Sykes fails to mention
exactly how much water and wort should be drawn off, boiled and
reintroduced back into the mash.  Instead he only talks in terms of  the
numbers of  kettles used during this stage. Secondly, i have have made
three successful batches using Sorenson's method with similar results
each time.
    A second point to consider during the mash is that the high
percentage of  unmated ingredients used tends to lend to the mashes
becoming stuck.  Sykes recommends that if this occurs one should
introduce an additional pound of fresh, lightly crushed malt back into
the mash along with 3 quarts of boiling water.  The mash should be
stirred and allowed to sit for an additional half an hour before
attempting to draw off the wort.
    I have found this method to work quite well in practice.  However,
on one occasion, i needed to perform this procedure twice in order to
gather the requisite 6 gallons of wort.
    The wort should then be boiled for no less then three quarters of an
hour during which time half of all of  the spices should be introduced.
The wood chips should also be boiled with the wort for the full
    While the wort  is  cooling , add one pound of  honey to the wort
and stir until it's dissolved.  The  wort should then be placed into a
barrel once it's cool along with the yeast starter.  The ale should then
be dropped/racked after roughly half a day into another barrel along
with the now dry  bundle of  branches.  The remaining spices should then
be placed in a cheese cloth sack which should in turn be inserted into
the barrel.
    The ale should then be allowed to age for one month.  The ale is
then racked off the sediment into a serving cask.  The final  two pounds
of  honey should be combined with a kettle full of  the ale and heated,
not boiled, just until the honey fully dissolves. The mixture should be
reintroduced into the ale and allowed to sit for  seven more days prior
to consumption.


    A few issues should be clarified prior to attempting make this ale.
First of all, i had to take a liberty with the grain bill. Specifically,
i am assuming that the wheat and oats were unmalted.  Secondly, Sykes
says that the original recipe did not contain any specifics with regards
to the malts recommended.  Instead, the brewer from whom he obtained the
recipe arrived at the ratio of  brown to pale malts as a result of
trial and error over a period of  several years.  While i don't have any
specifics regarding the malt profiles of the the barley used i've found
great success using beeston's Marris Otter and brown malts.
    The actual recipe as recited by Sykes calls for the use of  licorice
root as  a substitute for something called Spanish licorice which was
apparently originally called for in the earlier  version of  the
recipe.  I have no idea what Spanish licorice is or how it was used.
    In so far as yeast is concerned i have found that Ring wood ale
yeast provides good results provided that your starter is at least two
quarts comprised primarily of slurry.
    If  you, like me, don't own ale casks i'd recommend fermenting in a
carboys.  I'd also suggest using oak chips, 6 ounces, during the primary
and secondary fermentations.  If you intend to bottle this ale i'd
suggest that you use one cup of honey as a primer.
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