hist-brewing: Ulla Ostergaard's Table Ale - historical notes

adam larsen euphonic at flash.net
Thu Jun 29 00:02:25 PDT 2000

    Every since i began sending in postings to this forum i have been
aware of  an interest in ales from my little part of  the world.
Contrary to some whimsical notions that the readership may have heard
of  the use lye, puffins and herring are not part of  folkish brewing
here although i am sure the idea has occurred to some of my more
eccentric lansmen.
    I also have in recent months received several requests for a
lighter, faster maturing ale.  Both interests should be satisfied by
Ulla Ostergaard's table ale which won first prize in its category during
the recent ale compassion at the Eystanstevna festival held in Runavik
on the isle of  Eysturoy.  I would like to thank Mrs. Ostergaard of Nes
for permission to post her recipe as well as for her help with complying
the historical notes.
    Without a doubt the most interesting aspect of how this ale is made
is way in which the mash temperature is determined.  A small notch is
cut deep into the side of  the mash tub without fully penetrating the
wall.  After the initial mash in a pebble roughly the size of one's
upper thumb is placed within this notch and held in place with a
homemade glue.  Apparently, these pebbles are often adorned with highly
stylized or grotesque faces that at one time presumably held cultic
    What happens is that as boiled water is added to the mash and the
mash temperature increases the glue gradually loses its staying power
until the pebble slips from it's mount.  When i first learned of  this
last summer i took it upon myself  to experiment over the course of 8
batches of  ale with a set of  borrowed pebbles, glue and mash tub.
Amazingly i found that the mash temperature consistently fell between
154 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit when the glue lost it's staying power.
        What is so interesting about this little tidbit is that a
similar practice was employed by ancient Celtic bakers in Dedham and
elsewhere in Essex for the
purpose of gauging oven temperature and serving some talisman like
Now even though it is common knowledge that the islands were settled
first, however briefly, by Irish monks i thought the practice to remote
to make the transition to Eysturoy.  Imagine then my surprise when i
discovered the similarity between Jutish and Irish iron age
iconographies as exhibited by carved heads from Cortynan and several
Danish heads used for similar purposes. 2 This similarity is  also seen
in the examples of tricephalos works from Armagh and Juteland 3 .
Obviously i am in no position to state when such a practice started but
it is certain that the practice, at least in Essex, continued into the
17th century. 4
    The actual origins of the recipe remain obscure although Mrs.
Ostergaard tells me that it dates back to the time of Bishop Erlendur5
when the recipe included beans as a sixth of  the grist bill.   Although
the use of beans certainly fits the period i have been unable to verify
any specific date for the appearance of the style.  Presently, the grist
bill consists of three parts malted barley, one part malted rye,  and
two parts unmalted wheat.  Mrs. Ostergaard prefers commercial malt but
usually makes her own out of concern for economy.
    The gruit is composed of  dried ground ivy, Linden flowers, balm,
juniper berries  Anise and cloves.  All of these herbs were imported
along with various malts from the at least the late 1300's onwards by
the old trade monopoly according to documents readily found at the North
Islands Museum at Klasvik.
    Most who now make this ale prefer to add fresh beech or birch
shavings during the partial boil, fermentation and conditioning.  I
would venture to say that such a practice would have been rather
uncommon during the old days do to the high cost of  imported wood and
the lack of  local lumber supplies until recently.
    The style typically has 15-20% of  it's fermentable content provided
by either homemade browned sugar which is made by boiling honey along
with licorice or anise or a sugar syrup similar to English gold
treacle.  The addition of sugars serve to lighten the body and provide a
higher alcoholic content.
    The next post will describe how to make this ale.  It is actually
quite easy to produce and quite refreshing so give it a shot!  The last
post i'll send in will cover what it ought to taste like and any lose
ends that should be tied up.

1  Anon., 1936, "Painted Pebbles from Essex", Antiquaries Journal, XVI,
page 375.
2 Peterson, T.G.F., 1962, "Carved Head of Cortynam, Co. Armagh, Armagh
Journal, Royal Society of Antiquaries of  Ireland, XCIII: pages 81-83.
3 Ostergaard, K. Hogsbro, 1954,  En Trehovedet Gud?, pages 55-77,
4 Ibid., Anon, 1936.
5  Bishop Erlendur was a rather infamous local figure who began the
construction of  the never finished Magnus Cathedral in Kirkjubour,
Steymoy during the 13th century using brutal methods.

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