hist-brewing: Hvalba Ale & Mumm's Ale historical bits

adam larsen euphonic at flash.net
Tue Aug 22 12:49:13 PDT 2000

    Additional requests for local ales encouraged me to send in this
post because it ties in well with some previous inquiries regarding
Mumm's ale.  Many thanks are due to Eddi Schesel of Augsberg for his
partial translation of K.W Pepy's "The Forgotten History of Ale" (1888)
and Dana Gundersen of the Sandvik Historical Society for help in digging
up all this stuff.
    Hvalba ale is named after the Hvalba coal mines on the isle of
Suduroy and was popular in the isle's largest community of Sandvik  as
well as smaller villages in the area.  According to oral tradition the
ale was well liked by the famous 10th century martyred chieftain
Sigmundur Bretisson although i suspect that such a notion is more whimsy
then fact.
    In terms of real history the ale was known to have been made as
early as the late 1400's via shipping manifests which listed Hvalba malt
in terms of  a certain number of sacks, each apparently being roughly 36
kilograms to  40 kilograms each, being suitable for a given number of
barrels which were roughly 28 gallons each.  The last mention i can find
mention of shipments of  Hvabla malt was from 1789.  A further source of
information comes from a contemporary English merchant named Arthur
Denby of  who died in Sandvik in 1497 but whose birth date is not listed
in church records.   His rather fragmentary logs and surviving shipping
manifests indicate he purchased 30 barrels for import to Stromness and
Kirkwall in 1391.
    While we don't know what kinds of gruit was used at the time we can
say with certainty that myrica gale, fir, century, wood sage, avens,
ground ivy and linden comprised the gruit during the mid 1500's when the
Henderdal family roadhouse near Hvalba used to brew it. It also seems
that some form of sweet syrup was added long with sloes.
    While there doesn't  seem to be any surviving indication of
particulars relating to how it was made we do know the composition of
malt.  According to Ms. Gundersen, Trade Monopoly records of  the late
1600's and  early 1700's  indicate that the malt consisted of  equal
parts "bracked" or "smoke" malt, "white" malt, oats, and wheat.   I
would hazard a guess that "smoke/bracked" would refer to a dark, overly
modified malt perhaps browned in a skillet or pot.  I assume that "white
malt" means a light malt of particularly good quality.  No mention is
made as to weather the wheat and oats are malted but i would assume so.
    Finally, from the historical display at the old Henderdal roadhouse
we know that three sacks of malt were used per barrel of Hvalba ale
which was used locally.  Four sacks of malt were required for export
along with two eggs and an additional three bundles of fir shavings.
    What is interesting about this is that the Braunschweig  variation
of Mumm's ale supposedly made by the famous brewer Christoph Mumme
starting in 1492 used exactly the same grist composition as mentioned
earlier.  According to K.W. Pepy's aforementioned work the amount of
grist used per barrel was also startlingly similar.  However, the
qualifier must be added that i have no idea as to what the capacity of a
Braunschweig barrel was at the time.  Of  further interest is that the
same source indicates a similar gruit with the exceptions of the absence
of  the sweet gale and the addition of bentony and burnet.
    Interesting questions arise from thinking about these bits of
information in total.  As an example, one can't help but to wonder the
extent to which trade in terms of both brewing ideas and actual product
happen between Denmark and her territories, England and Germany during
the period in question.  I for one wonder weather the the terms brak,
brack'd, smoke, smokish as well as white and fyne are in fact as similar
as i suspect.  The fact that trade of this ale did exist to some extent
combined with the apparent similarities makes me wonder who bought
imports and whom was influenced by whom.  Also, i wonder if weather the
oats and wheat used were malted.   Finally, it would be an interesting
mental exercise to try and determine how these variations were actually
made.  I have some thoughts on this matter and would be interested in
hearing the hypothesizes of others on the list.

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