hist-brewing: Wood, it's uses in Ale, Meads & Braggots

adam larsen euphonic at flash.net
Thu Aug 24 14:29:17 PDT 2000


    Because i've gotten several inquiries with regards to shavings ales
and the use of woods in other recipes i thought i would bang this little
post out.  The next posts will covered boiled & spiced honey used in
primarily meads and braggots.   Shavings ales are the  most common type
of  wooded ales outside of  the Nordic and Baltic nations and the wood
in such ales serves to add flavor, aroma and enhance the preservation of
the ale.
    Basically, shavings are made by using a plane to produce the
thinnest possible slices of wood. which are boiled in the strike water
or wort,  hung in a cask as bundles during the ale's conditioning or
both. Shavings taken from different parts of the tree lend different
qualities with the inner rind tending to be the best.
Many different kinds of wood are used to produce shavings ale largely as
a result of what's available locally.  Most commonly one will find
references to fir, birch, cottonwood, uwe, juniper, ash, bayberry and
linden although i am sure that many others have been used as well.  I
personally brought back home a good pile of pinon wood which i
discovered leads wonderful quantities to ales and meads.
    Generally, you will do better using the shavings or branches of
young wood during boils.  Only mature wood should be used during
conditioning .  In terms of quantity i have found 6-12 ounces as being
sufficient during the conditioning stage while the use of  a dozen or so
short branches are better for use during the boil.  Shavings placed in
the cask/carboy should have the bark removed and sap should not be
present in any wood used in brewing.
    Bark is typically used only in a spice bag placed into the
cask/carboy during conditioning and works best when the bark has been
well dried.  Bark is quite commonly used in various recipes that call
for boiling down honey and other sweet syrups  which are used to provide
added complexity to ales and meads in the absence of specialty grains as
can be seen a  few commercial Belgian ales.
    Shaving when used in meads typically are employed during the boil
of  water which is then strained and then added to the honey or tied
together in a bundle and hung in the mead during it's conditioning prior
to bottling.  Braggots typically resemble ales in their use of wood.
    While ales that used only wood to enhance the flavor were common in
the distant past i for one have never been happy with such a beverage
unless it is drunk live which is not my preference.  Instead, i suggest
that one uses other herbs along with a relatively sweet ale or mead to
provide a level of complexity rather then an overly strong tannin taste.

    If the readership is interested i can submit a few shavings recipes
from the British isles, the low countries and France from my small
collection of resources relating to this genre.


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