hist-brewing: spontaneous ferment mead

Renee Peterson polrena at hotmail.com
Wed Jan 17 03:21:20 PST 2001

>From: PBLoomis at aol.com
>To: hist-brewing at pbm.com
>Subject: Re: hist-brewing: spontaneous ferment mead
>Date: Tue, 16 Jan 2001 20:42:04 EST
>In a message dated 1/16/01 5:11:03 AM Central Standard Time,
>polrena at hotmail.com writes:
> > I have read in a variety of books that the old brewers would get lots of
> >  lousy batches until they got a "good" one....when they did, they'd put 
> >  stick of wood...I believe it was ash?...in the fermenting brew.  >
>     Interesting.
>     I knew about collecting the ale yeast on a broom and drying it for
>re-use.  And putting the broom out over the door while drying to show
>you had fresh ale for sale.  But I never heard of using a plain wooden

    ...I wonder about that wooden staff.  Did it preferentially kill the
>Bad Germs, but allow the good yeasts to survive?  And is this a specific
>property of the ash tree?  Or is it that yeasts are somehow different
>from other, nasty microorganisms?
>     Quizzical,
>     Scotti
>     "Age cannot wither, nor custom stale, her infinite variety."

You know, trying to find the answers to these in-depth questions is making 
me do a whole lot more research than I would ever do on my own!  Ok, here it 
is:  I was incorrect about the ash... it was a birch stick,  called a "yeast 
log," and it was used in Norway. Sometimes, apparently, the users would 
carve out incantations to the yeast spirits, sometimes it was shaped, but 
sometimes they just stuck in the stick.  Here's what I found about why: 
"Interestingly, birch has an extremely sweet sap, somewhat like maple, 
though weaker.  The sap from the freshly cut tree draws the yeast deep 
within it as they search out its sugar.  Then, during the drying, the wood 
of the log cracks, forming deep crevaces that allow the yeast to penetrate 
deep inside during the next brewing.  Yeast can easily live a year in such a 
manner, and if tended to with devotion, will always produce good ale."  
--from "Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers" by Stephen Buhner...again.

  I didn't know about the brooms, or what they meant about the availablity 
of a new batch, but I did read that in Norway, they used Juniper branches.

In addition, all this neat researching has led me to the Tarahumara of 
northern Mexico where the brewers would use the same pot, never washed, for 
their brews...they believe that such a pot is sacred.  The brew from the 
fermenting pot can be introduced to a new pot, to "teach" that one to 
"boil," and it, too, becomes sacred as is never washed.  They also use 
wormwood on top of the covered jars once they start fermenting to "frighten 
away the evil spirits who might want to spoil the liquor."  Wormwood, it's 
neat to note, is stongly antibacterial, antiseptic, and antifungal, and "can 
be used in the treatment of yeast infections!"

I find the different spiritual rituals that went along with the beginning of 
the fermentation cycle also quite facinating.

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