hist-brewing: Devonshire White Ale (long)

Glenn Raudins glenn at raudins.com
Tue Dec 17 07:07:10 PST 2002

Back in May, Randy Mosher asked about a White Ale
from the Devonshire area:

> I'm trying to track down any information on a white 
> beer brewed in SW England up until 1850 or so. It 
> was generally described as cloudy and thick, had egg 
> (white?) and flour in it (not that uncommon in those 
> days), some kind of seasoning called "grout." The name 
> "lober agol" or "loberagol" was applied to it. 
> Apparently a rustic country survivor of earlier days, 
> it was last reported in Southern Devonshire, Plymouth 
> and Cornwall.

I am working on reprinting a book entitled "The Town &
Country Brewery Book" from England, circa 1830.  (Should
be available early next year.)  The book contains some
esoteric recipes like Edinburgh Oat Ale and ......
Devonshire White Ale!  Below you find a passage on the
topic then a recipe.  The passage discusses the eggs and
flour question.  The recipe includes the "grout" and I
have added a reference for grout.


  This liquor is brewed from pale malt, after 
the best method known in the western parts of 
this country;  and as it is drank at Plymouth, in 
particular, by the first people in the town, the 
ale-wives, whose province this comes under to 
manage from the beginning to the end, are most 
of them as curious in the brewing of it, as the 
dairy-maid in making her butter;  for as it is a 
white ale, it is soon sullied by dirt, and as easily 
preserved in its frothy head; besides, their slut- 
tishness hue would perhaps be more exposed 
than in any other part of England;  as in this 
town there are few or no cellars, on account of 
their stony foundation, which is all marble; their 
repositories, therefore, being above ground, are 
generally exposed to the view of their guests, 
who may occasionally see this liquor fermenting 
in a row of earthen steens, holding about two 
or more gallons each; and though the wort
is brewed by the hostess, the fermentation is 
brought on by the purchase of what they call 
ripening, or a composition, as some say, of the 
flour of malt mixed with the whites of eggs; 
this, however, is a nostrum not generally known, 
and for a great length of time was only in the 
possession of a few master brewers, who sold it 
out as yeast is now done, at so much for a 
certain quantity;  and at every time a fresh 
brewing of this ale took place, a great ball or 
lump of it was generally sufficient to work four 
or five steens of wort, and convert it from a 
very clear body into a thick fermenting one, near 
the colour and consistence of buttered ale, and 
then it was only fit to be used;  for if it was let 
alone to fine or stale, it was rejected as not 
worthy of buying or drinking.  Yet some, out of 
curiosity, have kept it in bottles, racked it off 
clear, and made of it flip and other very good 
  Now this white ale, thus fermented into a 
gross body, becomes a sort of chyle, ready pre- 
pared for digestion in the stomach, and yet so 
liquid as to pass several of the secretory ducts 
of the animal economy soon enough to give room 
for fresh supplies of this pleasant tipple, even at
one common sitting; for though this drink is 
not so thin and clear as the brown sorts, yet by its 
new, lubricous, and slippery property, it is soon 
discharged out of the stomach;  and notwith- 
standing such evacuations, it leaves a very nutri- 
tious quality behind it in the body, that brings 
it under a just reputation for consumptive la- 
bouring people; it is recommended also as an 
excellent drink for wet nurses, to increase and 
nourish their milk.
  Its strength also is so great, that it is equally 
intoxicating as the common ales or beers; and 
if any one think fit to make it stronger, as is 
often done, it is only necessary to add half a pint 
of sherry with a little loaf sugar and nutmeg; 
and it will not only be stronger, but more plea- 
sant to the taste.
  The Devonshire white ale is recommended by 
the west country physicians in colic and gravel; 
and for its diuretic properties, and as possessing 
generally medicinal virtues, far superior to any 
other malt liquor.

Later on in the book, the author includes the 
following recipe:


	Pale ale wort, 	25 gallons;
	Hops, 	         2 handfuls;
	Yeast,  	 3 pounds;
	Groats,     6 or 8 pounds:

When the fermentation is at its height, bottle 
in strong stone half pints, well corked and wired.  
This ale effervesces when opened.

The Groats ingredient was a bit puzzling, and 
people had guessed that maybe it was gruit.  Last
night, in Arnold's Origin and History of Beer and
Brewing, I came across a passage where Arnold lists
a number of synonyms in other languages for gruit,
and there was "groat" for English!

Enjoy and have happy holidays,


Reprints of old brewing and distilling books.

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