hist-brewing: early ale flavourings

Neil Blackwell nblackwell at bigfoot.com
Thu Jan 30 17:56:47 PST 2003

Hi all, I have enjoyed reading the hist-brewing messages for a while now but
this is my first contribution.

I notice that often there is little or no record of the flavourings used in
early ales, but I'd like to suggest this is because they often didn't use

Early ales, brewed with 'godesgood' (ie unknown airborne yeasts and
bacteria) would have been naturally fairly tart due to the acids produced by
bacterial infection, and so flavourings would have been far less necessary
than in later years when more sanitary procedures and cultured brewing
yeasts produced 'blander' ales.

Anyone who has tasted lambic beers would know that the hops they contain are
there more for preservative effect than flavour. I think it is reasonable to
assume that early ales would have resembled lambics more than anything else,
and that finding an effective preservative would probably have been higher
up the agenda than finding additional flavourings. If anything, additional
flavourings would probably have been used more to disguise unpleasant
flavours in a bad brew than to try and enhance what would have been a very
unpredictable drink at the best of times.

I am always amazed when I learn of attempts to recreate 'authentic' early
ales, even going so far as cultivating seeds found in pyramids, but then
fermenting them under sterile conditions with a modern brewers yeast!

Any thoughts?


> hist-brewing digest, Vol 1 #140

> What flavourings went into this ale has to be a matter of conjecture,
> no contemporary writings seem to have mentioned anything except honey, to
> make braggot, which fell halfway between beer and mead in price in
> post-Roman times. The Picts, the un-Romanised tribes in the north of
> Britain, brewed with heather, according to mythology,though there is
> considerable doubt about how they used the heather and what exactly they
> made with it - a flavoured fruit wine, rather than a beer, is a

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