hist-brewing: Old bread/beer/yeast, marsh rosemary

steve thomas fabricus at hvi.net
Thu Jul 10 09:51:29 PDT 2003

   Old sourdough cultures are available online from worldwide collectors;
see http://www.sourdo.com/culture.htm for several, including Egyptian and
Finnish variants.  Many of the Asian rice wine processes include both
lactic and yeast organisms, the lower gravity versions sometimes described
as having a lemonade like character.
   I have read that modern bread yeasts were developed from ale yeasts
quite recently, around 1900.


   There is some mention of the Germans making wine from bread, chronicled
by the Romans when subjugating those tribes.  Working under the premise
that malt was the starting point, I have made some fine beers with the
grist baked in a loaf.  The technique I used was to dampen the grist to the
point no free water is evident at rest, but a little appears on squeezing a
handful; spread about 2 inches high on a baking sheet and bake at 350
farenhight for an hour.
   This isn't as rough on the enzymes as might be expected at first.  The
enzymes tolerate high temperatures better at low free water; and having the
oven at 350 doesn't mean the mash is at 350.  I'd guess the internal
temperature finishes about 200 degrees.  Extraction of husk tannins has
never been a problem. 
  Subsequently dilute and lauter or simply use as a mash adjunct.
Contributes a very full body that has only moderate sweetness and survives
fermentation well.
   Note that this is just a loaf mashing technique, not a microbiological


   A few years ago there was an account of streptomycin staining on some
old bones (upper Nile, about 500 current era).  Streptomycin is an
antibiotic with a characteristic of staining bone as it is built in the
body, making it fluoresce in the ultraviolet; so how did it get into the
old bones?  The conclusion was that it was the result of brewing practices.
 Loaves were baked and stored in preparation for brewday; residual moisture
in the loaves fostered development of streptomycin molds during storage;
The resulting beer was antibiotic as well as intoxicating.

   In fulfillment of a quest of years, I have finally gotten some marsh
rosemary plants, from Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery.  It is listed under the
old botanical name, Ledum palustre ssp. decumbens.  I don't know for sure,
but I suspect the plants are descended from seeds brought back from
northern China by a collecting expedition.  The plants are the true
decumbent (sprawling) tundra form, as opposed ot the shrubby Labrador tea
form.  The leaf margins are revolute (rolled under) though not so
pronounced as in the european form that earns the 'rosemary' name.  They
are apparently being sold as rock garden plants.

            --Steve Thomas    

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