hist-brewing: Question on scrumpy

Tim Bray tbray at mcn.org
Thu Nov 6 13:56:38 PST 2003

>3) The very best scrumpy is (or at least, was) made on farms
>where a lot of the metalwork around the press was lead; the acid
>apple juice on the lead gave the resultant drink a kick which lasted
>for the rest of your life.

Also known as the "Devonshire colic."  In the 18th century this was a big 
deal - something of a scandal.  R. K. French, "History and Virtues of 
Cyder," gives a detailed account of it.  Apparently lead was introduced by 
accident as Pratchett notes, from lead seals in the joints between stones 
in the apple-mill; but also deliberately added (as lead acetate) to sweeten 
the finished cider.  Lead salts were known and used as sweeteners in the 
Middle Ages, but by the 17th century they had figured out this was a Bad Idea.

>        4) While a lot of the stories about stuff being put in 'to
>give it body' are probably apocryphal, apparently it wasn't uncommon
>to put a piece of beef in the stuff to give it 'strength'.

Whatever that means.  As I said - tradition, not science.

>        6) We used to drink almost a pint, topped off with half an
>inch of lemonade; this was known as 'cider and gas' and was popular
>in our part of the Mendips. Two pints was the max. I recall that as
>we went back across the fields someone who is now a professor of
>medieval history fell down a disused mineshaft and still carried on

This notorious strength may have resulted from the addition of sugar, or 
from boiling the juice to increase the gravity (according to French).  It 
seems to be a widely held attribute of scrumpy.


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