hist-brewing: ancient brewing
dwbutler at mtu.edu
Wed Feb 17 08:04:25 PST 2010
"Merryn Dineley" <merryn at dineley.com> writes:
> I think this is because few people today understand
> the malting, mashing, fermentation process.
> So, what do you brewers think?
I think that folks who don't understand brewing often
make the invalid assumption that all you need to
make beer is grain and wild yeast. ("See these
pictograms? They say that if you add bread to
water, it turns into beer. . .Can I have my grant
They don't understand that malting is a necessary
step. (And they assume that anything loaf-shaped
is bread and that anything coming out of what
looks like an oven must be either bread or pottery.)
And even if they recognize the need for malting, they
are often oblivious to the role of mashing. Countless
times I have encountered persons who think it is as
simple as "the grain got wet, then accidentally heated,
and it became beer". No, it became barley soup.
Yeast ferments sugars, not starches.
As Steve Thomas already mentioned, malting is pretty
simple step, and it is easy to see both how and why
it may have developed spontaneously in any culture
that collects a high-nitrogen grain. (Evenso, just
why they are collecting such cereal grains in the
first place, unless for beer, is beyond me. Grain
into bread seems an awfully labor-intensive method
of getting food from plants, even in grasslands.)
That grain softened by soaking is easier to turn into
something edible than hard grain is pretty obvious.
Then, even if it was not intentional, sprouting
surely would have occurred accidentally on occasion.
The increased sweetness imparted by even the
ambient-temperature malting would be noticeable
(and probably desirable--but that's wild speculation
about ancient tastes on my part).
Where the spontaneous development makes, I think,
its biggest leap is with the innovation of mashing:
harnessing the enzymes in the slightly sweet malted
grain through gentle heating to convert it into
a mass of sugary goodness.
But, like I said, that is a bit more of a leap than
simply going from softened grain to sprouted grain.
I'm not convinced that the sweetening effect of
mashing would be all that recognizable unless performed
between, say, 55 and 75 C. Below that range, and the
mash would surely sour right quick. Above that range,
and the enzymes might denature before making a noticeable
Heat-steeping would require. . .well. . .heat and a
steeping vessel. That means expending fuel and having
a large, liquid-tight cooking pot (making a pot in which
to *heat* liquid is a different challenge than making
one merely to *hold* liquid). Possible, I suppose, but
it's still a stretch. [And I rather doubt the ancients
would have just thrown a big Pyrex bowl into the
microwave oven.] (Out of curiousity. . .how durable are
calcium oxylate residues? And can they be used to
distinguish a fermenter from a kettle?)
However, I did some experiments in 2008 to see if the
results could be achieved by means other than steeping.
I first malted some grain (one batch with barley, one
wheat, and one rye). Then, while the malt was still
green (that is, I had not dried it. . .not much point
to drying it, since it was going directly into the
mashing step), I ran each through a food processor
and then formed the resultant doughy paste into loaves.
The malt loaves then went out into a solar oven (okay,
it was actually a old automobile sitting in direct
sunlight out in our hay field). I ran the experiments
on hot summer days, and waited until the oven temp was
about 65 C before placing the malt loaf inside. Over
the next three to four hours, I monitored the oven temp
and the internal loaf temp every thirty minutes--it
stayed right within my desired mashing range.
The saccharified loaves then went into the refrigerator
(my plans for later experiments would include baking
the sweet loaves until a dry crust formed [to inhibit
surface mold] and then storing them in a towel on the
kitchen counter until I was ready to use them). Days
later, I would use a loaf to make a batch of wort.
Well, the goal to get into mashing temperature range
via primitive passive solar heating was met, but the
goal of mashing the green malt was mostly a failure.
By my calculations, I only managed to convert about
7-15% of the grain's mass into fermentable sugar (or,
rather, into soluble solids anyway).
Each batch came out pretty sour. My guess is that I
cultured a lot of lactobacillus in either the malting
or the mashing. (Tasted pretty good, though.) On the
last batch, I tried to inhibit that by adding a bit of
K sulphite (Campden) to the water that I used when
rinsing/rewetting the germinating grains during the
malting process, but it did not seem to improve matters.
One of these days, I'll have to look over my notes,
do some more research, revise and re-do the experiments.
I should add iodine testing for starch conversion into
the mashing phase and also monitor my pH. I'll
deconstruct my process and do some control experiments
in parallel, using modern tried-and-true techniques.
Anyway, the inspiration for the project was to see if
maybe the supposed "loaves of bread" in the ancient
"beer recipe" might have actually been baked balls of
pre-saccharified malt mash (or perhaps even unbaked
balls of green malt). Well, I have thus far failed to
produce much evidence to support my hypothesis. But
the bread assumption still isn't looking any more
likely than it was before.
Wine makes itself. Mead almost does. Indeed, before
preservatives and refrigeration, the distinction between
fruit juice and wine was a blurry one (and one I've
walked many times). That the ancients would know that
there's something "very special" about fermented fluids
and that sweet fluids ferment seems really obvious to
me. I just cannot easily accept that that connection
would have been lost on them. Now, the spontaneous
development of the bow and arrow. . .*that* seems a
real stretch to me.
Thus, I do not feel that it is much of a leap at all for a
culture to go from making their grains sweeter to dipping
their drinking bowls into a vats of frothy refreshment.
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