hist-brewing: chewing grains
dwbutler at mtu.edu
Thu Feb 25 08:18:48 PST 2010
Joanna Bailey <jbmail at isomedia.com>:
> I can imagine a group of people getting ready to harvest
> grain for storage, setting up a harvest camp perhaps,
> and starting a batch of ale. If there is a 10-day window
> for milk stage, there would be plenty of time to get some
> going for the harvesters to drink.
In my limited experience, green wheat berries are plenty
soft enough to chew even later than that--right up until
they've fully developed. Modern farmers, though, leave
it in the field until it's fully ripened and the stalk
has started to die.
As I understand it, in the days before combine harvesters,
farmers would just wait until "John Barleycorn drooped
his head" and then "cut him off at the knees" while the
stalk was still soft enough to cut by hand with sickle or
scythe. Then the grain would be gathered into sheafs and
set out to dry further, because it was still too green to
These days, the harvesting machines don't care much how
tough the stalks are, so the grain can be just left on the
root until it's dry enough for threshing.
Getting the soft, green berries, though, is tougher because
the husk is not ready to surrender the seed. Hand-shelling
it one grain at a time is tedious work, but perhaps no more
so than spinning or weaving.
> But that would make 'chew-brewing' a seasonal affair,
> since milk stage only happens once in the growing cycle of grains.
Well, that's the thing, isn't it? Would be kinda
disappointing if the neolithic twelve-step program was
"Twelve moons between drinks".
Soft grain can't be stored. . .nor can fruit juice or
fruit (well, *maybe* apples. . .I'm not sure what kinds,
if any, of apples were available in neolithic Europe or
Middle East; that might have been the period when the
domestic apple was brought over from Asia).
Beer, cider, and fermented juice (except, perhaps, palm
wine) have little or no shelf life (before the inventions
of high-tech storage devices such as amphorae and casks).
Without ability to store either the fermented product
itself or the ingredients to make it, alcohol would be
only a seasonal offering. In the words of Margaret Mead
(paraphrased): "That would royally suck".
However, honey is storage hardy, as is dried malt and
dried unmalted grain (that could address the dormancy
concerns brought up earlier). (I guess you could add
dried dates and figs in there, too--they have a plenty
high enough sugar concentration to make some dandy
As I see it, the big advantage of harvesting malting
grain is that you can store it to make beer year-round.
I suspect that the ancient loaves I mentioned in an
earlier post was their method of making a "beer kit"
into a storable form. (I do not suggest that bread
was necessarily an offshoot of beer production, just
that beer did *not* develop from bread.)
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