hist-brewing: mash temperature control/ reflection off the water

Deborah Wood garwood2 at sympatico.ca
Thu Mar 4 08:25:36 PST 2010

Ancient Brewing Methods / Mash temperature control

Back in the 1990's I used to do historic brewing demonstrations at  
Montreal's Mondial de la Bière. The project began with my  
collaboration with brewing legend Bill Owens.
I had a lot of fun doing this project with Bill, and we both  
researched and participated together in the completion of this  
project. I did costumes, recipes, and brewed samples to be served  
during the Mondial de la Bière. People were able to taste examples of  
what we brewed on site at the historic brewing demonstrations.  I  
collected herbs such as Myrica Gale, yarrow (which I do not like the  
taste of), spruce, juniper branches and of course had a few  
traditionally used spices, and my home grown leaf hops.

Bill Owens  built the wooden mash tun, and wooden coolship which he  
shipped to me from California. He also dried yeast slurry in the  
California sun for me which ended up looking like strange potato  
chips, and we used these leather like chips to start the fermentation  
My contribution to the brewing kit was a very large  antique cast iron  
pot from the USA Civil War era hung on a tripod over an open fire, and  
a large wooden barrel to ferment the wort in.

Mash temperature control was achieved by mashing in when I could see  
my reflection mirrored on the surface of the water in the kettle, or  
the reflection of the sun glancing off the water surface in the  
kettle. The surface tension of the water changes as it is heated, and  
once you know the concept, careful observation enables you to know  
exactly when is the right time to mash in.

Acting the part of an Ale Wife, I would then mash in, stir, put  on   
the wooden lid of the mash tun and wait. Time is fluid, so I would  
then go talk a bit to Bill, play my dulcimer, or an èpinette de voges   
for a while and when I thought it was ready, I would begin re- 
circulating the run off till it was clear and sparkling. I was able to  
control the gravity of my first runnings by recirculating the run off  
till I was satisfied by the results. I found that by putting a drop of  
this liquid between my fingers  and feeling how tacky it was I could  
accurately estimate the potential alcohol content by how sticky the  
runoff felt between my fingers.

Deborah Wood
Montreal, Quebec

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