hist-brewing: ancient ale

Merryn Dineley merryn at dineley.com
Sat Mar 6 01:07:43 PST 2010

Have a look at Billy & Declan's website - The Great Beer Experiment! The 
Original fulacht fiadh brewers. Some of you have perhaps not seen this 
yet. Some of you probably have.  > http://www.mooregroup.ie/beer/index.html

they have a Blog:
> http://mooregroup.wordpress.com/

And they are on You Tube as well:

> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZ6K03ovxCM

Basically, they ran a hot rock mash in a large wooden trough (here on 
Orkney they are stone slab troughs), takes a few hours for the 
saccharification then just let the mash settle out and take the clear 
wort from above it, using a jug or whatever. Easy.


Daniel Butler-Ehle wrote:
> (oops. . .I meant to send this to the list the other day, 
> but accidentally replied to sender)
> John P. Looney <valen at tuatha.org> writes:
>> There seems to be a few debates around finding some sort
>> of 'organic' container to hold the beer.
> Nah, containers to *hold* beer is easy (unless, of course,
> you're talking about a *lot* of beer).  Containers to
> *store* beer is far more difficult.  And vessels in which
> to convert mash or boil wort are other matters altogether.
> (Oops, that last point is non sequitor. Boiling wort is of
> rather recent invention; you'll find that even hard-core
> paleolithic beer theorists generally don't claim that
> boiling wort was commonly practiced prior to the late
> Middle Ages.)
>> I think a fulacht fiadh<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fulacht_fiadh>
>> does seem to be a decent option;
> Ah! That's what it's called!  I've read about them before,
> but couldn't remember the name.  It's apparent that the
> constructions were likely for heating up liquid by dropping
> in hot rocks from the fire.  (A conceivably liquid-tight
> open wooden vessel with some large, charred stones in it.)
> The article describes a few possible functions:
> 1) Bath or steam bath - My guess is more like a sauna
> than a steam bath. (Yes, they can be heated by dropping
> hot rocks into water--it is a traditional backwoods sauna
> method in Finland, and I've done it a few times myself.
> Much more pleasant than a smokey sweat lodge.)
> 2) Cooking - Poaching meats over boiling water or
> braising/stewing them in it, or perhaps just burying the
> food with hot rocks to allow it to slow-cook like a
> luau-style pig roast. (Actually, burying it with hot rocks
> seems unlikely to me, as one could achieve the same results
> with much greater fuel efficiency and ease by just burying
> the food with a bed of hot coals.)
> The article mentions that opponents to the cooking theory
> point out that no food residues have been found on the
> stones.
> 3) Dying - Makes a lot of sense to me, as I believe that
> most natural dyes work much better at higher temperatures.
> I'm not surprised if dyes don't leave tell-tale residues,
> but what about the mordants?  The article also mentions
> the possibility of tanning leather.
> 4) Brewing - They mention an experiment using a trough
> and hot rocks for mashing. After mashing, the experimenters
> scooped it into fermenters (apparently husks and all).  
> Now, I would think that someone looking for food residue on
> the rocks would have also noticed whether there was any
> beerstone present.
> Of course, those are all speculative.  The actual
> function may have been any one, several, or none of
> them.
>> wooden trough, stone lined to keep the wood under pressure
>> and stop any unwanted leaks.
> That part I'm not so sure of. Do you have a reference?
>> As I mentioned in my original mail when heating rocks to
>> heat the water - go for volcanic rocks, rather than sedimentary,
>> or they'll explode/turn to lime.
> Volcanic in the sense of igneous; don't use porous "lava rock".
> I've used chalcedony (I had some big chunks of smooth jasper).
> I recall that the Rauchenfels brewery in the Franconia region
> of Germany (which, a couple decade ago anyway, was the only
> commercial producer of a traditional Steinbier, in which
> white-hot stones are added to the kettle to boil the wort)
> uses porphyry stone.
>> I've a few concerns...how do you know you have the right
>> temperature, in a prehistoric setting? At a guess, I'd say
>> "When the water his too hot to put your hand in for more than
>> 2 seconds",
> For the mash, that's about right.  Brewsters each developed
> their own rules of thumb, and being able to determine the
> right temperature and time consistently was their special
> talent.  For mash water (before "doughing in"), I've heard
> that it's just hot enough when you can no longer drag your
> finger across the surface of the water twice.  
> Of course, there are a lot of variables that will affect that.
> If you want to try it yourself, I suppose you could either do
> it the old-fashioned way of making thousands of batches to
> develop a feel for what works best, or you could just decide
> on your target temperatures and use a thermometer to calibrate
> your finger.
>> If you'd an open pit of barley in a pit - would you likely
>> get animals or insects investigating ?
> Aren't you running the liquid off into something else
> after the few hours it takes to do the mash?  Or are
> you leaving it there to ferment on the husks?
>> Could these pits
>> originally have had a hazel+hide covering over them ?
> Would make sense if they served as fermenters (which
> I kinda doubt).  But, even for mashing, having a
> cover (or hood of withee wicker and hides) to limit
> evaporative cooling would indeed be helpful.
>> Are there areas that these would have worked better ?
> For mashing?  I guess you want it near your water
> source and near your firewood (don't want to be
> hauling any of that up a mountain).  And consider
> how (or if) you're going to strain out the husks.
> (I've made and used a primitive lauter tun that
> is a wooden trough containing washed straw atop
> crisscrossing layers of twigs above a drain hole
> at one end--works okay, but I should really get
> some more experience with it.)
> For fermenting?  I have no suggestions other than to
> avoid sites that are too damp, too dry, too windy,
> too cool, too warm, sunny, or prone to temperature
> swings. I'd say it's generally the case that primitive
> beers were dispensed right from the fermenter (er, not
> that it was the drinking vessel, but that it doubled
> as the serving vessel).  Thus, the location of the
> fermenter also affected where the beer would be
> consumed.
>> Where do you get wild yeasts that will ferment beer better
> In the small towns of the Flemish countryside, of course.
> Using the fermenter regularly will generally encourage
> beer-friendly yeasts (and, unfortunately, beer-unfriendly
> bacteria) to develop in and around it.  Just takes time.
> Alternatively, one could leave some of the dregs from
> the previous batch behind when adding fresh wort to the
> fermenter or set a portion of finished beer aside before
> cleaning out the fermenter and then add it to the fresh
> batch.
>> Near fruit trees ?
> If there's ripe fruit around, it might tend toward
> vinegar as the fruit flies will love to taste your
> malt and leave you acetobacter as payment.
>> Would they have built a put, gotten a crappy yeast/bacteria
>> mix, and decided "screw that, we aren't using that pit again!".
> Surely.  You don't continue with a site that has been a
> source of ill-luck.
>> The reason I'm asking is that I'd love to try make a beer
>> in this way.
> I'm not entirely sure what you're suggesting doing:
> *Mashing in a rock-heated trough (as suggested by the Wiki
> article you referenced),
> *Boiling the wort in a rock-heated trough (as with the
> steinbier I mentioned above),
> or
> *Fermenting beer in a trough (you don't need heat rocks
> for that).
>> But I think the yeasts are the real stickler.
> At first, yeah.
>> Could I even prep an area in advance...by scattering malted
>> barley in an area for a few weeks ?
> I think that would rather efficiently encourage lactobacillus,
> which you probably don't want.  You might try mixing up a batch
> of wort (extract if you're in a hurry; all-grain if you're stingy)
> and set it out to ferment openly there (cover it once it comes
> to life).  Just see what you get.  Then maybe repeat it a few
> times to build up the local bru-ju.
> If the resultant beer is acceptable, maybe thinly spread some
> of the dregs around to increase the local concentration before
> starting your trough beer (that's just an idea, not a real
> recommendation; I could see it backfiring by providing an
> incubation medium for beer spoilage organisms).
> Do some trials with each of the individual components of your
> planned trough beer procedure before putting them all together
> or you'll never be able to figure out what went wrong.
> Cheers,
> Dan Butler-Ehle
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