hist-brewing: strength of small beer

Wade Hutchison whutchis at bucknell.edu
Tue Dec 4 06:37:18 PST 2012

In brewing the beer described in Harrison's Description of England
(1577) http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1577harrison-england.asp#Chapter
Which is a 3 beer party-gyle brew, I've found the third, small beer
comes out at 2% ABV, or just below that.    Remember, this is with
modern, well-modified malts.   Harrison's home-made malt may have had
lower modification, and produced an even lower level of alcohol.   For
comparison, the first wort comes out at about 8%, the middle (or
ordinary) comes out at about 4.5%.   Note that Harrison describes the
third runnings to "reserveth it unto mixture with the rest when time
doth serve therefore."  so it wasn't even consumed by the servants at
that low a strength.    Even with modern, careful sanitation and
bottling the small beer goes sour in just a couple of weeks.    Hope
this helps,
     -----wade hutchison, aka Gille MacDhnouill

On Tue, Dec 4, 2012 at 5:36 AM, Will <w_hanrott at yahoo.co.uk> wrote:
> What was the strength of small beer?
> I was watching an /entertaining/ tv programme (The Supersizers
> <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Supersizers...>) which repeated the
> claim that small beer was about 3.5%abv. This seems rather high, more
> like a table beer.
> Amsinck
> <http://prism.talis.com/brookes/items?query=author%3A%28Amsinck%2C+George+Stewart%29>'s
> recipe for Oxford Ale (1868) uses a triple infusion mash and party-gyle
> mix. The 3rd mash made small beer. My impression is that this method was
> in use over quite a long period until sparging became popular. Obviously
> the definition of 'small beer' is going to be a range of OGs.
> Perhaps restrain the information to the UK in the early modern period
> <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_modern_period>. The claim about 3.5%
> was made in a programme about Restoration England.
> This question is for personal rather than scholarly interest. I've had a
> look at the Hist-Brewing archives but couldn't find anything which
> answered my question.
> Many thanks
> Will
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